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Tribe Happenings: The role of the DH has changed

Tribe Happenings: The role of the DH has changed
January 27, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Help Wanted: Part-time DH

The Indians are still picking over the leftovers that are in free agency to try and find a bargain that they can bring in for minimal money to help fill their current designated hitter void or at least help fill out their bench.

Last week I mentioned they had been in contact with Jim Thome and had talked contract, and this week there were reports from the national media that backed that up as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Indians indeed are interested in Thome and that they also are considering bringing back Travis Hafner. Once news of this got around to the Indians faithful, the responses I have received have been mixed, but most feel the Indians need to find a better every day designated hitter option.

But here is the thing, the era of the everyday DH is history. In addition to that, there are simply are no everyday DH options available in free agency at this point.

Check out how the DH was used by all 14 teams in the American League last year and how they spread the playing time over the 162 game season:

Blue Jays G   Orioles G   Rays G   Red Sox G   Yankees G
E. Encarnacion 82   Chris Davis 60   Luke Scott 83   David Ortiz 81   Alex Rodriguez 38
Adam Lind 32   Jim Thome 27   Evan Longoria 25   Ryan Lavarnway 17   Raul Ibanez 28
Ben Francisco 13   Nick Johnson 20   Jeff Keppinger 20   Cody Ross 14   Derek Jeter 25
David Cooper 10   Mark Reynolds 12   Hideki Matsui 11   J. Saltalamacchia 13   Eric Chavez 19
Rajai Davis 5   Matt Weiters 9   Sam Fuld 7   Pedro Ciriaco 10   Andruw Jones 18
Moises Sierra 5   Wilson Betemit 8   Ben Francisco  5   Mauro Gomez 6   Nick Swisher 12
Colby Rasmus 4   Ronny Paulino 8   Sean Rodriguez 5   Mike Aviles 5   Robinson Cano 9
Indians G   Royals G   Tigers G   Twins G   White Sox G
Travis Hafner 62   Billy Butler 138   Delmon Young 118   Ryan Doumit 48   Adam Dunn 93
Carlos Santana 27   Brayan Pena 8   Andy Dirks  11   Joe Mauer 42   Paul Konerko 39
Shelley Duncan 17   Jarrod Dyson 7   B. Boesch 9   Justin Mourneau 34   Dayan Viciedo 12
Jose Lopez 12   Mitch Maier 5   Miguel Cabrera 7   Josh Willingham 25   Jordan Danks 5
L. Chisenhall 10   Jason Bourgeois 4   Brad Eldred 5   Darin Mastroianni 10   Orlando Hudson 5
Matt LaPorta 10         Quintin Berry 4   Erik Komatsu 3   Dan Johnson 5
A. Cabrera 6         Don Kelly 4   Matt Carson 2   A.J. Pierzynski 5
Athletics G   Angels G   Mariners G   Rangers G      
Jonny Gomes 53   Kendrys Morales 92   Jesus Montero 78   Michael Young 72      
Seth Smith 50   Albert Pujols 34   John Jaso 48   Adrian Beltre 23      
Yoenis Cespedes 26   Mark Trumbo 23   Miguel Olivo 12   Ian Kinsler 13      
Kila Ka'aihue 12   Torii Hunter 6   Dustin Ackley 4   Josh Hamilton 10      
Josh Reddick 12   Peter Bourjos 5   Mike Carp 4   Mitch Moreland 9      
Chris Carter 9   Howie Kendrick 1   Luis Jimenez 4   David Murphy 9      

When you look over that list, aside from a few exceptions, most teams implement a rotating designated hitter system. The Yankees had Alex Rodriguez, Raul Ibanez, and Derek Jeter all get 25 or more games there, plus another three in Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, and Nick Swisher that each played in at least 12 games as the DH. The Athletics had three players in Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, and Yoenis Cespedes that logged at least 26 games as a DH, and the Angels had Kendrys Morales as their regular DH but Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo all played in at least 23 games as the DH.

Of all the players, only two of them last season played as the designated hitter for 60% or more of their team’s games (97 games), and that was Delmon Young (118 games) and Billy Butler (138 games). The next highest number of games as the DH went to Adam Dunn with 93 games.

Bottom line, the game has changed over the last few seasons as American League teams simply no longer plug in one player into the DH role for 120+ games a year like they used to. Instead, most teams prefer to rotate regular position players there to give them rest and also use it to give their bench players more opportunities to play and keep sharp. They can give regulars a rest from the physical wear and tear of playing in the field every day, and rather than just sit them completely and take their bat out of the lineup they can DH them to give them a break but still keep the lineup intact.

This is why the Indians pursuit of Thome and Hafner should not be met with so much resistance. Neither player is an everyday DH at this point, but the Indians know that and Thome and Hafner know that too.

