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Optimistic offense at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

...oh, and did the Indians make a deal or something?

Optimistic offense at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
December 18, 2013
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The winds of change are blowing here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, as Drew Stubbs was sent packing to the Colorado Rockies for left-handed reliever, Josh Outman.

The deal in and of itself wasn’t something that should shake the ground that Cleveland Indians fans walk on, but it certainly showcases Chris Antonetti’s drive to reshape this team.

Stubbs became expendable back in November when they signed outfielder David Murphy to a two-year deal, and while there was speculation that Michael Bourn may be the better candidate to deal, it turned out that the initial belief that Stubbs would be dealt turned out to be true.

Who is Josh Outman?

He’s most certainly going to be the second left-hander in the bullpen, after the Indians acquired Marc Rzepczynski last year. He’s the pure definition of a LOOGY, as he absolutely decimated left-handers last year to the tune of .186/.251/.272 over the course of his major league career as both a starter and a reliever.

Outman should also provide a bit of a value gain from Drew Stubbs, as he should make $2 to $3 million less than the former fleet-footed outfielder would have made with the Indians this season.

I know that many people wanted more for Stubbs based on a market that seemingly is overpaying for everything, but he’s likely exactly the right value.

Will this preclude the Indians from making more moves as the offseason continues?

That’s the real question.

Question loom about former Indians’ righty Ubaldo Jimenez, since the market for him at the value he’s asking for is questionable. Of course, do the Indians have the type of money to give to him even if he comes down in value?

Nobody really knows the answer to that, although there’s a lot of speculation that their pay ceiling is similar to what it was last year. There’s no real reason to think that it’s not, but there’s truthfully no reason to think that it is.

What it comes down to at this point is who the Indians value more, Justin Masterson or Jimenez?

Many will immediately point to Masterson as their target, but the realities may truly be that they are already priced out of that market. I talked about this extensively in last week’s Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. What is Masterson’s value next season?

That’s a number that’s hard to quantify right now. Some think that it will be lower than this year, but I disagree 100%. Who are the potential free agents next year? Max Sherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy will all be on the market, as will be Brandon McCarthy, Homer Bailey and Josh Beckett.

In other words, you could argue that contracts could be just as crazy.

I’m not saying the Indians should open up the wallet for Jimenez instead of Masterson, but I am under the belief that the Indians may WANT to sign one or the other.

Of course, there could be a trade out there somewhere that Chris Antonetti will be exploring.

This week’s Corner is going to head into an optimistic frame of mind, as I focus on the offense and the upside that it could provide. The Indians front office haven’t made many adjustments to this part of their club, and there’s a good reason why.

It should get better.

Here’s how:

The upside:

There’s been a lot of talk of regression for Yan Gomes, and I completely understand it…or do I? Yan Gomes truly came out of nowhere. Sure, there are a few Monday morning quarterbacks who said they predicted Yan Gomes relative start turn, but I can truly only think of one person, a poster at Indians Baseball Insider (jwahoo), who even gave in to the possibility that Gomes could be a factor on the Major League club.

Now Gomes finds himself as the starter for the Indians, which is a whole other ballgame.

With it brings a different weight, and because of the surprise bounce in statistics from Gomes in all areas, including defense, many people only see a downturn in his season.

I don’t necessarily disagree, as there are some legitimate concerns about the sophomore slump phenomenon that hits certain players. Gomes would certainly be a candidate in his first full season as a starter.

I’m not going to delve too far into this with regards to sabermetrics, but you do have to wonder if he can sustain his .342 BABIP in a full season after teams have actually had a chance to attack his weaknesses. Remember, his BABIP in an even smaller sample size in 2012 was just .246.

Of course, everything I’ve read and heard about BABIP is that it’s relatively volatile to begin with, and in isolation is a tough indicator in gauging future performance.

I’m also slightly concerned about his walk rate, which at 5.6%, leaves a little to be desired. That has to improve, and it’s hard to say if it will based on his past MLB experience in which is walk rate was only slightly better. You do have to figure that he’ll see less strikes in 2014, which in turn, could give him more opportunity to take pitches.

It’s not like Gomes is an overt free swinger.

What do I like about Gomes?

I love his power.

He doubled his games from 2012 to 2013, and he saw an uptick in power in all areas. He nearly tripled his home run production, from four to 11, and he upped his doubles production four times, to 18. He also had two triples.

I think that’s sustainable power, and if he can improve that walk rate a bit and continue to make contact, I think it would be reasonable to say that the Indians can expect a solid season from their catcher. The fact that it would be representative of an entire season will say a lot.

