Acta and Chernoff: Optimizing the Indians Offense

As a small-market team with limited firepower, the Cleveland Indians need to optimize their run-scoring capabilities. Whether they’re doing that is hard to quantify: Cleveland ranks in the middle of the pack among American League teams in most offensive categories. One thing is certain, though—the Indians take an analytical approach to lineup construction and in-game strategy.

Manager Manny Acta and assistant general manager Mike Chernoff discussed the subject, in separate conversations, when the Indians visited Fenway Park last weekend.

Lineup construction

Chernoff: “It’s Manny’s job to make out the lineup. It’s entirely up to him, but he does seek input from us. He reaches out to our analytics department to ask questions about the best lineup construction in certain situations, or maybe to see how a change he’s thinking about might help our team. He’s very open-minded about seeking feedback.”

Acta: “The main thing is scoring runs, so you need to stack up your best hitters up front. You forget about trying to put a guy in the second spot just because he can hit-and-run and bunt. After the first six hitters, you should put your best hitters in front of the [lesser] hitters. The bottom of your order should be the bottom. I’ve never been a big believer in the idea of having a second leadoff hitter. I don’t like putting a guy in the nine-hole who should be hitting in the seven- or eight-hole. To me, you have to maximize at bats. Your better hitters should have a shot at getting that extra at bat.”

The top of the order

Chernoff: “We’re clearly focused on getting guys on base in front of our power hitters. But a lot of that is going to depend on lefty-righty splits and who else is in the lineup. Michael Brantley had been leading off, but when we brought in Johnny Damon, Manny thought that having [Damon] there was a way to have him transition back to the big leagues. He could see a few more pitches and take the approach of just trying to get on base, and not necessarily hit for as much power. Johnny has a lot of experience in that spot, so he’s a natural fit in the leadoff position for us.

Acta: “Speed at the top is important, but it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get on base. It’s been proven over the years. Guys like Wade Boggs had no speed, but if you have a high on-base guy, you have a better chance of scoring runs than if you have a guy leading off who can’t steal first base. The guy who hits first obviously has to be an on-base-percentage guy. Then you go from there.”

The middle of the lineup

Acta: “Like I said, I’m not a big believer in the second hitter being a guy who can just put the bat on the ball. I think that spot is one of the most important parts of your lineup. Then I believe that the third hitter should be your best hitter in your lineup. Period. I’ve never been a big advocate of having your best hitter hit cleanup. I think he should hit in the first inning and not sometimes lead off the next inning with nobody on.

“Your cleanup hitter has to hit for extra bases. That’s a big part of his job. I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to tell you that I don’t want to put a singles hitter there just because he can drive in some runs with ground balls. He has to carry some fear with him when he comes to the plate, so that my best hitter sees some pitches.”

Platoon advantages

Chernoff: “We’re looking to score runs, and you try to find the best players that you can. The way it has played out is that we have a lot of left-handed hitters. Two of those guys are switch-hitters, which helps. I think that our entire bench right now is right-handed hitters, and that allows Manny to platoon when he needs to. Frankly, most starters in baseball are right-handed, so if you’re going to be one-side dominant, you’re better off being left-handed dominant.

“Manny has done an exceptional job of looking at match-ups and playing those percentages. Last year he had the greatest percentage of platoon advantages — for our offense — of any team in baseball. That just goes to show you that when there was a righty out there, he was going to a lefty. If there was a lefty on the mound, he was going to a righty. It wasn’t an absolute, though. He knew the platoon splits.”

The sacrifice bunt

Chernoff: “Manny has done a really good job of managing those situations. There are times when it is clearly the right decision to bunt and there are times when it seems like it’s definitely not the right decision to bunt. A lot depends on the speed of the batter, how good the defense is, and whether they’re expecting it or not. Just looking at run-expectancy tables doesn’t paint the entire picture for you. You have to be thinking through what has happened in the game — and what the situation is — in order to make those decisions. Manny does a great job of reading that, in-game.”

Acta: “I’m not big on bunting guys from first to second. I don’t think it’s a secret, because the facts are out there. It’s been proven that a guy has a better chance of scoring from first with no outs than from second with one out. I have to have way too much of an advantage late in the game, bullpen-wise and great hitters lined up, to do that. At first and second with no outs, I usually only do it with the bottom of the order, or maybe the top guy in the order, depending on how he’s swinging the bat. It guarantees me a runner on third with less than two out and another runner in scoring position. But I probably won’t if we need multiple runs. If it’s the heart of my order, it won’t happen.”




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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


18 Responses to “Acta and Chernoff: Optimizing the Indians Offense”

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  1. DD says:

    Very refreshing analysis and mindset from Acta. Wish more managers thought like this. He certainly buys into the logic from a numbers view, yet is open to feedback and different ways of thinking.

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  2. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    We know now that he considers Asdrubal Cabrera his best hitter.

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  3. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    I wish he would have a chat with Mattingly, and convince him to swap Dee Gordon and AJ Ellis in the lineup.

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  4. mcbrown says:

    I wasn’t familiar with Acta at all, but when he moved Choo to the leadoff slot I figured I would probably like him.

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  5. Jack says:

    Comparitively, here are Bruce Bochy’s rules:
    1. Second Basemen MUST hit second.
    2. Leadoff hitter is the fastest dude you can find.
    3. Always platoon. It doesn’t matter if they actually have a platoon advantage, platoon them anyway.
    4. Veterans.
    5. Brandon Belt should be on the bench.
    6. Never have the same lineup twice.

