Indians Need Power Boost

Heading into Tuesday’s games, the White Sox and Indians sit half a game apart atop of the American League Central division, with the expected division-winner Tigers five games back. This morning, Chris Cwik addressed the White Sox’ need to upgrade at third base to stay competitive in the division. The Indians need an upgrade as well–a big, powerful upgrade.

The Indians’ 32-27 record is a bit misleading. Cleveland’s scored only 261 runs and allowed 277, putting the team’s Pythagorean record at 28-31. The Tigers have nearly the same split and sit at 28-32 in the standings. The White Sox, on the other hand, have scored 291 runs and allowed 256, putting their 32-26 pretty much in line with their expected record.

Cleveland’s offense is doing somethings well. The Tribe has the highest walk rate (9.8%) and the lowest strikeout rate (16.2%) in the American League, putting them third in the league in on-base percentage (.329). But the Indians’ wOBA (.314) ranks only ninth. Why? A complete lack of power.

As a team, the Indians are slugging .379, ahead of only the Mariners and A’s. Their ISO is worse, coming in at .179, beating out only the A’s. Jason Kipnis is a breakout star at second base. Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis Hafner are making things happen. And Jack Hannahan–known mostly as a defensive whiz at third–is putting together a nice season at the plate. [Update: Hafner and Hannahan are currently on the disabled list. Hannahan is expected back soon; Hafner at the end of June.]

The Indian’s power problem lies at first base and in the outfield.

Cleveland brought in Casey Kotchman to replace Matt LaPorta at first, and while Kotchman is an improvement, he’s not doing enough at a power position. In 179 plate appearances, Kotchman has just seven doubles and four home runs for a .107 ISO. Michael Brantley leads all Cleveland outfielders with a .396 SLG with Shin-Soo Choo just a shade off at .393. Shelley Duncan comes in with a higher ISO, but only because his batting average is so low. With a slash of .272/.370/.393 and a wOBA of .347, Choo is the only Indians outfielder with a positive wRC+. Adding Johnny Damon hasn’t helped a bit.

Heading into spring training, the Indians were hoping for a 150+ games from a healthy Grady Sizemore in center field. But Sizemore injured his back and needed surgery. The timetable for his return is uncertain, as is his expected production at the plate. The Indians need more out of their outfielders and waiting for Sizemore is fool’s errand.

If the Indians are in it to win it this season, they’ll need to upgrade at first and left field. Easier said than done, however. Cleveland traded two of its top prospects–Alex White and Drew Pomeranz–at least season’s deadline in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez (and that didn’t work out particularly well). Our own Marc Hulet calls the Indians’ farm system “one of the weakest among the 30 MLB organizations and a lot of the talent is fairly new, having been acquired in the past few seasons. Trades . . . . and poor draft decisions have led to limited depth – especially in the upper levels of the system.” Still, there is talent there, and it should be exploited.

Possible trade targets for first base include the Cubs’ Bryan LaHair and Kila Ka’aihue, who the A’s recently designated for assignment. At 30 years old, LaHair’s finally been given the chance to play every day, and he’s making the most of it, posting a .411 wOBA and 157 wRC+ in 52 games. The Cubs are in sell mode and have uber-prospect Anthony Rizzo waiting in the wings to take over at first. Ka’aihue would cost much less in a trade, but have lower returns. He’s shown greater flashes of power this year than Kotchman, and might be worthy a flyer. Rockies veteran Todd Helton may also be available, but he comes with a steep price tag: a $4.9 million salary this season, $5 million for 2013 and a buyout of $1.31 million in 2014.

The big fish in left field this trading season is the Padres’ Carlos Quentin. He missed the first 6 weeks of the season, but since returning from knee surgery, he’s hitting an absurd .429/.500/971 in 40 plate appearances. With Brett Gardner‘s return uncertain, the Yankees could also pursue Quentin. Same with the Blue Jays. With high demand, the Padres are sure to extract a high price for Quentin, who’s on a one-year deal for $7 million. If the Mets falter and go into sell mode, super utility guy Scott Hairston could become available. He’s no Quentin, but he’d certainly be an upgrade over Shelley Duncan and Johnny Damon.

Last season, the Indians led the American League Central well into July. They had started to falter when they traded for Jimenez and went downhill quickly from there. The Tigers ran away with the division. But the dynamics this season are different, with the Tigers struggling at the plate, in the field and on the mound. The White Sox are much improved, thanks to a bounce back performance from Adam Dunn, and better-than-expected seasons from Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski. The Indians are in the mix but need to upgrade their offense to make their early-season success pay off in September.




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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


26 Responses to “Indians Need Power Boost”

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  1. Jake says:

    You might want to note that Hafner and Hannahan, half of the good offensive players you pointed out, have been on the DL for a few weeks now too.

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  2. Lewie Pollis says:

    The problem isn’t that the Indians don’t have the players to fix the problems, it’s that the hitters who could provide power aren’t getting playing time. You glossed over both Shelley Duncan and Matt LaPorta—no one outside Cleveland seems to have realized it (or, for that matter, in Cleveland) but Duncan OPSed .751 from 2010-11 (109 wRC+), and LaPorta’s Triple-A performance to date works out to an .877 MLE OPS at Progressive Field. The team doesn’t seem to have any faith in either of them, and as a result neither is getting enough playing time to find his groove.

