Where would the Indians be without the Goon Squad?
They’re such an integral part of the team, it seems as though the nickname has been around for a long time. But it wasn’t until about the first week of August that utility infielder Mike Aviles bestowed the name upon himself and the rest of the Tribe bench, primarily utility outfielder Ryan Raburn, catcher Yan Gomes, and designated hitter Jason Giambi.
There aren’t many teams in the league who can boast of a bench as deep as that. Used primarily as a third baseman, Aviles has also played 46 games at shortstop this year, 12 games at second base, and even five games in the outfield. Raburn is used primarily as a rightfielder, but he’s also played in left field and at second base. The guy even pitched a scoreless inning for the Tribe this year.
Indians manager Terry Francona has done a first-rate job of making sure that the Goon Squad members get plenty of opportunities to play. By the middle of the season, it was clear that Gomes was not only a good hitter, but a very good catcher as well, with a strong and accurate throwing arm, capable of throwing out would-be base stealers and of picking off men who wandered a little too far off first base. Francona began to put him in the lineup more frequently. In August, Gomes started 17 games as catcher to Carlos Santana’s 11. In September, Gomes started 22 games behind the plate, and Santana started only 5. Without any fuss or controversy, Gomes played his way into becoming the Indians’ de facto #1 catcher, moving Santana into the DH slot, as well as spelling Nick Swisher at first from time to time.
As IPL’s Adam Hintz observed in a post for the Sweet Spot earlier this season, Francona also did a great job of finding opportunities for Raburn to play. More importantly, Francona also made sure that Raburn got plenty of chances to stay OUT of games as well. Last season, as a member of the Detroit Tigers, Raburn hit .171 in 205 at-bats. He had only one home run, and his OPS+ was a mere 29. This season, Raburn hit .272 in 243 at-bats. He had 16 homers, and his OPS+ was 153. That’s a dramatic turnaround, and as Adam pointed out, much of the credit is due to the baseball acumen of Francona and his coaching staff.
While his batting average this year didn’t cause heads to turn, Jason Giambi did hit 9 homers for the Tribe this season. What’s more, Giambi has been a valuable asset to the Indians this season as a de facto bench coach and inspiration to rookies and veterans alike. Francona has gone out of his way to stress that Giambi’s leadership has been a big help in the clubhouse this year. In the past, at times I’ve been skeptical of the value of a “Good Clubhouse Guy,” preferring instead to see some numbers that actually help teams score runs. But Giambi has earned his place on the roster. And no Indians fan will soon forget that he was responsible for the biggest hit of the season, the two-run walk-off homer that gave the Indians a 5-4 win over the White Sox on September 24.
The Indians were 92-70 in 2013, a winning percentage of .567. In games in which Raburn came to the plate, the team was 52-34, .604. Here are the comparable numbers for the rest of the Goon Squad: Aviles, 74-50, .596; Gomes, 55-33, .625; Giambi, 41-30, .577. In other words, in games in which one or more members of the Goon Squad made a plate appearance, the Indians won more games than they did when the Goon Squad sat on the bench spitting out pumpkin seeds.
If the Indians can beat the Rays tonight and go on to play more October baseball, it’s a sure bet that the Goon Squad will be an important part of their drive to winning the World Series.