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Second Thoughts: Lineup optimization and Yan Gomes

Second Thoughts: Lineup optimization and Yan Gomes
July 26, 2013
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After consuming the unmatched Festivus episode of Seinfield, I have decided to air my grievances about an offense strewn with inconsistency. It may be a challenge to pick at an offense that just dropped 10 runs in Seattle but we all know that the week preceding was an offensive struggle.

The Indians have scored three runs or less four out of the six games post all-star game and two or less runs in three of those games. Yes, it is just six games and creating panic would be idiotic, especially since the Indians are fifth in MLB in runs scored and second (second!) in walk rate.

However, lineup construction and playing time for a few specific players have become concerning. In generality, Francona’s ability to move guys around both on the field and in the lineup has been impressive especially with super subs like Raburn and Aviles.

Two recent trends have become alarming; the first is Cabrera’s movement to the fourth hole in the lineup. I have no issue with the Swisher shift because his batting average though disappointing to date is covered by his still impressive OBP.

Returning to Cabrera, who has underperformed on a large scale and is still given less scrutiny than Swisher. Alas injuries may be the cause of each players regression but Swisher’s OBP and solid defense at first base offer some redemption of value.

Returning to the four hole, Cabrera is absolutely the wrong fit right now. Asdrubel’s struggles offensively are not tied to bad luck (BABIP) or lack of lineup protection. No, they are almost directly connected to one thing, which is his increased strikeout rate.

Cabrera’s plate discipline issues have been touched upon in the past on this site in other avenues.

Simply, until Cabrera’s plate discipline improves, and substantially, he simply should not be in the four hole. I know Indians fans have trepidation about Carlos Santana in the four hole but it is just the right fit. Santana has an elite ability to get on base and offers more power as well as having a good second half track record.

Ideally, the strongest lineup when healthy is something like this: Bourn, Swisher, Kipnis, Santana, Brantley, Cabrera, Chisenhall, Gomes, Stubbs. With Raburn, Aviles and Reynolds sprinkled in based on matchups, need for rest, and defensive considerations.

Gomes in line for more playing time

Outside of his success as Kazmir’s personal catcher, Gomes has had a really successful season offensively to date with some really positive steps and some unsustainable production as well.

All of these things come with the caveat that we have only a 42 game sample from Yan Gomes and thus extrapolating too much is irrational. However, his wRC+ is 119, average being 100, 125 being good/all-star level production.

Second, both Gomes' BABIP and HR/FB are sustainable and his real increase in success is derived directly from a legitimate shift in plate discipline and decrease in strikeout rate compared to last season’s cup of coffee with the Blue Jays.

Last is Gomes' defensive value.  While UZR and UZR/150 are somewhat flawed, we can use them to confirm or question what the eye test tells us. With Gomes his UZR/150 is that of a very good defender and his UZR at least a tick above average.  Which with his efficiency throwing runners out (11-for-20 caught stealing) and him being at least average to a tick above blocking balls it is easy to see his defensive value.

Thus the question becomes this: if you could improve defensive production behind the plate with solid offense, hideMark Reynolds and give Santana more time at DH, why would you not start Gomes more frequently behind the plate?

Lastly, on sample, when a player who is young and has legitimate upside has success in a small sample that is a case that he deserves a larger and larger sample in order to offer light on their value and true potential. This is the case with Yan Gomes.

Up Next: Indians vs. Rangers @ Progressive Field 7:05pm E.T. first pitch.

Martin Perez, 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA faces Corey Kluber, 7-5 with a 3.69 ERA. This is a really key start for Kluber and the Tribe as they have lost the last two series openers.  Corey has been one of the most dependable and even clutch performers so far this season and the Indians need him to go out and make a statement in the opener.

Interact with Michael by email at  michael.hattery@gmail.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

Rich
July 27, 2013 - 8:08 AM EDT
Cabrera is 7-for-14 in his last three games with a HR and two doubles. He also had a couple of unlucky line drives right at infielders against the Twins.

Hitting clean-up doesn't seem to bother him. And Swisher is doing much better in the 2-hole. Nice switch by Francona.

This is just my subjective observation, but Asdrubal seems more patient at the plate the last few games. He's no longer swinging at the first pitch almost every time and he's laying off the low breaking balls. He's getting deeper into counts.

His at-bat in the 11th last night was superb. He got two strikes on him and then took a breaking ball away and just slapped it into left-center field to get the winning rally started. Just a great piece of professional hitting - not trying to be the hero with a walk-off HR, but going with the pitch and getting on base to set it up for Santana and Raburn.
yourtribe
July 26, 2013 - 10:37 PM EDT
Aviles over Lonnie right now. Lonnie still needs a lot of work.
Norm
July 26, 2013 - 5:54 PM EDT
Remember guys, I only objected to the comment "underperformed on a large scale" not anything else. IF you look at the time he missed and played injured, I do not see a "large scale underperformance". As a matter of fact, you might point a finger at other Indians whose underperformance is much greater. Just as you show appreciation for those who have not underperformed. As far as his age, how did Grady do at the same age? Injuries do effect performance regardless of age. If you guys want to believe he is the problem that needs to be called out, so be it. I am just saying that you have not sold me on that. Nor did Jeff for that matter.
Mike Hattery
July 26, 2013 - 5:31 PM EDT
Equating SB to OBP in terms of their reliance on speed while beautiful hyperbole is an overstatement. Second we can use OPS because it is a valuable statistic partially because it is heavily based on OBP. And if we look there we see a second consecutive season of decline off his peak year. Over thirty points lower than last season.
And if we want to talk major issues and include his whole career we could use BB/K, which is the worst of his career. And I don't think you can argue that is speed related.
I understand and respect your case just think their are some legitimately frightening warning signs.
The most important being his decreasing walk rate, increasing strikeout rate and a BABIP as high as his last two seasons.
Steve
July 26, 2013 - 5:29 PM EDT
*Is having a down year* I need an edit button.
Steve
July 26, 2013 - 5:28 PM EDT
Fine Norm, his OPS is 25 points below his career average, his wOBA is 13. These are large steps down, and again, this is a guy who should be in his prime right now.

