Saturday, October 18, 2008

2009 Cleveland Indians: A Modest Proposal


How's that for a lineup in 2009? It just might work.


One way to construct a good lineup is to put above average hitters at every position. In the below table, each player is followed by two numbers. The first is their career OPS. Eventually I'll edit this to use their projected 2009 OPS, but for now I'll use their career totals.

The second number is the average OPS among qualified batter at that position in 2008. For example, in 2008 nine catchers had enough at bats to qualify for the batting title, and those nine catchers had an average OPS of .776.


The first thing that probably jumps out to Cleveland fans is the heavy assumption that Ryan Garko and Travis Hafner progress back to their career averages. If they do, though, they'll both be above average players at their positions.

The second thing that jumps out is that first basemen had the same average OPS as catchers, and were below second basemen. That's a statistical anomaly I should look into if I want to improve this study.

The third thing that should jump out is Jhonny Peralta's OPS compared to each infield position. Peralta is slightly above average as a shortstop, slightly below average as a second baseman (by 2008 standards, at least), and would be eaten alive as a third baseman. Victor Martinez, meanwhile, is already above average as a third baseman, and that doesn't count the mythical batting improvement of a catcher moving out into the field.

In the outfielders, many fans want the Indians to sign a hard-hitting corner outfielder. But that may not be needed. Both Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore hit better than the average left fielder - the strongest outfield position. That should be enough to outweigh Ben Francisco's center field-like hitting.

Combining all the positions above, you get an average-league-average OPS of .807, while the Indians give an average OPS of .817. Granted, that's not weighing everyone's plate appearances individually, but the basic numbers show good things for the Tribe.


The big thing here, of course, is how Victor Martinez would handle third base. He was signed as a shortstop, but played catcher his entire minor and major league career.

Jhonny Peralta's defense should improve by moving to an easier position. The team's defense as a whole should improve by having better defensive players at shortstop (Cabrera or Peralta) and catcher (Shoppach over Martinez).


I plugged these players into David Pinto's lineup analysis tool, and the results can be found here. The lineup listed at the top of this article isn't the best one the tool returned, but it's the one that makes the most sense. (Martinez and Hafner in the top two spots could get anyone fired.)

The only concern with the lineup is lefty-righty matchups. Five out of six consecutive hitters (counting Cabrera) are lefties. But they are broken up by Garko, who does much better against lefties than righties.


If the Indians want to get back to the playoffs, the parts may already be there. Sure, moving Martinez to third and Peralta to second is far-fetched. But am I any crazier than the professional sportswriters who think all the Indians' problems can be solved by signing Manny Ramirez, a guy who burned all his bridges in Cleveland long ago?

As I mentioned above, this is still a work in progress. I welcome any input on my methods or my conclusions.


ESPN's MLB stat page for the breakdown of qualified hitters by position
Fangraphs, for players' career OPS numbers