Black Magic Woman

Carlos Santana, entering his fourth season in the majors, has seemingly been a sleeper forever. It’s been said a lot before, but I have a strong feeling this will be the last time.

Santana is starting to feel a little bit like the catching version of Ricky Nolasco (all potential, no results). His career batting average in his 344 game major league career is .247. His career high batting average was .260 (back in 2010). He is slow on his feet (2.6 speed score last season), and hits the ball on the ground more often that he hits fly balls. Further, although he has a very respectable 51 career home runs in less than 1,500 major league plate appearances, Santana saw his power stroke drop significantly last year (.050 ISO differential).

However, these knocks are superfluous. Santana has made strides in his game over his major league tenure that make him look more like a player in the mold of 2008/2010 Geovany Soto than the 2009/2011/2012 Soto.

For starters, Santana has consistently maintained one of his key assets at an elite level, his plate discipline. Just over 15 percent of his trips to the plate in the major leagues have resulted in a free pass. Thus, despite posting a career batting average south of the .250 mark, his career on-base percentage is north of .360. Only three players drew more walks than Santana’s 91 last year: Adam Dunn (105), Ben Zobrist (95) and Dan Uggla (93). Each of those played 150 or more games in 2012. Santana played in 142. For his two-plus years of major league service, Santana has walked 15.4 percent of the time. Over the past three years, the only major league players to draw a greater percentage of walks are Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, Lance Berkman and Daric Barton. Not even Kevin Youkilis, the Greek god of walks, drew free passes 15 percent of the time in any single season of his career.

Santana’s plate discipline skills and pitch recognition talent as a catcher have developed in a way that should manifest in ways outside on-base prowess. In 2012, Black Magic Woman swung more often than in 2011, but at pitches in the zone. At the same time, while remaining selective with bad pitches, he made contact more often with pitches outside of the zone.

The results have been apparent in his process-based metrics, although not in his results. Santana saw his line-drive rate jump to league average rates last season, while his popup rate fell at an even faster rate. His walk rate remained consistent, while his strikeout rate fell nearly four percentage points. A 16.6 percent strikeout rate is respectable for any player; for a power hitter, it is rare. Santana has shown the ability to handle almost every pitch except the slider. For whatever reason, his other weak pitch last year was the fastball. Santana has shown the talent to absolutely crush fastballs in both the major and minor leagues. Assuming health, I am not worried about the young power hitter (his power graded as a 65-70 on the 20-80 scale, if memory serves) handling fastballs in 2013.

Santana sees a first-pitch strike barely half the time, and only 45 percent of all pitches thrown to him last season were actually strikes last year. As pitchers become increasingly aware they need to throw Santana strikes if they want to keep him off the bases, and as Santana gets more chances at quality pitches, things should turn around. This is particularly true as pitchers fall behind in the count on him and need to lean on their fastball.

By my calculations, and based on his approach at the plate, Santana should have posted a batting average in the upper .270s last year. Even with depressed power, he should have pushed an .810+ OPS. Santana is not going to win a batting title any time soon, and he’s not a player in the mold of Joey Votto, but in the upper minors Santana hit .296 over 189 games between the ages of 22 and 24. His major league equivalent batting averages between 2008 and 2010 were .287, .258 and .273. Over that span, his respective MLE wOBAs were .375, .367 and .392.

Santana’s career trajectory has been an odd one. A freak knee injury ended his rookie season prematurely. A concussion likely stunted him last year. While David Wright is a testament to the risks and effects of a concussion on a promising young player’s career, Santana finished the second half of 2012 strong. His power numbers in July and September were in line with expectations, and he walked (49) more often that he struck out (43) over the season’s final three months.

There is no such thing as a “sure thing” in baseball, and Santana is certainly a name that carries some amount of brand recognition for a player who’s never cracked the top 150 in a given season. However, if I were a betting man, I’d put plenty of chips on Santana being one of the better value picks of 2013, even if he costs you double-digit draft dollars.

Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brad Johnson
11 years ago

Thanks for putting together my justification to keep/trade him at $22. I consider him fringy at that price, but since it’s a two catcher league…

11 years ago

I have Santana (20) and Wieters (19) in AL 4×4.  seems strange to blow 15% of my cap on 2 players, but I feel like both of them are on the cusp of doing great things.  And after mauer, AJP and Salvador Perez, the drop off in quality is precipitous.  it’s tempting to force other owners to roster junk at the position—it might lead to some funny bidding wars at the auction.

then again, another part of me wants to throw them back and try to get them cheaper.  it’s a low inflation league, and neither of these guys is a bargain.

11 years ago

since Santana is a catcher, he doesn’t have to put up monster numbers to still be valuable and a higher proportional rank than Nolasco was. But his numbers may never reach those numbers still and he will still be a disappointment in the mold of Nolasco.

Love Problem Solution
11 years ago

This blog is really awesome.But i want to know more about this.

Business Problem Solution

11 years ago

Jeff: I am being offered Votto and Stanton for my Miggy, Bumgarner and 1 of my Dunn, Howard or Cruz.  Should I do it?

Brad Johnson
11 years ago

Sounds like a reasonable offer, which means it depends on what you need and what you can get.

Is it an auction or snake draft? How many keepers? What do they cost? What are the best players expected to be available at 1B and 3B? Any quirks around categories, positions, etc.?

Jeff gross
11 years ago

If you can give up Dunn or Cruz of that three, yeah I would do that on paper. Need more details though.

11 years ago

Thanks guys.  It is a 10 team, H2H, keeper league, snake-draft (most likely I’ll have 10th pick in 1st, 2nd and 3rd rounds, but it snakes after that).  6×6 (ops and losses). 

I can keep 5 players. I currently have:
Miggy (1st round)
Braun (2nd round)
Dunn (5th round)
Howard (6th round)
Scherzer (7th round)
Cruz (10th round)
Bumgarner (11th round)
Latos (12th round)
Medlen (15th round)
Chris Davis (15th round)

The main issue is that I REALLY want Stanton (9th round keeper), but I don’t think I can get him for any combination that doesn’t include 1 of Miggy or Braun.  Also, I hate to give up the “safeness” of Miggy or Braun without getting “safeness” in return. 

So the idea was Miggy (1st round) and 2 of the others for Votto (1st round) and Stanton (9th).  Most like the other 2 will be Howard and Bumgarner.

I don’t think Dunn or Howard are “values” as keepers in their respective rounds and Bumgarner REALLY scares me with the way he ended last year.  I think he is going to get hurt this year or suffer a lack of velocity and thus not be as effective.

The final result would be: Votto (1st), Braun (2nd), Stanton (9th), Medlen (15th), Davis (16th).

Thanks for all your help!