Standing surprisingly as one of the longest tenured players on the roster, the Brewers originally acquired Domingo Santana as part of the 2015 deadline blockbuster deal that sent Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to the Astro in return for Santana and prospects Brett Phillips, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser. After an injury mired 2016 season left him with only 77 games played (.256/.345/.447, 11 HR), Santana needed to show Milwaukee his worth in 2017 to guarantee a spot in their future plans, especially with the barrage of high-level outfield prospects coming through the system. Thus far in the season, Santana has capitalized on his breakout potential, and is looking like an integral piece moving forward.
In 2017, Santana is thus far hitting .280/.375/.482 with 11 HR and 35 RBI. Santana acts as an anchor in the middle of the Brewers line-up capable of coming up big in clutch situations. Along with Travis Shaw and Eric Thames, Santana forms the core of the Brewers’ offense. The potential that fans saw glimpses of the past two years has finally come to consistent fruition.
The first area that Santana has greatly improved is his strikeout rate. Santana routinely struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances as he ascended through the minors, and that was always one of the biggest negatives in his scouting reports. It certainly was concerning that he struck out 32.4% of the time in 2016 during his first full season of major league action. However, he has decreased his strikeout rate to 25.4% in 2017, a significant reduction. This is an outstanding improvement, as when looked at over the course of an average major league season (about 550 at bats for a starter), this leads to about 38 fewer strikeouts. That means 38 more balls in play, and with Santana’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .348, good things tend to happen.
Second, Santana has been walking at a high rate of nearly 13%. That ranks second on the team, only behind Eric Thames and his other-worldly 17.2% rate. His on base percentage currently stands at .375, placing him in the top 30 of the MLB. Walks are an undervalued commodity in baseball, and by getting on base at this rate, Santana gives his teammates opportunities to make things happen.
Finally, Santana has been so effective in part due to the hard contact he makes. He makes “soft” contact on only 13.7% of his contact plays, according to FanGraphs. Much like his walk rate, this places him in the top 30 in the MLB. Limiting soft contact gives balls more of a chance at being a base hit, so this definitely has been key to Santana’s breakout success.
Much like Travis Shaw, Santana has played himself into being included in the Brewers’ long-term plans. His positional versatility in the outfield certainly helps (he has MLB experience at all three outfield positions and sports a cannon of an arm). If Santana keeps up this level of production, it will be key in helping the Brewers continue their unexpected playoff push in 2017.