One of the hottest topics of debate right now is whether or not Asdrubal Cabrera should be hitting out of the cleanup spot. On the surface, Cabrera in no way fits the mold of your prototypical cleanup hitter. He’s a shortstop and not the large, lumbering, brute of a man that we have come to know as the stereotypical cleanup hitter. That in and of itself is not enough to pass judgement, but there are other factors that point to the fact that Cabrera has no business batting cleanup.
First of all, Asdrubal Cabrera is not a power threat. Despite what we have been conditioned to believe, Cabrera is not a home run hitter. Outside of the 2011 season when he hit 25 round trippers, Cabrera has never hit more than 16 homers in any season. In fact, 2011 and 2012 are the only two seasons in which Cabrera has reached the double-digit mark in home runs. He will almost certainly reach double digits for a third straight season, he currently sits at nine, but it looks as if this will be a second straight season in which Cabrera’s power numbers have declined.
Second, say what you want about RBI as a valuable stat, but the fact of the matter is that someone has to drive in the runs. Cabrera drove in 92 runs in
2012 2011, but that is the closest he has ever come to that total in his career. This is especially telling since Cabrera has spent much of his time hitting out of the three-hole, a position in the lineup that, along with the cleanup spot, is generally reserved for a team’s top RBI guys. Again, Cabrera does not fit this mold.
Third, simply looking at Cabrera’s splits it becomes blatantly obvious that there is a level of comfort missing when he is penciled into the cleanup spot. Small sample alert. In 2013, Cabrera has hit out of the cleanup spot in 19 games prior to Monday’s game against the Twins. Out of the cleanup spot he has posted a hideous slash line of .213/.241/.373. He has driven in a grand total of 10 runs while hitting only two home runs. Even worse, Cabrera has walked only twice while striking out 15 times. All of that is good enough for an OPS+ of 76 out of the cleanup spot. For his career, Cabrera is only hitting .209/.232/.353 as a cleanup hitter.
“Cabby’s got a pretty good track record. He’s going to get hot. And if you move Cabby too soon — say, down to sixth or seventh — you won’t get the most out of it. So I want to keep him where he is. To be bluntly honest, if he doesn’t get hot, we might not be good enough. I’m not trying to put all that on him, but the reality is, we need Cabby.”
It’s sound logic in theory. Cabrera has shown in the past that when he gets hot at the plate he is a force to be reckoned with. However, Cabrera’s hot streaks have been few and far between over the past two season. To be blunt, the 2011 version of Asdrubal Cabrera is looking more like an exception than the norm. Realistically, how long can Francona afford to wait for Cabrera to heat up?
There is also the issue of where to bat Cabrera in the lineup should a change need to be made. The Indians have seen an uptick in Nick Swisher‘s performance since being moved to the two-spot in the order so that doesn’t appear to be an option. There is also the fact that Cabrera has hit even worse out of the two-hole this season than he has out of the cleanup spot. In 32 games Cabrera is hitting .181/.254/.260 as the second hitter in the lineup, which is very far off from his career line of .272/.325/.419.
Moving Cabrera back into the three spot is even less of an option. Even though Cabrera performed well out of that spot this season, Jason Kipnis has been even better and put a strangle hold on that spot that he most likely won’t be relinquishing anytime soon. Plus, there is no need to risk the performance of the team’s best hitter at the chance that it could maybe help get Cabrera going. There has to be another way.
So what do you do? It is obvious that Cabrera is in the offensive slump to end all offensive slumps right now. For that reason, the only logical decision is to move Cabrera down in the order, not up. Swapping Cabrera for Michael Brantley could do wonders. Brantley has shown a unique ability for being able to hit anywhere in the lineup with relative ease. Moving Cabrera down in the order could help take pressure off of him and allow him to relax at the plate. It’s a potential win-win and if the move is able to get Cabrera going at the plate then all the better.
Unfortunately, it appears that Terry Francona has no interest in any such move right now. This isn’t unexpected by any means. Francona is stubbornly loyal to his guys and would rather Cabrera work through his problems at the plate. If that means we have to watch more frustrating at bats from Asdrubal Cabrera, than so be it. So instead of trying to fix the problem, we all get to continue to watch Cabrera fight himself and the umpires at the plate.