Carlos Santana: Already Supernatural

Carlos Santana has only played forty major league games, but he’s already topped one significant leaderboard with his play. Consider this little nugget: Last year, he put up the best OPS by a switch-hitting catcher debuting under the age of 25 with 30 or more games. In fewer words, he was the best rookie switch-hitting catcher of all time last year. Of course, that assertion comes with some significant caveats, but after further inspection his supernatural feat holds up as historically great.

His 46-game sample last year wasn’t a full season by any means. Normally, you wouldn’t go out on a limb to call a forty-game stretch anything other than a hot streak. But with Santana we have to consider his excellent minor league record as a precursor to his debut. In 57 Triple-A games last year, he hit .316/.447/.597. In 526 minor league games, he hit .290/.401/.499. This is not 46 hot games from Rod Barajas in a Met uniform after a career of suckitude. This is an excellent prospect coming up and performing.

The funny thing about that “46″ number, as well, is that it stacks up decently enough against the other young debuts of switch-hitting catchers. Among the men that managed more than 30 games, his 46 ranks eighth of twelve. Only three young switch-hitting backstops managed more than 100 games – Butch Wynegar, Mark Bailey, and Bob Didier. Wynegar was the only one that managed to put together what one might call a major league career – he had the ability to get on base even if his pop was lacking.

Let’s say that there is some possible umbrage to be taken with the fact that we are limiting this to switch-hitting catchers. Such a rare breed may make anyone look exceptional. Well, uh, Santana’s .867 OPS would have dropped all the way to… second on the all-time list of catcher debuts. Yes, Joe Mauer is of course the leader in the clubhouse with a .939 OPS in his 35-game debut at 21 years old in 2004. Those sideburns adorn quite the curvebreaker, but the point is holding steady. First- or second-best, Santana’s season is still stacking up.

Catchers sometimes take a little time to develop. There’s the theory that their offense comes last because they have to spend so much time preparing to call their games. Let’s open this up to switch-hitting catchers under 25 in their first two seasons. Nope, still first. Fellow switch-hitting Indian backstop Victor Martinez had a .851 OPS in his third season, at 25 years old, but Santana is still first. In fact, get this – only one switch-hitting catcher under 25 has EVER posted a better OPS. Ted Simmons, in 1975, was 25 years old and showed an .887 OPS in 157 games. So, yeah, still pretty good, especially since Simmons was a great catcher himself.

When a player debuts well, the best initial reaction is to laud them for work done and reign in expectations because of historical precedent and the likelihood of a letdown. In this case, though, even after examining the place of Santana’s rookie season among debuts in his class, there are few negatives. We’ll have to wait to make sure the knee is fine, but all reports are good so far. His production will likely give Indians fans at least one reason to rejoice this season (and Dodgers fans at least one reason to despair).




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

43 Responses to “Carlos Santana: Already Supernatural”

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  1. CircleChange11 says:

    Carlos Santana has only played forty major league games, but he’s already topped one significant leaderboard with his play. Consider this little nugget: Last year, he put up the best OPS by a switch-hitting catcher debuting under the age of 25 with 30 or more games.

    Not just that, but of all the switch hitting catchers named Carlos Santana, he had the best debut campaign of any of them.

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    • MikeS says:

      Mr Sarris and I have different definitions of the word “significant.”

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        I would have written ‘statistically significant’ if that is what I meant. And the joke is warranted, but catching and switch-hitting are both tough things to do, so it seems worth trying to put him in a bin that includes switch-hitting catchers of a similar age.

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  2. JR says:

    From the title, I thought this was going to be about how he’s been fully cleared for workouts less than six months after almost having his left leg severed at the knee.

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  3. My echo and bunnymen says:

    Motherf%*@ing Casey Blake and those old $%^ damn knees, how does Ned Colletti sleep at night, let alone, take a &%#! without hating himself.

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    • Dwight Schrute says:

      In Coletti’s defense Russell Martin was a 25 year old catcher coming off a 6 win season and was in the midst of a near 5 win season when he traded him, so maybe he didn’t think there was a place for Santana long term. Still though should’ve gotten a better player in return than Blake but atleast there was some logic behind it.

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      • brendan says:

        this. it was a win-now move in year the dodgers were going to the playoffs. and blake was pretty good that year and the next. not a totally crazy thing to do.

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      • Table says:

        It’s not crazy to trade for Blake….it’s crazy to trade Santana for Blake.

        The Dodgers had other prospects they could have given up for Blake, and no I don’t buy that Cleveland would take nobody but Santana. Even if they had, I’m not biting. There were other 3rd base trade possibilities, and there was Blake Dewitt.

        If you are going to trade an elite prospect, do it for Cliff Lee or CC Sabathia.

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      • kick me in the GO NATS says:

        rarely does someone trade an elite prospect for some one of Lee’s or CC’s stature for the simple reason that the players are prospects and not proven. The baseball graveyard is filled with thousands of elite prospects who failed to convert minor league and college success in the bigs. Until a guy succeeds in the majors you do not know he can.

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      • PG says:

        The issue is cheapness. They were willing to part with Santana in order for the Indians to pay part of Blake’s remaining contract. If they had been willing to pay up, Santana would either be in a Dodgers uniform, or would have been dealt for (I would hope) somebody better.

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  4. Matt Defalco says:

    I’m enjoying all of the Santana references that come along with writing about Carlos… Cistulli wants them to be Taboo

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  5. Luke in MN says:

    Here’s hoping he’s healthy enough to get the playing time to attack some full-season records soon.