I’m not even going to begin to talk about his defense as it will surely only get better.

Something to think about.

The Indians pitching staff took a dramatic turn for the better, especially in September. Mickey Callaway has been given a lot of credit in that regards, and I don’t agree. It’s actually funny to see the Callaway backlash at IBI over the past couple of days. With that said, I do think it’s fair to say that there’s more to the rotational puzzle than Callaway.

I give you Yan Gomes.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir saw a massive September uptick in production in September, a month in which Gomes started 22 games. He had become essentially the primary catcher in August, and you can’t argue that his presence behind the plate may have had something to do with regards to his rotation pitching well.

Perhaps it was confidence in him. Perhaps it was the relationships that he’s built over the years. Either way, defensively, the catching position will only get better.

My overall point here is that a full season of Gomes should equal good things for the Indians in 2014, and I would argue that there is an outside chance that Gomes may be an “above the numbers” sorta player. Is he Buster Posey? No, I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Gomes could surprise again in 2014. There are many in Indians’ circles that believe that to be the case.

That’s why he’s starting.

Nick Swisher is a guy we also should see a bit of improvement from with regards to offensive production. People do worry about his age, and they also worry about his 2013 injuries becoming more prevalent over his final three years with the Tribe, but it’s also reasonable to think that Swisher will likely be protected a bit more this year in the DH role, and should see a massive drop in playing time in the outfield.

Regardless, Swisher should return to his previous standards, which he really wasn’t too far from last year when it was all said and done.

What does that mean? He’ll roll out a  more consistent 20-25 home runs, drive in 70-90 runs (dependent on his spot in the batting order), and just be a consistent force. His OPS was a solid .763 last year, but it was only the second time since 2006 that it was below .800. Look for a return to that production this year.

I’m going to talk about Carlos Santana in a moment…

There’s no doubt in my mind that Jason Kipnis will continue to grow into a superstar. The one thing that we can say about the Indians’ second baseman in his 2 ½ seasons with the Indians is that it’s been anything but steady. He’s show months of just scorchingly good play, followed by months of standard, hum-drum play.

Yes, Kipnis has had bad months, like this past April, when he rolled out a .200/.269/.286 slash, but he also has elite months, like June, in which he had a .419/.517/.699 slash, and was likely the best player in baseball over that stretch.

He wasn’t really ever that good again last year, but it’s not like he was horrible.

What’s my point in all of this with regards to Kipnis?

As he continues to gain experience, his floor will continue to rise, and as Kipnis begins to mix in more of those June months with better lower-end numbers, you’ll see some really special stuff from the Indians on-the-field leader.

Look for Kipnis to really perform at a high level in 2014. I think it’s possible that he’ll cement himself as an elite second baseman…finally, if he hasn’t already.

I’m fairly optimistic about the shortstop position, but until it clears itself up over the offseason, I’m going to hold off proclaiming this to be an upswing position. I know we’re going to be hearing a lot of discussion about keeping Asdrubal and having improved production because of his contract year.

I don’t buy it, but I also don’t proclaim to care if I’m right. Some will tell you Asdrubal is going to go off this year, and some will tell you he’s trending down. You can point to his yearly progressions and his contract, but to be honest, I think it’s up in the air. I am a firm believer in optimism, but even a good year with this post-2009 Asdrubal isn’t likely to be a year in which he’s really all that productive, at least in my eyes.

I’ve heard from several that his numbers nearly equaled his previous years in terms of pure statistics, except for his K-Rate. This is a case to me that showcases wholes in basic statistics. His numbers were mostly black hole numbers. Many of his positive stats were meaningless, in games that were already decided.

My point here is that with Asdrubal, I don’t see upside in him.

That’s my opinion. It’s up to him to prove me wrong.

My endgame with Asdrubal is that he will likely be gone when it’s all said and done. People keep talking about value, but the point here is that regardless of what he does this year, they can improve the position by not even arguably replacing him right now. His playing well is a chance occurrence. Someone else playing well is not.

There’s upside there, depending on which side of the coin everything falls on.

I like Lonnie Chisenhall, and if Carlos Santana can face off against left-handed hitters, Chisenhall can reach the max of being a phenomenal platoonish-third baseman. Let’s start with Lonnie. The year that Jason Kipnis broke through to the Indians, everyone (except me and a few others) said that Chisenhall was a lock for a mid-year call-up and sustained big league success, while Kipnis still needed to learn how to defend.

