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Inbox: What's the evidence Santana will hit?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers questions from Phillies fans
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

Is there any reason to believe Carlos Santana will get it going? He's hitting below the Mendoza Line while occupying Rhys Hoskins' natural position. Meanwhile, we have the Hoskins Experiment in left field, perpetuating an already tenuous outfield logjam. I certainly don't envy manager Gabe Kapler's juggling act.
-- Brett L., Broomall, Pa.

There are a lot of reasons to believe Santana will hit.

Is there any reason to believe Carlos Santana will get it going? He's hitting below the Mendoza Line while occupying Rhys Hoskins' natural position. Meanwhile, we have the Hoskins Experiment in left field, perpetuating an already tenuous outfield logjam. I certainly don't envy manager Gabe Kapler's juggling act.
-- Brett L., Broomall, Pa.

There are a lot of reasons to believe Santana will hit.

First, there is his track record. He has a career .364 on-base percentage and an .806 OPS. His 26.5 offensive WAR ranks 24th in the Major Leagues from 2010-18, according to Baseball Reference. Santana has been one of the most productive hitters for a long time. Sure, you can dismiss eight seasons' worth of above-average offense for less than four weeks of performance in 2018, but I would advise against it.

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Second, Santana has been very unlucky. The analytics tell you that. The eye test tells you that, too.

Santana has a 126-point gap between his expected batting average and his batting average, according to Statcast™. It is the largest gap in the Majors (minimum of 50 at-bats), 28 points wider than the next closest player. Expected batting average (xBA) uses Statcast™'s Hit Probability metric, which assigns a percentage on how frequently comparable balls in terms of exit velocity and launch angle are hits. In short, it measures a hitter's quality of contact.

Santana has made a lot of quality contact. His hard-hit rate (51.61 percent) is ninth out of 138 batters (minimum 50 balls in play). Twenty-four of those balls were caught, two more than any other hitter in the Major Leagues. Sixteen of those balls were outs in the air, three more than any other hitter. A look at this spray chart shows that Santana has hit at least seven balls to the warning track or wall in center field.

You cannot hit a ball much better than that.

Let's break it down further. The MLB average on hard-hit balls is .512. Santana is hitting .233, which is the lowest mark out of 118 players (minimum of 20 hard-hit balls). He hit .480 on hard-hit balls in 2015, .527 in '16 and .500 in '17.

If Santana had just eight of those 24 hard-hit outs fall for hits, bringing him in line with last season's .500 average, Santana's batting average jumps to .260. His on-base percentage jumps to .387. And let's say those eight extra hits fall for singles (it's highly unlikely a few would not be doubles or better, but for the sake of argument, let's say singles). Santana's slugging percentage still jumps to .397, giving him a .784 OPS. That would rank fourth on the Phillies.

Does this mean Santana is going to hit better than .300 the rest of the season? No. Does it mean fans complaining about Santana's presence in the lineup or roster should pump the brakes and let the season play out a bit? Yes.

What's been the biggest surprise to you so far?
-- Al C., Philadelphia

The Phillies' rotation has exceeded expectations. It has a 3.01 ERA, which is the best mark in the National League. Teams are slugging just .329 against it, which is the second-best mark in the Major Leagues. Only the Astros have been better (.326). Teams simply have not been barreling many balls against Phils starters. Philadelphia's hard-hit rate (18.84 percent) is the fourth-best mark in the Majors. The Phillies have been striking out batters and not walking nearly as many, either. Their strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.03 is ninth in MLB, after they had a 2.54 mark last season.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Carlos Santana