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.