You know how that story ends.

Here we are, three years later, and Chis is still trying to figure things out. This will likely be his last chance, and if Santana can play the postion a bit of the time to take away those lefty at bats, I think Chisenhall will surprise some people.

How good could he play from the left side of the plate facing righties? In the minors, he hit .299, .266, .301, .275, .338 and .348 against righties. In the bigs, he hasn’t been as good, hitting .256 against righties in his three-years, and a near 200 game sample. The problem with the sample is that it’s sporadic at best, and his career .194 average vs. lefties surely weighed him down a bit mentally.

He has nowhere to go but up, and someone like Santana can only enhance his value.

Of course, there’s that 4.7% walk rate, which makes Yan Gomes look like Barry Bonds. Perhaps it will improve if he can focus on plate appearances in which he can be successful.

As to Santana, I love him at third, and I firmly believe that the Indians set up very well for him at that position going forward. Now, if he’s dead-dog bad, obviously that will hurt his value a bit, and decimate Chisenhall’s value. If he’s just adequate, and his offense improves the way it should, the 3rd base position could be a massive 2014 value.

We talked about that very think at Cleveland Sports Insiders in the Sunday Drive.

 I’ve always liked Carlos Santana as an offensive player, but I often forget why.

We hear a lot about his non-traditional stats, and how he’s a Sabr-darling. That’s all true, but regardless, he’s just a really good ballplayer.

Now I strolled down the sabr-stats in that Sunday piece, but I’m just going to talk flat out numbers in this one.

First, Santana is durable, and has played in 143 games or more in all three years. That’s going to be enhanced by his move away from behind the plate full-time. He’ll still play some games there, but if it’s more than 40, I would be surprised.

Hitting in the four-hole last year, Santana hit nine homers, drove in 29 runs, hit 10 doubles and walked 39 times, while striking out 30 times in 48 games. His .910 OPS batting clean-up far exceeded any other place in the order that he hit last year. In other words, he was pretty good there last year, using basic statistics. I’ve seen others bash him, and while it’s a small sample size, I think I’m ready to say Santana can project to some pretty good basic metric stats from the clean-up role going forward. His home run production would project to around 30, with around 100 RBI.

Hmmmm…seems like numbers that people would expect from him in that role, right?

Now projections are just that. We don’t know if third base will hamper him, but I can tell you that playing first base was beneficial to his offense as well. His .875 OPS was far superior to any other position that he played.

As to his defense? He’s not a great defender, and that’s a fact, but it’s absolutely exhausting to listen to the griping of folks that compare every player to perfection. It’s a strange world that we live in with regards to how we judge baseball players. In 1986, 13 players hit 30+ homers, and one hit 40. The next season, 28 players hit 30+, and four hit 40. In 1988, only five hit over 30, and one hit over 40. IN 1989, ten hit over 30, and one hit over 40. If you jump to 1996 over 40 hit over 30. In 1997, it was 31. In 1998 it was 33.

I could go on and on, but the steroid era, bloated the offensive thinking.

I get that.

But it’s time to remember the game for what it was prior to the late 90’s line of power. 30 and 100 are special, special players at this point, and Santana could actually still get there if given the opportunity to actually play into his prime. I know there are saber-folks that are cringing right now, but it’s absolutely true. That’s his upside. He’s going to be 28 during the first month of the season, and I really believe that this team will develop around him and give him an opportunity to do some special things with traditional baseball stats.

The bonus?

The metrics should be otherworldly.

Now I know that there’s mystery to all of this, and that there’s history of struggle for Santana at the four that many will point to against his permanent station there, but this kid is talented, and entering his prime.

Watch out. I think his value to this team is vastly superior to what many who think of him highly even believe, and third base can just enhance that even further.

Now, I’m a Michael Brantley homer, so talking about upside with him is a slippery slope for me. I could delve deeper than I’m going to, but I want to really focus on him in some player profiles we’re going to be doing at C.S.I. and at IBI over the next several weeks.

Again, I’m personally going to stay basic here, but I’m going to pull in a bit of help for the metric side of this.

Michael Brantley is a superior IQ ballplayer. You can see how he adjusted to pitch count his year, which made him a terror in key points in the game. He utilized the fact that pitchers threw more fastballs in first pitch counts with runners in scoring position, and just went nuts, turning into the Indians most clutch player in 2013.

I think pitchers will adjust to that this year, which will work in his favor.

