Cleveland Indians Platoon Situation
Given the Indians are at the 40
game mark this is a good time to look at how the off
season strategy by Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge is working out.
Forty games is used as a barometer because that is Shapiro's own
when evaluating what improvements may be needed going further
into the season.
So to start, this first article
is a look at the much talked about hitting platoons that Mark
Shapiro and Eric Wedge plotted out going back to the off season.
The starting pitching and bullpen will be looked at in another
week or so. The general idea was that by mixing two players'
strengths against either right or left handed pitching, that
they could come up with one good player overall, maybe even
above average. There were many articles written about this
strategy lauding Shapiro for trying something new. The
conventional wisdom seemed to be that this would definitely work
and save the owner millions instead of going into the expensive
free agent market.
The following are some OPS (on
base plus slugging) stats through 40 games of the players
involved, either by design in the off season or by change of
plan in season:
Casey Blake: .742 overall, .938
LHP, .670 RHP
David Dellucci: 648 overall, .488
LHP (18 AB), .680 RHP (89 AB)
Ryan Garko: .904 overall, .779
LHP (39 AB), .965 RHP (77 AB)
Andy Marte: .553 overall, .500
LHP (8 AB), .567 RHP (31 AB)
Jason Michaels: .705 overall,
.625 LHP (38 AB), .791 RHP (35 AB)
Trot Nixon: .748 overall, .504
LHP (31 AB), .838 RHP (84 AB)
The plan at the start of the
season was this:
Casey Blake would play
full time somewhere. He would hit against LHP for Nixon and be
the primary 1st baseman due to Ryan Garko's alleged defensive
problems. Curiously, Blake was played primarily at 3B in
David Dellucci was to play
against RH starters only and get the most playing time in the
process, with Jason Michaels filling in against LHP. This was
suppose to result in, at minimum, an average left fielder
offensively. Defense wasn't an issue in that Dellucci was known
as a bad one throughout his career but the Indians thought his
bat was so good that it would overcome his problems there.
Trot Nixon was playing the
Dellucci role in right field against RH starters, with Casey
Blake filling in against LHP. Again, defense was not an issue.
Nixon has always been what is considered average defensively.
There was a problem though. He was coming off of back surgery in
the off season and no one knew if he could run. The gamble was
that if he was having problems moving around that Blake would
play more in right field early in the season.
Ryan Garko was one of the
last players that made the opening day roster, and probably only
did because certain influential beat writers were very
publically campaigning for it. The brains with the Indians
didn't want this because they evaluated his defense as bad at
So to start the year, the Indians
were set on having three positions filled by platoon players, an
unheard of situation. There have been times where really weak
teams will platoon one or two positions or even a strong team
might one position if it is their weakest link. But it has never
been done by design at multiple positions with the primary goal
being expected strong production while saving millions in the
As can be seen by the results
listed above and Mark Shapiro's own 40 game measuring stick,
this idea has been a huge flop. At this point, both Dellucci and
Michaels probably wouldn't make many teams' 4th OF role, let
alone be given automatic at bats in a regular platoon role. On
top of that, Shapiro signed Dellucci to a three year deal and
lost a high draft pick to Philadelphia as compensation for
signing him. I don't think he could give him away at this point.
Well, maybe if the Texas Rangers are still making questionable
decisions and think he will repeat his career year there.
Whoever it was in the
organization that scouted these two ex Philly players and said
they can hit in these roles should be fired.
Trot Nixon has probably been the
best performer and his .748 OPS is something you would expect
out of an average rookie. His production against RHP is what
they wanted but the problem is that he has played too much
against LHP. This hurts the team because like Dellucci he is a
hole in the lineup against them. He is also now the slowest OF
and base runner in MLB. There was a game recently where he
barely moved on a fly ball and Grady Sizemore ended up racing in
front of him to catch it. He also cannot make it from 2B to home
on a single or 3B to home on a medium fly ball.
As far as offensive production
goes, Nixon playing too much against LHP is one of the problems
that the people in the Cleveland Indians organization didn't
take into consideration when coming up with this strategy. The
reason why platoons have never been used by design is that they
look good on paper but there are other factors that can and will
come into play to neutralize any alleged benefit, which is what
has happened with Nixon.
One problem is simply all of the
pitching changes that can happen in the course of a game. Take a
game against a RHP that gets taken out and is replaced by a LHP.
There is not enough room on the roster to have replacements that
can be plugged in at all of these different positions and so the
result is an automatic out at multiple ones.
Injuries - This has happened
twice now in just the first 40 games. Dellucci got hurt which
meant Michaels was playing more in his weaker role than planned.
Andy Marte then got hurt which meant Blake moved to third base.
So Trot Nixon became a full time OF, which is how he ended up
hitting too much in his automatic out role, against LHP.
