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  • What is Sustainable for Danny Santana?

    My first exposure to Danny Santana was a spring game in March against the Red Sox. While I certainly remember his flashy play (1-3 with a 2B, a walk and a SB), it was a costly 5th inning fielding error, leading to a 2-run Red Sox rally that gave the defending champs the game, that stuck with me as a perfect example of the inconsistency marking Santana’s young career.

    That defensive inconsistency was the reason many assumed Santana’s first call-up in early May would be a short one, but he slammed the door behind him with a blistering pace at the plate. He has now hit at a .340/.382/.447 clip for roughly a month and a half, thanks in a large part to a .423 BABIP. Even his defensive shortcomings have been masked by a shift to center field, where lack of experience on defense has been helped by lowered expectations given the limited options at the position.

    Between his tremendous offensive output from the leadoff spot and the injuries to Aaron Hicks and Trevor Plouffe, it seems Santana has cemented himself in the lineup for the foreseeable future. But for how long can a young man with a career minor league batting line of .274/.318/.393 be expected to perform at this high level?

    The Bad News:
    As the sabermetricians among us will point out, a .423 sample BABIP won’t last long. A high BABIP will inevitably regress, given enough AB's, toward the player’s career average BABIP, which for the league average player was .297 in 2013. If Santana maintains the same K%, BB% and batted ball rates, we can expect him to hit at roughly a .287/323/.412 line the rest of the season provided he follows league averages for BABIP.

    The Good News:
    While we can assume Santana’s BABIP of .423 won’t maintain, it may not normalize to quite as low a level as we’d expect. The above projections assume league average BABIP for ground balls (roughly .241), and players with Santana’s speed tend to have above-average BABIP for grounders. Santana has already shown the ability to consistently outrun routine grounders and even bunts. Hard-hitting speedsters like Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen were able to maintain GB BABIP’s of over .300 in 2013, but a more conservative ground ball BABIP for Santana would be Dozier’s 2013 rate of .277

    The Other Good News:
    The guy hits a lot of line drives, and line drives get you hits. Danny Santana leads the team (minus Eric Fryer and his 5 AB’s) in LD% with 29.7%, and line drives yield a league average of a .695/.688/.894 line. While I couldn’t find Santana’s minor league batted ball rates (note: any suggestions for this would be much appreciated), it’s fairly safe to assume this will regress a bit, but it does bode well for his normalized numbers to land above his minor league averages. Santana’s speed will also continue to stretch line drives from singles to doubles and from doubles to triples.

    The Bottom Line:
    Trying to project Santana’s numbers as the season progresses, we can make a few reasonable assumptions: A) his BABIP will drop substantially, B) his ground ball BABIP will be well above league average, and C) his LD%, if maintained, will keep his average decent and yield a good number of extra bases.

    If he can maintain his LD% and keeps his GB BABIP up around .275, he would project at around a .300/.335/.417 slash, but splitting the difference between his LD% and the team’s rate of 21.4% would yield closer to .282/.319/.409, which seems more likely given his minor league averages.

    With Eduardo Escobar covering third base for the next few weeks, Santana will have to prove his bat can outperform the inconsistency of his glove. If he can meet these projections, he just may be able to hold his spot on a healthy 25-man roster for the long term.
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      I'm not following your arithmetic. Based on his current rates (the "Bad News" paragraph), here's what we would expect over 100 PA:

      5 BB
      21 K
      74 balls in play

      Assuming a .297 BABIP, that would result in 22 hits in 95 ABs, which is a .232 batting average. I didn't run the numbers but the other scenarios look wrong too.

      So far as the topic itself, I think his true ability right now is in the .650 OPS range.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      The next couple weeks ought to show if Santana is really that talented or scouting will catch up. Several players had a hot start and are no longer on the team. Santana could be one, or he could be legit.
    1. glp_vt's Avatar
      glp_vt -
      Quote Originally Posted by drivlikejehu View Post
      I'm not following your arithmetic. Based on his current rates (the "Bad News" paragraph), here's what we would expect over 100 PA:

      5 BB
      21 K
      74 balls in play

      Assuming a .297 BABIP, that would result in 22 hits in 95 ABs, which is a .232 batting average. I didn't run the numbers but the other scenarios look wrong too.

      So far as the topic itself, I think his true ability right now is in the .650 OPS range.
      Thanks for the comment. I alluded to the same projection system in my Aaron Hicks article a couple weeks back, and I've been meaning to do a full article on it. My projections use league-average BABIP for each type of batted ball (line drive, ground ball, fly ball) and applies them to the the player's current K%, BB% and Batted Ball Rates to come up with a "field-independent batting" type projection that normalizes things like good/bad defense and hit placement. Here's the calculation for batting average:

      Field Independent Batting Average = (K% * Batting average for K's, or 0.000) + (LD% * BIP% * league avg LD batting average) + (GB% * BIP% * league avg GB batting average) + (FB% * BIP% * league avg FB batting average)

      Here are the league averages according to Fangraphs:
      Lg Avg on LD: .695/.688/.894
      Lg Avg on GB: .238/.238/.259
      Lg Avg on FB: .220/.215/.620
      Lg Avg on K's: 0 (obviously)

      So we get the following:

      .237*.000 + .311*.763*.695 + .459*.763*.238 + .230*.763*.220 = 0.287

      Your math is sound for a league-average hitter who strikes out at the rate Santana does, but Santana's high LD% helps him here, as it should.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Well written article. I'm still fuzzy on your math
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      It's not a sound method of projection. Line drive % in particular is very problematic, because there is variation in how the batted balls are recorded on top of the variation that occurs on the balls in play themselves.

