To say that Carlos Santana had a rollercoaster season would be putting it lightly.
Coming into the 2014 season, Santana was without a position as Yan Gomes was designated as the team’s everyday catcher at the end of 2013, and Nick Swisher had been the incumbent first basemen. Unless Santana was willing to be the everyday designated hitter, manager Terry Francona was going to have to get creative with his lineups. Luckily, Santana had taken it upon himself to learn how to play third base during his time in winter ball. On paper, this looked like the answer to the Indians lineup issues and it found a way to keep Santana in the field every day. This seemed like the answers to all of our problems right?
During his short stint at third base, Santana accumulated six errors in 26 games. He was then removed from the position and replaced by Lonnie Chisenhall, who had been swinging a hot bat and started to receive everyday playing time. Along with Santana’s poor performance defensively at third, it also carried over to how he was performing at the plate. In April, Santana hit a grisly .151/.313/.593. He’s never been a high average kind of hitter so far in the majors, but hitting below the Mendoza line is very unlike him. Not to mention that he had more strikeouts then he did walks during this month. This was only the beginning of the crazy season that Indians fan had to look forward to.
After he lost his job at third base, Santana began to continue to bounce around spending some time at first base, designated hitter, and as Gomes’ backup catcher. May wasn’t much better for Santana as he hit .169/.343/.668. He continued to draw his walks, but he also accumulated more strikeouts. This was incredibly unlike Santana as he’s always been a guy who draws a lot of walks. Francona continued to put him in the cleanup spot, hoping that Santana would finally work out of this rut that he was in. It wasn’t until Santana took over the everyday first base role that he finally started to find his swing.
The months of June and July were much better for Santana. It was like he was a brand new player. Between June and July, Santana hit .310/.417/1.019 with 14 home runs, 35 RBI, and 30 walks. It was like Santana was making up for all of his lost time during the first two months of the season. He was hitting for power, getting on base, and providing a spark that the Indians needed from the middle of the order. With players like Swisher and Jason Kipnis not performing to what the team expected, this was nice to see out of one of their core impact players.
Once August rolled around though, it seemed as Santana had regressed back to his early season form. During the month, he only batted .208/.347/.670. He was still getting on base, but not nearly performing to the level he had been for the last two months. He batted just slightly better in September with a .242/.365/.807 line. The power was still there, and he was still getting on base, but that’s not what you expect out of your cleanup hitter.
The biggest problem that came with Santana in 2014 was consistency. He was very good at consistently drawing walks to get on base, but when you needed him in the clutch at the cleanup spot, he couldn’t always provide. Although, he did tie his career record with 27 home runs during the season, and set a career high in RBI and walks with 85 and 113 respectively. Along with those two career highs he also set one more record in a category that you would never want to take pride in setting.
He struck out 124 in 2014, which was far and away the most strikeouts he’s ever had during his time in the MLB. Now, this could be part of the fact that he never felt comfortable in the field until he settled in at first, or he could have been pressing too hard to come in the clutch. Whatever it may be, this is something that Santana is going to need to figure out before the 2015 season.
Things seem to be looking up for Santana for a bounce back year in 2015, if you can really call it a bounce back. His average should definitely improve based on his BABIP alone, as in 2014 it sat at .249 which was almost 50 points lower than in 2013. As of right now, he’s locked in at first base, with Swisher most likely to spend most of his time at designated hitter. When Santana isn’t at first, he’ll either be swapping time there with Swisher or Brandon Moss, but both of them could also see some time out in right field. Regardless of where Santana will be playing on the field, he’s almost guaranteed to be the cleanup hitter for the foreseeable future. With the acquisition of Moss this winter, Santana will actually have a legitimate power threat to protect him in the lineup. The past couple of seasons, we’ve seen Gomes, Kipnis, and Swisher all bat behind Santana, which isn’t the best protection for a guy who usually just ends up walking his way on base. The power that Moss brings will make pitchers be more careful of how they want to face Santana. What if Santana wasn’t the cleanup hitter though?
Ask anyone about the Indians current lineup, and they’ll tell you that we have too many left handed batters in our lineup, which isn’t a bad thing. The only issue that it can bring is when Francona is designing his daily lineup. He would like to spread out the lefties as much as possible if he can. With Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley locked into their leadoff and 3 hole spots respectively, you want to try to put a non-left handed hitter at the 2 spot. The obvious choice is throwing in Jose Ramirez there to mix it up, but what if we put Santana there instead? He gets on base a ton, has the ability to drive in Bourn, and leaves the clean up spot open to either Gomes or Moss. This could potentially work out well Francona as then he could put Ramirez in the 9 spot to have back-to-back speed between Bourn and Ramirez. This could also be fruitful for Santana as it could take some pressure off of him since he won’t be hitting in as high leverage of a batting order spot like clean up.
As ridiculous of a season as Santana had, he’s still going to be a core, impact player for the next few season. Between the next two seasons he’ll be making $14.25 million with an option in 2017 for $12 million. That’s an incredibly reasonable deal for a player of his caliber. He’s become the cornerstone player at first base, and he’ll look to improve on his offense this season. If Santana were to improve anywhere, it would be his consistency at the plate, besides drawing walks. He’s an important member to this club, and this team is going to rely on him to continue to be a prowess at the plate in 2015.
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