Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Painted Into a Corner

Much has been made recently about the lack of production coming from the corner OF positions on the Indians. While Dellucci and Nixon have become the whipping boys du jour (as Casey Blake and Jason Michaels are unsure what to do with their newfound popularity), it’s time to look at the actual numbers being produced by those two positions in the Indians lineup.

The cumulative season statistics follow the position, and then are shown how they rank against the same position production among the 30 MLB teams:
Left Field
.769 OPS (19th of 30)
40 R (10th of 30)
9 HR (13th of 30)
38 RBI (14th of 30)

Right Field
.715 OPS (22nd of 30)
37 R (13th of 30)
5 HR (24th of 30)
34 RBI (22nd of 30)

Not setting the world on fire, but not necessarily as bad as it looks from day to day on the field. Essentially, Dellichaels in LF has performed around the middle of the pack while RF falls further down the list, partially due to a full-time job being given to Nixon after Blake moved to 3B to take over for the injured (and struggling) Marte.

The individual players’ numbers currently filling those spots in LF break down like this:
Michaels
.800 OPS - 19 R - 5 HR - 19 RBI

Dellucci
.697 OPS - 25 R - 4 HR - 19 RBI

While some would argue that Michaels has earned more playing time, I would counter that he’s being used exactly as he should – exclusively against LHP. Last year, we saw how Michaels performed against all pitchers and his splits this year (.854 OPS vs. LHP, .638 OPS vs. RHP) validate the use of him as a platoon player who struggles once he is forced to be in the lineup everyday and go up against RHP regularly.

His platoon partner, Dellucci, has also proven that he is best served in the role of only playing against RHP, though his numbers against both RHP and LHP are drastically below his career averages:
.501 OPS vs. LHP in 2007, .605 OPS vs. LHP from 2004-2006
.727 OPS vs. RHP in 2007, .875 OPS vs. RHP from 2004-2006

As long as Dellucci trends back towards his career averages against RHP in the platoon with Michaels, the LF platoon will do the trick.
Not tremendously, but effectively.

The prevailing notion that Big League Choo should be in Cleveland, taking Dellucci’s spot in the LF platoon, is undermined by the fact that Choo is struggling in Buffalo, particularly against RHP (.771 OPS vs. LHP, .672 OPS vs. RHP) whom he would face. While Choo would certainly bring more athleticism to the platoon in the field than Dellucci does, his numbers in Buffalo don’t merit a promotion. If he were crushing AAA pitchers, he could certainly represent an upgrade.
But right now, the BLC doesn’t.

The situation in LF is one that bears watching if Dellucci is unable to trend towards his career numbers vs. RHP, but Dellichaels in LF does not pose the biggest problem on this team, or even in the outfield.

The much bigger problem exists in RF, where Trot Nixon has seen his OPS drop from .894 on May 7th to its current .664 over a period of 32 games, with just 6 XBH in that stretch. If that was an aberration or just a prolonged slump, the alarm wouldn’t go off.
But, here are Nixon’s OPS numbers from the past 5 years:
2003 - .975
2004 - .887
2005 - .804
2006 - .767
2007 - .664
And, here we find the problem. Nixon, who has been playing RF against LHP and RHP until just recently with Gutierrez coming into the picture, has either been playing injured (off-season back surgery) or is simply on the downside of his career. The fact that his defense has been substandard only builds the case against Nixon as an everyday, or even platoon, player.

Consider Nixon’s numbers for 2007:
.664 OPS - 22 R - 2 HR - 23 RBI
Even with the excellent production from C and SS (two positions that historically don’t produce a lot of runs), Nixon in the lineup every day has become a liability.

But before throwing all sorts of RF possibilities out there not currently in the organization, let’s make another consideration – give Franklin Gutierrez the full-time gig in RF on a 6-week trial basis (until July 31st) to see what we have in Frank the Tank.

With Gutierrez out of options at the end of the year, the team needs to find out if Gutierrez has the potential to become an everyday player to line up beside Grady Sizemore for the next few years, or if he is simply a 4th OF that can be used for trade bait to a team in need of a CF (his natural position) like the team did with Coco Crisp a few years ago.

In his short time with the parent club, Gutierrez has posted this line:
.635 OPS - 7 R - 2 HR - 5 RBI
Notice that Gutierrez, who is by no means a HR hitter with his new shorter stroke, has as many HR as Nixon does in 174 fewer plate appearances.

