Should Ryan Raburn play every day?
In search for a power bat, Tribe should look at Raburn first
At this very moment last winter, Ryan Raburn was unemployed.
Ending 2012 with a .171 batting average, he was cut from Detroit after playing in just 66 games with the Tigers.
One year later, he’s revived his baseball career once again, this time some 170 miles south of Motown as a member of the Indians.
“I’m just glad Cleveland gave me the opportunity to comeback and show I can still play,” Raburn said. “The organization has been unbelievable to me, and the team they have built over here makes me enjoy coming to the ballpark every day.”
Signing a minor league deal with the Tribe last offseason, Raburn burst on the scene rather quickly at the very outset of spring training. Leading the club with five home runs and 12 RBI in the Cactus League, the 32 year old debuted with another big league club for the first time in his career.
One month into the regular season, the right-handed slugger became the hottest hitter in all of baseball. Raburn was named the American League Player of the Week between April 29 – May 5, where he hit .591 (13-for-22) with four homers and nine RBI, posting a 1.773 OPS.
“To think this guy was at one point the Tigers starting second baseman, we caught a break.” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Raburn too also caught a break with his new club, as Cleveland signed him to a two year, $4.85 million extension amidst a playoff race in early August. The new deal came less than two weeks after he belted a walk-off three-run homer against the Texas Rangers.
By the looks of things, it looks as though Raburn has benefited from a change of scenery. But, let’s take things one step further.
As we head into 2014, the Indians once again find themselves looking for a right-handed bat with power. Mark Reynolds worked for two months, but his mid-season struggles made him all but an afterthought before his release in August.
It’s a question very few have asked this offseason, but one that needs to be brought to attention.
“Ryan Raburn was actually one of the most productive players in the game,” Francona said. “You just don’t think about that because of his name.”
It’s true, despite getting less than 250 at-bats, Raburn put up great numbers in his first year with Cleveland.
86 G 243 AB .272 AVG 40 R 66 H 18 2B 16 HR 55 RBI 29 BB/67 SO .357 OBP .543 SLG .901 OPS
Both his .543 slugging percentage and .901 OPS led the Indians, not to mention leading the club in homers at various point during the season.
There were only five American League players with at least 240 at-bats that finished with a higher OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) than Raburn, they were:
Miguel Cabrera (1.078 OPS)
Chris Davis (1.004 OPS)
Mike Trout (.988 OPS)
David Ortiz (.959 OPS)
Edwin Encarnacion (.904 OPS)
Not bad a bad group of players to be involved with, especially for a player who signed a minor league deal last winter.
Raburn also posted almost identical home/road splits, hitting .273 at home and .270 away from Progressive Field. He made just two errors in right field in 2013, owning a lifetime .970 fielding percentage in the outfield.
Hitting .308 against left-handed pitchers in 2013, Raburn did struggle at times against right-handers finishing with a .243 average. But that didn't stop Francona from starting him in right field against a tough righty in Alex Cobb in the A.L. Wild Card game. His career splits also show otherwise (.263 vs. LHP/.255 vs. RHP).
Here’s also something to think about, Raburn averaged a homer every 15.2 at-bats this past season. There were only four A.L. players that drew less at-bats per home run, they were:
Davis (11.0 AB)
Cabrera (12.6 AB)
Encarnacion (14.7 AB)
Brandon Moss (14.9 AB)
So, if in fact the 32 year old is given the chance to play every day, what can Tribe fans can expect from right-handed slugger?
A career .258 hitter, Raburn has averaged at least 14 homers four of the last five seasons. Over those last five years he has also averaged 292 at bats.
Given the numbers he put up last season, it’s not unrealistic to think that given more plate appearances, Raburn can hit roughly .260 with 25 home runs and 80 RBI.
Realistically, that’s just nine more homers and 25 more RBI than he accumulated in 2013, not to mention in roughly another 250 at bats as well.
If Raburn could reach those numbers next season, he will be in prime company. There were just 10 American League players that hit at least .260 with a minimum of 25 homers and 80 RBI. They were:
Eight of those 10 players made the A.L. All-Star team this past summer. Six of them were also in the starting lineup.
In seven years in the big leagues, Raburn has yet to accumulate more than 390 at-bats in one season. With an increased workload, there’s always the possibility of inconsistency. If he does happen to struggle early on, the team still has Drew Stubbs on the roster to help carry the load in right field.
As a seven year veteran, Raburn is not only a good ballplayer, but an even better teammate on and off the field. Lost amongst a slew of high profile athletes in Detroit, he has found himself a new home in Cleveland.
Sure there are free agents out on the market like Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales who could come in and help instead, but like any ballplayer, they are looking to cash in on big pay raises on a relatively thin power market.
Raburn knows both the league and the division very well. As a former fifth round pick in 2001, the soon to be 33 year old believe it or not is still in the prime of his career.
Not very often do you see an organization sign one of their bench players to a contract extension during a season. Bench and utility players come and go year after year, but the Indians have always liked Raburn and his versatility. And there’s reason to believe he could be in line for an increased workload in 2014, possibly as the everyday right fielder.
In a league where power hitters come at a premium, it may be wise for the Tribe to give Raburn the opportunity to finally play every day and spend the money elsewhere.
“Raburn could handle more at-bats,” Francona said. “I think if you were able to give him a blow, I think he could probably be pretty productive getting more at-bats. Maybe not playing every day, but playing more. That’s something we’re going to have to look at.”
No matter what Francona or the team thinks right now, the time may be now for the Tribe to take Raburn off their own back burner this hot stove season, and finally give him that chance.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Don't think it'd take much more than Stubbs if any to get Joyce. Definitely wouldn't include cash; maybe a low-level spec.
Joyce career vs. righties: .360 wOBA
vs. lefties: .267 wOBA
Stubbs career vs. lefties: .349 wOBA
vs. righties: .291
Stubbs makes a logical platoon partner for Dejesus, Joyce with Raburn. Stubbs fits their mold of excellent athlete/excellent defender, while Joyce fills our need for a left-handed bat in RF.
Moncrief is in the picture, but a guy who is really not an option until later in the year. As is the same for any other zero service time rookie in the organization (Aguilar, Price, etc).
Way I look at it, Raburn is not as bad as he was in 2012...but he's not as good as he was in 2013. If he can hit like he did from 2009-2011 though in Detroit, I'd still take that for what he's making and as a part-time player.
Now if Raburn were to start off 2014 well and keep hitting like he did this year...then I think you give him more playing time as he so earns it. But I'd hate to head into 2014 relying on him as an everyday starter. That's the bottom line for me.
What's the view on Moncrief in the organization? His 2013 was impressive, if they fail to make any moves for the outfield, is there any chance they give him a shot to make the major league team out of spring training? He can't be worse than Stubbs with the bat, would be a lot cheaper, and is the correct handedness to platoon with Raburn.