April 16, 2014

A Little Perspective on Carlos Santana

I can still remember the feeling in my gut last year when the Tribe was playing the dastardly Boston Red Sox and Carlos Santana did (what we thought at the time was) a Joe Theisman impression.  It was soul crushing because the Indians hadn’t even been all that interesting up until the point that Santana showed up in Cleveland.  I love the Tribe, but even the most die-hard have to admit that Santana’s arrival injected some life into a relatively lifeless year last year.  According to DP who was already in full man-crush mode on Santana from watching him in Columbus, we just had to see his swing.  The minute he showed up we could see it.

In Carlos Santana’s second game he went two for four with a homer and three RBI.  That was June 11th.  By the end of the month, Santana was putting on a show.  He had his average all the way up to 0.345 with an on-base percentage of 0.458.  In 18 games that June Santana went hitless five times, had one hit seven times and had more than one hit six times.  He had 15 RBI in eighteen games.  We were talking about a kid who hadn’t played a lot of baseball in Columbus let alone at the major league level.  He played 57 games in Columbus before getting time behind the plate for the major league squad.

By the time Santana got hurt on August 2nd in Boston his average had dropped precipitously.  In the month of July, out of 26 games, Santana’s hit numbers looked a lot different.  He was held hitless in 12 games.  He had one hit in 10 games.  He scored multi-hit games only 4 times.  Granted the team around Santana wasn’t setting the world on fire either.  The Tribe lost 14 games that month including six in a row from July 24th to July 30th against the Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays.  Point being though, that Carlos Santana was playing streaky, inconsistent baseball just like a rookie is supposed to.

Even as I watched Santana stand there and watch three strikes to end last night’s comeback rally against the Royals, I have to remind myself that Santana is still basically a rookie.  Technically, I believe Santana played too much last year with his 150 at-bats and just over two months on the active roster.  Still, we are talking about 46 games in a fast-tracked career.  Add on top of that the expectations of having so little major league experience and yet being thrust into the cleanup spot in the batting order, and you have to take a step back.

This isn’t to say that I was down on Santana after the performance last night.  I was disappointed that the Tribe lost, sure.  I was disappointed with how it happened on three called strikes.  But it goes back to one of my newer philosophies on professional sports.  Oddly enough it was a philosophy I honed as I became a fan of Casey Blake who was ultimately traded (along with cash) for Carlos Santana.  I later finely tuned it watching Ryan Hollins play for the Cavs.

The philosophy is this.  Don’t be mad at the player for working their butt off and giving maximum effort in a role they weren’t necessarily suited to. That will probably be the first and last time that anyone puts Casey Blake, Ryan Hollins and Carlos Santana in the same paragraph in this kind of context, but because of Santana’s youth it makes sense.  Santana has phenomenal potential.  He could turn out to be a once-in-a-generation type of hitter behind the plate for the Tribe.  Just remember Manny Ramirez though.

When Manny Ramirez started playing with the Tribe in 1993 he got to bat in the sixth spot of the order after Kenny Lofton, Wayne Kirby, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle and Paul Sorrento.  In Manny’s second game his legend grew as he went 3-4 with two home runs and a double in a 7-3 win over the Yankees.  Who knows how long it would have taken Manny to become Manny if he hadn’t been hitting in a lineup with Albert Belle who hit 0.290 and crushed 38 bombs.

I put this out there as a reminder to myself as much as a reminder to everyone else.  This player deserves our patience.

  • http://exiledclevelander.wordpress.com AMC

    Well said Craig. I’m not mad at Santana at all for last night’s strikeout. In fact, given how he’s been playing lately, I didn’t think he was going to come through (even though I was disappointed when he didn’t).

    I agree that he’s basically a rookie and have been reminding myself of the same thing. This order isn’t on par with the mid-1990s Indians crews, but we’re seeing enough positive things out of other guys in the lineup that I think its worth moving Santana out of the cleanup spot for a little while so that he can regain some confidence. I’d personally favor a lineup of Brantley, ACab, Grady, Choo, Hafner, OCab, Santana, LaPorta, Hanahan to take some of the pressure off of Carlos.

    He plays the same position as Victor did, wears the same number and even has his batting stance, but he doesn’t have Victor’s MLB track record to justify keeping him in the 4 hole during an extended slump.

    I’m sure Acta is hesitant to mess around too much with the batting order given how well the team has started off, and I wouldn’t blame him too much for keeping the order how it is, but I think it would be fine to move Carlos down a couple of slots.

  • CBC

    Good write up. I am not too worried about the kid, he clearly has the talent. It obviously in his head, he’s getting ahead of the off speed stuff. He looks like he is overthinking every pitch right now, he needs to get get back to just reacting and hitting the ball. You are right he is basically a rookie and I imagine that he feels the pressure more this year because the tribe is winning. He just needs to breath through his eyelids or wear the garter belt and he’ll be just fine.

  • http://www.whitecollarredneck.com Narm

    I want to agree, but I just can’t.

    If that had been Matt LaPorta who watched three straight, we’d all be calling for his head.

    It is a lot easier to forgive a guy for being too aggressive or who is playing above his talent level (Blake / Hollins), but I don’t see this as being comparable.

    Santana has the talent and has the support – but he showed a lack of confidence / understanding / aggression in a sitaution that required all three.

  • Ron from Akron

    I was hacked off….my seventh grader understood that he needed to swing at those pitches. BTW, what have you done for us lately, Carlos?

