The Other Great Rookie

Due to the ways service time accumulation and “super two” status works, the beginning of June saw a wide collection of the best prospects in baseball make their big league debuts. On June 8th, Stephen Strasburg and Mike Stanton were called up. The 9th brought Brad Lincoln, the 10th saw Jake Arrieta, and on the 11th, it was Carlos Santana.

Of the five guys called up in that four day span, Strasburg has obviously been the star, dominating the National League and making headlines every time he pitches. But, it’s the last of those five names that has actually performed the best since coming to the big leagues. Yes, Santana is even outplaying Mr. Strasburg.

In 16 big league games, he’s collected 17 hits. That doesn’t sound all that impressive until you realize that only five of them are singles. 12 of his 17 hits have gone for extra bases, giving him a .725 slugging percentage.

While that’s impressive, perhaps more so has been his command of the strike zone. Most young hitters struggle with breaking balls and look overmatched at times, but Santana has been anything but, drawing 12 walks in 64 plate appearances while striking out just six times. He’s only chased 20 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, putting him in the company of notable selective hitters like Kevin Youkilis.

Overall, his offensive line reads .333/.453/.725, good for a .490 wOBA. That is shockingly good on its own, but when you factor in that Santana is a catcher (who has thrown out six of 12 attempted basestealers, by the way), it takes it to another level. Santana’s total value in just over two weeks of baseball? +1.3 wins above replacement.

For a comparison, here’s his value extrapolated against Strasburg’s, both projected to a full season’s worth of playing time:

Santana: +10.2 wins per 500 PA
Strasburg: +9.5 wins per 200 IP

We limit Santana to 500 PA since he’s a catcher, and yet, he’s still outproducing Strasburg in value. This is to take nothing away from Washington’s ace, who is legitimately an amazing arm and one of the most exciting things to happen to baseball in a long, long time. However, what Santana is doing for the Indians is awfully impressive, and the comparison illustrates just how well he’s played since his arrival.

Strasburg and Jason Heyward are going to have make room – there’s yet another elite rookie in this class making a massive impact on his team from day one.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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