Brantley will see more first pitch balls this year because of more breaking stuff outside of the zone. We know Brantley has command of the strike zone…as well as anyone on the team. If Brantley is wreaking havoc on 0-0 counts with runners in scoring position, what do you think he’ll do next year with a 1-0 count, and pitchers then being forced to throw a fastball?

My point here is that Brantley is going to be forcing some very good managers and pitchers to do things outside the box. By definition, that’s a good player.

Now, that’s obviously somewhat speculative on my part, but I think there’s tangible pieces to Brantley which also showcase that offensive IQ, and that continued upswing.

Overall, Brantley seemed to plateau last year after a three-year upswing, but I think his rubber-band will snap around, and we’ll see him enhance his approach in other situations. I’m curious as to where they put him in the lineup, because he’s show the ability to hit well from the lead-off spot, the three-hole, the five-hole and the six-hole. You could make a case for ANY of those spots in the line-up, with the exception of the three-hole.

Where would I like Brantley at? Since I have a hankering to see Kipnis hitting lead-off, I’d say my preference for Brantley would remain as the #5 hitter on the team. Of course, I’m not sure that Kipnis is a guy that manager Terry Francona would put in that spot. If he doesn’t, and he keeps Kipnis in the three-hole, which does make some sense, then I’d make a case that Brantley would best be suited as the lead-off hitter. It certainly would take away a bit from his clutch hitting with runners in scoring position, which is the downside, but I do think his numbers last year showcased a hitter that was figuring out what to expect from that lead-off spot.

His slash at the end of the year, granted, in only a 25-game sample, was .327/.383/.418. The interesting piece is that he had 13 RBI in his 25 games, which is easily a better percentage than his 28 in 62 games in the five-hole. Now, I know that’s chance, but that’s really exactly my point.

No, I’m not trying to lock in Brantley as a lead-off guy, and I’m sure there are plenty that will be against it, and I get it. I think there are multiple options to look at, but I do think Brantley would be a guy that could excel there if given a full-time chance. There are other places for him though.

Either way, Brantley is either a wash, or an improvement, dependent on how Francona utilizes him. I wouldn’t bet against the manager.

In right, I’m really high on the Murphy and Raburn platoon, but mostly on the Murphy side of things. I was admittedly underwhelmed on the initial Murphy deal, but have grown into a big fan over the past three weeks, having talked to several really solid baseball minds about him.

Everything about Murphy projects him to rebound this year.

I could get into the science of it all, but I’ll leave that to a couple of pieces that I’ve read over the past month.

One is from a good friend who you really should read, if you haven’t. Michael Hattery points to the ballpark factor influencing Murphy’s struggles, and how Progressive Field should be a bit of a cushion for him. He has tempered expectations, but expectations that suggest that the Indians may have gotten a player valued at twice the pay.

I’m okay with that.

Here’s another piece from Mark Simon, at ESPN, that suggest he’s going to have similar numbers as the ones that Hattery suggested, but for different reasons.

What does this mean?

Murphy should be a nice addition, and could even be the Ryan Raburn of 2014.

As to Ryan Raburn, his likely platoon-mate?

Perfect.

I think that Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians understand Raburn’s engine.

What will he do in 2014?

He’ll hit .270 or better. He’ll hit 15 homers or better. He’ll drive in 50 runs or better. He’ll do all the things he did last year, and maybe more. When he’s used right, that’s the player he can be.

Now put Murphy and Raburn together, and I think you’ll be looking at a platoon-ish player of about 30 homers and 100 RBI, with plus defense, good baserunning, and good clubhouse mentality.

Centerfield should be Michael Bourn’s area to run, and the trend is certainly a downward cycle. Hattery’s most recent Trend Spotting was perhaps his best piece yet, focusing on Michael Bourn’s true value in today’s market, and it’s fairly astute. If you compare Bourn to some of the larger contracts for players with similar ability, he’s a deal, and the Indians showcased some of that value with their trade of Drew Stubbs. They clearly don’t want to move him, and think he could have a bounce-back year.

I think it’s about 50-50 though. Will Bourn continue to decline by losing more ground in center defensively, combined with another drop-off offensively.

The key for Bourn will be his ability to get on base, and with a falling walk rate, combined with a rising K-Rate, equals a struggle in production. I still think we could see a .330-.350 OBP next season though, if he’s healthy from the start, and truly needed a year to learn the pitching that he faced last season. Of course, if the trend is the drop in nearly every important category, and not the new league, then the Indians are overpaying.

We shall see, but I think the Indians can see a value in Bourn this year.That’s definitely a gut call.

