July 22, 2014

“This Regression Will Not Stand, Man”: What Happened To Carlos Santana?

Carlos Santana’s 2011 season drew a line in the sand among most Indians fans I know.  There was the group that wondered why his batting average was so low (.239) and consequently seemed somewhat bearish on his potential, maturity-level, talent, etc.

The other group drooled over his on-base percentage (.351) and power potential (.457 slugging percentage).  They wrote off his low batting average to poor luck on balls in play, and figured that he was bound to break out in a major way in 2012.  He had a great batting eye and prodigious power.  The rest typically takes care of itself.

You’ll remember that I was in the second group.  And now I’m worried that maybe I was wrong, because Carlos Santana’s 2012 is not going well.

The reason I know that 2012 is not going well is that my brother has not yet forgiven me for the advice I gave him during his fantasy baseball draft.  Something along the lines of, “You’ll regret not having him on your team.  Best hitting catcher in baseball this season.”  There may or may not have been a “Book it” involved.

But I also know that Santana’s 2012 has been bad because I’ve had to watch the games.  I’ve witnessed more weak groundouts to second base than I ever wanted to.  I’ve seen all the foul outs to third base and strikeouts with men in scoring position.  I’ve lived Santana’s demise, and I’ve not enjoyed it one bit.

And because I was so bullish on him coming into the year, I’ve mostly shielded myself from actually looking at Santana’s numbers.  I know he’s been bad, so why would I bother verifying that by looking up the actual recorded facts?  That would just add to the humiliation.  Better to just wait for him to come out of it, right?

Well, that’s what I told myself in April.  And I told myself that in May.  And I told myself that in June.  And now it’s freaking July, and Santana doesn’t seem to have come out of anything.  In fact, he seems to be getting worse, if such a thing is even possible.1

So I think it’s time I do my service to the community and go ahead and look at the numbers.  It seems like the grown-up thing to do, and I’ve been told I should start behaving like one of those.

Ready?  Good.  Let’s do this:

2011 2012
BB% 14.7% 15.9%
K% 20.2% 20.7%
BABiP 0.263 0.268
AVG 0.239 0.222
OBP 0.351 0.341

Now, as you’ll see, he’s much worse in 2012 at everything, and now we can just move…

Wait a second.  He’s walking more often in 2012 than he did in 2011? More of his batted balls are falling in for hits this year than last?  He’s barely striking out any more in 2012, resulting in an on-base percentage that is only slightly down from last season and still well above league-average?  This does not compute.

I don’t understand.  I know that Carlos Santana is having a crummy year.  I’ve witnessed it.  So why isn’t it showing up in these numbers?

There are, of course, some numbers I’m leaving out of the table.  You’ll remember that there are only two things that good hitters must do if they hope to remain good hitters: (1) not make outs; and (2) hit for power.  This is why OPS works as a decent shorthand when evaluating a hitter.  The on-base percentage measures the “not making outs” skill and the slugging percentage measures the “hitting for power” skill.  There just isn’t a whole lot more that we want our hitters to do.

And that’s the rub with Santana’s 2012 so far: somebody pulled the plug on his power.  He’s still walking plenty–his 16% BB-rate is well above league average.  But those power numbers are godawful.  There are about eleventy ways to measure this, but let’s choose just a few.

In 2011, Santana had 64 extra-base hits.  This season, he’s on pace for 35.

In 2011, Santana had 27 home runs.  This season he’s on pace for nine.

In 2011, Santana slugged .457.  This season he’s at .339.

In 2011, Santana’s isolated power–defined as the difference between slugging percentage and average—probably the best pure measure of power–was .217.  This season it’s at .115.

Not since he was a 20 year old infielder in the Dodgers’ organization has Santana had an ISO below .200.  He’s never had an ISO as low as his current .115.  Unless you have access to some Little League numbers that I can’t find.

There’s talk of bringing back the much ballyhooed toe-tap–that perhaps Santana replaced the toe tap with a higher leg kick, throwing off his timing and balance and sapping him of his power.

I don’t know about any of that, really, but it sounds like something a hitting coach might say when all else has failed.  The coach’s version of, “It hurts when I do this….then stop doing that.”

Maybe Santana needs the toe tap.  Maybe he needs some time in the minor leagues to get some confidence back.  Maybe the All-Star break will clear his head, and he’ll come back on a tear.

Or maybe I was wrong all along, and he’s just never going to be the sort of power hitter I told my brother about.

But we better hope that’s not true.  One of the consequences of basically punting on any offensive production from our 1B, 3B and LF is that we have to lean a bit heavier on positions from whom other teams can accept defense-only. For example, we need our second baseman and our short stop and our catcher to be above average hitters if we hope to compete.  Right now, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera are holding their own and giving this team a fight shot.  But Carlos Santana is dead last among qualified catchers in slugging, ISO, and batting average.  This regression will not stand, man.

I’ve written this more times than I care to remember, but regardless of any potential trade addition, this team will only go as far as its core players can take it.  If Santana keeps this power-drought going much longer, that’s not going to be very far.

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. Through May 2, Santana was at least a reasonable hitter, putting up a .260/.409/.466 line.  But since then?  .205/.307/.281.  He has exactly one home run in his last 202 plate appearances, most of which were in the four or five hole in the lineup. []
  • 5KMD

    About time for the old fake and injury and then head off for a cushy rehab assignment at Akron.
    Or maybe there actually is an injury we don’t know about.

