Friday, March 30, 2012

Thoughts on Indians Left Field Requirements, Park Factors, and Groundball Staff

The biggest need in the Indians lineup right now is a player with the ability to get on base and the ability to move once there. The Indians need to focus on acquiring these two skills, regardless of the players age, defensive ability, perceived blocking of a player, or whether or not the hitter is a left handed bat or right handed bat. The Indians provide a benefit of a friendly park for left handed hitters and a pitching staff that is constructed to minimize both balls in play and fly balls to left field.

1. A player who is picked up now should not be degraded for what particular skill set they lack.  Anyone brought in today will have scratch and dent written all over them. They will either be a defensive liability, too old, too inexperienced, have a poor track record, etc. The suggestion that the player acquired is not any better than what a team has already should only be applied when compared to the specific skill set an organization is looking to fill.

2. I hate the term blocking as it indicates that the manager and GM have no clue as to what they are doing. The term blocking ranks slightly  ahead of the "organization ruined a player" adage. If guys can hit management will find at bats for them.  Any player added to a roster at this point is going to be acquired based on filling a certain skill set which will add value to the team either by outproducing someone on the field, providing depth and insurance at multiple positions, and putting someone who may of been pushed into an uncomfortable role back into a role where the player has had success. 

In the case of the Cleveland Indians it has become quite obvious that management believes that Shelly Duncan is not suited to be an everyday player but rather a heavily used role player at LF/DH/1b and be utilized as a pinch hitter off the bench. He will still see plenty of action but his skill set doesn't seem to match the Indians need of On-Base Skill (career .313) plus ability to move on the bases (1 career stolen base). 
3. If the Indians lose in 2012 it won't be because of having too many left handed hitters in their lineup. It will be because the left handed hitters did not take advantage of the right handed pitching they faced when afforded the opportunity or that the right handed hitters on the bench failed to produce when given the opportunity to face LHP. The Indians need not pursue a certain RHB and avoid LHB - the idea is to seek out a certain skill set (OBP and ability to move on the bases) and capitalize on it. 

4. When looking at statistics for LHB remember that they are coming to play at Progressive Field which is left handed hitting friendly with a home run park factor for left handed hitters of 107.  

If the Indians were looking at old, poor fielding left handed hitting Bobby Abreu we'd quickly see that his home runs decreased from 20 in 2010 to 8 in 2011. This may simply be an indication  that he is getting old or it could be driven simply by bad luck.  HR/FB% is usually consistent in a players career and Abreu is usually around 10% -13% but his his HR/FB% dropped from 12.4% in 2010 to a career low of 6.5% in 2011. The three years prior to 2011 he had a HR/FB% of 13.3%, 10.0%, and 12.4% so either he is really showing his age or he ran into a tough luck season. 

Angels Stadium of Anaheim has a home run park factor for left handed hitters of 90 while Progressive Field has a home run park factor for left handed hitters of 107. Is it then logical to suggest that if Abreu were to see a regression in his HR/FB% to somewhere back to around 10% that the odds would be more favorable at Progressive Field rather than in Anaheim?

If the Indians were to look at Johnny Damon we'd see a guy who hit well away from Tropicana Field. He is coming off a season where he hit .261/.326/.418 with 16 HR and 19 stolen bases. Unlike Abreu he did not see a decline in his power numbers but his problem was his declining plate discipline which many attribute to his desire to reach 3000 hits (2,723 career hits).  Johnny Damon doesn't fit the on-base component base on his overall numbers in 2011 but looking a little deeper there may be a reason for that.

Like Abreu the question becomes whether Damon would benefit from a change of scenery in terms of his ability to get on base (remember getting on base and ability to move once there are paramount needs). Tropicana Field is even more of a detriment than Anaheim for left handed hitters with a home run park factor of 89. A quick look at Damon's home and away splits last year show a vast divide between the two. At Tropicana Field he was a very poor OPS of .677 hitting .241/.306/.371 with 6 HR in 319 PAs. Away from Tropicana Field Damon had a very respectable OPS of .807 by hitting .280/.345/.463 with 10 HR in 328 PAs. How much do the Indians feel he could benefit from not playing half his games at Tropicana Field?

5. With players such as Damon and Abreu the biggest negative is their inability to play the OF. Manny Acta has said that he wants a bat in LF and I can see the reason he is willing to venture on a poor glove left fielder. Progressive Field is one of the easiest parks to play OF in with ery little foul ground to cover and a big wall limits the amount of ground to cover. If there was a park built with a left field constructed for poor fielders it was Progressive Field. The Indians can not completely ignore defense and will need to have a defensive replacement to substitute late in games when protecting a lead.

Two other factors to consider when looking at how the LF defense can be minimized for the Cleveland Indians whether at home or on the road. The first is that the Indians do not have any left handed starting pitchers. This most likely means that the oppositions switch hitters will be batting from the left side and more than likely driving the ball to CF or RF and opposing managers will most likely use their LH bench bats in platoon roles more often further reducing the number of balls in play to LF.

The second factor is that the Indians starting staff is comprised of mostly worm burning groundball pitchers. Derek Lowe led all of baseball with a 59% GB rate, Justin Masterson was 7th at 55.1%, when/if Roberto Hernandez returns to the rotation he was 8th at 54.8%,.and Ubaldo Jimenez checks in at 47.2. 

All things considered the Indians need to find a LF who can provide the two skill sets mentioned repeatedly in this article. A bat that can get on base and once there move around the bases. In 2011 the Indians were unable to get runners in scoring position. The old saying get em on, get em over, and get em in was a black eye for the team. The team also finished last in the American League in manufactured runs a lot of that has to do with the inability to get on base and base runners being tethered to their bases.

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