Ryan Raburn probably wasn’t my favorite Indian in 2013 when he posted a 151 OPS+ in 277 plate appearances. I was probably more into Carlos Santana even then. Raburn certainly wasn’t my favorite in 2015 either, when he hit .301 and logged a 148 OPS+ in 201 PA’s. That was a Brantley year. Both hose years though, he’d have been the best hitter on the team had he just been a qualified hitter.
That’s the magic of the platoon hitter — he assaults opposite hand pitchers and doesn’t get any notice on leader boards, like he doesn’t exist anywhere but in nightmares of LOOGYs. It’s a tragic life to be sure, but an important one. Who didn’t love watching Raburn hitlefties like he was Paul Goldschmidt?
Raburn got old, though, and had to leave for a farm upstate or wherever retired platoon hitters go. Brandon Guyer tried to replace him, but his effectiveness didn’t last long.
Now, the Indians might have done it again.
Jordan Luplow is … not good at hitting right-handed pitchers, popping off to a .525 OPS. That number doubles when the pitcher is left-handed though, and evidently all he does is hit home runs. It’s been a wonderful discovery this year. Every team probably has some kind of platoon monster like this, but the Indians seem to pull another out of their butt every year, and it’s certainly been one of my favorite parts of the Francona Era.
Short of “hitting a baseball is hard as it is,’’ I’ve never really understood how heavy split hitters end up happening. Like, I get the idea — you see the ball for a longer time when the pitcher is opposite handed, and most breaking pitches are coming at you — but how guys don’t eventually, I don’t know, figure it out, it’s not anything I’ve ever really understood. Again, major league pitchers re really good. These guys supposedly have all the tools in the world at their disposal though, you’d think over time they’d get the hang of hitting a right-handed slider. Or barring that, just not swinging. I guess that’s the whole “human nature” part of the game though, the habits one can’t break try as they might. Plus, the more we learn about how stuck in the old ways baseball is, it makes sense that teams or players don’t actually make real efforts to tap into the technology that could make a platoon guy wonderful. One of those two things has to be true.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like that this phenomenon exists. Sure, it’s fun to see the same guys day in and day out, the same batting order consistently and the same faces for us to watch dominate. Francisco Lindor is an institution at the top of the order at this point. There’s a joy in a faceless player though, an anonymous terror that blasts some lefty ace out of the box with a tape measure shot. When they’re leveraged right, the platoon bat can create a single god from the bodies of many flawed mortals.
That might be the coolest thing about a platoon. When it works well at any rate. When you have Luplow hitting like Trout against lefties and then you slot a volcanic Tyler Naquin in against righties, suddenly an offense the casual fan would be hard pressed to identify is hitting like the ‘27 Yankees. Even as hard as baseball is to master, seeing a team take players with exploitable weaknesses and make them useful weapons that change the face of games is inspiring in its own way. Guys like Luplow remind you that even if you can’t do something well, you’re valuable to somebody, somewhere. In that way Terry Francona is like his mom, who loves him for who he is and thinks everyone else should too.
If there’s one thing the Indians certainly have enough of, it’s flawed left-handed hitting outfielders. That’s what makes Luplow so incredibly valuable. Whether Naquin or Bauers or Bradley Zimmer, he’s going to have a good chunk of play time being their shadow. If he becomes something more, so be it. Even if he doesn’t, half-a-Pujols is better than none at all, right? Just imagine what mad platoon amalgamations they could create with two more roster spots, too. Now that’s a dream that’s nice to dream.