They are looked at as part-time DH solutions that can play 80-90 games and give 300-350 plate appearances over the season, if even that. Obviously, Thome is at the end of his career so this is about all he could manage. Also, anyone who has watched Hafner over the last five seasons knows that he is only capable of giving a team 90-100 games a season, so a part-time role might be right up his alley and help keep him productive and healthy.

Look at the numbers for Thome and Hafner last season compared the team DH numbers in the American League:

Angels .273 .321 .468 .788
Athletics .256 .345 .437 .782
Blue Jays .266 .340 .469 .809
Indians .226 .317 .385 .702
Orioles .240 .323 .407 .730
Mariners .214 .287 .310 .597
Rangers .265 .323 .432 .754
Rays .228 .289 .397 .685
Red Sox .278 .360 .473 .833
Royals .302 .360 .475 .835
Tigers .257 .291 .395 .687
Twins .253 .336 .427 .763
White Sox .230 .335 .445 .781
Yankees .293 .362 .497 .860
League AVG .256 .328 .430 .758
Travis Hafner .228 .346 .438 .784
Jim Thome .252 .344 .442 .786

Thome was at the league average with his batting average, but was over the league average in the other categories and 28 points above the league average in OPS. Hafner was below the league average in batting average, but was above the league average by double digits in the other categories and 26 points above the league average in OPS.

For as much as some may scoff at Hafner and Thome, both would no doubt be at least average to above average options to plug in at DH, so long as they are used correctly. They would be limited to part-time DH duties and as pinch hitting options late in games, and even though they can’t play a position and may clog the roster a little, they could help the team if the cost is right and if they are used correctly.

Should Brantley leadoff?

The IBI’s Jeff Ellis put a piece together on Friday that took a look into who should leadoff for the Indians and he made his case for who he thinks should leadoff. He decided on Michael Brantley, which is a guy that many people have suggested all offseason.

But is Brantley really the right choice? Are people just putting him there based on his supposed skill set yet not considering his previous failings as a leadoff hitter? Is this more of a round-peg, square-hole thing?

I happen to agree with Jeff Ellis as I have to think right now that Brantley is the favorite to open the season as the Indians’ leadoff hitter, which I could live with and would not get too upset about it if that happens. But I think the Indians might be making a mistake and might want to search out other alternatives before they do so.

Brantley has been the Indians’ primary leadoff hitter the last two seasons, and anyone who has watched him there in the past knows how much he has struggled there before. He has looked uncomfortable and out of place, and it was not until last year when he was shifted down the order into the 5th through 7th spot in the order that he finally started to come into his own and develop some confidence and consistency with his offensive night in and night out.

Brantley had a good season last year hitting .288 with 6 HR, 60 RBI and .750 OPS in 149 games. He also had a solid .348 on-base percentage and 12 stolen bases. Naturally, as one of the better on-base guys on the team and some ability to swipe a bag here and there, he gets pegged into the leadoff spot.

But for as solid as his season was overall last year, Brantley hit just .227 with a .292 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot last season. In his career he owns a .267 batting average and .318 on-base percentage in the leadoff position. In comparison, last season he hit .308 with a .796 OPS (.366 OBP) hitting 6th in the order, and in his career is a .315 hitter with .378 on-base percentage and .443 slugging percentage hitting anywhere from 5th through 8th in the lineup.

Here are Brantley’s career splits in each spot in the batting order:

1st: .267/.314/.364 (879 PA)
2nd: .200/.232/.246 (69 PA)
3rd: .238/.304/.429 (23 PA)
4th: .222/.300/.289 (100 PA)
5th: .307/.365/.429 (266 PA)
6th: .333/.413/.530 (75 PA)
7th: .294/.355/.400 (93 PA)
8th: .545/.615/.545 (13 PA)
9th: .250/.344/.321 (33 PA)

As you can see, the further down the lineup Brantley hits, the better he performs. He has struggled hitting anywhere in the top four spots in the lineup, but has excelled hitting in the 5th through 8th spots in the lineup.

If it were me, I would slot Brantley right into the 6th spot in the order behind Mark Reynolds.  Having a professional hitter like Brantley down in the order could help finish off rallies created by the middle of the lineup, and he just looks to be more comfortable out of the spotlight hitting at the top of the order.

As to who leads off, well, the Indians’ options are limited, which is why Brantley has been given such strong consideration. But I would first take a shot at Jason Kipnis there at the outset of the season and see how he does. He only has 97 career plate appearances in the leadoff spot, and while the small sample size is not great (.202/.281/.310), he has shown to be a good hitter in the 2nd spot in the order where he has hit a majority of his Major League career to date (.272/.343/.426), so in time he could settle into the leadoff role. On top of that, he has experience in the role hitting in the top two spots in the batting order for most of his college career.

