Indians

Why Indians fans should love Carlos Santana

Cleveland Indians Carlos Santana

Successful athletes who break into professional sports with the local team and remain with them six years (and counting) tend to be beloved. Sure, there are times when the promise of a young athlete is dashed by injury such as with Grady Sizemore or those highly drafted players who never pan out such as Dion Waiters or Trent Richardson. And, there are some players who take a few seasons to figure out their strengths and place in a league such as Tristan Thompson. But, the players who prove themselves to be consistent, above-average players are rarely hated. That is, unless that player happens to be Carlos Santana.1

Cleveland should be embracing Santana. He is a patient hitter, has had an above average bat each season, has been willing to do whatever the team has needed from him, and has been an engaging player to the fans. Yet, when one dares mention something positive about Santana, derision and snark are sure to follow.

So, let’s investigate the potential origin story for how Indians fans have arrived at such a strange place to see if these reasons have any merit, see where he currently stands in the league, and project where he might end up at the end of his current contract among all-time Cleveland Indians hitters.

Replacing beloved players

While Santana was obtained in a trade for Casey Blake, who had a strong following amongst fans despite a mediocre skillset, Scout’s Jeff Ellis believes fans have not allowed Carlos Santana to enter their hearts due to his failure to replace Victor Martinez. A year after Martinez was traded at the 2009 MLB trade deadline, Santana made his debut. Both players started as catchers, both were moved to first base and designated hitter due to their abilities hitting as much as their inabilities at being defensive catchers.

Martinez was the heart and soul of the Indian teams that came as close as one game from a World Series berth in 2007. Sure, the trades of back-to-back Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee hurt, but the trade of Martinez destroyed the psyche. His son asking “Are we still an Indian?” still pulls on my heart strings. And, Martinez has continued to have success since leaving Cleveland including a second place AL MVP finish in 2014 despite advancing in age.2

So, it would take quite the player to replace Martinez, and, on first glance, Santana is no Vic-the-Stik. Martinez was the .300 hitter who made three All-Star teams. Santana was the patient but low average hitter whose slow starts and initially poor teams kept him out of the mid-summer classic.

However, a closer look reveals the two hitters have much more in common. Martinez struggled his first two seasons in MLB (2002 and 2003), but the hitter fans remember is closer to the 2004-2009 V-Mart. Comparing Santana’s six seasons with the best six Indians years for Martinez shows similar value in OPS+, wRC+, and WAR. Martinez hit more doubles, but Santana more home runs and triples. Also, given their nearly identical OBP, the main difference between the hitters was Martinez hitting more singles, while Santana drew more walks. Yes, Martinez was a slightly better hitter as an Indian3 but not by much.

So, if Indians fans were hoping for a replacement to Victor Martinez statistically, then Santana has fulfilled that request adequately. He is not the fiery leader V-Mart was for those mid-decade teams, but it hardly seems a reason to hate on him.

Santana VMart Table

Hot rookie streak offset expectations

Upon his initial call up, there was not nearly so much hatred for Santana. At the time, Russell Branyan was the lightning rod for fan scorn, while Santana impressed in his initial 46 games. In just 150 at bats, Santana hit .260/.401/.467 with six home runs, 13 doubles, and a 143 OPS+. Those are near MVP consideration numbers. Even Michael Brantley would happily take those numbers.

However, his second year began to demonstrate his rookie glimpse was an outlier. While still putting up good numbers, they were a step back from the dominant hot streak of those first 46 games. Then, in August of 2010, Boston Red Sox rookie Ryan Kalish collided with Santana at the plate. Santana held onto the rocket throw from Shin-Soo Choo to complete the out, but seriously hurt his knee. The injury happened a year before Buster Posey’s home plate collision injury forced MLB to change the rules on such plays.

While Santana hurried back from injury to play 143 games the next year, the initial hitter did not resemble the old Santana at all. He struggled mightily early with no power in the first half before turning it on with an outstanding second half performance. But, alas, Santana never was able to complete an entire MVP-level year, and it seems many fans still hold him to those rookie standards.4

This chart adjusts Santana’s rookie year to a full season and compares those adjusted numbers against what he had done on average in his other five seasons with the Indians.

