Indians

Indians All-Star Break Review: DH and Outfielders

Michael Brantley

As we do each summer at WFNY when the Cleveland Indians hit the All-Star break, we take a look back at the four facets of the team on the field. There’s been been a lot to talk about with this club. Their 44-41 record is good enough for second in the American League Central, but the team has shown some serious flaws. GM Chris Antonetti continues to tell us that the Indians have not played their best baseball yet. I hope he is right. Additions will need to be made and in-house improvements will be a must if the Tribe plans on playing October baseball.

We started by looking at the starting rotation. Next was the bullpen. Yesterday we examined the infielders, and today, the last of our four part series, will delve into the DH and the outfield.

The best laid Indians outfield plans were shelved before Spring Training even started. The decision to bring back Grady Sizemore for another year was good in theory. But the Indians should have known better. While preparing for the season, Sizemore hurt his back so severely that he needed surgery. The team doctors didn’t want to put a timetable on his return, but the earliest we were told we’d see him was mid-June. At this point, the free agent market was completely barren.

The injury began a chain of events which hamstrung the team’s offensive plans. Instead of Sizemore in center, flanked by Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo, Brantley would move back to center (where he belongs by the way), and left field would become a contest between Shelley Duncan and a bunch of former Major League castoffs on Minor League deals. Nobody stepped forward to claim the job other than Duncan, who showed some power in Goodyear, but hit under .200. He was given the job by default.

One of those castoffs, an out of options right-handed bat named Aaron Cunningham (acquired from San Diego), made the team as the fourth outfielder, essentially because he was righty and could play center. A month into the season, Brantley, Choo, Duncan, and Cunningham were joined by veteran Johnny Damon.

As for the DH position, Travis Hafner returned for what was most likely going to be his last in Wahoo Red, White, and Blue.

And away we go….

DH Travis Hafner (.231 BA/.370 OBP/.798 OPS/7 HR/24 RBIs/28 BBs/28 K’s/147 ABs) – The immovable object that is Pronk’s contract will finally be off the books after this season, but we all hoped we could get one more good year in the sun out of him in 2012. We were fed the “Pronk is the healthiest he’s been in years” bit in Spring Training and he started off the season looking pretty good at the plate. In April, Hafner hit .297/.353/.909 with 17 walks and 10 RBIs in 61 ABs. Impressive stuff considering what Pronk is at this point in his career.

However in May he went .197/.314/.737 with nine walks, four homers, and 13 RBIs in 71 ABs.

Then the injury bug bit him again. Hafner’s bulky knee became an issue and forced him to the disabled list (again). He had a scope and missed six weeks, coming off the DL just before the All-Star break. In his first game, he had a profound effect on the offense, reaching base three times and setting the tone with a 10 pitch, first inning at-bat that gassed Ervin Santana. But since then he hasn’t been getting on base. He is one for his last 12.

If you look at his numbers on the season, they won’t wow you. Hafner is getting on base, but this is supposed to be your big bat, middle of the order run producer. Instead, he is essentially a singles hitter. He clearly still has trouble running on his sore knee and as the everyday DH, he hamstrings the team with his lack of versatility. On top of it, Travis needs to be hitting lefties better (.171), considering how the rest of the team fares against them.

Like with Carlos Santana, getting Hafner’s production back up to normal levels is of the utmost importance in the second half.

RF Shin-Soo Choo (.299 BA/.384 OBP/.876 OPS/10 HR/34 RBIs/9 SBs/36 BBs/311 ABs) – Choo looked lost in April. He was a guy trying to get his confidence back after a forgetable 2011 season. It was almost as if he was trying too hard. In the middle of May, Acta had the genius idea to move Choo into the leadoff spot to try and get him going. Let’s just say it worked.

Since the move, Choo is hitting .330 with nine homers, 22 RBIs, and 47 runs scored. He hit .333/.382/.961 in June and has started July .364/.400/1.067. He easily has been the hottest Indian since moving to the top and the offense as a whole has picked up in the process. Defensively, he still has the cannon arm and has been better than last year in judging fly balls.

