It would be nice for the Sixers/Celtics series to resume tonight, but nooooooooooooo, we gotta wait for the Boston Bruins to play their BS home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So let’s check in on your Philadelphia Phillies, who have lost four in a row as they fall to 16-13 and third place in the National League East. Gabe Kapler’s club is coming back to Earth after going 13-3 through the middle portion of April.
One guy who might be also be reverting to the norm is Carlos Santana, which would actually be in the other direction, because a .158/.307/.287 slash line isn’t exactly what you’re looking for from the second-highest paid player on the team.
I think the .158 batting average speaks for itself, but put it in a visual format and you see he’s nestled right between power hitters Andrew Knapp and Jake Arrieta:
It’s glass half empty for his batting average, or basically three-quarters empty I’d say. That on-base percentage is okay by comparison, just for the fact that he’s at least drawing walks. Slugging and OPS numbers obviously sag by extension.
The narrative, as you well know, is that this is nothing new for Santana. He’s a slow starter, takes a while to get going, and will eventually begin to contribute. Question is, how long are you willing to wait? The Phils have played 17.9% of their season so far (29 games), so does a $60 million signing get the benefit of the doubt simply because he’s always been like this?
Gabe Kapler talked about Santana’s struggles on his weekly call with the 94 WIP morning show:
“We know that it’s sort of been a tough start if you look at it from one angle. But he’s always been a slow starter from a batting average perspective. We don’t know why that happens. But we know that you look up and he’s got bombs and doubles, 100 walks, RBI under his belt every single year. This is a good addition to the Philadelphia Phillies.”
Of course the bigger picture here is the trickle down effect of Santana playing first, Rhys Hoskins being bumped to the outfield, and Nick Williams having nowhere to play. That problem is solved if Santana sits down, but then you’re leaving a pricey veteran on the pine.
Kapler on if there’s a better way to approach that situation:
“I don’t know that there’s a ‘better.’ There’s a lot of ways it’s gonna (play out). And Nick Williams has a ton of capability; we’ve seen the power potential is off the charts and he’s an incredible all-around athlete, very explosive and fast, agile, the whole nine. We’ve seen him get some big hits for us off the bench and in the outfield. Right now, what you’re identifying is real, right? We have Hoskins in left field, we’ve got Odubel in center, we’ve got Aaron Altherr in right field who has been absolutely swinging a hot bat, not necessarily by hits but he’s driving the baseball all over the place. And Carlos is at first base. It’s tough to find looks for everybody but we’re doing the best that we have and we’re shuffling guys around to the best of our ability. Look, every single night Nick Williams has a chance to come in and win a baseball game for us off the bench and we’re going to continue to look for ways to mix him in.”
As a quick aside, I have to admit that Angelo Cataldi is very good with these interviews. When the goofy radio shtick is turned off and he’s going 1v1 in a strictly-sports environment minus the pointless listener phone calls, he really is excellent from a pure Q/A standpoint.
Anyway, back to Santana. The early struggle pattern checks out over the course of his career. Here’s how he’s done in April vs. how he’s finished each season:
April 2017 – .224/.327/.367
end of season – .259/.363/.455
April 2016 – .240/.326/.440
end of season – .259/.366/.498
April 2015 – .239/.393/.394
end of season – .231/.357/.395
April 2014 – .157/.318/.292
end of season – .231/.365/.427
April 2013 – .389/.476/.722
end of season – .268/.377/.455
April 2012 – .262/.417/.446
end of season – .252/.365/.420
April 2011 – .198/.327/.395
end of season – .239/.351/.457
2010 – (not applicable since he didn’t start playing until June)
Three out of the past four seasons he’s started slowly and finished with higher end-of-year numbers. 2013 was the real outlier here, when he hit the ball well consistently en route to some of his best career marks.
But if you’re expecting him to snap out of it in May, that’s not exactly the story either.
Going through career splits, Santana usually experiences up and down May patches before coming out flying in the summer. He’s a career .219 hitter in May, .240 in June, and .274 in July.
See for yourself:
Of course, national media and Cleveland types were always ready to make early comparisons with Santana’s replacement, Yonder Alonso, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal in December, coming over from Seattle:
It’s worth repeating – now that it’s a month into the season:
Yonder Alonso: .234, 8 HR, 21 RBI
Carlos Santana: .153, 2 HR, 11 RBI
— Jensen Lewis (@JLEWFifty) May 1, 2018
Yeah, okay, that’s understandable, but there’s also this:
I know most Phillies fans don’t want to hear about “luck” or “exit velocity” or “cold air” or whatever, but Santana is making some quality contact. He’s hit 39 balls harder than 95 miles per hour, which is top-25 across the league.
And he’s hitting some stuff to the warning track that will probably leave the field in the summer (or even now, in different ballparks). This is what his spray chart looks like applied to Citizens Bank Park:
You could dig through the charts and analytics for days to further craft that narrative, but I think people who have watched most of the games would agree that a bunch of balls that he’s putting into play could very easily have wound up getting him on base.
But that’s not the point.
The point is that none of this should really surprise anyone. I think the Phillies knew what they were getting in Santana, a guy who’s always started like this in the spring. The question is whether it’s worth waiting two months for a 32-year-old veteran to oil up the gears while a 24-year-old guy like Nick Williams floats around looking for a permanent home.