Indians Use Michael Bourn to Fill Hole at DH

Last night, the Indians signed Michael Bourn to a four year, $48 million deal. It’s less than he was asking for, but still a pretty significant investment for a low power/high strikeout guy headed into his thirties. I’ve already written about my questions over how much of his value he’ll retain, both on offense and on defense, but 4/48 isn’t paying Bourn to retain most of his skills. At that price, the Indians just need him to be an average or slightly above average player for the life of the deal, which gives him a lot of room to decline and still be worth the contract.

As others have already written, this was a deal worth doing for the Indians, even if they aren’t necessarily expecting to keep up with the Tigers in 2013. Value is value, and adding good players to the organization at reasonable prices is something every team should be interested in doing. But, perhaps more than just Bourn’s role on the team, the more interesting story is how the acquisition of one of the game’s elite defensive players actually solves the void the Indians had at DH.

When the Indians signed Nick Swisher earlier in the winter, the presumption was that he would replace Shin-Soo Choo in right field. With Bourn now in the fold, however, Swisher’s positional flexibility looks to be a significant advantage for Terry Francona, as Swisher can now flex between first base and right field depending on the best fit for each day.

The platoon that we’re all used to is the left/right tandem, with two batters sharing a starting job based on the handedness of the opposing pitcher. With Jason Giambi and Drew Stubbs, the Indians have the makings of a non-traditional DH platoon, with Swisher and Reynolds playing the field against RHPs to open up DH for Giambi and then Stubbs pushing Reynolds to DH and Swisher back to first base against LHPs. With Mike Aviles and Lonnie Chisenhall, they can also run a left/right platoon at third base as well, and the Indians anti-lefty line-up could actually be one of the best in baseball, especially when you factor in the defense that comes from having Brantley, Bourn, and Stubbs playing side-by-side-by-side.

But, opposing pitcher handedness isn’t the only variable off which a manager can choose to platoon. With a league best defensive outfield alignment in play when Stubbs is in the line-up, the Indians can now also choose their line-ups based on their own starting pitcher’s fly ball tendencies. Justin Masterson and Brett Myers will benefit less from having three center fielders behind him than Trevor Bauer or Zach McAllister, so on days when their ground ball starters take the hill, the Indians can now put an extra bat in the line-up. Meanwhile, the staff’s fly ball pitchers can be supported with perhaps the game’s best group of fly catchers, giving both better opportunities to succeed by pitching up in the zone.

The left/right platoon should take precedence over the ground ball/fly ball platoon, but there’s room to run both simultaneously within the same season. And the Indians, as an organization, have already shown that they’re willing to maximize the value that platooning offers. Last year, Cleveland’s hitters had the platoon advantage in 70% of their plate appearances, the highest mark in the league. The average team had the platoon advantage in just 55% of their plate appearances, and over 6,000 plate appearances, that works out to an extra 900 trips to the plate where the Indians had the left/right advantage. The Indians were also number one in platoon advantage plate appearances in 2011 as well.

Part of that is the product of having switch-hitters like Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, but the Indians have also been one of the most open organizations to job shares, and they’ve built a roster that should give Francona a lot of options to mix and match. They now have three switch-hitters in the middle of their order, and can complement those three with either five additional LH bats against a RHP or three additional right-handed bats against a LHP. And, depending on who starts for them each day, the line-up can also balance outfield defense versus the addition of a better hitter.

This isn’t the kind of thing that is going to vault the Indians to the top of their division, but it does give them the chance to maximize the value of most of the players on their roster. Having complementary pieces gives the Indians the ability to get the best from each of their players without exposing them to opportunities where they are more likely to fail, and their willingness to mix-and-match will give them the best chance to maximize value from a roster that comes up a bit short in the talent department.

Don’t look at Bourn as displacing Brantley or Stubbs. While it might not be intuitive, the Indians actually filled their DH hole by signing one of the game’s best defensive players. Having a flexible roster and a manager willing to move pieces around makes that possible.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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NickB
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NickB
3 years 4 months ago

That is an excellent piece of analysis! I suspect the Indians could be THE team that decides the winner of the Central. Though i also expect it won’t be them that does the winning.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 4 months ago

Cleveland’s ripping off Beane’s Moneyball 3.0 recipe: All outfielders have be CFs; use as many platoons as possible. Dunno if Cleveland has caught onto the whole “have as much depth as organizationally possible” segment yet though.

