Santana's patient approach perfect for KC
Carlos Santana's approach and presence in a lineup isn’t new to Royals players, coaches or front office officials. They’ve seen it firsthand for 10 seasons while he was with Cleveland in the American League Central.
The Royals know exactly what he can do to opposing pitchers.
That’s why they’re so excited the slugger is in the Royals' dugout now.
“There have been a number of times where we have been in a situation, and I’m pushing a pitcher to almost his limit,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said Wednesday from Royals camp in Surprise, Ariz. “And I look over, and Santana’s on deck. I’m scared to death, because this could very easily, even if we get him out, it could very easily and probably turn into a 10-pitch at-bat. That’s a big deal.”
The Royals signed Santana to a two-year deal this offseason, targeting the 34-year-old when they made it their goal to increase their on-base percentage this season. The Royals finished last season with a .309 on-base percentage, fourth worst in the Majors.
Santana has a 15.5 percent walk rate and has never had a season below 13.2 percent. He’s an on-base machine: He has career .366 on-base percentage, led the Majors in walks in 2014 (113) and the AL in walks last year, with 47 in a 60-game season. Only three Royals had more than 47 walks in the 162 games they played in 2019. According to FanGraphs, Santana has swung at just 21.7 percent of pitches outside the zone in his career. And when he does swing outside the zone, he makes contact: He has a career 69 percent O-Contact%.
How much pride does Santana take in his patience at the plate?
“A lot,” Santana said Wednesday. “A lot. A lot. I try to know that I can [be patient] and keep working for that every day. I try to be consistent. I know it’s a long season, but I try to be the most consistent as I can.”
The Royals are already reaping the benefits of having Santana in their clubhouse. Matheny heard a group of veteran players hitting with Santana in the batting cage and talking about his approach.
“He goes, ‘I got one thing on my mind. How do I get on base?’” Matheny said. “And these guys are all looking at him like, 'Interesting.' He’s like, ‘I’ve got to get this many walks, I’ve got to work the count. I’ll do whatever I have to do to get on base.’
“As we talk about what kind of hitters, what kind of offensive philosophy we’re trying to put, and really what kind of brand of offense we like to be as a team when someone wants to classify us, it’s that grinding -- these guys will do anything to get on base and they’re scratching and clawing. That, to me, is as good of a compliment as you can have on offense. This guy has a career of personifying that.”
While Royals pitchers are excited not to have to face him again, Royals hitters are hungry to learn how he’s been able to consistently get on base throughout his 11-year career.
“We get to watch him firsthand,” third baseman Hunter Dozier said. “We get to pick his brain and see what his approach is off different pitchers. Because when you’re getting on base, you have the right approach. It’s going to be nice to actually talk to him, and when we actually start games, kind of pick his brain on what his approach is off this guy. It’s going to help a lot of us.”
This early in Spring Training, Matheny hasn’t set a lineup yet despite having a pretty good idea of who at least will be in the lineup on Opening Day. But it’s easy to imagine Santana hitting third or fourth, with Whit Merrifield at leadoff and Andrew Benintendi hitting second. That gives the Royals three high on-base players at the top of the lineup -- Merrifield has a .342 career on-base percentage and Benintendi .353.
Even if they get out, Matheny noted, the deep counts will benefit the Royals later in the game. That’s exactly what the Royals want after going into the offseason determined to increase their on-base ability by signing Santana and trading for Benintendi.
“It could be you get three outs, nobody’s been on base and your first-inning pitch count is 30,” Matheny said. “That eventually is going to take a toll on anybody, on any pitching staff. I just applaud our organization because it’s not like we shift in thought after we acquired guys. It was talking about what is needed, and then you target a guy like Carlos Santana that brings in so many things.
“I’m so excited to have him on our side.”
The Royals are pleased with the presence Santana brings to the lineup, but they haven’t discounted the presence he brings to the clubhouse as a veteran leader. He’s been to the World Series with Cleveland and knows what it’s like playing in the postseason -- another goal the Royals have this year. Santana talked Wednesday about how he wants to mentor the talented young Latin players on the team and help other hitters with their patience at the plate.
“I’ve always been this way, and I don’t try to change,” Santana said. “This is my approach. It’s ... where I am [the biggest] help to my team. I try to help a couple guys like [Adalberto] Mondesi and [Jorge] Soler, they ask me about that. And I try to talk to more guys on my team about patience, try to be patient at the plate.”