A three year Indians review: Center Field
By Jeff Ellis
August 25, 2013
The last position for the three year review is centerfield. This was the hardest position to look at for me because it was supposed to have been set with Grady Sizemore.
Sizemore was the last guy the Indians produced with superstar potential. He had it all: power, speed, looks, and just electric athleticism. Then after only four complete seasons he was done. He played the equivalent of only five and a half years. At age 22 and 23 the player he was most comparable by age was Duke Snider, at 25 and 26 it was Barry Bonds. He was supposed to be a potential Hall of Famer, an iron man who played in nearly every game. Then his body betrayed him.
So a position that was supposed to be set for years all of the sudden became a position of turmoil. So the Indians decided to go out and signMichael Bourn to fill this gap.
Bourn’s first full season as a starter was in 2008, for Houston. In a fun turn this was also Grady Sizemore’s final year as a starter. Now let’s look at both of these players and their contributions to the Indians.
2011 Grady Sizemore - .224/.285/.422 295 PA
2012 Michael Brantley - .288/.348/.402 609 PA
2013 Michael Bourn - .271/.323/.361 438 PA
So after all the excitement for Bourn, he has been worse than Brantley was last year as a hitter. Bourn has actually been a below average bat this season. There is one thing that as an Indians fan that scares me is that his walk rate has fallen off a cliff this year. His average is about the same as last year, but his on base percentage is 25 points lower. He will be lucky to have 60% of the walks he had last year.
This year is on pace for his worst walk total in his career (in a full season). This is a skill that is supposed to be the last to fail for players and combined with his steal decline is alarming to me. He has always struck out a lot, but the walks along with his stolen bases were what combined to make him a very effective leadoff hitter. Last season he was in the top ten in walks in the NL.
For this stat remember anything below 0 is below replacement level, 2+ is a starter, 5+ an All Star:
2011 Grady Sizemore - .1
2012 Michael Brantley - 2.7
2013 Michael Bourn - 1.9 current 2.38 projected
So even though Brantley was clearly far and away a better hitter than Bourn, almost 100 point differential in OPS, they have closer than expected WAR’s. The reason is simple; Bourn is still a good defender. He is not putting up numbers like last year when he was better than the next two defenders combined. Most of his value right now is tied to his defense, and it does blow away what the corpse of Grady Sizemore was able to do in 2011.
I think the more interesting thing is that most people, myself included, kind of thought that Brantley has raised his game this year. His Dr. Smooth persona - clutch hits - and a year of growth had made me assume that he was taking a step forward. Well, it turns out that he has actually taken a small step back instead. His average, slugging, on base percentage, WAR, defense, and wRC+ are all down. He is across the board having a down year versus last year.
For this remember 100 is average, 120 is great as it means the player produces 20% runs than your average starter.
2011 Grady Sizemore - 94
2012 Michael Brantley - 106
2013 Michael Bourn - 93
This one seems like a killer, but this is the one stat that is pretty much dead on for Bourn. While his OBP and defense have taken hits this year his wRC+ is right around his average. He is just not a great offensive weapon. He is about a league average bat. It’s all about his secondary skills, speed, defense, and eye in the box when it comes to Bourn’s true value.
Bourn was arguably a bigger signing than Swisher. No one thought the Indians were even in the running, and then they swooped in and added another big name. Yet in terms of wRC+ he is the worst centerfielder the Indians have had the last three years.
In the end I am calling this one another tie. Brantley was clearly better last year, but Bourn as a total package was better than Sizemore. For the record it’s now 4-3-2 for the Indians line up this year against the previous two years. After all the money spent I am not sure anyone is going to be happy to see this contest as close as it is.
Also here is the compiled WAR and wRC+ for this team vs. 2011 and 2013
2011 vs. 2013 WAR +5.53 wRC+ +65
2012 vs. 2013 WAR + 2.11 wRC+ -9
These are the final offensive numbers and in a crazy turn the offense is actually worse than last season, and yet much better than two years ago. The team that ended up with the fifth worst record in baseball has had the best offense of any Indians team the last three years. Yet I have to admit those numbers do lie.
This might seem crazy and the numbers are off to a degree. For the Infield it was a midseason review, and we all know the rates would be lower if it had all been the end of last season totals. Jason Kipnis alone might be enough to change the total into this year’s favor. Yet it would not be enough to explain the collapse of the last few years while this team is still in the thick of the wild card race.
This can be explained rather easily though as the offense was not the biggest issue. The issue last year was a pitching staff that didn’t have one league average starter. Not one guy was better than replacement. In the next series I will look at the pitching, and show the reason why 2012 fell apart was because of the starting pitching, and how that this year starting pitching is the reason the Indians are still contending today.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org