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Domingo Santana is an excellent buy-low option

The Milwaukee outfielder could be primed for a bounce back in 2019

MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t long ago the Milwaukee Brewers were pretty high on Domingo Santana, who appeared to be a rising star in the National League. However, following a 2017 campaign that saw him belt 30 home runs and swipe 15 bases, Santana crashed and burned in 2018.

Heading into 2019, the Brewers have no room in their star-studded outfield for the 26-year-old slugger, who is out of options. How did Milwaukee, and Santana, get here, and what is the best course of action for the Brewers?

As we know, the 2018 offseason was a big one for Milwaukee. They brought aboard two star outfielders in Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. With incumbent veteran (and lifelong Brewer) Ryan Braun manning one corner, the Brewers outfield was overcrowded, and Santana eventually felt the squeeze.

Milwaukee tried to get creative, finding the youngster plate appearances by trying Braun at first base. Santana, though, would go on to hit himself out of the lineup, and eventually out of the majors. Through April, he logged 106 plate appearances, only managing to bat .237 with zero home runs and only three doubles. He never did get on track. Playing time dwindled for Santana and he was optioned to Triple-A in June.

It was a sudden fall from grace for Santana, who first came up to Milwaukee in 2016 and posted a 111 wRC+ in 281 plate appearances. He followed up with a breakout in the aforementioned 2017 season, putting up a 127 wRC+ in 607 plate appearances. With nearly 900 plate appearances as a productive hitter, what went wrong?

Looking at his batted ball metrics, four things immediately jump out – walks, ground balls, line drives, and hit direction.

Domingo Santana Field Directions

Season BB% Ground Ball% Line Drive% Opposite Field%
Season BB% Ground Ball% Line Drive% Opposite Field%
2016 11.4% 44.2% 30.1% 25.0%
2017 12% 44.9% 27.4% 28.0%
2018 8.5% 48.9% 23.4% 19.7%

As you can see from the chart, Santana had pretty steady rates from 2016 through 2017 before seeing a dip in walks and line drives. He also stopped going the other way in 2018, and hit more grounders. This all added up to a disastrous season for Santana.

All may not be lost, though. Looking further into batted ball metrics, we can see Santana still hit the ball pretty hard.

In fact, he was hitting the ball just as hard as he did in 2017.

Domingo Santana Hard Hit Rates

Season Soft% Medium% Hard%
Season Soft% Medium% Hard%
2016 14.1% 47.4% 38.5%
2017 11.7% 48.6% 39.7%
2018 12.4% 47.4% 40.1%

The fact that he’s still putting solid wood on the ball—hitting it just as hard as ever—may indicate that perhaps Santana was just pressing at the plate, trying too hard to earn playing time. Maybe the crowded outfield was too much pressure. What young player wouldn’t freak out a little, fighting stars like Yelich, Cain, and Braun for playing time?

He tries to stand out, to hit the ball out of the yard, which leads to pulling it more, and, well, you get the picture. Somewhere along the way, Santana just fell apart, losing the approach that brought him previous success.

With the Mariners trading impact-players this winter, the bigger potential corner outfield trade target is, of course, Mitch Haniger. Santana, however, should be available for a lot less.

If Santana is playing everyday—and working to get back to his old approach—the result could be something a lot more like 2017, which wouldn’t be far off Haniger’s excellent 2018 season. Domingo Santana could be one of the steals of the offseason, and he should be getting looks from any team that considers Haniger a viable trade target.