Last year I wrote this. And in case you don’t want to click on the link, I basically said that I believed Domingo Santana would be Milwaukee’s best player in 2016. That clearly didn’t happen. In fact, it didn’t even come close. Santana finished worth -0.1 WAR or the 16th most valuable position player on the Brewers roster.
To be fair to Santana — and more importantly to me — he only played in 77 games, as he was on the disabled list for a solid chunk of the season. When he was healthy, he hit. He posted a 110 wRC+ and reached base 34 percent of the time, despite striking out in every third at bat. It was his defense (-10 DRS) that killed his WAR, but the offense was there the whole time.
And that’s why I am once again on the Domingo train. I am, however, altering my stance a bit due to his defensive inefficiencies. In 2017 Domingo Santana will have the highest wRC+ of any qualified hitter on the Milwaukee Brewers. Boom. There it is. Instead of being the best player on the team, I’m predicting he’ll be the best hitter.
I suppose I should explain why I’m so high on a guy who has yet to be more than a replacement-level type player.
In 2015, Santana had a hard-hit rate of 32.3 percent split across the Astros and Brewers. Decent but nothing to write home about. Fast forward to last season and it ballooned to 38.5 percent. His exit velocity skyrocketed like Matt Damon in The Martian (phenomenal movie) to the tune of an average of 91.0 mph. Only Nelson Cruz and Miguel Cabrera can say they hit the ball harder in 2016. That’s some good company. Santana had the second-largest jump of any major league player in exit velocity over the past two seasons, and deservingly demolished the ball. (Jeff Sullivan over at FanGraphs went over this in more detail if you’d like to check it out.) Because he hit the ball so dang hard, his HR/FB ratio (27.5 percent) ranked second in MLB behind only teammate Ryan Braun, and he finished with 11 home runs and 14 doubles for a .191 isolated slugging in just 281 plate appearances. His ability to hit for power to all fields in a place like Miller Park suits him extremely well
The only thing that’s really holding him back at the plate is his strikeout rate. He strikes out too much, plain and simple. He has a patient eye (11.4 BB%), but sometimes it’s a little too patient. Of his 91 strike outs a year ago, 36 of them came looking. It’s not like he even whiffs that much. His swinging strike rate was 12.1 percent, meaning the holes he has in his swing are few. That’s not a high rate at all. He just needs to be more aggressive at the plate and maybe attack earlier in the count.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve recently learned how to run baseball player projections (I’m very excited about this). I’ve run a few so far, and Santana happens to be one of them.
My projections — which still need a name, by the way — really like Santana. The batting average sucks but so does batting average. According to this, Santana will have a very powerful year, just look at his ISO. I’m still in the process of learning how to project wRC+, so until that comes to fruition, we’ll have to make do with what I have.
Santana is going to get his. His exit velocity isn’t a fluke, and if he manages to stay healthy, he could be a star. He needs another high BABIP and needs to start hitting more balls in the air, though, but it’s something he can learn to do. I think he has 25+ home run potential.