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Carlos Santana has never been this bad for this long

He’s been in a big ol’ slump

Carlos Santana #41 of the Kansas City Royals bats during the game between the Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Friday, July 30, 2021 in Toronto, Canada.
Carlos Santana #41 of the Kansas City Royals bats during the game between the Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Friday, July 30, 2021 in Toronto, Canada.
Photo by Jon Blacker/MLB Photos via Getty Images

There is not a Hall of Very Good, but if there were, it would be perfect for players like Alex Gordon and, I suspect, Salvador Perez. Players like these have long, accomplished careers with individual and team awards to put in their trophy closets but who, for one reason or another, don’t hold up to the all-time greats in the Hall of Fame.

Carlos Santana is not a Hall of Famer, but he is absolutely a first ballot choice for the Hall of Very Good. He’s been an anchor on some very good teams—Cleveland’s 2016 AL Champion squad, for one—and was an above average hitter for a decade per both wRC+ and OPS+. He’s got some nice round career numbers, and with one more season, he’ll become only the 23rd player since the 1994 strike to accrue at least 1500 hits, 1000 walks, and 250 home runs.

Santana’s flaws, such as they were, revolved around his position and ceiling as a hitter. A first base only, Santana has never won a Gold Glove. And while Santana has been a reliable hitter his whole career, his high water mark was only a 136 wRC+ from 2019. Still, those flaws weren’t really relevant to the Royals when they signed him to a two-year, $17.5 million contract last December. They needed a reliable hitter, and they needed a first baseman; as Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn have proved via their woeful performances this year, the Royals’ need was genuine.

That the Royals were able to nab Santana for only $17.5 million had to do with two things: Santana’s 2020 performance, and his age. For the first time in his career last season, Santana hit for below league average. His 96 wRC+ was the lowest in his career by 11 points—though a truncated season and a career low BABIP of .212 were big asterisks. Second, Santana is, in baseball world, old. He turned 35 in April, and the number of 35-year-olds who are still good at hitting a baseball at the Major League level are very slim.

So, how has it turned out? Well, it has not been a booming success. After Saturday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Santana’s line dropped to .221/.333/.370, for a wRC+ of 95. He’s still doing the plate discipline things you’d expect would age well—Santana sports a nifty 14% walk rate and an equally impressive 15.8% strikeout rate—but the average and power have fallen significantly from his career averages.

Santana started off well, but lately he has been in a deep, dark slump. And by lately, I mean “since Memorial Day”. Since May 26, a period of 290 plate appearances, Santana has an OBP below .300 (at .293) and an OPS south of .600 (at .599). Additionally, and somewhat unnervingly, this streak is the worst slump of his career. I took a look at the worst slump of every season with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, and this year’s slump clearly stands out in both length and magnitude.

Carlos Santana’s Worst Slumps of Every Season

May 26 to Aug 14, 2021 KCR 69 290 0.200 0.293 0.306 0.106 0.599 0.220 -1.262
Apr 8 to Jun 12, 2014 CLE 51 222 0.160 0.315 0.304 0.144 0.619 0.176 -0.104
Apr 20 to May 17, 2019 CLE 24 103 0.187 0.282 0.341 0.154 0.622 0.188 -0.458
Jul 29 to Sep 26, 2020 CLE 54 231 0.180 0.325 0.302 0.122 0.626 0.196 -0.292
Jul 7 to Aug 18, 2018 PHI 37 156 0.203 0.321 0.308 0.105 0.629 0.238 -0.775
Apr 30 to Jul 6, 2015 CLE 55 241 0.196 0.324 0.342 0.146 0.665 0.220 -0.952
Jul 1 to Aug 2, 2010 CLE 28 120 0.207 0.367 0.315 0.108 0.682 0.236 0.026
Apr 3 to Jun 17, 2017 CLE 65 290 0.213 0.310 0.378 0.165 0.688 0.227 -0.117
Jun 23 to Aug 13, 2013 CLE 44 177 0.232 0.316 0.374 0.142 0.691 0.268 0.758
Apr 21 to Jul 25, 2012 CLE 71 293 0.229 0.352 0.342 0.113 0.693 0.276 0.428
Apr 1 to May 4, 2011 CLE 27 117 0.196 0.325 0.371 0.175 0.696 0.194 -0.413
May 22 to Jun 21, 2016 CLE 30 135 0.208 0.289 0.408 0.200 0.697 0.188 -0.320

No matter if you’re in the Hall of Fame or Hall of Very Good, you’re going to slump. That’s just how it is. What is also true is that no one plays forever. That’s just how it is. When a previously good player is bad for a long stretch of time, the trick is figuring out if it’s just a slump or if it’s the prelude to the Aging Concerto by Father Time.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Santana rallied and had a strong September against some lesser pitchers as rosters expand (though they are only going to 28 this year, and not the whole 40-man roster). But I also wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve seen the last of Santana as an above average hitter. When 35-year-olds suddenly display the inability to do what they used to on the diamond, sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

Santana’s truly elite on base skills will likely prevent him from being a liability in the lineup. However, there is a large difference between “not a liability in the lineup” and “can be regularly counted on to produce.” The latter may be slipping away.