Santana looking to regain rookie form at plate
KANSAS CITY -- It's still too early to call it a sophomore slump, but Twins shortstop Danny Santana has scuffled at the plate after an impressive rookie year.
Santana was one of the club's better players last season, hitting .319/.353/.472 with 41 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in 101 games. But through his first 10 games this year, the club's leadoff hitter was batting just .195/.195/.220 with one extra-base hit, no walks and one stolen base entering Monday's 7-1 loss to the Royals, where he went 1-for-4.
Based on advanced statistics and his Minor League track record, Santana was due for some regression this season, but the magnitude of his early season struggles is still a surprise.
One thing working against Santana was that his career batting average in the Minors was .273, with his highest average coming at Double-A in 2013 (.297 in 131 games).
Santana's production in 2014 was also fueled by an unsustainable .405 batting average on balls in play, which was the highest mark in the Majors for players with at least 400 plate appearances. The average batting average on balls in play is roughly .300, but hitters with high line drive rates and good speed, such as Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, had of BABIPs of .349 and .355, respectively.
Santana was hitting .286 on balls hit into play this season entering Monday, despite his line drive rate increasing from 26 percent last year to 29.6 percent this year, which shows he is suffering from some bad luck in the early going. But he's also struck out in 31 percent of his plate appearances, which is a big jump from his 22.8 percent mark last season.
Twins manager Paul Molitor, an accomplished leadoff hitter during his Hall of Fame playing career, said he thinks Santana has been trying to do too much.
"Strikeouts are such a bigger part of the game and he's trying to fit the role of a good leadoff guy," Molitor said. "I'm not sure what that even is anymore. Obviously, you want the guy to get on base, score runs and be aggressive on the basepaths. But he knows doesn't walk a lot and is trying to improve that. And then he ends up pressing more. He tries to take pitches and then he's not doing well when he falls behind in the count. So it's kind of a catch-22 right now."
Molitor has tried giving Santana mental breaks such as a day off on Sunday, but said he wants to continue giving the 24-year-old a chance to snap out of his funk.
"He's a prideful guy," Molitor said. "He's smart. He tries to study the game and improve his weaknesses. He puts a lot of pressure of himself. A lot of young players when they're not producing they feel like they're hurting the team and then they try that much harder. Sometimes you have to let the game come to you a little bit more."