Danny Santana hit .273/.317/.391 in 2,352 at-bats as a minor leaguer. He walked in 5% of his plate appearances, which was always pegged as a potential red flag for an everyday player. For all intents and purposes, Santana walked in the minor leagues as much as Delmon Young has walked in the Major Leagues.
When the Twins had a need last season, they called up Santana from Triple-A. He hadn't shown anything out of the ordinary in his 24 games there, flashing a good arm and good contact skills without much discipline. But when he hit .319/.353/.472 for the Twins in 2014 he was anointed Paul Molitor's starting shortstop for the new manager's inaugural campaign.
Tabbing Santana for that role was to be expected. He'd played exceptionally well. He walked in 4.4% of his plate appearances, which in all honesty was probably better than we could have hoped, but what kept his triple slash afloat was an insanely good and unsustainable .405 batting average on balls in play. The Twins weren't wrong to give him the chance at shortstop, but regression just wasn't a likelihood - it was a guarantee.
To be fair, nobody could have expected that Santana would struggle as much as he has. Let's take a look at what I've found to be a few of the more telling splits for Santana between last year and what we've seen so far in 2015.
|Line Drive %||26.0||23.5|
|Line Drive AVG/OPS||.750/1.842||.607/1.464|
|Hard Hit %||26.5||26.9|
|Ground Ball AVG/OPS||.343/.739||.241/.517|
|Fly Ball AVG/OPS||.222/.800||.121/.364|
At the top of the list are Santana's splits on line-drives, which are far and away the most likely batted ball type to fall for a hit, and his hard-hit rate, which is just the percentage of any batted ball that is well-struck. There isn't a great deal of change here between this year and last year. The real difference-makers are that A) Santana's ground balls aren't getting through the infield, and B) when he gets one in the air none of them are leaving the yard.
|Batted Ball Type/Year||Soft %||Medium %||Hard %|
|Ground Ball, 2014||30.6||50.0||19.4|
|Ground Ball, 2015||25.9||51.7||22.4|
|Line Drive, 2014||10.5||52.6||36.8|
|Line Drive, 2015||3.6||53.6||42.9|
|Fly Ball, 2014||25.6||48.8||25.6|
|Fly Ball, 2015||21.2||51.5||27.3|
In 2014 Santana was the recipient of a great deal of luck which has now been neutralized: Santana has had a higher percentage of well-struck grounders, liners, and flies this season - but they're each finding grass less often than they did during his impressive run last summer. Dropping 100 points of batting average on balls in play will decimate a player's production.
On the season Santana is batting .221/.239/.297. Since his last multi-hit game (May 6), the triple slash has been .139/.162/.208. In his last 12 games that drops to .105/.128/.260. Not taking a walk isn't the primary culprit here, but it's a symptom of the bigger problem. Molitor has given his shortstop every opportunity to learn on the fly, but right now Santana is in such a funk I'm not sure how much good that continued trust can do for his development.
It's time to turn to Eduardo Escobar. He's not a great hitter either, but he's been able to hold his own more often than Santana and with his defensive acumen he's more than capable of playing shortstop everyday. Let's let Danny get some instruction away from the spotlight and hopefully make him a better player as a result.