      I mean, there is a 0% chance Santana's true line drive ability is 31%+. So using that rate is an error. The only way to use it at all would be as a heavily regressed, speculative number within a sustainable range.
    1. glp_vt's Avatar
      glp_vt -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sconnie View Post
      Well written article. I'm still fuzzy on your math
      I hear you. It took me some time to put together the method, and it isn't intuitive at first glance. I'll be sure to loop you in when I put out the follow-up with how I came up with it.

      Quote Originally Posted by drivlikejehu View Post
      It's not a sound method of projection. Line drive % in particular is very problematic, because there is variation in how the batted balls are recorded on top of the variation that occurs on the balls in play themselves.

      I mean, there is a 0% chance Santana's true line drive ability is 31%+. So using that rate is an error. The only way to use it at all would be as a heavily regressed, speculative number within a sustainable range.
      Genuinely appreciate the critique. I don't disagree with the subjectivity of batted ball rates, but in general we don't see the same modern field-independent statistics for batters as we do for pitchers. I think it's worth exploring, even if based on something that's a bit subjective.
    1. Otwins's Avatar
      Otwins -
      I think this is a great topic. Thanks for the post. Really think he is tough to project. But Santana is a joy to watch run. That should keep his on base percentage decent. He appears to be a good bunter. I am rooting for your math. I think those would be outstanding numbers for his rookie year.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      OMG! I'm not dense, but I'm not a math guy. I'm an English major guy. Lol

      I'll let you guys and others argue stats and percentages and averages.

      I'm just going to argue what I see with my own eyes.

      Some talk about small sample size. I can't and won't argue. I could argue that 31 games and 111 AB's going in to tonight's game is only "semi" small, in that we're not talking about a 2 week call up, but a month plus of games. Still nothing long term, of course, especially if you follow the theory of at least a 1,000+ AB's before a hitter begins to get comfortable and actually gets an idea what's really going on.

      But there is something about this kid, and what he's doing, that seems to defy what we normally see. He seems to generally take very good AB's. Time and time again I see patience at the plate, fouling off pitches, that seem to defy the scouting reports on him. Nobody expects him to hit long term the way he has. But this kid doesn't seem scared or intimidated at the plate. He seems to have a solid approach when he goes up there, as if no-one has told him he should be doing what he has been doing.

      Tonight against the ChiSox, he stayed back on a breaking pitch, put the barrel on the ball, and had himself a quality, veteran kind of AB. Then he got a very good single in the 8th and took 3rd on a solid hit from Dozier before scoring. Point is, the kid just doesn't play like a kid.

      I think we're reaching a point where we might have to re-define what our expectations are for this talented youngster.
    1. SpiritofVodkaDave's Avatar
      SpiritofVodkaDave -
      Santana is really hard to project IMHO and that is a fun thing.

      He is still pretty young and has shown he can put up a decent average in the minors so I think he can certainly be able to hit for .280 or so, the key will be if this "power/pop" is legit or just a SSS mirage. He didn't show a ton of pop in the minors, but of course he is only 23 so there is plenty of time for that to develop/continue to improve. If the doubles power stays around and he is able to hit 6-8 HR a year, along with 20-25 SB potential, he could be a pretty nice mainstay at SS until one of the future studs is ready.

      If the power disappears you are probably looking at a guy whose skill set mirrors Nick Punto a bit just with a higher average more speed and more pop, which actually has a ton of value in itself.

      Ceiling: Solid SS for this org, not all star material likely, but could end up being at least league average which is a huge ++++++

      Floor: A rich mans Nick Punto.

      Nice guy to have in the org for sure!
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      Quote Originally Posted by glp_vt View Post
      Genuinely appreciate the critique. I don't disagree with the subjectivity of batted ball rates, but in general we don't see the same modern field-independent statistics for batters as we do for pitchers. I think it's worth exploring, even if based on something that's a bit subjective.
      You're right that it doesn't vary the same as with pitchers. The problem is that the league average batted ball results are washing out those differences. A slow player gets much different groundball results than a fast player. A player who hits the ball harder in general will get better line drive & flyball results.

      We don't yet have the data that would help determine the quality of contact being made. The speed part is easier. But without the "hit f/x" numbers, the batted ball info is essentially incomplete and not capable of yielding predictive information.

      For someone like Santana, the best approximation is to adjust his minor league BABIP & ISO and then apply that to a MLB plate discipline prediction.
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