We've all been having a good chuckle about "the little things." We laugh when the Indians are doing them (being "gritty"), we laugh when some idiot chastizes them for not doing them. We can laugh because we know the Indians are doing the big things -- most notably, out-Quality-Starting the opposition at a furious pace.
But here's one big thing the Indians have not been doing: hitting lefties. Yes, it's true we've beaten Johan twice, but Johan is a freak with crazy backwards splits. Overall, we're 8th in the league with a 746 OPS. That may not be terrible -- indeed it may not even be significant statistically -- but we're not close to the #7 spot (Oakland's 782) and a huge distance from the top three (Detroit's 828). And in the AL Central, not hitting lefties is a big thing.
During Spring Training, I predicted at some point that the Indians would do well against lefty starters, reasoning that a lineup composed of two of the best lefty hitters in the game (Sizemore and Hafner) plus seven decent righty hitters would make most lefty starters pretty uncomfortable -- before even considering the potential for guys like Peralta or Garko to go on a tear. Since that hasn't happened, and since I'm not usually ENTIRELY INCORRECT!TM, we're going to have to look for some scapegoats to explain the Tribe's woes against lefties:
- Peralta (1172) and Blake (961) are tearing it up.
- Pronk (962), Victor (865) and Grady (701) are doing about as well as we can expect.
- Garko (779) and Michaels (625) should be giving us more.
- Dellucci (488) and Nixon (483) have been even worse than we might have expected.
- Barfield (466) has been a stunning black hole -- even considering his overall April problems.
Reinstated 3B Andy Marte from the 15-Day Disabled List
Optioned OF Franklin Gutierrez to Buffalo (AAA)
It may seem strange, but this fundamentally is what the Indians are doing about it. You see, Barfield is going to bounce back. He had a 965 OPS against lefties in 2006, and it was 890 in 2005 in Triple-A -- both seasons hitting in very adverse environments. These 34 AB are a fluke for him.
But Dellucci and Nixon hitting .184 against lefties, with no power? That isn't a fluke. Nixon's career OPS-vs-LHP is 627, and more importantly, it's 264 points below his OPS-vs-RHP. Nixon isn't the hitter he once was, and he was never good against lefties. Only one season did he ever reach higher than 671, and what a glorious 53 AB that must have been for him. Dellucci's numbers vs-LHP are even worse, across the board. That scary-for-a-lefty lineup I described a few months ago? They weren't in it. Neither of these guys was supposed to get any significant plate appearances against lefties, but that has been one the main effects of Marte's absence.
In two seasons at Triple-A, Marte posted a 916 OPS against lefties -- much older and more experienced lefties for that matter. And it wasn't cheap, either -- .286 average, .500 slugging, and a lusty .226 walk rate. Some may be skeptical that Marte will be an impact player, but only a fool would predict that he isn't going to hit lefties, given the chance.
Naturally fans are going to worry about taking at bats from Garko, but there's little reason to think that will happen. And after the past two years, does anyone really think Wedge will reduce Blake's playing time for a rookie? Seriously? We'll see what Wedge has to say about it in a couple of hours. My guess is that Marte gets all the starts against lefties, knocking Nixon and Dellucci firmly out of both the lineup and the outfield on those days. Against righties, Marte probably will be on the short side of sharing two spots with Garko and Blake. Wedge may feel that Marte has to earn anything more than that, barring an injury.
Sure, Gutierrez would have made a better pinch runner, but most days we've got Rouse and Michaels on the bench, Sizemore and Barfield in the lineup; we're not as speed-deprived as we used to be. Sure, Gutierrez would make a more valuable defensive replacement when Blake starts -- but really, isn't putting in Marte at 3B while Blake shifts to RF just as good?
And anyway, those are just little things. Hitting lefties? That's a big thing.