The Problem: Cleveland Indians Slugger Matt LaPorta's Scuffling Offense

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The Problem: Cleveland Indians Slugger Matt LaPorta's Scuffling Offense
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Welcome to a series on the Cleveland Indians entitled "The Problem" where we examine one issue surrounding the current club. Although there is probably more than one problem with the Indians, you have to fix issue at a time.

Today's problem is Matt LaPorta and the horrific numbers he's put together offensively. Not only is the power not there, he flat out is one of the worst overall hitters on the club.

He's been a dependent rally killer when in the lineup and the reason for a lot of run-producing failures.

What can be done to fix LaPorta? Can LaPorta be fixed? Hopefully with "The Problem" We can find the answer.

 

THE SUBJECT

Matt LaPorta was traded to Cleveland in 2008 from Milwaukee in the C.C. Sabathia deal. It was a whirlwind few months for LaPorta as he not only dealt with the trade to a new organization, but also with the death of his grandfather, a trip to the future's game in New York, and then a trip to China to play in the Olympics.

In 2009 LaPorta spent some time in Columbus before getting his first call to Cleveland. He played sparingly and was eventually sent down, but not for anything he didn't do, but more for anything he wasn't given the chance to do.

Later in the year LaPorta got the call again and this time it was permanent. LaPorta underwent offseason surgery on both his hip and his foot, but that didn't prevent the Indians from giving him a everyday starting spot in 2010.

 

THE PROBLEM

Matt LaPorta has been atrocious at the plate this season. He's knocked in just one run and has only two extra-base hits, neither of which have cleared the fences.

He's a singles hitter right now that doesn't even hit that many.

LaPorta is coming off that offseason surgery that caused him to start spring training a week later than everyone else. That also had him starting fewer games from the outset of the season.

You would assume at this point he's healthy enough to be a regular starter, but he's struggled so much, and Austin Kearns has been so hot, playing him everyday has become a liability.

There is no way around it, LaPorta is struggling against everyone, lefties and righties, home and road, day and night, left field and first base, it doesn't matter.

But there is something interesting about LaPorta in terms of left-handed hitting that you may have not known. It did take him a few weeks and 18 at-bats before he got a hit against a left-hander, but there is reason to believe those struggles aren't just a product of his slump.

 

THE EVIDENCE 

LaPorta Against Left-Handed Hitting

2009 (CLE) .211 AVG, 38 AB, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 7 K

2010 (CLE) .077 AVG, 26 AB, 2 BB, 7 K

Career Minor Leagues (202 AB) .223 AVG, 11 HR, 22 BB, 45 K, 9 2B. He hit one home run every 18 at-bats and  one double every 22 at-bats.

 

LaPorta Against Right-Handed Hitting

Career Minor Leagues (637 AB) - .314 AVG, 41 HR, 80 BB, 118 K, 50 2B. He hit one home run every 15 at-bats and one double every 12 at-bats.

So what does it all mean?

Well it means that LaPorta has never really been one to torch left-handed pitching, which is odd for a right-handed hitter. But it really is eye-opening to see how well he's hit right-handed pitching in his career compared to how he's hit left-handed hitting.

He has a career minor league average of .292 which isn't bad at all if you can give it at the Major League level. But when you look at how radical his splits are against lefties and righties, it just puts it into even more perspective that he's never really hit left-handers.

If he is to improve this season, don't expect it to be against the left-handers.

 

LaPorta In Clutch Situations
Split PA AB H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA GDP
Full Count 5 3 1 1 0 1 2 2 .333 0
Two Strikes 41 39 6 1 0 1 2 17 .154 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com : View Original Table Generated 5/7/2010.
Split AB H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA GDP SF IBB
RISP 21 5 1 0 1 4 7 .238 3 0 1
--- 34 7 1 0 0 1 8 .206 0 0 0
Men On 36 8 1 0 1 5 9 .222 6 0 1
-2- 5 3 1 0 1 1 1 .600 0 0 1
--3 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 0 0 0
-23 3 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 0 0 0
on 3rd, lt 2 out 4 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 1 0 0
on 3rd, 2 out 5 0 0 0 0 2 2 .000 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com : View Original Table Generated 5/7/2010.
Split AB H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA GDP
2 outs, RISP 9 2 1 0 1 3 3 .222 0
Late & Close 7 2 1 0 1 1 1 .286 1
Tie Game 17 6 1 0 1 1 3 .353 3
Behind 32 3 0 0 0 2 10 .094 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com : View Original Table Generated 5/7/2010.

Look how horrible he's been with runners on third and less than two outs, two strikeouts and a double play. I know it is only four at-bats, but that is not acceptable.

The good is the three hits in five at-bats with a runner on second base, but what isn't good is the fact that is has only ended up in on RBI. That is where the power needs to come into play.

Split PA AB H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA
Ground Balls 27 27 9 0 0 0 0 0 .333
Fly Balls 13 13 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Line Drives 13 13 6 2 0 1 0 0 .462
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com : View Original Table Generated 5/7/2010.

Not a single ball that he has hit into the air has landed for a hit.

That means he isn't bashing anything off the wall or hitting a sky shot that lands. He's hitting ground balls and line drives. Line drives are good and account for both his doubles and his RBI, but nothing is getting absolutely killed like you would expect it to from a guy like LaPorta.

In the minor leagues LaPorta was a career .558 slugger. Last year's highest slugging percentage was .658 by Albert Pujols and only nine players had anything higher than a .558 slugging percentage in the Major Leagues.

If LaPorta is capable of at least slugging in the .500s, he's guaranteed to reach at least 20 home runs and 20 doubles, which is the bare minimum that everyone who had a .500 slugging percentage had (Alex Rodriguez was the only one who didn't have 20 doubles, but he hit 30 home runs and only had 444 at-bats due to an injury).

Last year LaPorta slugged .442 in the 52 games he played in, so we know he's capable of it. He had 20 extra-base hits total in 181 at-bats. Double that and you have less than 400 at-bats and 40 extra base hits, which is legit power for a Major Leaguer.

The power isn't there, the situational hitting isn't there, the left-handed hitting isn't there and never really has been.

 

THE SOLUTION 

What do you do?

He's struggling and pressing, it's obvious by the numbers he puts up when runs needed to be scored and could be scored just by putting the ball in play properly.

He's a power guy who should be driving the ball with a runner on third and less than two outs for sacrifice flies if he can't get a hit. He's rolling over into double plays for the most part.

Is he still hurt? Is the hip still bothering him? Perhaps it is but he is too prideful to say anything and it is impacting the way he swings. It certainly would explain the lack of power and the lack of power is probably making him try too much and probably leading to those double plays and strikeouts.

Does he need to go back to Columbus to refine things? Short answer, no. Long answer, he looks bad at the plate, but he doesn't look like he's lost or over matched.

He has nothing to gain by clobbering Minor League pitching except confidence. But he needs confidence at the Major League level; he needs confidence he can hit Major League pitching.

He needs to be placed on the disabled list, point blank. That's the only solution other than letting him play it out. But how long do you let him play it out before you say, "Okay is that enough?"

They should really confront him about the injury and find out if it's bothering him more than he is letting on. Playing hurt is not the answer right now, especially for a guy the club needs to find out about this year.

The left-handed issue isn't going to get fixed and probably can't. He is who he is and he is a right-handed masher. But he isn't displaying those mashing capabilities and that is something that needs to be fixed.

-

This article is a modified version of a previously posted entry on The Tribe Daily.

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