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    • TFINY says:

      Ron Gardenhire has a set of 6 rules too.
      1. Second Baseman (almost) always hits second. Occasionally a SS can.
      2. Leadoff hitter has speed (Gomez and then Span).
      3. Never Platoon. Ever. Even if you have the perfect roster for it.
      4. Favorites. These are often player who profile just like Gardy did as a player (bad).
      5. Play Drew Butera.
      6. If you have the same players, why would you EVER change a lineup?

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    • Snowblind says:

      Eric Wedge’s 6 rules:

      1. No one understands how hard catching is, so even a terrible catcher who can barely hit will play every day.
      2. Veterans.
      3. One player per season will go into the Jack Wilson Memorial Doghouse for perceived offenses against The Game(tm), even if other players are doing worse at the plate or the field.
      4. The roster consists of 24 players. No idea who that extra guy wandering around the bullpen is.
      5. You can tell a lot about a guy by looking into his eyes.
      6. Play for the tie at home, and the tie on the road.

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  6. Tom says:

    After watching the Philadelphia “EVERYBODY BUNT” Phillies this line “I’m not big on bunting guys from first to second.” made me very jealous.

    Indians beat their Py by 5 last year, currently up 3.

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  7. Chomp says:

    I wish Charlie Manuel would take a page out of Acta’s book when implementing the sac bunt.

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  8. short says:

    Eric Wedge should be Clockwork Oranged into watching a film of Acta repeating these words straight into the camera for about three hours.

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  9. isavage30 says:

    Acta’s made some good lineup decisions, moving Choo up so he’s leading off and having Kipnis bat 2nd … but he’s had Hannahan hitting 9th, and Kotchman hitting 6th-8th all year. It’s a direct contradiction of his batting 9th philosophy comment. I could perhaps understand that as an opening day lineup, but when Hannahan’s swinging the bat infinitely better than Kotchman, it doesn’t make sense to stick with it, and it undoubtedly cost them some runs. Kotchman in 66 PAs with men on is hitting .204/.323/.370. Hannahan 51 PAs with men on, .429/.500/.643

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  10. Allan says:

    Wow Acta’s has pulled the blinders over everyone with his Latin charm. If I would have actually heard him say that BS about the top of the lineup I would have fallen off my chair laughing. Then I would have gotten up and screamed in his face……”Then why in holy heck have you given Trevor Crowe, Michael Brantley, Ezequiel Carrera, Jason Donald & Johnny Damon (going through spring training during the regular season), 72.5% of the Plate Appearances in the leadoff spot since you’ve been in Cleveland???” Do you realize your OBP from the leadoff spot is a running joke amongst everyone in baseball?? Do you realize its been under .300 every year you have been in Cleveland??

    In my opinion Acta does not practice what he preaches.
    Leadoff hitters since he came to Cleveland

    2010
    Brantley (286 PA’s, .304 OBP)- Good Speed
    Crowe (269 PA’s, .277 OBP)- Good Speed
    Asdrubal C (158 PA’s, .316 OBP)- Decent Speed
    Donald (20 PA’s, .200 OBP)- Good Speed

    Leadoff spot for the season .294 OBP, only spot in the batting order with a lower OBP for the season was the 8 hole.

    2011

    Brantley (380 PA’s, .321 OBP)- Good Speed
    Sizemore (138 PA’s, .275 OBP)- Great Speed
    Carrera (127 PA’s, .274 OBP)- Elite Speed
    Fukudome (87 PA’s, .287 OBP)- Good Speed

    Leadoff spot for the season .297 OBP, only spot in the batting order with a lower OBP for the season was the 8 hole.

    2012

    Brantley (93 PA’s, .297 OBP)- Good Speed
    Damon (45 PA’s, .200 OBP)- Good Speed
    Choo (21 PA’s, .429 OBP)- Good Speed
    Donald (8 PA’s, .000 OBP)- Good Speed

    Leadoff spot for the season .280 OBP, no other spot in the order has a lower OBP.

    He says you don’t need speed in the leadoff spot. In 3 years he has given 158 PA’s to someone who fits that mold (Asdrubal C). He says that the guy who hits in the leadoff spot needs to get on base. Yet he has given 1,228 PA’s out of a total 1,694 PA’s to Brantley, Carrera, Crowe & Donald…..speed guys, who aren’t known for getting on base.

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    • OmicronWarrior says:

      Hind sight is 20-20. In 2010 and 2011, the lead off spot was Sizemore’s by tradition, and its hard to argue that Sizemore career OBP (.357) isn’t worthy of the spot. The fact he had so few plate appearances in 2010 and 2011 and diminished performance in them due to injuries is beyond Acta’s control. So, mostly Acta was trying to find someone as a place holder to Sizmore, and he experimented with young players with potential. The fact that they didn’t have great (OBP) seasons is only obvious in hind sight. Which brings up the problem Acta faced when choosing his ideal lead off man, a dearth of offensive talent. In 2010 you have Choo and Hafner when he’s healthy and not much else above average. You can put one of them in lead off, but then you ‘waste’ their at bats by having them hit with empty bases.

      In 2012, Acta has a much better idea of how to build the batting order. Sizemore is injured (shocker) and there is no reason to be confident about his talent returning to pre-2009 levels. He also has a better handle on the talent levels of Brantley and others. Most importantly, he has options now that Cabrera, Kipnis, Santana, and even Hannahan have become legitimate offense threats. With Choo’s declining production in part due to a broken thumb in 2011, he makes for a great lead off man by being good, but not to good to need to bat with runners on base.

      I think what it comes down to, is not that Acta values speed more the OBP in a lead off man, but the Indians never had a high OBP guy who was slow except for Hafner and Santana, and they are both power hitters so it makes sense to bat them when runners might be on base.

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  11. Zach says:

    Was that Manny Acta, or the M.A.N. eACTA ?

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