Few players are able to immediately dominate once promoted to the majors. Last season, Carlos Santana was the exception. In 192 plate appearances, Santana terrorized opposing pitchers, posting a .401 OBP with a 19.3% walk rate. He was one of the biggest breakout candidates entering 2011. Though Santana isn’t playing poorly, his current season might be seen as somewhat of a disappointment. That, however, would be a foolish assumption. Despite some struggles on the surface, Carlos Santana is still well on his way to becoming the future star that everyone expected.
Santana’s phenomenal rookie season caused many analysts to increase their expectations for the 25-year-old catcher entering 2011. While Santana proved he was capable of handling the majors last season, he received less than 200 plate appearances in his rookie season — hardly enough time for pitchers to properly adjust to him. Since expectations were set so high, Santana’s current slash line of .242/.350/.444 may be viewed as a sophomore slump.
Santana’s slash line may be considered low for a player of his caliber, but he’s still managed to perform better than most catchers this season. In 2011, catchers have hit only .245/.315/.388, making Santana’s line look much better once compared to his competition. Still, Santana was expected to join the elite ranks of catchers this season. While he may eventually get there, he has some work to do before he’s reached the Brian McCann/Joe Mauer level of excellence.
While his strong walk rate helps compensate for a low average, Santana may struggle to reach the heights of the .401 OBP he posted in his rookie season. While his .271 BABIP seems low, it’s in line with his performance from last season. He may not hit for strong averages, but he’s more than capable of overcoming those issues.
A look at Santana’s splits reveals one area where Santana will need to improve in order to be considered an elite catcher. While Santana has slugged 17 of his 20 home runs versus right-handed pitchers this season, he’s managed only a .220 batting average against them. While luck could play a role in his struggles — he currently owns a .240 BABIP versus righties — his 23.3% strikeout rate against righties has been a huge factor as well. Santana has shown the ability to crush right-handed pitching when he makes contact, but he could be scary-good if he finds a way to cut down on the strikeouts.
While his struggles against righties are legitimate, it’s tough to really criticize Santana’s performance this season. With one month remaining, Santana has already managed nearly a three win season. Expectations for Santana may have been extremely high heading into the season, but it’s important to remember just how inexperienced he was last year. As we’ve seen in recent seasons, not all future stars are capable of dominating immediately upon reaching the majors. Everybody can’t be Buster Posey. As he’s shown this season, Santana still has the tools to become one of the best catchers in the major leagues. He may not be there quite yet, but his current season is far from a sophomore slump.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.