ATLANTA – Carlos Santana has just eight hits in his first 59 at-bats, registering the third-lowest batting average in the National League. It has been nearly two weeks since Santana’s last multi-hit game and his extra-base hit came on April 9.
The common statistics say Santana is having a rough start to his first season with the Phillies. But the team believes otherwise.
“Unluckiest start in baseball,” manager Gabe Kapler said Wednesday. “He’s squaring the baseball up. He’s still walking. He’s still having great at-bats. From our perspective, Carlos is having a great start to the season. It’s just the way that baseball is set up that it doesn’t appear that way.”
There is some evidence of Santana’s poor luck. The first baseman, who sat Wednesday for the first time this season, is hitting the ball hard, but he’s hitting it right at fielders. According to MLB’s Statcast, Santana’s batted balls have an average exit velocity (90.7 mph) that ranks in the top 25 percent of all hitters, and the average distance of his contact (221 feet) is the sixth-longest in baseball.
His contact has yet to produce results. His batting average on balls in play (.125) is the second-lowest in baseball, and his expected batting average (.274) has a higher differential from his actual batting average (.136) than any other hitter. He is still disciplined at the plate, as his walk rate (15.1 percent) and his strikeout rate (16.4) are on par for his career numbers.
Santana, the Phillies believe, just needs some luck.
“Everybody has told me not to worry, you’re making good contact, you’re hitting the ball hard. It happens in baseball,” Santana said. “Mentally, I just keep focusing. But I’m happy, because my team is winning. It’s a long season. We’ve only played two weeks. Mentally, I’m ready to go. I’m not frustrated. I’m professional. I’ve made good contact. At any moment, it can change. I’ll be fine. It’s tough, but I’ll be fine.”
Santana went 0-for-3 on Tuesday night. He entered Wednesday just 2-for-19 in the first five games of the road trip. He was due for a day off. Kapler texted him Wednesday morning and said, “Hey, Los, tell me yes, please.” Kapler then told Santana he was giving him a day off, prefacing his request because he knows Santana wants to play everyday. Maybe a day off could change his luck.
“It’s really frustrating,” Kapler said. “As hitters, all we ever do is look up and see our stats on the scoreboard, and they’re just so not indicative of our true talent, so not indicative of who we are as baseball players. As a player myself, I hated it, because I could feel that I was having great at-bats and seeing the ball great and get nothing to show for it. Inevitably, it starts to wear on your confidence, even though it’s not even real. I imagine for Los it’s frustrating. For all of us watching, it’s frustrating, as well, because we think he’s been kicking [butt] and having a really strong start to the season.”
The Braves promoted former Phillies first-round pick and Philadelphia native Jesse Biddle from triple A. The Phillies traded Biddle before the 2016 season after he underwent Tommy John surgery. He has since transitioned to a reliever. Wednesday was his first day in the majors. … Jake Arrieta will start Thursday at home against Pirates righthander Jameson Taillon.