Predicting Cleveland Indians' Starting Lineup Halfway Through Spring Training
As we continue toward the midway point of spring training, the Cleveland Indians lineup has begun to take shape.
Most of the lineup will look familiar to fans, as it is largely similar to the go-to lineup the Indians utilized toward the end of the 2014 season.
With veteran players like Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana locked into their respective lineup positions, the order wasn't expected to undergo drastic changes in comparison to September and October editions. However, the addition of right fielder David Murphy, and the position battle at third base, could make for some interesting changes to an otherwise static lineup.
So, with the regular season just three weeks away, let's take a look at what the lineup will look like for the season opener against the Oakland A's.
1. Michael Bourn
When healthy, Michael Bourn offers the best combination of speed and on-base percentage, making him the perfect candidate to act as the team's leadoff hitter for the Indians. Over the course of his career, the 31-year-old boasts a .271/.335/.364 slash line with 162-game averages of 37 extra-base hits, 43 RBI, 86 runs scored and 43 stolen bases.
Last year, Bourn dealt with a hamstring injury which sapped away at his speed, but the veteran center fielder still managed a .263/.316/.360 slash line with 21 doubles, six triples, 50 RBI, 75 runs scored and 23 stolen bases over just 130 games played.
The injury cost Bourn some of his speed, and also impacted his ability to get on base. However, for the most part, Bourn was still an effective outfielder and table setter for the rest of the Indians lineup.
Other options for this spot in the lineup include Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis, but neither actually figure in to the spot.
Kipnis is the team's best hitter and slots in better as a two or three hitter. Swisher, while skilled at getting on base—.358 OBP—but he doesn't bring any speed to the lineup, and he makes enough productive outs—27 percent career productive out percentage—to warrant keeping him in his current spot.
With no other realistic options for the spot, Bourn will reprise his role as the team's leadoff hitter.
2. Nick Swisher
Realistically, Michael Brantley and David Murphy are better suited to be team's No. 2 hitter, but we'll discuss that more when we get to them later. Even so, Nick Swisher will return as the Indians' two hitter in 2014.
As noted in the previous slide, Swisher does a very good job of getting on base—.358 career OBP. Ideally, you want a high OBP player to hit in front of your team's best hitter, and Swisher provides just that, logging the team's second-best career OBP, trailing only Carlos Santana.
Swisher could be a bit more productive in his at-bats with runners on-base—productive-out percentage of 27 percent, compared to league average of 32 percent since 2004. Even so, Swisher is a highly productive player—at least 2.4 fWAR in each season since 2004.
The 33-year-old's bat would be a better asset in the five hole, where he owns a slash line of .283/.373/.503 with 20 home runs and 61 RBI over 436 plate appearances. However, considering the fact that Swisher spent nearly half of his time in the two hole last season, he looks to be a near lock for the two hole in 2014.
3. Jason Kipnis
Jason Kipnis is the Indians' best offensive player, and the perfect fit for the No. 3 spot in the Indians order.
Kipnis brings one of the game's best combinations of batting average, on-base percentage, power and speed to the middle of the order. With a healthy Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher ahead of him, Kipnis will get plenty of opportunities with runners on base.
What Kipnis does with runners on base is nothing short of remarkable. In 142 opportunities to do so, Kipnis produced productive outs 42 percent of the time—league average since 2011 is 32 percent. Additionally, Kipnis has produced above-league average percentages in line-drive percentage, contact percentage and baserunners scored percentage.
Kipnis has the ability to knock in baserunners at a high rate, and even posted an OPS+ of 133 in 2013—tied with Yan Gomes for the second best mark on the team.
The young second baseman also gets on base at a high rate—.366 OBP in 2013—and can help to provide plenty of situations with one, or multiple baserunners, on for the next batter in the lineup, Carlos Santana.
4. Carlos Santana
Typically, a team's fourth hitter is their best source of power. As far as the Indians roster is concerned, Santana is that player.
Over four big league seasons, the 27-year-old boasts a career slash line of .254/.367/.446 with 162-game averages of 23 home runs, 37 doubles, 82 RBI, 83 runs scored and a 121:103 K/BB ratio. Considering the composition of the Indians roster, Santana's power numbers make him virtually a lock for the four spot.
Santana's power isn't his only lasting quality though, as he's an adept hitter with runners on base.
In 955 career plate appearances with runners on base, Santana owns a slash line of .268/.375/.457 with 29 home runs, 53 doubles, 209 RBI and 212 runs scored. When expanding the search out to plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Santana's numbers stay relatively consistent—.244/.380/.434—and present the Tribe with arguably their best source of power production.
Santana doesn't have a defined position to this point, but in this scenario, we'll see him occupy the DH spot until the Indians can decide what to do with him long term. As the team's DH, Santana will be able to focus on the thing he does best: Hitting.
5. Michael Brantley
With the four hitter presumably clearing the bases, ending the inning or extending it, while keeping one or more runners on base, a team needs another source of on-base skills and the ability to score or move runners over.
Enter, Michael Brantley. Brantley isn't the team's best source of any one particular output—power, average, on-base percentage—but he does a solid job of getting on base, and does a great job of working out productive at-bats and scoring baserunners.
The 26-year-old owns a career slash line of .312/.370/.427 with runners on base, and an equally impressive slash line of .314/.385/.424 with runners in scoring position.