At the end of the day, the Indians are counting on internal improvements as opposed to major trades offensively, and there is certainly room to grow.

No, I don’t think the Indians are going to see each of these positions so more upside. That’s rarely realistic.

But could it happen?

Absolutely.

I'll take a look at the arms in next week's corner, and we'll take a close look at whether or not it should be an optimistic look or not.

 

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Tony
December 20, 2013 - 8:53 AM EST
Interesting discussion. I think the problem is the Indians lack a true, established middle of the order bat. They have several options to hit 1-2 but few to hit 3-5. It will be interesting to see what they come up with. Here is my guess what the Indians WILL do:

1. Bourn
2. Swisher
3. Kipnis
4. Santana
5. Brantley
6. Gomes
7. Cabrera
8. Raburn/Murphy
9. Chisenhall
Rich
December 20, 2013 - 8:48 AM EST
Herm -

Good point about Gomes having nearly as high a BA as Brantley but a better OPS with runners on.

If you look at the RISP splits, however, Brantley hit an amazing .375 with RISP while Gomes hit .257. Also, Gomes struck out at nearly twice the rate of Brantley. I don't have GIDP percentages, but as a right-handed hitting catcher I'm sure Gomes will ground into more double plays than Brantley.

For those reasons I prefer to have Brantley hitting 5th and Gomes 6th. I love seeing Brantley come up with runners on because he rarely strikes out or hits into a DP, and if they're in scoring position he's lethal.

I also think it might be putting a little too much pressure on Gomes to ask him to hit 5th in his first full year as a starter. He was great last year hitting in the 6th spot and lower. I'd give him another year there and see if he can work his way up in the order.

AFAIK, Bourn has hit leadoff his whole career. I don't think he'd react well to being moved to the lower third, but it's hard to argue that a .316 OBP should keep you at the top of the order. Especially when you don't steal that many bases and get caught one-third of the time.
Jwahoo
December 19, 2013 - 9:18 PM EST
You have a pretty amazing memory sir.

Ok, so my lineup is kind of boring.

1.Bourn (I just think thats the best value from him)
2, Ascab (Guess you could say I am hoping for a comeback)
3. Kipnis
4. Santana
5. Brantley ( Its the perfect spot for him)
6. Swisher (protects Brantley)
7. Murphey/Raburn
8. Chiz/Aviles/Santana/Ramirez
9. Gomes


Now, I have Gomes batting 9th because of R/L match ups. I also like Gomes having Bourn hitting right behind him. The thing with Santana if he plays 3B vs Lefties who is the up shot? Raburn should already be playing, Stubbs is gone and Giambi is a lefty. You need a reason to want to someone in the game over Chiz that might happen but it might not. Although, in theory I do get having Santana play 3rd especially if you can bring in someone to DH. Corey Hart would be perfect.

I kinda like the idea of Ramirez as a platoon partner for Chiz almost a little better with the current lineup. If he just takes off I would love to see him hitting in the 2 hole. Ascab could be a much better fit batting 9th.

Still need to make one more high quality move. A starter is what is needed most.
Walter
December 19, 2013 - 4:41 PM EST
Future Batting order

1. Kipnis
2. Swisher
3. Raburn/Murphy
4. Santana
5 Brantley
6. Gomes
7. Bourn
8. Cabrera
9. Chisenhall
Hermie13
December 19, 2013 - 4:27 PM EST
@Rich

Agree with a ton of what you said, especially this:

"For me it's not so much as who hits behind who, but more like getting your best hitters to the plate as often as possible and vice versa."

Don't get why so many people want to put bad hitters so high in the order all the time.


I don't completely disagree on Brantley but here's something to consider too...while Brantley did have the highest BA with RISP on the team, didn't have the best OPS, plus no guarantee he'll always hit that high with RISP. Also...he hit .311 with men on base in general (2nd best behind Santana)....Gomes with men on base hit .296 but had a much higher OPS than Brantley.

Gomes could obviously regress but as you pointed out his 2nd half numbers are even better than his first. Was very good in August and even better in September when he was catching full-time. Even if his OPS slips down to .750, still makes him a better hitter overall than Brantley IMO (waybetter against lefties too) so that's why I like him hitting higher than Brantley. Bourn over Brantley could be argued against as Brantley outhit Bourn but like the idea of a SB threat in front of the singles hitter. Brantley hitting 6th would be fine by me too though since he very well will outhit Bourn.
Rich
December 19, 2013 - 3:33 PM EST
That lineup works for me, Hermie. Getting Bourn out of the leadoff spot is a big plus. Maximizing the number of at-bats Kipnis gets is another.

