When Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander slumped late in the 2019 season, he hurt his final numbers. They looked good at the time, but not great. This year, there was no late-season slump, although there was an injury.
But while his batting average stayed the same in 2020, most of the other numbers were significantly better. Santander did enough in 37 games of a 60-game season to win the Most Valuable Oriole award. When he played, he was among the American League stat leaders in several categories and led the league in extra-base hits on Sept. 5 when he was done for the year due to a strained left oblique.
* In 2019, he batted .261/.297/.476 in 405 plate appearances with 20 homers, 20 doubles, 59 RBIs and an OPS of .773.
* In 2020, he batted .261/.315/.575 in 165 plate appearances with 13 doubles, 11 homers, 32 RBIs and an OPS of .890.
Santander looked to be coming into his own as this type of player late in the 2019 season when he posted an OPS of .872 in July and .854 in August. But he batted just .155 with a .505 OPS in September and ended the year going 1-for-23 and missing the last five games with a minor labrum injury.
But there was no such falloff this season, at least not for a full month. He did go 7-for-38 (.184) over his last nine games. An OPS that was over 1.000 at one point fell under .900 at the end. But this was still a year where Santander took a huge step toward cementing himself as a key player going forward and a middle-of-the-order fixture.
The Orioles must be excited at the prospect of a 3-4-5 in the order of Ryan Mountcastle, Santander and Trey Mancini in some combination. Or perhaps a 2-3-4 with those hitters . In fact, 2-3-4 probably serves the team better and makes sure two of those three get a swing in the first inning. They obviously didn't have that group together at any point this year, but now could have them play together almost every day in 2021.
A few other notes on Santander's 2020 season:
* During the year, 25 of his 40 hits were for extra-bases with 13 doubles, one triple and 11 homers.
* His 47 hard-hit balls (95 mph or more) were the third-most on the O's, according to FanGraphs.com.
* His 32 RBIs were tied for the team lead and he was second on the O's with 10 multi-RBI games.
* His four outfield assists led the club and as a right fielder were tied for the fourth-most in baseball. His eight Defensive Runs Saved were the second-most among AL right fielders, according to Sports Info Solutions. In Outs Above Average, he improved from 170th in MLB in 2019 to 32nd in 2020.
* Santander slugged .667 against breaking balls this year and .591 versus fastballs.
The team surely missed Santander late in the year. The Orioles scored three runs or less 12 times in their last 18 games, going 5-13. That was just about the time they lost Santander. For the year, they went 1-23 when scoring three runs or fewer.
When Santander was named MVO, manager Brandon Hyde noted how his loss was tough for the offense to overcome.
"Big void him not being in the lineup these last 20-plus games just because what he was for us offensively," said Hyde. "Big-time run producer, great at-bats, loves to play, gamer, drives the ball out of the ballpark, gets huge hits for us, plays a really good right field. Love watching him play, and well deserved of the award just because he was having a Silver Slugger, All-Star type season. Looking forward to him getting healthy and being with us next spring."
In 2020, Santander walked more and struck out less. His walk rate improved from 4.7 the year before to 6.1 and his strikeout rate dropped from 21.2 to 15.2 Among his teammates with 100 or more plate appearances, only Hanser Alberto and JosÃ© Iglesias fanned less often.
What is not to like about a player that joined the team via the Rule 5 draft in December 2016 and less than four years later was named MVO?
"It's definitely been a long road," Santander said through team interpreter RamÃ³n AlarcÃ³n the day he was named MVO. "It's been a long journey. I'm very thankful for this opportunity and very happy for this award. It is amazing to be here and to really know the results I was getting after so much work and so many sacrifices. It's been all worth it.
"I feel very happy for the teammates that I have. I'm blessed in that regard. I do believe that if we get along pretty well outside of the ballpark, we're going to get along pretty well also inside of the ballpark. I think it builds up chemistry and it builds up a good team environment. So just very blessed to have the teammates I have."