Indians

How do I love thee, Carlos Santana?

A sad day approaches. The sun shall remain steady in rising from the East and the stars shall continue their seasonal dance across the night sky unabated. However, the captivating joy from the brightness of the day alongside the twinkling spectacle of the dark horizon promises to be dulled by the absence of Carlos Santana in a Cleveland Indians uniform as the 2017 MLB season is the last of his contractual obligation to the Northcoast.

The melancholy of future morn have yet to come to their realization. For on this day, Santana remains a chief member of the Land’s illustrious Tribe. Rather than fret about an unsolidified tomorrow, a determination must be made to fully appreciate and enjoy the moments left in the present.

There also arises the possibility of the climatic scene providing a payoff 69 years in the making. The potential last season of Santana wearing the red, white, and blue of the Indians falls in line with a ballclub as loaded as any in the 216 since Bob Feller, Larry Doby, and Lou Boudreau donned the kits. The 2016 World Series championship that was lost in Game 7 extra innings could be won anew as Santana’s final act.

Reasons some Indians fans have refused to embrace Carlos Santana:

  • Replaced a beloved player in Victor Martinez
  • Hot rookie streak offset expectations
  • Defensive struggles and shifting positions early in career
  • Knee injury and concussions
  • Even mythbusting didn’t convince some of statistical prowess

Much ink has been spilled and millions of electrons rearranged in attempts to explain why some have held hostage their willingness to love Carlos Santana. Their reasoning draws as blank as the walls they build in attempts to harden their hearts.

The upcoming 2017 season is not for the detractors. The time for feeble attempts to hoist these poor, unfortunate souls out of the depths of their own demise has drawn to a close. There is simply not enough time left for any of it to be wasted on those who refuse to see joy even as it rests beside them.

In the stead of any such debate should be time spent in full appreciation of the wonderful blessing it has been and continues to be to watch such an amazing player ply his trade.

Consistent Excellence

stats courtesy of fangraphs and baseball-reference

The steady beat of raindrops on the ground slowly accumulate into a puddle. The puddle overflows into a stream, which becomes a river dumping into a lake should the rain continue. Each individual raindrop is seemingly insignificant, but the constant of the rain keeps the entire world from dying of thirst. Such has been the career of Santana.

The starting rotation has Corey Kluber. Pitching three consecutive seasons with a FIP of 3.26 or better on at least 215 innings and registering 225 strikeouts is a feat worthy of finishing in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young Award voting each year. Such excellence is hailed throughout the baseball universe as is the consistency with which it has been obtained. Because baseball, randomness denies all but the luminaries of the sport to be such persistent purveyors of statistical dominance.

The lineup has the irreplaceable Santana.

courtesy of baseball-reference play index search

Only seven hitters in all of MLB have been as consistently great as Santana. The list is filled with players known by their monikers as much as their full names. Uttering Big Papi, EE, Cutch, Miggy, Goldy, and Trout bring to mind visions of reliable excellence in a wholly unreliable sport. Santana, MLB’s most under-rated hitter, has not quite hit the heights of the others on this list but the steady beat of his raindrops remains an impressive feat.1

That Santana’s steady navigation at the plate has come amidst an ever-changing tide of responsibilities in the field has made the accomplishment all the more admirable.2 Fear of failure often subsiding to a willingness to bolster areas of weakness on the team. Santana has been called catcher, third baseman, first baseman, designated hitter, and even a left fielder. His defense has not been rudderless. Much work has been done to evolve his defensive work at first base from an eye sore to one that was noticeably out-playing Mike Napoli in 2016. The numbers match what was noticed visually as his UZR/150 has risen over the six years he has played the position (-8.8, 4.8, -16.8, -0.9, 5.3, 4.6) culminating in manager Terry Francona’s assertion that Santana will own the majority defensive share of first base in 2017.3

All-Time Indians status

ranks courtesy of baseball-reference

Santana has become a Top 25 hitter in the 116 year history of the Cleveland Indians franchise with a chance to be argued into the Top 20 by years end. Ghosts of the past shape the perceptions of our present yet somehow the historical calls have been but whispers about him.

Nay. These proclamations need to be shouted. A higher WAR (and oWAR and OPS+) than Victor Martinez! More runs scored than Rocky Colavito and Shoeless Joe Jackson, more RBIs than Jim Hegan and Grady Sizemore! More doubles than Julio Franco and Larry Doby, as many home runs as Joe Carter! Higher win probability added (WPA) than the “clutch” Roberto Alomar and David Justice!

Last Word
Santana has been through everything with the Indians. His promotion to MLB was as the Tribe was embroiled in a dark period of revamping their entire system from drafting to player development to how they ran day-to-day operations. Santana provided fans much-needed hope for the future during that 46 game stint in 2011.

Fittingly, the everlasting image of the 2016 Cleveland Indians postseason shall forever be Carlos Santana falling to his knees as he catches the last out of the penultimate series. The quest for a championship remains though the possibility still exists of Santana satisfying that thirst as his farewell.4

Sonnet

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote the sonnet How do I love thee. However, since it was written in the years just before baseball was born, it could use a bit of a sprucing up, which I am apt to do here.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
I love thee home runs center and left and right
My soul is full, ball traveling out of sight
Slamtana swing mighty and full of grace
I love thee to the level of bleacher’s raise
Most quiet walk, no need for fruitless flight
I love thee freely, saunter to first with delight
I love thee purely, eye doth not cease to amaze
I love thee joy on diamond to amuse
No time for grief, around bases roundtrip
I love thee pointed skywards, praise full enthuse
to Him above rightly for skills he did equip
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall love thee better after a ‘ship

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  1. Even expanding the parameters of the search to include just players who have hit 3.0 bWAR with an OPS+ of 120 makes only 14 players total on the list of those who have done so at least four times in the past six seasons. Adding the Bill James PwrSpd combination stat shrinks the list to just Santana, Trout, and Cutch. []
  2. Adding a note here that Santana has also improved greatly as a baserunner. []
  3. Important to note that the 4.8 is from the 2012 season when he only played 128 innings at first base. Extremely small sample size there. He was not a positive defensive force at that time. []
  4. Yes, Carlos Santana could return to the Indians in 2018. I hope that he does. However, the rising payroll due to young players and veterans who have succeeded obtaining more money makes the possibility seem remote. Perhaps a World Series championship might provide the necessary funds for the innovative front office to find a way. []