Carlos Santana has been the Indians' best hitter over the last three years, and I still believe he's going to get things turned around, but his season-opening slump has gotten pretty ridiculous. He had an awful three weeks, then put together a great four-game stretch in which he homered three times, but now he's 1 for his last 22. His batting average sits at .143, which is the very worst in MLB among 184 qualified players.
The Indians have now played 35 games, approaching a quarter of the season. That's not a huge sample size, but it's not just a couple bad games either. How often does a full-time player have an average as low as Santana's this far into the season? The answer: Not often.
There's no special significance to 35 games, but since it's the number the Indians have played, I looked back through the records to find the worst batting averages in American League history for the first 35 games of the season (with a minimum of 109 plate appearances, which is how many it takes to be qualified, by the MLB standard of 3.1 PA per game). Game-by-game records are only available back through 1914, so what you see below are the very worst of the last 100 years:
|6||Adam Dunn||2013||White Sox||0.137||0.235||0.308|
|8||Tommy Harper||1974||Red Sox||0.141||0.206||0.212|
|t9||Swede Risberg||1917||White Sox||0.142||0.254||0.264|
|18||Kenny Williams||1988||White Sox||0.153||0.236||0.367|
|20||George Metkovich||1944||Red Sox||0.155||0.243||0.301|
|21||Roman Mejias||1963||Red Sox||0.156||0.170||0.229|
|t22||Ron Hansen||1967||White Sox||0.157||0.263||0.255|
Santana will move into 11th place on that list.* In the last forty years, only three players posted a lower batting average through the first 35 games of the season. Ouch.
*It should also be noted that Raul Ibanez of the Angels and Mike Moustakas of the Royals are also in line to join the list. The Angels have played 33 games and Ibanez is 14 for 96, a .146 batting average. He needs 3 plate appearances in the next two games to be qualified. he could conceivably go 0 for 8, which would drop his average to .135. He could also go 2 for 4 (or something like that) and avoid landing on the list. The Royals have played 34 games and Moustakas is 15 for 102, a .147 batting average. He's assured of being qualified, and could see his average fall to .142 with an 0 for 4 game tonight, or could avoid the list by collecting a pair of hits.
Santana has a .301 on-base percentage (an almost respectable figure) because of his elite ability to draw walks. He also has a .277 slugging percentage, which is still awful, but not as awful as it could be. When he's managing to get hits, they aren't just singles. His .579 OPS is better than that of 21 of the 25 players listed above. Point being, while his overall batting average is incredibly bad, his overall offensive production is closer to run-of-the-mill bad.
21 of the 25 players above were given at least 300 total plate appearances that season. 17 of them got 400+, 12 of them got 500+. If Santana stays healthy, he's going to keep playing, so he'll get plenty of opportunities to raise his average, and the odds are, he will.
All 25 of the players listed above saw their average go up between the end of that 35th game and the end of the season. The median improvement was 74 points (which would put Carlos at .217). Four of the 25 players were able to boost their average by 100+ points, topped by Don Gutteridge 152 points.
In case you're curious, the lowest batting average for a full season in franchise history (among qualified players) is .184, set by Steve O'Neill in 1917. In the 97 years since then, the team's lowest batting average is .215, by Cory Snyder in 1989. I'm quite confident Santana will get above O'Neill's mark, and above the Mendoza Line (which Nick Swisher is also below at the moment, at .198. Snyder's mark is certainly in play though. If I were a betting man, I'd back Carlos on that one, but the history of other hitters in a similar slump to start the year says it will be close.