Kipnis also has the intangibles you like in a leadoff hitter. He is patient and draws walks, and actually saw more pitches per plate appearance last season (3.95) than Brantley did (3.81). When he gets on base he steals bases as his 31 stolen bases blew away the 12 stolen bases Brantley had last season, so he can get himself into scoring position without the two-hole hitter having to sacrifice himself by hitting behind him or bunting him over. Maybe most important is he can drive the ball and get himself into scoring position with an extra base hit without having to steal a base or have someone move him over, which is something he is much better at doing than Brantley.

So my pick is Kipnis as the leadoff hitter as I think he is the best fit at the moment.  The Indians could then follow him up with Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana and Reynolds hitting 2nd through 5th in the order and then have Brantley in the six-hole finishing off rallies or starting new ones.

Ease up on Santana

I keep hearing a lot of fans saying the Indians should move Carlos Santana to first base or designated hitter full time. Be it because of his inconsistency behind the plate or concerns with his health long term, it is a suggestion that creeps into my email inbox or Twitter timeline at least once every few days.

First off, if anyone is worried about Santana’s health and him breaking down five or six years from now, I will tell you now to forget worrying about it. For one, if he performs at a very good level the next few seasons, he will be long gone in free agency by then and at that time the durability issue will be someone else’s problem. If he is mediocre or struggles the next several seasons, well durability issues will be the least of our concerns.

As for moving him to first base, Santana immediately goes from being an above average or borderline elite offensive contributor at catcher to just an average contributor at first base. A move to first base diminishes his value greatly as his offense would not be as impactful at the position.

The Major League average for catchers last season was a .247/.317/.398 triple-slash line (.715 OPS), and for first basemen it was a .262/.336/.441 line (.777 OPS). Santana’s .252/.365/.420 line from last year (.785 OPS) made him a well above average offensive performer at catcher, but just slightly above average as a first baseman. Among catchers in all of baseball he ranked 7th in OPS yet would have ranked 14th in OPS among first basemen.

One thing to remember is Santana suffered a pretty significant knee injury in 2010, and it is something that has affected his stamina and consistency of his performance over the course of a full season the last two seasons, which is why he has had such drastic first half and second half splits the last two years.

Also, last season Santana really spent a lot of time working on his defense and getting it back to where it was in 2010 (which was considered above average back then), and while he has a long way to go and needs to nip some of the laziness in the bud, he was better behind the plate last season than he was in 2011 (though, again, there is a long way to go).

The Indians in no way whatsoever should be considering moving Santana out from behind the plate right now. Sure, it makes sense to play him at first base and designated hitter to keep him fresh and his bat in the lineup, but he should catch at least 100 games this season. I have a feeling he is going to turn things around defensively this year, and finally, he might put together a consistent full season at the plate.

Invites send a hidden message

Earlier in the week the Indians announced the Major League invites that they handed out to some of the non-40 man roster players in their player development system. The Indians extended invites to first baseman Jesus Aguilar, right-handed pitcher Preston Guilmet, right-handed pitcher Matt Langwell, catcher Roberto Perez, and left-handed pitcher Giovanni Soto. First baseman/outfielder Matt LaPorta is also expected to receive an invite, though nothing has yet to be formally announced.

These are always interesting as it shows who is higher on the pecking order and what players from their system have a leg up on others and are in consideration for a Major League opportunity in the coming season. Major League invites are not just handed out to anybody and are not given simply to fill innings and roster needs, these are carefully considered as it gives the big league staff and front office a chance to get a firsthand look at these players so they get to know them better and can have more to go on when a decision needs to be made later in the season on who to call up and who not to call up.

Yes, from time to time there will be some players pulled from minor league camp and brought into big league camp for a day to backup Major League spring games or to fill in and give innings or at bats, but those players are there for that very reason, to fill in. The players given the Major League invites are on the big league doorstep but just not yet on the 40-man roster.

What makes these decisions interesting is it is a rare time where you see the organization publicly display their cards on who they value over others. For example, Langwell and Guilmet are both relievers and they were given invites but the likes of Rob Bryson and Bryce Stowell were not.

Langwell and Guilmet are both depth options in the bullpen that could figure into things later in the year, and while Soto is still expected to start he is expected to fill a high profile left-handed relief role in the near future, perhaps sometime this season considering the Indians glaring need for left-handed relief help. Perez and Aguilar are depth options at catcher and first base, though could see time later in the year if injuries mount at each position.

