They say that in baseball, the name of the game is pitching. Certainly, the Cleveland Indians have a lot of questions in this area, particularly the starting rotation, where only Fausto Carmona can be said to be proven.
However, there should be equal concerns about the Tribe’s hitting, because there aren’t a lot of proven hitters adorning the team’s lineup.
Last week, Baseball Prospectus’ Christina Kahrl wrote that since the Indians are starting Jason Donald at 3B, scoring runs doesn’t seem like a priority for the Tribe.
Using the league average OPS of around 750, it doesn’t look promising for Cleveland when looking at the past history of the hitters involved.
The Indians only have three players expected to play everyday with an OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) over this mark: Shin-Soo Choo (885), Carlos Santana (869), and Travis Hafner (824).
And Santana did this is limited at bats, so it is hoped he will perform at this level in 2011.
You can add in Austin Kearns (772), who may get a lot of at bats early in the year while Grady Sizemore is out of the lineup.
Out of the rest of the lineup, there isn’t even much of a history of having good offensive seasons.
At 1B, Matt LaPorta had an OPS of 750 in his rookie year in 181 at bats, but last year dipped to 668. He was coming off surgeries to his hip and foot, so perhaps that’s why his numbers slumped badly. There is no question he is a large key if the Tribe is going to score runs in 2011.
Orlando Cabrera hasn’t had an OPS over 750 since 2003 when he played for Montreal. The last season he was close was in ’07 with the Angels (742). Last year, he was under 700 (657) for the year.
If he stays with his career path thus far, an odd-numbered year means a good year for SS Asdrubal Cabrera. In his rookie season of 2007 and in 2009, Cabrera had good OPS figures of 775 (’07) and 799 (’09). Hampered by injuries last season, he dropped to 673. He provides hope for the offense based on past statistics.
Jason Donald had a 690 OPS last season, but his minor league career is littered with season where he was above 800. He’s now 26 years old, so he another guy who has to start producing in 2011.
Michael Brantley is another guy whose minor league numbers show good OPS numbers, but so far at the big league level, he sits at 645 in a little over 400 at bats.
There is no doubt the management is banking on young guys like Brantley, Donald, and La Porta to duplicate their minor league success to have an effective offense.
You have to remember that there is normally some decline in these numbers going from the minors to the majors.
That is why the other huge key to the Tribe offense is Grady Sizemore. He has a lifetime OPS of 840 with four season over 800 and one (2006) of 907.
Even battling through injuries in 2009, Sizemore put up a 788 OPS. Even at that number, he would be one of the better offensive players on the squad.
If the young guys do not produce, the Cleveland “attack” could be as exciting as watching paint dry.
And putting more pressure on a young, unproven starting rotation is not the best way to develop arms. They start to pitch as if they are unable to make a mistake.
In the American League, you have to be able to score runs to win. The Indians need to have at least two young hitter emerge if they want to be successful in 2011.