Two clichés are applicable when it comes to the struggles of Carlos Santana. The first is that baseball is a game of constant adjustments. The second is that the key to being a successful pitcher is the abilty to keep the hitter off-balance. Since arriving in the big leagues in 2010, Santana has endured two prolonged slumps and has made two significant changes in his approach in order to develop more balance at the plate.
While we were forced to endure the Mike Redmond era in Cleveland, Carlos Santana spent the first two months of the 2010 season with the Columbus Clippers. In 57 games in Triple-A he posted an impressive slash line of .316/.447/.597 and swatted 13 home runs. He made his debut with the Indians on June 11th and the success he showed in Columbus followed him to Cleveland, as he it .260/.401/.467 with six homers vefore an ugly collision at home plate with Ryan Kalish of the Boston Red Sox ended his season.
He returned to the Indians in 2011, and after a slow start he finished with a very respectable slash line of .239/.351/.457 (120 wRC+) with 27 home runs. But with high expectations for 2012, Santana has struggled to find his balance at the plate and his numbers have suffered. Through the first half of the season he has struggled to a .221/.339/.336 line with just 5 homers in 295 plate appearances.
The chart below is Santana’s rolling 20-game wOBA average. It demonstrates not only the ups and downs he has had since the beginning of the 2011 season, but the level of futilty he has fallen to in 2012.
The Indians know that something has to be done to get Santana back on track to being the power-hitting middle-of-the-order-bat. So they’re hoping an old friend of his might be able to help out.
Somewhere along the line, Santana developed a slight toe tap to maintain his timing and balance prior to pulling the trigger on his swing. The videos below show his toe-tap from each side of the plate after his call up to the Indians in 2010.
2010 Carlos Santana: LHB w/Toe Tap
2010 Carlos Santana: RHB w/Toe Tap
Santana got off to a cold start to begin the 2011 season; on May 29th he was hitting .214/.350/.371 with 6 homers. A big part of the problem was that pitchers were keeping him unbalanced. In an effort to get him balanced, former Indians hitting coach Joe Nunnally and manager Manny Acta suggested that, in order to eliminate some of the body movement that he has at the plate, that he stop tapping his front foot at home plate before swinging.
Santana took heed of the advice and the next evening he went 3-for-3 with two doubles, a sacrifice fly and three RBI. Acta later said that he and Nunnally felt that “a lot of his problems were coming from extra body movement at the plate” and that he had been trying to convince Santana to make the change since spring training. The adjustment seemed to work for Santana as he posted an impressive slash line of .249/.351/.491 with 21 homers over his final 108 games (406 plate appearances).
May 31, 2011: Toe Tap Gone (LHB)
May 31, 2011: Toe Tap Gone (RHB)
Now, it is time once again for Santana to make an adjustment. he enters Tuesday hitting .223/.346/.332 with only 5 homers. So Bruce Fields and Acta have suggested to Santana that he reintroduce the toe tap in his pre-pitch routine in hopes that he finds more success going back to his old ways. As explained by Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com in his Sunday Notes:
After looking at tapes of Carlos Santana, they realized that stopping the “toe tap” with his front while awaiting a pitch led to another problem — a huge leg lift as he swung the bat. That seemed to cause even more issues with his balance and swing. Now, they are telling him to go back to the toe tap, because it is what he’s done his entire pro career. The key is trying to create some balance when he swings.
The switch-hitter’s toe tap returned in the Tampa Bay series but oddly enough it appeared only while hitting left-handed. When looking at his first half numbers from both sides of the plate we see that he has struggled the most as a righty:
No Toe Tap as RHB
One thing I’ll be tracking during the second half of the 2012 season is whether or not bringing the toe tap back to his routine helps him rediscover his power stroke. At some point I’d have to believe that the toe tap will be added to his plate appearances as a right handed batter, though it will be interesting to see how long a major league hitter can have two different approaches at the plate.