Our analysis of the Tribe’s first half continues. Part I of this portion can be found here.
Shop, Benny, and Garks – If the Tribe was going to take that next step forward in 2009, Kelly Shoppach, Ben Francisco, and Ryan Garko were going to have to prove that they were indeed everyday major leaguers and not just one year wonders. Having the luxury of a backup catcher who led the AL in homers at his position was going to allow Victor Martinez to rest his legs and play more first base. With Franklin Gutierrez now traded, Francisco was being handed the left field job and allowed to move down in the order where he could flourish. Garko was going to play some in the outfield in addition to first base to get his bat in the lineup. After all, Garks did lead the team in RBI’s last season with 90.
Ah, the best laid plans….
Shoppach has probably been the biggest disappointment this side of the bullpen. This league is all about adjustments. The pitchers have adjusted to his swing and Shop hasn’t done anything to figure out what has gone wrong. Not only has his defense not improved, but Kelly has turned into a windmill. Why anyone throws him a straight fastball is beyond me. He entered the break with a whopping 58 strikeouts in 155 AB’s. His .194 batting average is appallingly low and he has become an automatic out at the bottom of the order. Things have gotten so bad that Vic The Stik has had to catch more that originally thought.
The 27-year old outfielder who loves to hit line-drives to the gap was ready. This was going to be his breakout season. He was going to prove that he is indeed an everyday major leaguer who has waited and waited patiently for his chance. Instead, Ben Francisco has been exposed as nothing more than a fourth outfielder. We all knew his glove was below average, but the thought was the bat would force his way into the lineup – that is why he was kept over Franky G this offseason.
Handed the left-field job, Benny dropped it as if his name was Braylon Edwards. His lack of clutch production wasn’t there, and overall he hasn’t been the high average kind of hitter he had been throughout his minor league career. At .242/6 HR/25 RBI/54 K’s/265 AB, how much longer can we expect to see his name in the lineup card? Don’t forget, four of his homers have come off of Tampa’s Andy Sonnanstine. Benny’s only saving grace is Grady’s elbow injury. With no other center field option (Trevor Crowe’s bat is 4A), Francisco has to not only stay on the roster, but as a regular.
Then there is Garko. A wise man has referred to Benny and Garks – high school teammates – are “the pressure is off twins.” I can’t say I disagree. The Stanford grad for the second consecutive year has completely stumbled out of the gate with the bat, yet has come around lately. He hit .228 in May while the team floundered.
A source in the Tribe organization has told me many times he has never been high on Garko and sees him as nothing more than a singles hitter. Meanwhile, Wedge has tried to turn him into a serviceable outfielder. Two words: bad idea. We’ve now seen three and a half years of Garko as a regular and the story remains the same – he is a power player with no power with a below-average glove who does his best work when the Indians are out of it.
Matt LaPorta anyone?
Vic The Stik – OK, so he is currently in a 4-47 slump. Give the man a break. His back and legs are probably sore from carrying the team on his back all season long.
Victor Martinez came out of the gate guns blazing, out to prove that it was the injuries alone which wrecked his 2008 campaign. He has been proven right since day one. Up until three days before the break, The Indians lone all-star was above .300 since a 1-4 opening day. The Stik hit .386 in April and .321 in May. Today, he sits at .294 with a team leading 14 HR’s and 59 RBI’s.
He has bounced back and forth between catcher and first base, but has had to catch more than the team would have liked, thanks to the struggles of Kelly Shoppach. With his team circling the drain, Victor has been one of the only players to take any sort of leadership role. The shame of it all is that with the season over already, Martinez has become the desire of many contenders, particularly Boston.
Dealing The Stik would be detrimental to not only the team’s future, but to attendance figures. He is one of, if not the most popular player in the organization. He loves Cleveland and as recent as Monday told reporters that he wants to “retire as an Indian.” With a $7 million option for next year, it behooves the Dolan’s to go to him now and offer him an extension. Damn the rules – this is the face of your franchise, a guy who wants to be here (which is rare these days), and your only leader. Extend him, put the “C” on his jersey, and call it a day.
All Aboard The Choo-Choo Train – Who else thinks that Shin-Soo Choo is an all-star caliber player who will be a fixture in the Tribe outfielder for years to come (or at least until he hits free agency or is recalled to the South Korean Army)?
Unlike Francisco and Garko, Choo has proven to be an everyday key run producer and as dependable of a player as Eric Wedge has. When he was acquired from Seattle three years ago for Ben Broussard, he came over with little fan-fare. In 2009, he is having the best season of anyone in Red, White, and Blue. The numbers do tell the story for Choo:
.292 BA/13 HR/54 RBI/.882 OPS/54 BB
Throw in 13 for 13 in stolen bases and a rocket arm in the outfield and you have yourself a stud folks. He wasn’t expected to hit cleanup, but he has settled right in behind Victor Martinez, giving him plenty of protection. Want more impressive numbers from Choo? He is hitting .315 with runners in scoring position and .314 with RISP and two outs. In late inning pressure situations – last three innings with runners on – Choo is hitting a whopping .342.
The left-handed outfielder has been all that we could have asked for and more this season. It’s a shame the rest of the team couldn’t have followed his lead.