While the Atomic Wedgie seems to working Nixon and Gutierrez into a platoon in recent games, a better approach would be to give Gutierrez a spot in the lineup every day. In Buffalo, Gutierrez performed equally well vs. all pitchers, posting a .938 OPS vs. LHP and a .847 OPS vs. RHP (notice the marked difference to Choo’s lesser numbers in Buffalo); so it may be time to give Gutierrez a long look in RF.

While some may clamor for the release of Nixon to bring another player in, he still does offer a LH bat off of the bench and veteran leadership. That “veteran leadership” is not a quantifiable quality, but there is something to be said for a team’s chemistry that is sitting on top of the toughest division in baseball, having overcome numerous roadblocks already in the young season. Whether Nixon’s presence is a factor or not is debatable, but the performance and attitude that the team conveys is not.
For now, Nixon keeps his spot on the team, just not in the everyday lineup.

Another option to solve the problem in RF would be to bring Andy Marte up to face LHP (he’s sitting on a 1.024 OPS vs. LHP in Buffalo since he returned from injury in an admittedly small number of plate appearances) and move Blake back into the platoon situation where he would play 3B against RHP and RF against LHP.
But, with Blake going the way he is as the everyday 3B – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Many fans are vocal about upgrading one (or both) of the corner OF spots as the season moves closer to the halfway point. For now, the team should allow the LF platoon (which has been serviceable, but not spectacular) play out as it was designed for Dellichaels, and give Gutierrez a shot in the everyday lineup in RF. If a change becomes necessary from either Dellucci’s continued struggles or Gutierrez’s failure as an everyday player, so be it.

But for now, with the trading deadline 5 weeks away from today, the Indians would be best served to put those plans into motion (or keep them in motion) to fully determine if an in-house solution exists before jumping the gun on bringing a corner OF in from the outside at the expense of prospects when the answer may already be in the Indians’ clubhouse.

10 comments:

t-bone said...

PC writes about the corner outfielders, and Dellucci goes down with something that doesn't look good. It's like rain, on your wedding day. It's a free ride, when you've already paid. It's the good advice, that you just didn't take. And who would have thought... it figures!

WCT said...

The Indians have so little margin for error that they cannot afford to settle for middle of the road production out of two power positions. As I write this Roberto Hernanandez is crapping the bed and turning a 1 run lead into a 4 (at least) run lead on a night when they cannot seem to get the big hit they need.

WCT said...

And right on cue, Trot Nixon (he of the .656 OPS!!!) makes the last out in the game as the tying run.

Pat Tabler said...

I'll take the "jinx" for the Dellucci injury.

I think this clears a spot for Stanford to stay as the Tribe can go with a 13-man pitching staff until they find out if Jake is OK.

Trot & Michaels in LF platoon
Gutz in RF
Stanford in bullpen
Westbrook in rotation

That way, they still have 4 OF and don't run the risk of Jake coming back, realizing he's still hurt, and not having Stanford around as an insurance policy.

WCT,
I do have some stuff on how well the other positions for the Tribe have performed that allow them to carry mediocre players in the corners.

Other teams have some positions that are mildly productive:
Detroit - SS, 1B
Chicago - SS, CF

The fact that the Tribe's positions happen to be traditional power spots (formerly filled by Belle and Ramirez) make it difficult to get past.

I'll try to get those rankings, by position, when I get a chance.

t-bone said...

Dion James "game used" 1990 jersey.

WCT said...

Pat, I gotta disagree. First of all, Chicago is looking like a 90+ loss team so I will ignore them. Detroit has Sean Casey and Carlos Guillen at those two positions you mentioned. Guillen has a .938 OPS so far, which has got to be near the top of all AL SS. Casey has about a .720, which is skewed by his .370ish slugging. I would gladly take a .350ish On base from either Dellucci or Nixon.

Pat Tabler said...

WCT,
Agreed on the White Sox…bad example.
Also, mea culpa on the SS position in DET (see below), where I thought that Neifi Perez had done more damage to that position’s contributions.

Last time I post something off the top of my head, without stats to back it up.

Anyways, looking at the AL’s top 5 offensive teams (DET, CLE, NYY, LAA, BOS – in that order by the way in terms of runs scored), and just going by OPS (which is a pretty good one-stat indicator of effectiveness), here is how they rank in the AL:
C
CLE – 1.002 (1 out of 14)
NYY - .823 (3 out of 14)
DET- .766 (6 out of 14)
BOS - .737 (7 out of 14)
LAA - .708 (8 out of 14)
Surprising how low DET is, with Pudge. The Indians’ Catchers have 21 more RBI than the next closest team and have 30 more RBI than BOS. Getting that production from behind the plate makes a big difference in the rest of the lineup.

1B
LAA - .933 (2 out of 14)
BOS - .876 (4 out of 14)
CLE - .766 (8 out of 14)
NYY - .762 (10 out of 14)
DET - .749 (11 out of 14)
Three of these teams (including the Tribe) are near the bottom of the pack at 1B and get more production from their C.
Speaks pretty loudly to the dearth of productive 1B around the AL.

2B
BOS - .850 (2 out of 14)
DET - .799 (3 out of 14)
NYY - .720 (10 out of 14)
LAA - .687 (11 out of 14)
CLE - .621 (14 out of 14)
Oof. C’mon Josh...also last in R for 2B. Hopefully he’s turned the corner in his transition to the AL and his move to the top of the order will improve the quality of pitches he sees as well as his confidence.

SS
DET - .867 (1 out of 14)
NYY - .865 (2 out of 14)
CLE - .817 (3 out of 14)
LAA - .817 (3 out of 14)
BOS - .588 (14 out of 14)
Apparently, SS is where these teams are stocking their power bats, except for BOS. All but LAA and BOS have higher OPS from their SS than their 1B.

3B
NYY – 1.092 (1 out of 14)
BOS - .905 (3 out of 14)
DET - .780 (5 out of 14)
CLE - .742 (9 out of 14)
LAA – .627 (13 out of 14)
Again, a surprising lack of production from a historically productive position. Outside of NY (A-Rod), TOR (Glaus), BOS (Lowell) – no team cracks the .800 barrier.

LF
BOS - .868 (1 out of 14)
NYY - .791 (3 out of 14)
CLE - .772 (4 out of 14)
LAA - .753(6 out of 14)
DET - .701 (9 out of 14)
Two teams above .800 (BOS and TB) to show how the balance of a lineup has really changed from the days of slotting your LF into the 3 or 4 spot in the order.
Yes, that’s Dellichaels in 4th, quite a bit ahead of Craig Monroe.

CF
DET - .917 (1 out of 14)
CLE - .865 (3 out of 14)
LAA - .780 (6 out of 14)
NYY - .694 (9 out of 14)
BOS - .649 (11 out of 14)
Who says that Franklin Gutierrez couldn’t be a ML CF?
.649? Coco, Coco, Coco…at least your defense has been stellar.

RF
DET – 1.102 (1 out of 14)
LAA - .936 (2 out of 14)
NYY - .733 (11 out of 14)
BOS - .725 (12 out of 14)
CLE - .707 (13 out of 14)
Interesting dichotomy here as we enter the land of the big contracts, which can fall in with Ordonez and Guerrero (good), or Abreu and Drew (bad). Lesson – money spent does not equal money well spent.
Regardless, the Tribe needs more production here.

DH
BOS – 1.012 (1 out of 14)
DET - .902 (2 out of 14)
CLE - .850 (4 out of 14)
NYY - .832 (7 out of 14)
LAA - .656 (14 out of 14)
This is where we’re missing the contributions of Hafner, who should be sitting neck and neck with Ortiz.

Those are the rankings provided by ESPN.com.

They’re fascinating in that they show the different ways that a lineup can be constructed. If you get overwhelming production from one position (CLE C, NYY 3B, DET RF, BOS DH, LAA RF), you’re able to take horrible production from another.

It’s when you get into taking horrible production when a change needs to be made. That’s what needs to happen in RF with the Tribe. How the Dellucci injury affects it will be interesting, but the Trotter has run his course as an everyday player.

Cy Slapnicka said...

cool article about lidge getting his mojo back.

Chris said...

T-Bone or Pat Tabler,

We're looking for a Report Card for the Indians on our site before the All-Star break. I can't find your contact information. Will you contact me at sportprojections@gmail.com and I'll give you the details.

Thanks
Chris Fry
sportprojections.com

t-bone said...

Bye-bye Roberto...