In the second of a four-part series, WFNY will take a look at your last place Cleveland Indians. This afternoon, we will take a look at the outfield. It was supposed to be a position of strength when the season began, but today, things have changed.
On opening day, the outfield was something that you looked to and said “we are set.” For now and for the future I believe. Young Michael Brantley was in left, Grady Sizemore in center, and Shin-Soo Choo was in right. All three were poised for breakouts of sorts.
Again, the best laid plans….
When Shelley Duncan has seen regular time in one of the corner spots, you know something is amiss.
Left Field: Opening Day Starter – Michael Brantley (.118 BA/1 HR/5 RBI) Today: Austin Kearns (.270 BA/7 HR/38 RBI)
Before we jump all over Brantley for his stats, you must remember he is still just 23. The Spring Training plan for Brantley was to be a par of the open competition for the left field job. But the kid was never really going to be considered partly because of the Russell Branyan signing (causing Matt LaPorta to play LF) and partly due to the fact that the Tribe brass wanted to season him more (cough, cough, keep his service time down) at AAA Columbus.
The combination of a good spring (.291 in 55 AB’s) and Branyan’s back injury forced Brantley into action as the regular left fielder. To stay with the big club, all he had to do was hit. The problem was he didn’t, and Austin Kearns did. Once Branyan was ready, there was no longer room for Brantley, who was sent back to Columbus.
As for the man who took over, he turned from Austin to “Awesome” Kearns. While the Indians offense sputtered out of the gate, the man who signed a minor league free agent deal over the winter was carrying the offense and became the team’s cleanup hitter. Half-way through May, he was the regular left-fielder and was hitting .340. On June 11th, he was still going strong at .307, but has come back down to earth since.
I give Kearns a ton of credit for proving to the rest of the league that he is still a major league starting outfielder. He has been invaluable to a banged up roster, playing all three OF positions and being a positive influence in the clubhouse. That is why Manny Acta wanted him in here. Acta had him in Washington and always loved him, he just couldn’t stay healthy. Don’t be stunned when Kearns is dealt before the trade deadline.
In 2011, the job is Brantley’s to lose.
Center Field: Opening Day Starter – Grady Sizemore (.211 BA/o HR/13 RBI). Today: Brantley/Trevor Crowe (.249 BA/1 HR/20 RBI)
Poor Grady Sizemore. For the second consecutive year, injuries have robbed him of a season. Last year, he labored through 106 injury-plagued games before being shut down. This Spring we heard story after story about how Grady was “back.” Well, that never happened.
Even when he was healthy in April, his plate discipline was lacking and the strikeouts were up again. The power we saw from 2005-2008 completely disappeared. Then, he hurt his knee so severely, that he needed season ending surgery. Grady may be a victim of his own early success. It’s gotten to a point with me that I’ve started to think we have vastly overrated him as a player. Maybe next year when he is 100% healthy, he will prove me wrong, but I don’t see him improving.
The regression for leadoff men usually comes when they fall in love with the home run ball. Grady falls into that category. As his homers went up, so did his strikeouts. Other than one up year in 2008, his walk numbers declined. Not good.
So with Grady out and the Indians not ready to recall Brantley, Trevor Crowe finally got his chance. Looked at as nothing more than a fourth outfielder, the former first round pick has shown that, well, he is a fourth outfielder. He does have nice speed, and has handled the bat well. But even though he can play all three OF positions, he takes very poor routes to balls. For every great catch he makes, he is taking a bad angle towards a ball in the gap. You now can’t say that Crowe hasn’t gotten his chance with the big club.
Once Choo went down with a sprained thumb, the brass recalled Brantley and immediately installed him as the every day centerfielder and leadoff man. I was excited to see what he would do with his shot. However, since he recall, Brantley has gone 3-36 (.083). Choo could be back within the next two weeks, which would send Brantley back to C-bus.
Right Field: Opening Day Starter – Shin-Soo Choo (.286 BA/13 HR/43 RBI). Today: Choo
It’s not all doom and gloom, is it? Shin-Soo Choo is the man. Pure and simple, Choo is the best all around player we’ve got. Just look at the stats. He is currently leading the Indians in every major offensive category – Batting average, home runs, RBI’s, on-base percentage, hits, runs, and stolen bases.
Think about that.
Now consider that you cannot run on him because of his absolute bazooka arm in right field. This is the epitome of a five-tool player. His thumb injury will end up robbing him of 20 games or so, not to mention needing to get his timing back, but Choo will be fine. He has been everything the Indians have asked him to be and more. When you scratch your head at some of the moves Mark Shapiro made over the years, make sure you remember that he acquired Choo for Ben Broussard.
DH: Opening Day Starter – Travis Hafner (.245/8 HR/29 RBI). Today: Hafner
Good ole’ Travis Hafner. The man formerly known as Pronk has been up and down all year. He’s been my favorite whipping boy for the last three years as we’ve all watched him go from MVP candidate to DFA candidate. As in designated for assignment.
I’m not going to regurgitate the same material again. If you want to read my knocking Hafner – have at it. The main issue with continuing to watch Travis hit fourth every night is that he isn’t producing. The salary of $14 million for the next two and a half years is an anchor tied to the foot of Chief Wahoo. He’s nothing but a thief at this point. The plate discipline that was his calling card during his “Pronk” years is all but gone. The power is all but gone. He can’t play the field.
So you are sitting with a DH that hits under .250 with the power of an average outfielder. As stated before – he’s Russ Branyan without the power who can’t play in the field. At some point, hopefully this offseason, the cord must be cut with him. He is tying up an everyday job for one of the young kids who can produce what he is doing at a fraction of the cost. Just cut your losses and set him free. You have to pay him regardless. Acknowledge the mistake and move on.