Carlos Santana was loved by Pittsburgh Pirates fans who are frustrated the team didn't pursue him more this off-season, but moving on from the veteran first baseman is the right baseball move
Veteran first baseman Carlos Santana recently signed with the Minnesota Twins. After spending the first handful of months of 2023 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Santana became a fan favorite and a massive clubhouse presence along with providing a solid bat.
The Pirates traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers at the trade deadline but once again showed interest in the switch-hitter this off-season. Many Pirate fans were upset the Bucs couldn’t go the extra step and offer him just $2.05 million more than what they offered Rowdy Tellez, but moving on from Santana is probably the right choice.
The first reason is Santana turns 38 on April 8th. There are not too many regular batters that age who remain productive. There have only been 19 instances of a batter heading into their age 38 or older season and receiving at least 500 plate appearances over the last decade, and it’s a near 50/50 split between those who remained productive and those who didn’t.
Ten still posted a wRC+ of 100 or greater, while nine more failed to reach the league average (100). An even smaller amount has remained productive in fWAR, as an fWAR above +1.5 has been accomplished just eight times in a player’s age 38 or older season.
Santana’s age isn’t the only concerning factor. His predictive numbers did not inspire much confidence. Santana had just a .308 xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average), by far the lowest of his career by a margin of 27 points. Santana’s xSLG% (expected slugging percentage) was just .378, which is another career low by a large margin of 30 points and worse than his actual slugging of .429. Santana was below the 30th percentile in both stats. Santana wasn’t any better than Amed Rosario (.380 xSLG%, .305 xwOBA) or Akil Badoo (.371 xSLG%, .301 xwOBA) in these two stats.
The next factor is that his plate discipline looked like it took a turn for the worse last season. Santana’s 10.5% walk rate was still above average, but it was the first time he’s ever walked in less than 13% of his plate appearances. He still maintained a 16.8% strikeout rate, which falls right in line with his career average, but his 0.63 BB:K ratio is a tenth of a point worse than his second career worst and much lower than his career BB:K ratio of 0.90. Santana’s chase rate has gone up each of the last three seasons. In 2023, it reached a career-high of 27.4%. Even though he was swinging at pitches outside the zone more frequently, his chase contact rate of 69.1% is right in line with his career average.
Lastly, there’s his raw power, which took a downturn in 2023. Santana had just an 88.8 MPH exit velocity, the worst of his career (unless you count 2020). This was a nearly two MPH drop from 2022 when he sat at 90.7 MPH. The difference is the 81st percentile and the 39th percentile. This led to a drop in barrel rate from 9.3% in 2022 to a career-low of 6.7% last season (again unless you count 2020). His lack of making good quality contact consistently in 2023 is reflected in his xwOBACON (expected weighted on base average on contact). At just .323, he was in the bottom 10% of the league, ranking 124 out of 133 qualified batters.
With all of this in mind, I think the Pirates made the right decision to move on from Santana. I know he would have been a great clubhouse presence, and he was a fun player to watch, but that alone isn’t going to win games. That’s not to say that Rowdy Tellez is the second coming of Lou Gehrig, but I do not think that Carlos Santana is the answer that many think he would be.