Indians Betting Big on Ryan Raburn
In 2013, Ryan Raburn came out of nowhere to become a key member of the Cleveland Indians offensive attack. Released by the Tigers and in need of a home, the Tribe took a chance on the on the 31-year-old outfielder and invited him to spring training. After a solid spring, he made the roster as the team’s fourth outfielder. By season’s end, Raburn had established himself as a legitimate threat in the heart of the order and as a fan favorite.
For his efforts, the Indians rewarded Raburn with a two-year contract extension worth $4.85-million with a club option in 2016 worth $3-million. For his level of production, the deal is fair, if not a bargain. However, while Raburn had what many could consider a career year in 2013, should we be at all alarmed that the Indians have seemingly put all of their eggs in the Ryan Raburn basket? In other words, while his offensive production in 2013 was among the best on the team, it was also completely unexpected and raises the question.
Can Ryan Raburn duplicate that success in 2014?
Looking at his career numbers, a few things jump out. For starters, 2013 was Raburn’s single best season in terms of OPS at .901 which translated to an OPS+ of 153. Prior to 2013, Raburn’s single best season in terms of OPS and OPS+ came all the way back in 2009 when he posted marks of .891 and 130 respectively. He also hit 16 home runs in each of those two seasons, which is his career high for a single season. This is encouraging in that 2013 was not the first year in which Raburn posted such numbers. Unfortunately, the cause for concern is that those seasons occurred four years apart.
Taking a look at the sample sizes, Raburn achieved those number in roughly the same number of at bats. In 2009, he made 291 plate appearances resulting in 261 official at bats. In 2013, he made 277 plate appearances with 243 official at bats. Again this is encouraging. It also points to a larger issue with Ryan Raburn; one that the Indians seem to have addressed with the signing of David Murphy.
Where Ryan Raburn has run into trouble is when he is over-exposed. In 2010 and 2011, he made over 800 plate appearances total in more of a full-time role. As a result, his production suffered. Raburn experienced gradual decreases across the board, particularly in his slash line before finally bottoming out in his disastrous 2012 campaign. What this seems to point out is that Ryan Raburn is not a full-time, every day player. Where he is at his best is in a limited role and put in a position to succeed, something Terry Francona has proven to be very good at doing.
Like most right-handed hitters, Raburn has experienced more success against lefties than he has against righties. And while the numbers are not nearly as far apart as the splits of some other hitters, .255/.303/.411 versus right-handers and .263/.336/.492 versus left-handers, there is a proven track record of more success against left-handers for Raburn. In a part-time platoon role with Murphy, it’s possible that Raburn could experience the same level of success in 2014 that he experienced in both 2009 and 2013.
One other encouraging sign pointing in Raburn’s favor is his BAbip. Most hitters experience career years thanks largely in part to a dramatic spike in BAbip. The reverse is also opposite with many hitters struggling thanks to bad luck and a poor BAbip. For Ryan Raburn, 2013 was not that far out of the ordinary in terms of BAbip. His career BAbip is right around .313. In 2013, he posted a .311 mark. Even if some natural regression occurred to bring Raburn back to the league average level of .300, we should not expect that dramatic of a drop off from him.
Perhaps most encouraging of all was the level of patience Raburn demonstrated at the plate. While his strikeout rate of 24.2% was a spot on match for his career mark, he experienced a dramatic improvement to his walk rate. For his career, Raburn has walked in about 7% of his at bats. In 2013, Raburn pushed his walk rate up past 10%. As a result, he matched his career best strikeout to walk ratio of 2.31 set back in 2009. The bottom line is that Ryan Raburn was having more productive at bats and getting on base with a lot more frequency than he had in the past.
That brings us back to the question at hand. Can Ryan Raburn duplicate 2013’s success in 2014?
All signs would seem to point to yes, he can. If Raburn can continue to be patient at the plate, have productive at bats and continue to get on base at a high rate, then the results should follow. Combine that with the fact that Raburn has produced at that level in a prior season and the numbers he put up become much less “flukey” for lack of a better term. Can we expect some regression? Perhaps, but there is nothing that jumps out in his numbers that would seem to indicate a dramatic fall off is about to occur.
For those reasons, there is no reason to expect Ryan Raburn not to produce at a level somewhere around what we saw from him in 2013. As long as Terry Francona continues to limit his exposure and use him in opportune situations, then Raburn could be primed for another superb season all around.