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Fire & Ice: Carlos Santana Isn’t So Smooth

Fire – Jose Peraza

There was recently a changing of the guard in Cincinnati. Manager Bryan Price was let go in late April after a disastrous 3-15 start to the season, replaced on an interim basis by bench coach Jim Riggleman. It turns out, this may have been good news for Jose Peraza. Peraza had been struggling while typically floating down around the bottom of the order when Price was around, but Riggleman seems convinced that #2 slot is where Peraza deserves to be. Since taking over, Riggleman has batted Peraza either first or second in every game, and the speedy shortstop has responded with a .364 average over his last 13 games, scoring 12 runs with two homers, eight RBI, and a trio of steals. He’s up to 80% owned in Fantrax leagues, but can he keep up anywhere near this pace to reward those owners?

I know absolutely nothing about Jose Peraza the man. With that caveat out of the way, I’m going to impertinently surmise that he rides a bicycle around everywhere, or drives, or takes public transit. Why would I make such an assumption out of the blue? Because clearly Jose Peraza hates to walk.

Peraza has a career walk rate of just 3.4%, which he is doing his best to underperform this season, sitting at 2.3% currently. However, plenty of guys have aggressive approaches and find a way to succeed. Jonathan Schoop, for instance, has a 3.6% career walk rate. These guys aren’t my cup of tea, per se, but they have their own ways of getting it done. I much prefer the type of hitter who draws plenty of walks so they are still getting on base during cold stretches, or when the BABIP gods feel like smiting.

It’s less than ideal to have a player with Peraza’s skill set hitting at the top of your lineup due to the lack of power and walk rate. For fantasy, however, we will gladly take the boost in plate appearances and R+RBI potential. The question is, will Peraza continue to hit like this and justify the high spot in the batting order?

Peraza has always been a pure slap hitter, with a career .078 ISO and 22.1% hard contact rate. Over his last 13 games, though, he has managed a whopping 41.8% mark! That will happen when you have a two-homer game, a true rarity for someone like Peraza. If that number got you excited, well, I’m glad. Unfortunately, I dare say that it’s unsustainable. Even his overall 28% hard contact rate on the year is still below league average, should he continue that mark.

Very little in his batted ball distribution has changed. His fly ball rate is up a negligible amount, and while his pull rate is up slightly (36%) on the season, it’s at just 30% over his last 13 games.

A nice, even spray chart is a thing of beauty. It also helps maintain batting average! Even when you’re not crushing the ball (or posting league-average hard contact rates) you can hit for a decent average with a nice even spray chart and serious wheels. We don’t expect much power from Peraza, but what we are getting is that sweet, sweet speed. He has five steals on the season, and if he stays on the field there’s little reason to believe he can’t steal 25-30. He’s currently hitting .294 on the season on a .314 BABIP, a number that isn’t too inflated for what he can do. I don’t see any sign of a real breakout, but he can be a poor man’s Dee Gordon if he sticks in the two-hole. It’s a tepid endorsement, but you gotta get that speed somewhere.

Ice – Carlos Santana

The best part about drafting Carlos Santana is that you get Rob Thomas with him. Drafting that duo is always a Smooth move. Unfortunately, Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas have played more like (insert your most hated band here… probably Nickelback). With just two home runs and a .151 average through 30 games, you have to feel like you’ve been cursed by a Black Magic Woman. Your patience is being tested. Is it time to kick Carlos (and Rob) to the curb, or should you Hold On?

A quick glance at his plate discipline is more than reassuring. He’s one of just 11 hitters in baseball who have walked more than struck out, with a 16.7% BB% and 15.9% K%. His contact rate is fine, and his 37.5% hard contact rate is actually his best mark since 2010. So where’s the power? Well, he hasn’t been pulling the ball like we’re accustomed to seeing Santana do. His 41% pull% is 10% lower than his career mark, and that doesn’t make it easier to homer. His fly ball rate is also up to 52%, more than 10 points higher than his career mark. That’s a lot of fly balls that turn into easy outs, hence his .163 BABIP.

The batted ball distribution is peculiar, but can certainly correct over time. Providing he gets back to his pull happy ways, Santana’s power and average will leap back up. Baseball Savant actually his him down for the 51st highest xwOBA at .385 (currently it’s .266). The Phillies lineup is already better than we expected, and the ball will be flying out of Citizens Bank Park more and more as the temperatures rise. Santana looks like an excellent buy-low right now. In fact, if you’re in an OBP league and you don’t at submit at least a cursory trade offer for him, I will publicly shame you. I don’t know how, but I will. Plus, you’re getting Rob Thomas along with him. What more could you ask for? Go get Carlos Santana and do the Africa Bamba.

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