The line-up-side at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
It’s 64⁰ and raining here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and you have to find the spring-like weather a bit ironic here in the Forest City on a January 30th afternoon. I suppose it’s a bit too late to call it an Indians’ summer, and perhaps a bit optimistic to call it a pre-cursor to the end of winter, especially when considering the icy wonderland of the past couple of months, and the chilled 27⁰ temps predicted for the rest of the week. You sure do have to wonder if this crazy weather is a sign of a promising 2013 season for your Cleveland Indians. It certainly could symbolize the crazy offseason. Did I mention the potential for thunderstorms? Sorry if it slipped my mind...
You have to admit that life here in Cleveland is nothing if not interesting.
In case many of you haven’t noticed, the Indians have revamped their line-up over the hot-stove season. New Indians contributer, Jake Dungan, talked about the starting line-up in 2013 compared to the 2012 Tribe line-up. It’s a solid piece, and you should give it a read.
To say that there aren’t questions regarding the line-up would be the understatement of the century, but there certainly should be an upgrade offensively with regards to production.
There will be a lot of speculation regarding the upside of both the new players that have found a home in the Indians’ starting lineup, and the ones that are returning. Instead of speculating, I thought it would be a bit fun here a couple of weeks before pitchers and catchers report to take a look at each player’s legitimate upside by looking at their best season to date as a professional player. We'll call it their "true upside," since it's something they've done in the past.
For some players, their best season-to-date are long in the past. For others, they are non-existant, since they have yet to play a full season of major league baseball. For most, their best is either yet to come, or within the past two seasons. That could provide the Indians with a massive sleeping-giant of an offense.
Let's take a look at the starting line-up, as it looks today:
Catcher: Carlos Santana
I mentioned last week that Santana should be on the verge of a massive season. I know that some may argue that point based on the statistics that he’s produced so far, but in my opinion, Santana’s numbers over the past two seasons are just the floor on what he could accomplish going forward. His numbers are going to improve this season. Why? Santana is about to enter the prime of his career. Combine that with the new protection that he should have in the order with Swisher and Reynolds, and there should be big things in the near future for Santana.
Santana is going to be a superstar in this league, and 2013 will be the first step on an impressive offensive journey. While I don’t think he’s going to be a guy that hits .320, I certainly don’t think that it would be far-fetched to see him hit .280, with 30 homers and 100 RBI. The scary piece to this is that those numbers may be on the south side of his true potential.
First Base: Mark Reynolds
In 2009, Reynolds was a 25-year old third baseman playing for Arizona, and he was the absolute epitome of an all-or-nothing sort, even then. Now, Reynolds is about to turn 29, and is coming off one of his worst seasons as a big leaguer with the Baltimore Orioles. Is it possible that Reynolds could put together another 44-homer season, and hit .260?
In 2011, Reynolds hit 37 homers in his first season in Baltimore as the starter at the hot corner, before moving to first base full-time last year. It’s not realistic for Reynolds to hit .260, and it’s likely not realistic that Reynolds hit 45 homers. He’s hit .221 over the past two full seasons, so I think seeing him hit .220 to .230, with 30-35 homers with 80-90 RBI is a legitimate thought here. That’s actually a below-average predictor, as the 2012 year is the outlier in his numbers. Is it a trend? I don’t think so. Reynolds could be a steal for the Indians this year.
Second Base: Jason Kipnis
If anyone is concerned about Kipnis here, don’t be. His 2012 numbers are based on his first full season in the bigs, and like Santana, I have to believe that the weight of the 2012’s August collapse had to weigh on the scrappy middle-infielder. Don’t trust me, trust his minor league numbers. No, those numbers aren’t a lock in predicting major league success, but anyone who has ever watched him play knows that when he puts it all together, it’s going to be special. The fact of the matter is that if you take out his August numbers, Kipnis hits a respectable .271 on the season. While there was a distinct power drop-off, it’s likely that a lot of that was based on a rookie-ish player taking on far too much.
Kipnis is going to begin to step into the role that the Indians front office expects of him. Look for a .280-.290 average this coming season, with 15-20 homers, 30 stolen bases, and an ever-improving defense. Going forward, I expect Kipnis to grab the reigns of this team as its leader. No, he’s not a perfect player, but he’s the guy that’s going to be covered in dirt diving after every ball, diving into every base, and creating havoc for the Indians’ opponents.
Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall
Chisenhall hasn’t played a full season in the bigs over the past two years, nor has he logged a full season in the minors. I decided to utilize the third baseman’s last 100+ game season, which was his 2010 year in Akron. No, using the minors as an indicator for the 2013 season probably isn’t the best data, but if you look at Chisenhall’s numbers, you certainly could see it as his ceiling.
