The 2018 Cleveland Indians infield is among the best in baseball. Simply because AL MVP candidates Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor anchor the left side. Further, Yonder Alonso and Jason Kipnis are both solid complementary pieces with small limitations the Tribe has the capacity to remedy without much effort.
There is one obvious issue. Jason Kipnis has a career OPS against lefties of .684, Alonso .649. They both are 15-20% below average players against left-handed pitching. To boot, they are both adequate at best defenders, thus, hiding them against tough lefties is imperative for a team that also lacks offensive production from the outfield against southpaws.
The good news is that there are options for the team to fix this issue, if they so choose. First, the Indians have Jose Ramirez who can play every infield position, two of them as a plus defender. Having an everyday player with a bat of his caliber and tremendous flexibility means you can constantly flex your infield defense to optimize offensive matchups. This also means that a traditional utility player, all glove no hit, ala Erik Gonzalez becomes superfluous.
What if I told you the Indians had solid defender at third base and potentially first base who has posted a .727 OPS in the big leagues against left-handed pitching and minor league production suggests improvement on that number? Yes, this is another damn Yandy Diaz piece.1
The reality is, even if you doubt him as a starting caliber player, he rakes against lefties and Diaz at third and Ramirez at second would upgrade the defense alongside the expected OPS against lefties by 40-50 points. The math is simple with the only cost being the potential Erik Gonzalez is claimed by another team, which would leave the Tribe with a sub-optimal substitute at shortstop for Lindor once or twice a month.
Without a deep dive into the limitations Gonzalez, he has big league projected wRC+ of 68 (horrendous) and only speed. He really does not bring a whole lot that you cannot get from Eric Stamets, who has a much higher ceiling or another player on waivers. The Indians may not want to make a mistake of exposing Gonzalez to waivers, but there is not enough ceiling in his projections to protect him.
Now, elite middle infield defense is awesome, no doubt, but as baseball changes to more strikeouts and increased contact to pull sides, defensive opportunities up the middle have declined radically. Travis Sawchik’s research discovered that shortstop opportunities have declined 18.9% since 2007. So ostensibly, punting SS defense one day a month for a 20% improvement offensively against lefties eight to nine times a month makes the play simply. If Jose Ramirez is willing to play shortstop, a position he is at the very least competent at once a month, you have improved your lineup significantly against left-handed pitching in exchange for a one day a month defensive downgrade at a position without a ton of opportunities, especially, if you play him with a fly ball leaning pitcher like Josh Tomlin or Mike Clevinger.
If the Indians want to improve their offense against left-handed pitching, the decision is fairly easy, recall Yandy Diaz and demote Erik Gonzalez.
- Free Yandy! [↩]