Is Carlos Santana the Most Powerful Catcher in Baseball?

By Lewie Pollis

Yesterday at Beyond the Box Score, I unveiled updated leaderboards for Power Factor, an old novelty statistic I reinvented that is a better measure of a player’s raw power than slugging percentage or ISO. The formula is:

There were a lot of surprising names on the Top 25: Kelly Johnson, Mark Trumbo, Josh Willingham. Even in a terrible down year, Adam Dunn still made the list.

But there was one surprising name in particular that stuck out to me: Carlos Santana. With an .864 Power Factor, he ranked 18th among qualified hitters—just behind Prince Fielder and immediately ahead of David Ortiz.

If that comes as a surprise to you, you’re not alone: Santana is one of the most underrated players in the game in terms of Isolated Power. ISO has a bias towards good contact hitters and is incredibly susceptible to BABIP swings, and Santana wouldn’t be a great batting average guy even if he wasn’t getting unlucky.

If you look at other statistics, Santana might be in the conversation for the most powerful backstop, but he’s definitely not the clear winner. His 17 homers rank fourth, behind Brian McCann, J.P. Arencibia, and Mike Napoli. Among qualified catchers he ranks sixth in slugging percentage (.437), trailing even noted slugger Yadier Molina. In ISO (.202), which removes some of SLG’s bias towards contact hitters, Santana comes in third.

But if you look at Power Factor, Santana wins in a landslide. His .864 PF puts him way ahead of the next-most powerful backstop, Alex Avila, who is at .719 (good for 48th overall). After him, McCann comes in at .676 (61st overall), followed by Miguel Montero (.667) and John Buck (.667). Santana is No. 1, and it isn’t even close.

Power Factor isn’t a very good barometer of how good a player is—being able to tear the cover off the ball isn’t as important as the ability to harness one’s power (i.e., SLG or ISO). But between the great power we can see   and his legendary plate discipline (he’s walked more than once every six plate appearances in his short career), he’s going to be fun to watch for a very long time.

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