Baseball is well known for its longevity. When you go to work 162 times each season, successes are stories that span months rather than days. The same concept holds true for struggles. An 0-for-12 streak happens to the Mike Trouts and Christian Yelichs of the world, while even the Max Moroffs and Mike Freemans can run into multi-hit games.
In the early going, the Indians have been defined by slumps. Whether it’s Jose Ramirez scuffling for an extended period of time or a lefty outfielder flailing at a lefty reliever’s overly hittable offering, there’s been no shortage of maddening moments. Patience should win out, which immediately prompts a look into some decisions that go against the grain…decisions that don’t align with what is typically expected of the Indians’ front office.
If Jordan Luplow was coveted enough to add to the Opening Day squad, the decision to bail on him when Carlos Gonzalez was ready is a curious one. Compounding the curiosity is the well documented lack of balance on the Indians active roster.
The Indians current 25 man roster has five outfielders. Four of these hitters bat left handed and the remaining one is a switch hitter that is being primarily utilized to keep the bench warm and eek his way into late inning defensive roles. The four remaining are Carlos Gonzalez, Tyler Naquin, Jake Bauers, and Leonys Martín. Their respective wRC+ outputs against left-handed pitchers, where 100 is relatable to the average MLB hitter, leave a lot to be desired.
Career wRC+ vs LHP
Carlos Gonzalez: 81
Tyler Naquin: 77
Jake Bauers: 69
Leonys Martín: 65
These four players occupy 44.4 percent of the Indians lineup on any given night. A lefty can essentially neutralize the lineup at any given time, especially considering there’s not a particularly agreeable option on the bench. In Columbus, however, there are a couple worthy considerations.
When the Indians sent Erik Gonzalez to the Pirates in November, they they must have seen something they liked in Jordan Luplow’s profile to require him as a portion of the return. It could be reasoned that they liked his ability against left-handed hurlers. In his minor league days, Luplow feasted on southpaws.
2015 – 0.960 OPS (148 plate appearances)
2016 – 0.714 OPS (136 plate appearances)
2017 – 0.957 OPS (157 plate appearances)
2018 – 0.837 OPS (149 plate appearances)
Since being demoted to Columbus a couple weeks ago, Luplow has already racked up three extra base hits against lefties in 21 plate appearances. Or, three more extra base hits than Carlos Gonzalez has against pitchers of any handedness.
Jordan Luplow isn’t the sexy option. His initial 100 or so major league plate appearances against lefties have left a lot to be desired. Even so, I would much rather see him given the late inning plate appearance against one than the previously mentioned alternatives. Additionally, committing to only 12 plate appearances of this variety before optioning him in favor of more left handed hitters borders insanity.
If Jordan Luplow is the less than sexy option, Oscar Mercado is a supermodel. He’s fluidity on steroids with a little aesthetically athletic swagger. The toolsy outfielder happens to hit from the right side of the dish and can assist the big league club in a variety of ways. Earlier this year, EHC’s own Michael Hattery detailed Mercado’s ability at a comprehensive level. Most notably, he elaborated on the potential of Mercado’s hit tool:
… Once a sub-.100 ISO type Mercado shows a solid .120-.140 ISO frame which creates optimism because ISO has been found to be a strong indicator of future big league power productivity. This is potentially result of a trend of increasing line drive percentage which is the optimal contact type.
To add fuel to the fire, Mercado launched a homer at Huntington Park last night. On top of a developing power profile, Mercado offers marginal split advantages to diminish the number of plate appearances that go to Bauers, Gonzalez, Naquin, and Martin against lefties. While Mercado has never really raked against lefties in the minors, he’s been serviceable and displaying more competency each year. Moreover, a 70-80 wRC+ against southpaws is easier to stomach from him than the others based on his dynamic ability to impact the game in other areas, as well. And 70-80 wRC+ might be a conservative estimate if he has truly found something in his approach in Columbus.
These are the most attractive options for the Cleveland Indians. Choose to recommit to Jordan Luplow based on an unsuspectingly attractive minor league split portfolio against southpaws. Give him the plate appearances he deserved from day one. Opt for the electric Oscar Mercado to light a fire under the rest of the roster. Prove that you’re ready to let your young guns shine. Either way, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the position player roster cannot continue in its current construct. One of these two options would provide an immediate boost to late game flexibility, and Mercado has the framework to provide even more.