Carlos Santana, who had one of the lower approval ratings among recent Phillies because of fan expectations that were unmet, is starting in the 2019 All-Star Game. In Cleveland, his home park.
A lot can change in 12 months.
Santana has always been most comfortable in Cleveland. He was thrilled to have the chance to return to the Indians in the three-team trade this past December that sent Edwin Encarnacion to the Mariners and Yandy Diaz to the Rays.
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Back in Cleveland - where Santana spent his first eight seasons before joining the Phillies on a three-year, $60 million contract - Santana has had a remarkably productive first half. He's hit .290/.411/.541 with 18 home runs and 48 RBI in 79 games. His .951 OPS is 185 points higher than it was last season with the Phillies.
It's hard to explain. There is the comfort of a familiar team and familiar league. There is also the 71-point difference of his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Last season, Santana had a career-worst .231 BABIP. This season, he's at a career-best .302.
Phillies GM Matt Klentak, who signed Santana to that three-year, $60 million deal just before Christmas in 2017, was asked about the first baseman earlier this week.
"You guys know how I feel about Carlos Santana," he said. "You know that I really like the player. Carlos Santana's career has been characterized by high walk rates, more walks than strikeouts and power, and he's a pretty good defender at first base. That's exactly what he is this year. His walk rate is about the same as it was last year. His strikeouts are actually up a little bit. And he's running a BABIP that's about 75 points higher. What comes with that is additional batting average points and additional slugging percentage points. He's the same guy. He's the same guy."
As in, he's the same guy he's been for most of his career ... just not for the one season in Philly, when Santana did walk a ton but hit a career-low .229, also hit .229 with runners in scoring position, and didn't produce enough power to make up for it.
"It's the same guy he's been for a decade," Klentak said. "In years where he has a slightly higher batting average of balls in play, his numbers are going to look better. And in the years where it's slightly lower, like they were last year, it's going to look slightly worse. He's the same player. He really is. It's a 75-point difference. It's a big difference and he's had years like that in his career where he's had the higher BABIPs and those look like his best years."
Klentak was not diminishing Santana's performance this season, he was answering a question about whether the Phillies' offensive philosophies could have anything to do with the glaring difference in Santana's rate stats.
In any case, it is a cool story for Santana, who deserves the starting All-Star nod. He has been the AL's best first baseman in 2019. Had he stayed here, it's hard to say whether he would have achieved those numbers. Even if he did, the Phillies would be a worse team because they'd still have Rhys Hoskins in left field or would be playing Santana at third base, where passable defense was unlikely to be maintained over 162 games.
Only four active players had played more MLB games than Santana without making an All-Star team: Mark Reynolds, Rajai Davis, Gerardo Parra and Kendrys Morales.
In what has to be the most stunning All-Star berth, former Phillie Hunter Pence also made the AL All-Star team as the starting DH. Pence was having a strong first half but it's still hard to believe given the hundreds of games he missed to injury the last four seasons and his rapidly declining production the last two.
Looking at Pence's 13-year career in totality, it's almost as if he had separate careers as an Astro and as a Giant, with the foggy memory of one calendar year in Philadelphia.
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