THE SUBJECT - Luis Valbuena, also known as Baby Louie.
After spending 22 games in Triple-A Columbus, Valbuena made a quick debut with Cleveland and opened a lot of eyes as a potential second baseman for the club's long term future.
Valbuena hit 10 home runs and scored 51 times in 103 games played for the big league club. But that didn't stop the Indians from trying to pursue other options at second base. They offered Orlando Hudson a multi-year contract and signed several veteran middle infielders.
Hudson didn't accept the offer, which left the Indians with Valbuena as the default second baseman. That couldn't have instilled much confidence in him and if that is any indication to how he's played, then it would make sense.
Valbuena has struggled and he's lost at-bats to the likes of Mark Grudzielanek, Anderson Hernandez, and rookie Jason Donald. Had Asdrubal Cabrera not gone down with a broken forearm, he'd be back in Columbus instead of splitting time at second with Donald.
So while he's here, we might as find out what exactly is wrong with him.
THE PROBLEM - Just about everything offensively.
Luis Valbuena has been downright atrocious this season. Offensively he's been anemic with the bat and defensively he's had his issues, especially when called upon to play shortstop.
But even recently his defense at second base has fallen off. Yet you could live with the defense because he does make his fair share of decent plays.
When Asdrubal Cabrera went down earlier in the season for a few games, Valbuena was called-upon to start at short and the results were less than stellar. So when Cabrera broke his arm and was placed on the disabled list, the Indians called up Jason Donald to get the regular starting nod at shortstop and Valbuena would split time at second with Mark Grudzielanek.
While his second base defense is somewhat tolerable, his offense, regardless of position, has been horrific to watch. There are players getting called up that are approaching his statistical totals in a shorter span and he isn't getting any better.
This presents us with a huge problem. Luis Valbuena is killing the bottom of the order and has been for the entire season.
THE EVIDENCE - Numbers that are important
Luis Valbuena Ratio Statistics
His extra-base hit percentage is higher than the average for his career and it has a lot to do with last year, where it was abnormally high. However this year is incredibly low. He was also hitting a homer every 37 at-bats, where he's up to one every 70 at-bats this year.
Last year his percentage of hits that went for extra-base hits was at 41% while this year he's dropped to 29%. The pattern here is obviously the fact that he may not be as a much of a prolific extra-base hit machine that we thought he could be.
Luis Valbuena 2009 and 2010 Comparison
Luis Valbuena had a career year regardless of level last year. It was the most home runs he's ever hit in a season and ten of them came at the major league level, the most he ever got was 11 for the Mariners Double-A club. He also had the most doubles he's ever had in one year. He fell short to his RBI number, but matched his 2007 year with 44.
One of the problems with Luis Valbuena coming into the year was the idea of him facing left-handed pitching. Well, they've done their best to shield Baby from the lefties, but when he's gotten the small opportunity, he's actually come through.
It may be a very small sample size against the left-handed pitching, but if you project those numbers out to how many times he's faced right-handers, he's doing a great job in this instance. In a way it is a bit puzzling, regardless of sample size, to see him hit lefties like this.
He had just eight hits in 39 at-bats against left-handed hitting in 2009, so he's definitely made some progress there.
THE SOLUTION - Yikes!
Is there really a solution to fix this mess of a hitter?
One thing that really stands out to the naked eye is the fact that Valbuena's average is still under .170 despite it being June. Even Lou Marson was creeping up to .200 before his demotion. Valbuena has just been downright awful.
It appeared that he might start to erase his first two months with a decent June, but he's not getting regular enough playing time to do so. His bat has been so bad, it hurts to put him into the lineup.
We might as well start with the most obvious reason he's struggling. Maybe he's just not that good. Maybe 2009 was a bit of a fluke, has that struck the minds of anyone? Now is Luis Valbuena .167 average bad? I don't think so, but I don't think he'll ever do what he did in the second half of 2009.
Valbuena only hit .250, so he's not going to hit for a high average. The most remarkable thing he did in 2009 was hit 38 extra-base hits, 25 of them doubles, 10 of them home runs, and three of them triples. I don't think he ever has it in him to hit 30 extra-base hits in a season, mostly because that's what he's trying to do.
If Luis would concentrate on just trying to make contact and hit like a second baseman should, he may not be in the rut he is now. It's obvious to anyone who watches him hit his goal is to hit the ball as hard as he can and that just shouldn't be his game.
Lou Marson, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Grady Sizemore all have more extra-base hits than Valbuena in less at-bats and they are all either injured or in Triple-A. Trevor Crowe and Jason Donald both have more extra-base hits and they've been here for less time than Louie.
It took Carlos Santana all of one week to match Valbuena's totals in doubles and home runs.
When players who have been here way less than you have started matching the statistics you were depended on, there is a bit of a problem.
The only solution, if there is a solution to this problem, is to send Luis Valbuena to the minor leagues, a place he can do no damage to the big league club. The problem is with Asdrubal Cabrera on the disabled list, they don't really have someone to be the backup at short and second if they start Anderson Hernandez regularly and send Valbuena down.
So Valbuena has to remain on the roster, at least until Cabrera is ready to return to action. The club could call up Brian Bixler, but they would have to create a 40-man roster spot for him and the Indians probably don't want to do that until they have to, which is when Cabrera is due back.
Essentially then, the club is stuck with Valbuena getting some meaningful playing time at the major league level to try and end this hard skid he's in.
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