In one of the organization’s better moves over the past decade-plus, the Indians, led by former General Manager Mark Shapiro, sent Casey Blake and cash to the Dodgers for switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana in 2008.

Fast forward a few years and Santana has become of the better backstops in the game, showing an elite walk rate, above-average power, and modest strikeout numbers.

Since Santana became a fulltime starter in 2011, he’s hit .250/.361/.443. And according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, his total offensive production has been 24% better than the league average, fifth best at the position and 41st among all hitters, ahead of several big names including Jay Bruce, Mark Teixeira, Adam Jones, and Nelson Cruz.

Carlos Santana is an above-average ball player, totaling just over 10 wins above replacement (FanGraphs) in 432 career games. But he’s halfway through his age-27 season, and I’m still wondering when — perhaps if — he’s going to take that final jump toward stardom.

Just how rare of a combination is Santana particular skill set (plate discipline/power/contact ability)?

Since 2010, there are seven players to walk in at least 13% of their plate appearances, post an Isolated Power above .190, and strikeout fewer than 19% of the time. They are:

  • Miguel Cabrera
  • Joey Votto
  • Jose Bautista
  • Prince Fielder
  • David Ortiz
  • Carlos Santana
  • Lance Berkman

It’s definitely an elite group of names. But based purely on offense, Santana has been the least productive player among the group. Cabrera, Votto, Bautista, Fielder, and Ortiz have all been at least 45% better than the league average. And Berkman, who’s ten years older than Santana, has been 31% better.

The obvious differentiator between the top five and bottom two is power. And Santana’s pop has never really taken that expected step forward.

After posting a career Isolated Power, a measure of a hitter’s raw power, of .210 in the minor leagues, Santana has followed that up with of big league totals of .207, .217, .168, and .190. What’s so concerning, however, is that his fly ball rates have declined every year since 2010 while his line drive rates have basically hovered around 20% or so. It’s difficult to hit for added pop when you’re putting the ball in the air fewer and fewer times.

Carlos Santana is an above-average — and underrated — bat behind the plate. But if he wants to take that final step forward, he’s going to have to start getting some more loft in his swing. Otherwise, he’s going to stay a very good hitter, not great.


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  • Swift says:

    He definitely has an eye for the ball, thus all the walks. I just wish he was a little better catcher. At times he is very good, he seems to call a good game, but he hasn’t been great at blocking balls (other times much better), and is arm is pretty mediocre.

    • Drew says:

      yeah, that DWAR of -0.8 this season does not help his cause.

      • The Doctor says:

        on a quasi-related note, beyond the box score had a piece today about breaking down who is more responsible for a caught stealing – the pitcher or the catcher? it’s a little numbers heavy, as many of their pieces are, but it was very interesting:

        • Drew says:

          Thanks for the article. but caught stealing percentage is only part of the problem. To the article’s and your point, the Indians pitching staff is not very good at controlling the running game. However, Carlos Santana’s defensive poor performance, in my opinion, comes from his inadequacy in preventing wild pitches or past balls. Yan Gomes has allowed a PB/WP in 5.7% of innings played this season. Carlos Santana is approaching 8%. Yadier Molina is around 2% this season, Joe Mauer is at 3%, Buster Posey is at 4%, Ryan Hanigan is at 5%.

          But, I wonder how much Ubaldo Jimenez is to blame for those values?

  • Shawn says:

    I wish Santana was a smarter hitter at this point in his career. His good batting eye comes and goes.

  • medfest says:

    I’d like to see a Kipnesesque hot streak out of Santana.

  • Andy says:

    I think the best way to increase Santana’s power is to get him out from behind the plate. Release Reynolds, let Carlos split time between 1st and DH and put the far better defensively Gomes behind the plate. Instant increase in effectiveness without a trade.

  • andy says:

    i agree andy, and what do u know my names andy too! gomes could be great in a few years, and he is definitely a better catcher then carlos, and due to reynolds scuffles, it wouldn’t be horrible to let him go and move carlos to 1st and dh.

    • Drew says:

      You are all forgetting about the extension talk of Mark Reynolds up through the middle of May. I know it has now been 2 months of ineffectiveness, but I do believe that he is likely to have an explosive period between now and the end of the season where he mashes another 15 HRs and drives in 40 runs while hitting closer to .300. That period will not last the entire 2nd half of the season but I do think his line when the season ends will look more like .230/.340/.465. His current .218/.307/.386 is depressingly below his career averages. He is due for a regression to the mean.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    Santana would probably hit better if he wasn’t catching, but that wouldn’t necessarily make him more valuable to the team. It would depend on the quality of his replacement as the starting catcher (Gomes looks promising), how much better he would hit without the wear-and-tear of playing behind the dish (April looked pretty good when he was fresh), and whether it bumps another good bat out of the lineup (not really with the way Reynolds is playing). The current setup with Gomes catching 2-3 games a week seems to be working, so we’ll probably see more of that as long as Gomes can hold up his end and Reynolds continues to slump.