As of May 5, Anthony Santander's AVG is the exact same .241 he finished with last season and his .380 SLG is 53 points lower than the previous season (RIP juiced ball). Considering Santander was a below-average hitter in 2021 (94 wRC+), this drop in slugging might seem like bad news for a corner outfielder who ranks in the 17th percentile in Outs Above Average (OAA). After all, if you can't hit and you can't field, it's hard to stick on a major league roster, even if you're on the Orioles.
But Santander isn't struggling at the plate. In fact, his 142 wRC+ places him 35th in all of the majors.
How is this possible? Has offense across the league died so much that a .380 SLG is actually good (wait, the answer is yes to this??).
While league-average SLG has dropped so far that his .380 SLG is actually good, Santander has made massive gains in a different department.
Santander is amongst the BB gods this year and it makes no sense. He is one of 16 players with OBPs above .400, and he even has a higher BB% than OBP machine Juan Soto.
In a single season, the switch-hitting outfielder has gone from the 8th percentile in BB% to the 98th.
Santander's 12.2% increase in walks is nearly 4% higher than Tommy Edman, who has had the second-highest gain in BB%. The difference between Santander and Edman's rate increase is the same as the difference between Edman and Yandy Diaz, who has the 17th-best increase at 4.4%.
You might think that Santander has simply seen an increase of balls out of the zone. This makes sense, after all, Edman, whose BB% has increased 8.3%, has seen 6.1% more balls than he did last season. But that isn't even close to true for Santander.
The 27-year-old has seen an increase in pitches out of the zone, but only by 1.8% (from 52.5% in 2021 to 54.3 as of May 5, 2022). There are 41 major leaguers who have higher increases in pitches not in the zone than Santander.
So if not pitches out of the zone, then what is it?
The first thing I want to look at is what he actually does with pitches in the zone.
In 2021, the Oriole outfielder swung at 72.1% of pitches in the zone (Z-swing). He was making contact 81.5% of these swings.
This season, his contact rate on pitches in the zone has actually gone up to 83.3%, but he's swinging 14.2% fewer strikes.
Why is it important that Santander is swinging at fewer strikes? Because he's seeing more pitches.
Last season, Santander saw 4.14 pitches per plate appearance. This season, he's seeing 4.42.
Despite a 2.7% increase in first-pitch strikes, he's swinging 7.3% less on first pitches.
Instead of doing this on middle-middle 0-0 pitches:
He's doing this:
This AB against Ashby resulted in a walk. While it's his only walk on PAs that started with a middle-middle strike. It does show a drastic change in approach.
So far, he's had 7 PAs begin with a strike down the middle. He's swung twice (28.5% of the time). Last season, Santander had 32 PAs begin with a pitch down the middle and swung 14 times (43.8% of the time).
None of these plate appearances ended with a walk. While these 32 PAs had some positive outcomes (some on the first-pitch), it appears that Santander is happy. to sacrifice them for potential pitches he might like better.
In addition to a drop in Z-swing%, he's also dropped his O-swing, swinging at balls off the plate. This is obvious, but worth mentioning anyway.
His chase rate (56th percentile) is far from elite, but it is a vast improvement from 2021, where he sat in the 13th percentile.
Santander has dropped his overall Swing% by 10.5%. It appears that he's caught on to the idea that swinging might not be the best idea overall.
Of course, this could all be first-month overreactions. However, if Santander continues to keep his bat on his shoulder, you should be prepared to see a lot more of this: