Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona surprised reporters when he announced he had been thinking about trying Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot.
It’s the way-to-early portion of Spring Training, and Terry Francona admitted he hadn’t thought too much about his lineup, but he’s thought about it enough to toy with the idea of batting Carlos Santana at the top of the order.
"“It’s only a thought,” Francona told the press, via the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. “Because of his skill set, I think he’d be maybe one of the better leadoff hitters in the game. I know it seems a little unique, maybe a little out of the box, and you have to have somebody hit cleanup, too. I don’t know whether I’d do it or not, but I’ve thought about it.”"
Santana’s been a middle-of-the-order hitter most of his career, but the Tribe did experiment with their slugger in the No. 2 hole last season. The decision proved disastrous, as Santana hit just .196.
But should the failed experiment be THE reason not to move him out of the cleanup spot?
The short answer: No.
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Santana doesn’t have the speed you’d like to see out of your leadoff hitter, but he does boast a career .365 on-base percentage. Only the Reds’ Joey Votto has drawn more walks than Santana in the past five seasons.
As crazy as it might seem, Francona is doing the right thing by at least trying to scheme up a plan to maximize Santana. Sure Santana has been a middle-of-the-order guy, but he hasn’t been so dominant that his named should be carved in stone into the middle-of-the-order on Tito’s lineup card.
While batting fourth in 89 games during 2015, Santana slashed .240/.377/.385 with 10 homers. Batting fifth, he slashed .245/.333/.472 in 30 games. In the disastrous 30-game stint batting second, he hit .196, with four homers. Interestingly enough, Santana’s .336 on-base percentage in the No. 2 hole, was slightly better than he performed batting fifth (.333) in the same amount of games (30).
If Santana is moved, the Indians would have to consider how’d they would make up for Santana’s lack of power in the middle of the lineup. Perhaps Francona will look for a bounce-back year from Yan Gomes, while the Tribe front office crosses its fingers that it signed the 2015 Rangers version of Mike Napoli (.295, five homers in 35 games), and not the 2015 Red Sox model (.207 in 98 games).
Right now Rajai Davis is the early favorite to open the season as the leadoff hitter. He has experience batting at the top of the order, but in 2015, he couldn’t get his on-base percentage over the .300 (mark). His career on-base percentage at leadoff currently sits at .309.
Davis will be the safe bet for Francona, but teams like the Indians need to be a little more liberal-minded. The front office has to adopt this approach because of their lack of funds to sign high-priced free agents. Perhaps Francona is taking the same approach in-between the lines.