Parting shots

Earlier in the week the Indians officially signed infielder/outfielder Ryan Raburn. Raburn, 31, hit just .171 with 1 HR, 12 RBI and .480 OPS in 66 games for the Tigers last season, but owns a career .256 batting average and .740 OPS. If he turns things around this spring, he could factor in as an extra on the bench and maybe bump a player like Ezequiel Carrera off the roster since the Indians do not need a true fourth outfielder because Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs as so versatile in the outfield. … The Indians also signed outfielder Ben Francisco earlier in the week. Francisco, 31, hit .240 with 4 HR, 15 RBI and .670 OPS in 82 combines games with the Blue Jays, Astros and Rays last season. He enjoyed the best years of his career with the Indians from 2007-2009 so he may be trying to recapture some of that old magic, and could factor into things as a fourth outfield option with Raburn and Carrera this spring.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Joe Werner
January 29, 2013 - 9:15 AM EST
As far as Michael Brantley leading off, I have a thought or two on that. And, again, I’m not being a troll or anything of the like. I’m just providing a different perspective.

According to The Book, analyst Tom Tango writes: “Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy #3 and #5 slots.” And, “From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.”

He continues (I’m paraphrasing), however, the fifth and sixth spots should be used to leverage a player’s speed by having him hit in front of singles hitters of players that don’t strikeout much, and that there’s a decent chance that this -- the fifth or sixth hitters -- will be used for the team’s best base stealer.

The team’s three best hitters: Cabrera, Santana, and Swisher

The fourth and fifth best hitters: Kipnis and Reynolds

Six through nine (in order): Brantley, Chisenhall, Stubbs, Aviles/McGuiness

So, here’s how the team should construct the lineup analytically to maximize run production:
1. Cabrera
2. Santana
3. Reynolds
4. Swisher
5. Kipnis
6. Brantley
7. Chisenhall
8. Stubbs
9. Aviles/McGuiness

Now, hitting Kipnis and Brantley fifth and sixth also, as Tango suggests, allows the team’s two best base stealers to move in the proper order.

Looking back, I might swap lineup position on Reynolds and Kipnis.

Again, as I’ve mentioned before lineup construction -- even maximized to its fullest extent – is typically one, maybe two added wins.
Joe Werner
January 28, 2013 - 10:20 AM EST
I think our disagreement about McGuiness’ placement among the organization’s prospects probably centers around how we view prospects, meaning, are you a high-ceiling guy or a guy that looks at the likelihood of where a prospect will eventually land. While I’m not one way or other, I tend to gravitate more towards the latter.

For example, I had McGuiness as the 18th best prospect in the organization, ahead of guys like Kieran Lovegrove, T.J. House, and Alex Monsalve, because, well, for several reasons, really.

Lovegrove has, I think we can both agree, the highest ceiling of the four players listed here. But, he’s young, unproven, and hasn’t surpassed that injury nexus quite yet. For the latter reason alone, I tend to value hitters over pitchers.

House, for example, has performed well enough against older competition. And while he shows above-average control/command. His ability to miss bats – or not, in this case – is really concerning. So, when considering McGuiness vs. House, I think the former is a more promising prospect. House, in my opinion, is a relief candidate capable of putting up somewhere between Replacement Value to half of a win.

And Monsalve, whose peak is more likely than not higher than McGuiness’, has really failed to do much of anything offensively in his professional career. So, again, Monsalve could develop into a league average starter (2.0 wins above replacement), but the likelihood of that happening is low right now, which is why I pushed McGuiness ahead of him.

Yes, McGuiness performed reasonably well in the Texas League, 34% above the league average, but it was an age-appropriate level of competition. Is he a middle of the order bat? We both know he’s not. But, he does walk an above-average to elite level; he shows above-average power. He could develop into a useful bench bat, which, depending on playing time, could be about one win. And that, in my opinion, is far more reliable than a middle reliever like House, a decent catching prospect who’s failed to do much in his career, and a young, mid round high school starter.

And look at it like this, I think.

The Indians lost McFarland to the Orioles in the Rule 5. They could have conceivably kept him, added him to the 40-man and not picked up McGuiness (unless I’m wrong). So, I think they maybe value McGuiness’ ceiling as a bench bat, than that of a soft-tossing lefty, who, like House, is headed to the bullpen if they want a chance to sniff a couple seasons in the big leagues.
January 28, 2013 - 9:43 AM EST
Joe, I completely agree with you on Hafner. I disagree though on your thoughts of McGuiness' value to the organization. I have some insight into that value talking with people, and I think it is important to note that just because a guy is a Rule 5 pick doesn't mean his value is much higher than that of several other prospects already in the system. He's a guy that has never been a Top 30 guy in any prior year and wouldn't have been this year in Texas, so even without that personal insight, he's a post Top 30 guy anyway.
Joe Werner (ProspectDigest.com_
January 28, 2013 - 8:49 AM EST
I meant to post this on the original article about a potential Hafner/Indians reunion, but I just didn’t get around to it.

Basically, it’s pretty easy to see why the front office would be interested in bringing Pronk back on the cheap: He’s been incredibly productive over the last three seasons, more so than most people would think.

Since 2010, his total offensive production has been 24% better than the league average, a higher mark than, say, Mark Teixeira, Ben Zobrist, Alex Rodriguez, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Pablo Sandoval and Jose Reyes, just to name a few. Granted, they’ve been a lot more durable.

