Trying to figure out how to handle the outfield has been driving me nuts. I planned to so three separate profiles, then put them together. Then I separated them.
In order for you to maintain the flow, I strongly suggest that you read these in the same sitting– in the order that the scorer intended– left, center, right. They build off each other and it’s not going to make a ton of sense if you do it piecemeal.
Let me use the same header in all three spots. The outfield is basically a mess– exactly the kind of mess that always makes me nervous, because the Indians have had these messes before, and have a history of handling them badly.
Let’s begin with some perspective. A year ago, the Indians’ outfield ranked 18th in the majors in Wins Above Replacement. The individual positions ranked as follows:
- Leftfielders ninth out of 30 teams
- Centerfielders 24th
- Rightfielders 13th.
The Indians didn’t win because of their outfield– they won in spite of it. Things do not look substantially more reassuring this season.
In order to explain what the issues are, we’ll have to drill down on 2016. Let’s begin by looking at who actually played each the positions. Left field, as it happens, is the best-case scenario for both 2016 and 2017. It won’t get any better than this.
Here are the eight players who split time there– and I do mean split. Because of the amount of juggling Terry Francona did, I’m going to show you data that you don’t normally see: Games started, complete games (innings 1-9) and defensive innings. I’ll also give you the plate appearances made while they were playing the position and their batting and OPS (because the position you play can affect it).
Players in red will not be available to play on opening day– either because they aren’t expected to be on the roster or will be deployed at some other position. The first problem is the amount of red ink.
The Indians had only 104 complete games in left last year. in the other 58, they pinch-hit or made a defensive substitution. That indicates how much of a patchwork quilt it was.
Here’s a scary thought. Of the 1,445 regular-season innings played in 2016, the people who played 1,326.2 innings– 92% of the total— won’t be available.
- Jose Ramirez is one of the major reasons Cleveland leftfielders ranked so high. He played 26.0% of the innings– and when he was playing left, hit .331 with an .890 OPS. They will not be able to use him in left this year, unless they find other people to play second or third base.
- Another reason the Indians ranked ninth is Brandon Guyer. He played 11.9% of the innings and hit even better than Ramirez (.333 and .932).
That’s nearly 40% of the total gone. The Indians can’t have that production back without robbing Peter to pay Paul.
They could raise the total of returning innings to 21% if they weren’t sending Abraham Almonte to Columbus. He also helped them rank high. He played 12.8% of the innings and, like Guyer and Ramirez, hit over .330 with an OPS over .850.
People are excited because they think “Michael Brantley will be back!” He played only 11 games last season due to injuries. In a best-case scenario, he’ll play his usual 150 games– and be a little better than the performance the Indians got last year.
Yes, I said “a little better.” Ramirez, Guyer and Almonte combined for 329 plate appearances in left, with a combined .890 OPS. All eight players made 660 plate appearances, with a collective .787 OPS.
Brantley will be 30, and–
Did that surprise you? It does most people. Remember, the Indians got Brantley from Milwaukee in exchange for C.C. Sabathia in 2008. He’s been with the Indians since 2009 and will turn 30 on May 15th. Anyway–
Brantley will be 30, and 2014 was his best season. Brantley played 156 games, made 676 plate appearances (16 more than the Indians had last year) and his OPS was .890.
That’s 103 points of OPS points higher than 2016. 100 points of OPS in 300 is a substantial amount– but it’s not 5-10 wins. More like 2-3. The big gain is that it frees the Indians up to play Ramirez, Guyer and Almonte elsewhere
But I just named the best-case scenario. Brantley’s second-best season was 2015. He played 137 games, made 576 plate appearances and his OPS was .859 (72 points better).
Brantley’s third-best season was 2012. he played 149 games, made 609 plate appearances– and his OPS (.750) was 37 points lower than the Indians got in 2016.
His fourth best-year? 2013, where his production (151 games, 611 PA’s and a .728 OPS) was 50 points worse than the 2016 unit.
Now what happens if Brantley doesn’t come back at 100%? He is about to turn 30. He did miss almost an entire year.
The Indians aren’t sure if he’s healthy. They’ve limited his playing time to seven games and 23 at-bats this spring.
He has nine hits (.391 average)– two are doubles and two homers– so they’re hoping he’s all the way back. The problem is that Brantley is a career .346 hitter in spring training, so that doesn’t mean a lot.
The best spin I can put on Brantley’s spring is that he played only two games (5 ABs) last spring ans hit .200 a year ago. He’s obviously in better shape than he was last year.
But still, they limited his playing time– and there is no guarantee he’ll hold up this year. And even if he comes back, the Indians don’t improve substantially from what they had in left.