An Unexpected Change from Domingo Santana

Entering the age in which baseball players tend to approach their prime, 25-year old Domingo Santana has already established himself as a useful, if not (yet) star-level player for the Brewers.

In his first full season of plate appearances, Showmingo has shown himself an above-average right fielder, all things considered. His Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) through  has been a pretty lousy -9.2, which is nearly a full win below the average right fielder. But that has been offset by a strong season at the plate, highlighted by a .269 batting average /.364 on-base percentage /.468 slugging percentage slash line, all career highs so far. Baseball Prospectus Total Average (TAv) largely believes in this performance, giving him a .289; all of this adds up to 1.4 WARP.

Throughout his career, Santana has pretty consistently shown a good eye at the plate, never having an on-base percentage below .345 since his first trip to high-A level ball in 2010. Whereas you may think of a player developing his bat getting more selective as limiting his swings as he gets older, Santana has actually done the opposite so far in the 2017 season. He’s having similar success at the plate as he did in an injury-shortened 2016, but he’s doing it in a different way, and with an approach that may have more upside.

In addition to the decent number of walks, strikeouts have always been a part of Domingo’s game. Since coming to Milwaukee as a 22-year old, he has shown strikeout rates of 31 percent, 32 percent, and this year, 29 percent. You might predict that the slightly decreased strikeout rate this season would be the product of a young player cutting down his swings (you’d be wrong), or small sample sizes (okay, you might be right). But Domingo Santana, so far in 2017, has struck out less while actually swinging more, both in and out of the zone:

Year Pitches Swing% Z-Swing% O-Swing%
2015 781 44% 68% 23%
2016 1178 41% 62% 20%
2017 1903 46% 69% 26%

In the numbers, you can see indications of a young player learning the strike zone and himself. Last season, Santana cut down on his swing rates across the board, and has now readjusted back to swinging more than he even did in 2015, albeit with much greater success.

He’s getting his swings in, perhaps as a concerted effort to drive the ball more. While so far the strikeout rate in 2017 has been similar albeit a bit lower than in other years, what is really compelling is how he is striking out.

In 2015, 32 percent of all Santana’s strikeouts caught him looking. In 2016, that number went to 40 percent. Through August 17 of this year, however, his rate of strikeouts that come from watching strike three has decreased significantly to just 26 percent. So Santana is swinging more overall, and while he’s still striking out, he’s at least given himself a chance to get on-base, at least with his two-strike approach.

If that is indeed a change in approach and not the product of Santana’s previous small sample sizes in the majors, it’s notable in that he’s increased his power, with career highs in Slugging Percentage and home run rate all without sacrificing his ability to get on base.

This may be an approach that works especially well for a player like Santana, who has demonstrated a good eye at the plate and also runs pretty high BABIPs. It’s exciting to watch an age-25 player that’s already contributing continue to make adjustments at the plate that capitalize on his strengths while maintaining his present value. Domingo is finding the balance between being selective and passive, and the results are promising for his ability to continue on an upward trajectory with his bat.

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu, USAToday Sports Images


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