This probably won't come as a surprise to you, but the Indians are not good against lefties. By wRC+ they are 26th in all of MLB; by OPS and wOBA they are 27th. Not good.
To make a bad situation worse, they are third in MLB in plate appearances against lefties. This may just be bad luck, but there's probably more to it than that. Teams are probably using lefty starters and relievers more often against the Tribe, knowing how successful they're likely to be. For example, the Twins let Kris Johnson start earlier this week despite the facts that he has been awful and he was going to be sent down the next day. Sure enough, he looked awfully good facing the Indians.
Say the Indians find themselves in a pennant race, or another Wild Card game, or an ALDS... Got a replacement level lefty hanging around Triple-A? Give him the start!
What can Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti do about this problem? There are three ways of trying to tackle it:
- solutions using only the current 25-man roster
- solutions using only players already in the organization
- solutions that include looking outside
What can be done with the current 25-man roster?
Let's say you were Francona and facing a left-handed starter tomorrow. You'd want to stack the lineup with your best lefty-mashers. What lineup can you put out there? There are five current Indians who have been above league average by wRC+ against lefties: Yan Gomes, Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, and Chris Dickerson. So you put those guys in the lineup. From Dickerson's 102 wRC+ though, you drop down all the way to David Murphy at 86. Murphy was brought in to platoon and face only righties, yet he is currently the sixth best hitter vs. southpaws on the roster (Ryan Raburn, who crushed lefties last year and was supposed to be Murphy's platoon partner, has a wRC+ of 59*). The next best three hitters are Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Aviles, and Jason Kipnis.
*Editor's note: Cut him! For the love of god, cut him!
Thing is, a lineup with those nine players is basically what the team has been using against lefties. In other words, Francona is doing his best with what he has, and it isn't working.
What can be done with help from the farm?
Down in Columbus, Jesus Aguilar continues to hit, and his line against lefties is .308/.416/.529. In the lineup we described above, you are likely starting Aviles at 3B or DH; it certainly seems like benching him, moving Lonnie Chisenhall back to third, and starting both Santana and Aguilar (1B and DH) would be an improvement.
Things dry up after that. Carlos Moncrief has been decent in AAA, but is much better against righties. Francisco Lindor isn't ready (and you certainly don't call him up just to make things better vs. lefties). Giovanny Urshela is better against righties.
In fact, the next best option just got called up; Jose Ramirez is hitting .312/.356/.538 vs. lefties and would also seem to be an improvement over Aviles in the lineup above.
The options are still not great. So let's venture further afield.
What can be done if the Indians go get someone?
In my article a couple weeks back on trade targets, one name that came up was Alex Rios. There was some debate about his trade value in the comments, but one thing you can't argue with is a 180 wRC+ vs. lefties this year (111 for his career). Well, I guess you could argue with that, but dropping him into right field vs. lefties instead of Murphy or Raburn would be a huge improvement. Even if he struggles against righties and ends up platooning with Murphy, you are swapping a replacement level bat for an All-Star level bat against lefties.
We also talked about the Phillies outfield, where Marlon Byrd is crushing lefties to the tune of a 151 wRC+ (career 114) and John Mayberry (though now hurt) is at 155 (130 career).
Looking at the MLB leaders in wRC+ vs. lefties, you see a lot of big names who are not available (or not available to the Indians), but what about Steve Tolleson in Toronto? Or our old friend Drew Stubbs, now in Colorado? Maybe Houston would consider moving Dexter Fowler, as they prepare for their future. How about Chris Carter, who is a full-time DH in Houston but crushes lefties, is he available?
And this is just looking at the top 40 or so bats. Dickerson, who I noted above is the 5th best vs. lefties on the team, would rank 97th on this list. Murphy would be 120th if he had enough PA and Cabrera is right there, too. There should be plenty of available bats (likely at a low cost) above that spot.
What I would do...
If you handed me the reins to the team, first I'd make a trade for Marlon Byrd. He'd likely cost a mid-tier prospect - not a Lindor, Frazier or probably even a Naquin. Someone interesting, but no one we couldn't live without. And Byrd is signed at a reasonable price for next season. To make room on the active roster, I am jettisoning Raburn. If he can't hit lefties, he can't be a Major League ballplayer. Next, I am calling up Jesus Aguilar, likely sending down Jose Ramirez once Cabrera is healthy again (and sticking with a 7-man bullpen).
Against lefties my lineup is Gomes (C), Aguilar (1B), Kipnis (2B), Cabrera (SS), Chisenhall (3B), Dickerson (LF), Brantley (CF), Byrd (RF), and Santana (DH). It's not the best lineup a lefty will face, but it's far better than what Francona is being forced to throw out there now.