Chris
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Chris
3 years 4 months ago

It’s difficult when you draft as horribly as Cleveland has recently. I’m really impressed with their FO after this offseason though, and I expect good things from them moving forward.

MakeitRayn
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MakeitRayn
3 years 4 months ago

This is so Rays 2008

Bab
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Bab
3 years 4 months ago

I thought the Moneyball 3.0 was a combination of high ISO platoon dudes and a wide selection of super utility infielders.

B Cashman
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B Cashman
3 years 4 months ago

Crap, they’re on to us.

Eminor3rd
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Eminor3rd
3 years 4 months ago

The only way this fails is if those fly balls become dingers. I like this move for them, but boy, do they need pitching.

KDL
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KDL
3 years 4 months ago

yes, that…and also that there’s more to OF defense than catching flys. Granted we can’t really quantify things like cutting off balls to the gap, or even quickly getting to balls ripped down the line into the corner to minimize baserunners advancing, but they still factor in to OF defense.

JeffMathisCera
Member
JeffMathisCera
3 years 4 months ago

Brantley, Bourn, Stubbs vs Trout, Bourjos, Hamilton

Genuine question, which defensive outfield is preferred?

Because the Indians’ pitching staff is lacking I think the defensive prowess of this new outfield (at least part time) will have a greater impact than it would most teams simply for the fact that they have more balls in play to catch.

Oliver
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Oliver
3 years 4 months ago

That’s not a real question.

scraps
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scraps
3 years 4 months ago

But it’s genuine!

David
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David
3 years 4 months ago

Tout and Bourjos have legitimate shots at being the best fielding CF/LF in baseball this year, but Hamilton is really the odd man out and probably not better than league average in Right. Indians don’t quite have the elite range, but have greater consistency across the board, with all of their guys grading out as top 10-15 CFs

Nivra
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Nivra
3 years 4 months ago

Pagan, Torres, Blanco has to be in this equation.

Sure, Pence is slotted to start in RF, but you’ll see this alignment regularly in late games with the Giants in the lead. Also, if Pence goes into a prolonged 2012 like slump.

Pagan is pretty average as a CF, but Torres is amazing, and Blanco is well above average, too.

ClintC
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ClintC
3 years 4 months ago

Odd that Brett Myers has allowed 1.26 hr/9 while maintaining a below average flyball rate over his long career.

blahblahblah
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blahblahblah
3 years 4 months ago

Most of it comes from Philly

nearly 1.5 HR/9 in 472 IP when pitching in Citizens Bank…

Otherwise his numbers are relatively flat considering fluctuations

SKob
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3 years 4 months ago

While Myers isn’t a stud and Bauer is kind of an unknown, Cleveland has made significant improvements to it’s pitching staff as well as there offense. Putting in a great defensive outfield is huge for the pitching staff. If they can either extend Cabrera and trade Lindor or promote Lindor and get another solid pitcher for Cabrera, next year the central could get interesting. Add in a developing group of kids in KC and we could see some new blood in the playoffs!

Ryan
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Ryan
3 years 4 months ago

Let’s recall that Oakland during those runs had “excellent” to “very good” starting pitching each time. Oakland has always had the arms, which has allowed Mr. Beane the liberty to mix-match the fielding positions. Even last year, they had the pitching. I think they should have held onto McCarthy for that price, but I’m sure they had their reasons. They seem to have a knack for finding young arms that pan out. Anyone else notice this?

Cleveland does not have the arms. Looks like a half moneyball to me!

Radivel
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Radivel
3 years 4 months ago

Loosechangeball?

eddiegaedel
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eddiegaedel
3 years 4 months ago

Great article Dave, I was really surpsied when I kept reading that people were expecting Bourne to displace Brantley or Stubbs but really this article is about pushing them to better DH platoons. I absolutely love this and the Swisher move and am glad that you have agreed.

Dirck
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Dirck
3 years 4 months ago

How long is it going to take before teams figure out that they can maximize the effectiveness of their rosters by going away from the Tony LaRussa philosophy of carrying 24 pitchers ,each with a rigidly defined role ,and changing pitchers 3 times in the 4th inning of a 7-0 game ?

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
3 years 4 months ago

Yeah, because no managers would like to have LaRussa’s success.

Not that I disagree with you, but we have to stop acting like TLR’s stuff didn’t work.

