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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?