Santana rookie versus rest

Defense and shifting around

Carlos Santana is in MLB as a hitter first. No question there. He came up as a catcher and his numbers looked even better for those comparing him against other catchers, but the knee injury along with baseball having a better understanding of catcher framing (and that guys like Martinez and Santana were poor at it) led to a move from behind the plate. Santana embraced the Indians ill-fated attempt to have him fill the black hole at third base, but he was not suited for the position (-5 DRS in just 225 innings, -39.5 UZR/150).

Santana also accepted the move across the diamond to first base. At first, he struggled there too. He did improve though and made some fantastic plays such as two that helped preserve Carlos Carrasco’s no-hitter before Joey Butler eventually ended the bid with one out remaining. 2015 saw him obtain a 5.3 UZR/150 though still a -4 DRS in over 1100 innings of defensive play. He is not a good defensive player, nor is it likely he ever will be. But, he has been willing to accept whatever role has been given to him and his progression there indicates he works on improving in that role.

What do other people say about Carlos Santana?

So, how do we demonstrate that Carlos Santana is the above average hitter and not being properly appreciated enough by Cleveland Indians fans? Well, he has been a popular topic recently, so let’s see what others have said

WFNY’s own Jacob Rosen wrote in 2015 he believes Carlos Santana is under-appreciated in Cleveland based on arbitrary milestones. Of course, he has been attempting to convince fans to love Santana since at least 2013.

25 home run seasons aren’t as common as they were during my youth, during the run of those great Indians offenses. And that combinations of 25 home runs along with a .300 batting average and/or 100 RBI are quite rare too. Again, this shouldn’t be surprising! We’ve all been lamenting about the Great Offensive Recession for years. This isn’t just a macro issue, it’s also a micro one in player comparisons.

From 2011-14, Santana ranked 34th with a 127 wRC+. Sure, he might not be the best hitter on any given team. But out of the 286 qualified hitters, he was a dang good one and worthy of All-Star consideration almost every single year from his bat alone.

Meanwhile, Fangraphs August Fagerstrom created a handy Carlos Santana narrative buster:

MLB.com’s Andrew Simon projected Santana to be one of the 2016 bounceback candidates based on his examination of Statcast data:

Santana hit into 49 outs when generating triple-digit exit velocity, coming up empty on eight of his 19 hardest-struck balls in play. Among the 100 players with the most 100-mph contact, Santana sat in the middle of the pack in both average exit velocity (53rd) and launch angle (57th) but fared a bit worst in batting average (75th) and slugging (63rd).

Place in franchise history

In baseball, there tend to be two ways to be revered. Either to be ridiculously outstanding for a short stretch of time such as Albert Belle or Ken Griffey Jr. Or, be consistently above average for a ridiculous period of time such as Julio Franco or Cal Ripken Jr. Carlos Santana did not have the short stretch of ridiculousness, but he certainly has had an extended stretch of being quite good.

Years from now, when fans look back on Santana’s time in Cleveland, many will be surprised at just how often Santana’s name shows up in the franchise record books. And, yes, those leaderboards include the counting statistics often cited as negatives about Carlos Santana. How high he climbs the ladder will depend on injury, fighting off any decline, and if the Indians pick up what appears to be a team-friendly 2017 option, but he already is among the 30 best hitters in franchise history with a legit chance to make an argument for being a Top 20 Indians hitter after the next two seasons.

Santana is often chided for not hitting enough home runs. However, looking at the franchise annals, he is currently sitting in 17th place with 117 ahead of Carlos Baerga (among others). If he continues to average 24 home runs a season, then he will move up to 11th place, which pushes him ahead of Indian legends such as Joe Carter and Grady Sizemore.

