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Second Thoughts: Analyzing the Indians lineup

Second Thoughts: Analyzing the Indians lineup
July 19, 2013
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The second half of the season kicks off tonight!

This means that the games are going to increasingly become more important as the weeks go by and the Indians look to keep pace with the Detroit Tigers in American League Central. A four-game stretch against the Tigers on August 5-8 and a three-game series on Labor Day weekend loom large in determining the fate of the division. To the team’s advantage in their chase for another AL Central crown are a favorable schedule and an offense that is ranked fifth in baseball in runs scored.

While the Indians deliberate the necessity and cost of acquiring pitching reinforcements, it seems likely that the offense will remain unchanged as the season turns the page into August. Truthfully, that’s been the hallmark of the Indians position players in 2013. There’s been no change.

The Indians have had remarkable consistency from their starting lineup and bench players. When Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera had brief trips on the disabled list the team plugged those holes from their bench and just kept moving. The same can be said when Lonnie Chisenhall was sent to AAA.

The only player who started the season on the team and can’t currently be found on the active roster is Lou Marson, but after an early season injury he has been superiorly replaced by Yan Gomes. For depth reasons the team traded for John McDonald in June, but he’s long gone. That’s about the scope of the ‘upheaval’ in the Indians’ lineup this season, a quite remarkable turnaround from years past.

Let’s take an in-depth look at these guys.

Carlos SantanaJason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall - For the purpose of not repeating myself, please click here for my comments on these three players.

Asdrubal Cabrera – Cabrera’s numbers are down right now, but I’ll go on record that I think he has a big second half in front of him. His strikeout rate and walk rate are a little out of whack right now, but most of the rest of his numbers are close to years past. He’s still a superior hitting shortstop and an important part of the lineup. There have been rumors that the team is contemplating moving him at the deadline, but the drop from Cabrera to Aviles offensively is bigger than I think most people believe. My hope is the team keeps Cabrera and he lives up to my statement. He has the ability to, that’s for sure.

Nick Swisher – I love everything that Swisher brings to the team. He’s a high energy guy that makes the game more fun for his teammates and fans. With that said, we could use a little more with the stick. Swisher’s numbers are down right now, but similar to Cabrera, I’m expecting him to bounce back. His strikeout rate and walk rates are fine. His BABIP is low, a sign of bad luck more than anything, and that’s what’s dragging his batting average down. The other troubling thing is his ISO, which at .156 would be the lowest mark of his entire career. I wonder how much his shoulder is playing into that. Swisher is as consistent of a player as they come, and I’d put money that his season ending totals more closely mirror that of seasons past than they do right now.

Michael Bourn – I’m labeling Bourn, Swisher, and Cabrera as the ‘big-three’ in terms of how this lineup will fare in the second half of the season. Those are three good hitters who are a little below where they should be in terms of performance. If they can close that gap, this lineup is going to be really, really good. My biggest concern with Bourn has been his walk rate (5.4% in 2013, career number is 8.4%). Sure, his .075 ISO is bad, but it’s more important that Bourn is getting on base to set the table for the players behind him. In my opinion, his performance more so than any others in the lineup needs to improve.

Michael Brantley – Brantley is hovering right around his 2012 numbers. He’s been the team’s best hitter in clutch situations this year and looks like he could be developing more power. He packages that with a great approach at the plate and plays good defense in left field. I don’t expect anything different from him in the second half, and it’s possible for even a slight uptick in his numbers.

Drew Stubbs – Stubbs is right where I thought he would be this season. He contributes with his defense and baserunning, and he’s rebounded decently from a terrible 2012 season. It would be nice to see Stubbs get on base a little more, but I think that’s being picky. He’s not a perfect player, but again, the Indians essentially received him as a salary filler in the Choo trade and it’s not often useful players get handed to you. I doubt we’ll see any drastic improvement in his numbers during the second half, but that’s okay. Sitting more against right handers wouldn’t hurt (.626 OPS vs. righties), but Francona hasn’t used Stubbs as a platoon player all year and he’s probably not going to start now.

Mark Reynolds – On the whole, it’s hard not to see Reynolds season thus far as a disappointment. There was a time when this guy was carrying the offense. They have won games because of his clutch hits. Unfortunately, all that stopped around May. He’s currently hitting worse than his career numbers and is the only Indian regular with a negative WAR. Reynolds is streaky though, so another hot streak isn’t out of the question. Until that comes the team might want to siphon off some of his at-bats to Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes, or Jason Giambi.

Bench – Mike Aviles has come exactly as advertised. He’s a capable fill-in at three infield positions who won’t embarrass himself at the plate. He’s an upgrade over every utility player the Indians have had for years. Lastly, he’s on pace for nearly 400 at-bats. Could you imagine who would be getting those at-bats if he wasn’t around? It’s scary to think about.

Ryan Raburn has gone from a player that was quite possibly one of the worst in MLB last year to a valuable member of a contending team. I’m not sure if there’s another fourth outfielder having a better season than he is. He's had 10 home runs in just 150 at-bats and if he qualified would lead the team with a .908 OPS.

Yan Gomes has come down to earth after a hot start, but he still provides superior defense at catcher and brings pop to the lineup. Like Raburn, he might be one of the best backups at his position in all of baseball. The days of dreading Lou Marson’s bat being in the lineup are over.

Lastly, Jason Giambi has brought some power off the bench and that’s about what the hope was for him. The intangibles aside, Giambi’s batting average is ugly. However, he still gets on base and he’s still a hitter that pitchers don’t want to make a mistake to. With the relative health and flexibility of the rest of the roster his inability to even DH on an everyday basis has been a non-factor.

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