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IBI's 2013 Cleveland Indians Outfield Preview

IBI's 2013 Cleveland Indians Outfield Preview
February 10, 2013
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Editor's Note: In the interest of keeping things fresh and not bland here at IBI, Jim Piascik and Steve Orbanek decided to preview the 2013 Cleveland Indians in an unconventional way. Steve and Jim sent e-mails back in forth over the past few days -- a la Bill Simmons -- hashing out what they thought about the team in the upcoming season.
Up today, the outfield.

Steve Orbanek:

Well, Jim, we dove headfirst into a nice little e-mail chain preview of the Cleveland Indians infield, and I hope you're ready to do the same with the outfield. The outfield is especially interesting this year because it's gone through somewhat of an extreme makeover. Gone are the days of an outfield led by Shin Soo-Choo in right, Michael Brantley in center and Shelley Duncan/Johnny Damon/Russ Canzler/bad outfielder in left. Instead, we'll now be treated to Nick Swisher in right, Drew Stubbs in center and Brantley in left. It sure seems to be an upgrade, right?

It's been evident from the start this offseason that the Indians wanted to add more right-handed hitters to their lineup and also find a more serviceable Major League outfield. In many ways, they were able to kill two birds with one stone as every new starting outfielder this year is either right-handed or a switch-hitter.

So, my first question is kind of a simple one. The outfield definitely looks better on paper, but is the outfield actually better? I know there are a lot of Choo fans out there, and for good reason; the guy was no slouch. But I still think it's easy to conclude that we're ultimately better positioned in the outfield heading into 2013.

Jim Piascik:

Well, left field isn't a black hole of sadness anymore. Which almost automatically makes the 2013 outfield better than the 2012 version.

I think it's worth taking some time to point out how bad Cleveland left fielders were in 2012. Their combined line (avert your eyes if you have a weak stomach):

.215/.277/.321 line, 11 home runs, 54 RBI, 12 steals

That's a .598 OPS. That is just terrible. They also combined to ground into 11 double plays. When HR = GIDP, bad things happen.

Yet, when I looked through the stats last year to find which player posted the most similar line to that ugly left field combination, Drew Stubbs appeared.

Stubbs last year posted a .213/.277/.333 line, with a little more power and speed (14 home runs, 30 steals). That's not enough to let him off the hook, though. We spent the entirety of 2012 mocking the ridiculous level of play coming out of left field, yet arguably, the team has replaced them with the same guy.

Steve:

Jim, I hear you to an extent... but even still, you can not possibly tell me that you would rather have Duncan/Canzler/Damon/LaPorta/Tony Danza as a starting outfielder over Stubbs.

Much like first baseman Mark Reynolds, there is a day and night to Stubbs' game. While he may never be a high average guy and he is also a strikeout machine, he stil provides plus defense in center field, and he'll be able to steal some bags for the club.

Stubbs is unique because he's a former top Baseball America prospect who has never been able to live up to the hype (ranked 88 in 2007, 100 in 2008). But while Stubbs is never going to be an all-star, I don't think it's unrealistic to believe that he can be an above-average everyday outfielder. Yes, last season's numbers were abysmal, but tell me Jim, do you really expect him to have a performance that mirrors last season's?

Let's look at his two other full Major League seasons:

2010: .255/.329/.444, 22 HR, 77 RBI, 30 SB, 55 BB, 168 K

2011: .243/.321/.364, 15 HR, 44 RBI, 40 SB, 63 BB, 205 K

Now, I think we can conclude that Stubbs would probably lead any team not named the Indians in strikeouts (Stubbs sure must be happy to have Reynolds as a teammate, so someone can take the pressure off him, right?), but when you look at the total body of work, it's obvious that this guy is a definite upgrade over any outfielder that the Indians trotted out in left field last season.

Let's say he hits .230 with 15 home runs and steals 30 bases while providing great defense all season. To me, that is a very nice addition and a HUGE upgrade over the so-called Major League baseball players we allowed to patrol our outfield last season.

