Leaning left

LeftoriumThe snow storm that is pounding the East Coast has caused a ripple effect throughout the entire country in terms of traveling. Many flights were canceed this morning. Mine out of Cleveland was not, but it was delayed and the de-icing of my plane essentially iced my day.

My connecting flight out of O’Hare in Chicago actually left two minutes early. Great news for those passengers who happened to already be in the Windy City. As for the rest of us, and there were plenty, we have been stranded. I’m scheduled on a 7 p.m. flight to Phoenix. I’ll get to Arizona eventually. It could be worse.

In the meantime, I have been wandering the airport aimlessly — I now know the precise location of at least three Starbucks and where the Nuts on Clark stands are found — and answering Tribe questions on Twitter. I’ve also, as you’ve gathered, sat down at a tiny work station (elbow to elbow with my fellow weary travelers) to knock out this post.

Let me tell you, finding an outlet in this airport is akin to searching for the Holy Grail.

“Get to the point, Bastian!” you shout.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. When you’ve got six hours to kill (two left), you walk slow and type your thoughts out even slower.

On a recent morning, I spent some time trying to see how much Cleveland has potentially improved itself against left-handed pitching after last year’s dismal showing. The Tribe went 18-35 against southpaw starters in 2012 and ended the season ranked last in the league in average, slugging and home runs versus  lefties.

Part of the issue — more like the entirety of the issue — stemmed from the lopsided left-handed-ness of the Indians’ lineup. In 2011, one team, on one occasion, ran out an all-lefty lineup for a game. Cleveland did so numerous times last season. It was a platoon advantage to the far extreme.

Consider this, over the past two years, Indians hitters have combined for 4,085 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers — the most in baseball across that span. Last year, the Indians had 2,103 PAs vs. LHP, marking the fourth most in the Majors, but the most in the division.

Plate appearances vs. LHP in 2012 (AL Central)
1. Cleveland (2,103)
2. Minnesota (1,935)
3. Kansas City (1,903)
4. Detroit (1,875)
5. Chicago (1,612)

The Tribe’s total last season marked the club’s most plate appearances against lefties in a single season since 2004, when Cleveland had 2,189 such PAs. Obviously, something had to give, and general manager Chris Antonetti went to work this season on trying to upgrade this glaring weakness within the lineup.

By adding Mike Aviles, Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds, Cleveland has improved its lineup balance with three right-handed hitters. In Nick Swisher, the Indians now have a third switch hitter (joining Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana) to help the lineup’s flexibility for RHP vs. LHP starters.

I wanted to see how much better the incoming group is than the cast fielded by the Indians last year. For this experiment, however, I did not delve into projection-based numbers like I did with my recent offense and pitching posts. For this, I simply looked at what the players did in 2012. That’s all. Pretty simple.

I wanted to create two groups of hitters that piled up roughly the same amount of at-bats as a whole during the 2012 season.

With that in mind, my 2012 Indians class includes: Casey Kotchman, Jason Kipnis, Cabrera, Jack Hannahan, Santana, Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Jose Lopez, Ezequiel Carrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Johnny Damon, Lou Marson and Shelley Duncan.

Let’s call that Group A.

For the 2013 roster, I included: Mark Reynolds, Kipnis, Cabrera, Chisenhall, Santana, Brantley, Stubbs, Swisher, Aviles, Marson, Carrera, Yan Gomes and Ben Francisco.

We’ll call that Group B.

That is obviously 14 players in the first sampling compared to 13 in the second group. I did that because the first group had a combined 1,623 at-bats vs. LHP (4,941 at-bats overall) in 2012 and the second group had a combined 1,644 (4,983). That is a pretty close comparison in terms of at-bats.

I added Gomes and Francisco to the mix simply to increase the at-bats total to mirror that of the first group. Both Gomes and Francisco will be in the mix for bench jobs this spring, but neither are a lock to make the roster. So, it goes without saying, the numbers here might wind up being slightly different come Opening Day.

Moving on…

In 2012, here is what Group A did compared to Group B.

Against Left-handed Pitchers

Group A: .235 (381-1,623)/.314 OBP/.347 SLG
Group B: .255 (420-1,644)/.334 OBP/.381 SLG

Group A: 30 HR, 65 2B, 182 RBI, 176 BB, 315 K, 563 TB
Group B: 39 HR, 72 2B, 192 RBI, 188 BB, 333 K, 627 TB

Against Right-handed Pitchers

Group A: .264 (876-3,318)/.337 OBP/.410 SLG
Group B: .251 (837-3,339)/.325 OBP/.408 SLG

Group A: 94 HR, 172 2B, 401 RBI, 351 BB, 592 K, 1,360 TB
Group B: 104 HR, 189 2B, 418 RBI, 361 BB, 762 K, 1,361 TB

Overall Production

Group A: .254 (1,257-4,941)/.330 OBP/.389 SLG
Group B: .252 (1,257-4,983)/.328 OBP/.408 SLG

Group A: 124 HR, 237 2B, 583 RBI, 527 BB, 907 K, 1,923 TB
Group B: 143 HR, 261 2B, 610 RBI, 549 BB, 1,095 K, 1,988 TB

So, on paper, based on last season’s production by these two sets of hitters, it appears the Indians have an offense that is relatively the same overall, but with more potential for power. There will be strikeouts, but this group also has the potential to draw more walks, knock the ball out of the yard more often and score more runs.

Against lefties, Cleveland should be noticeably improved if the incoming roster hits near its level from a year ago. The strong lefty advantage vs. right-handed pitching from 2012 will probably take a hit, though. In the end, though, more balance was sought, and it looks like more balance will be achieved.

Now, would they board my flight already?

–JB

4 Comments

I’d like to know what the batting avg and W-L stats are for the new players when they played against cle @ prog field

Marvin:

Aviles – .330/.362/.490 (only 100 AB, though)
Swisher – .304/.381/.504 (only 135 AB)
Stubbs only has 22 AB in Cleveland, no point in looking at that. (But .227/.320/.273 FWIW)

Jordan, I’d have spent the delay drinking margaritas at Tortas Frontera. Thanks for this instead. I do think this is a more balanced lineup. I’m also curious to see how much more the Indians run this season. Seems like a real edge for Stubbs, who ran fairly often (and fairly well) in Cincinnati.

Tx mike

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