Examining the Plight of the Cleveland Indians' Struggling Santanas

Casey Drottar

One is a long-tenured member of the Cleveland Indians, barring a one-year hiatus in Philadelphia. The other was picked up as a late offseason flyer this past February.

One has secured his spot as Cleveland’s cleanup hitter. The other was added to provide affordable power to the back half of the lineup.

The paths Carlos Santana and Domingo Santana took to Cleveland couldn’t be more different. However, ten games into the 2020 season, these two have more in common than the name on the back of their jerseys.

Both Santanas are struggling mightily at the plate so far this year, and they’re both potentially doing so under the weight of their respective contract situations.

The structure of Carlos and Domingo’s deals with Cleveland aren’t exactly comparable. The former is on the third season of a three-year, $60 million contract he originally signed with the Phillies in 2018. The latter signed for just $1.5 million right before spring training, joining his third team in three years.

That said, both players have a team option for 2021, with Carlos’ worth $17.5 million and Domingo’s for $5 million.

With that in mind, the pressure to perform is certainly higher for each Santana this year.

Add in the influence a lack of ticket revenue will have on offseason decisions, then ice the cake with the fact each player only has 60 games to impress this summer, and you get quite an anxiety-inducing situation.

Perhaps this explains why both Santanas are having trouble producing for a Cleveland offense in dire need of anyone who can consistently hit.

Carlos is coming off one of the best years of his career, having put up numbers nobody could’ve expected in his age-33 season. While it’s far too early to claim he’s coming back down to earth, his performance to date is hardly what Cleveland has come to expect from him.

In 40 plate appearances, Carlos is slashing .188/.350/.281 with a wOBA of just .301. His walk rate is still strong (20.0%), but his strikeout rate has never been higher (25.0%).

Part of the problem appears to be Carlos’ increased desire to swing at the first offering he sees. So far this season, he has a first-pitch swing percentage of 67.5%, notably higher than what he averages for his career (53.7%).

He’s also seeing a steadier diet of breaking balls and offspeed pitches, most likely because he’s whiffing on these offerings far more often than usual.

Last season, 44.3% of the pitches Carlos faced were either breaking or offspeed. This year, said percentage is up to 54.3%, and it’s easy to see why. To date, Carlos is whiffing on 38.5% of breaking balls faced, and 42.9% on offspeed pitches.

As mentioned, the numbers being put up by Cleveland's other Santana aren't much better.

So far, Domingo is slashing .158/.407/.211 in 27 plate appearances. He has three hits on the year, all of which occurred on July 26. By that point, Domingo hadn't logged a strikeout. He’s since tallied seven.

Meanwhile, the power Cleveland was hoping to see from him has been mostly absent. Domingo had seven batted balls over the past week, only two of which had an exit velocity higher than 72 mph.

It’s worth noting both Carlos (.350) and Domingo (.407) have above average OBPs for the year. However, these are mostly buoyed by high walk rates. With Cleveland’s offense in a collective chill, it’d be ideal for both Santanas to provide more than this.

In fairness, ten games is hardly enough to make definitive judgments on a player’s performance. At the same time, both Carlos and Domingo slashed significantly better in the first ten contests last year.

Carlos -- .371/.436/.514, .391 wOBA
Domingo -- .286/.388/.619, .413 wOBA

With that in mind, you can’t help but wonder how each Santana’s contract status is impacting their respective offensive woes.

Carlos is attempting to convince Cleveland he’s worth another eight figures in 2021 (his age-35 season), an uphill battle even before this summer’s campaign moved forward without ticket sales. Domingo’s option is considerably lower, but still a sizable target for offseason cost-cutting when considering financial losses from this year.

Neither player wants to see his option declined, yet has only 60 games to make their respective cases. One can only imagine the stress this kind of situation creates, especially when the Indians as a whole are struggling to score.

There’s still time for each Santana to get back on track, but not as much as usual.

This summer, ten games represents 16.6% of the season. Likewise, with outfielder Tyler Naquin getting closer to returning from the IL, there’s a chance Domingo’s playing time may be in jeopardy sooner rather than later.

Either way, Cleveland needs both Carlos and Domingo to get going in a hurry. In this case, though, this added pressure could only exacerbate things for them.

Each player is dealing with the weight of an uncertain future, and is trying to change that with every swing of the bat. At the moment, their cloudy horizons could help explain why said swings haven’t been successful.