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Second Thoughts: A Raburn of Hope

Looking at the Ryan Raburn phenomenon after a day off

Second Thoughts: A Raburn of Hope
Ryan Raburn (Photo: MLB Network)
May 3, 2013
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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.”

User Comments

May 3, 2013 - 3:46 PM EDT
Well I would say for right now Raburn can spend some considerable time in right field. Swisher isn't an option out there right now and Bourn still hasn't gone on a rehab assignment. Seems like a pretty easily solution to me. Once Bourn comes back, Raburn is the 4th OF who can also plug in at 2nd or 3rd with a tough lefty on the mound.
May 3, 2013 - 2:48 PM EDT
You can still get him into the lineup. I think he should play vs lefties at 3rd base. Chiz really seems to struggle against lefties. I don't think he should take the place of Kipnis but I see no reason he can't spell him maybe once a week.

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.
May 3, 2013 - 11:01 AM EDT
Looking at the Indians lineup you knew, at least on paper, the Indians would hit far better than previous teams overloaded with lefthanded bats & players that were probably great guys (Duncan, Kotchman, Hannahan, Damon, etc.) who were streaky at best, oft-injured, and too often automatic outs in games.

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.

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