“We want to be an organization that controls the strike zone, both on the mound and at the plate — and that doesn’t happen overnight,” said General Manager Matt Klentak, who joined the Phillies in October 2015. “It takes time to acquire players who do that and develop players in the system who do that. That has been our goal for the last several years, and there’s nobody in baseball better at it than Carlos Santana.
“We know he’s never going to win a batting title. That’s not part of the profile. He’s going to hit somewhere in the low- to mid-. 200s, but he’s going to do it with power and walks and seeing a ton of pitches. We feel like with our current offense, this was a year for us to move the needle in that department and he would fit right into the mix. What we’ve seen is that type of behavior in the batter’s box is contagious.”
The results, for the offense, are inconclusive. The Phillies ranked third in the majors in strikeouts through Wednesday and were averaging the fewest runs per game (4.37) of any team in playoff position. Their durable rotation, led by Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, has been their best asset.
But the signing of Santana, 32, signaled to a young roster that ownership was serious about contending after five consecutive losing seasons. And his approach gives a template to the rest of the lineup for how to behave in the batter’s box.
“The guy’s got a good eye, and he doesn’t care about striking out looking,” left fielder Rhys Hoskins said. “I think, as a general statement, we’ve been good at taking the pitcher’s pitch and waiting for a mistake. Sometimes it doesn’t happen; I think that’s kind of why the strikeouts are there.
“But I think, too, that leads to some big innings. Maybe the sixth batter of the inning’s coming up and the guy’s already thrown 28 pitches. He’s tired, and with that, we’re more apt to see mistakes.
“I also think it’s about knowing who we are as individuals. That’s where the coaching staff has done a really good job picking through the data and saying: ‘Look, this is what you do really well, and this is what you don’t do so well. Why don’t we focus on what you do well to put you in the best place to be successful?’ ”