The Phillies made a splash on Friday, when a source told MLB.com of their three-year agreement with first baseman Carlos Santana. The club has not confirmed the report.On the free-agent market this offseason, there were position players with flashier names than Santana. J.D. Martinez put up huge offensive numbers in
The Phillies made a splash on Friday, when a source told MLB.com of their three-year agreement with first baseman Carlos Santana. The club has not confirmed the report.
On the free-agent market this offseason, there were position players with flashier names than Santana. J.D. Martinez put up huge offensive numbers in 2017. Eric Hosmer is a recent World Series champion and relatively young with intriguing upside. Lorenzo Cain offers speed and style at a premium position in center field.
Santana doesn't fit those descriptions. His 2017 wasn't a breakout campaign, he will turn 32 early next season, and with his catching days firmly in the rearview mirror, he has basically been limited to first base (with a cameo in the outfield).
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What Santana provides may not be exciting, but it shouldn't be overlooked. With a keen eye, a patient approach and a potent bat, the switch-hitter has been one of the game's most consistently productive hitters throughout his career with the Indians. And while past results don't guarantee future performance -- especially as players head deeper into their 30s -- Santana's track record clearly made him an appealing target for a Philliles team looking to accelerate its rebuilding project.
With that in mind, here are five points to help contextualize what Santana offers:
1. He stays on the field
Durability remains an underrated quality in a sport featuring a 162-game schedule, and Santana is a master of it. After his debut for Cleveland in June 2010, Santana missed the final two months of that season with a knee injury from a home-plate collision while playing catcher. He also had stints on the seven-day concussion disabled list in '12 and '14 after taking foul tips off his mask.
However, Santana hasn't squatted behind the plate since that latter incident, averaging 155 games and 674 plate appearances from 2015-17. Going back to his first full year in '11, Santana ranks fifth in the Majors in total games (1,070) and sixth in plate appearances (4,590). He is one of six players to log at least 140 games in each of those seasons and one of five with 600-plus PA each year, along with Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Andrew McCutchen and Justin Upton.
2. He's an avid walker
While he's unlikely to pop 40 home runs, Santana will provide plenty of professional plate appearances. Of the 150 batters who saw at least 1,000 pitches out of the strike zone in 2017, according to Statcast™, Santana posted the 10th-lowest chase rate (20.2 percent). That helped him collect 88 free passes to rank fourth in the American League.
The fact that 88 was Santana's lowest full-season total speaks to his skill at drawing walks. No other player has reached the 80-walk mark in each of the past seven seasons, with only Joey Votto getting there six times. Santana's career walk rate of 15.2 percent trails only Votto and Jose Bautista during that period.
3. He thrives in the on-base race
The baseball world now knows better than to pay much attention to batting average, but Santana's .249 career mark still might hurt his reputation in the eyes of some. Yet, all that average does is obscure Santana's elite ability to reach base, boosted by that pile of walks.
How reliable is Santana at getting on base? His full-season on-base percentages going back to 2011 have been as follows: .351, .365, .377, .365, .357, .366 and .363. That makes Santana the only player to produce at least a .350 OBP in 300-plus plate appearances in each of those seasons, and his .365 career OBP ranks in the top 20 over that time (minimum 3,000 PA).
4. His bat is stellar
Santana's ceiling isn't as high as some others, but his offensive production has been like clockwork. His career-low OPS+ of 102 in 2015 was still slightly above the league average of 100, and in each of his six other full seasons, he's wound up between 112 and 135.
Since 2011, Santana joins Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, McCutchen and Upton as the only players to qualify for a batting title while logging at least a 100 OPS+ each year. Even lowering the plate appearances threshold to 400, Santana is one of 10 hitters to reach the 100 OPS+ mark in seven straight seasons.
5. He produces value, year after year
Santana combines his offensive might with a smooth glove that has provided +2 Defensive Runs Saved and a +3.7 Ultimate Zone Rating at first base, including career highs of +10 DRS and +4.8 UZR in 2017. Put it all together, and you have a player who contributes on a consistent basis.
Santana has averaged 3.2 Wins Above Replacement over his seven full seasons and is one of just 10 active players to reach the 3.0 plateau in six of those years. He's the only one in that group to never reach 4.5 WAR, but that sums up Santana's under-the-radar resume -- never spectacular, but always solid.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.