Jim:

I'm much happier with Stubbs, but his dropoff does scare me. His numbers have fallen downward for two straight years. It's beginning to look a little bit like a trend. The power's evaporated, he can't get on base to use his speed on the base paths; it's just not a good picture.

But it's still a better outlook than last year. It's still shocking to think about how bad the 2012 left field mess was.

Sliding onward to the other new addition, let's talk a little Nick Swisher! The $56 million man. The player those greedy, money-grubbing, tightfisted Dolans finally put out for.

I've already written that I don't think Swisher will hold his value particularly well, but who cares about that right now? We're talking 2013, and in 2013, Swisher should be his same old consistent self. Some numbers from the last six seasons:

Home runs: 22, 24, 29, 29, 23, 24

RBI: 78, 69, 82, 89, 85, 93

fWAR: 3.9, 1.4, 3.2, 4.1, 3.8, 3.9

A model of consistency. While you can never easily predict the future with baseball players, saying Swisher should hit around 25 home runs in the middle of the Cleveland lineup this year does not seem like a stretch.

Chris Antonetti turned one year of Shin-Soo Choo into Trevor Bauer and company, then signed Swisher to fill the hole. What a great move.

Steve:

Yeah, I think we can both agree that Antonetti saved face a bit this offseason with some of his moves. That says something too because I think just about every Indians fan on the planet was down on him after the Ubaldo Jimenez debacle.

Now, I do love the move to get Swisher, but I also do not see it as a huge upgrade over Choo. For his career, he has never hit 30 home runs, and he has also never driven in 100 runs. I think that's somewhat telling too when you consider the ballpark that he was previously playing in and some of his former teammates. What I'm basically saying is this: While Swisher is a very good player, I do not think he's going to necessarily be the offensive anchor that many fans are expecting him to be.

He'll hit more homers and drive in more runs than Choo, but he also does not possess Choo's base-running ability, and he certainly does not have Choo's cannon of an arm. But... I still see Swisher as an upgrade over Choo, and part of the reason for that is the intangibles that Swisher brings to the club.

When news first broke that we were negotiating with Swisher, I believe Tony Lastoria said it best when he said Swisher is a player you love when he's on your team but love to hate when he's on an opposing team. Seems about right.

Swisher immediately gives this Indians team a personality. Not only that, but he also has a track record of playing for winning teams, which also should help the club out tremendously. We talk so often about measurables and statistics, but the fact is that Swisher's greatest value may be in the intangibles that he brings to the team. The Indians finally have a pulse again.

Jim:

See, I would call Swisher an anchor. He is consistent and you know what you're going to get from him. He isn't an elite player, but he is someone you want on your side.

I will concede that Choo has a better arm than Swisher, though I am not sure I will take Choo's overall defense over Swisher's. One thing that seemed to become abundantly clear in 2012 was that Choo does not take good routes to the ball. He seemed to stagger a lot and generally not field the ball well, something represented in advanced metrics.

It is important to take extreme fielding metrics with a whole shaker of salt, but Choo came out at -17.0 runs on defense last year, per Fangraphs. Otherwise known as 1.7 wins. That is simply atrocious. Why the Reds think Choo can handle center field is beyond me.

Like I said earlier, I don't like taking advanced metrics too seriously on defense -- watching players is very important too -- but those metrics give me faith in Swisher. He has typically rated out as above-average (per UZR), though he fares less well in DRS. Overall, I don't think Swisher is a butcher out there in right field and should hold his own just fine.

Overall, I love the whole Swisher package and am pumped to root for him -- not against him. He really is the consummate guy you love to have, but also love to root against.

You ready to move onto the one outfielder returning from 2012?

Steve:

Last season was a great one for Michael Brantley because he stayed healthy, and I think he finally disproved the notion that he was just a fourth outfielder in disguise. The best thing about his season, to me, was the consistency that he showed.

