The big picture of an offseason tends to be shaped by the public perception needle. The team who signs Manny Machado will provide their fans with a feeling of victory, while Indians fans will be examining the minor transactions that propelled them into spring training without any major additions. Despite the lack of major acquisitions, there is value in deciphering the Indians front office’s mindsets when making the smaller ones. It can offer a window into what statistics they deem important, or at least reveal a pattern into the points of emphasis of their analysis.
Within a look at the Cleveland Indians position player additions this offseason, a healthy trend reveals itself. Whether acquired via trade or free agency, there is an underlying theme that perhaps indicates a current market inefficiency or merely something the Indians brass values as a complement to their current roster construction. That underlying theme is a knack for acquiring batsmen with a knack for drawing free passes.
Delving into their dozen plus acquisitions of position players this offseason is imperative to understanding the train of thought. Not all of them fit the mold of being high value on-base percentage, walk-drawing types. However, of the seven or so potentially most impactful arrivals in relation to the major league roster, all of them fit the bill.
Starting with depth acquisitions Ryan Flaherty and Kevin Plawecki. We look at the baseline walk rate for a major league player last season, which hovered around 8.5 percent. Flaherty, a seasoned and versatile infielder with Orioles and Braves stints under his belt, has posted pedestrian type walk totals throughout his big league career. Steamer projections, though, view him as likely to surpass that 8.5 percent baseline. Plawecki is another with meager outputs to this point in his career, but is fresh off three consecutive campaigns where he graced double digit walk percentages. These two are fringy types that grace the surface of the identified market inefficiency, but further study among the more prominent transactions reveals an even deeper pattern.
In a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Indians chose to prioritize Max Moroff and Jordan Luplow. Of course, there are a litany of reasons that this pair made theoretical sense, especially when weighing the considerably light asset expense on the Indians end.
Max Moroff is a super utility candidate with vast minor league experience with a hair over 200 major league plate appearances. Beyond his ability to fill in at multiple spots around the diamond, his most distinguishable tool is his plate discipline. Between some brief flashes of power, the 25-year-old slots in projection systems with a walk rate north of 12 percent. An elite tool like this is something that can anchor a spot on the big-league ballclub, even if it’s not in a starting role. Fill in at-bats are much more fun when there’s a baseline expectation of due diligence on the patience spectrum.
Jordan Luplow, on the other hand, has a distinguishable role. He should fit in well opposite Matt Joyce in a right field platoon that replaces the likes of Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall, two bats that outpriced their health expectations and, therefore, their usefulness. Luplow figures to fill the Guyer side of the platoon, seeing a steady dose of southpaws. Steamer pencils him in around a nine percent walk rate mark, which is slightly above average. Although, a glance at his minor league outputs suggests the capacity for that to rise toward elite levels with experience, age, and a focus on lefties.
The two most notable arrivals of this offseason for Indians fans are Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers. Anyone who watched the Indians prior to 2018 is very cognizant of the patient approach of the one affectionately dubbed as ‘Los. His profile did not shift in his lone campaign with the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite a relative down year, he still drew over 100 walks. In fact, he has played 8 full big-league seasons and amassed 799 walks in that time frame. You can sharpie 100 free passes next to his name in February.
Jake Bauers is another impressive plate discipline disciple. His eye developed rapidly throughout his minor league tenure and the tool was maybe the lone constant in his first season at the top level. Steamer expects him to draw walks at an elite rate, as well.
Throughout all these additions, it is clear the Indians homed in on players’ abilities to reach base efficiently. We can draw reasonable conclusions as to why. If they are truly as constrained by market limitations as they let on, it makes sense to lay out a plan. You can’t afford guys who do everything well, so the next step is to identify the most complimentary pieces to your lineup.
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez happen to be extra base hit machines. Surround them with people who know how to get on base above all else, then sit back and marvel as the star infielders rack up runs batted in by the truckload.
The blogosphere lends itself well to outlandish predictions. You heard this one here first – this Indians team will walk more than 700 times, doing something that has not been done since the peak of the steroid era. You can book 200 from the Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez duo. Add in another 150 or so from the Jake Bauers and Francisco Lindor pair and you’re halfway there.
While the Yan Gomes to Roberto Perez drop off will manifest itself as an albatross in some areas, Perez knows how to draw a walk if nothing else. The remainder of the crew likely to see large shares of at-bats, probably headlined by a walk-happy Joyce and Luplow platoon, should account for the remainder of the necessary bases on balls.
The plan may or may not work. Injuries to stars, like the calf scare that will take away at least a portion of Lindor’s time, could derail the effort. However, the Indians front office has a discernible lineup deployment strategy – get on base for the generational talents.