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The Orioles’ Anthony Santander is ‘just on fire.’ Here are five stats that stand out in his breakout season.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde didn’t need many words to sum up the production from his emerging star of an outfielder, Anthony Santander, after another game with two home runs Tuesday.

“Just on fire,” Hyde said.

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As the season’s first month winds down, the former Rule 5 draft pick has been one of the game’s most productive hitters. His nine home runs are second in the American League to New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. His 25 RBIs are the most in the AL, and his 19 extra-base hits are the most in all of baseball.

Plenty goes into those league-leading numbers. Here are five stats that stand out about Santander’s start to the season, including some impressive Orioles context and a look at how the numbers exceed expectations.

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7

Yes, Santander has nine home runs already. But seven is the amount, according to FanGraphs’ ZIPS projections, that he was forecast to hit the entire 60-game season. He blew past that in Game 23 on Tuesday, a sign of just how unexpected this kind of production was.

Those projections, which draw on past years and give an idea of what comparable players on similar career paths have done, had Santander batting .251 with a .717 OPS while driving in 26 runs this season. He’s done that in less than half the projected playing time.

3

Just because the season started in July doesn’t mean it’s not the start of the season, and only two other Orioles have ever hit nine home runs in the first 23 games of the season. Brady Anderson hit 10 in the first 23 games of 1996, and Frank Robinson hit 10 through that span in 1969.

More recently, Chris Davis in 2013 and Manny Machado in 2018 had eight home runs in the opening 23 games of the season.

12.1%

Even as a switch hitter who could neutralize some of the same-side splits that hamper hitters, Santander still struck out 21.1% of the time in his first three big league seasons. That number is all the way down to 12.1%.

A few things seem to be going into that. First, according to Statcast, he’s swinging at pitches in the zone far more often — 80.9% of the time versus 67.8% of the time in 2019. Swinging at strikes prevents him from getting into late-count situations in which he has to swing at a pitcher’s pitch. Of the 166 qualified hitters entering Tuesday’s games, only 14 had struck out less often than Santander.

.698

Santander hit for decent power off fastballs in 2019, with half his 20 home runs a season ago coming off heaters and a .503 slugging percentage on the pitch. He’s slugging .698 off fastballs this season, according to Statcast, and his first-inning home run off hard-throwing Blue Jays right-hander Nate Pearson was his fifth home run on a fastball in this young season.

He’s shown the ability to drive breaking pitches too, with his second home run and an opposite-field double coming on sliders late in the game. But being able to catch up to and hunt fastballs the way he has means Santander might stop seeing them all together.

21.6

Not much has changed with Santander’s contact profile, with his exit velocity relatively static from a season ago. What’s changed, however, is his average launch angle. It was up from 15.3 degrees to 21.6 degrees entering Tuesday’s game, according to Statcast data, and the resulting contact means fewer ground balls and more hits into the outfield, where he can collect extra-base hits.

What’s most promising is that it seems like a natural consequence of Santander swinging with confidence and not trying to necessarily sell out for power. That development, and the ability to hit for power naturally, were what the Orioles saw five seasons ago when they watched him in the Carolina League and decided to take him in the Rule 5 draft from the Cleveland Indians. It’s coming to fruition now.

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