Dirck
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Dirck
3 years 4 months ago

Circle Change ,the worst thing about the LaRussa-ization of baseball is that he made the game deadly boring . I doubt if anyone goes to a baseball game to watch an ex-lawyer try to prove that he is smarter than everybody else .

KDL
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KDL
3 years 4 months ago

You have to prove that his, we’ll say, hands-on managing style played a significant role in his teams’ success, before you can use it as a defense of his really boring over-use of relief pitchers.
There are many managers who have been as or more successful without his All-Star Game style of pitcher use. Did LaRussa stink so badly at other aspects of managing that his relief-pitcher-genius still left him behind these others, but kept him close?

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
3 years 4 months ago

I don;t have to prove anything. I was just pointing out that if LaRussa’s teams had lost a bunch and had very little success no one would be crediting his over-managing style nor would anyone emulate it.

I don’t know if, overall, it’s a significant benefit or not. I pitched in college and I felt our coach’s only really important role was recruiting. That how much importance I put on coaching in baseball.

To me, it seems that the tough thing in evaluating managers is that each play has such a small effect, so it likely takes a lot of small advantages to add up to something significant and that’s assuming we can all agree on methods, data, definitions, standards, etc.

Trevor Robinson
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Trevor Robinson
3 years 4 months ago

Where I can I find that platoon advantage data?

Spit Ball
Member
Spit Ball
3 years 4 months ago

The only flaw I see to the argument is the Jason Giambi being the Lefty DH part. He still has a good batting eye as he posted an OBP over 370 last year. Still the 1 homerun in 120 plate apps with the Coors effect in place is kinda scary. At 42 I’m not sure if he can be Thomeesque. Can he really hold up for 350-400 plate appearances as that division is heavily right handed when it comes to starting pitching. However Dave you are correct. That Outfield defense should be swell and help out a young pitcher like Bauer alot. It will be interesting to see if numbers at the end of the year prove some of this true. Cool article and an interesting spin on the same old platoon usages. It seems like the Tribe is trying to maximize the value of the players on the roster by combining strengths by thinking outside the box a bit. When you have platoons that are just the old school lefty vs. righty you can really hamstring the depth on your roster.

Steve
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Steve
3 years 4 months ago

Yeah, why didn’t the Tribe just get the real Jim Thome? I’m sure he would have been into it.

Tribescribe
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Tribescribe
3 years 4 months ago

Also interesting that Giambi has had a reverse platoon split in 3 of his last 4 years. He has a sub-.700 OPS vs. RHP in those seasons. Combined with his age and the Coors Effect, which also has him sub-.700 on the road, I wonder if he should even make the roster.

KDL
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KDL
3 years 4 months ago

There is nothing to say he won’t continue this approach in the future but…I saw a large % of those 120 PAs last year. Many were in garbage time. Or they were with the Rockies down by 2 with 2 on in the 9th with 2 down (or similar). Tracy pretty much sent him out there to hit a home run. It was rare that he was merely trying to make good contact, or even take a walk. That seems like a pretty easy guy to pitch to.

Travis Marshall
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Travis Marshall
3 years 4 months ago

So the Indians become the Royals of the AL Central? Lot of offense but no pitching. Wait. What?

blahblahblah
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blahblahblah
3 years 4 months ago

not in the least – the Indians didnt vastly overpay for mediocre at best (and one good) pitchers just to give themselves a false sense of upgrading a single flaw…

…infact, it should be argued the Indians underpaid (to greatly underpaid) everywhere in an effort to upgrade every other aspect of the Game while taking under-appreciated players to simultaneously upgrade their rotation needs

in total, the Indians will pay their entire 2013 roster (66.2 mil) not that much more then the new Royals 2013 rotation really (41.86 mil in 2013 going to Shields, Santana, Guthrie, Davis, Hochevar, Paulino & Chen)

And when you consider the Royals have promised 102 million overall to just 1 year of Shields, Santana, Luke, Chen & Paully plus 3 years of Guthrie & Davis – well thats a gigantic chunk of cash (plus prospects, one of which is extreme) for 6 mediocre (at absolute best) and 1 good pitcher

And in the end, I would still feel much, much, much more comfortable running out (mainly upside/rebound-capable guys) Masterson, Jimenez, Myers, Bauer, McAllister & Matsuzaka in front of that new Defense then the crud + Shields the Royals will sport after the fortune they spent

I honestly think the two teams become a perfect example of how to try things wisely verses how to cut off your nose to spite your face

Jaysfan
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Jaysfan
3 years 4 months ago

lol i love how you refer to chen, hocevar, paulino, santana etc. as crud…you’re not wrong neccesarily, its just that one of your frontline starters had a worse year in 2012 than Chen and Hochevar and only a marginally better year than Paulino or Guthrie in FIP and WAR…so yeah I wouldn’t go acting like your rotation is so superior to Kansas City’s. Cleveland has more overall potential upside at the top of their rotation (jimenez+masterson) but Kansas City has the best pitcher in Shields and a higher floor overall than Cleveland IMO.

