The first entry in this series, a look at the best lead-off hitters in franchise history, can be found here.
In 2012, six different players started at least one game in the #2 spot of the lineup for the Indians, led by Asdrubal Cabrera, who was there 88 times, and Jason Kipnis, who was there for 64 games. As Kipnis was in the spot almost every game of the season’s last five weeks, he might be considered the favorite for the spot in 2013. Then again, a new manager may want a new lineup, and the smart money may be on more than one player seeing plenty of action batting second, 2006 was the last time an Indian started there 90 times or more (Jason Michaels).
According to the Play Index at Baseball-Reference, since 1916 (which is as far back as complete box scores go), there have been 367 different players to start a game as the #2 hitter for the Indians. Jim Thome started there twice, Frank Robinson five times. Cliff Lee started there 31 times. No, not that Cliff Lee… didn’t you know the Tribe had an outfielder by the same name in 1925 and 1926? Ask your grandfather about him (or your great-grandfather, as the case may be). Bob Lemon started in the #2 spot twelve times, and this time I’m talking about the famous one, honest. Did you know Lemon played centerfield a dozen times in 1946? He did, and he batted second in each of those games.
Of those 367 players, 39 of them collected at least 500 plate appearances hitting #2. That is the cut-off for these rankings (since they will be largely dependent on rate stats, it seems unfair to include players who hit there less than that). I've attempted to balance rate stats against the counting figures. In other words, while an OPS of 850 is better than an OPS of 825, if the former came in 600 PA and the latter came in 2,000 PA, I'm probably going to favor the second player.
I've also attempted to make some adjustments for the run scoring environments of different eras, including an estimated OPS+ for each player, based on comparable figures from their era. Finally, these rankings are based solely on players’ contributions on offense, which I think is reasonable, given that we’re talking about their work in a particular lineup spot, not at a particular position.
One final issue that must be addressed: Omar Vizquel. Vizquel was in the #2 spot for 1,141 of his 1,448 starts as an Indian. He is the Indians’ all-time leader among #2 hitters in hits, doubles, runs, RBI, and SB. He’s also the all-time leader for games started in that spot, and only one other player is within even 600 games of him. His slash line batting #2 was .279/.347/.368, even though he played during one of the greatest offensive eras in history. By my figuring, his OPS+ in that spot with Cleveland was 86. That’s weak. His speed (he averaged ~27 SB against ~10 CS, per 150 games at the #2 spot) was a boost, but not enough to make him even an average offensive player. So, despite his leading in most counting stats, you won’t find him in my top ten. Take issue with that if you like, but I just don’t see how he fits on a list for top offensive players.
With that out of the way, on to the list…
TOP TEN #2 HITTERS IN INDIANS HISTORY
1) Ray Chapman
538 G, 2433 PA, .290/.371/.394, .765 OPS, ~116 OPS+, 9 HR, 369 R, 130 RBI
Chapman was the Indians' primary #2 hitter from 1916 until his death in 1920. He was on the team from 1912 to 1915 too, and just as good a player, but there aren't complete box score records from those seasons, so they aren't included in the stats above. It's likely he batted #2 often in those years as well, and he was also probably the best base thief on this list (there aren't many to speak of among the 39 qualified player), so the numbers you see probably deserve a bit of extra credit.
2) Toby Harrah
242 G, 1102 PA, .299/.393/.464, .856 OPS, ~134 OPS+, 33 HR, 167 R, 119 RBI
Harrah hit #2 between 1979 and 1983, most frequently in '82 and '83. He has the highest OPS of any player to start at least 200 games in that spot for the Indians, and did it in a relatively low-scoring era. With another season or so of the same production, I'd probably have put him on top.
3) Earl Averill
137 G, 626 PA, .312/.398/.602, 1.000 OPS, ~149 OPS+, 30 HR, 123 R, 92 RBI
Averill has easily the highest OPS and ~OPS+ of any of the 39 qualified players, he just didn't bat #2 often enough for me to elevate him any higher than this. He was there occasionally between 1934 and 1939, but 1935 was the only season in which he was the Tribe's primary #2 hitter. In roughly a full season's worth of appearances, his numbers were tremendous.
4) Bobby Avila
787 G, 3573 PA, .291/.364/.406, .770 OPS, ~110 OPS+, 58 HR, 485 R, 332 RBI
Avila was the Indians' primary #2 hitter from 1951 to 1957, with a few games in 1950 and 1958 as well. Only Vizquel has started there more often since 1916. Avila is the Indians all-time leader in home runs from the #2 spot, with 58 and is second in most other counting stats, with very solid rate numbers too.
5) Julio Franco
415 G, 1884 PA, .305/.370/.413, .783, ~112 OPS+, 26 HR, 259 R, 216 RBI
Franco batted #2 for most of 1984 to 1887 and again in 1996, when he was back for another stint with the Tribe. He ranks 4th in games started there, with solid rate and counting stats for his era.
6) Dick Porter
184 G, 858 PA, .332/.402/.467, .869 OPS, ~121 OPS+, 5 HR, 154 R, 80 RBI
I wasn't very familiar with Porter, who frequently batted #2 for the Indians between 1930 and 1932. His .402 OBP is the highest of any qualified #2 hitter in Indians history, and his OPS ranks 2nd. He didn't have home run power, but he hit doubles at a higher rate than any other qualified #2 batter.
7) Asdrubal Cabrera
324 G, 1468 PA, .281/.332/.425, .757 OPS, ~108 OPS+, 33 HR, 178 R,164 RBI
Cabrera first hit #2 late in 2007, and while the team has divided time there since then between multiple players each season, Cabrera has been there the most often. The last two years have boosted his rate stats, pushing him onto this list as he's also climbed to 6th place in games started there.
8) Coco Crisp
125 G, 581 PA, .312/.356/.480, .836 OPS, ~120 OPS+, 14 HR, 93 R, 63 RBI
Crisp batted #2 a little in 2003 and 2004, then started there regularly in 2005. His numbers were better than I'd remembered, probably because his numbers outside his time in the #2 spot weren't nearly as good. His OPS ranks 5th among qualified #2 hitters.
9) Lew Fonseca
137 G, 614 PA, .343/.374/.491, .865 OPS, ~118 OPS+, 6 HR, 93 R, 69 RBI
Fonseca hit #2 sporadically between 1927 and 1931, never in more than 74 games. His .343 batting average is the best among the players who qualified, his .491 slugging percentage ranks 2nd and his OPS ranks 3rd. If he could have drawn a walk and had stuck in this spot a little more, he might be at the very top.
10) Jorge Orta
156 G, 706 PA, .290/.358/.411, .769 OPS, ~114 OPS+, 13 HR, 105 R, 77 RBI
Orta was the Indians' #2 hitter in 1980 and 1981. His numbers don't look great at first glance, but for that era, they were solid (and frankly, there aren't any other players knocking down the door to land on the list).
There are a lot of players on the list with little more than about one season’s worth of PA, but there simply haven’t been that many players to spend much more time than that in the #2 spot for the Indians. Only fourteen guys have started 200 games there for Cleveland, and half of them have an OPS below .700.
If Cabrera were to start 100+ games there in 2013, with an OPS+ of 115-120, he'd move up the list, certainly to 6th place, maybe even 5th. If Kipnis were to get most of the starts at #2 and put up an OPS+ of 115-120, he could move into 10th place, with plenty of time to climb higher if he were to bat #2 for many years.