Looking ahead at an Indians-Red Sox Division Series Matchup

The Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox closed their regular season series on Thursday night with the Indians chasing Chris Sale in the fourth inning and running away with an eventual win, 13-6. With a still significant gap between the Red Sox-Indians and the Houston Astros, the teams seem destined to finish with the second and third best records in the American League. The No. 2 and No. 3 seed face each other in the divisional round of the Major League Baseball playoffs, and the odds are limited that; a) the Yankees would pass the Red Sox or b) the Red Sox or Indians would pass the Astros for the No. 1 seed.

The Red Sox are an interesting matchup for the Indians because their rotation is an outlier- their four best starting pitchers in 2017 are left-handed with lone right-hander Rick Porcello looking more league average than Cy Young Award winner. The Indians have been slightly better against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching in 2017; wRC+ of 102 and 100 respectively.

One of the question marks for the Red Sox is the health of No. 2 started David Price, though reasonable expectations have him appearing out of the bullpen rather than the rotation. Still, Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez make for a talented left-handed trifecta to encounter in the A.L. Division Series. Perhaps further complicating the Indians season is the logjam of long term starting outfielders who may find themselves on the bench in Boston. While Michael Brantley remains a giant question mark merely from a health perspective, he and Jay Bruce, while devastating against right-handed pitching are sub-optimal plays against Boston’s lefty dominant rotation.1

In this case, the ideal lineup for the outfield against left-handed pitching could appear as follows: Austin Jackson(LF), Bradley Zimmer (CF), Brandon Guyer (RF).2

Austin Jackson’s career resurgence rest heavily on his usage as a platoon outfielder who destroys left-handed pitching. Jackson has an OPS of 1.012 against lefties with eight doubles, two triples, and three home runs in 98 plate appearances against southpaws.

Brandon Guyer is of similar importance, though Guyer struggled through an abysmal first half where Guyer appeared lost his second half has looked similar to that of his career. Guyer has posted a .743 OPS in the second half. Guyer is one of the best in baseball over the course of his career against left-handed pitching with a career OPS against of .829. This production against left-handed pitching compares favorably with that of Yoenis Cespedes, Carlos Correa, and Edwin Encarnacion. More room for optimism regarding Guyer is that platoon splits in a single season are messy but considered over a career are more reliable. For his career, Guyer is one of the 30 best hitters in baseball against left-handed pitching.

There is a lot of time left for the Indians and Red Sox to experience injuries, variance, and changes in the standings. However, at this moment the Indians and Red Sox are on a collision course for an October showdown and the two of the Indians most important players may be platoon outfielders.

  1. The same can be said for Lonnie Chisenhall. []
  2. Yes, despite his second half struggles Zimmer should be in center field because plus defense and speed in the playoffs are a valuable commodity, also the raw power helps. []