Can Chisenhall hit .278 this year? I actually think that it’s a bit high. I’d be ecstatic if that were the case, but I look for Chis to hit between .260 and .270 based on the fact that he’ll hit against some lefties that will shut him down. He may hit even lower than that. His power numbers should be consistent though. I see 15 homers in his future, with good gap power. The scary thing here is that his numbers could be better. I’m going to temper my predictions here though.
Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera
Is Cabrera a 25-homer guy? Is Cabrera a 92 RBI guy? I honestly would have said no way, but somehow, last season proved to me that he really could be this player. Here’s something to think about. Cabrera will be 27 this year, one year older than Kipnis, but will be entering his seventh season with the Indians, and his third full season.
The knock on the Tribe’s on-field captain is that he doesn’t come into camp in shape. If that changes, Cabrera could enter a whole new level as a player. If that happens, his 2011 numbers could be a shadow of what he could do in 2013 and beyond. With that said, if Cabrera were to hit .275, with 20 homers and 90 RBI, there isn’t an Indians’ fan that wouldn’t be more than content. Anything less than that would be a major letdown, but I firmly expect Cabrera to come into camp in shape. With the new protection in the line-up and improved performances from guys like Kipnis, look for Cabrera to exceed expectations.
Left Field: Drew Stubbs
Stubbs is a mystery to me as far as upside goes. I have several friends that are Reds’ fans, and there take on Stubbs is as varied as you can possibly get. All talk about his tremendous upside and potential, as Stubbs is a gifted defender, with plus speed and a phenomenal attitude. All also discuss his inability to make contact, which ultimately kills his OBP, which keeps him from entering the above-average status.
His numbers have fallen every year since that 2010 season, and his 2012 numbers made him expendable with speed demon Billy Hamilton on the horizon for the Reds. So, what should the Indians expect from Stubbs in 2013? I’d love to say that this kid is going to figure things out. I’d love to take the side of the Reds’ fans that love Stubbs and see his vast potential. At the end of the day, I don’t see massive improvement here. His 2012 numbers aren’t exactly excessive, but I have to believe they are his ceiling at this point. If he hits .250, with 15 homers, 50 RBI and 30 stolen bases, I’m on cloud nine. My bet is that he’s a 75% player, sharing at bats with a player-to-be-named.
I hope I’m wrong. He’s a great kid, and I’m hoping the new surroundings brings new hope.
Center Field: Michael Brantley
I can’t say enough about Michael Brantley. From the start in 2012, I thought he was going to break-out, and that’s exactly what he did. He has done the opposite of his new outfield mate, Drew Stubbs, improving significantly over the past three seasons. I don’t expect that to stop in 2013. Brantley’s never going to be a power guy, but what he can be is an on-base machine that can score tons of runs on a team with run producers.
Where do I see the Indians center or left fielder in 2013? He’s going to hit .300, and I actually thing that the 26-year-old Brantley may just break out and hit above that mark. I think this kid can hit in the range of .320 over the next few seasons as he becomes more and more comfortable at this level, with the pitchers that he’ll be facing. Brantley will give the Indians 5-10 homers, 60 RBI, 80-100 runs (depending on where he hits in the order, less if he’s not in the lead-off), a .300 average, and a lot of opportunities for Kipnis, Cabrera, Swisher, Santana and Reynolds.
Right Field: Nick Swisher
This is the Nick Swisher of 2006, which was a long, long time ago. It was the only season in which he hit 30+ homers, and it was one of only two seasons in which he hit 90+ RBI. The good news for the Indians is that he hit 90+ RBI last season, and has hit 80+ RBI over the past four seasons.
Swisher has been one of the most consistent sluggers in baseball over the past eight seasons, hitting 20+ homers every year, and driving in 69 or more runs as well. He’s always got a plus OBP, and his OPS average over his career is an above-average .828. In other words, his numbers have been really good for a really long time. The funniest part of all this is that Swisher is the elder statesman of this starting line-up, as he just turned 32 in November. The good news there is that he’s still in his prime, although he’s certainly at the tail end of it.
What’s to expect of Swisher in 2013? Not the numbers of 2006, that’s for sure. I’m hoping he can bring 25 homers, 80-90 RBI, 30 doubles, 80-90 runs, and a whole lot of leadership.
The Cleveland Indians have a lot of really solid offensive players, and as you can see, it’s not really a stretch to see the entire line-up hit their ceilings this season. They won’t, but you have to believe that if everything goes fairly well, this team won’t be far from it. What you can’t control are injuries and bad momentum, but with Terry Francona at the helm, I don’t see that happening.
