Indians

Optimizing the Indians lineup against right-handed starters

Even before they defeated the Minnesota Twins in the AL Wild Card game, there has been much talk about how the New York Yankees are a feared team, especially in the short, five-game series of the ALDS. The Yanks finished strong in September (20-8) and have been a near elite ball club all season long with power hitters in the lineup and power arms in the bullpen. However, when it comes to the Yankees rotation, the matchup with the right-handed dominant starting lineup is more ideal for the Cleveland Indians.

For the season, the Indians’ hitters are near equal in facing right-handed pitching (.259/.332/.453, 108 sOPS+) or left-handed pitching (.270/.351/.443, 113 sOPS+). Those numbers do not account for the current players on the ALDS roster. For instance, left-handed Jay Bruce was acquired in August. Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis spent much of the season on the DL. Each player, however, bats left-handed and hits right-handed pitching much better for their careers.1

The Tribe just has more — and better — options when a right-handed starter is on the mound given their ALDS roster. With the Yankees top three starters using that arm — Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Sonny Gray — the Indians will have the opportunity to put their best offensive lineup forward.

The question to answer is how to best optimize the available options for the Indians lineup. Unlike in July, WFNY has not obtained a secret lineup from the Tribe. What is here is a simple logical deduction based on the available information.

Lead Off

Francisco Lindor will likely be the Indians first hitter. The issue is that he shouldn’t be. He is much worse against right-handed pitching with over a 40-point drop off in batting average and on base percentage. Lindor does maintain his power and his numbers are not terrible; they are just more befitting a spot lower in the order.

Speed is not the most important item here. It is the ability to get on base. And, if there are similar players bunched together in that category, picking the player with less power makes sense because the next batters will knock them in. Given the needs, it would be hard not to pick first baseman Carlos Santana to return as his .262/.368/.476 against right-handed pitchers would slot in nicely.

Two-hole

Over-thinking is how a team might end up having their third-best starter in Game 1 or sixth-best starter in Game 4. Let’s avoid over-thinking things. Putting the best hitter near the top of the order, a potential AL MVP candidate, seems wise. Second baseman Jose Ramirez gets on base, hits for a high average, and for power. He does so against all handedness of pitchers. He is the correct and expected choice here.2

Three-spot

Oddly, the numbers show that the fourth and fifth position wind up batting in higher leverage spots than the third- on average. So, those spots can arguably be more important despite the third spot coming first. It is a fine position to throw shortstop Francisco Lindor in. It will give the appearance of him being high in the lineup, but the spot also hides some of his small reduction in efficiency while batting left-handed.

Clean Up

Designated-hitter Edwin Encarnacion does not get on base quite as much on the right-handed split side, but he does hit for plenty of power.3 He is a phenomenal player and hitter and he should be hitting exactly where manager Terry Francona is expected to slot him.

No. 5

Having right fielder Jay Bruce in the lineup is perhaps the biggest reason for the platoon advantage against right-handed pitching. The left-handed batter has huge splits in 2017 and in his career. He goes from a well-below average hitter to near Encarnacion-level power hitting just by the handedness of the pitcher.

No. 6

The first leap of faith selection occurs here. Left fielder Lonnie Chisenhall actually has reverse splits in 2017- though with minimal plate appearances (60) against left-handed pitching. His .275/.333/.524 versus right-handed pitching is still a huge boon this late in the order, but it requires his health and being back to full speed against MLB pitching despite only returning from the DL in the last week of the season. Dropping him to the eighth spot is not out of the question.

No. 7

Did you notice J-Ram was listed as a third baseman above? Especially given that Yandy Diaz was left off the ALDS roster, the most optimal lineup features J-Ram, Jason Kipnis, and Austin Jackson against right handers. The only way to fit all of them into the order is for A-Jax to play center with Kipnis returning to second and J-Ram at third.

Starting Giovanny Urshela at third base would help the defense, but not nearly as much as adding the bat of A-Jax (oh, and better center field defense). There is no excuse to leave A-Jax out of any lineup against southpaws, but his .291/.345/.411 line against right-handers is crazy good for a seven-hitter. The Indians should keep him in the lineup.

No. 8

Jason Kipnis has had an odd year. There can be an argument that Giovanny Urshela should be in the lineup over him just for the defensive aptitude being known whereas the bat of Kipnis is an unknown. And, again, putting him in center field is folly as he has looked poor on routes and baserunners have taken the extra base at will.

Kipnis has always hit better against right-handed pitching though, so if the Tribe is going to utilize him and hope that some of the hard contact he achieved over the last few weeks becomes more consistent, then now is the time to try him out. Kip even near his healthy state would make for an incredible deep and dangerous lineup.

No. 9

Roberto Perez has hit southpaws better in 2017 and for his career- by a huge margin. The problem is that Yan Gomes is the same. The good news is that the Indians catcher is going to simply be paired with the starting pitcher rather than worrying about offensive contributions. Since Trevor Bauer is the Game 1 starter, Perez should be the Game 1 catcher. Yes, both Perez and Gomes have hit well over the last several weeks. If that continues, then the Tribe is even better. It is just not required.

Final Order

  • No. 1: Carlos Santana, 1B
  • No. 2: Jose Ramirez, 3B
  • No. 3: Francisco Lindor, SS
  • No. 4: Edwin Encarnacion, DH
  • No. 5: Jay Bruce, RF
  • No. 6: Lonnie Chisenhall, LF
  • No. 7: Austin Jackson, CF
  • No. 8: Jason Kipnis, 2B
  • No. 9: Roberto Perez, C
  1. Yeah, Chisenhall hit LHP .340/.456/.511 in 60 plate appearances this year. Maybe he’s just an everyday player no when healthy. Or maybe the sample size is way too small there. We’ll see. []
  2. There is a chance that Austin Jackson ends up hitting second- it would be a small mistake, yet a mistake nonetheless. []
  3. 28 of his 38 home runs- though in twice as many plate appearances. []

  • Chris

    Just to be clear, this is your opinion of the optimal lineup… not your prediction? Correct?

  • mgbode

    Correct. Hattery and I talked about expected lineup yesterday and he included it in his Gray post.

    1 Lindor
    2 Kip
    3 J-Ram
    4 EE
    5 Bruce
    6 Santana
    7 Chis
    8 Berto
    9 Gio

  • jpftribe

    Nailed it.

  • mgbode

    Yeah, to lessen our egos, it was somewhat obvious where Francona would go with it.

  • scripty

    The combined stats of our catchers have been > Sanchez’s since the ASB.

  • Chris

    Sanchez is such an atrocious catcher. He gave Jose two bases, who scored on Bruce’s fly. Scrub catcher. Glad he’s back there

  • scripty

    He added mass this offseason but got slower in all ways back there, and he had some bad habits prior. Still a young player who can iron it out though.

  • Chris

    I’m quite pleased there are only two catchers on that roster. Yanks can’t DH him.