Yes, I get it: Hafner is incredibly frail. But he’s still productive when he plays.

He still walks at an elite rate (12.2% last season) and has above-average power (ISOs of .210, .169 and .172 since 2010). And outside of a horrific 2008, his lowest total of production has been 15% above the league average.

Look, he’s likely to get about 250 PA. But adjusting for a little more regression due to age, Hafner’s production should be worth about $2.5 to $3.5 million.

If he’s willing to sign for anywhere between a minor league contract and $1.5 million the Indians would be stupid not to sign him, because that also gives the organization a little room in case he stays on the DL a little longer than normal. It’s added injury-protection basically.

And, truthfully, he represents a tremendous upgrade over any other player the team will run out to DH. Plus, it gives Francona the option to play Chris McGuiness against favorable pitchers, and hopefully, allows him to opportunity to continue to develop at the big league level. And not being a troll, I think McGuiness is far higher up the organization’s prospect depth chart than where he’s listed at.

And then once you figure in the fact the rotation depth, the team could very well likely get away with an eleven-man pitching staff, not 12, which would allow McGuiness to stay on the roster.

As far as Aviles is concerned, he’s a league average bat, better utilized in the super-utility role who brings defensive value, not as a regular DH.
January 28, 2013 - 12:57 AM EST
Agreement on Brantley at lead off.
Disagreement on Santana moving to 1B.
Check Biggio's career before moving away from the tools of ignorance into IF & OF duty.
He dramatically improved his hitting stats.
Santana would hit much better playing 1B.
January 27, 2013 - 4:41 PM EST
I would think the fact that Kipnis has more power would be exactly what makes Brantley the preference. Especially since Kipnis seems to have a knack for either hitting HRs or singles. Has 21 HRs in his career, but only 31 doubles ... if he's leading off, then you're giving him fewer opportunities to drive in runs with those HRs. Since Brantley almost never hits HRs, better to put him in the spot where he has fewer RBI opportunities but can utilize his on base skills (which prior to last year, were admittedly entirely theoretical). Why have Brantley hit 6th? You'd have Swisher and Santana hitting, and frequently walking, in front of him, and one thing Brantley's not going to do is hit a 3-run HR. I would think ideally Brantley hits something like .280/.350/.400 and holds down the leadoff spot. I really like the potential of Brantley, Kipnis, Cabrera, Swisher, Santana, Reynolds ... lots of RBI opportunities for Reynolds, he of the Three True Outcomes. What would the alternative be, Kipnis, Cabrera, Santana, Swisher, Reynolds, Brantley? That would neutralize Brantley's decent speed because one of the slow, high OBP guys is likely to be on in front of him, and make Brantley responsible for driving in the runs that Reynolds leaves on base the 50% of the time when he Ks or walks.

It's not a huge deal either way, and ultimately depends on what these guys actually do ... does Brantley's success carry over or does he backslide? If the 1st half or the 2nd half Kipnis the real one, or is he somewhere in between?
January 27, 2013 - 4:02 PM EST
Seth, I just don't know. I mean, I can live with Brantley as the leadoff guy and giving him another shot there. No problem whatsoever. But I just think the lineup could be better with Kipnis leading off and Brantley hitting in the 6th spot which is always an important spot too right behind all the power bats and as a secondary leadoff hitter. The numbers and tools just don't support Brantley over Kipnis. I have yet to see anyone provide a reason why Brantley should leadoff over Kipnis. Kipnis is a better runner, just as good getting on base, seeing pitches, and has more power. Yes, Brantley showed some pop last year, but Kipnis still has a bat that is conducive to more power than Brantley. Brantley never showed it in the minors while Kipnis did, and in both of their short careers Kipnis had shown more so far than Brantley, and should continue to show more going forward. Ideally, I would prefer Kipnis hitting 3rd in the future, but I don't think he is ready for it.....and I don't want him hitting lower in the order. So it could be Brantley-Kipnis 1-2 this year, or Kipnis 1 and then Brantley 6.....and I just prefer the 1-6 alignment for now.
January 27, 2013 - 3:41 PM EST
Delmon Young signed with the Phillies. He also was a -0.7 WAR player last year. When you only walk 3% of the time, you need to either hit a lot more than 18 HRs or hit a lot better than .260 to be a productive player. Canzler actually put up very Demon-Young-esque numbers last year, and probably plays OF better than Young. Canzler gets DFA'd 4 times and Young gets a $750k contract because Young's a former future All-Star, so there's the "hope" factor.

