The Mysterious Decline of Domingo Santana

Domingo Santana

It’s been an odd season for Domingo Santana. The 26-year-old right fielder was arguably the Milwaukee Brewers most valuable hitter in 2017, but he has spent the last month and a half in Triple-A. What happened?

Domingo Santana’s Mysterious Decline

Back on Opening Day, if you would’ve told someone that Santana would spend significant time in the minors, they would think you were crazy. Santana was coming off an excellent showing the season before and appeared to have established himself as a long-term piece for the Brewers. Santana blasted 30 home runs, and his 126 wRC+ led the team. It was expected that the acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich would gobble up some of Santana’s playing time, but it seemed more likely that injury-prone Ryan Braun would see his playing time dip the most.

Instead of building on his breakout season, Santana got off to a horrible start offensively. In 211 plate appearances, he managed just a paltry 78 wRC+. Most concerningly, his power seemed to disappear almost completely. Santana slugged just .354, a drop of 151 points from last season, and hit just three home runs.

The underlying numbers illustrate just how poor Santana was at the plate. He saw his groundball rate spike from 44.9% last season to 51.2% this year. His line drive rate dropped from 27.4% to 22.8%. His .367 BABIP indicated that he was actually¬†getting lucky on balls in play, meaning his slash line should’ve looked far worse. Finally, the Brewers decided they couldn’t put up with Santana’s lack of production any longer. Eric Thames returned from the disabled list and moved from first base to right field. Santana was sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Santana’s Production in Triple-A

Santana has made some strides at Triple-A. He’s slashing .285/.410/.451 with a 130 wRC+. He’s drawing walks at an excellent 16.9% rate. However, he’s still striking out 33.1% of the time despite facing a lower level of competition, and the main issue is still evident. He’s still not hitting for power.

Despite playing his home games in hitter-friendly Colorado Springs, he has hit just five home runs. Santana has now hit just eight home runs over 389 plate appearances across two levels. He would be on pace to hit just 12 home runs if he received the same amount of plate appearances as he did last season (607). Dropping from 30 home runs one season to 12 the next is a major cause for concern.

Santana Faces an Uncertain Future

What happened to Santana’s power remains a mystery. His sudden and sharp decline from rising young slugger to a singles hitter with strikeout problems is both strange and concerning. He is still just 26 years old, but the Brewers appear to be set with Yelich, Cain, Thames, and Braun in their outfield. Because he’s a poor defender in right field and not a great baserunner, he doesn’t fit as a fourth outfielder.

Santana will likely be back in Milwaukee as a September call-up, but how he fits with this team is largely unknown. He’d likely be a pinch-hitting option for the team down the stretch, but his status for next year is currently in question. The Brewers currently have five outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart. His trade value is likely nonexistent now. It’s entirely possible that he turns it around next year, but right now there is reason for serious concern.

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