The power of Santana extends past home runs as he also is 38th in doubles and 34th in total extra base hits. If he continues his averages per season, then after the next two years he can move into 16th and 14th place respectively. How many people realize Santana has a real chance to finish ahead of Albert Belle and Jack Graney in doubles?

So, if Santana is hitting for more extra base hits than fans give him credit, then where are all the runs scored and batted in? Well, despite playing for an offensively deficient team during an era of decreased run scoring, Santana is still showing up on those lists too. He is currently 38th with 421 RBIs and has scored 394 runs (Michael Brantley’s 402 runs scored is tied for 49th on the all-time Indians leaderboard). With two more average Santana seasons though, he would make the board in runs scored around 30th past Shoeless Joe Jackson. And, in RBIs, he would rocket up the board to 16th. Carlos Santana would finish ahead of Rocky Colavito, Omar Vizquel, and Carlos Baerga among other Indian legends.

Think of it this way. Fans tend to have warm thoughts when thinking about players such as Joe Carter, but was Carter a better hitter as an Indian than Santana? For now, the case could be made for either as Carter’s .269/.309/.472 slash is a bit better in BA and SLG% than Santana’s .245/.365/.433. Santana has the superior OBP, WAR (18.1 to 14.7), OPS+ (122 to 112), and wRC+ (124 to 109). Carter leads most counting statistic categories, but Santana projects to overcome most of those deficits as he is still 415 AB behind Carter.

Regardless of your feelings towards Carlos Santana, he is going to be prominent on many of the franchise leaderboards once his Cleveland tenure is complete.

Santana All-Time Rank

So, do you love Carlos Santana yet?

All is not perfect with Carlos Santana. It would be better if he morphed into Joey Votto and hit for a high average to complement his OBP. In a 2015 Bode Plot, there were some warning signs of age (or general) fall off such as an increase in soft% as he suffered through an uncharacteristically bad season. But, Simon (above) and Baseball Prospectus, and other projection tools see Santana having a bounceback year based on their models.

The thing is, will most Indians fans appreciate a good season from Carlos Santana?

Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

  1. Pre-publication I heard arguments for Kyrie Irving. He certainly has a curious throng of hatred, but I maintain to believe it is a very small minority who are vocal whereas Santana’s seem to have a vocal minority who love him. I could be wrong. []
  2. Sure, he has had his struggles too, but his successes have been amplified and his failures muted. []
  3. in those six seasons []
  4. Warrants mentioning Francisco Lindor just had a rookie year that does not line up with his MiLB career. He hit much, much better and with more power than anyone thought he would. So, while Lindor has always been a better prospect than Santana, Indians fans should also expect some regression on those offensive stats. []

  • CB Everett

    Eh, I still don’t love Santana. It’s on a high end of indifference to a low end of frustrated acceptance that we’re stuck with a guy who’s not better than we’d like.

    On another note, on the love continuum, the stat nerd August Fagerstrom III is everything fans dislike about stat nerds. He cherry picks “myths” about Santana and cherry picks stats to “disprove” the myths…such a disproving that Santana is a poor hitter with RISP by pulling out a stat showing his “productive out %.” Cyber punch in the face to that guy.

  • mgbode

    Thanks for taking time out of your St. Patty’s Day to read it.

    He used OPS for when RISP, which is an old-school stat (well, adding 2 old school stats).

    He used productive out% for situational hitting, which is a weird corner of the world on either side there.

  • chrisdottcomm

    I don’t care anything about any numbers. I love Carlos Santana the way people loved Andy Varejao.

    Dude has been my favorite Indian since his call up, lacing doubles and smashing walk offs. It was love at first sight and now I’m in so deep nothing can take the shine off.

  • CB Everett

    My mistake on the myth…you’re right…the productive out was to situational hitting. Pet peeves start with things like productive outs and stats to calculate loud outs. Generally, baseball stat discussions are like political discussions–the stats can be cherry picked to justify anything. But I digress.

    Even though the stats on the chart suggest only a sight edge by VMart (scaling perhaps), he was a much superior player. That said, I don’t mind Santana and don’t understand all of the hate he gets. I also don’t understand all the stat love. Oh well.

    Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!

  • mgbode

    I put the numbers underneath to show exactly how far off they were without scaling too. He is close.

    Also, realize those are V-Marts “best” six years as an Indian. He struggled his first two seasons and is a worse hitter than Santana taken as a whole. But, those first two years are not how we remember Victor, so I wanted a more accurate representation (and a clean 6yr to 6yr comparison).

    Finally, I know you are fair with Santana. I get people accepting him for what he is without getting all head-over-heels. It’s the fans who just crush him despite his status as an above-average hitter who I want to convince.

  • nj0

    Not meaning to start an argument, but I don’t get how stats show that these two guys are similar in caliber and yet you somehow conclude that VMart was significantly superior. In what way? Honest question.

  • Kristin Johnson

    My issue with Santana is he does not try to get better like beat the infield shift by driving the ball to the oppo field. He needs to shorten his swing.

  • nj0

    Sometimes there’s a man…. I won’t say a hero cause what’s a hero? But sometimes there’s a man – and I’m talking about Carlos Santana here – sometimes there’s a man who… he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s Carlos Santana in Cleveland.

    He perfectly embodies the post-CC Indians. Good, not great. Overrated yet overlooked. Solid while disappointing. Somehow both better and worse than expected.

  • CB Everett

    No problem. Generally as I mentioned, the stats are cherry picked. For example, (and I know it’s disfavored by stat folks), RBIs were omitted. VMart averaged 100.6 to Santana’s 79.8. But that’s significant, as he’s driving in 20 more runs.

    Everyone love to talk about Santana’s on base % simply bloated bc of his walks (he’s the master at 2 out walks, I swear) but he never seems to come around and score as evidenced in the low number of runs scored which is also omitted as a stat here.

    The other thing (and I’m not trying to pick on Bode’s fine work), but the scaling is misleading. A .295 avg versus a .247 avg is huge. Yes, yes on base percentage and all, but again, Carlos isn’t driving in as many runs or scoring more. Also, VMart is a much better contact hitter.

  • mgbode

    Yep, there is a legitimate argument for your stance. Fangraphs (as shown) loves V-Mart’s contributions more as can be seen, while b-r thinks they are equals. Depends on how you interpret things (in this case, specifically the differences in singles vs walks and Martinez having more doubles).

    For RBI and Runs, Fagerstrom shows Santana doesn’t wilt with runners on. The issue is opportunity. The Indians were scoring more runs in V-Marts day, but also were factored in on teammates and what was going on at a macro level in MLB.

  • nj0

    Sorry, I have to say this (it’s a condition of my membership in the Moneyball Internet Society): both RBIs and runs are greatly influenced by the players you’re playing with.

    As for the two out walk thing… I’d be interested to see if that’s really the case and if it’s out of the ordinary. I would think that pitchers have the opportunity to be more selective in their pitches with two outs since walking a guy in that situation is less dangerous than doing so with fewer outs.

    As for batting average, it’s a valid point. I think stats people sometimes go overboard in equating a walk to a single.

  • Steve

    Santana was second on the team in runs scored last year despite guys like Gomes and Moss performing awful last year, and especially awful w/ RISP. This idea that Santana walks don’t lead to runs is based off nothing in the real world.

    As far as two out walks. Santana walks in 16% of PAs. For all PAs, for two out PAs, and for non-two out PAs.

  • Steve

    “The Indians were scoring more runs in V-Marts day”

    Not just the Indians, everyone. The average AL team scored 4.9 runs a night from 2004-2009, Victor’s time here, and 4.4 runs a night from 2010-2015, Santana’s time here.

  • The Other Tim

    “MLB.com’s Andrew Simon projected Santana to be one of the 2016 bounceback candidates based on his examination of Statcast data:”

    Bounce back from what? I’m reading here that he’s the MVP.

  • mgbode

    Yes, that is why I said it was a macro MLB thing too.

  • mgbode

    Fantastic. I am even more convincing than I thought I was. Not sure where I said such, but thanks.