For me it's not so much as who hits behind who, but more like getting your best hitters to the plate as often as possible and vice versa.

I might move Brantley up to 5th and drop Gomes and Bourn down a spot. Brantley was the Tribe's best hitter with RISP last year so I'd like to have him hitting behind our best OBP guy in Santana.

Pitchers tend to walk Santana when he comes up with runners on. If they do that they'll have to face Brantley, who hit much better with RISP than anyone else on the team.

I just checked Gomes' splits and he hit .262/.770 pre-All-Star and .319/.870 post-All-Star. It wasn't like he was lights out the first time through the league and then dropped off after the pitchers got a book on him. If anything he got better.

His BABIP was unsustainably high, so there was some luck involved, but he should continue to be a productive hitter.

Bourn didn't hit for average (.262), his OBP was very low (.316) and there was no power and only 23 steals. He should definitely be in the lower third of the order. Just because he steals a bag every seven games doesn't justify him getting more plate appearances than anybody on the team.
Devin
December 19, 2013 - 2:35 PM EST
Here's my starting 9

Bourn
Brantley
Kipnis
Santana
Swisher
Raburn/Murphy
Gomes
Cabrera
Chizenhall

Bourn and Brantley could flip flop if needed. I feel you could move 5-7 around depending on how they preform or struggle. Wouldn't move Cabrera up unless he proves he deserves it over a month or two.
BrianM
December 19, 2013 - 12:31 PM EST
Hermie,

If Kip is leading off, I'm not against having Raburn/Murphy in the 3 whole. We have a few options, but that one could probably work just as well as any of them.

I'm not putting Gomes in the 5 hole. Santana will still take plenty of walks with guys on base, and we need someone more reliable protecting Santana. If Yan continues to hit like he did last year, I probably move him up to the 3 hole where he would have Santana protecting him.

As far as the 6-9 spots go, we will probably see a lot of variation throughout the year. Francona had a tendency to move the hotter hitters to the 6th and 7th spots and the cooler hitters down.

I would probably lead off Kipnis too, but he won't to start the year, so I think we see...

Bourn
Swisher (really like him here)
Kipnis
Santana
Brantley
Raburn/Murphy
ACab
Gomes
Chiz/Aviles

ACab and Gomes would be interchangeable depending on who has the hot bat.
Hermie13
December 19, 2013 - 10:45 AM EST
*hear me out (d'oh)
Hermie13
December 19, 2013 - 10:07 AM EST
The more I look at this Tribe offense...the more I think Michael Brantley should be batting 7th....

Now, I don't believe that's where he will hit, but here me out here:

1. Kipnis - 2B
2. Swisher - 1B
3. Murphy/Raburn - RF
4. Santana - DH
5. Gomes - C
6. Bourn - CF
7. Brantley - LF
8. Cabrera - SS
9. Chisenhall/Aviles - 3B


Do I think Kipnis will be the opening day leadoff hitter? No, not unless Bourn is hurt. But I don't see one good reason not to hit him leadoff. He's one of our top 2 hitters right now (with Santana). Your leadoff hitter should be one of your top 2 hitters, period. Kipnis has two full seasons under his belt, his OBPs have been .335 and .362. Bourn's career OBP is .335 and was at .318 last year. Brantley's career OBP is .330 and was at .332 last year. Kipnis absolutely is the better leadoff candidate than either of those two guys. So what if he hits for some power, that only makes him that much more of a threat at the top. Ellsbury and Pedroia have 20 HR potential and Francona used them at the top of the lineup in Boston successfully. LaRussa was also a fan of power at the top. Nothing wrong with starting a game off with a 1-0 lead after the first batter. Plus you only leadoff once a game usually. Kipnis is a better OBP guy than either Bourn or Brantley...don't see how anyone can argue against Kipnis hitting anywhere but leadoff....though again, I unfortunately think he'll be wasted in the 3rd spot.

Swisher hitting 2nd probably isn't going to ruffle many feathers. 2nd spot should be one of your best hitters, arguably your 3rd best hitter. Swisher may not be that overall but in his career has been a solid OBP guy, someone to get on base in front of the big bats. Even while "struggling" last year still was over .340. Agree with Pete and others that he should improve next year while not bouncing around between positions as much.

