The Indians are loaded with talent everywhere you look on their roster.
Starting pitching? Check. Bullpen? Yes. Infield? You know it. Catcher? Yes, even catcher.
The outfield is another spot where this team is blessed with incredible depth. Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, Brandon Guyer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Abraham Almonte, and even Greg Allen, are all guys who could make the playoff roster and help this team be successful on their quest to winning the franchise’s first title since 1948.
Oh, yeah. We have Michael Brantley too.
As a matter of fact, the Tribe are a Bradley Zimmer broken hand away from having eight guys worth playing in the outfield in the postseason. That is utterly insane.
So what does Terry Francona do with his platoon of outfielders? Well, in all reality, Greg Allen probably does not make the postseason roster. So that leaves the Tribe with potentially six outfielders on the 25-man active roster, not including Jason Kipnis being able to play in center.
Let’s start with who we could see not making the roster. Aside from Allen, Almonte is probably an odd man out. He only had 172 plate appearances in 2017, hitting .233 with 3 home runs and 14 RBI’s. That leaves Bruce, Brantley, Jackson, Guyer and Chisenhall. So the next question becomes, who plays and when do they play?
We all know baseball is about match ups and Tito is an absolute genius when it comes to playing the match up game. Jay Bruce hit .266 against righties and .226 against lefties this season as left-handed hitter. Brantley is another guy who can hit against both right-handed and left-handed pitching. As righties, Austin Jackson and Brandon Guyer hit much better versus lefties. Chisenhall is interesting. For the first season of his career, he is hitting a higher average against lefties than he is versus righties.
Based solely on standard hitting statistics, these guys can really succeed against anyone. So what separates them?
To me, it’s base running, fielding and situational hitting.
Bruce hit .288 with 11 home runs and 64 RBI’s with runners in scoring position in 2017. He doesn’t give you much on the base paths, but he is solid defensively. Michael Brantley, well, this guy can do it all. Dr. Smooth is the definition of clutch, hitting .324 with 17 dingers, 46 doubles and 366 RBI’s in his career with runners in a spot to score. He is also an outstanding fielder and a smart base runner.
Austin Jackson reminds me of what we had in Rajai Davis last season. He has speed, he was able to leg out 19 doubles and three triples. He is hitting .318 and .303 with RISP, adding 11 doubles and 26 RBI’s when runners are position to score. He is a great fielder,with a fielding percentage of .955 this season. I mean, remember that catch at Fenway? He is just that type of gut that always seems to do something big right when you need it.
Brandon Guyer is your man if you just need a base runner. He possesses a career on base percentage of .346 and he is a HBP master, having been beaned 74 times in his eight-year career. That’s a lot of bruises. He has a good glove, decent on the base paths and is hitting .256 with 16 RBI’s with runners in a position to score in 2017. Chisenhall has been banged up, but when healthy, he can produce good numbers. Hitting .269 with 219 RBI’s and 20 homers in his career with runners in scoring position. He is just a solid player.
The Indians are a match up nightmare and this outfield only adds to that. With that being said, do not be surprised to see Tito throw out some different looks throughout the postseason. We could see a lot of pinch-hitting from guys like Guyer, Jackson, Kipnis coming in and taking over in center, and even Brantley coming in off the bench.
A former MVP candidate coming in off the bench. Yeah, that’s how good this team is.
Long story short, it really doesn’t matter who is on this roster when the ALDS starts up on Thursday night, especially when it comes to the outfield. Any single one of these guys can make an impact against any team and in so many different situations in the game. So expect a few different looks throughout the postseason, whether it be who is in the starting lineup, who is coming in as pinch hitter, pinch runner, or as a defensive switch. It’s going to be mix-and-match and it is going to work. Heck, Carlos Santana played in left field last year.
Remember, Michael Brantley is the X-Factor. The Indians did not have his services during the magical 2016 run. As a matter of fact, he has only played in one postseason game in his career. That came back in 2013 in the Indians’ loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card Game.
As Terry Francona eluded to during a recent press conference, it is better to have too many guys than not enough.
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