I think it’s safe to say that Carlos Santana is having a bizarre season.
Struggling to even surpass the Mendoza line, Santana is hitting only .174 in 53 games this season, which ranks 168th out of 170 qualified hitters in all of baseball (only Seattle’s Brad Miller and San Diego’s Jedd Gyorko have lower averages).
However, despite that, Santana still has a terrific on-base percentage of .345, which ranks 61st.
Santana has always been really good at drawing walks, but his walk percentage of 20.3% in 2014 is absolutely ridiculous. He’s drawing a walk one in every five plate appearances. That’s a ratio that makes grown men cry. Quite simply, it’s phenomenal.
Santana’s 47 walks this season are the second-most in baseball (and Jose Bautista, who leads the majors with 50, has had 53 more plate appearances than Santana has). As a result, Santana has still been slightly above replacement level so far in 2014 (0.3 fWAR) — not bad for a guy hitting below .200 that doesn’t play great defense.
At that point, it almost doesn’t even bother me that Santana isn’t hitting. As the old saying goes, a walk is as good as a hit. And really, how isn’t it? Santana is getting on base at a really good rate, so why should we care too much about how he does it?
But that’s where it gets fun.
Santana has been extremely unlucky this season. His low batting average has a lot to do with his horrendous .191 BABIP. Quite simply, a lot of balls in play that would have been hits for Santana last season are finding the opponent’s gloves this season.
League average BABIP is approximately .300. Last season, Santana had a BABIP of .301, and it translated to a .268 average. Santana is a much better hitter than his current average says he is (duh), and as his luck turns and those hard-hit balls in play don’t continue to turn into outs, Santana’s average will climb — and his already solid on-base percentage will too.
Now, his line drive rate is certainly a lot lower than it was last season (21.8% compared to 12.5%) and his ground ball rate is sharply up as well (42.5% in 2013, 49.3% in 2014). However, his fly ball percentage has actually increased from 35.7% in 2013 to 38.2% this season, so power isn’t the problem. He has 7 home runs this season, and while that isn’t great, it could easily be much worse. Santana hit 20 home runs in 541 at-bats in 2013, a strikingly similar pace to the aforementioned 7 long balls he has in 184 at-bats this season.
As I mentioned earlier, Santana’s average is due to drastically increase sometime soon. It’s very possible that could already be happening, as Santana has hit .500/.667/.875 with a home run and 2 RBI in his 12 plate appearances since returning from the DL (including another 4 walks). Santana obviously won’t keep hitting .500 for the rest of the season, but there’s no way he was going to keep hitting .174, either.
Basically, Santana’s power is still there and his batting eye is better than it’s ever been. That’s already fine with me, but his average could continue to climb as well. In that case, watch out.
The Indians have certainly had their fair share of struggles in 2014, but they’re still a game over .500 and only 3 games out of first place. Meanwhile, the Tigers had been playing as well as they possibly could, and are only recently starting to come back down to earth. It looks as though the Tigers have already peaked, while the Indians have yet to do so.
The Indians and the Tigers are two teams currently going in opposite directions, and if Santana’s stats go back to where advanced metrics say they should go, he’ll be a welcome boost for the Indians as they try to overtake Detroit and win the division.