As Aaron Gleeman noted yesterday, it has been a rough week for Sizemores. Oakland third baseman Scott Sizemore tore his ACL, and much less surprisingly, yesterday it was reported that Cleveland center fielder Grady Sizemore will be out 8-12 weeks after a procedure on his back. Grady Sizemore’s story is probably well-known to most FanGraphs readers: from 2005 to 2008, he was one of best players in baseball.
Since then, he has been hampered by injuries and increasing ineffectiveness when he was able to take the field. It was not as if Cleveland was expecting a return to super-stardom for Sizemore when the team declined his 2012 option and then re-signed him for 2012 ($5 million deal with incentives). The team simply needed another outfielder as they try to make a run at the playoffs. But Sizemore is out for at least a couple of months, and probably at least half of the season. No player stands out as the obvious replacement. Let’s take a look at a few options, and what Cleveland stands to lose.
Part of the difficulty with this sort of analysis is getting accurate read on just how good Sizemore is at this point. Over the last two seasons, he has fewer than 450 plate appearances in the majors, with an absolutely abysmal .254 wOBA in 2010 that only served to make his .302 wOBA in 2011 look slightly less horrible. How much of that was injury, random variation, or simply decline in skills is difficult to answer. ZiPS and Steamer projections both see Sizemore as about a .330 wOBA hitter in 2012, but the error bars have to be pretty big on that.
Fielding is difficult to evaluate in the best of situations, and the lack of recent data for Sizemore makes it even worse. At his best, Sizemore was seen as an outfielder with good range and a bad arm, and the range has probably suffered. Optimistically with above-average offense and average fielding, Sizemore probably projected at between two and three wins above replacement if he did manage to play something like a full season.
Sizemore’s direct replacement is not much of a mystery. Due to Sizemore’s injuries, left fielder Michael Brantley has started 127 games in center over the last three season. Offensively, Steamer projects Brantley for a .316 wOBA, ZiPS for .313. That was around league average in 2011 — not starter-worthy in left field without great defense, but it might play in center.
It is difficult to evaluate how good or bad Brantley is in the field. Both UZR and DRS see him as slightly above-average in left, and horrible in center. However, the sample size is small even for those most confident in the measurements given by those metrics: less than 1200 innings over three full seasons. Brantley had a reputation as a good outfielder in the minors. If he is about an average center fielder, then he is about a two-win player over a full season given the hitting projections — almost as good as Sizemore was projected. If one thinks Brantley is a really bad center fielder (say, -10 runs), then he is between a win and two wins worse than Sizemore over a full season.
Along with Shin-Soo Choo, Brantley was going to start in the outfield even with Sizemore healthy, so whether he plays left or center, that will not change. What are some options for the now-open third spot? Apparently there are about ten players who might have a chance. Let`s briefly look at a few.
Russ Canzler and Matt LaPorta`s names will come up, but both have questions about their alleged Quad-A-ness, so we will leave them aside for now. Thomas Neal and Trevor Crowe are also mentioned, but at this point, they seem to be marginal players even as bench fodder. Ryan Spilborghs is finally out of Colorado, and, well, he would make a heck of a corner outfielder for a AAA team. Nick Weglarz is in camp, but did not hit in the minors when healthy in 2011, and he was a bat-first prospect. I was a Felix Pie advocate for years, but while he showed real promise in 2009, things just kept getting worse — he is even borderline as a bench player at this point.
I may have missed something, and I`m sure some will disagree with me, I think there should be four players in the mix for Cleveland`s remaining outfield spot to start the season. None of them are especially appealing, but all could be helpful if utilized properly.
One somewhat “safe” option would be a platoon. A left-field platoon to start the season could involve Fred Lewis as the left-handed half of the platoon, and either Shelley Duncan or Aaron Cunningham as the right-handed half. That would maximize offensive output, given the options. One could make an argument that Duncan should just get the spot straight up given that he hit pretty well (over 247 plate appearances) for Cleveland in 2011, but he’s 32, and not very quick out there. He is probably best suited as a right-handed bench bat, a part-timer at first and in left field.
One could also make the case for Aaron Cunningham to get the left field spot all to himself. He has never played as well in the majors as one might have expected given his minor-league numbers. He is not terribly young, but at 26 there maybe be something there worth checking out on a full-time basis, at least until Sizemore can come back. He can play better defense than Duncan, and would also provide a right-handed balance in a heavily left-handed lineup. On the other hand, Cleveland is obviously “going for it” this year, so they may not want to wait around and see if Cunningham can finally bring it at the plate.
While Cunningham is tempting, perhaps the best option would be to leave Brantley in left and to have Ezequiel Carrera start in center. Carrera does not do much more on offense than steal bases, but his speed probably makes him the superior option to Brantley in center. This would be Cleveland`s best defensive outfield option. Perhaps some sort of platoon arrangement with Cunningham and Carrera (with Brantley shifting to center when Cunningham starts) would be a good stopgap solution.
None of these options is terribly exciting, but that is the nature of having to look to reserves to fill a starting role. Still, it is not as if Cleveland was expecting Sizemore to provide five wins. Their offense now revolves around Choo and Carlos Santana, not Sizemore and Hafner. The Indians have enough decent options that losing Sizemore even for the whole year projects to only cost them maybe two wins, and that assuming Sizemore could have played decently for the whole year if he would have avoided the current injury.
Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall`s development has always been far more important to Cleveland`s 2012 season that Sizemore`s health. Losing two wins is a problem, given that they were already projected to be playing catch-up with Detroit prior to Sizemore’s injury. However, they are still within range.