Stocking the outfield with players that have one defensive fit or those that necessitate a platoon split has not worked. It’s time for a new strategy.
Since that time the Indians have, uh, somewhat adopted a new strategy. It’s not the one I advocated for (though they could still follow that path), but by subtracting Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer from the outfield and adding Jordan Luplow (for Erik Gonzalez) and now Daniel Johnson (for Yan Gomes) the team seems to be going for something. In particular, young players with decent defense and room for growth in their offense.
I want to like these additions. There are things in Luplow’s profile to like, and Johnson ranks even higher on prospect lists and has similar tools that are more highly regarded.
Daniel Johnson missed 6 weeks this year with a broken hamate bone. Has shown ability to hit the ball to all fields, as seen in this spray chart from his 3 years in @MiLB. Also had the highest exit velo recorded by @statcast in @MLBazFallLeague this year: https://t.co/xlBiJzm6vf pic.twitter.com/FQjY73W9Kq— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) December 1, 2018
But I can’t shake the feeling the new strategy is the old one, just with younger players. The Tribe has Greg Allen, Luplow, Leonys Martin, Oscar Mercado, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer on the 40-man roster. Along with Johnson, this is a group of speedy guys with light or platoon-ready bats and defensive acumen. I like Merritt’s idea about the Indians prioritizing defense, but with Martin being the only one with a legit track record of success I can’t help but question the process, especially regarding the offense.
Allen still has just 330 plate appearances, but his bat has not shown much sign of being even league average offensively (74 career wRC+). Mercado struggled so much in Columbus after being traded that he was not considered for a September call-up despite Cleveland having nothing to play for. Opposing pitchers figured out Naquin after his blistering start to his rookie campaign, limiting him to 31 and 72 wRC+ in 2017 and ‘18, respectively. Zimmer failed to get his swing-and-miss tendencies under control in his 446 MLB plate appearances, with a strikeout rate of 32.1% between two seasons.
As for Luplow, FanGraphs says he could be “a poppy bench bat or platoon outfielder, but he’s more likely upper-level 40-man depth.” And after watching Johnson’s fall performance, Federal Ball wrote that Johnson “could wind up a tweener in the big leagues, lacking the glove for CF and the standout offensive tools for a prominent role on a corner.” Scouting is a fallible exercise, but these are not votes of confidence or even something resembling confidence.
There is a lot of offseason left for the Tribe to continue to shape the outfield, but as of right now the team is not better than it was after the ALDS. None of the deals made this offseason, not least the Gomes trade, makes this a group that could push the Indians beyond the super teams of the American League. If Johnson truly is the centerpiece of the deal for Gomes, I need Blake to pass the Pepto.
In 2018, by the grace of Michael Brantley, the Indians ranked 17th in fWAR and 21st in wRC+ among MLB outfields. With the current crop of outfielders to choose from, 2019 looks like it might be a second verse, same as the first, a whole lot younger and a whole lot worse.