CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Tuesday, we bring you the second installment of a six part series that will examine the Cleveland Indians offense, starting pitching and bullpen. For each element of the club, we will make a case for why they may be better or red flags indicating why they may be worse in 2014.
Monday, we made the case for why the offense might be better. Today, five reasons why the Tribe offense might regress in 2014:
1. The Bourn Decline?
On Monday, we looked at the performance of the 31-year-old Michael Bourn and predicted a rebound season for the speedy center-fielder despite logging a .316 on-base percentage last season, 19 points below his career mark.
However, the more alarming prognostication from some is that Bourn’s struggles last season had far less to do with a league switch and far more to do with a player starting to hit a decline in his career. I am not sure I believe in that narrative, but if true, it would signal a reason for concern at the top of the Tribe’s order.
For a player who’s game revolves around speed, any decline of that element would be difficult to overcome.
2. No Gomes Track Record
While the continued growth as a defensive catcher and receiver are not in question, it is fair to call the expected offense of Yan Gomes a question mark. The right-handed hitter posted a .294/.345/.481 slash line last season and continued to blossom as he earned more playing time late in the year.
However, how a young player handles their second full season in the big leagues is anything but a given. As the opposition puts a book together on how to attack Gomes, expecting him to not experience a few struggles would be a potentially foolish stance.
Understandably, the Indians will put far more emphasis on how he plays behind the dish and handles the pitching staff – but even for a player that has hit at every level – how he performs offensively getting the bulk of catching duties over a 162 game season is not a guarantee.
3. Murphy no fluke?
When the Tribe signed outfielder David Murphy, we took a look at what the advanced stats had to say about the left-handed hitter and why he appeared to be a good bounce back candidate in 2014. But what if the metrics were wrong and Murphy contributes another season close to a .220 batting average?
The outfielder also struggled against right-handed pitching in 2013, posting an OPS nearly 200 points lower than his 2012 campaign against right-handed pitching. What if that is no fluke?
If he cannot provide the balance anticipated against right-handed pitching, the right-field platoon between Murphy and Ryan Raburn will fail to deliver what is needed in the bottom of the order.
4. The Best of Raburn?
Speaking of Raburn, the right-handed hitter had an unbelievable season with the Tribe in a part-time role in 2013, delivering the highest OPS of his career (.901) and equaling his career-high in homers with 16.
In short bursts, Raburn was one of the most valuable Indians’ players last season – but expecting another campaign to that level appears unfair and unlikely.
Manager Terry Francona seemed to know when to use his valuable bench weapon to his advantage after Raburn experienced his worst professional season in 2012 with the Detroit Tigers. From 2009-2011, Raburn’s slash was an impressive .274/.329/.473 in a similar part-time role with the Tigers.
However, Detroit attempted to make Raburn an everyday player in 2012 and the results were just not there (.171 batting average). It is far more advantageous to use Raburn in favorable match-up situations – especially against left-handed pitching.
If any scenario plays out which forces him into more of an everyday role (injuries or ineffectiveness to others) against both righties and lefties, concerns over his performance will be fair and expected.
5. No Mistake Eraser
Say what you will about ex-Indian Mark Reynolds, the right-handed slugger carried the Tribe offense for the first month of the 2013 season and contributed through May before fizzling out and being released. What his short period of success revealed was the benefit of having a hitter that can change the game with one swing of the bat.
Unfortunately, Cleveland does not have one game-changing 30 home run slugger in it’s order and relies on the contributions of many to score runs. That worked well through periods of 2013 – but when several players got cold in August, the Tribe’s offense slumped horribly.
Without one big-time bat, every other portion of the offense (stolen bases, taking the extra base, moving runners over and driving them in) has to operate flawlessly – and it times, it won’t.
The Indians have to hope those skids are not sustained for long periods of time.
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