It’s a great thing for the 2012 Tribe, but not such a great thing if you want him to stick around here long term. Choo is a free agent after next season and this stout play has him pricing himself right out of town. But I am living in the now and the Tribe is in the middle of a contention window, so let me try to stay positive.

You have got to love the way Choo has played since the middle of May. Along with Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera, Choo has helped carry this schizophrenic offense.

CF Michael Brantley (.288 BA/.334 OBP/.743 OPS/3 HR/42 RBIs/10 SBs/323 ABs) – Speaking of consistent performers, how about the Tribe’s center fielder? I picked Brantley to be the team’s breakout performer before the season and I am happy to look good on that prediction. Brantley may not be the best Tribe player this season, but he has been the most on from the start. When Acta moved him to the middle of the order out of necessity he responded. When he hit leadoff, he responded. Defensively, he has been solid.

But it has been the improvement at the plate that has us all talking. He is hitting .298/.381/.845 with 40 RBIs with runners in scoring position. With two outs in the same situations, he is hitting .333/.436/1.072. The strikeouts are down and his on-base percentage is up. Michael also carried a 22-game hitting streak in May and June, the longest in the bigs this season.

The five-hole has agreed with him. Since moving to that spot regularly, Brantley has hit .327/.370/.843 with 17 RBIs in 110 ABs.

I love everything Brantley has done during the first half. Hopefully he can keep this going. He is finally showing that promise that we all heard about when he came over in the CC Sabathia trade. The best thing of all, Michael is still only 25.

LF Johnny Damon (.215 BA/.285 OBP/.628 OPS/4 HR/17 RBIs/3 SBs/16 BBs/163 ABs) – You know the old saying “you get what you pay for,” right. Well the Indians became desperate for some offensive punch from the outfield and decided to kick the tires on the 38-year old in the middle of April. Damon’s agent Scott Boras can tell us all he wants that his client was sitting back and waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. The truth is, at 38, clearly on the last legs of his career as a DH with little power, Damon didn’t have many options. The Indians left field situation was a dumpster fire, so they signed him and gave him around two weeks to get ready.

On May 1st, Damon was summoned to the big club and given regular at-bats as the left fielder, despite the fact that he hasn’t played regularly there in two plus years. Johnny’s defense was bad five years ago, so we all could imagine what it would be like when he got here. However, if he hit, the Indians brass figured they could live with his porous D. We are now more than two months into the Johnny experiment and you could say it hasn’t been what we all hoped it would be.

Nobody was expecting greatness, but a repeat of his Tampa numbers from a year ago would be an improvement from what the current crop of left fielders would give them. Damon started as the leadoff man and was last seen hitting ninth. The speed is there, but his at-bats aren’t great. The bat speed that made him great with the Red Sox and Yankees is long gone. The truth is he offers very little other than name recognition. Damon’s most memorable plays as an Indian were his three-run homer in Baltimore two weeks ago and his infamous wall crash that turned a Brandon Phillips single into an inside the park home run (ruled a double with a two-base error).

It’s tough to get angry that a way past his prime 38-year old DH playing left field isn’t producing. Whatever bat the Indians attempt to acquire at the trade deadline will surely be someone who will take Damon’s at-bats.

LF Shelley Duncan (.222 BA/.319 OBP/.743 OPS/8 HR/21 RBIs/24 BBs/158 ABs) – You know what is amazing. People are quick to jump down Shelley’s throat for not producing enough and being nothing more than a spare part. However, look at his numbers and compare them to Hafner’s. Pronk always seems to get a pass, yet he is essentially a left-handed Shelley at this point.

Nobody doubt’s Duncan’s love, or should I say passion, for the game. He tries as hard as anyone out there and takes his slumps or lack of production very hard. But Shelley is great in the clubhouse and seems to be universally loved by his teammates and coaches. The Duncan/Damon left field platoon isn’t yielding the kind of production that the Indians crave, but at least Shelley can get on a hot streak here or there. In fact, just before the break, the big right-hander is on one of his upswings.

