Second Thoughts: Lineup optimization and Yan Gomes
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.