Will Lefties Foil The Middle of the Indians’ Lineup?

When new Indians manager Manny Acta announced that Grady Sizemore would slide down to the No. 2 spot while Asdrubal Cabrera would assume leadoff duties, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. Sizemore’s power makes him a better fit for the middle of the lineup, while Cabrera’s .360 OBP and 42 doubles in 2009 make him a quality leadoff candidate. It makes enough sense that there seemed little use arguing the point.

About an hour after reading this, I started to think about it again. Leading off with Cabrera and Sizemore sounds nice enough, but who will hit after them? The linked article mentions Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner coming next, and surely Russell Branyan will also hit in the middle of the lineup. In fact, looking at the Indians’ lineup, the only other candidate for the 3-4-5 spots, barring a Matt LaPorta breakout, is Jhonny Peralta. Branyan is the stronger hitter, though, so I expect he’d fill the No. 5 spot.

This arrangement places lefties in four straight lineup spots, two through five. This makes me wonder if 1) these lefties have shown poor platoon splits over their careers and 2) if Acta will bat Peralta ahead of Branyan. While there is no current way to prove the latter — we won’t know until Acta starts filling out lineup cards — we can still examine the first. This is how the middle of the Indians order has performed against lefties, using their career numbers.

Sizemore: .235/.326/.393 in 1121 PA
Choo: .268/.353/.429 in 330 PA
Hafner: .261/.375/.462 in 1092 PA
Branyan: .210/.297/.459 in 513 PA

Clearly we run into sampling issues, as Choo and Branyan haven’t accumulated even a full season’s worth of PA against lefties. Branyan’s case is stranger still, as 36 percent of his career at bats against lefties came last season. He performed very well, hitting .222/.321/.481. He never got much of a shot against lefties earlier in his career, but then again he never got much of a shot as a starter until 2009.

We typically see managers try to break up a long string of lefties, but in this case I’m not sure that’s a good idea. These four, plus Cabrera, are the Indians best hitters, and should be receiving as many plate appearances as possible. Plus, it’s not like Jhonny Peralta has been great against lefties in his 956 career PA: .265/.337/.450. Why place him between two players who generally hit better?

Given the lineup composition, the Indians against left-handed pitchers could be a storyline to run through the season. Their career numbers indicate that they’ll fare just fine, and since skills are closer to average than they appear, we can expect decent performances from this lineup. Manny Acta has been billed as a progressive-thinking manager. Will he make the off-beat move and bat four straight lefties in his lineup?

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

8 Responses to “Will Lefties Foil The Middle of the Indians’ Lineup?”

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  1. odbsol says:

    I still don’t get how Manny Acta is the new manager for CLV. What could he have shown in his time in Washington that anyone would take as positive? (Conversely, the Nationals must have ignored the Riggleman era in Chicago. I didn’t. He left a lot to be desired.)

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  2. pm says:

    Don’t worry, Manny Acta will inexplicably bat Austin “.190 Batting Average, 2 RBI after May 18 in 50 games” Kearns in the 5th spot so you won’t have to worry about this.

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    • What evidence is there that Acta mismanaged the Nationals? No manager could have done even marginally well with Washington’s roster. We can’t base his overall managing skills on one stint with a horrid team.

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      • pm says:

        There is evidence. How do you explain his obsession with batting Austin Kearns 5th or the game vs. the Orioles that he lost by batting Kearns and Ronnie Belliard back to back in the lineup. It’s no coincidence that the team improved vastly without him and with Riggleman.

        26-61 record with Acta
        33-42 with Jim Riggleman

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    • Hmmmm. 15 games in the 4th or 5th spot is an obsession? Please. We all know the importance of small sample sizes, yet you’re judging Acta by 15 or 16 games.

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  3. ralf says:

    There was a lot of chatter regarding the Twins and a lefty-heavy middle of the order when they signed Jim Thome. The consensus was that since the AL central has very few LH SP’s and no LH closers there wasn’t much to worry about. The AL in general seems to have a lower-than-usual number of dominant lefty starters this year, and the Twins and Indians are unlikely to win the couple of games they’ll play against CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee anyway.
    Also, what’s up with the comments bashing Acta? It’s not his fault the Indians don’t have RH slugger.

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    • Bryz says:

      Don’t forget that Span, Mauer, and Morneau hit lefties well and Jason Kubel supposedly showed improvement against lefties in ’09. Aaron Gleeman has repeatedly argued that Thome being a lefthanded hitter shouldn’t be as big of a worry as some people made it out to be.

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  4. bflaff says:

    Going lefty through the middle of the order doesn’t seem like a big deal when the opposing starter is right handed, because the good probably outweighs the bad of exposing yourself to lefty relievers late in the game. But they shouldn’t keep that lineup against lefty starters, since they’d face the disadvantage all game long.

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