The numbers look bad right now, especially compared to the free-agent contract Carlos Santana signed this offseason. The Phillies’ highest-paid position player, at $20 million per season over the next three years, will carry a .150 batting average and a .245 on-base percentage into the Phillies’ game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Friday night.
When Gabe Kapler goes over his potential concerns every morning, you can be sure that his switch-hitting first baseman’s early-season struggles do not make the list. What the Phillies manager has seen is a guy hitting in some tough luck. He also has substantial proof that when the season is over, Santana with have 20-plus home runs, an on-base percentage north of .360, and an on-base plus slugging percentage above .800, which will be well above the league average.
“I trust that we are all seeing the same thing,” Kapler said when asked about Santana’s disappointing numbers. “He is squaring baseballs up and hitting them really, really hard and right at people. It hasn’t just been one or two days, either. It has been pretty consistent since spring training.”
As Santana sat in front of his locker before Tuesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park, he pointed to the previous night, when he went 1-for-4 with an RBI double in a Phillies victory.
“I hit the ball hard three times and had one hit,” he said. “Maybe I need a little bit of luck. It happens. It’s baseball. I can handle it.”
A little bit of warmth has always helped the 32-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, too. The two balls he hit hard Monday night ended up falling into Billy Hamilton’s glove in deep center field. In June or July, those balls might have been home runs. In April, they are frustrating outs.
Having played his first eight big-league seasons in Cleveland, Santana is accustomed to cold weather early in the season, but that does not mean he has to like it.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “It’s tough to play in that. I played in 25 degrees once in Cleveland, and in snow. I try to prepare and get ready for the cold weather, but your body is not 100 percent into it. You worry about swinging too hard or running too hard, because it’s harder to get loose and get your body ready.”
Santana spends time in the clubhouse when the Phillies are hitting, trying to keep his body warm.
“Every inning, I go in and put on lotion or Red Hot, something to keep my body hot,” Santana said. “Sometimes, I try to ride the bike.”
Kapler is sure that his first baseman will heat up, which is why he keeps putting his name in the lineup. Among Santana’s best attributes is his durability. He has played more than 150 games every season except one since 2011.
“Over the course of time, those balls [that are outs] are going to hit the grass, and they are going to go over the fence,” Kapler said. “The last thing I’m looking at is the batting average for Carlos Santana. I’m looking at the quality of the plate appearance and the quality of the contact, and it has been pretty good. Do I believe Carlos is going to be the Carlos Santana he has been over the course of the last three years? Yes, I do.”
The forecast for Santana is rising numbers as we see rising temperatures. Oh, yeah, and walks. Lots of walks.
Santana hit above .240 in April just twice in his seven full seasons with the Indians. His career averages in April are a .232 batting average with a .355 on-base percentage and a .777 OPS. His numbers are typically not good in the first half of seasons. He is a career .238 hitter with a .357 on-base percentage and a .781 OPS before the all-star break.
“I always try to get off to a good start, but all of my career I’ve done better in the second half,” Santana said.
After the all-star break, he has been a .260 hitter with a .371 on-base percentage and an .840 OPS. Those high on-base percentages are a reflection of his ability to draw so many walks. He has ranked among the top 10 in the majors in walks every year since 2011.
“Whenever you have a guy that has a dependable track record, it’s a nice predictor of what might happen in the future,” Kapler said. “It’s not perfect by any stretch, because guys lose skills and guys gain skills, so it’s not 100 percent, but it is the best way we can predict going forward.”
Nobody on the Phillies’ roster has a longer track record of success than Carlos Santana.
Get insights on the Phillies delivered straight to your inbox with Extra Innings, our newsletter for Phillies fans by Matt Breen and Bob Brookover. Click here to sign up.