OF Aaron Cunningham (.191 BA/.265 OBP/.535 OPS/1 HR/6 RBIs/23 Ks/6 BBs/89 ABs) – What more can I say about the man that I haven’t said in pieces for this site and on Twitter. Cunningham is 4A. A punch and judy hitter with little to offer outside of his glove. The only reason Cunningham has lasted as long as he has is because Grady Sizemore’s rehabilitation continues to have setbacks and he is the only other person seemingly capable of playing center field.

I shouldn’t obsess over this guy the way I do. Really he is a late inning defensive replacement for left field and a once every 10 to 12 days fill in starter. I just wish the Indians had a better option. Cunningham’s lack of any sort of bat when he comes up late in games eats at me, but he is who is.

———–

Choo seems to have found a home as the leadoff man. Brantley has given more than most of us expected. The key guy in the second half in this group is Hafner. He just has to get going. Obviously the Indians are searching for a bat and if/when they do, it will most likely be a guy who can play left field. That hole has been a problem that just hasn’t gone away. I don’t see Damon getting any better and Duncan is still at his best against lefties and being an occasional starter.

The All-Star break is now over and the Tribe starts a three-game road set in Toronto against the Blue Jays. It will be a rematch from Opening Day as the Indians will send Justin Masterson (5-8, 4.40 ERA) to the mound to face lefty Ricky Romero (8-4, 5.22 ERA).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Thank goodness Brantley has progressed otherwise the OF unit would be probably amongst the worst in baseball. Choo and who? LF is a black hole has been and looks to be which is a real shame for a professional baseball team.

    As far as DH goes I’ve seen enough well kinda of Hafner. He misses way to many games anymore for me. I sure hope they don’t repeat the Sizemore mistake because I don’t honestly know if I’d even like Hafner for a year. I mean half a year.

  • JNeids

    Oh thank god the second half starts tonight. This is the worst, most boring week of sports (despite my boredom, I did not put any research into quantifying that statement).

  • CaliCavsFan

    CaliCavsFan • 2 days ago
    The problem is Hafner. Anyone remember him being held up at third when he should have easily scored. That run would have made a big difference. All he does is take at bats away from the guys ( Lou, Lopez) that were on a roll and Hafner scuffles until when he finally looks like he’s breaking though he’ll break down and go on the DL . And the guys who were playing good will now struggle because they lost their timing and consistency. Wake me up because I would have to be dreaming to think that Hafner can make a SIGNIFICANT second half contribution.

  • Hypno_Toad

    Why have 3 outfielders on the roster that don’t regularly contribute? Cunningham should go down and we should bring up Donald. We need a backup SS so Asdrubal can actually get a day off here and there. I’d be in favor of giving a chance to Zeke, Huffman, or Canzler get a chance at left before shipping a boatload out for Quentin or something.

  • mgbode

    I guess Hafner’s contract is what brings on all the hatred, but he’s still these things from the 1st half for the Indians (despite the missed games):

    124OPS+ (remarkably consistent since 2007 in the 120s here. he has hot/cold spells like most hitters, but he ends up in the 120s every year. he’s not 160-180 OPS+ PRONK!, but he’s a very useful hitter).

    3rd in OBP (behind Marson, Santana)
    3rd in SLG% (behind Choo, Cabrera)
    2nd in ISO (behind Duncan)

    #SavePronk

  • mgbode

    you want to bench Hafner for Jose Lopez?

  • mgbode

    also, Lou Marson has had a hot bat and I do hope it continues. but, that hot bat has meant an OPS+ of 128. 2010 OPS+ = 58. 2011 OPS+ = 70. So, I’m not thinking he’ll be able to keep this up.

    again, Hafner’s OPS+ is 124 this year and has consistently been in the 120s since 2007 (only one outlier year of 2008 when he only played 58 games and when he did play was playing very hurt)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Nooooooooooooooo…no hatred and certainly not for the $$ it’s the fact the guy plays half the games and I’m sorry all those numbers are nice but again, you can find stats particularly in baseball to justify almost anything. I’m curious to know where those rankings would fall in MLB. Can you look that up Paul, I mean mg? 😉

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Marson should have been the AL All-Star at C!!!

