Move over, Buster Posey.
There might be a new sheriff in the catcher/first-baseman game, and his name is Carlos Santana.
If there was a ever a way for a hitter to lead a 14-run offensive explosion while getting just one hit, the Cleveland Indians cleanup hitter sure came close to accomplishing the task on Tuesday. No, he didn’t have the most knocks, the most runs scored, or the most RBIs (those honors go to Ryan Raburn, though Drew Stubbs matched him in the first two), but it was arguably Santana that was at the center of it all.
I mean that both literally and on a more macro sense, of course.
Being the No. 4 hitter, there’s very little that he can do about being at the heart of the lineup, but there’s a good reason for why he’s there. For one, it was Santana who got the seven-strong home run parade started with a two-run bomb off a 2-1 cutter from Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay, setting off the first volley for the fireworks to come.
Though that may have been his only hit (and in fact, the source of all of his counting numbers) for the night, the backstop wasn’t done there.
A factor pretty much throughout the game, Santana made his presence felt by drawing a whopping three talks, effectively having done something productive against three of the four pitchers that the Phillies sent out on this day.
To put it in perspective — he accounted for 75 percent of the Indians’ walks on Tuesday night.
Sure, he wasn’t cashed in during those instances, but the presence of a constant threat that he provided should not be understated.
That threat is something that he’s provided all season long, too. The Indians currently have a seventh-ranked offense (120 runs) in the bigs, and much of it is thanks to Santana being a consistent factor in what has been a MVP-like start to the 2013 season.
Of the 20 games that the slugger has played in this year, he has only been a non-factor (no hits, no walks) twice. His 1.5 fWAR easily dwarfs that of all of his peers, and with nine doubles already under his belt, he’s already reached a third of his 2012 totals in a fraction of the time.
You’d be correct in saying that Santana’s .389/.476/.722 triple-slash is buoyed by an unsustainable .434 BABIP right now, but his career-best 81.3 percent contact rate (90 percent with pitches in the zone) coupled with a career-low 6.7 swinging strike rate suggests that he’s more than a little locked in right now.
In short, no matter what numbers you’re looking at, this is a player whose strong performance are backed up by metrics for his plate discipline, which is why even as other quick starters around the league have slowed, Santana has kept on ticking as the heart of the Indians’ offense.
And as Doc and the Phillies found out on Tuesday, that heart can do a whole lot even when it’s not driving in runs.