Days after announcing his first big surprise about Russell Branyan being his primary starter at first base, Manny Acta stirred the pot once again.
While he had this idea in his head since he first got the job, Acta is just now making it known that center fielder Grady Sizemore will be moving out of his long-time leadoff spot.
Asdrubal Cabrera will be replacing him.
Even more surprising, was the news that Sizemore wouldn't be moving to the three-hole like so many people yearn for, but he'd be following Cabrera and hitting in front of right fielder Shin-Soo Choo.
While he didn't announce his full lineup, it's assumed that Travis Hafner will follow Choo as the cleanup hitter and the rest will be sorted out later.
While the success of this move probably hinges more on Cabrera's production more than anything else, in the end, it gets Sizemore in a position to bat with more run scoring opportunities.
Acta told reporters on Saturday that he didn't want either hitter to change their approach. The idea is to put the best lineup out there and to score runs.
Moving Sizemore down a spot is Acta's way of making that happen.
With Sizemore's home run power, people view him more as a middle of the order bat, rather than someone who leads the game off. Acta's philosophy with the move is that it gives Sizemore someone in front of him at least once a game and when the lineup rolls over, more than just the ninth hitter.
Because 2009 was such a weird year for Sizemore with injuries and everything else that went wrong, take a look at his statistics from 2008.
Sizemore hit seven home runs in the first at-bat of the game. He also hit five more when he led off an inning. That's 12 of his 33 home runs coming with no one on base, guaranteed.
While moving someone down a spot in the order won't exactly mean all 12 of those home runs will be hit with someone on base, it certainly helps skew the average a little bit more. Grady had 22 total solo home runs in 2008, making it a 2/1 ratio of solo home runs to home runs with runners on base.
Not only will more opportunities be created for Sizemore, but perhaps he'll create more opportunities for Choo and the hitters that follow.
In 2008 as well, Sizemore's on-base percentage was significantly higher with runners on base, a .033 difference.
In fact, in 167 less plate appearances, Sizemore only had six less walks with runners on than he did with nobody on base. Perhaps the situation dictates to Sizemore that he has to be more disciplined and he takes a more selective approach.
Sizemore is a versatile hitter, so this move really shouldn't harm his production in any way, it can only help him. The only real requirement of your two-hole hitter is that he is a high on-base person and when Sizemore is right, he does that.
If you go across the game, the types of hitters that occupy the second spot in the lineup will definitely vary based on philosophy.
What you basically do know is that the person hitting second in the order, is typically one of your better players, or else he wouldn't be getting the second most at-bats on your club.
So this works for Sizemore, but what about young Cabrera?
The last time the Indians thrusted a large amount of responsibility towards him, he faltered and ended up getting sent back to the minor leagues. After a stellar second half in 2007 that helped the Tribe reach the postseason, Cabrera was counted on at least sharing duties in the two-hole.
The shortstop is in a different place as a baseball player, as well as mentally and physically than he was two years ago.
I think it's safe to rule out this being an issue for him.
The issue concerns his style and if suits the role of a leadoff hitter?
Ideally, no it does not.
But then again, what leadoff hitter outside of Ichiro Suzuki really fits the ideal mold? Ichiro is the gold-standard and behind him is probably Derek Jeter, who had a fantastic year atop the Yankee lineup.
I think the common misconception about leadoff hitters is how we view their statistics just as a leadoff hitter.
That's all well and good, but they aren't always leading off an inning. We can better gauge how that hitter will do when they start the game off by looking at those statistics.
Here is a list of all the main leadoff hitters in the American League from 2009 and their statistics leading off an inning as well as their statistics as the first hitter in the order. Cabrera is highlighted in red and since he did spend time in the leadoff spot last year, his numbers are listed as well.
I've ordered the list based on on-base percentage as a hitter leading off an inning. Even though Cabrera has a small-sample size compared to others, he's sixth on this list out of 15 names.
His average is one spot higher, at fifth.
This basically suggests that Cabrera can handle leading off just as well as someone like Brian Roberts and even better than someone like Ian Kinsler can. Not to mention Cabrera was able to maintain his season average and on-base percentage norms last year when he did get shifted up the order.
Hitting and getting on base shouldn't be much of a problem.
The one area that the Indians may hurt themselves with the switch is stolen bases.
Manny Acta has indicated his willingness to run a little bit more with guys like Sizemore in his lineup.
Grady shouldn't have much of a problem stealing bases in the two-hole, but the dynamic of him doing that as the first hitter in the game will take away opportunities for players like Cabrera and Choo to hit with runners in scoring position.
Cabrera isn't much of a base-stealer.
He swiped 17 last year and that number figures to go up with him in better shape and Acta's philosophy of running more. But he isn't a 30 steals a year type of a runner.
That isn't to say he can't do it, but that just isn't a part of Cabrera's game at this point.
However I don't see it being much of an issue if it creates the opportunities for Sizemore, Choo, and Hafner that the move is predicted to create. The numbers will still be there, it just won’t be in the same order.
One last additional concern that comes with the announced top of the order is the fact that Sizemore, Choo, and Hafner are all left-handed. This would put three left-handed hitters in a row, right in the center of the lineup.
Right-hander Jhonny Peralta is expected to be behind Hafner and Cabrera is a switch-hitter, so it isn't ideal, but it isn't the worst thing either. In a way, I don't think Acta is all that concerned about that type of stuff, but more with getting his best hitters the most at-bats in a order that at least makes sense.
And that's why this swap isn't that big of a deal.
Sizemore is arguably this team's best player when he's healthy. If he isn't, then he at least impacts the lineup the most. Shin-Soo Choo may have the most potential in terms of what he is capable of and Cabrera proved he can be a solid .300 hitter.
All of these guys, including Hafner and Peralta will be at the top of the lineup. Not to mention, it is a 162-game season and there is plenty of time to tinker with something to find the best fit.
In addition to that, we haven't even played a single Cactus League game, so who knows if this plan is even set in stone.
The fact of the matter is Cabrera has the credentials to take on the responsibility and Sizemore is such a dynamic hitter that it doesn't matter where you put him at the top. If Acta feels that him at the two-spot is going to create more runs, than Acta needs to go for it.
Because in the end, you are just trying to put together a lineup that will create the most runs, especially when you don't know how many your pitchers are going to allow.
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