On a team with a number of names that have stood out - Eric Thames in April, Travis Shaw as a consistent run producer, and Ryan Braun because he’s Ryan Braun - Domingo Santana has continued to fly under the radar. He’s rarely the guy you think of when giving reasons for the Milwaukee Brewers’ success. Every now and then, when taking a peek at the numbers, many think, “Man, what would they do without him?”
Santana may be the most underappreciated and undervalued weapon on the Brewers. With a patient eye and sweet opposite-field stroke, Santana’s skill set isn’t as flashy as others. In fact, some seem to get frustrated with his approach at the plate. However, pick nearly any offensive category and Santana will be in the top three on the club. And yet, again, people generally fail to recognize his production.
Part of this is due to his quiet, unassuming demeanor. With a variety of outgoing personalities on the club, Santana just goes about his business with little flair or fanfare. He and Shaw are extremely similar in this way, but the latter was a new addition this year and has gotten plenty of attention over the course of the season. It’s time Santana, now in his third season with Milwaukee, gets the same respect.
Santana leads the Milwaukee Brewers in OBP (.373), and ranks second in the club in a host of more traditional stats: Runs (60), hits (102), walks (49), doubles (20) and RBI (58). He also sits third in home runs (18), batting average (.285), and OPS+ (123). To see that sort of production across the board, it’s surprising that so many ignore Santana’s enormous value.
And what about a couple of areas where Milwaukee Brewers’ fans love to focus on? Hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) and with a runner on third and less than two outs. You can’t complain there, either. Santana owns a .306 average and .945 OPS with RISP, while hitting .412 with 1.023 OPS with a man on third and less than two outs. All of those are near the top on the team. How about one more “clutch” stat?
With two outs and runners in scoring position, Santana leads the team with a 1.131 OPS, with a club-best .650 slugging percentage and .481 OBP in that scenario. The guy comes through time and again.
Looking around the rest of the National League, Santana stacks up extremely well with his peers. Among all NL outfielders, the Brewers’ right fielder ranks in the top 10 in a handful of categories. He’s also in the top one-third of all NL players in many offensive stats, regardless of position (75 qualified players).
Stats like wRC (weighted runs created) and wOBA (weighted on base average) try to give you a more well-rounded picture of the player offensively, more so than counting numbers. Thus, Santana appearing in the top 10 in those areas is a terrific sign of his impact as a player.
It would also be difficult to place his success on much luck. While his batting average of balls in play (BABIP) is among the highest in the league, Santana’s BABIP has always skewed above average because of his tremendous rate of line drives and hard hit balls. This is the reason you can be confident he can continue this type of pace.
Line drives, in general, lead to the most success. Among all NL hitters, Santana has the 7th-highest line drive percentage at 24.7% in 2017. His hard hit percentage this year ranks 25th (36%), which might not seem as great. However, he also has the 7th-lowest percentage of softly hit balls (12.6%), meaning he is making solid contact 76% of the time - hard or medium contact. The fewer weakly hit balls in play, the better chance you’ll reach base safely.
Sure, Santana has his struggles defensively from time-to-time. He labors on long runs after fly balls, doesn’t get the best jumps, and sometimes takes curious routes. Mistakes like those can be glaring and happen perhaps a bit more often than one would like to see. However, he has an absolute cannon for an arm with above average accuracy. Also, according to one advanced statistic that I trust, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), he ranks 12th among all NL outfielders (+2 DRS).
Domingo Santana is an underrated commodity for the Milwaukee Brewers. With minor league system stocked with outfield talent, it’s not a guarantee that he stays with the club for the long haul. At the present, and certainly in the near future, Santana represents a highly-reliable and dangerous offensive force for the Brewers - one that is mostly underappreciated and undervalued on a daily basis.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com