Beyond Brantley's impressive numbers with runners on, and runners in scoring position, he's done some of his best all-around work while batting out of the five hole. In 519 plate appearances while batting fifth, Brantley owns a slash line of .283/.338/.414 with 10 home runs, 27 doubles, 59 RBI and 53 runs scored.
The only position in the lineup where Brantley has logged more plate appearances is the leadoff spot, where he logged a .275/.323/.370 slash line with 10 home runs, 44 doubles, 87 RBI and 120 runs scored in 999 plate appearances.
Brantley would be a great fit for the two hole, but he'll settle for 600 plate appearances in the No. 5 spot.
6. Asdrubal Cabrera
Last season, Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera turned in his worst campaign as a professional. Over 562 at-bats, the 28-year-old turned in a .242/.299/.402 slash line, with 14 home runs, 35 doubles, 64 RBI, 66 runs scored and nine stolen bases.
Despite all of that, Cabrera will return as the team's starting shortstop in 2014 and will slot in as the No. 6 hitter in the order.
Historically, Cabrera is at his best while batting in the No. 3 hole. Last season, that trend held true, when Cabrera slashed .295/.345/.519 as the team's No. 3 hitter.
Unfortunately, this slash line while batting third is not indicative of the season that Cabrera had, as he posted career lows in batting average and on-base percentage. In addition to those disappointing numbers, Cabrera's season, across the board, represented a second straight season of decline for a player who should be in the prime of his career.
Despite all of that, the veteran shortstop also put up a .273/.333/.455 over 151 plate appearances as the No. 6 hitter, lending credence to the idea that a drop in the order, coupled with lowered expectations, could promote an increase in production.
Hitting behind on-base threats like Santana and Brantley will certainly help Cabrera, as will hitting in front of a proven veteran bat like David Murphy.
7. David Murphy
After signing a two-year, $12 million contract this offseason, David Murphy will be the team's starting right fielder, and No. 7 hitter for the upcoming season.
Over eight big league seasons, the veteran outfielder owns a .275/.337/.441 slash line, with 162-game averages of 16 home runs, 31 doubles, 69 RBI, 69 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. However, prior to joining the Indians, Murphy had the worst season of his professional career.
Over 142 games played, the 32-year-old posted career lows in OPS+, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while simultaneously reaching full-season lows in hits, RBI and stolen bases.
In short, Murphy's season was a disaster. However, Murphy's season should be viewed as an absolute-low point though, and not a sign of things to come.
Last year, Murphy crashed into an outfield wall in May, 2013, and the lasting effects were well documented.
On top of physical ailments, Murphy suffered through a losing bout with bad luck, posting an ungodly low .227 BAbip over the 2013 season—Murphy's career average, including the .227 mark, is .302. With an average season in the BAbip department, Murphy would have an extra 14 hits to his credit, and a much more pleasing batting average of .252.
He'll slot in as the team's No. 7 hitter to start the season, but if he's able to move forward from his 2013 season, a move into the No. 2 hole isn't out of the question.
8. Yan Gomes
After a breakout season in 2013, Yan Gomes earned himself an everyday spot in the Indians' starting lineup for the 2014 season.
Last year, with limited opportunities, Gomes put up a gaudy .294/.345/.481 slash line with 11 home runs, 18 doubles, 38 RBI and 45 runs scored. This year, Gomes will slot in as the everyday catcher, and will have an opportunity to showcase his skills as a possible middle-of-the-order presence.
The 26-year-old flashed 20 home run power last season and although he's likely to regress slightly in 2014—.342 BAbip with a 19 percent LD%—he should still provide the team with above-average power and solid run-producing skills.
Even if Gomes has a disappointing showing in his second season with the team, his glove will help keep him in the lineup. The young backstop turned in an impressive caught-stealing percentage of 41 percent in 2014, and he does an outstanding job of receiving and also of calling games for his pitching staff.
With consistent at-bats, and the opportunity to work his way through slumps without looking over his shoulder, Gomes should be a solid producer at the bottom of the Indians lineup in 2014.
9. Lonnie Chisenhall
This spring, Lonnie Chisenhall has an opportunity to win the starting job at third base. Whether he wins that job is still up in the air, but to this point, he's putting up a decent effort.
In six games, Chisenhall has logged 18 plate appearances, with a .214/.389/.214 slash line with three runs scored and a 3:3 K/BB ratio. Although it's still too early to pass major judgements, there's one very encouraging sign from Chisenhall's early stat line, and that's his on-base percentage.
Largely the result of what looks like an improved approach at the plate, the 25-year-old boasts an early K/BB ratio of 3:3. Chisenhall's walk and strikeout rates sit at 16.7 percent, representing a solid turnaround from his career marks of 4.7 percent and 19.4 percent, respectively.
The lack of power to this point isn't a concern, as Chisenhall boasts career HR% and HR/FB marks well above the MLB average over his career.The power will come, and if Chisenhall can continue to get on base at a sufficient clip, he'll earn the opportunity to keep his job for the 2014 season, despite a horrifying 2013 showing.
Should Chisenhall take off this season, and actualize the potential he flashed as a minor leaguer, the Indians could find themselves with a solid middle-of-the-order presence at a premium position.
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