  • lstavole13

    Give him a break. Hes got a ton of pressure on him. Last year he was playing on a team that was in last place, and he had no pressure on him. This year hes still basically a rookie with the entire city expecting him to hit .350. Also, the book is out on him now, so opposing pitchers know how to pitch him this year, as opposed to last year, when the scouting on him was limited at best. He’ll come around. Just needs to settle down and relax in there. We know hes got the talent. Just give him a little time for it to show through.

  • http://216sports.wordpress.com Chris M

    Are you people at #2 and #3 out of your freaking minds?

    First – “If that had been Matt LaPorta who watched three straight, we’d all be calling for his head.

    LaPorta has nearly 700 Big league at-bats.
    Santana has about 250 or so.

    At least come up with someone comparable. I’m sure he’s sorry that you’ve written him off as a complete failure 3 weeks into what is his first full season.

    “BTW, what have you done for us lately, Carlos?

    Besides rehab a reconstructed knee and try and get his swing back, nothing I guess.

    Calm down, people. The knee jerking here is absolutely ridiculous.

  • Boney

    Carlos is a player who shouldn’t be put in that position to have to be the main run producer, in the first place.

    He’s not a prototypical cleanup hitter, and a player his age and with his ability should not be thrown out there in a spot where he’s going to have to press in order to fill the needs of the lineup.

    Fans needs to have patience with the guy – he’s got the chance to be a great player. He should be hitting 3rd on this lineup, he is the best pure hitter outside of Choo that the Indians have until Grady is healthy. The team’s best hitter should always be the 3rd hitter.

  • ClemJax

    The way that game ended was definitely frustrating…and for me the frustration was more the “how” rather than the “who.” If ANY of our batters took 3 straight strikes, there would be frustration in the ranks.

    That said, we can’t allow frustration as fans to become and indictment of the player. It never really hit me until you pointed it out…yeah, he’s basically a rookie. He’s going to make rookie mistakes. Would I have preferred it if he went down swinging? Probably. Should this be a learning experience? Absolutely.

    Besides, it’s kind of important to not allow the team’s fast start dominate all expectation of players. This year was supposed to be a growing/learning/see who can do what year as it was (also from this game: Santana’s “five out” inning), not a “run away with the division” year. We’re going to lose more than our share of games, as someone pointed out on twitter, “2010 style” – simply mistakes in execution.

    So Santana had a poor night of execution…if it becomes a pattern, then he’s probably fair game. If it’s a learning experience, then the team is at least accomplishing the actual goal it started the season with.

  • Eric D

    I am not in the send him to Akron/Columbus camp that I am hearing from some people, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a shift down in the line up like AMC suggested.

    Still, I mean, you gotta swing.

  • chuck r.

    Carlos is going to be fine, but I think he should get bumped down a notch in the batting order for now.

  • Ben

    Everyone is failing to mention that he came through with an RBI single the inning before. Talk about “what haven’t you done” as opposed to what have you.

  • GhostToMost

    Id be all for showing a little patience if he was hitting 7th or 8th in the lineup as opposed to cleanup. But thats on Manny Acta. Its time to move Pronk back into the cleanup spot.

    He’ll be ok, I hope. I hope this kid is the real deal and what we saw last June wasnt just a flash in the pan.

  • mgbode

    “I’ll have some perspective. Perspective. Fresh out I see? Well then, you provide the food, and I’ll provide the perspective.”

    Is it a sign you have kids that the above quote is the first thing I thought of when I saw the title of the post?

  • mgbode

    Also, to take on the moral of that movie and tie it into Carlos Santana:

    not everyone can be a great catcher, but a great catcher can come from anywhere. and Carlos Santana is a great catcher.

    so, let’s just give him time to marinate and allow him to become the Carlos Santana we know he is capable of being.

  • NJ

    Sometimes I think modern life has made baseball fanship untenable. It’s one at-bat in one game out of 162.

  • The Other Tim

    In fairness to Manny Ramirez, we were batting him 6th because he was trying to get pregnant at the time.

  • jim

    Rookie, five year veteran, pinch hitter, it doesn’t matter the experience level. The proper play in that situation is to swing at anything close and put the ball in play. That is something you learn in little league. I think Santana will be a very good MLB player but that was simply a terrible at-bat. In fact, the only way it could have been worse is if he attempted to hit with a frying pan.

  • gabriel

    Craig – I’ll give Santana another season or two of my patience (nothing against Lou Marson), but why does he have to figure out MLB pitching in the clean-up spot? Bat him with the rest of the rookies in the 6-7-8 spots. Actually, move O.Cabrera out, he’s hot-streak is over. Lineup should be:

    Sizemore-A.Carbrera-Choo-Hafner-Santana-Brantley-LaPorta-Cabrera-Hannahan.

    Brantley is giving a great kick the back-end of the order, but he may be playing himself into the lead-off spot with his disruptive speed and .400+ OBP.

  • 5KMD

    Love it mgbode. I do the same thing all the time.

  • false~cognate

    Brantley, ACabrera, Sizemore, Choo, Hafner, OCabrera, LaPorta,Santana, Hannahan

    (for now)

  • mgbode

    @5K – I know, it cannot be helped :)

    And along with my boys, I have a little girl now, so soon the quotes will be Mulan, Beauty & the Beast, Little Mermaid, etc.

  • 5KMD

    Not to completely derail, but we took my 2 boys (I’ve got a third on the way) to the Imagination Movers last night and it was an awesome show. Kids loved it and it’s only an hour or so long. Pretty good music too.

  • mgbode

    congrats 5K. we’ve gone to the Elmo sing-along shows a couple times. our kids have always loved those.