Murphy/Raburn 3rd is where I think a lot of people will cry foul. Tradition dictates your best hitter hits 3rd...but why? Your #3 hitter will come to the plate with 2 outs and no one on base more often than any spot in the lineup. Why would you want your best hitter batting with 2 outs and no one on? I'm not saying put a bum in the 3 spot but the 3rd spot really should only be your 4th or 5th best hitter. Do want some power in the 3-spot though and Murphy/Raburn should provide that. At first when I read that they'd produce 30 HRs and 100 RBIs, thought it was crazy....but when you think about it for a second I do agree that's very doable from them. Hell, even if they "only" produce 25 HRs and 85 RBIs, that's still very solid from the 3-spot. They also should produce a decent OBP in front of your cleanup/best hitter...

Which brings us to Santana. Amazing how much people rip on him yet he has been a 3-win player each of the last three seasons and was our BEST offensive player in 2013 (offense...not overall). Highest OPS and OPS+ on the team, highest OBP of the everyday guys....all this while catching for most of the season. Now he'll be DHing and playing 1B (maybe a lil 3B)?? Barring injury, I'll be shocked if he doesn't improve on his 2013 season and hit 25-30 HRs. With Kipnis, Swisher, and Murphy/Raburn in front of him too....100 RBIs may be a low estimate.

How good was Gomes offensively last year? His OPS was higher than Kipnis and his OPS+ was an identical 133. Sure he may regress some....but has some power and still easily could be a top 5 offensive weapon for the Tribe. IMO he's a better overall hitter than Brantley (at least right now) so should hit higher in the order. I think he could even be an option in the 3-hole with Murphy/Raburn batting 5th.

6th I have Bourn...and I'm sure many will scream he should be hitting 9th if not leadoff. That only makes sense if you think Bourn is really the worst hitter in the lineup and while I'm not the biggest Bourn fan, don't believe he's quite that bad right now. Plus he is still a SB threat and the 6th spot is a great place for a guy like that. You don't want a guy getting caught stealing with your 2, 3, or 4 hitter up at the plate and killing a rally. But with your 7th, 8th, and 9th hitters coming up, why not risk it? Plus as leading into our 7th spot...

Brantley as said has very good plate discipline/bat control. Dont' have to do straight steals with Bourn batting 6th....Brantley batting with a hole between 2nd and 1st...our best hit-n-run batter IMO. The best place to put a SB guy is in front of a singles hitter...someone that can hit with men on base....aka, Brantley. Some will scream he's too good to hit 7th...but really his career OPS+ is just 100. I do think he will improve this year and think he can be a bit like a Carl Crawford minus the steals. I know Crawford hit in the upper half of the lineup in TB...but I also believe this Tribe lineup is much better than those TB lineups he was in.

Cabrera 8th is simply a guy that has struggled and needs to be down in the lineup. He could bounce back and work his way up the lineup but for now doesn't deserve to be higher. OBP under .300 last year hurts. A reason I still think the Tribe can move Cabrera and not take a huge hit. Losing a guy batting 8th in your lineup isn't a huge loss.

Chiz 9th is simply worst hitter batting last. Another guy that could move up if he has a great year. Aviles for now can platoon and bat 9th as well (if Santana doesn't play 3B). I know some will want speed 9th but also think that's dumb. 9th hitter gets on base so infrequently that it's not likely to slow down your leadoff man much if any.



Again, I don't expect this to be the lineup Francona runs out, though I do think at this point it's probably the best one. I do think Bourn still hits leadoff, Brantley probably hits 5th in front of better hitters like Gomes. Would like to hear other people's take on the lineup.
Rich
December 19, 2013 - 9:54 AM EST
I'm very happy to exchange Drew Stubbs' .305 OBP and 141 K's for whatever David Murphy will provide next year. I'll miss watching Stubbs run, but he just wasn't on base often enough to make it worthwhile.

Great point on Swisher's abysmal June. He hit .160/.505 that month and missed eight games. Maybe is was his shoulder flaring up, or maybe it was the birth of his son, or both, but he was useless in June. The next worst month his OPS was a respectable .697 and the other four months he was over .796 every time.

I can easily see a significant bounce back from Swish.

If Santana can platoon at 3rd it would be huge. He hammers left-handed pitching. Over the last three years he's at .297, .482 slugging and .880 OPS against righties - much higher than against righties, which he's only hitting .231 against. He's much better hitting right-handed. A Santana/Chiz platoon at 3rd could be awesome.

