Coming into this season, the Cleveland Indians went against conventional wisdom, and went with a predominantly left-handed hitting lineup. The organization had two reasons to support this move.
First, their research showed that left-handed hitters did better in Progressive Field that those who hit from the right side. Although it didn’t bother Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Matt Williams and several other right-handed hitters who had big years in Cleveland’s home park.
The other reason was that many of the hitters were good hitters, and good hitters can hit any kind of pitching.
Thus far, however, the Tribe has had all sorts of problems vs. southpaws, hitting just .217 against them as a team.
To be fair, some of those lefties are simply good pitchers. John Danks of the White Sox comes to mind. He’s a solid big league starter who has had ERA’s under 4.00 in three of the last four seasons.
Still, that .217 average just means that the Indians will likely see more southpaws as starters, and they will see a lot of situational lefties coming out of opponent’s bullpens until they start having some sort of success.
When right-handers take the mound against Cleveland, they usually see a lineup of entirely left-handed sticks. This has paid dividends as in the past couple of weeks, the Tribe has beaten pitchers such as Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish of Texas, and Josh Beckett of Boston.
But when a lefty goes, manager Manny Acta usually adds a couple of right-handed hitters to switch hitters Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera to try to balance the lineup, but so far it hasn’t worked.
One reason is that a couple of the righty bats put into the lineup haven’t hit. C Lou Marson gets the bulk of his limited playing time when a lefty takes the hill, but thus far he is 1 for 10. Jason Donald hit lefties very well last season, hitting .377 against them, but thus far he just 2 for 21, and yesterday was sent down to Columbus in favor of Jose Lopez.
That move costs the Tribe a legitimate backup shortstop, as now Jack Hannahan assumes the role.
Shin-Soo Choo, a lifetime .258 batter against southpaws is just 4 for 36 this season. Travis Hafner is looking more and more like a strict platoon player at this point in his career, batting just .156 in 32 at bats.
The only players batting over .250 against left-handers are Cabrera, Santana, Shelley Duncan (who should be Hafner’s platoon partner), and Michael Brantley. After those guys, the next best batting average is Jason Kipnis at .218.
This is exhibit A is why GM Chris Antonetti should have signed or traded for a right-handed hitter in the off-season. Someone like Josh Willingham, currently hitting .313 with 7 homers for Minnesota.
Because right now, left-handed pitchers are sticking it to the Cleveland Indians.
It is understandable that fans do not want to hear that Aaron Cunningham, Lopez, and Marson need to be in there against southpaws on a regular basis, and that they probably need to be given more at bats periodically because they haven’t been able to stay fresh. However, Acta needs to get some production against lefties.
Players like Choo and even Hannahan have had better numbers against lefties in the past and probably deserve continued plate appearances because of this season’s small sample size.
However, the Indians need to start getting some better efforts against southpaws otherwise we will see more performances like the one Saturday night against a nondescript Felix Doubrait.
If they are going to contend, they have to improve or Antonetti will be forced to find a right-handed bat, a weakness that has plagued the Indians for several years.