Second Thoughts: A Raburn of Hope
Looking at the Ryan Raburn phenomenon after a day off
Even outside of baseball, April is a month commonly described as a prelude to better things—showers begetting flowers and all that. So, for all our nail-biting over the Indians’ rather lifeless kickoff to the 2013 campaign, it can’t be too surprising to see things starting to balance out—more than a little bit—in the past few days.
For the sake of avoiding the oft-discussed instability of the starting rotation, let’s just say that an offense with this much depth, flexibility, and veteran experience is not likely to experience too many more power outages of the sort we saw last month.
! of the Day
Perhaps the poster boy of that aforementioned depth, flexibility, and veteran experience right now is Ryan Raburn—the ex-Tiger utility man and minor league free agent who is our obvious Exclamation Point of the Day.
According to Terry Francona, he and Chris Antonetti basically shared a like-minded nod when they saw that Raburn was available this winter. And sure enough, the 32 year-old seized his opportunity all spring, raking at a .341 clip and leading the team with five homeruns and 12 RBIs. For those of us that saw him squaring up those baseballs down in the desert, Raburn’s current torrid stretch looks slightly less stunning.
But then again… we’re talking about a string of 12 hits in 14 at-bats, against some world class pitching, with four homers mixed in. Calling that a hot streak is almost insulting to Raburn. Five hits in 14 ABs is a hot streak. 12 hits in 14 ABs is just stupid. It’s video game territory. Or tee-ball. Or maybe a tee-ball video game.
Obviously, there is always going to be some flukiness involved when a bench player catches fire for a week. But for those that consider Raburn part of the Bill Selby or Lou Merloni school of punch-and-judy utilitymen, it’s worth remembering how this guy produced for the Tigers from 2009-2011.
2009: 113 G, 261 AB, .291 AVG, 16 HR, 45 RBI, .891 OPS
2010: 113 G, 371 AB, .280 AVG, 15 HR, 62 RBI, .814 OPS
2011: 121 G, 387 AB, .256 AVG, 14 HR, 49 RBI, .729 OPS
That’s an average of 15 homers a season without ever eclipsing 400 at-bats. Looking at that consistency, Francona and Antonetti both saw Raburn’s 2012 struggles as an aberration, and at least for the time being, they seem to have been on to something.
? of the Day
So, with Michael Bourn on his way back, the obvious short-term question becomes: How does Francona keep Raburn’s blazing bat in the lineup? Or perhaps the better question is, SHOULD he try to keep Raburn’s bat in the lineup? Does a manager have an obligation to play a hot hand in early May, or are the roles on this team too clearly defined to be tinkering with the depth chart?
In Raburn’s case—despite his versatility—he is stuck behind a seemingly immovable starter at every position he plays. Coming into the season, he was even the second-tier utilityman to the excellent Mike Aviles.
Right now, a pretty strong argument could be made that the Indians stand a better chance of winning this weekend with Ryan Raburn at second base than Jason Kipnis—whose .535 OPS is almost exactly half of Raburn’s (1.061) at the moment. Just like the month of April, though, young players require extra patience. And as it stands, there is virtually zero chance of the struggling Kipnis taking any sort of extended backseat to Raburn, Aviles, Cord Phelps, or anybody else.
From what we have seen thus far from Francona, even pinch-hitting for Kipnis late in the game still seems like an unlikely strategy. He wants his dynamic young second baseman to straighten himself out in game situations.
As for Raburn, here’s how Francona summed up the veteran’s contributions after Wednesday’s game: “When you plug a guy in, whether it’s because of an injury or doubleheader or whatever, and he gets this hot, that’s such an added bonus. You can never tell—you can’t flip a switch on how a guy plays. But he’s been so hot, we’ve been able to hit him all over the order. He’s played well defensively… He’s been huge for us.”
Then he should also get most of the extra time in the outfield. As well as get a chance to DH once in a blue moon. Tito does not seem to like to pinch hit but if you add in pinch hitting I feel like he can get some decent at bats.
The addition of the righthanded bats, even guys who have had off seasons but thrived off LHP has been a big plus. If you check the stats of Hafner and Choo who have been off to great starts you'll see the have continued their struggles with LHP - and in the case of Pronk the Yankees have limited his appearance against southpaws.
The Indians are handling lefthanders now extremely well without them although I still wish we had a lefty hitting OF to spell Stubbs who has struggled again against RHP.
It's great to see Raburn revert back to the guy we saw the first 2 weeks of spring training especially since he cooled off considerably as the pitching got better. He has obviously worked his butt off to prepare for the chance to play and good for him.
Hitting, "they" say, is contagious and Raburn seems to have a good case of the hitting bug. Just hope it continues spreading.