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In defense of Carlos Santana

In defense of Carlos Santana
October 15, 2013
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Carlos Santana is the most underappreciated Cleveland sports athlete I have seen in my life time. The amount of people who want him sent out of town or that think he is a terrible disappointment never ceases to amaze me. Anything I write on him ends up with negative comments and people who seem to think he should be traded or even just let go.

This all lead me to wonder why people are down on him. I came up with a few reasons of why I think he has been disliked by Indians fans, and then to show why he is not just a good player but a great player for the Indians no matter where he plays.

Theory One: Replacing Greatness

Carlos Santana was acquired and appointed the heir apparent to Victor Martinez in 2008. By 2009 Martinez was gone and it was clear that the future was Santana and it would be arriving soon.  There were a lot of comparisons made between the two players since both had defensive issues and plus bats.

Martinez is the best offensive catcher in Indians history. The other big names in the past for the Indians at catcher like Ray Fosse and Sandy Alomar both had injuries that cut their careers short. Victor was a beloved player, who was in some respects the spiritual successor to Omar Vizquel. He was the heart of the team and was known for his specific handshake for every teammate.

Now, it’s not easy to replace a great player in Cleveland. If you don’t believe this ask Johnny Peralta how it was to replace Vizquel.  Santana is always measured against Victor Martinez and this is where some Indians fans find him lacking. They see a guy with a low average, low RBI totals, and mediocre home run totals and think, "man remember when Victor used to hit .300?". They ignore the fact Santana has a better homer run per plate appearance rate than Victor and that he makes less outs than Victor. This all leads me to theory number two.

Theory Two: Old Statistics

The following stats really don’t mean a whole lot: batting average, home runs, and RBI.

RBI in particular has no value for evaluating a player because it basically is a stat based on who is hitting in front of them more than their actual performance.  Batting average is half a stat as it doesn’t take walks into account which is an important part of the game. It’s a stat that is an incomplete way to judge if a player reaches base. Home runs are important, but they aren’t the end all be all, and if home runs alone were all that mattered then Russell Branyanwould have been an All Star and Adam Dunn would be a Hall of Famer.

People see a guy hitting .268 and they think the player is not very good. In general, batting averages in baseball are down; the league average batting average last year was .253 down from .264 in 2003. During the height of the juiced ball era averages were up to near .270, so all the sudden .268 is not so bad. I mean it’s well above the league average.  If Santana was batting .279 I think a lot less people would have an issue.

As I stated before average isn’t the best indictor anyway as Santana had the 18th best on-base percentage in all of baseball this year. This means of the hundreds of people who played in the majors this season only 17 hitters were more effective at not getting out.  Baseball is a game of outs, so it only makes sense that you want a guy who gets on base.  A hit might be better than a walk, but getting on base is still what matters the most. If you walk you are not getting out.

Now, how about some other stats that get missed. Santana was 3rd in all of baseball in pitches per at bat, which means he wears down starters and helps you get to the pen.  He was tied for 22nd in wRC+ - the players he was tied with were Giancarlo StantonAdrian Beltre, and Allen Craig. He is in pretty fantastic company right there. If you aren’t familiar with wRC+ it measures total offensive production by a hitter.  So by this stat you have the 22nd best run maker in all of baseball on the Indians.

So it makes sense you got a player who excels at not making outs, wears down pitchers, and is in the upper tier or run producers in the league, so of course you want to run him out of town.

Myth: Santana’s value is tied to catcher

The emergence of Yan Gomes has led to even more talk the Indians should move Santana. Gomes is no doubt a superior defender and with his play this year he exploded onto the scene. The question is not if there will be a regression but how much of a regression will there be with Gomes. No matter the regression as long as he is even a slightly below average bat, with his defense he is still a starting catcher in baseball.  So what do you do with the defensively challenged Santana?

Most of the time when Santana played with Gomes he was at first base. The question is how would he rank compared to the other first basemen in the league.  In terms of WAR, he would have been the 8th best first baseman. This number would have been higher had he played first all year because his WAR was hurt by his negative defensive value at catcher.  He would have been tied for 8th in wRC+, 4th in OBP, 13th in SLG, 10th in OPS, and 3rd in BB/K rate.

So Santana is clearly a top ten player at first base just based on his bat, and without the wear and tear of catcher he has a chance to be top five guy at the position. So anyone who tries to say his bat would not be good enough for first base has not done their research.

