The Indians outfield is without a doubt the weakest link on a roster built for contention; indeed, it would be difficult for a team to have a more disappointing position group on the surface. With the exodus of Michael Brantley and the unpredictability of Leonys Martin returning from a dynamic health issue Indians fans would right to be concerned, even irritated. The additions of Matt Joyce and Jordan Luplow lack a certain appeal, they simply are not sexy and truly no platoon has ever been, sexy.
It is without difficulty to bag on this offseason but perhaps beyond the muck and the mire; beyond the non-roster invitees; perhaps the Indians did improve a position this offseason. This author humbly suggests, that fans have forgotten how incompetent the Indians right field situation was in 2018. Beyond 29 solid games from Lonnie Chisenhall the Indians right field responsibilities were primarily handled by Melky Cabrera, Brandon Guyer, and Tyler Naquin.
The above collection of incompetent defenders also offered minimal offense partially due to their utilization while Cabrera posted a surprisingly useful 102 wRC+, barely above average, Guyer and Naquin combined for 400 plus plate appearances with a wRC+ below 80. Below 80! Two mediocre at best defenders were more than 20% below average offensively. A truly incompetent position.
While Joyce battled with injuries in a down year he still was 10% better than the Guyer/Naquin combo in 2018. When constructing a productive platoon there are three necessary inputs to true production: 1) one player who crushes right-handed pitching, and one who crushes left-hand pitching; 2) competent defensive performance from both players; and 3) a manager who can effectively deploy the the platoon players.
Matt Joyce has killed right-handed pitching for his entire career to the tune of an .802 OPS and a 121 wRC+ making him 21% percent above average in terms of the ability to create runs. Against lefties, Joyce is poor with but a 61 wRC+ but if managed effectively he should see less than 50 plate appearances against lefties.
Jordan Luplow has a minute big league sample to the point that drawing any conclusion would be foolish but to the extent that it corroborates his minor league sample we shall consider it. Luplow has posted .234 ISO in his limited big league sample against left-handed pitching. Below are Luplow’s minor league OPS against left handed pitching:
Luplow has destroyed left handed pitching as a habit throughout his development and with time in the big leagues a wRC+ of 100+ against left handed pitching is a reasonable expectation.
Further, Luplow and Joyce both boast strong discipline and walk rate ability which adds to a lineup boasting elite discipline in Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, and Jake Bauers.
Evaluators I have spoken to rate Luplow as an average defender in the corners and defensive statistics in small samples have largely aligned with that notion. Certainly not the level of incompetence provided by Melky Cabrera. His 88th percentile sprint speed and overarching athleticism are solid inputs into a capable corner outfielder.
Matt Joyce, similar to Luplow is not a good defender but he is competent. Perhaps a tick below average due to his age and declining speed but not abysmal in the Cabrera, Guyer, and Naquin context.
Joyce handled balls over his head adequately but struggled coming in on balls in 2018 but perhaps a shallower position would be more optimal for Joyce moving forward. Alas, Joyce and Luplow are in the collective adequate to above defenders as compared to 2018.
Terry Francona is good at many things, keeping the locker room light, cribbage, and at times relief pitcher usage. Indeed, in the past he has managed platoons adequately. However, in 2018, Francona struggled to use his platoon pieces optimally allowing Brandon Guyer, incompetent against right-handed pitchers, to see 98 plate appearances against them. This was not an isolated failure as both Yonder Alonso and Jason Kipnis were overexposed against LHP in 2018. For this to work effectively, Francona has to be better at matchups in 2019.
The Luplow/Joyce platoon may fail, but projections would advise that the Indians have upgraded the offense in right field over Naquin-Guyer-Cabrera while not giving up anything defensively.