  • nj0

    You can’t win…

  • CB Everett

    Totally agree with you and Bode on driving in runs and scoring runs. In part, it’s a function of your teammates’ play.

    As much as stat folks (not you in particular) try to justify, Santana isn’t the hitter that VMart was (50 points of BA and 20 more RBIs can’t be overcome no matter how much statsplaining is spread out on the fields).

    We know what we see. Carlos doesn’t win games for us. He doesn’t move the needle. He gets walks which is a meh, he at least didn’t strike out. He starts out seasons very poorly and has hot streaks. He’ll occasionally hit a HR or lace a double. He’s an ok guy who will it 20 HRS and bat .230. He has heart and seems like a good dude. Fine. He’s not the worst.

  • CB Everett

    It’s hard. Not so much about you or nj0 as you guys seem balanced, but other stat nerds doing their statsplaining. Most fans would probably just shrug and meh over Carlos Santana. But for some reason, he’s thrust upon us to accept that he’s greater than what we all think he is, and the reaction turns sour quickly (myself included). That’s my take on the backlash, FWIW.

  • chrisdottcomm

    BACK OFF KRISTIN….HE’S MINE.

  • Steve

    This seems completely backwards to me. Santana gets a strong defense because he gets maligned so often.

    Indians fans shrugged and meh-ed at Chisenhall, Murphy, Moss, Tomlin, and no one was particularly quick in supporting them. But Santana gets ripped constantly for his batting average.

  • chrisdottcomm
  • Steve

    “50 points of BA and 20 more RBIs can’t be overcome no matter how much statsplaining is spread out on the fields”

    Sledgehammer instead of flyswatter, but this is, frankly, the kind of nonsense that causes so many problems.

    You complain about cherry picking stats, and then you chose ones that we know have very big flaws, and then arbitrarily decide that you won’t ever be convinced that anything could make up for them. Yes, a certain amount of OBP and SLG can easily make up for 50 points of BA. Yes, a certain league-wide run-environment can make up 20 RBI.

    You don’t take the time, or even want to know how much value a walk represents compared to a single, or how much of driving in a run or scoring a run is dependent on other guys. You’ve made up your mind on Santana, and go back and look for thoughts that support your pre-conceived notions.

    Good analysis stems from finding which metrics are the best measures of true talent, which ones best measure ability, or the means of scoring runs, and then judge players after we’ve figured those out. Not go “he’s meh”, now let me find something that I can mesh with that.

  • CB Everett

    Meh. I’ll give that response a C-. Not your finest work.

  • nj0

    I don’t trust my eyes.

  • Steve

    And then this crap. If you don’t want to have a discussion about Santana’s value, why post at all?

  • mgbode

    C’mon. I don’t care who you are; that right there was fun-E.

  • Bob

    The problem is that Carlos has been forced into a roll in the batting order he is not suited for. He should be a six hitter. His stats would be very good there.

  • Brandon

    I love it when well-put-together articles point out how colossally dirt-stupid fans are.

    It’s not Santana’s fault that Teets Francona doesn’t have a clue on how to use him. They eventually figured out that Shin-Soo Choo was a leadoff guy. We’ll see if Teets Francona finally tries Santana at leadoff, leadoff being the ONLY position that Teets hasn’t switched Santana around to.

  • CB Everett

    Trust those peepers and remember the quote that is apropos here: There are three kinds of lies…lies, damned lies, and statistics.

  • mgbode

    Francona recently stated he wanted to try Santana out at leadoff but the analytic guys in the front office were able to statistically demonstrate it was not his optimum position.

  • woofersus

    *sigh*

    My favorite topic and I have no time to argue with anybody about it today…

  • tigersbrowns2

    heck , even i love carlos santana …

  • mgbode

    You already stole Victor, you may NOT have Carlos 🙂

  • nj0

    Statistics don’t lie, but statisticians do.

  • scripty

    Runs scored has some meaning whereas RBI is relatively useless.

  • CB Everett

    But statisticians never lie with women.