Over the first half of the season, Brantley hit .288. Second half? Yup, you guess it, .288. But even beyond that, there were a lot of other things that stood out. For instance, Brantley made huge strides in the area of plate discipline as he drew 53 walks and struck out just 56 times.

Some have expressed concern over the fact that Brantley is going to now be moved over left field, a position that is often associated with powerful run producers, but I see no problem with it. That concern seems to be mitigated by the fact that Stubbs is in center field, and I think he will hit around 15 home runs this season.

My biggest concern with Brantley, and it may seem minor, is his inability to consistently steal a base. When you take his speed and combine it with his minor league resume, you would think this guy would be able to steal a bag once in awhile, yet he really has struggled in that area. Brantley stole just 12 bases last season and was thrown out on nine occasions. In fact, for his career, he has just 39 steals, yet he's been thrown out 20 times. This is the same guy who once stole 46 bases while being thrown out just five times at Triple-A Columbus. The minor league game is obviously night and day different, but you still think we would have seen better results in this area by now.

Jim:

I agree wholeheartedly. Looking at his stats before he was called up and reading scouting reports, I wanted to see the next Kenny Lofton. But Kenny could steal 70 bases in a season, and Brantley has 39 in 363 career major league games. Now, some of that is on me for expecting Brantley to turn into a borderline Hall-of-Fame talent, but I still wonder where the steals went.

As for the concern about moving Brantley back to left field, go ahead and count me in the concerned department. The big issue with Brantley headed into 2012 was whether or not he could handle center field defensively. Well, last year he held his own out there and gave the team something positive out of the CC Sabathia trade.

But moving Brantley back to left field has the potential to blow up in my mind. I think that as a center fielder, Brantley's offense is above-average. In left field, it's probably closer to average. That's something I'm concerned about, but it's not my biggest issue.

My biggest concern with moving Brantley to left field is how he'll react to it. I don't have an exact quote or anything to point to exactly, but Brantley strikes me as a prideful player who took great satisfaction in being THE center fielder. I don't know how happy he's going to be after being demoted out of center field. That's not enough to sink a team -- plenty of winning teams in the history of baseball haven't been happy families -- but it could be a source of friction.

Steve:

You make a really good point and one that I had not previously thought about. But even if the move to left field is bothering Brantley, I have to believe he is the type of player that will play on without causing a fuss. While I do not know Brantley personally, from everything I hear, he is the down to Earth, high-character type. Sure, his ego may be bruised a bit, but this also just provides further incentive for him to go out and build off his 2012 performance.

I just would be really surprised to see a guy like Brantley become a distraction in the locker room. Plus, who's to say Brantley won't again be the starting center fielder. I imagine he'll spell Stubbs there on a a handful of occasions, but consider this possibility as well. While this would certainly not be a positive for the Indians, what if Stubbs has a repeat performance of 2012 and is non-tendered this offseason? Suddenly, it seems if Brantley has his job back, and I'm sure it would benefit his ego to be able to say, "I told ya so."

Also, all of us are expecting the Indians to just place Stubbs in center field this year, but what if the team throws the fans a curve ball and places Stubbs in left and Brantley back in center? It may seem like an unlikely scenario, but stranger things have happened.

I suppose the overall point I am making is that I just am not worried about Brantley being a problem this year. Sure, his offense may not necessarily play in left field, but I think Stubbs' power numbers kind of make up for that problem. For Brantley, I think the focus should be on making himself more of a complete player. He's a good fielder, and he's a patient hitter with good gap power. Now it's time for him to work on stealing those bags.

Jim:

I do think in the end Brantley will be just fine. In my perfect world, Stubbs would sit against quite a few right-handed pitchers, but we shall see.

Feels like this is wrapping up, so how do we feel about the outfield?

Personally, I have high hopes. Between Swisher's consistently good-to-great play, Brantley's growth into a solidly above-average player, and the fact that Stubbs can't be worse than what we had last year, the outfield looks like it's been upgraded in a big way. This isn't a flashy outfield, but I think it's pretty good. This 2013 team won't grab headlines, but if they are going to win, it will be because of things like the consistency of this outfield.

