Shortly after being one of the pieces of the move that sent Carlos Gomez to Houston at last season’s trade deadline, Domingo Santana reached near Folklore status with Brewers fans with his power. A slew of home runs put visions in the heads of many that a player that could reach plateaus of 35+ dingers in a season was on the horizon. Glorified anticipation from a fan base drooling to start the process of rebuilding pegged him as one of the players on the team with high expectations.
Coming into this season though, Santana was presented a new role that few saw coming: leadoff man. It’s something he has never done in his career and a position in which many failed to view him fit to handle. When one thinks of a prototype leadoff batter, the image of hitters that excel through contact, not power come to mind. The likes of Craig Biggio, Lou Brock, Kenny Lofton and Ichiro redefined the status of the No. 1 spot in the batting order to how it is commonly understood as in today’s game. Those greats established a wash, rinse and repeat cycle: Make solid contact, get on base, implement speed to advance on the bases and come around to score. Now, the idea of Domingo Santana, a player who’s scouting report coming up through the Minors preached him as an outfielder with raw power, fulfilling the duties of a leadoff man? Many failed to see it reaping any rewards.
Despite the skepticism, Santana has been holding his own seven games into the season. Now, the first statistic many eyes will immediately shift to and base their judgment off of is batting average, an area in which Santana could be doing better in (.231). However, the game of baseball constructs itself on the beams of many, many other stats. That other data can often shine a different light on a story, a light that many people may fail to flip the switch of. That’s exactly the case for Santana.
Looking at percentages, Santana has put forth a BB % of 16.1 percent to begin the season (five walks). Why is that data important? Let’s take a look at last season’s statistics. In 2015, Santana’s BB % came in at a crouched 10.7 %. A 5.4 percentage difference sets a tone of optimism, regardless of the fact that we are only seven games into the 2016 campaign. Any improvements of reaching base should always be noted.
Perhaps Santana’s largest area of growth and most impressive trait of headlining the leadoff spot is his plate discipline. The split that stands out in the most positive manner has to be his consistency when falling in a hole to pitchers. Remember how inconsistent he was in his aptitude of protecting the plate last season? Sliders, curveballs and many other off-speed pitches would fool him, and he would strike out at pitches located far outside the zone. Flash forward to this season, where in the same scenario, he is showing a more adapted sense of recognition of pitches meant to mislead him. The pitch view below is when Santana finds himself in pitcher’s counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2):
There is barely any red circles that sit an extensive length outside of the strike zone, thus providing evidence regarding his improved approach at the dish. In fact, Santana has only two strikeouts this season when faced against a pitcher’s count, turning into the fact that he makes pitchers work to get him out.
Santana also fails to let the mantra of being leadoff man eliminate his efficiency with runners in scoring position. In fact, he currently sits as the top benefactor with RISP on the team with the stats below:
|Season||Men In Scoring||G||AB||PA||H||RBI||AVG|
|2016||Men In Scoring||6||8||8||4||4||.500|
Those numbers are highly thought of anywhere in the batting order, let alone the leadoff spot. This adds to Santana’s willingness to fight at the plate for a pitch he can do something with, as he has no strikeouts this season with men in scoring position. Partnered with his OBP of .355 and the fact that he has gotten hits in four of his eight at-bats with just men on base, Santana is coming through when the situation matters most.
Hard hit balls are also remaining an integral part of Santana’s game. To begin the year, he has had six balls off the bat fall under the category of hard hit. Santana’s bat speed has been on point in the first week, surprising some with the velocity he conducts with his contact. Through April 10, Santana has had eight balls that have jumped off his barrel with a speed of at least 100 MPH, ranking him among the highest in the league. Though fans may be disappointed he has yet to put a ball over the fence, solid contact is not vacant from his offensive output.
Now these are by no means any All-Star type levels, nor should he be viewed as one of the league’s top leadoff hitters. I’ll be the first to admit, he’s nowhere near those accolades. The point I’m trying to reach Brewers fans with is the fact that Santana is conducting a respectable job. Remember, this is unchartered territory for him. As the season progresses and he begins to reach greater levels of comfortableness, he may become an even more reliable leadoff man. The word that I’ve used countless times to define both hope and expectations for this Brewers team is development. We know they aren’t going to contend for a playoff spot, so we greet any areas of development with open hands. Though it may not appear that way due to him not meeting levels of expectations fans have regarding home runs and other power categories, Santana is traveling along his new road nicely.