    I’m not saying Duncan and and LaPorta are the answers for sure, but they very well might be. It would be foolish for the Indians to make a big trade before they’re sure that they need to.

    Also, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jared Goedert have also shown strong pop this year in Columbus and could be useful options this year, and as Jake said above things will improve once Hafner and Hannahan come back.

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    • Steve says:

      Matt Laporta has a high MLE? I’m shocked, shocked to find that going on with him here. What were his MLE’s the previous three years? MLE is a nice rough tool for a hypothetical player, but we have quite a bit of evidence stacked against Matt LaPorta figuring out how to reach his MLE’s.

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      • Lewie Pollis says:

        After less than three full seasons, you’re 100% convinced that LaPorta will never even be a somewhat useful hitter in the majors? Knock his MLE OPS down 100 points and he’s still an above-average MLB hitter and way better than any other 1B option we have right now.

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      • Steve says:

        Yep, Pollie, I’m convinced he’ll never be a useful bat as a mediocre-at-best fielding 1B. And again, you throw MLE at me as if its supposed to mean anything useful about a guy who has shown time and time again that he can’t recognize major league breaking ball. Beer and tacos, mix some scout in with your stat.

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    • Michael says:

      Don’t forget that LaPorta is Mr. AAAA

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    • BG says:

      I’m convinced they’ll wait it out, give Goedert et al a try. I just don’t see a trade to be made, unless they get some real guts and move Hagadone to the rotation (which they’ll never do) allowing them to sell high on Lowe (which they’ll also never do).

      Will there ever be a time when Chris Perez has a higher value? He strikes me as the guy to trade if they want to pull somebody’s pants down, like they’ve done with Choo, Cabrera, and Santana trades. I love the guy’s energy and entertainment value but he’s the only player another team would overreact and make a bad trade for . . .

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      • Steve says:

        Hagadone hasn’t started since he walked 6.4 guys per 9 as a 24 year old in AA. He’s not a major league starter. And I’m not sure why you want the Indians, still currently in contention to trade away Lowe and Perez, two important contributors. Sure, it would be selling high, but you have to go for it when you get the chance to. Flags fly forever.

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      • isavage30 says:

        If they traded Chris Perez, they’d blow in their one area of real strength, the back end of the bullpen. The idea of trading Perez was an off-season fad, what with his poor performance last year, and some perceived bullpen depth in the minors, but with Perez pitching even better than in 2010, and CC Lee out for a year, Bryce Stowell and Sturdevant injured earlier, they don’t have a replacement for Perez, and if they traded him for a bat, they’d be upgrading one area while severely downgrading another.

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  3. Keith says:

    I’m sure the Cubs would also eat a bunch of money to move Soriano, if Cleveland was interseted in him.

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  4. isavage30 says:

    Kotchman has not been an improvement over Laporta. Laporta had a .165 ISO last year. They both performed below replacement level, with Kotchman’s defense, it’s probably a wash.

    1st base and left field are definitely issues, as well as a lack of right-handed hitting, but Santana and Choo have also not been hitting with close to the power you’d expect. Quentin would be a good target, but it’s too early to say what his price would be. The Indians do have some pitching depth, back-of-the-rotation and bullpen, but still, pitching depth. I don’t think anyone would give up a top prospect for a half-year of Quentin, but tough to say what a competitive package would be. Unfortunately the Indians top bullpen guys in the minors have all been injured. CC Lee would have been some nice trade bait, but he’s had Tommy John. Jeanmar Gomez and Tyler Sturdevant for Quentin and his salary?

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  5. Ned Colletti says:

    If I were running the show in Cleveland, and lets go out on a limb and say that my time in Tinsel Town is coming to an end sooner rather than later, I’d say that Johnny Damon is a veteran-gamer and deserves more time. What a locker room presence and such experience and winning associated with him. No need to be hasty, Fighting Braves of the Cuyahoga, Johnny Damon will come through in the clutch.

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  6. Sam Samson says:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/free-vladimir-guerrero/

    Not that Vlad probably has a ton of power left.

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  7. BG says:

    I wrote about this yesterday in my blog. Tribe is not often in business of upgrading, and here’s why: http://ohiosportstats.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/the-indians-lf-problem-soriano-not-the-solution/

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  8. Choo says:

    Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez might be available.

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  9. Spike says:

    Derek Lee is still waiting for a call…

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  10. Ronin says:

    Maybe they can get Brad Eldred from the Tigers, doesnt seem like the Tigers like him very much. Of course it is probably Eldred’s fault for not hitting a homerun in the 12 ABs he got earlier in the year.

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  11. Matt says:

    A 179 iso being second lowest sounds wrong. And put that with a .379 SLG, and that would mean they’re only batting .200 as a team. I don’t know what the number should be, but I’m pretty sure it’s not .179

    Actually, just went and looked it up. Their ISO is actually .129, they’re batting .250 as a team.

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  12. Nathan Nathan says:

    With a slash of .272/.370/.393 and a wOBA of .347, Choo is the only Indians outfielder with a positive wRC+.

    Emphasis mine.

    Since wRC+ can actually be below 0, shouldn’t “positive” be “above average”?

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    • J6takish says:

      Yeah that stuck out to me also. A 17 +wRC would be among the absolute worst hitters in the game, but it’s still a positive integer

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