Also I don’t know how you can argue Cleveland underpaid in their signings of Boourn and swisher. They were both high profile free agents, Cleveland only signed them because they were willing to offer more money + term than any other teams ergo they did not underpay.

blahblahblah
Guest
blahblahblah
3 years 4 months ago

I’m honestly not quite sure what you are even talking about; the “floor” for the Royals rotation is that everyone outside Shields could very well be playing their last season as a member of a ML rotation. (and some of them might not even start this year, if there is any mercy)

Guthrie has the best chance at being a part of a rotation in 2014, almost no matter what he does really, as the amount of money they gave him will probably ensure the chance. But otherwise, who in their right mind other then KC would want Hoch or Chen taking the mound? Paully might not pitch again, or at least outside short bullpen stints. Davis cant start. Santana is a disaster outside West Coast, pitcher friendly Stadiums (.308 wOBA in Anaheim, 3.43 wOBA away; and that includes a .228/.293/.313/.606 line in Oakland and .253/.327/.401/.728 line in Seattle. Infact, of places he has pitched more then 1 game in, he has a career sub 4.40 ERA in only Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle and Boston) — how do you see a high floor here? On the other hand, I can guarantee everyone (baring freak injury) in Clevelands rotation will be starting again next season for at least someone.

Also, read the actual article – expectations on Bourn were a much higher contract, and the same was expected for Swisher (although to a lesser degree). Circumstances led to them landing in Cleveland, not Cleveland blowing away with larger contract offers (like the one given to Guthrie, for some God knows why reason)

jdbolick
Member
Member
3 years 4 months ago

As I stated in the other piece, I hope for Cleveland’s sake that Bourn’s arrival pushes Drew Stubbs to the bench. His defense has value, but is it really enough to offset his atrocious approach at the plate? Using him as a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement would play to his strengths.

Tribescribe
Guest
Tribescribe
3 years 4 months ago

Bourn and Stubbs are natural platoon partners, though Bourn’s contract and superior defense will probably keep him in the lineup. The runs Bourn saves over Stubbs might not outweigh the runs he gives away at the plate vs. LHP.

Jeff in Sputhern Indiana
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Jeff in Sputhern Indiana
3 years 4 months ago

Drew Stubbs does not have an “atrocious approach at the plate”.

He is a very patient hitter who swings at bad pitches less than most. He just can’t make contact. Especially on a two strike pitch down the middle. This is why he strikes out so much, poor contact skills not a bad approach.

james revere
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james revere
3 years 4 months ago

What managers have used defensive platoons based on their starting pitcher? If I recall correctly, mid 80’s Mets, Davey Johnson used Howard Johnson as ss behind flyballers and 3b behind groundballers with Kevin Elster as ss.

Paul
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Paul
3 years 4 months ago

Good article and interesting points about the Tribe’s willingness to use the platoon advantage. There’s one small problem. It’s sort of assumed in the article that the platoon advantage is always an… advantage. Then you look at the leaderboards and note that they were 13th in the AL in wOBA last year. Which is why they went out and got all these guys. Then again, the RF they traded was a better hitter than any of the guys they just added.

Oh well, all they have to do is have their pitchers make hitters hit fly balls to Bourn and they’ll win the division. Man, this plan sounds familiar. Did George Costanza propose something like this to Big Stein?

SKob
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

Did you just go ‘all hail Choo’ on us? Wow! Brantley, Bourn, and Stubbs each make Choo irrelevant on defense. And offensively… really what was the big deal? Stop watching reruns and pay attention.

Brad
Guest
Brad
3 years 4 months ago

You have to play Stubbs regularly for his defense and speed. He is a good bottom of the lineup guy 15 to 20 home runs and 30 to 40 sb for a bottom three hitter with excellent defense. Who cares about his batting average

rob norton
Guest
rob norton
3 years 4 months ago

not sure that youre right in your assumptions – but a very well written view point – thanks for the read

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