2013 Key Players: Carlos Santana
March 28, 2013
The fourth installment of my 2013 Cleveland Indians Key Player series will focus on Carlos Santana. After previously covering Justin Masterson, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Jason Kipnis, we’ll be discussing the Indians’ catcher and his importance to the upcoming season.
In the midst of a breakout minor league campaign, the Indians acquired Carlos Santana in the 2008 Casey Blake trade. They watched as he blossomed into the club’s top hitting prospect sinceManny Ramirez. Santana seemed to be the complete package, a switch-hitting power hitter with impressive plate discipline and high contact ability. If that wasn’t enough, Santana was converted to catcher early in his minor league career allowing him to match his impressive offensive profile by playing a premium defensive position.
After being a regular in league-wide Top 10 prospect lists in the years following the trade, Santana would go on to make his debut with the Indians in 2010. With a .260/.401/.462 slash line in 192 at-bats, and flashing the power and plate discipline that made him so heralded, it was safe to say that Carlos Santana had arrived.
Fast-forward two full years from then and it seems we’re still waiting for Carlos Santana to truly arrive.
That’s not to say Santana has been a bust by any means.
With a 3.7 WAR in 2011 and a 3.4 WAR in 2012, Santana has easily been one of the Indians most productive players over the past two seasons. However, it seemed that Santana was destined for numbers far greater than his .808 OPS in 2011 and .785 OPS in 2012 reflect. A lot of people, myself included, thought that 2012 would be the year that Santana fulfilled his promise. I wrote off Santana’s struggles in 2011 as poor luck (.263 BABIP) and pointed instead to an encouraging .217 isolated slugging percentage and his 27 home-runs to rationalize that with a little better luck and a year of experience under his belt, Santana would be able to put it all together and lead the Indians offense in 2012.
It didn’t work out that way.
Santana's 2012 season was hurt once again by a subpar BABIP and worse, his ISO slipped all the way to .168, the lowest number he’s posted at any level since A ball in 2007. On the whole, Santana’s production in 2012 was nearly a mirror image of 2011, with the exception of showing improved defense behind the plate. If you look close once again there are reasons for optimism leading into 2013. After struggling through a terrible May (.659 OPS) and June (.505 OPS), Santana hit .281/.389/.498 after making some adjustments in the second half.
The optimism is that Santana can carry those numbers into 2013.
Like other Indians, Santana has gone on record to state that he tried to do too much in 2012, particularly in the first-half. With the additions of Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds to protect him in the order, and Michael Bourn setting the table in front of him, Santana should see a lot more opportunities to drive in runs in 2013. While I’ve stated that I believe Jason Kipnis is the most important player in the Indians 2013 lineup, Carlos Santana should serve as the anchor to it.
It’s been a long time since an Indians lineup had a legitimate 30 HR/100 RBI threat to plug into the middle of the order. Travis Hafner from 2004-2007 was that type of player, but the team hasn’t had anyone capable of consistently posting those numbers since. Nick Swisher is close to that caliber of player, and he’s being paid to be the main cog in the lineup, but Carlos Santana offers more upside. Swisher should post good numbers, but it’s Santana who will be counted upon to put the lineup over the top in 2013 and for years to come.
It’s likely time to come to the realization that without some luck - something that’s greatly eluded him in his first two-years in the major leagues - Santana will never hit for the high average we once thought he would. Part of the problem is that in a way, he’s too patient. His ability to draw walks is one of the things that make him so special, but Santana swings at under 60% of the pitches he sees in the zone. The league average is around 65%. When he does swing, his contact percentage on pitches in the zone has never been above 85%, once again below league average. Santana’s contact numbers fall below league average across the board and seem to be an indication of something around a .260 batting average moving forward.
With the exception of Michael Bourn, whose WAR is driven by superior defense and baserunning, Santana is the only member of the offense with the ability to be a 5 or 6 WAR type of player. With a rebound in his power numbers, that’s exactly what I expect the Indians will get from him in 2013. If the Indians get improvement from Santana and Kipnis, to go along with another good year from Asdrubal Cabrera and the additions of Bourn, Swisher, Reynolds, and Stubbs, the lineup will be as good as it’s been in a number of years.
I labeled Lonnie Chisenhall as a key player because he’s a relatively unknown quantity with considerable upside. Jason Kipnis earned the title because of his multi-dimensional skill set and relatively disappointing 2012 campaign. Santana, the last offensive player on the list, is a key player because he has the ability to serve as the lineup’s engine. A legitimate middle of the order run producer who can make all of the players around him better.
It’s time for Carlos Santana to put it all together and become the hitter we dreamed he would be.
The key will be whether he can maintain those "adjustments" and put up a line similar to that for a full season. If the addition of Bourn, Swisher, and Reynolds allows Santana to be moved down in the lineup where he won't be under pressure to do "too much", then he could really have a career season.
Sure, I hope Chiz has a good year and think he will but if he ends up in the 3 hole that means Kipnis has not done his job. I think Kipnis is probably the main key to the lineup so if Chiz is batting 3rd in August it means the year is probably lost.