  • nj0

    I’m with you. For a club that struggles offensively, he’s a godsend when healthy.

  • nj0

    Lou Marson, Jose Lopez = righties

    Jose Lopez has a worse OBP and SLG than Hafner. So lets put in the guy who makes more outs and hits for less power because of that once-in-a-month-occurrence when he can go from second to home.

  • nj0

    Lou Marson has a BABIP this year of .375 (career .295) so he’s due for regression (or “cool off” for you non-stats guys). That said, I do like his approach at the plate as of late. Always said he was a solid contributor for this club.

  • theherd10

    Sorry, can’t take this anymore:
    Definition of BULKY
    a: having bulk b (1): large of its kind (2): corpulent
    Definition of BALKY
    : refusing or likely to refuse to proceed, act, or function as directed or expected I believe you’re looking for the second definition to describe Travis’ knee.Carry on…

  • nj0

    Ditto the Zeke thing. I don’t understand Cunningham’s presence on the club at this point.

  • mgbode

    again, he’s not the dominating hitter that earned the contract he has now. if you are looking for OPS+ 160-180 from Hafner, then you will be disappointed as those days are long gone.

    120-130 OPS+ is a good hitter. it doesn’t matter where it ranks in MLB because he is one of our top3 hitters by almost any measure. if it were easy to find a Hafner replacement, then we would have more guys hitting at his level. put it this way: Hafner is a better hitter than Kipnis. everyone loves Kipnis’ hitting.

    yes, it’s annoying that he consistently plays in only 60% of games (same as platoon guys like Duncan, Damon, etc.). but, it’s still a significant time spent playing and affecting the team in a positive fashion.

  • mgbode

    thank you sir. good to know i am not alone on that island.

  • mgbode

    I like him too. I just don’t like the thought from some lately that a little hot stretch that gets him into normal Hafner hitting territory makes him a more valuable hitter than Hafner.

  • nj0

    He’s also, at this point in time, the very best option we have at DH. If people want to day dream about who we could have signed if his contract was on the books, fine. But I don’t want anybody else on the roster taking his spot.

  • nj0

    Exactly. Marson at his best equals Hafner at his worst.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t honestly expect anything from Hafner so I’m not disappointed no matter what anymore.

    I’ll disagree about where Hafner would rank in all of MLB because to say he’s one of the Indians best is a rather low bar to clear. As opposed to all of baseball. Lets face it not much is required to be the Indians best. That being said it’s amazing they’ve accumulated the overall team rankings that they have considering.

  • Harv 21

    what we wouldn’t give for a little Michaels-Delucci platoon right now. You know, forget Delucci, we could probably locate Michaels in a slo-pitch league somewhere.

  • Steve

    From 2009 through today, Hafner ranks 34th in MLB in OPS+, right between Victor and Teixeira. Not elite, but still a very good hitter.

  • sizemore who

    Perhaps, but I still contend when looking at wins/losses, not just offensive stats, Marson catching most days with hafner, santana, and kotchman rotating DH and 1B is better for the team, and keeps both hafner and santana healthier

  • nj0

    I agree with this. I have no problem with getting Marson more pt (especially with Santana playing the way he has) and Hafner clearly does need regular rest. But I think that tactic is very different from saying “Hafner is terrible and shouldn’t take away ABs from Marson and Lopez” like some seem to think.

  • mgbode

    hmm, I’m torn. Santana has played very good defense at catcher though it would be interesting to see if saving his stamina by playing more 1B and DH would help his bat.

    I have no problem with Marson getting more playing time. I think he should. But, I don’t think I’m at the point where I think he should catch “most” days either.

  • sizemore who

    Santana’s defensive improvement is being overblown. Yes he is throwing runners out, but he still is way behind marson in receiving pitches and handling the staff. I would love to see pitching ERAs when each is catching.

  • Hypno_Toad

    lol last sentence barely made sense. Fixed**