  • Jack

    All you ever talk about is being a productive, middle-of-the-order guy, but there’s a problem, Carlos…….you’re not any good!

  • WFNY_DP

    It’s just soul-crushing to see that the guy that I saw completely annihilating the ball for three months in Columbus in 2010 is completely gone.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Santana’s struggles are like an anchor around the offense’s neck. No LF, no 1B and barely a 3B don’t help either. Choo, Kipnis and Cabrera are it. Matter of time before the grind takes it’s toll.

  • boomhauertjs

    Biggest disappointment of the season by far. At least Masterson and Ubaldo have shown flashes.

  • Natedawg86

    Marson’s sudden hot streak has probably not helped the continued slump of Santana either.

  • Hypno_Toad

    That fantasy baseball part is funny because I told a friend of mine that he would be stupid not to accept a trade of Carlos Santana and Tim Lincecum for Roy Halladay. Halladay did eventually hurt himself and has still yet to return, but for about a month there I was public enemy number 1.

  • mgbode

    Carlos Santana was my favorite Indian in 2010 and 2011. His approach, power, and ability were ridiculous. 2012 should have been his break-out year (a year and a half removed from that 2010 knee injury).

    I just don’t know where that 10/11 version has gone.

    ————–

    that said, his defense has sure improved this year (no, really it has. not that it helps much when our power-hitter has no power)

  • BenRM

    +300 Internet Points for the “Book it” line

  • Scotty

    Book It!!

  • @wes_ryan_

    how many points for the Big Lebowski reference?

  • MikeLew

    Simple- he’s not fully back from the knee injury. Those usually take two years to get back to 100%

  • BenRM

    Don’t be fatuous, wes_ryan

  • 5KMD

    And by the way Jon,
    The Dude abides with your choice of title.

  • Garry_Owen

    You are way out of your league, here, Wes.

  • Garry_Owen

    Keep Marson in the line-up full-time. Bat Santana 7th or 8th until he gets his groove (or toe tap) back, and put him out in left field. I have no idea if he can even play left field (and don’t care), but he appears to have found his laser rocket arm. Between Marson, Choo, and Santana, “ain’t nobody” going to be trying for extra bases.

  • Harv 21

    No one is mentioning one possible source of the problem: he’s just gotten his first real money and has lost the intensity to work on his game. He’s young and he’s human and maybe doesn’t yet understand (or, worse, no longer has) the commitment it will take to improve at this level.

    Not saying it’s necessarily this, but it might be a factor. I always suspected this happened to Peralta. It’s the potential ugly downside of giving a still-developing player real money in order to control him a few more years.

  • Wes.

    what league is that? internet comment threads.. ? i must say, i’m insulted.

  • Wes.

    you’re right. literally every comment left on this site is always relevant and usefull to the public.

  • Garry_Owen

    Sorry. I had to go back to check the quotation. I should have said “element” instead of “league.” Still, if I had said “Donny,” instead of “Wes,” I think you would have gotten the joke. (See Walter Sopchak.)

  • BenRM

    It was another Lebowski quote :( Not trying to put you down!

  • Steve

    He’s greatly improved defensively, and his discipline at the plate is still there. I have no idea how you can throw out work ethic issues.

  • Garry_Owen

    I think we’re dealing with a nihilist. They’re worse than the Nazis. I mean, say what you will about National Socialism, but at least it’s an ethos!

  • Wes.

    my apologies to both of you for missing the Dude references after my very own Dude reference. it’s been a long day. and a long season.

  • Garry_Owen

    Hey, no problem. Usually, Dude quotations really bring the room together.
    (And I don’t really think you’re a nihilist.)

  • Harv 21

    No idea how I can throw it? Work ethic issues! See, I did it again.

    Plate discipline is not just walking or not whiffing. It’s also not attempting to pull every pitch with a mighty swing into the upper deck (and grounding to second). That takes work in BP and watching film and being coachable. He’s fallen into that trap before and gotten out, not this year. It’s not ok to contemplate some slacking off post-payday “might be a factor” because …?

  • JK

    Grinding? Eric Wedge is smirking under his mustache in a Starbucks.

  • Wes.

    I apologize to both of you for missing the Dude references after my very own Dude reference. It’s been a long day. and a long season.

  • mgbode

    tell that to Matt LaPorta (no seriously, tell him that)

  • Dee P

    F*ck it. Let’s go bowlin.

  • GrandRapidsRustlers

    Small sample size alert: Lou Marson .805 OPS

    That would be third on this roster if he had enough plate appearances. I don’t exactly know what is wrong with Santana other than the fact that he looks completely lost at the plate and has done nothing since the concussion. My biggest hope is that he actually is fighting injuries. If I was in charge I would want to make sure that Marson gets as many plate appearances as possible to find out if Santana is our 1B next year.

  • playing left out

    kotchman has more homers than santana. that scares me and not just because friday the 13th is coming

  • playing left out

    8 year olds, dude

  • Ritz

    Maybe Carlos Santana just isn’t that good…

  • Steve

    Because these are dangerous and dumb accusations unless we actually know anything. You certainly don’t. I know, the standards for internet message board are ridiculously low, but we can do a lot better than this.