This clearly is one of the better offensive line-ups in the American League. Yes, there are flaws. Yes, they’ll strike out a lot. But, they have the guys in Kipnis, Cabrera and Brantley that will get on base enough to allow the power to take over. The team has speed, extra-base power and a bit of versatility. There’s even a bit of depth, although the Indians will likely still be looking to add a bit more in the next month.
Will it be enough to help out a rotation in need? We’ll look there next week, just in time for the pitchers and catchers to report…;)
It’s always an Indians’ Summer in Arizona.
11 days until pitchers and catchers report…
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 email@example.com.
This is why while I think in theory the "protection" thing is correct, there is also a feel to the game it does not properly address. Like Rich said, the study shows it doesn't matter, but a lot of that is because the better hit is often walked or pitched around to get to the lesser hitter. No one can ever tell me that it would not matter if Santana hit 3rd and Mark Reynolds hit 4th vs. having Santana hit 3rd and having someone like Albert Pujols behind him. It makes a big different as teams will be more inclined to pitch to Santana with the better hitter behind him, and maybe even give him more fastballs. Cripes, look at Miguel Cabrera last year. Guy had a career year and was walked 42 less times last year than in 2011. I wonder why?
And how often have we seen batters obviously pitched around to get to the next guy? It used to happen to Hafner every day.
The result is the pitcher avoids pitching to the better hitter, whose production numbers aren't affected because he draws a walk, leading to the conclusion that it doesn't matter where he hits in the lineup. But in the end the pitcher gets out of the inning because he can avoid the dangerous hitter, which would not be the case if that hitter had better protection.
The key this year IMO is for Asdrubal, Santana, and Kipnis to be consistent througout the season rather than have one good half and one bad half. That, and Chiz emerging as a 20 HR/80 RBI guy (just slightly better than Bill James' projection). That woud be a huge upgrade over Hannahan/Lopez.
If Reynolds ends up with 32 HR's, 90 RBI, and a .799 OPS as James projects, that will be a huge improvement over Kotchman.
I like to think Santana's concussion last year ruined his first half and he'll be the hitter he was in the second half for the entire season. We'll see.
But Seth makes a strong case that the offense won't be much better, if any, than last year. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.
I think our lineup from top to bottom is better than it was last year, but that isn't due to "protection" in the lineup. Better left-right balance, on the other hand, definitely should help, especially when it comes to opposing teams using relief guys, as you mentioned in your comments.
Although, I am very much in favor of bring in another power bat to anchor DH, provide leadership, as well as thunder off the bench one name to keep in mind is Ryan Raburn. He had a horrible year last year but prior to that season in 1,0019 at bats he posted 45 homers and 58 doubles. Thats not too bad for a guy who just needs to back up the starting lineup. I think with him and Aviles our bench will be much much improved over last season. I still say bring in Thome but that does not mean he will DH everyday. We can move guys like Marson, Aviles, Raburn, McGuiness and Yan around the diamond keeping a solid lineup even when guys need rest. Plus, I just like having a team that can move around and has quality players at every position.
It could also change how the other manager brings in to face you. For example a manager might want to bring in a Right Hander to face a guy like Stubbs but with Chize and Thome hitting ahead of him and Brantley and Kipnis behind him the opposing manager might just stick with the left handed pitcher.
Having more protection can also do something as simple as give a hitter more confidence. Or increase thier number of stolen bases or runs scored.
All I am trying to say is I think it does matter. I think balance matters, I think having both speed and power matter. Having a lineup with a veteran bat helps everyone on the team and having a deep bench is way more important then most people think. I honestly feel if we sign an "insurance" DH such as Thome or Scott. We will have a balanced and deep lineup that is capable of winning ball games. Our pitching staff is still a big question mark but we have a great bench and solid defense. If we can the pitching staff working we could be on to something.
One of our main problems last year was hitting lefties. This offseason we exchanged lefty Choo for swith hitter Swisher as our big bopper. We added Stubbs as I already said, signed a veteran right handed power source in Mark Reynolds as well as added depth with Aviles and Yan Gomes. We should be a much more balanced lineup.
We have alot of young players who could really come alive this season such as Brantley, Kipnis, Chiz, Stubbs, Santana, and even Marson and McGuiness. How well the offense does is really going to come down to how well those young players adjust to the majors.
I think we will be seeing alot of break out seasons from our youngsters. If we add those young guys to established players such as Asdurbal, Swisher, Reynolds, Aviles and hopefully Thome or Luke Scott. I think it will be a really great mix of young hungry talent mixed with solid vet players, creating our best lineup in a long time.
Basically, I feel with the addition of a guy like Thome the lineup will be set to be a productive and versatile lineup. The lineup is more balanced, the bench is deeper, we have more power and more speed then last year.
