Tweak the script and Domingo Santana might be in the doghouse. Imagine Josh Hader pitching more like a normal human. Jesus Aguilar stuck in a cold streak. Or a couple bad bounces in a few one run games. Milwaukee sports radio would be up in arms calling for heads to roll.
Fortunately Josh Hader isn’t a normal human - and the Brewers have managed to get a bunch of wins without Domingo Santana’s normal self.
Just a bit of bad luck, maybe? Ryan Braun has been the Brewers’ big victim of BABIP in 2018 so far and I figured something similar for Santana. Not so. Santana is actually among league leaders in BABIP:
BABIP leaders thru June 3rd
|Albert Almora Jr.||.380||176||17.00%||.319||.371||.444||.815||124|
Of the top 15, Santana has been the least productive and it isn’t very close. Brian Anderson of the Miami Marlins is in the ballpark. But Santana is the outlier.
- He misses the baseball a lot
- He’s not hitting the baseball very hard
- When he has hit the baseball not very hard he’s gotten a hit more often than most others
Not painting an inspiring picture. Sure seems like this could be going a whole lot worse.
The simple unsurprising answer: too many ground balls.
BABIP leaders by batted ball type
|Albert Almora Jr.||1.43||20.30%||46.90%||32.80%|
Makes sense speedy guys hitting a bunch of grounders + some luck equals big BABIP. Makes a little less sense - and is less sustainable - for someone with average speed (some grumpy fans might say, erm...selective speed?) + some luck equals big BABIP. Santana’s archetype errs on the side of high FB%. In 2018 he’s well above league average in GB%. By conventional wisdom you could call Santana quite lucky to don his .260/.330/.373 slash. With a BABIP closer to league average (.295) at a position with a higher standard for offensive production he’d be diving to odious depths in valuation.
Batting average remains consistently under the microscope. Given the heavy competition in the Brewers’ outfield, a batting average threatening the Mendoza Line wouldn’t be doing him any favors. Neither do the optics of his typical whiff rate and defensive lackings. In terms of public perception or in the clubhouse.
Normally Santana makes up for the poor optics and middling batting average with plus power and a strong walk rate. But as of June 3rd, Santana is below league average in SLG and ISO and a fraction above league average in BB%.
Prescription: hit more balls in the air; hit the ball harder; more XBH; more dingers; etc. Easy, right?
Fortunately for Santana, the leash is long. At 25 there remains room for growing pains. Perhaps irregular PA’s disrupts his rhythm and he’s a mental adjustment from a fix. But there’s heavy competition breathing down his neck and no pending BABIP luck reversal to turn things around.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs