As we do each summer at WFNY when the Cleveland Indians hit the All-Star break, we take a look back at the four facets of the team on the field. There’s been been a lot to talk about with this club. Their 44-41 record is good enough for second in the American League Central, but the team has shown some serious flaws. GM Chris Antonetti continues to tell us that the Indians have not played their best baseball yet. I hope he is right. Additions will need to be made and in-house improvements will be a must if the Tribe plans on playing October baseball.
We started by looking at the starting rotation. Yesterday it was the bullpen. Today we will move to the position players, starting with the infield.
During the winter, the Indians had a decision to make. They knew they needed to add a bat, but would it be at first base or in the outfield? Second base (Jason Kipnis) and shortstop (Asdrubal Cabrera) were locked and loaded. At the hot corner, there would be an open competition between stud prospect Lonnie Chisenhall and incumbent glove-man Jack Hannahan. The catching position would be manned by the Carlos Santana, who many expected to take that next great leap towards stardom. Lou Marson would be back as his backup. The right-handed hitting Jason Donald was the odds on favorite to be the middle infield utility man.
Matt LaPorta was no longer going to be the every day first baseman. The Indians shopped around and were passed over by the likes of Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Pena, and never got into serious trade negotiations for Carlos Lee. Eventually, they settled on Casey Kotchman. Hannahan would outlast a struggling Chisenhall in spring training, Jose Lopez made the roster with as the 25th man, and they were all set.
By the All Star break, little had changed. Chisenhall came up to replace an injured Hannahan, but took most of his cuts as the DH before an injury of his own derailed him. Lopez was dropped, then was brought back to replace Donald and became an indispensable member of the team. Kotchman, Kipnis, Cabrera, and Santana (other than his DL stint) remained fixtures in the lineup.
1B Casey Kotchman (.241 BA/.299 OBP/.671 OPS/8 HR/34 RBIs/17 BBs/261 ABs) - Well, after the first half of his first season in Wahoo Red, White, and Blue, we can say that Kotchman has certainly come over as advertised. Billed as a top glove man (currently carries the highest first base fielding percentage in major league history) with a contact/high on-base percentage offensive player, the Indians have essentially gotten what they have paid for with him.
I know many (including me) at times have been frustrated by his lack of production, but his defense is so good, that it helps offset it. You also have to consider the Indians get upper tier production at second and short. I’ve said it before, but I can live with his bat the way he picks it with the glove. Consider this – Kotchman has more homers and has driven in more runs than Carlos Santana in just 17 more ABs. Depressing, I know.
However, Kotchman has saved numerous runs defensively and makes the throw to second (something that LaPorta always had trouble with) with relative ease. He isn’t the long term answer at first, but he has done essentially what he has been asked to do.
2B Jason Kipnis (.277 BA/.345 OBP/.765 OPS/11 HR/49 RBIs/33 BBs/20 SBs/329 ABs) - Go ahead and call him the offensive MVP of the team. In his first full year in the majors, Kipnis played to an All-Star level during the first half. He is tied for the team lead in homers, RBIs, and steals. He also ranks in the top three in runs scored and hits. His defense, which many were concerned about at second base, has been steady and solid.
The guy is just scratching the surface with his talent. Manny Acta moved Kipnis into the third spot in the order and has watched his young stud grow. He is aggressive on the base paths with 20 steals and plays the game the way Grady Sizemore did in his prime; all out effort on every single play. Kipnis has managed to stay out of any major offensive skid as well, despite essentially playing every inning of every game (has started 83 of 85 games).
I cannot wait to see what Jason has in store for us after the break.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (.286 BA/.364 OBP/.832 OPS/11 HR/42 RBIs/45 BBs/304 ABs) - Many experts thought that Asdrubal’s breakout 2011 season was an aberration. Luckily for the Indians, he picked up right where he left off last year. Like Kipnis, Cabrera is a guy who plays every single day and rarely gets a day off. With weak bats at the corners, his offensive production is a must for this team. Once again, he has helped carry an up and down offense with his consistent solid at-bats.
The switch hitting shortstop does it all. Whether its right-handed (.296/.378/.837) or left-handed (.282/.358/.829) it doesn’t matter. With runners on (.349/.437/.964) or with runners in scoring position (.310/.405/.870), Asdrubal is the guy you want with the bat in his hand. Defensively, he can be lackadaisical at times and spectacular at others.
Before the season, Cabrera received an extension through the 2014 season. I for one am looking forward to penciling him in at short, hitting second for the next two and a half years.
3B Jack Hannahan (.245 BA/.318 OBP/.673 OPS/3 HR/20 RBIs/17 BBs/155 ABs) - Back in the Spring, Hannahan really won the third base job by default, as Lonnie Chisenhall really struggled. The decision looked like the right one in April and May as Hannahan was Mr. Clutch with the bat, solid again with the glove, and Chisenhall spent time developing and finding his groove with the bat in Columbus. He left April tied for the team lead in runs batted in. It wasn’t just the amount of runs he drove in, it was when they came.
At the break, Jackie is hitting .360 (9-25)/.467/1.187 with 14 RBIs with two outs and runners in scoring position.
In the middle of May, a back injury shelved him for a month, and it was actually not such a bad thing for the team. Chisenhall was able to come up and get some ABs and it also created more PT for Jose Lopez. Hannahan returned on June 15th, but hasn’t found his stroke as of yet. He is just 9-50 (.180) since his return and has begun a platoon with Lopez. Hannahan is still best suited to be a bench guy and late inning defensive replacement.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (.278 BA/.297 OBP/.756 OPS/3 HR/9 RBIs/1 BB/72 ABs) - With the injury to the Indians top position player prospect, we have been robbed of getting that shot in the arm from the minors that Kipnis provided last season. Give Lonnie credit; he took his demotion with no ill feelings, went down to Columbus and worked on his bat and glove. He tore the cover off the ball (.324/.353/.893/4 HR/17 RBIs/111 ABs) and when both Travis Hafner and Hannahan went down with injuries, the door was open for Lonnie to get plenty of ABs at both third and DH.
The sweet swing is there, no doubt about it, and you can see why the Indians love his bat so much. However, Lonnie doesn’t walk enough for anyone’s liking and he is still a work in progress. Unfortunately, that development was cut short when he was hit by a pitch on June 30th in Baltimore and broke his forearm. The timetable for his return was 10-12 weeks, which means we probably won’t be seeing him again in 2012.
2B/3B/1B Jose Lopez (.267 BA/.290 OBP/.712 OPS/4 HR/27 RBIs/6 BBs/161 ABs) - When the veteran utility man was designated for assignment in late April, many figured that would be the last we heard from him. By May 13th, he was back and playing every day at either third base or DH. On his first start since being recalled from AAA a day later, Lopez started a 10-game hitting streak. By the end of May, he was not only playing everyday, but hitting cleanup!
Lopez has been a Godsend of sorts for Manny Acta. For all of the flack we give GM Chris Antonetti for not coming up with a big bat last winter, he found a hidden gem with his signing of Lopez. He has started games at three different infield positions and DH, and has provided a right-handed professional bat that the lineup sorely lacks (.333 with 24 RBIs with RISP). He is no All-Star, but Jose has been solid and consistent. He has been everything you could ask for in a role player.
C Carlos Santana (.221 BA/.339 OBP/.675 OPS/5 HR/30 RBIs/46 BBs/244 ABs) - There is no bigger disappointment on the Indians roster right now than Santana. Jon wrote all about it yesterday and nailed it. Carlos signed a contract extension which gave him financial security before the season. We all agreed that he deserved it. This was going to be his year. Coming off of a 27 homer, 79 RBI season, it was his time to take the next step forward. What has happened to him during the first half has been beyond frustrating.
When Casey Kotchman has more home runs and RBIs than Santana, that is a real problem.
His swing is a mess. He is pull happy. The power numbers have disappeared. Santana did spend time on the DL with a concussion and the hope was that after he had the chance to clear his head, he would come back with a renewed focus. Instead, he has regressed further in his season-long slump. Ironically, his defense has been much improved in 2012, but that is secondary to the funk he is in with the bat.
The Indians clearly need to add a stick to their lineup, but the truth is if Santana can find himself and get back to beiong the guy they need him to be, that in itself is an addition.
C Lou Marson (.297 BA/.398 OBP/.805/0 HR/8 RBIs/15 BBs/91 ABs) - Laser Lou! Talk about a guy who has had a tale of two halves. With Santana as the everyday catcher and Kotchman’s gold glove defense at first, the at-bats for Marson were going to be few and far between. During April and May, when Marson did play, he just couldn’t buy a hit. He was 5-34 (.147) and didn’t look good doing so. Then something clicked when Santana went down with the concussion. Laser Lou all of a sudden became a tough out.
As a semi-regular in June, Marson went 18-47 (.383) with an on-base percentage of .473 and an OPS of 1.005. He loves laced line drives towards the right-center gap and has put together solid at-bats. When Marson hits, it is obviously a huge bonus. We already know how good he is behind the plate. At the break, a career .228 hitter is at .297 and should be in line for more at-bats. Now I am not saying the Indians should sit Santana for him, but Acta should feel more than comfortable sliding Santana over to first from time to time to rest his legs, more so than he did in the first half.
The key to the infield’s success in the second half hinges on Santana’s bounce back. Cabrera faded after the All-Star break last year, but the hope is that he will be more fresh and prepared for the August and September grind. Kipnis will need to continue his breakout season and whatever they get offensively from Kotchman will be a bonus. The same goes for the Lopez/Hannahan platoon. I wouldn’t expect the Indians to add an infield bat before the break. If they do add one, it will most likely be a left fielder.