It’s tough to compare across positions, but a case could made that the Indians most reliable defender this season has been Carlos Santana.
Such a statement would have sounded ludicrous a season ago, or even a month ago, but since the emergence of Chisenhall has pushed Santana to first base full time he has developed into one of the team’s most reliable defenders.
In 2013, Santana ranked among the worst defensive first basemen in all of baseball according to numerous advanced metrics. UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 innings—a stat tracked by video analysis by Baseball Info Solutions) ranked Santana as the third worst in all of baseball behind Juan Francisco and Adam Dunn.
Fast forward to 2014 and, as of Sunday afternoon, Santana was ranked as the seventh best first baseman in UZR/150.
Santana is also the only Indians regular position player with at least 200 innings in the field, to post a positive UZR value this season. In more simplistic terms, Baseball Info Solutions estimates that Santana is the only regular Indians fielder who as saved runs with his glove, rather than cost the team runs.
In Sunday’s game against Detroit, Santana’s glove was on display again, making a diving stop and robbing Avila of extra bases.
Since we’ve never had nice things to say about Santana’s defense—first at catcher, then first base and then early this season at third base—it’s easy to write to this off as a fluky good stretch. And considering the sample size is relatively small (he’s played just over 300 innings at first base this season) it’s certainly possible that he comes crashing back down.
But physically speaking, Santana doesn’t fit the profile of a weak defensive first baseman. He’s relatively quick on his feet and does have experience in the field (he played third prior to being converted to catcher in the Dodgers organization). And the fact that Santana made the transition back to third with relative ease this spring speaks volumes about his defensive work ethic and ability to make quick adjustments in the field.
With Yan Gomes holding it down at catcher and Chisenhall taking control of third, first base may finally be home for Santana.