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Anthony Santander has been bad, but don’t give up hope

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It would be kind to say that Anthony Santander hasn’t carried his spring momentum into April. But it wouldn’t be fair to shelve him just yet.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

ANTHONY SANTANDER HAS BEEN A BLACK HOLE IN THE ORIOLES LINEUP.

There, I said it. It’s out in the open. Do with that what you will.

I needed to get that off my chest, because as the resident Santander stan here at Camden Chat, I’ve tried to bottle up this disappointing but very real happenstance. The start to the 23-year-old’s first real chunk of big league playing time has returned meager value.

After quickly becoming the golden child during the spring, and before that, being the previous owner of the coveted number one spot on Nick’s list of man crushes, Santander has produced crumbs at the plate. He’s currently batting .153 with a .448 OPS, the output of nine hits in 59 at-bats. His 19 wRC+ is third-worst among hitters with at least 60 plate appearances. He’s struck out in a quarter of his plate appearances.

That, my friends, is how Chris Pratt passes you on the list.

As bad as the Orioles have been offensively (the proud owners of a collective 74 wRC+), Santander has been par for the course. If the number on the back of your jersey doesn’t read “13,” you probably haven’t hit as much as you should.

As the first and probably only member of the Santander fan club, it was my duty to take his darling March as a sign that yes, in fact, the young man is as hitterish as he looks. It’s also my duty as a person writing published words to objectively say that Santander has stunk.

Though, as a stan, is it not my duty to, you know...stan?

Now, as bad as Santander has been (he’s 0 for his last 12), a BABIP of .190 kind of makes you wonder what the hell is going on. As we found, some of it’s on him, and some of it’s the ball not bouncing the right way. And some, perhaps, the numbers can’t quite analyze.

Now, first off, it’s somewhat laughable how strangely Santander’s time in the big leagues has unraveled. Thus far, he’s a career .191 hitter worth a 32 wRC+. That’s bad. But Santander has had a few moments that make you wonder. Like, for example, when he lined a Felipe Rivero 102 mph fastball to left-center field for a double, or when he launched his first career home run in style.

All of that, coupled with a lot of output in the Grapefruit League, makes you want to fight the Darth Kermit that says Santander isn’t as good as you think. In his first 62 plate appearances in 2018, a lack of an expected tool makes you start to believe it.

With only 25 percent of his plate appearances coming from the right side, Santander’s heat map is much more red towards the left-handed batter’s box. That’s because the opposition has found a hole to his lefty pull side, and Santander has yet to make an adjustment.

Santander, a young player who came to the Orioles as someone with a budding hit tool, is not hitting the fastball. Even worse, he’s not hitting it in an area where he should be making more significant contact, if at all.

While we aren’t talking about a fastball here, we’re simply talking about punishing mistakes. Santander is finding out pretty quickly that a lot of big league pitchers have a general idea of where the baseball is going. As Jim Palmer often laments, big league pitchers toss balls that turn into strikes, and strikes that turn into balls. And they tend to do it on purpose.

When the rare opportunity for an opening presents itself, good hitters take advantage, and right now, a lot of Orioles, including Santander, are not doing that.

Carlos Carrasco didn’t make a lot of mistakes on Monday night. His fastball was like a roller coaster, his slider snapped, and he made a lot of O’s hitters look like they took a head kick from Edson Barboza.

So, when he hangs a changeup in a 0-0 count, late in a one-run game, it’s not out of the realm of expectations that something good might happen his third trip through the order. But Santander swings over the top of a mistake. He later, though, managed a climactic 99 mph fly ball out to the warning track, another one of those “so close” moments that have become a trend.

Amidst his struggles, some of his swing patterns have grown positively. While he’s still chasing a lot (39 percent), he’s chasing a little bit less compared to his 2017 debut (53 percent). As he’s seen a better caliber of pitcher, his rate of contact both inside and outside the strike zone has increased. Encouragingly enough, he’s still pulling the baseball at a rate of 58 percent. You could say he’s pulling the opposite of Henry Urrutia, but poor Henry couldn’t pull anything.

Strangely, however, Santander’s swinging 12 percent less than he was when he first came up. That’s a pretty solid chunk of swings to discard.

There’s probably not a lot of stock to put into his swinging less, but as a whole, it leads us to confirm what our eyes are seeing. Santander, a guy who now only has 93 big league plate appearances, is getting acclimated to facing the best pitchers in the world, and he’s struggling. Just this weekend, he got a taste of what his former club’s pitching staff is all about, and he got dominated, going hitless in four games.

I would suggest that Santander’s more conservative approach has nothing to do with him wanting to take pitches. As young hitters are prone to be, it makes sense that he’s just flat out getting fooled.

Given the brutality of the Orioles’ early schedule, Santander has seen plenty of power stuff. In today’s new age, there are more cutters and sliders than ever before, and that’s what he’s been getting. He’s seen the four-seam fastball at a frequency of only 38 percent, while guys continue to feed Santander a heavy ration of offspeed and breaking stuff.

Still, as a hitter who is being pitched inside and is hitting the baseball associated with how he’s being pitched, you start to wonder just how significant a tweak needs to be made. In the meantime, whether that adjustment ever happens is a development Santander stans are waiting for.

I do think we forget how hard and humbling this game is. Baseball isn’t like football, where a young quarterback is given months, maybe years of leniency. Baseball is an everyday game, and every day, there’s less and less time to tighten the bolts.

We still don’t know what Santander is yet, because time is still on his side. But he’s been granted a significant role in the Orioles’ outfield rotation. It’s going to be hard to keep penciling his name in the lineup after his Rule 5 requirements are fulfilled if results don’t soon follow.

Some of us remain patiently waiting for a reason (any reason) to recommission Santander to his rightful place as number one on some imaginary list. But we can only be so patient for so long.