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Carlos Santana, Aesthetics and Different Languages

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Aesthetics.

When it comes to Carlos Santana, one questions whether he will ever satisfy the critical, demanding crowds of media types and fair-weather fans, who simply don't enjoy the aesthetics of what he excels at.

The most powerful Indians' media voice has noted that Santana hasn't lived up to expectations simply because his greatest tool isn't exciting enough: 

The walk is great for the on-base percentage and keeps the lineup moving during a rally, but it's boring. It doesn't bring fans to the ballpark or fire the imagination.  -Paul Hoynes
Aesthetically, Carlos Santana is less pleasing if one is simply disinterested in the nuanced interaction between pitcher and catcher. If one is not interested in patience, in a savant like control of the strike zone which requires a level of pitch recognition and arsenal sequencing intellect that only a handful of hitters possess.

What Hoynes strikes at, however, is something much deeper than quips about firing up the imagination, it is surrounding the popular narrative that walking is simply over valued by a small vociferous bunch.

As someone who values the illumination that advanced statistics provide, I would point to wRC+ (weighted runs created, a statistical attempt to quantify the runs a player creates) which if considered from 2011 to date, among hitters with qualified plate appearances, Santana is 27th in MLB.  Placing him just behind David Wright, and Justin Upton, in front of Evan Longoria and Hanley Ramirez.

Yet, this is not a popular opinion. Even OBP, which is basically a first-level statistic, remains often ignored especially if not paired with buckets of RBI's.

For many, Santana, one of the most stable, productive offensive players over the past decade is a failure, especially when used as a first baseman:
It’s just as important to note that Santana really doesn’t fit the role of a big league first baseman any better than he fits the role of cleanup hitter. Though his defense isn’t bad, he’s far short right now of the ideal power hitting,
Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is young Venezuelan Jesus Aguilar, who looks much more the part of a 1B. Though his first stint in a minor supporting role last year didn’t play out all that well, Aguilar fits the role, and seems to have righted himself in Columbus lately. If he has, the Tribe has to explore trading one of the few tradable assets they can afford to lose, that being Santana, before the trade deadline, and hopefully for more than just a bag of magic beans, if they genuinely want to make a run this year. - John Vourlis, Scout.com
I hope the notion that Santana's elite walk rates and 20-plus home-run power could be easily replaced by a Quad-A player is as shocking to you as it is to me.

Yet, this dialogue, this disagreement over the value of Carlos Santana is not one which can be easily settled because it is an argument between people speaking two distinctly different languages.

This is because no matter how frequently one cites wRC+, WAR or OPS, one must share a context in which they are valued, or they will be regarded as meaningless.

Carlos Santana is the tradition/modern dichotomy: a player who possesses a skill set which is not valued by baseball Luddites.

As I address the traditional-Sabermetric dialogue, it is important to note my sympathies toward analytics. Further, I think that traditionalists have coded the language effectively to deceive. The divide is not traditional versus new statistics as they wish you to believe rather it is outmoded statistical tools versus new, more scientifically tested statistical tools.  Rejecting  the value of advanced statistics is an entirely anti-information stance.

On Sunday, once again we were faced with a traditional versus modern discussion of Carlos Santana, and the frustration of traditionalists is inescapable.
Aside from being patently false, this began an ugly exchange which ultimately defines the dichotomy.

First, the veracity of the claim is important to dismiss. Among qualified Indians' hitters over the past 5 years.

wRC+ with men on base:
1st: Carlos Santana: 132
2nd: Michael Brantley 131

Indeed, the Indian most revered for being clutch with runners on trails Santana in that category. Further, Santana has actually hit better with runners on base than with the bases empty but information as such is irrelevant when small samples can be tossed around.


Manoloff responds with a sarcastic ad hominem but the purpose of this is not entirely to display Manoloff's character. Rather, it is to show the intensity and vast chasm that remains in how one evaluates offense.

As Manoloff fired off one last jaded and dismissive response, the two speakers decided that speaking past each other no longer had value.

At no point was this argument about Carlos Santana; it instead was about information. It was about tradition and rejecting new ideas because they undermine the narratives our fathers taught us.

At this moment, I must admit that Carlos Santana will always be a flash point. He has neither the panache nor the tool set that those who don't wish to understand the complexities of the game value.

For many, a high batting average is more aesthetically pleasing than merely reaching base, which borders on understandable.

But for the past five years, Carlos Santana's substance has transcended aesthetics and for that reason, he deserves better than being the victim of haphazard narratives.
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