I know but wait, Nick Swisher is the Indians' first baseman. I could argue our best offensive lineup would be Swisher in right field, but if you insist he must stay at first then let’s look at how Santana would fare as a designated hitter.

As a DH, Santana is even better in terms of his numbers as his stats would rank 4th in wRC+, 3rd in OBP, 5th in SLG, 4th in WAR, 5th in OPS, and 4th in BB/K.  So as a DH he is already a top five player and could be top three if all he did was concentrate on hitting. So it’s pretty clear that Santana has a plus bat, no matter the position.

I know even after all of this that those who dislike Santana won’t budge even after what I have shown and written. It’s almost personal to some, but I am hoping that a few people who didn't realized he was that good will read this and rethink their stance on Santana. At the least believe he would not be a bad option for the Indians at first base.

If nothing else I really hope it makes people realize you don’t trade a player like Santana, a bat like that is not easy to find and almost impossible to replace. A bat like his is exactly what the Indians want to find to add to the lineup this offseason, not subtract from it.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at

User Comments

October 19, 2013 - 1:38 PM EDT
IF you made him more versatile playing 3B and the corner outfield positions as well he would become even more valuable. He might not be great at said positions, but neither is Jhonny Peralta and he is starting on a World Series caliber team.

A guy that can play 20+ games at C,1B, 3B, and RF/LF a season, that hit like he does... The sky is the limit
October 17, 2013 - 8:44 PM EDT
Thank you everyone, been a thrill for me to have so many people read and respond to this article.

I wrote this after calls in about trading him to my radio show on IBI, many many twitter comments, and all the negative comments to my three year review on the catching position.

Thanks again everyone
October 17, 2013 - 12:54 PM EDT
You don't have to look at or understand sabr numbers though to appreciate Santana as a hitter. His .377 OBP was 18th best in all of baseball and his .832 OPS was 30th. Even non sabr people can (or should) appreciate those numbers. If anything Tony may have been selling him a tad short with saying he's only a top 25-40 hitter...
October 17, 2013 - 9:19 AM EDT
I would agree that Santana is underrated...but to be's a strange case of being underrated.

I would say he's underrated to about half the population of Indians fans...
October 17, 2013 - 9:16 AM EDT
By the way...there are several Jims posting at this point...these two posts were my first two...
October 17, 2013 - 9:15 AM EDT
I have absolutely no problem with folks wanting to deal Carlos long as they get equal value back...

and they'd have to get a lot.

But I have no problem with the Indians dealing anyone...has nothing to do with whether or not I like them or not.

You can make a case that there's some depth at the major league level with the Indians with Gomes and Santana (I know some folks will soft sell that, and I'm okay with that), that Gomes won't get you much as a newcomer, and that Santana could bring in a ton because GMs value the type of player he is.

Of course...the same argument could be made to keep him...

Either way...who cares.

Now, do folks see his value? That's debatable. I truly didn't until I really looked at the numbers and started forcing myself to understand sabr...dragging and kicking...

There's nothing wrong with pictures of old home run hitters from the 90' doesn't have to be flipping black and white here...

Is Santana a great player?


Is it okay if the Indians deal him?


Will they?


Can you still send him Christmas cards?

October 17, 2013 - 9:14 AM EDT
Michael, as noted below, probably one of the top three questions I get asked all the time is what the Indians can get in return for Santana if they trade him. People think because Gomes is the catcher the Indians should trade him.....and a lot of times they say they should "trade him for a bat" which is laughable since he is the bat you want to trade for. It just generally comes down to an ignorance by some fans of not understanding true value in the game. He's no doubt one of the games Top 25-40 bats. That's good company to be in.
October 17, 2013 - 9:11 AM EDT
this is one of the more mystifying articles i've read in a while. i've come across exactly zero people who do not want this guy on the team. quite a few prefer gomes at catcher (me included) but to move santana? zero. i go to a lot of games and chat up the neighbors, and it has come up exactly zero times all season.
October 17, 2013 - 8:50 AM EDT

The cardinals are probably not looking for a catcher with yadier Molina on there team.... you'll have to settle for ACab going to stl. but with all stl young arms pitching so well I doubt they give up any of them
October 17, 2013 - 8:36 AM EDT

I haven't run into many people that want to necessarily trade Santana, but I'd say more people dislike him and think he "stinks" than people that like him.

