The Reinvention of Carlos Santana

Regular readers to Burning River Baseball know that I have always been bearish on Carlos Santana. Whether it was missing a week of games last season due to getting hit in the catcher's mask by a line drive or lazy attempts to block balls in the dirt, I have always felt as if he has not lived up to his "top prospect" status. This may be relying too much on subjective observation rather than the actual numbers. Santana was the big prize of the 2008 trade that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers. Santana has always hit well, particularly for a catcher, since coming up to the majors in 2010. While it was enough to cover for his aforementioned deficiencies behind the plate, in 2012 his drop in power was troubling. In 2013, the 27-year-old might be becoming the superstar that I envisioned when he was a prospect. For Santana, the numbers are certainly showing that; especially this season.
 
Despite having a poor May at the plate, Santana is currently on pace to have a career year in several offensive categories: AVG (.272), OBP (.378), SLG (.459) and wOBP (.364). Santana’s better performance this season seems to be based on two things: a significantly higher BABIP (.313) than his career average (.279) and the return of his pre-2012 power.

BABIP is a skill for hitters, but it is subject to far more random outcomes than home runs rates, strikeouts, and walks. That general notion may lead one to think Santana is just getting lucky in that respect so far this season, which may very well be the case. However, a closer look at the batted ball data suggests that there is more in play in this situation than luck. His line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates are almost on par with his career average. Although he is hitting slightly more line drives and ground balls than flyballs compared to his past, the difference is not large enough to be statistically significant. What stood out to me was his Infield-fly ball (IFFB%) rate. So far this season, his IFFB% is 5.7 which is far lower than last year's rate of 11.5. Although there has not been much research done on the year-to-year correlation of IFFB%, Matt Klaassen at Fangraphs wrote this piece and concluded that pop-up rate is just as much of a skill as slugging percentage. That being said, Santana should be given just as much credit for his improved BABIP rate as any other hitter should for an improved SLG%.

Santana has improved his BABIP while returning to his pre 2012 power. Usually, an increase in BABIP means sacrificing a little bit of power.  It is not as if his current power (.187 ISO) is unprecedented: he had a .207 ISO in 2010 and a .217 in 2011. However, he dropped off to .168 in 2012. It was not just his rate of home runs (6.3 percent on contact in 2011 to 4..4 percent in 2012) that dropped, but also his rate of doubles and triples on hits in play (3.5 percent in 2011, 2.6 in 2012). In 2013 so far, the rates are back to about 2011 levels: 6.3 percent for home runs, 3.3 for doubles and triples.

With all the moves the Indians made this offseason, the most significant may have been the reinvention of Carlos Santana.

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