Whether Abraham Almonte is playing well, or losing balls in the sun and hitting poorly, one sentiment always floats to the top in any random selection of Tribe fans: Why are the Cleveland Indians still playing him if he is ineligible for the playoffs? The answer, as it turns out, is simple.
Because they can.
That is really the end of it. The Indians have a player they can use now, a player that can take up space and save the legs of another player, so they are going to use him. Although that could technically be the end of the post, it isn’t. For one, it’s usually a good to have a post be longer than a standard tweet. And two, I have a feeling that explanation isn’t enough for some people.
For some Indians fans, they cannot fathom the idea of letting Abraham Almonte, the dirty dirty cheater who is obviously stealing away playing time from Tyler Naquin like some kind of PED-fueled vampire. I’m not counting out Almonte being a vampire (because we already know Chris Antonetti is), but he’s not “stealing” playing time from anyone.
Wins still count even if you use a player ineligible for the playoffs
Here’s a revelation for you: What you do in the regular season still matters, no matter who you have on the roster. If a player on your roster gives you a better chance to win games now, but he can’t be used in the playoffs, there is no reason not to use him now. Save the energy of other players as much as you can, especially veterans, and get the most out of that player now.
In the case of Abraham Almonte, manager Terry Francona sees a very clear use case for him. The outfielder has been used primarily in a platoon role, taking over left field when the Tribe are facing a left-handed starter, primarily to cover up Naquin’s negative split against lefties. If you have not been paying particularly close attention, here is how the outfield normally shakes out:
- Against LHP: Guyer-Davis-Almonte
- Against RHP: Almonte-Naquin-Chisenhall
Brandon Guyer platooning with Lonnie Chisenhall in right field is easy, and it’s the reason the Indians were comfortable trading a couple lower-end prospects for him at the deadline. Brandon Guyer is Ryan Raburn 2.0 against lefties, and Lonnie can hit those Chisenbombs against right-handers. Easy.
But middle and left sections of the outfield seem to give fans the most pause. The explanation is equally as simple.
Naquin’s sample size is still extremely small at the major-league level, but so far a platoon seems like the right choice. Again, very small sample size, but in 33 PA this season, Naquin has six hits and he has struck out six times. Naquin has a history of a platoon split as well.
|Year||Level||AB vs RHP||OPS vs RHP||AB vs LHP||OPS vs LHP|
With the exception of a very small sample size in Double-A in 2013, it’s clear that Naquin benefits from a platoon. The demise of Chisenhall against lefties is still up for debate, but Naquin needs it. He has an OPS gap of around .200 to .400, depending on which year you want to look at.
Almonte isn’t perfect, but he’s a good fit with what the Indians have
So, without Almonte on the roster, someone is going to be running into negative splits. If I had to guess, right now, I would say that Lonnie Chisenhall gets everyday playing time in right field in the playoffs with Brandon Guyer shifting over to left field. Chisenhall’s career slash against lefties sits at .242/.290/.375, so it’s still not ideal, but based on Tyler Naquin’s track record in the minors, he is still the better option to play against his negative splits. We have seen a bit of this already, with Guyer getting a start against a right-handed pitcher Anthony Ranaudo last week.
Getting back around the original point, why would the Indians want to sit Almonte and continually use negative splits longer than they have to? That’s what his use basically boils down to. Almonte is not a great player by any stretch, but when he is at his best, he is arguably an upgrade over the bad half of Lonnie Chisenhall against lefties. And if the Indians can get a marginal offensive bump and let Lonnie rest every once in a while, why not do it?
Almonte, a switch-hitter, has been a below-average hitter against LHP (.256/.286/.462, 92 wRC+) and RHP (.274/.292/.371, 73 wRC+) this season, but those are still both better than the negative-platoon slash lines for Chisenhall and Guyer. Rajai Davis has been pretty even against righties and lefties this season, but as a 35-year-old veteran who relies on his legs, I am okay with him getting rest over playing every day at this point in the season.
When the playoffs do come around, replacing Almonte is going to be a real issue for the Tribe. Not personnel wise, because the Indians have five outfielders even with him Almonte in the picture, but some bad matchups could be in store for the Indians in the playoffs. The longer they can push that off, the better.