Sometimes, fans over think the importance of a manager to a baseball teams. Many baseball experts figure the difference between a top-notch skipper and a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing is about five games.
It basically comes down to the talent a particular team has.
A little over a week ago, Indians’ manager Manny Acta decided to shuffle his batting order and put Shin-Soo Choo in the lead-off spot.
Right now, the initial returns have been extremely positive. Choo looks like a different hitter than he was in April and early May.
The right fielder has thrived there, hitting .394 (13 for 33) since being moved there. He’s scored six runs, and last night, started rallies in three innings in which the Tribe scored.
Perhaps Choo felt a need to drive the ball when hitting in the middle of the order because since moving to the top, he’s been hitting the ball where it is pitched more often, and as a result his batting average is climbing.
When you think about it, he’s a logical choice to hit lead-off, probably more so than Grady Sizemore, who Tribe managers have put first in the batting order for many years, and Michael Brantley, who looks like he should be a lead-off man, but doesn’t have the numbers to support it.
You see, Shin-Soo Choo has a lifetime on base percentage of .384. The man gets on base frequently, which is the primary goal at the top of the order. He also can run a little bit too, with two 20 stolen base seasons on his resume. Brantley stole a career high (yes, Choo’s been around longer) 13 bases last season.
His ability to get on base ahead of Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera has helped spice up an offense in need of a spark.
Which brings us to a growing concern, DH Travis Hafner.
Yes, Hafner delivered in Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Tigers, but the Indians need him to provide a power bat in the middle of the lineup, and at least this month, he has not put up many extra base hits.
He still has decent numbers (795 OPS), but that figure is arrived at because of a high on base percentage. Don’t get us wrong, not making outs is a good thing, but his slugging percentage is just .419, less than Jack Hannahan and about the same as Jason Kipnis, a middle infielder.
In 20 games in May, Pronk is hitting just .191 and slugging just .382 with only six extra base hits. Just for point of reference, that’s the same number as Casey Kotchman, and less than Asdrubal Cabrera, Choo, and Kipnis. Jose Lopez has one less in 39 less at bats.
Carlos Santana is keeping his batting average up at .262, but he’s in Hafner’s situation as a player Acta needs to provide pop, yet he is only slugging .414 on the year, and also has just six extra base hits in May.
The Tribe doesn’t have too many players who can change a game in one swing of the bat, and the two guys who usually hit fourth and fifth in the order are hitting like guys who hit at the top of the order.
If Hafner and Santana can start belting out extra base hits, it doesn’t have to be home runs, doubles and triples will do, fans will see the Indians batting attack take a big step forward.
Somehow, we see Santana as more apt to oblige in this area, since Hafner’s slugging has declined in recent years, probably due to injury.
The Indians are getting runners on base, leading the league in walks, however, that statistic doesn’t do them any good if their big boppers aren’t driving them in.