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  • jpftribe

    My now 18 year old son has played ball since he was 4. When he could choose his number, it has always been 41, an homage to Victor. Tough guy to try and replace.

    Carlos is a victim of being the only one. Imaging Jim Thome without Joey Belle, Eddie Murray or Manny Ramirez. That’s Carlos. He’s not a 4 hole guy. He’s a superb no 5.

  • Brandon

    Were my comments deleted?

    I know the Tribe’s analytics guys say he’s better in the middle of the lineup, but they are a bit confused.

    They are looking at numbers only. Those of us who know baseball know of a few things that perhaps the numbers guys don’t think of.

    For one…the myth that a walk is as good as a hit.

    Absolutely true. And, sometimes, a walk is BETTER than a hit. Any time you can run up the starter’s pitch count, it’s a good thing. With none on, a 4+ pitch walk is exponentially better than a 1st or 2nd pitch single. Batters need to see as many pitches as possible. Pitchers want to throw as FEW pitches as possible. So, even if you record an out, an 8-pitch out is a FAR better outcome for the hitting team than a 1-pitch out.

    Santana leading off would force at least 4-5 extra pitches a game. That is awesome. And, would help get to the bullpen quicker.

    AND, when you consider that Santana gets on base whether he’s in a slump or not, it’s a better outcome for all the hitters behind him. Lindor, for one, who hit .372 with runners in scoring position last season. Brantley hits around .320. Kipnis hits around .290.

    Last season, Kipnis’s OBP for Sept and October was under .300. That killed the team. Two months with an automatic out at the top of the lineup. “Beeewt…he’s FASTT.” Doesn’t matter if he’s not on base.

    And the term “clogging up the basepaths” is an absolute myth. Maybe it’d be true if runners didn’t have a 90 foot head start.

    Santana for leadoff. He’s a switch-hitter. Can manipulate that for any pitcher. Same with Lindor. And Brantley and Kipnis are far better hitters than Santana with runners on base/RISP.

    Please…if anyone knows anyone in the organization. They need to call me. This is the difference between 81 wins and a playoff run.

  • mgbode

    I see one other comment from you here. I checked and none are pending on the server. Not sure if something stranged happened with Disqus. Apologies if it did.

    Is going to the bullpen quicker these days a good thing? With specialization, many teams have stronger bullpen (for an inning w/ a guy) than starters. See the World Champion Royals. Of course, it depends on which team you are playing and who is available.

    I do agree the OBP helps slumps.

    I don’t mind if Santana leads off. I don’t mind if he hits #5 or anywhere in between. The run expectancy between moving him around in there is really, really low. So, maybe we squeeze out an extra win if we get it right.

  • Brandon

    No, I was just being slow. I didn’t realize the newest comments weren’t necessarily at the top. 🙂

    That is a good point, RE the bullpen, but even if that isn’t the ultimate goal, it’s still a goal to see as many pitches as possible. I am a super-dork, so I almost get more excited about Santana’s 9-pitch outs than I do Kipnis’ 2-pitch singles.

    Kipnis is a great hitter with runners on/RISP. Santana is not.

    Santana gets on base, whether he is in a slump or not. Kipnis doesn’t even see first base when he is in a slump.

    If you increased the leadoff slot’s OBP by .030, and increased the batting average with runners on, at the cleanup spot, by .040, I think some fun things would happen.

  • mgbode

    one of Kip’s bigger hidden issues is he isn’t good against LHP. he really should drop to 7/8 in the lineup on those days. he is among the best in MLB against RHP though, which obv. helps. if Tito was willing to adjust lineups at least for LHP and RHP, then we could see a few more runs. we’ll see what he plans on with all the likely platoons.

    Kip in ’15 (OPS+):
    bases empty = 137
    men on = 116
    RISP = 122

    Santana in ’15 (OPS+):
    bases empty = 114
    men on = 105
    RISP = 133

  • Janet
  • Janet
  • mgbode

    Has got to have been a fun year for you cheering on Santana.