A question that comes up a lot among folks who like to talk about the Tigers: Why do the Tigers never give him a chance to start full time? I mean, it's not like they're trotting All-Star shortstops out there. Adam Everett didn't even make it through half the season this year because he hit so poorly. Why not give "Razor" an opportunity to start if that's your alternative?
The common answer: Santiago wears down as the season goes on. Another answer that I think is just as likely? They like his flexibility. Playing in 112 games in 2010, he logged time at both middle infield positions. In the past, he has played third base as well.
His batting is below average, even for a middle infielder. He gets on base a fair amount , but shows little power.
It's his fielding that makes him valuable. At the worst, he's been about average for a middle infielder by Ultimate Zone Rating over the past few years, though of course standard warnings about sample size apply when using that stat. He was above average at both second and short his year.
I think Santiago is the kind of player a team needs off its bench to succeed. (I know he's not the first I've said this about, but it remains true for all who I've mentioned.) Whether or not you want to see him start is another question.
As a utilityman, he's definitely a B. Using the same scale I've applied to the other players this season, however, he rates a C.
At the plate:
This season he walked more, struck out less and hit a slightly-higher line drive rate than normal. But obviously, his power numbers were pretty bad, as shown by a .325 slugging average (for a .062 isolated power).
Interestingly, for his career he has hit better as a left-handed batter against right-handed pitching, but in 2010 those splits were reversed. He had a .763 OPS against lefties and a .635 against righties.
If you want circumstantial evidence Santiago is better when his playing time is chosen wisely, took at his OPS by games played the past few years:
2008 -- 58 games -- .870
2009 -- 93 games -- .774
2010 -- 112 games -- .662
Don't go looking for batting average on balls in play or anything else to explain that either. Simply put, his power numbers dropped every single season.
Remember, correlation does not imply causation. Maybe Santiago just had an off-year. Maybe his numbers in 2008 were high not because he was used sparingly, but because the sample size was not big enoughto allow them to settle closer to his natural talent.
All we know for sure: he was below-average in 2010, no matter the position.
In the field:
As I mentioned in introduction, Santiago's fielding numbers had been about average in the past. He seemed a stable infielder. You knew what to expect. Maybe he was going to make every play and maybe he's make a mistake here or there, but you didn't have to think too much when he was in the field. In the past season, his defensive numbers (by Ultimate Zone Rating) improved to well above average.
In the 2010 Scouting Report by the fans, Santiago was viewed as an above-average fielder across the board -- but not great. He has good instincts, decent speed, nice hands, and strong throwing-accuracy. Arm-strength is seen as average.
What 2010 tells us about 2011:
Santiago finished the season with his worst power numbers since 2006. Will he be able to bounce back from that?
It's hard to say. His batted-ball types bounce around from year-to-year, and this season was clearly within the acceptable range given his career. So he could actually go either way next year. Given he'll be turning 32-years-old before the end of the season, I guess conservatively speaking you'd bet on a decline.
As well, his fielding numbers were abnormally high compared to his career, so you'd expect a decline there too.
Should he be viewed as a starter candidate? I'd like to say yes, but I have to side with our friend Ian Casslberry, who sponsors Santiago's Baseball-Reference page with this quote:
Maybe not good enough to be Detroit's full-time shortstop, but Ramon Santiago provides stability to the Tigers' middle infield.