One of the biggest misconceptions in baseball is that everything evens out over the course of a single season. It doesn’t. But over the course of multiple baseball seasons, things do even out. And that’s exactly what’s happening for former Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana in 2019.
To suggest that Santana wasn’t productive in 2018 – his lone season with the Phillies – would be incorrect. He homered 24 times, drove in 86 runs and walked 110 times. But his .229 batting average was uncharacteristic, and not a great way to endear himself to a city that had very mixed opinions on the Phillies decision to sign him to a three-year/$60 million free-agent contract.
The thing was, it was apparent that Santana had hit into bad luck. Beyond the casual observer being able to notice quite a few times where he missed hitting home runs by less than 10 feet, his batting average on balls in play in 2018 was just .231. Santana was never the type of player to compete for a batting title, but a year prior, he had hit .259, while posting a .274 batting average on balls in play. It was relatively easy to predict that Santana would have a bounce-back in 2019.
Back in Cleveland in 2019, the 33-year-old has actually seen more than his luck find the mean. After being very unlucky in 2018, the man affectionately referred to as “Slamtana” is hitting .289 in 2019 with a .309 batting average on balls in play.
None of this is to say that Santana’s first – and only – season in Philadelphia didn’t see him underperform to any degree. Even while walking 110 times in 2018, Santana posted a .352 on-base percentage, which is nearly 15 points below his career average. In addition to a major bounce-back in terms of batting average in 2019, Santana has walked 49 times for Terry Francona’s squad. His on-base percentage is at .411, which would easily be a career high. He also has a 2.2 fWAR in 2019, which already tops the 1.9 fWAR he posted all of 2018.
In the same way negative reactions pertaining to Santana’s play in 2018 were short-sighted, it would probably be short-sighted to think he’s going to continue to produce at the level. It’s 2019, we have statistics to quantify luck and predict regression.
The Phillies keeping Santana probably wasn’t realistic. Rhys Hoskins staying in left field – where he graded out as the second worst defender in the entire sport – wasn’t an option. While Santana held his own at third base in just over 100 innings at third base in 2018 – and the Phillies currently have a hole at the position after a hot start from Maikel Franco – his build made him playing third base as his primary position as he aged unrealistic. Not to mention, Santana was owed $40 plus million between 2019 and 2020, none of which the Phillies were on the hook for after dealing him to Seattle as part of the Jean Segura trade.
But any thought of Santana being among the most disappointing signings in Philadelphia sports history is misguided, even if he wasn’t a fit on a National League team with a power-hitting first baseman that’s probably best suited to be a DH. And those pesky sabermetrics that are often railed against predicted he would have a bounce-back season in 2019, wherever he played. And he is.
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