Last week, we were involved in a debate on Twitter about the merits of Indians’ utility man Zach Walters, as we compared him (as we have many times before) to former Tribesman Russell Branyan.
We were quizzed that it sounded like that comparison was a bad thing, which we meant it to be. Our opinion is that wild, streaky hitters like Branyan and Walters aren’t effective major league players.
Our contention is that consistency is a tool just like hitting with power, speed, and defensive ability.
Walters came to the Tribe at the trade deadline from the Nationals for Asdrubal Cabrera, and did whack some home runs immediately after being called up, hitting six dingers in his first 48 at bats. The downside is he only had four other hits, leading to a .208 batting average and mixing in just three walks.
A true all or nothing hitter.
From August 27th to the last game of the season, when Walters went 2 for 4 with a home run, the switch-hitter went 3 for 36 with 16 punch outs and just two walks. Do you think Terry Francona was anxious to put him in the lineup?
To be fair to Walters, it is a relatively small sample size and he is just 25 years old and could (and really needs to) change his approach at the plate.
Let’s go back to 2013 for a larger sample, using former Indian Mark Reynolds as the example.
Reynolds famously started on fire in April, hitting .301 with 8 HR and 22 RBI helping get the Tribe off to a good start.
However, in May, June, and July combined, Reynolds went 44 for 243, a .181 batting average, with 7 homers and 25 RBI. Francona started easing him out of the lineup and when it was all said and done, the slugger wanted out and the Tribe was happy to oblige.
We understand that no one is perfectly consistent. A .300 hitter doesn’t hit for that average every month, and neither does a .250 hitter. However, from a manager or coaches’ standpoint, those guys are gold because for the most part, you know what you will get.
That’s why guys like Branyan and perhaps Walters get placed into reserve roles. In the NBA, players with up and down performances are bench guys. If they come in and are hot, the coach can ride them. If they aren’t, they can be taken out and not be a part of the game going forward.
In Walters’ case, he is still young and many times it takes players without a lot of experience time to develop a consistent level. When Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome first came to the Indians, they had severe ups and downs too, and Mike Hargrove had to manage that. Heck, Thome was basically a platoon player in 1994 and 1995.
That’s something the front office has to keep an eye on with Jason Kipnis. Kipnis made his season in ’13 with a tremendous June in which he hit close to .400 and he had a solid September as well. The rest of the season? He was below .250. Just something to watch in 2015.
Remember how frustrated fans got with Lonnie Chisenhall last season?
That’s why players like Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes are even more valuable than you think. They were consistent all year-long and have been for a while.
Gomes strikes out a lot, but more often than not, the guys who strike out at a high rate are players more prone to peaks and valleys.
Consistency equals dependability. And that’s part of a player’s profile, one that shouldn’t be overlooked.