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  6. Not Paul says:

    The guy is really talented, but man, he’s very small for a catcher. When a hitter succeeds in large part based on incredible flexibility and extension, you should probably assume regression with age. Add to it being a small catcher, I’d be very concerned that he’ll ever play a full season there, and by the time they realize he needs to be moved to keep him healthy, the injuries will have taken a toll, and combined with age he’ll be a shell of himself before he’s 30. Really hope I’m wrong, but so many elite offensive catchers who have played there for a long time have been big guys, and even they get hurt a lot, like Mauer.

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    • Travis says:

      You could just as easily say that his size is an advantage because it’s less wear and tear on his knees and back as he squats. Assuming he avoids further collisions at the plate.

      Shouldn’t we be past the point where we judge players primarily on their body shape and size?

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      • Not Paul says:

        Yes, because his size was a huge advantage last season… Assuming he avoids collisions at the plate? He’s a catcher.

        Are you arguing that body type doesn’t matter in athletic endeavors? You do realize that real baseball is still played by actual human beings?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I would say that. In terms of longevity, I’d rather have a Tony Pena or a Benito Santiago than I would a Parrish or a Tettleton.

        Rare are the ideal-sized “natural squatters” like Pudge, Bench, Fisk, Yadi, etc.

        You don’t often see smallish guys with knee problems.

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    • Marco says:

      I suspect the Indians don’t care that he’ll be a shell of himself by 30 because he’ll be off to another org.

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    • Pho Queue says:

      It’s not football…being small in baseball doesn’t mean you get pulverized by default. Shorter limbs make good mechanics easier to master and maintain, not harder. Of the positions, catcher offers the least advantage to a taller player vs. a shorter one.
      If he’s even a little smart and/or observant, a short batter can take advantage of his smaller strike zone (or, as in Rickey Henderson’s case, create their own despite being normal height). Is a starting catcher a smart and/or observant player, almost by definition? Nearly all of them are, right?

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      • Not Paul says:

        Who said anything about tall vs. short? His frame is small and he does not have a thickish trunk like you see in a lot of catchers, even smaller catchers like Suzuki have more of a low center of gravity and ability to put on weight in their lower half.

        Where is the argument that there is any issue at all with his offensive ability? I think he’s a smaller (here we go again) and less strong version of Hamilton. Uncanny hand-eye coordination along with body control, flexibility, wrist and hand strength/flexibility. Total package offensively. Dodgers should have left him at 3B because the bat will play anywhere. Just my opinion.

        The only point is that he is small for such a physically demand position and I would be concerned about that.

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  7. Phegan says:

    A battery of him and Rob Thomas would be Smooth.

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  8. DonCoburleone says:

    SANTANA!!! So am I crazy when I say that I’m going to be drafting him somewhere in rounds 6-8 depending on how the draft goes?

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  9. dustygator says:

    Through his first 54 games, Buster Posey had a .927 OPS. By the end of season it fell down to .862. So he was essentially as good as Santana except he did for 2.5x longer and in a more pitcher-friendly park. And with better defense.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I wouldn’t say that better defense thing so confidently – it’s hard to quantify catcher D and he was kept in the minors for his D, at least according to Sabean. I know it could have been arbitration machinations, but still…

      But yeah, Posey is pretty sweet. I think it will be great to see what they both do with a full year.

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      • dustygator says:

        They both threw out around 37% of runners which is pretty good. FSR had Posey rated significantly higher, 73 to 54. And while it’s hard to quantify catcher D and the effect it might or might not have on pitchers, Posey caught one of the best postseason rotations ever. One with characters like Wilson, Sanchez and Lincecum. It’s obvious he wasn’t the source of their success but at least we know he didn’t fuck it up.

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  10. robertobeers says:

    Buster isn’t the only current Giant to be a metric of comparison for Santana. In 2008, Pablo Sandoval played 11 games as catcher for the Giants; he posted a .847 OPS as a switch-hitting utility man (he also played 17 games at 1B and 12 at 3B). Worth recognition?

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  11. Nick says:

    Is this a joke? Posey has been getting more hype than Jason Heyward ever since he won the WS.

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  12. Half Full says:

    Will this Santana guy be as good as Wieters?

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  13. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    I think the catcher position is on a serious upswing in talent lately!!! Which is good. I hate being the near the last guy in fantasy to draft my catcher and be debating guys like Snyder and Kendall. UGH!

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  14. phoenix2042 says:

    I don’t now how old posada was when he debuted (he did start as a catcher right?) but he has been a switch hitting catcher for 16 years and a pretty damn good hitter (for a catcher). Where does he rank against these guys? maybe he developed his hitting ability so his debut numbers sucked. Anyways, he’s the first name I thought of when you said switch-hitting catcher.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Posada is a great name to think of. He got 60 games of burn at 26 in his first season of real work. So reasonably older than Santana for his real debut.

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        ah thanks. i am a bit surprised that someone with that poor defense remained at catcher for 16 years and until he was in he’s 38. real impressive that his knees held up. this looks to be his last year. heck of a career.

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  15. Miles Archer says:

    CircleChange11 is a jackoff.

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  16. GordonBacon says:

    Major injury 46 games into his major league career. If you don’t have your health then nothing else matters. This guy is a buck ninety, wet. I would hope Cleveland gives the guy a chance and move him to a less physical position or at least pay for guitar lessons.

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    • Jameson says:

      An LCL tear isn’t really a major injury. A PCL, ACL, MCL, or meniscus injury would be a major injury. A person just doesn’t rely on their LCL like they do for the collateral ligaments. Cleveland already stated they are going to go ahead and play him at 1B and DH as well next year.

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  17. Purnell says:

    I remember Ted Simmons as a very good hitter withadequate defense – certainly not a “great.” catcher.

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