The top of the order (Choo, Cabrera and Kipnis) is productive and meets the eye tests of perception and reality. However, the Indians lineup does not have much length and even with Brantley’s current emergence the middle of the order remains troublesome.
Hafner’s absence (a prolonged yearly occurrence) creates a power void but he slumped before the injury (.242/6/23) and hit only .133 (6 for 45) with RISP. The burden of primary run producer now rests squarely on Carlos Santana. Is he up to it?
.229 5 HR 28 RBI .279 RISP (career .222)
Perception: Most thought Santana’s third year would become a breakout season with premium offense (25-30 HRs and 90-100 RBIs) from that rare commodity, a switch-hitting catcher.
Reality: The talent and raw power exist but a closer look gives pause.
2010: .260 6 HR 22 RBI 150 AB
2011: .239 27 79 552
2012: .229 5 28 188
Santana is a career .240 hitter. This season his walk and strikeout rates remain on par with 2011 but his XBHs are down significantly (14 after 52 g versus 64 total last year) as is his slugging percentage (Sweet Lou Marson nips at his heels). His swing tends to get long and often he seems impatient, confused by off speed pitches in fastball counts. But should not a catcher experienced in calling games understand that approach? Will the light bulb ever stay on?
When Santana quiets his swing, lets his hands work and naturally drives the ball he is a pleasure to watch and everything we could ask. But doubts remain and after almost 900 major league at bats, could it be that his ceiling isn’t as high as we thought?
Sacrilege, I know. And perhaps expectations are unfair. Santana is only 26, coachable and can improve as he moves into his prime years. To win, the team needs Carlos to be better.
.285 1 HR 29 RBI .311 RISP
Perception: Underachiever who never seems equal to the sum of his parts.
Reality: Sadly, he’s all we may get from the Sabathia trade but he may finally be maturing as a player. Never a real success at leadoff (career .269), he’s hit .302 since his drop to the middle of the order and looks more aggressive (fewer takes of hittable pitches), is driving the ball better with 21 XBHs (35 all of last year) and is on pace to double his career high in SB. Fingers crossed these trends continue.
Then comes . . .
Three Headed Monster Clown
Known as Damon/Duncan/Cunningham or Dam Duncingham, our Monster Clown hits a combined .190/6/24 in 294 ABs, or about half a season. A blistering pace toward 48 RBI over the full year from a ‘power’ position.
An optimist will say they can only get better. A pragmatist will say baseball is a numbers game and numbers don’t lie. Grady (or anybody), please hurry.
.176 2 HR 10 RBI 108 ABs .100 RISP (3 for 30)
Perception: Clubhouse leader and veteran hitter with a good pedigree who would fill the black hole in LF.
Reality: Clubhouse leader who grew old quickly in the offseason. To be fair, he missed Spring Training waiting for a team to take a chance but after 6 weeks on the roster he’s shown very little at the plate or in the field. Some of his at bats/waves are painful to watch and for a veteran hitter he seems surprisingly vulnerable to the age old pitching mantra of hard stuff in and soft stuff away. LFs play him embarrassingly shallow, waiting for weak pops ups they know will come.
.205 4 HR 12 RBI 122 ABs .161 RISP
Perception: An easy to root for good guy and overachiever who paid his dues. After a strong finish last year (.265/7/23 in September), he earned more playing time and would emerge as a decent power threat with consistent at bats.
Reality: There are reasons the 32 year old mired in the minors and never became an everyday player. He’ll have his moments (2 bombs in a game off Verlander last year) but he’s pull happy and strikes out too much (29%). His average barely hovers above Mendoza even after hits in 5 of his last 7 starts, so you know where he’s been.
Duncan is a good guy and cares. I like him. In T-Ball he’d be a keeper.
The consistent production needed from the middle of the lineup for this team to succeed remains elusive. Will Brantley continue to emerge? Will Santana ever reach his potential? What do we do about Dam Duncingham?
What do your eyes tell you?
Stats through June 14