His % of pitches outside the zone swung at is at a career high, his contact rate is at a career low, leading to a career high in K% which is what is driving his OBP that is so low that it's a hindrance to the team, especially at the top of the lineup.

There's no denying that Cabrera isn't having a down year at the plate compared to reasonable expectations for him.
Norm
July 26, 2013 - 4:32 PM EDT
Steve and Mike,

Appreciate the comments but remain unsold on the one stat, OBP, approach. Why not pick a stat that means something like OPS instead of a stat so adversely effected by his injury? You might as well have picked SB since he was not able to run. I don't ask you to pick HRs, RBIs, or Slugging but at least want a fair shake in the stat comparison. OBP is not it but OPS is a more widely accepted stat as a measure of overall performance as a hitter.
Mike Hattery
July 26, 2013 - 3:13 PM EDT
@Steve ditto.
The other piece I would point to Norm is that in terms of approach and swing 2011/2012 Asdrubel Cabrera is very different from 2007-2010.
Cabrera looks to drive the ball, especially in advantageous counts rather than his early approach which fringed on slappy.
It would be akin to evaluating Wakefield or Dickey and including pre-knuckle-ball data.
Players can change and develop at the big league level.
So using 2007-2010 in the baseline can be done but it is also flawed because he morphed into a different style offensively.
Steve
July 26, 2013 - 1:56 PM EDT
Norm - Cabrera's OBP is 27 points below his career average. That is a huge underperformance for a guy who should be in his prime at age 27
Norm
July 26, 2013 - 12:27 PM EDT
Saw Jeff's article yesterday. Love Jeff but not entirely accurate. Suggest a brief look at Fangraphs to see entire picture of AsCab offense since 2007. Just a suggestion, T.
Tony
July 26, 2013 - 11:48 AM EDT
Check out Jeff's article from yesterday. Cabrera is well below his career norms this season.
Norm
July 26, 2013 - 11:13 AM EDT
An interesting article. Not too sure about Gomes staying with his OPS if he plays more but I suppose it is worth a try.

But one of your offensive premises is that AsCab is "underperforming on a large scale". It is pretty much an average year for him, especially considering the injury. If you mean, he is not living up to his career year of 2011, then say that. I do agree that he is not suited to be the 4 hitter but not sure that there is a great choice. I would love to see Santana but he really does not fit the profile IMO.

Francona is kind of locked in by his lineup (what manager isn't) but a change between AsCab and Santana at 4/6 isn't a big deal to me but I respect the thought if not the underlying premise you use.

In your ideal lineup that you propose, I would certainly switch Gomes and Chisenhall. If Gomes cannot hit better than Chis, what is the point of putting him in the regular lineup. If AsCab is really as big an underperformer as you state, then maybe Gomes belongs at 6 instead given the benefits of the R/L matchups.
Tony
July 26, 2013 - 10:22 AM EDT
You are well in stride Michael. Love these analysis pieces from you. Anyway, I completely agree about the lineup where Gomes should be playing much more and Reynolds much less. When Reynolds has to play first base just have Santana play there and Gomes the catcher. When Reynolds has to play third base just have Aviles play there. When Reynolds has to DH, just have Raburn or Gomes or Santana play there. Really, there is no reason to continue to beat a dead horse and play Reynolds every day. It is mindboggling. They are waiting for him to break out of the slump when he probably never will, and even if he does, he will slump soon after. His career and season to date shows that will happen.
Matthew
July 26, 2013 - 10:12 AM EDT
Nice off-day piece. A couple thoughts:

Before McAllister got injured, Gomes was catching most of his starts. If I remember correctly, Gomes caught 4 straight McAllister starts, then Santana caught one and McAllister looked visibly frustrated at having to shake Santana off a number of times. In his first start back from the DL, McAllister had Gomes behind the dish. I think/hope we will see Gomes catching McAllister and Kazmir from now on. I agree completely that Gomes needs to be given more playing time. If for no other reason, the increased reps will let us know what kind of hitter he really can be if he were to take over as the primary backstop next season. Santana's value is much greater if he can be a solid defensive catcher but right now he just isn't, and even if we don't know what kind of offense Gomes can provide, nothing could be worse than what Reynolds is providing.

Your suggested lineup makes sense. I can't quibble with it too much, but if I was setting it, I would go

Bourn CF
Kipnis 2B
Brantley LF
Santana DH
Swisher 1B
Cabrera SS
Chisenhall 3B
Gomes C
Stubbs RF

If you felt it necessary to break up the lefties at the top of the order, or if Asdrubal gets hot again, switch Cabrera and Brantley.
camfrommaine63
July 26, 2013 - 10:09 AM EDT
Kluber is so inder rated, and im glad yanny is getting props finally, as kazmirs personal catcher, the two have blossomed. It is quite impressive, also ubaldo,kluber and kaz all have been awesome. I dont think ubaldo is getting the run support to show how good he really is

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