As for Scott, both Thome and Hafner have been significantly better than him the last 2 years. Scott's 34 with a bad back himself, so, I wouldn't bank on him turning back the clock three years any more than I would on Thome doing the same. Hafner has the shoulder and seems to always manage to hurt his foot and/or knee every year despite only having to wave a bat 4 times a game and "run" a few times a year, but he's been reasonably productive with these injuries, so probably has the best chance to still be productive.
January 27, 2013 - 3:18 PM EST
How come more people do not want Delmon Young? He is still pretty young when you think about it. Perhaps, last year he turned a corner. He had 18 homers and 27 doubles last year. He has some nice upside and could provide even more right handed power to the lineup.

If you don't like him Luke Scott is also available. I am not a fan of just judging a player on their last season. If you spend alot of time looking at players stats over their career, almost every player imaginable has up and down years. Scott is only a couple years removed from a few great years.

I understand if we don't have the cash flow but I would keep my eye on these two guys as well. It does not have to be Thome or Hafner. Young, Scott or even Carlos Lee could also provide what we are looking for.
January 27, 2013 - 3:00 PM EST
Definitely sign Hafner to a cheap 1 year deal. Even if he gives another half year due to injury, those 300 at bats will be better than what we'd get out of McGuinness, Aviles and Carrera.

Potential lineups:
Kipnis Brantley
Cabrera Cabrera
Swisher Swisher
Santana Santana
Brantley Reynolds
Reynolds Kipnis
Chisenhall Stubbs
Hafner Chisenhall
Fedroff Marson

Our lineup vs RHP would be solid 1 through 9. With good OBP guys hitting 8th and 9th, Kipnis and Cabrera could have a lot of RBI. I'd prefer Fedroff over Carrera, but it looks doubtful that he'll make the team.
January 27, 2013 - 2:54 PM EST
Regarding adding Thome or Hafner, verus adding no one, as a manager, who would you rather have available on the bench just to pinch hit: Cord Phelps, Yan Gomes, McGuiness, or Travis Hafner? That's pretty much a no-brainer.

With Marson, Aviles and Raburn, the Indians would already have 3 backups who could rotate in to give anyone a day off any time you wanted, being that they already have 2 outfielders who can play CF, an OF/1b in Swisher, a 1b/3b in Reynolds, and a 1b/C in Santana. From a "giving people rest" perspective, you don't really need more than those 3 guys, unless you're taking the "rest" thing to an unfortunate extreme. But you wouldn't want to pinch hit those guys for anyone, so the other 2 spots should be solid bats (and could still include Gomes or McGuiness even with a Hafner). Adding Thome or Hafner wouldn't reduce their flexibility, it would increase it, by adding a potent LH bat to the lineup or bench.
January 27, 2013 - 2:17 PM EST
Sorry I meant to say that " I am NOW up in the air" about Brantley leading off.
January 27, 2013 - 2:16 PM EST
I am not up in the air now about Brantley at leadoff. I don't think his numbers last year for sure mean he does not have the mental ability to leadoff but it could. I think only really Brantley knows. Did he feel better batting lower in the order? Ask him.

I think everyone is really looking at Thome or Hafner wrong. We will not need to rest a guy at DH everyday and have a decent bench behind us when we do. Especially early in the season. Hafner and Thome do not only bring power, but the ability to take walks and see pitches and put up a quality at bat. Perhaps more important it gives us depth and Vet leadership that could help with a young team trying to find its way. They don't have to play everyday and can be a quality pinch hit option when not starting as well as leadership on the bench. It also protects us against an injury to Reynolds or Stubbs not being able to hit right handers. It just gives us a more consistent lineup and offense with a veteran bat near the bottom of the order. If something better presents itself we can cut ties. But, to start the season we have a real uphill battle and adding a veteran power bat witht he ability to see pitches and walk while providing leadership and still letting us rest guys just makes alot of sense. Adding Thome or Hafner as well a guy like Dice K and Bedard would be a great way to end a good offseason. Right now one injury could really make the whole "rotate guys around DH" a problem. Adding a bat like Thome or Hafner really helps to round out a decent lineup. If Chisenhall, Stubbs, Santana, Kipnis and Brantley can come into their own we could have a very good offense if you add in vets like Swisher, Asdurbal, Reynolds and Thome. Its a good balance along with good bench options like Rayburn, Aviles, Marson, Cisco, McGuiness, Carrera, Yan, Phelps and yes even Laporta.
January 27, 2013 - 1:51 PM EST
With two weeks before spring training to start, I think a few minor league deals could occur.To sign Thome or Hafner at this point, and drop someone from the 40 man roster only weakens us.Let them show what they may have left, and let ST take care of the rest!
January 27, 2013 - 1:37 PM EST
I see the point about a part time DH and the roster but...what I'd like to see is the day where we can an additional position player and stop carrying 12-13 pitchers.
January 27, 2013 - 1:34 PM EST
Thanks for answering my question about Branley's splits. I like the idea of giving Kipnis a look as the leadoff batter. Seth makes a good point, but it is impossible to get inside someone head to figure out ,if the law of average, injury, or adjustment period are working against them or they are just uncomfortable hitting in a certain spot. If i remember correctly, once a manager (all star game) batted is best hitter and slugger first on the theory he would get more at bats and thus do more damage. I'd liked to see some manager do that for a least a portion of a season and see what the results would be. Granted the results would be hard to judge, even if the manager used a conventional line up half the season and batted his "best hitter" first the rest of the year, because of other factors:, difference in schedule difficulty, slumps, and injuries just to name a few things. Besides baseball is about winning not experimentation.
January 27, 2013 - 1:16 PM EST
The problem with analyzing Brantley's career numbers like that, is you're concluding because he's hit .267/.314/.364 leading off and .307/.365/.429 hitting 6th, that the reason has to do with batting order. Except the other thing it has to do with, is those ABs in the 6th spot came after he gained more experience and turned 25 years old, when he should be improving. He only has about 1.3 seasons worth of ABs leading off, so that is a small sample, but more importantly those all came at the beginning of his career. He's gotten steadily better with the bat each year (.280, .309 and .322 wOBA) , which I think is more important than looking at where he happened to be hitting in the batting order in a given year.

