The Pronk Effect

The last few years, Indians fans might argue that Hafner and his once-ailing shoulder were bring the offense down when he was IN the lineup.

This season, Hafner had been healthy and productive, but a fluke batting practice swing sent him to the disabled list for the past month. Now, Cleveland’s offense was hurting with him OUT of the lineup.

Given the extent of the Tribe’s recent woes in the ol’ batter’s box, not many fans would argue that point.

How much of an affect — whether positive or negative — does one player have on a lineup? On Friday, when Hafner was activated from the 15-day DL after rehabbing a strained right oblique, manager Manny Acta was essentially asked that question.

How many other players are affect when one hitter goes down?

“About seven of them,” said Acta, who hardly kidding around. “That’s the way it is. People underestimate how much one hitter changes your whole lineup, especially if it’s a guy in the middle. And a guy like him, as you saw, we moved some guys lower in the order and some guys back there.

“[Having Hafner] helps lengthen your lineup and put people probably in the spots in the lineup where they can relax more and give you a better chance at the backend of your lineup.”

Consider that Hafner hit fifth on a regular basis for the Indians prior to injuring his side during a BP swing on May 18 in Chicago. In 32 games, the veteran DH hit .345 with a .409 OBP and a .958 OPS (his best since going 1.000+ in 2006). While Hafner was out, Acta cycled through seven different No. 5 hitters.

Here are the individual averages and OPS’s for the seven guys (during Hafner’s absence): Shin-Soo Choo (.247/.657), Matt LaPorta (.210/.605), Carlos Santana (.191/.604), Grady Sizemore (.191/.591), Orlando Cabrera (.184/.439) and Shelley Duncan (.176/.489).

I’m no mathematician, but those numbers aren’t stellar.

This is where one might turn to the age-old theory of “pressing.” You can break down the numbers all you want, but there is still a human element to this game. Without Hafner, without his bat and presence in the lineup, it is only natural (especially as a team begins to slump) for hitters to “press” or try too hard.

“It gets to a point where guys are trying to pick up the slack,” Acta said, “instead of just doing their thing and doing it as a team. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is that way. It’s human nature for guys to try to pick up the slack and do more than they’re supposed to be doing.”

Here’s another way to look at things…

In the period of B.P.
(Before Pronk went down)

Record: 26-13
Standings: First (+5)
Average: .271
On-base: .342
Slugging: 433
OPS: .775
Hits per game: 9.4
Home runs: 44 (1.1 p/g)
Runs: 207 (5.3 p/g)
Walks: 138 (3.5 p/g)

In the period of A.P.
(After Pronk went down)

Record: 10-18
Standings: Second (-1)
Average: .220
On-base: .284
Slugging: .336
OPS: .620
Hits per game: 7.1
Home runs: 16 (0.6 p/g)
Runs: 85 (3.0 p/g)
Walks: 71 (2.5 p/g)

So how much of a problem was not having Hafner?

“About three weeks of an issue,” Acta said. “A month, I would say. It’s just tough to substitute a guy like him. We made it clear from the beginning, we can’t afford to lose guys like him and Sizemore or Choo or Asdrubal Cabrera for an extended period of time.

“We know that in order to stay where we’re at, and win, we’re going to have to keep every one of those guys healthy and playing to their capabilities. It showed as soon as he went down.”

The question now is how the Tribe will respond now that Pronk is back.

–JB

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