Say this much for Astros prospect Domingo Santana: It's not going to take much for him to get his BABIP looking decent.
For a young man surely looking for anything to cling to, it's better than nothing. Santana was recently sent back to the minors again, ensuring that he'll wait at least 10 more days before his first big league hit -- a milestone he's been pursuing since his July 1 debut.
Once that hit comes, there are likely to be plenty more, but for now, things are rough for the right-handed hitting outfielder. According to baseballreference.com, he's the 49th player since 1914 to begin a Major League career with a hitless streak of at least 17 at-bats, and his strikeout rate in that stretch is unprecedented. Santana has fanned 14 times -- 82 percent of his official at-bats.
On the bright side, that means that when he puts the ball in play, Santana is only 0-for-3. One lousy single, and he'll be up to 1-for-4, a decent .250 BABIP. Two hits and he'd be at .400! That would also get him to a .105 batting average, and a .150 on-base percentage. So... maybe let's focus on the BABIP.
Santana hit, and hit well, in the minors. He has posted a .292/.375/.469 line at Triple-A this year, and for his minor league career he's at .272/.362/.469 despite being young for his league at every level.
The kid has talent. He just doesn't have any hits.
Of the other players "ahead" of him on our list of slow starts, only Nigel Wilson even comes close to Santana's strikeout rate, with 16 Ks in an 0-for-25 starting skid -- 64 percent.
Wilson, by the way, probably isn't the best source for inspiration, though his career might be worth its own separate story. Come to think of it, Santana's friends and family might want to skip the next couple of paragraphs and rejoin when we get back to some more encouraging parallels.
That's because Wilson, a lefty-swinging first baseman and a well-regarded prospect, stretched his 0-for-25 over three years, from 1993 to '96, and three organizations.
Once he got on the board, though, he did it in style. He went 3-for-10 down the stretch for a division champion Indians team in '96, with two home runs ... then never had another professional at-bat.
Still, the history isn't all unkind to Santana. There's Stephen Vogt, who had a baffling start to his career. Now a valuable piece of the A's offense, Vogt started 0-for-31, but with only two strikeouts. He had 29 consecutive balls in play go for outs, which would seem to border on mathematical impossibility.
But the most encouraging news is a lot closer to home.
Astros slugger Chris Carter, who has clocked 57 homers over the past two seasons, is No. 3 on our hit(less) list. Carter was 0-for-32 with 13 Ks and one walk in August and mid-September of 2010 with the A's.
No word on whether they've chatted about it in the clubhouse, though one supposes that Carter isn't in a hurry to say, "Hey, let's talk about my 0-for-32!" He has his own challenges to deal with, and there are probably better icebreakers.
But it's not like there are no similarities, even beyond the streaks. They're both big (Santana is listed at 6-foot-5, Carter at 6-4). They both hit righty. Carter showed more patience in the minors while Santana has shown more speed, but if Santana turns out to be a Carter-like player in the bigs, that's not the worst or unlikeliest outcome.
Especially since he's not going to turn into a Mike Gallego-like player. Whatever may become of Santana, we can say that much with some certainty. But it's not just big sluggers on the list. Gallego, Bobby Crosby Phil Garner are among the infielders who started out with lengthy hitless streaks, and both enjoyed lengthy careers.
Gallego, now a coach with the A's, hit .239 in the big leagues but stuck around for 13 years on the basis of his defense and a reputation as a fine teammate. Garner played 16 years and made three All-Star teams.
As an aside, one of Tony La Russa's favorite stories revolves around Gallego. One spring, during a contract dispute, Rickey Henderson apparently threatened that if he was going to be "paid like Gallego, [he would] play like Gallego." Given that Gallego was beloved, that didn't exactly earn him new fans within the Oakland clubhouse.
Still, we can be quite comfortable that regardless of how he's paid, Santana isn't going to play like Gallego. There aren't many 6-foot-5 utility infielders.
There also aren't many 0-for-17 starts to careers, mind you, and Santana is working on one of those. History doesn't make it very clear where he's headed, but that first hit has to be coming. And if plenty more don't soon follow, well, at least there's BABIP.