On a side note. In regards to Stubbs. If my hunch is wrong and he struggles against righties to the point he needs to sit, an interesting name to perhaps platoon with him could be Grady Sizemore. Fan favorite who needs to prove he can still move around the bases before getting another contract. Signing him to a minor league deal and having him as our 4th outfield guy/ DH/ Pinch Hitter might be an interesting idea.
They definitely have more left/right balance this year, but I don't know about the bench. Right now they are really lacking any established hitter. They have light-hitting utility guys, and while Aviles should be better than having Lopez and Donald, there's no one of even Duncan's caliber as a power hitter. We can hope all we want on the minor leaguers like Gomes and McGuiness, but Duncan was international league MVP and always crushed minor league pitching himself, and was actually a pretty good bench player in the majors ... match him up right and he could give you an 800+ OPS over quite a few ABs. If Gomes or McGuiness can even produce like Duncan, I'd have to think that's a pleasant surprise.
I've been overly optimistic about Indians lineups for years now though. I remember all the way through spring training in 2010 thinking the one thing that team should do well was hit. They'd traded Victor, but they had Matt Laporta! And Donald should hit better than Jamey Carroll! Sizemore and Choo looked awesome and Weglarz looked like someone who could fill in right away. Injuries and prospects who couldn't hit major league pitching ruined that dream.
I think people underestimate not having Hafner in the lineup and what that means. The idea that they'll gain that production back by giving guys a break from the field is not realistic. The Indians hot starts in 2011 and 2012 weren't so much a mirage, as they were due to Hafner starting the year healthy, and in 2011 Sizemore too. As soon as Hafner hit the DL (and Hafner and Choo and Sizemore in '11) their production cratered, and that's the offense they're bringing back, except now they have Mark Reynolds, he of the .200-.220 BA and 200+ strikeouts! They have potential, but they've had potential for years and seem to always underperform due to health and their young players performing on the low end of expectations. I think on paper, right now they are marginally worse this year than going into last year. If they do sign Hafner or another guy who can be primary DH and frequent pinch hitter, then I think they'd be marginally improved.
Nick Swisher: 149 G, .256/.362/.458/.820, 82 R, 25 HR, 86 RBI, 2 SB
Drew Stubbs: 146 G, .246/.319/.386/.705, 85 R, 16 HR, 53 RBI, 33 SB
Michael Brantley: 152 G, .279/.344/.379/.723, 78 R, 7 HR, 55 RBI, 19 SB
Lonnie Chisenhall: 148 G, .262/.310/.433/.743, 75 R, 18 HR, 74 RBI, 3 SB
Asdrubal Cabrera: 148 G, .277/.341/.430/.771, 82 R, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 12 SB
Jason Kipnis: 152 G, .274/.351/.429/.780, 100 R, 18 HR, 83 RBI, 28 SB
Mark Reynolds: 155 G, .231/.336/.463/.799, 85 R, 32 HR, 90 RBI, 5 SB
Carlos Santana: 147 G, .261/.383/.476/.859, 86 R, 25 HR, 91 RBI, 4 SB
Mike Aviles: 134 G, .267/.300/.409/.709, 60 R, 13 HR, 56 RBI, 13 SB
They do have upside, as usual. If Santana, Kipnis and Asdrubal can not be horrible for 1/2 of the year, they should have success. And hopefully Chisenhall can learn to take a walk or hits 30 HRs. But I definitely wouldn't project this lineup as better than last year. If they go into the season with McGuiness or Gomes getting a lot of DH at bats, then I'd say they will likely be worse.
Don't get me wrong, I like the moves they've made this offseason, but those moves are geared more towards upgrading the 2014 and beyond Indians. Trading Choo didn't make them better now, it just should make them a lot better in 2014 than they'd have been.
Jim, thanks for the piece. It is the outset of spring training so I'm looking for some potential positive things to look forward to, and while I don't agree on everything you wrote, I am excited to see what happens with the lineup this season. Nice job.
And who did he have hitting behind him in the order? Kotchman? Damon? Duncan? Hafner?
If he gets a little more protection this year it will really help.
I wholeheartedly agree with you about Santana being a prime breakout candidate. I think, for whatever reason, people tend to overlook the impact his concussion had on his production last season.
Santana suffered the head injury late in May, which, admittedly, up to that point his numbers were a little blasé. But it takes a long time to recover from a head injury like that. And during the final 80 games of the season he hit .278/.386/.486, which would probably be a good baseline for his production in 2013.
And even with all the struggles last season, his total offensive production was still 20% better than the league average.
Got to love IPI's undying optimism. Love it.