Santana + Kotchman = ?

MLB.com rolled out its 2012 fantasy baseball preview on Monday. Of note for Tribe fans was the player that was rated as the No. 1 catcher in baseball…

Cleveland’s Carlos Santana.

Santana is coming off his first full season in the big leagues and, even though he went through some growing pains (see: .239 average), he still clubbed 27 homers, drove in 79 runs, drew 97 walks and posted a .351 on-base percentage.

The MLB.com projections have Santana hitting .277 with 28 homers, 95 RBIs, 89 runs scored, a .378 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage (.878 OPS) this season with the Indians. Have to think the Tribe would be happy with that production.

It is still worth noting that the Indians plan on having Santana spend some time at first base and designated hitter this year in order to keep his bat in the lineup on a daily basis. Last year, Santana started 88 games at catcher, 63 at first and 1 at DH. I’d wager that the 1B starts will drop and the DH starts will climb this year.

The reason I say that is Santana saw more action than perhaps was planned last season due to the struggles of Matt LaPorta. This year, Cleveland has added a new first baseman in Casey Kotchman to handle the bulk of the playing time. I could see Santana occasionally spelling Travis Hafner at DH more often this year.

This got me thinking about what the production at first base might look like with a Kotchman-Santana combination in the works. Kotchman (a lefty) will start against right-handed pitching while Santana (a switch hitter) would get the nod against lefties throughout the year.

That being the case, I decided to project what they would do under that scenario. Looking back at the past five years, the Indians have faced an average of 116 right-handed starters and 46 left-handers each season. For the sake of this experiment, I projected Santana for 46 games and Kotchman for 116.

I chose to use Santana’s 2011 splits against left-handed starters and Kotchman’s 2011 splits against right-handed starters. This is somewhat of a best-base scenario, considering the ups and downs of Kotchman’s career and the fact that Santana has only one full season (2011) under his belt. So, yes, my math is inherently flawed.

That said, what I did was I took Santana’s numbers in 44 games vs. lefty starters and projected them over 46 games, and then I took Kotchman’s production in 102 games last year against righty starters and projected that across 116 games. Have I lost any of you, yet? Either way, let’s move on.

What I came up for Kotchman and Santana was this:

.303/.384/.460/.844, 15 HR, 38 2B, 68 BB, 580 AB, 662 PA

Indians first basemen combined in 2011 looked like this:

.247/.319/.444/.763, 22 HR, 44 2B, 59 BB, 588 AB, 659 PA

What you see is an improvement in average and on-base ability, which should be a given if Kotchman can come close to his 2011 output. The price you pay is a drop-off in power production. I left out the projects RBI or run totals because that is too dependant on the rest of the lineup.

The hope would be that bounceback seasons by players such as Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Hafner — combined with good showings from youngsters like Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall — would help add to the RBI and run-scoring opportunities for Santana/Kotchman.

Another factor that I’ve obviously left out is the reality that others will probably see time at first base at various points this season. Depending on injuries or other issues, players such as Shelley Duncan or Jack Hannahan could see action at first base. That would clearly influence any projections.

If Kotchman reverts back to his 2009-10 form, the Indians could run into another troublesome year of offensive production at first base.

ABOUT THAT LINEUP: Much is being made about the Indians’ lefty-heavy lineup, and for good reason. It’s not every day that a team has the ability to use an exclusively left-handed batting order. I discuss this issue a little bit in the latest Inbox on Indians.com

What I didn’t delve into was what the Indians’ lineup might look like against left-handed pitching. The way I see it, Cleveland could go with 5L/4R, 4L/4R or even 3L/6R depending on manager Manny Acta’s mood.

Santana and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera will hit right-handed against lefties, so there are two. Right-handed-hitting Lou Marson would start behind the plate on days Santana is at first base, so there’s another.

Then, Acta could spell an outfielder (Brantley or Sizemore) with a righty like Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Russ Canzler or even Jason Donald, depending on who makes the team off the bench. Acta could also spell Hafner similarly at DH, or give a day off here and there to Kipnis at second base, or Chisenhall/Jack Hannahan at third base).

Twitter Power Rankings

Decided to switch up the format a bit this week. I am breaking this into two categories now, including one called “Top Twitter Prospects.” I’ll pick three each week and those rankings will be limited to Indians players who have no Major League time under their belt yet. Let’s have at it.

Week 3: Major League Rankings

1. @VinnieP52 (Vinnie Pestano) – Last week: 1 (3)
2. @TheJK_Kid (Jason Kipnis) – Last week: 3
3. @thethree8 (Joe Smith) – Last week: 4
4. @ChrisPerez54 (Chris Perez) – Last week: 2
5. @SippTony (Tony Sipp) – Last week: NR

Sixth Man: @FrankHerrmann56 – Last week: NR

Comment: Sipp’s #countrytweet last week vaulted him into the top 5. Chris Perez was quiet for much of the week, but I can’t blame him. He was spending one of his final weeks of the offseason chilling in the Bahamas. It was a rare chance for others to push up the rankings. Pestano held strong, adding #tweetsfromthetop to his Twitter repertoire. Well played, sir.

Top Twitter Prospects

1. @C_M_Cook (Cole Cook)
2. @TDaddyNeal (Thomas Neal)
3. @L_wash (LeVon Washington)

Comment: Cook has had a strong offseason in the Twittersphere and he really stood out this week with some entertaining twit pics. Neal can also be applauded for his consistency on Twitter. But where was #WashTime this week? He cracked the big league rankings last week and then went quiet. It looked like he hijacked @TonyWolters‘ account at one point, though.

–JB

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