The Nearly Irreplaceable Value of Carlos Santana

With the trade deadline looming, rumors are flying about who the Indians might looking to deal, or make a deal for. One player that has been mentioned a great deal in these trade rumors is Carlos Santana. He takes a lot of heat for striking out too much, not hitting for average, and playing poor defense. Some seem to think that the Indians should move him and make an upgrade behind the plate, but is an upgrade from Santana plausible?

Being in the top five among players at a given position would make it a monumental task for a team to replace that kind of value. That means that there are only four players in the entire league that would be an upgrade for that team. Those players are likely not available at all, and if they are for some miraculous reason, they will come at a very, very high cost; most likely way too high for anyone to entertain that kind of move. To be considered one of the top seven players in the American League at any position is to put that player at a high value.

There are 15 catchers in the American League that have at least 200 plate appearances on the season. That pretty much encompasses all the starting catchers plus a very regular player. Comparing Santana to the other catchers in the AL, we can accurately assess where he ranks among his peers and how easy it would be to replace his production.

In terms of batting average, Santana ranks fourth in the AL among qualifying catchers. Joe Mauer leads the pack with a .324 average, far above the rest of the field. Second on the list is the Royals All-Star Salvador Perez with a .282 average, followed by A.J. Pierzynski, and then Santana.

In home runs, Santana is again fourth. He typically finishes in the top three in this category, but his home run numbers a down a bit this season. He picked up the power in August and September last season, and he certainly has the ability to his 25+, but as it stands now, his 11 home runs on the season trail three other catchers. J.P. Arencibia leads the field with 17, then Matt Wieters with 13, and Jason Castro of the Astros nudges Santana out with 12 thus far on the season.

In total hits, only one catcher in the AL has smacked out more base hits than Santana. Joe Mauer is again on top of this category with a whopping 119. Santana is far back at number two with 86, but he has out hit Perez, Wieters, Arencibia, the entire AL cast. If you factor in the National League, only Yadier Molina and Buster Posey top Santana in hits.

Santana has been known for his high strikeout totals, and area of strong criticism over his career. He has made a big change in that category this season, bringing his strikeout totals down significantly. He is seventh out of the 15 in strikeouts, and all but one of the catchers below him has far fewer plate appearances. Joe Mauer has more strikeouts than Santana, and to add validity to that, his strikeout rate is also higher than Santana.

Only Wieters and Arencibia have more RBI than Santana, and they barely edge him out. Wieters leads AL catchers with 46, followed closely by Arencibia with 44. Santana is right on their heels with 43, and with another late season power boost he can very easily take the lead in this category. In the related category of runs scored, only Mauer has crossed the plate more times than Santana.

No AL catcher has drawn more walks than Santana, not even Mauer. In on-base percentage, only Mauer and John Jaso best Santana. In slugging, only Mauer and Castro beat out Santana who sits third in the AL.

There is a statistic that is becoming ever more popular. ESPN and MLB Network frequently use it to compare players by position. The stat is called Wins Above Replacement (WAR). It basically shows how many wins a player is worth over a fringe Major Leaguer that could easily be picked up by any team at any time. It has its limitations, but it is a useful tool to judge players by position. In this category, only Mauer beats out Santana in the American League.

So maybe offensively, he is pretty irreplaceable to the Indians. It would be a near impossibility to replace his bat behind the plate. So let’s take a look as an area where he has received much criticism, his defense.

There are 15 catchers that have spent at least 400 innings behind the plate. Again, that is a large enough group to represent the starting class of AL catchers. Looking at the defensive numbers of this group, Santana does not seem like the horrible catcher than some think he is. He is certainly not a good defensive catcher, but he is not a bottom of the barrel back-stop.

In fielding percentage, Santana ranks third among the 15 qualifying catchers. He is tied with Wieters and Mauer and he his .995 percentage ranks a bit ahead of Jose Molina’s .991 fielding percentage. Only five of the players on the list have allowed fewer past balls than Santana. His plate blocking ability has been highly criticized, but he has actually done an ok job in that regard. He has not made a single fielding error on the season. He has been pretty poor at throwing out base runners, but overall his defense is not terrible.

Santana is one of the top three or four offensive catchers in the American League. His defense is not bad enough to counter act his ability at the plate. The Indians cannot replace his value behind the plate, and finding better value somewhere out there in the baseball pool is not plausible.


Photo: Tony Dejak/AP Photo

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