In 2012 the Cleveland Indians were a top-heavy left-handed hitting club, had very little positional flexibility, and lacked power from the right hand side of the plate.
Against left-handed pitching last season the Tribe finished dead last in the American League in batting average (.234), slugging percentage (.352), and OPS (.664), which led to a dismal 18-35 record against southpaw starters. The lack of positional flexibility, especially in the demanding middle infield positions, led to second-half slumps for Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis. Finally, right-handed batters hit only 38 home runs on the year.
Looking at the deficiencies on the 2012 offense, the Tribe’s offseason additions certainly seemed like attempts to shore things up. Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn will provide positional flexibility, allowing Terry Francona to focus on getting guys off their feet without a large dropoff in performance. Meanwhile Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, and Drew Stubbs should supply more right-handed power to the lineup.
The Indians will be taking advantage of the flexibility early in the season. Their first six games will be on turf with three games on the rough surface in Toronto and three games on the tough outfield turf in Tampa Bay. Additionally, they will be facing three left-handed starters in Mark Buehrle, Matt Moore, and David Price in the first week. Due in large part to the increased positional flexibility and addition of several right-handed bats to the roster the Indians will have a much better lineup against left-handed pitching in 2013 than in 2012.
For comparative purposes let’s look back at a game against David Price at Tropicana Field last season. On July 19, the Cleveland Indians took on the Tampa Bay Rays in an afternoon affair at the Trop. The Rays were having their Kids Day promotion, so around 25,000 pre-teens from their summer camps were in attendance with thundersticks to make noise. The only thing more annoying than the repeated kicks to the back of my seat, nudges in the side of the ribs, and thundersticks slammed together behind my head was the Indians’ lineup against one of the best pitchers in baseball.
The lineup that day included both Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Kipnis, two left-handed hitters that could have used a day off against a tough lefty like Price. Unfortunately, the replacement right-handed bats of Shelley Duncan, Lou Marson, Jose Lopez, and Aaron Cunningham were already in the lineup. Price was hardly challenged, going seven shutout innings and giving up only two hits while striking out seven and walking three as the Rays roughed up Ubaldo Jimenez to defeat the Tribe 6-0.
Starting Thursday, the Indians will face three left-handed starters in four days. Since Terry Francona will not be trying to win a pennant in April he’ll likely take this opportunity to get all of his players game action. Since Buehrle is more of a neutral lefty the Indians will probably stay with their more standard lineup with the possibility of Lou Marson catching and Mike Aviles getting the start at shortstop to allow Asdrubal Cabrera’s cranky back to rest.
The Indians’ lineup against Matt Moore may feature a few changes, but the majority of the substitutions may come on travel day Sunday against David Price. The lineup we may see is a far cry from the lineup used last July 19th. It could include Lou Marson, Mark Reynolds, Ryan Raburn, Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Aviles, Michael Brantley, Drew Stubbs, Nick Swisher, and Carlos Santana. This would leave the Indians with a loaded bench of Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Bourn.
No matter the outcome of these particular three games, the 2013 Indians will finish considerably better than 18-35 against left-handed pitching and the right-handed hitters in their lineup will connect for more than 38 homers. Kudos to Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona for recognizing and repairing a major weakness from the 2012 squad.