Santana also hits better when he's not catching, as the column points out. His OPS last year was 53 points higher at 1B than at C. He also hit .910 OPS in the 4 hole, so hopefully he spends the entire season hitting cleanup and alternating between 1B, 3B, and DH.
Jim
December 19, 2013 - 12:28 AM EST
I see some upside on Brantley...and likely more than I put in this piece...a lot has to happen though. I think if he sees a fulltime slot at the five hole, you'll see that power pick up.

Hell, I could see it pick up at the lead-off slot, to be honest. He has historically struggled leading off an inning from the lead-off slot, which is clearly an issue...but could see him specifically address that with a full-time move.

Of course, the question is whether or not the Indians move Bourn away from that slot, and I don't see it...

yet...
Jim
December 19, 2013 - 12:26 AM EST
Boy...Nick Hagadone. There was such a buzz about him when he was here in Kinston. He was piggybacking with Alex White, and boy...they were like murderers row...but there was a lot of speculation even then that there would be control issues, and that he could be moved to the bullpen.

He loses control...it's that simple...if he could get it together...his stuff is just electric though...
Jim
December 19, 2013 - 12:23 AM EST
Yeah...that didn't come out the way I wanted. What I was trying to allude to was that I agree that Callaway was important to the development, but there were other factors.

I just reread that, and my mind was clearly working slower than my fingers...;)
Robert
December 18, 2013 - 11:31 PM EST
It's all good Brian.
BrianM
December 18, 2013 - 10:14 PM EST
I agree with all of what you said Robert. Were on the same page. I wish I would have seen your post before I wrote mine out though...I could have just said "I agree with the guy below me."
BrianM
December 18, 2013 - 10:12 PM EST
Man, It took me so long to write that that Robert beat me to the Brantley HR theory...Dammit.
BrianM
December 18, 2013 - 10:11 PM EST
Jim,

"Mickey Callaway has been given a lot of credit in that regards, and I don’t agree."

Did you mean to say disagree? If not, that part is a little confusing to me.

Great article though. A couple comments...

- Very interesting take on Brantley. Baseball IQ tends to get overlooked very often. I agree that he has PROBABLY reached his ceiling, but at the same time, Its not crazy to think that same baseball IQ could help him pull that average up closer to .300 with more experience. I also don't think his increased HR total should be overlooked. His slugging % was about the same as it was in 2012 due to his lower doubles total, but jumping from 4 to 10 bombs is very encouraging. He does a great job of hitting the ball where it is pitched and he will never be a HR hitter, but I still feel like he has some physical projection to him and I could see him sustaining 10-15 HR's a year while generating 2B's totals that are closer to his 2012 mark of 37 than the 26 he hit in 2013. That should give his overall slugging % a pretty nice spike. No matter where Kipnis is batting, I don't want anyone other than Brantley protecting Santana in that 5 hole.

- I also expect to see Swisher have a better year. Yes, he had the shoulder issues, and probably played a large part in his poor performance early in the year, but lets not forget he also had his first child at the end of May. I definitely think that played a part in the abysmal June he had. If you take out that month, he was pretty close to his career norm.

- Yes, Carlos Santana is going to be awesome and I am excited to see what he does batting from the 4 hole all year.

- The 3rd base situation needs to be based on whatever is most comfortable for Chiz. He is still capable of being not only a contributor, but a player who could be pretty special throughout his time in Cleveland. We need to do everything we can to help this guy succeed. We can't have him worried about getting sent down if he begins to struggle.

- Respect your opinion on ACab, but will politely disagree. I've just seen the contract year thing happen so many times to believe there is not truth in it. Money is an incredibly powerful motivator. I'm sure players' agents are fulling informing them how important their next season will be, and taking every measure to make sure that they are in the best physical shape possible and are doing everything it takes to put their client in a position to be successful. The "walk year" myth is more than just myth or coincidence to me. Players come ready to play, and I expect Asdrubal to do so come April.

Robert
December 18, 2013 - 9:42 PM EST
Nice piece Jim!

I'm optimistic about Chisenhall, as I think its all about confidence/composure for him and it seemed to me like there was a breakthrough at the end of last year. Would also really like to see Brantley (who I love as a player) adjust his swing a bit to increase his home runs. He went from 6 to 10 last year, and if he could go from 10 to 18 or so this year, it would be great. I know he has the strength. I think the real key to this year's offense is Asdrubal, as I think that the "playing for a contract" motivation will be much more impactful than you do...
Walter
December 18, 2013 - 7:27 PM EST
If Hagadone Is able to get his command issues straighten out and pitch like he did last year in Columbus, I could see Francona carrying 3 lefties in the bullpen in 14.

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