Cleveland sports fans often banter about where professional athletes register on the Get’s Us meter. Joe Haden went full LeBron James superfan in the luxury seats at Cleveland Cavaliers games. The world champion Cavaliers basketball team raided a loge for a Cleveland Indians playoff game. MLB and NBA players in town tolerated being second fiddle to the worst franchise in sports for 18 years. You haven’t reached peak Get’s Us until you sign a 2007 St. Ignatius graduate to flex his Cleveland around Progressive Field for 81-plus games a year, however.
Derek Dietrich was inexplicably let go by the haphazard Miami Marlins franchise a couple days prior to Thanksgiving. Apparently, Derek Jeter felt Miami was too small for two Dereks. The release was related to creating room on their 40-man roster to avoid losing a prospect– that will never pan out– in the Rule 5 draft. Just like in 2014, albeit on a microscopically smaller scope, Indians brass should look to transform a Miami misfortune into a Cleveland gain.
The appeal surrounding Dietrich is highly dependent on cost, but it’s hard to envision him commanding a salary too egregious for the Indians to no be heavily involved. His 2018 season was not overly impressive but a lot of that rides on mismanagement of him as an asset. In 2018, he ventured to the plate 106 times to face a left-handed pitcher, or about 106 times too many. In those plate appearances, he managed to draw a whopping one, as in uno, walk. This feat is astonishingly more impressive than discriminating, which is saying something. Historically, he has a very solid track record against right-handed pitchers, posting a career wRC+ mark of 1141 versus an inverse 86 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers.2
The results stem from types of contact, which launches from contact authority. We all know, whether we speak geek or not, hitting the ball harder is the primary goal. The secondary goal comes later– just ask former Indian Yandy Diaz. The Dietrich contact authority results run parallel to the previously referenced plate discipline, as he has hit the ball about three miles per hour harder on average against righties. Those three miles per hour are the difference between long-term success and failure at the major league level.
Secondary to contact authority, contact direction is another crucial input controlled by the hitter. Dietrich does a much better job lifting the ball against righties, which is a friendly way of saying his time in the batter’s box against lefties amounts to a relentless succession of ground balls. This is not little league-– hitting the ball on the ground leads to outs rather than infield singles. Seven percent of his fly balls turn into ground balls when a southpaw walks out of the bullpen gate.
The Indians could leverage Dietrich and fill a need, assuming the price is right. You isolate his plate appearances to right-handed pitchers, converting Dietrich and Jordan Luplow into the new Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer. Following the Lonnie Chisenhall comp to a tee, the outfield defense can be a touch questionable.
One might ask why the Indians would settle for something as meager as the Lonnie Chisenhall plan. We know Chisenhall was effective when healthy. Operatively, it makes some sense to accumulate two WAR types, as I happen to believe a Dietrich and Luplow platoon would formulate. Though the expected output of said platoon would likely be in the same range as a Chisenhall and Guyer combination, you would have made it about three or four years younger between the pair. Aside from age, the Dietrich and Luplow play would be a better bet on health, as the Indians old right field duo proved to be incapable of avoiding the disabled list.
It’s not a sexy play by any means. Not every move will be, though. For a team as star-studded yet top heavy as the Indians, building out the depth portfolio could be the difference between good and great. Getting contributions from role players to support an offense through Lindor and Ramirez slumps could be the difference between 85 and 92 wins. Last season, the Indians desperately needed more mediocrity at the bottom of the lineup. Leveraging a guy like Dietrich could provide just that-– bring that northeast Ohio boy home.