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Bearish on Carlos Santana

This is part of an ongoing pro/con series on RotoGraphs over the next couple of weeks. Today we’ll look at the positive/negative side of Carlos Santana. Expect the opposite side shortly.

Carlos Santana, Carlos Santana, Carlos Santana!  How come every time I write an article about catchers, some fool comes in here and brings up Carlos Santana?

Look at these numbers:

59 249 45 7 29 26 2
17.3% 20.3% .163 .241 .223 .353 .386 .332 109 1.4

Perfectly acceptable totals if you were drafting Miguel Olivo in the 21st round.

And now these ZiPS for the rest of the season:

349 71 11 47 46 4
16.0% 22.7% .179 .276 .244 .366 .423 .353

Pretty damn good if I’m buying low on Matt Wieters.

But I didn’t draft Olivo in the 21st round and I’m not buying low on Wieters here.  I’m talking about Carlos freakin’ Santana.  I’m talking about the switch-hitting, power-swinging backstop that was, not just the top prospect in the Indians’ system, but one of the most highly regarded prospects in all of baseball.  This guy was supposed to be the best.  This guy was supposed to be the best fantasy catcher, second only to the almighty Joe Mauer.  This guy was supposed to eat lightning and crap thunder.

But it hasn’t turned out that way now, has it?  You could have gotten the same production had you just drafted John Buck.  In fact, Olivo’s numbers make Santana’s numbers look like Yadier Molina’s numbers.

“Oh, but Howard, look at the OBP!  Santana’s OBP is killer.  He’s a total stud in OBP leagues.”

Pffffft!  You know what?  Maybe Santana’s numbers are killer in an OBP league, but how many leagues out there in the baseball fantasy world count OBP instead of AVG?  Maybe in your more competitive leagues they do, but I’m guessing the majority of leagues out there in existence go with batting average over on-base percentage.  It may not be the first choice of fantasy nerds like us, but it’s out there and it’s pretty common.  I’m talking about your work league.  I’m talking about the league you’ve been doing with your high school buddies for the last 20 years.  I’m talking about your brother-in-law’s league where you’re competing against nine other mooks with deep pockets and the attention span of a hyperactive kid without his Ritalin and fed too much chocolate.  Your most basic of fantasy baseball leagues default to batting average.  So right there, based on current production, Santana’s overall value takes a hit.  His regular ol’, non-saberfied stats look pretty pedestrian.

Sure, Santana looked pretty good last season before he got waxed by Ryan Kalish.  Nothing that had you doing back-flips, but solid enough to keep you hoping.  However, in a world that preaches sample size, you obviously have to take those numbers from 192 plate appearances with a grain of salt, right?  He’s had 50 more plate appearance this year and the numbers are fairly similar, although this year’s slash line of .223/.353/.386 looks pretty pathetic in comparison.

So what makes everyone think that Santana is the be all, end all of fantasy catchers?  Because he can take a walk and has a high OBP?  See my comments above.

You want to blame his current atrocities on the low BABIP and tell me that it’s going to increase?  Sure.  Maybe a little.  You want to blame it on the 1.31 GB/FB rate, the 49.1 GB% and the uber-weak 13.3 LD%?  Go right ahead.  But tell me how exactly you know that those numbers are going to dramatically change for the better?

Is it because he has such phenomenal minor league numbers?  Sure.  Everyone who crushes the ball in the minors comes up to the big leagues and rakes.  It says it right here on the back of my Brandon Wood bubble gum card.

Listen, I don’t hate the guy.  Not at all.  I think he will find success at the major league level at some point.  But to think that it’s happening right now and that you should buy, buy buy, then you’re mistaken.  You’ll end up overpaying because his value is sitting all in his name right now.  Keeper leagues?  If you can afford to hold him for another year or two and then maybe get that superstar production, then take the risk.  But if you’re in a re-draft league this year, you’re not missing anything special by not owning him.  Most catchers need time to develop and that includes the great Carlos Santana.