Steve:

I have to agree with you Jim. I also have good feelings about the outfield. I think the key will be Stubbs rebounding from a very poor 2012 campaign in Cincinnatti. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery, and I really hope this is the case with Stubbs.

While the outfield is still far from perfect, it is definitely a drastic improvement from 2012 version, which featured a rotating door at left field. When we talked about the infield last week, I think we concluded that there is still room for lots of growth. The outfield is a bit different as I think we have a pretty good handle on what we can expect from Brantley, Stubbs and Swisher.

But I think that's a good thing.  I am expecting some pretty solid production from this outfield, and I think you make a good point when you say that the consistency from the outfield is going to play a big part in whether the Indians win this season. It may seem hard to believe, but the road to a division title may begin with this outfield.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@kent.edu.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

TribeTime
February 11, 2013 - 8:54 PM EST
The Indians just signed Michael Bourne, what a great sign!! Which outfielder will get the boot/moved to the bench Brantley or Stubbs?
Matthew
February 11, 2013 - 8:42 PM EST
Time for a rewrite! Tribe signed Bourn. Gotta believe this pushes Swisher to everyday 1B, with Reynolds at DH. Also allows for a lot of platooning Stubbs. Amazing outfield defensively now.
Matthew
February 11, 2013 - 8:36 AM EST
Don't forget that Brantley won't even turn 26 years old for another 3 months. He's coming off a really solid season both offensively and defensively. We could continue to see some improvement from him, as he is just entering his prime. More than likely, we see a repeat of last year, but it's not impossible that we see something like .300/.370/.430 with 15-20 SB and 10 HR, while providing well above-average defense in left field, since he has the range of a true CF, and his arm is best-suited for left.
Jwahoo
February 11, 2013 - 2:01 AM EST
I don't buy into the whole "Is Brantley good enough for left field" debate. Its really a moot point anyway. I mean what does it matter? Its Stubbs who's offensive numbers will replace Damona and Co. not Brantley. Furthermore I think the move will actually improve the defense. Brantley is better suited for left field and Stubbs for Center. Although, Brantley might have more trade value sticking in center if he can continue to get on base and rack up doubles he deserves a spot in the outfield. If he can develop a little bit of power and translate his speed into stealing bases he could be a very good player and a core part of the lineup.

I also think Stubbs will be a major surprise this year. Hitting 15-20 homers, stealing 30-40 stolen bases and playing plus defense in center.


Then you got a rock in Left Field in Nick Swisher. Swisher brings his leadership and bravado to the tribe while giving them an almost lock to hit around .275 with 23 homers.


Then add in some interesting depth due to having two guys who can play center. I think McGuiness, Carrerra and Raburn spend the most time backing up the outfield. Cisco, Herridea, Fredoff, Aviles and Phelps give more depth.
Bric
February 10, 2013 - 10:17 PM EST
Stubbs is potentially a great acquisition.
He also could be out of the league in a year.
Antonetti will be lambasted if even one of these FA's fail.
Truth is, Antonetti did a fantastic job re-creating interest in the Indians. Note the comments coming in.
Stubbs still hits HR's and steals bases so his body is strong and quick. There is no reason he cannot hit better than he has. Leading off got him into a funk in Cincy that he never got out of.
Maybe in Cleveland a new start will revive him. I hope.
Chip
February 10, 2013 - 4:32 PM EST
They will be good defensively and I think Swisher and Brantley will give you exactly what they've done to this point offensively. I actually think Brantley can continue to add some power, although he won't hit 20 HR. 12-15 is realistic. Stubbs, on the other hand, could continue his poor offensive output or could easily explode with a .260 average with 25 HR and 30 stolen bases. The potential is there for either to happen. Even if his offense repeats last year(unlikely) his value defensively and on the base paths gives him more value than anyone in left last year.

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