On The Caveman Coming to Cleveland

After starting the season 1-4, and the offense struggling mightily to put anything together, the Cleveland Indians made what some observers saw as a panic move, signing free agent OF/DH Johnny Damon to a contract.

It’s seems to be part of the grand experiment the Tribe is conducting, that is, seeing how many left-handed hitters in the lineup is too many.

The Damon deal seemed odd, not only because of the timing, but because GM Chris Antonetti is penciling in the veteran as sharing the LF job with Shelley Duncan, who is off to a good start.

It’s odd because the past few years Damon has done a lot of things on the baseball field, but playing OF wasn’t one of them.  He played just 35 games in the outfield with the Tigers in 2010, and a paltry 16 games in the field with Tampa Bay last season.

For a team which claims to emphasize defense, it is curious to put a 38-year-old with a weak arm in the field on a regular basis.  As for the DH spot, if Travis Hafner stays healthy (which is a big if based on the past few years), there doesn’t seem to be much time available there.

And if Aaron Cunningham is the player on his way out when Damon arrives, who is the backup CF?  Jason Donald?

There is no question Damon can contribute with the bat.  He had a 743 OPS last season, although for the first time in a while his on base percentage dropped under .350 (last time was 2003).  He did hit 16 HR with the Rays last season and did appear in 150 games, again though, mostly as a DH.

Can he maintain that level of health playing regularly in the outfield?

The only other argument on the signing, his defensive prowess being the first, is he brings yet another left-handed bat to the lineup.  Assuming he takes Duncan’s spot in LF, it would give Manny Acta seven left-handed batters and two switch-hitters in what would figure to be his regular lineup.

Can anyone else think of a lineup that dominant from one side of the plate?

Since the Indians play 76 games within the AL Central Division, it is interesting to see the make up of the other teams current starting rotations–

Detroit:  Justin Verlander (R), Doug Fister (R), Rick Porcello (R), Max Scherzer (R), Adam Wilk (L), Drew Smyly (L)
Chicago:  Jake Peavy (R), John Danks (L), Gavin Floyd (R), Chris Sale (L), Philip Humber (R)
Kansas City:  Bruce Chen (L), Luke Hochevar (R), Jonathan Sanchez (L), Luis Mendoza (R), Danny Duffy (L)
Minnesota:  Carl Pavano (R), Nick Blackburn (R), Francisco Liriano (L), Anthony Swarzak (R), Liam Hendriks (R)

Out of the 20 regular starters (not sure who will replace Fister in Detroit’s rotation for the time being), just seven are southpaws.  That would seem to be in the Indians favor.  However, a closer look shows five of those guys are mainstays in the rotation, and most have been historically tough on the Tribe.

The Indians showed research that lefty hitters are more successful at Progressive Field, but that may just be because their best hitters in recent seasons have been left-handed (Sizemore, Hafner, Choo, etc.) and also because outside of C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, Cleveland hasn’t had real good lefty starting pitchers.

And neither of those guys has thrown a pitch in a Tribe jersey since the middle of the 2009 season.

It does seems like the Tribe is susceptible to tough southpaws, which was in evidence last week when Danks and Sale put the Cleveland bats to sleep.

Acta has no choice but use the left-handed bats against tough left-handed pitchers, but will have to mix in Jason Donald, Jose Lopez, and Cunningham where he can to balance the batting order.

One of the things to keep an eye on this season for the Indians is whether the left-handed experiment works.

MW

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