Also so many people rag on him for being terrible in clutch situations...these same people praise Brantley as this great hitter that is extremely clutch....yet Santana had a higher OPS this year with RISP than Brantley.
October 17, 2013 - 8:10 AM EDT
Nick, I get email after email or tweet after tweet suggesting the Indians trade him. Believe me, this feeling is out there among the fans.
October 17, 2013 - 7:57 AM EDT
I've literally met 0 people that want to move Santana or dislike him. I'm perplexed by this entire article
October 17, 2013 - 5:23 AM EDT
Nice article Jeff but I think you overlook one thing about Santana that is relevant. He is not white.
October 16, 2013 - 8:16 AM EDT
I like Carlos as a hitter. I hate Carlos as a catcher. I'm a defence/game call first catcher because that IMO means more wins. I only care how a catcher performs offensively after his defence and game calling skills have been evaluated. I don't think Carlos' game calling issues are in his overall game, it's just that lapse that happens about once a game but those lapses are enough. I think moving him out of the catcher role will also improve his offence (just think it's too taxing for him to excel).
Gvl Steve
October 16, 2013 - 7:16 AM EDT
Santana is a good hitter. 1995 is over and not coming back and cannot be the basis for comparison. Everybody had 2 or 3 Trouts and Cabreras in their lineup back then. Consider these stats from the Indians' '95 team:
.314 avg 25 HR; .317 avg 50 HR, .308 avg 31 HR, .323 avg 21 HR, .314 avg 15HR, .310 avg 7 HR, .300 avg. 10 HR. That's 7 everyday players on one team hitting over .300 with an average of 23 homers each. By contrast, there were only 15 hitters in the entire American League who hit over .300 this year in over 300AB. Look at what other teams' catchers and shortstops are hitting and you will see how valuable Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera really are.
October 16, 2013 - 1:34 AM EDT
Lots of anti-Carlos folk are very critical of his defense at C and at 1B. Also seems like an extremely high OBP doesn't move them. Mostly, though, a bunch of old farts that haven't clued in to today's game where there are few .300 hitters and not many that hit over 20 HR.
October 15, 2013 - 10:19 PM EDT
Plus, with his long follow-through on his swing, Carlos will keep moving up the ranks of A.L. catchers as he administers concussions to the competition!
October 15, 2013 - 10:04 PM EDT
When Carlos came to us, hype made me expect a .300 BA with 30 homers, if not more. I think that's the mindset of all the Santana haters. Also, I think people see him hitting 4th and expect the big homerun numbers. And its not easy replacing Vic. If baseball would start placing more attention on stats like OBP and OPS, and de-emphasize BA, Carlos would be better appreciated...
October 15, 2013 - 9:06 PM EDT
Larry, there are few hitters better than Santana....maybe 15-20. That's it. That 15-20 includes the likes of Cabrera, Trout, Davis, etc. RBI are just a poor way to evaluate a guy since it is dependent upon guys being on base a lot when they are up.

Also, to be fair, Santana spent a majority of the season hitting 6th in the lineup. That's not a run producing spot. When he finally moved into the cleanup hole he hit .275 with 9 HR, 29 RBI and .910 OPS in 167 at bats.
October 15, 2013 - 9:01 PM EDT
My final comment on Santana is no matter how you spin it he is not a good hitter. I do not hate him and I would only trade him if I received a real hitter. Speaking of RBI not being an important stat, do you think the Tigers would have liked two today.
October 15, 2013 - 9:00 PM EDT
Excellent point about the numbers meaning something different than they used to. 5-10 years ago .300 and 30 HRs and a .900 OPS were the separators on a general level. Now? Guys that hit .270 with 20 HRs and .800 are along the same lines. Just a different game. And I agree that we are often underwhelmed by the numbers guys put up now because we are conditioned to the era of offense (steroids) from 94-06. It also makes you appreciate guys like Cabrera and Trout and Davis.....
John Boehner
October 15, 2013 - 7:54 PM EDT
Post-steroid era? ROFL. These guys are still cheating like crazy. If you ain't cheating, you ain't tryin'
October 15, 2013 - 6:42 PM EDT
another point worth making is the other catcher during santana's years in cleveland. For all of lou marson's offensive
shortcomings he is when healthy a supurb defensive catcher calls a good game has a weapon for an arm if given a chance by the pitcher and gomes proved in his 90 or so games to be a PREMIER CATCHER defensively with a bazooka for an arm and accuracy to pick runners off bases instead of pitchers picking them off he disrupts the running game and baseball is basically pitching and disrupting timing and not allowing the other team to do what they want to do because of a special talent. Santana if compared to the normal situation where the starting catcher is substantually better than the back up catcher he would be perceived higher by the fans, Carlos Santana would be the starting catcher in about 23 major league cities including detroit, and the dodgers for instance. evaluate him under normal circumstances not under the situation of marson and gomes as his back up.
Jason (Your Old Roommate)
October 15, 2013 - 6:04 PM EDT
I totally agree about batting average expectations in the post-steroid era being off.