There are also tricky problems in
evaluating splits stats for these types of players because there
is almost never a large enough sample size on a year to year
basis to really judge anything. Some years the player might be
in a strict platoon role, other times he is a 4th OF or even
just a pinch hitter. Some years he might play in a pitcher's
park, others in a hitter's park.
Then you have the issues that no
stat can measure, the experience against certain pitchers and
what happens when a hitter changes leagues and is facing guys
for the first time. It is interesting that the two National
League hitters are the ones that have struggled the most even at
their strong side role. Is it because they are basically rookies
again, facing new pitchers for the first time? It is possible.
It is also possible that the pitching is better in the American
League and they are not talented enough to get similar results.
Only Nixon, out of he, Michaels, & Dellucci, has faced a lot of
these pitchers before.
The idea that Ryan Garko could
not play defense at first base was another bad mistake in
evaluation. He's made one error through the first 40 games and
has dug out bad throws, even making above average plays at
times. The fact the Indians did not see the value in his bat
overcoming any alleged defensive deficiencies, and instead
planned to give most of the playing time there to utility player
Blake, was another evaluation mistake. And the fact that Garko
is putting up an elite level OPS already in just his first 300
at bats in the majors means the Indians kept his bat in the
minors too long. At least it hasn't taken them half of the year
to correct this situation as Garko is getting more regular
playing time the last couple of weeks.
So where does this leave Casey
Blake, since Garko has appeared to move him out of the primary
1B job? You would think it would mean he is the RF against LHP
and filling in on Garko or Marte's days off at 1B & 3B
respectively. No chance. The Cleveland Indians, being the only
team in MLB that sees Blake as a full time hitter, is giving him
the primary 3B job.
How did Andy Marte manage to lose
his job in just two weeks? Well, he wasn't hitting, although
this shouldn't have been seen as a problem given the Indians
were just two weeks into the season. There are multiple players
on the team that have struggled for quite a bit longer than
that. In fact, there are a couple that have struggled from day
one, kept their roles (full time or platoon), and continue to do
so. The excuse that the other players have longer track records
and so automatically deserve some benefit of the doubt goes out
the window when the manager is saying he is now only looking at
Marte also had some problems
defensively early on. Again, a 10 game sample size is being used
against him. Marte has a history of being an above average
defender at third base. Blake lost his 3B job to Aaron Boone two
years ago, mostly due to defensive problems there.
So you have a situation where one
of the best hitting prospects the Indians have had over the last
five years is now being blocked by Casey Blake. All due to the
fact he got injured and Blake is being handed his job upon
returning. Eric Wedge has stated that Marte is being brought
back up because "you shouldn't lose your job due to injury" but
then goes on to state he will play against only some LHP but not
all of the time because basically the team has been winning.
Blake is now the primary third baseman against RHP.
The correlation Wedge draws
between Casey Blake playing 3B and the team winning is at best
ignorant. It is one of the more stupid things I have heard him
say, of which there have been many. This is the same manager
that said Ben Broussard was a middle of the order hitter and
that Jhonny Peralta wasn't a home run hitter. He and pitching
coach Carl Willis were also the brains behind putting the
Cleveland Indian's ace this year - Fausto Carmona, into the
bullpen last year and trying to permanently change his role from
starter to reliever. They even went on a media campaign last
year to get the writers and fans to accept the idea. They also
thought another 2007 flop, Jeremy Sowers, was a better starter
Look at Blake's stats again: .670
OPS against RHP, .236 AVG, .306 OBP, .364 SLG. That is well
below average. If he were a rookie with options with a capable
replacement in the wings, it would be the impetus for a demotion
to the minors. These are the types of numbers you wouldn't even
put up with from a defensive wiz at SS. Blake is also on pace
for 13 HR for the year. This is not acceptable at a corner
It is unbelievable that this
manager has the nerve to quote generic career splits, and cherry
picking career stats like HR and batting average to boot, as if
the people following this team do not know what real offensive
production is. He even has Blake hitting in the most optimal
position for a hitter in this lineup, behind Grady Sizemore and
in front of Travis Hafner, yet Blake is a hole against RH
You start getting the feeling
that Mark Shapiro will yet again sit on his hands come the
trading deadline and try to back into the playoffs somehow with
these cheap pieces parts he has assembled. This is what has
happened to the very good strategy of developing your own
through the farm system with a medium market base. At some point
the team is seen as maybe being competitive so talented young
players start repeating AAA for the third time because it is
deemed safer to go with veterans, no matter how questionable
This change in strategy would
work if the Indians actually went out and paid the money it took
to add a legitimate full time player or two to the team.
Instead, the elite younger talent that has been allowed onto the
team, most of the time by accident, will have to carry these
stiffs and hope it is enough to maybe finally make the playoffs.
A similar strategy can be seen in
the signing of Jake Westbrook. The Indians chose to resign a
replaceable middle of the rotation starter instead of elite
talents like Travis Hafner or CC Sabathia, because he was seen
as the cheapest of the three. More on the starting pitching
moves and non moves will come in the next article.