We’re counting down to our top-10 best Indians players of 2019 as voted on by the Let’s Go Tribe staff. Follow along here, and keep reading until October 26 when the team MVP is revealed.
The Cleveland Indians’ most looming problem coming into 2019 was the outfield. Specifically, the lack of valuable hitters to play those three positions.
Yes, many among us heaped irrational expectation on Jake Bauers or Leonys Martín, and there was always that glimmer of hope that eventually, the roulette wheel of outfielders the Indians had been running through the farm system would eventually come up in their favor. Neither of those players mentioned resulted in a positive move of the needle — Martín didn’t even make it past June as an Indian. The Indians found themselves quite quickly needing, and blessedly finding, some at least okay players, a handful of at least average hitters that made everything a little less ... terrible.
So it’s hard to look at Jordan Luplow at first and think this is one of the most vital players on the team. The goal was to not have terrible players, qualification that Luplow matched perfectly. His is just not a name that leaps off the page at you, that makes you think “2019 Cleveland Indians” at first blush. He had one of the more rocky starts to the year too. He was even sent down to Columbus in that messy April stretch while the Indians tried to figure out what to do with him. It turns out, they had to just look a year or so back to realize what the future held for Luplow. He was, in effect, the second coming of Brandon Guyer. Or the third coming of Ryan Raburn, if you’d like.
We all know how much Terry Francona loves his platoons. With all the misery on the active roster for the Indians in April, his “platooning” was more “barely patching a seeping wound”. there was little rhyme or reason to what was happening in that messy month, and it wasn’t until May when things started to solidify. It’s no surprise that May was Luplow’s first chance for legitimate playing time.
Luplow 21 plate appearances in April, that number bounced to 77 in May. While he actually platooned a bit less in May (37 PA’s against lefties out of that 77, compared to 16 out of those 22 in April) that consistency of playing time seemed to pay dividends. He notched a 113 wRC+ in May and an astounding 262 against left-handed pitching. that was when the coaching staff and fanbase began to understand that there was something here. The Indians knew coming into the season they’d have to piece together wins, and with everything good turning to garbage by early May, they were running short on those pieces. Luplow became one, and helped bring order to chaos in the outfield.
Rather than just describing how it all went though, the arc of Luplow’s season is told by a nice chart, and his steady growth (except for a bit of an injury issue after the break) throughout the season:
Jordan Luplow by month, 2019
More importantly, what he had to do against left-handed pitching is what places him on a top-10 list, which allowed a lot of other hitters to find their own roles, and the Indians to find unlikely offense when they were battling against a great southpaw. He really did crush them:
Luplow vs. lefties by month, 2019
In fact, only three hitters in baseball had a higher wRC+ against left-handed hitting than Luplow — J.D. Martinez, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Alex Bregman. That’s the list. All three of those guys are absolute monsters at the plate in general. Luplow is halfway there, but that half a man was big for the Tribe.
In 2020, the question needing answering is whether Luplow can actually hit right-handed pitching. If he can’t that’s fine. The Indians did a lot of damage with scrap heap platoon hitters that hit like half an MVP when they did get to play. Plus there’s a little hope that maybe that whole “consistent playing time” thing was helping Luplow down the stretch. In the second half he cut 16 points off his ground ball rate against righties, to 39.1%, and overall posted a 116 wRC+ against them after the break. It’s only 36 plate appearances, but it’s something to be cautiously hopeful for.
Luplow is the type of player you need on the bench, the type of player that makes things easier for a manager simply because he can count on them to do their job. Luplow did his, and that’s why he mattered as much as he did for Cleveland.