I know when playing fantasy baseball I was frustrated about a lot of my guys "only hitting .275-.280" and it wasn't until I spent several months looking for better averages that it finally sunk in that the days of putting together a team that all hits .280 no problem are over. The same happens with a lot of my friends regarding home runs...we grew up during a time where even the worst players on a team seemed to hit 20 a season no problem; it has taken awhile for people to acknowledge that a player can still have a pretty solid season with just 18-20 HR these days in comparison to his peers (as opposed to 30, 40, 50).

Fantasy baseball is also to blame overall because too many fans view the value of a player based on stats like BA, HR, and RBI overlook deeper indicators of team value. Not many leagues that focus on OBP.
Mike H.
October 15, 2013 - 5:26 PM EDT
Preach Seth, Preach.
October 15, 2013 - 5:20 PM EDT
I think part of it is what you get to in your second point, about averages, and offense, being down across the board. (I think some of the people on this site overvalue our pitching in the same way, because back in the day an ERA of 4 was pretty good, while now that's below average) There were always people talking about how the Indians' hitting as a whole was terrible, and they should fire their hitting coach. The Indians as a team were tied for 5th in MLB with a .324 wOBA, and 6th in MLB in runs, got performances that were well above expectations from Raburn and Gomes (and Santana and Brantley played about exactly to their expectations), yet they should fire their hitting coach. It's not just Santana, I think fans in general haven't adjusted their expectations for offense or pitching with how the league has changed as a whole
October 15, 2013 - 4:59 PM EDT
Being sarcastic there Jim in regards to St. Louis?? I hope...
October 15, 2013 - 4:57 PM EDT
If you want to trade value then Gomes would probably be the catcher to deal. Few teams out there probably see Santana as a long-term catching option (or even a short term one). Whereas Gomes is solid defensively, which many teams put ahead of offense.

I say move Santana to 1B, DH, or the OF. Fills one of the holes on offense without having to make a move. Trading him just creates another hole. Even if Ubaldo and Kazmir leave, think the hole that creates in the #5 spot in the rotation is smaller than what Santana would leave in the middle of that lineup.
October 15, 2013 - 4:56 PM EDT
They have Adams who is not and he gives them flexibility. Yadi is Old, Old, Old.
October 15, 2013 - 4:51 PM EDT
Why would STL trade for him, they have Yadi who is even better?
October 15, 2013 - 4:31 PM EDT
and I like his clutch play down the stretch, and he had a good game vs tampa

(chiz, gomes too)
October 15, 2013 - 4:30 PM EDT
I like Santana a lot. He gets on base. He has pop. versatility, wears pitchers out, switch hitter.. god of BB
October 15, 2013 - 3:30 PM EDT
I blame the prospect hype. I would have thought that for all his hype he would have hit .280+ with ~30 HR. He is most definitely a fantastic hitter and I hope they extend him soon.
October 15, 2013 - 3:27 PM EDT
You've got to trade value to get value and you deal from a position of strength. Strength, catcher. Value received a potential number one starter like Wacha or Rosenthal in St. Louis. Lessens the likely loss of Jimenez and keeps the front office from overpaying for Kazmir.
October 15, 2013 - 3:14 PM EDT
I'd add in his ranks in the OF too....even if you don't like him in the OF, shows how well his bat holds up out there. Only 2 guys in the AL with higher OPS in the OF this year was Bautista...and some guy named Mike Trout (heard he was good). 2nd highest wRC+ in the AL, 4th highest wOBA AL. Numbers vs the entire league are still solid.

Think Santana may be stealing Jhonny Peralta's mantle as most underrated Tribe player of the past 20 years (IMO). Liked the comparison you made with regards to them replacing team leaders/beloved players.

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