I had never thought much of Brantley, he's injury-prone, seems to be constantly battling wrist and ankle problems, and for 2 seasons had been unable to adjust to major league pitching (can't just stand there with the bat on your shoulder while the pitcher grooves two fastballs down the middle), but last year he showed something, and it seemed he may have "turned the corner", and I'd want to see if that carries over in a new season and leading off again.

Kipnis was a whole lot of awful in the second half last year. If he gets back to being the guy we saw in his first year's worth of ABs, then yeah, he could be at the top of the order. Right now I think there are more questions about him than Brantley though.
January 27, 2013 - 12:33 PM EST
beefy article. dig the dh table. i'm all in on Kipnis leading off and Brantley lower in the order. tribe should forget about hafner/thome at dh, stick the money in a big jar, and save up for an additional starter if all of the best possible scenarios for the starting staff dont come true
January 27, 2013 - 12:28 PM EST
I think one thing people forget about carlos santana playing a little 1st base and DHing is thats what kept his bat in the lineup last season for 143 games. There is no way he could play all those games at catcher, which makes the Marson/Gomes debate interesting. Its not that the tribe are trying to eventually move to 1st base exclusively its that they are keeping him fresh without losing his offense. I think thats why you have to consider someone like Hafner or Thome as a part time hitter to compliment and balance out the everyday position players. Mike Aviles is going to help in that aspect as well by giving everyday players(mainly Chisenhall, Cabrera, & Kipnis) a break from the field but keep their bats in the lineup.

Remember Santana and Cabrera each were only productive for about half a season last year and Kipnis and Chisenhall are very young and the season is very long. Thome/Hafner would create some much needed production and protection off the bench as part-timers to go along w/Aviles. I do not view them at all as clogging the roster given the versatility of most of the team, Swisher, Brantley, Stubbs, Santana, Aviles, & Reynolds can all play more than one position if need be so you really only need a backup catcher for sure and the rest of the bench can be assemled however you like (i am not talking about putting Ryan Garko in leftfield for you Wedge lovers out there).

Don't forget that teams used to only have 24 roster spots and that was the norm, so roster clogging is not a valid arguement. Especially when the tribe has completely misused that 25th roster spot over the last decade for the likes of: aaron cunningham, mike rouse, hector ambriz, travis buck, ramon vazquez, chris gimenez, & and everyones favorite PED user tim laker
January 27, 2013 - 11:51 AM EST
Jason, actually, Kipnis was the better "slugger" last year. Yes, Brantley's slugging percentage was higher than Kipnis last year, but over their career's Kipnis is noticeably higher. But when you take out all the singles that each had last year (which affect slugging percentage) and just give a slugging number based on the doubles, triples and home runs they hit, Kipnis had a .122 ISO and Brantley a .114 ISO. Kipnis also has a career .143 ISO and Brantley a career .103 ISO.
Iron Mike
January 27, 2013 - 11:49 AM EST
Part time, full time, rotation which ever options gets the most wins once the 25 man roster is in place. The Indians of all team have no business trying to follow or create trends they should be concerned about winning and getting in the playoffs.

Even if they improve by 10 games they will be under .500. Winning 15 more games still doesn't get them in contention in the AL Central.

They still need another professional hitter and more starting pitching to really make a move. What they have done is a fine start but they need to finish the job. Bringing Hafner back would be a disgrace and a real insight into the kind of talent evaluation or lack of it that has got them in the place they are currently in.

Every ML team should only have one goal in mind every season to win a championship, not just get better. Can the Indians win with what they currently have? Doubt it. They need to keep exploring trades and signings for the 2013 season to make themselves a legitimate contender. They owe it to the fans. They have not done enough.

Let's not all be fooled again.
January 27, 2013 - 11:41 AM EST
"Maybe most important is he can drive the ball and get himself into scoring position with an extra base hit without having to steal a base or have someone move him over, which is something he is much better at doing than Brantley."

Based on the eye test, Kipnis may seem like a better extra base hitter than Brantley simply because he has more power, but I see it differently. Kipnis had 22 2Bs, 4 3Bs, and 14 HRs (40 extra base hits) last year in 591 at bats. Brantley had 37 2Bs, 4 3Bs, and 6 HRs (47 extra base hits) in 552 at bats last year. Kipnis' slugging percentage was .379, Brantley's was .402. Kipnis slightly wins in isolated power, as his was .122 and Brantley's was .114. What I saw from Kipnis last year was that when he got a pitch to drive, he drove it. But any other pitches, he seemed to try to poke it in for a basehit. Nothing wrong with that, as he had a good year for the most part. But I see things the opposite as you do in this regard. Kipnis is the one I believe would be getting singles and would have to rely on stealing bases or a bunt to get into scoring position.
January 27, 2013 - 11:40 AM EST
Do you realize that Brantley had more extra base hits than Kipnis last year and a higher SLG%? So your last point, which you list as maybe the most important, doesn't hold.
However, I do think Kipnis will eventually be a better slugger than Brantley.
January 27, 2013 - 11:31 AM EST
Joseph, the only problem I have with what you presented is you don't want to clog up the roster with a guy that can only DH (Hafner, Thome), but would be open to giving Phelps the at bats there. Phelps is another roster clogger as all he can do is play 2B. And besides, his performance with the bat pales in comparison to Thome/Hafner. I'd take Thome/Hafner in a limited DH/pinch hitting role any day over the likes of Phelps or even McGuiness.

Seth, I am one that typically doesn't believe where a guy hits has much effect on performance, but hitting leadoff and cleanup are the two spots where it is a mental thing and there is added pressure. Some guys just don't handle it well for whatever reason, and in that case, I think their numbers in a particular spot give great meaning. Besides, Brantley has 879 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, more than enough of a sample size to understand it probably is not the best place to start him at this season. I agree that maybe one day he could do it, but my point is I think Kipnis is a better solution at the outset. The wrist injury is noted, but there is no way to properly identify when it was hurting and bothering him and when it wasn't. I do think that sliding him down in the order and him taking off is more a sign of comfort than health, and why I think he fits best hitting 6th or 7th in the lineup. I am not sure why so many people consider Brantley more of a leadoff hitter than Kipnis, when almost every stat shows Kipnis to be the better option and his abilities suit the position better as well.
January 27, 2013 - 11:20 AM EST
I wouldn't be so sure that Phelps could out hit Thome/Hafner. But I'm not sure thats the question that needs answered. I think the questions are: 1). How much will players like Cabrera, Santana, Swisher, Kipnis et al benefit by having DH at bats to give them a break from playing the field? 2). Is the Indians new bench strong enough to,put in replacement payers that won't hurt the offense?

Frankly, I don't want either Thome or Hafner. I'm wondering if it might be wise to sign one while waiting on Sizemore? It's probably not logical (especially based on my first paragraph) but I've been wondering if Sizemore could benefit by being a dh/4th of.
January 27, 2013 - 9:57 AM EST
I think looking at Brantley's numbers when he lead off, and making a judgment about his future ability to hit their, is a mistake. I think the primary reason Brantley struggled last year in that spot is he wasn't healthy to start the year. It looked like his wrist was bothering him and he couldn't turn on anything. Switching to the 6th spot coincided with him getting healthy. There may also have been some problems with his approach, as Brantley tends to take pitches just to take pitches and quickly get in bad counts and moving down in the order may have helped spur him to get more aggressive, but it's not like any change in approach can't carry over if he moves back to leading off. Anyway, I don't really believe in the idea that a hitter will be more successful in one spot in the batting order over another, and the variance you see is just normal sample size variance, and a hitter slumping or getting hot when he's hitting in a certain spot in the order gives you the false impression that the hitter will always hit better in a particular place in the order.

If Cord Phelps is getting 300 at bays that could otherwise go to Travis Hafner, that would almost certainly cost the Indians 2-3 wins.

How come the Indians weren't interested in Marcum? I know there's heightened injury risk with him, but when he's pitched he's been above average. Kind of like Brandon McCarthy, except ridiculously cheap.
January 27, 2013 - 9:02 AM EST
I really like the idea of not clogging up the 25 man roster with a player who can only DH. It is not like either Thome or Hafner are the players that they once were. They might hit an ocassional home run but are liabilities in ever other aspect of the game. I think that Cord Phelps could give you more as a parttime DH and would cost a lot less.

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