Indians 2015 Season Preview: Ryan Raburn

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Will the Real Ryan Raburn Please Stand Up?

For Ryan Raburn, 2014 couldn’t have been any more different than 2013. He went from being one of the best hitters on the team to one of the worst hitters on the team, and really in the entire league.  This has led many fans to call 2013 an outlier and that 2015 will look similar to Raburn’s 2014 season, with many even calling for him to be cut.  However, is that truly what should be expected out of Raburn in 2015?

For Raburn, 2013 was his best offensive season, there’s no debating that. He posted career highs in OPS, SLG, and ISO. However, he has a long track record of performing well, even if in only a reduced role.  In fact, over the last six seasons (2009-2014) Raburn batted .252/.312/.436/.747 with a .184 ISO. Not exactly All-Star numbers but consider this, in 2014 blossoming star Yan Gomes batted .278/.313/.472/.785 with a .194 ISO.  Gomes is currently the sole right-handed hitter that should see regular playing time in the Tribe lineup. While Raburn is no Gomes, he has shown at times that he can be an effective right-handed hitter with some pop.

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Ryan Raburn: Lefty Masher?

Ryan Raburn was never brought in to be an everyday player. He wasn’t one in Detroit and even in his great 2013 season was never one in Cleveland. What Raburn can be is a very effect bench player that platoons against left-handed pitching.  Unfortunately for Cleveland Raburn really struggled against lefties in 2014, batting just .195 against them with a .596 OPS and .138 ISO.  This was a far cry from 2013 when he posted an OPS over 1.000 and an ISO over .300 against lefties.  The question then becomes, which Ryan Raburn will the Indians get in 2015? The answer very likely is neither. While 2013 was his best offensive season it actually wasn’t as much of a career year as many seem to think.  Consider his past six years vs LHP:

Couple things jump out when looking at this chart. The first is that over the last six years Raburn has managed to post a very solid .816 OPS and even better .228 ISO. Those numbers may not sound that impressive but in 2014, only 17 players posted a higher ISO versus left-handed pitching.  What also stands out is the rather large swings in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Only twice has he struggled and both years he’s had exceptionally low BABIPs.  While it’d be inaccurate to say that luck alone was the reason for his two terrible years, it’d also be unwise to simply ignore the factor.

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On the downside two of the last three years have been very disappointing (to put it lightly).  He’s now 33 (will turn 34 in April) so the question of age is a valid one. Can’t ignore the fact that both of his bad years have come in the past three seasons so despite his solid track record perhaps he simply has “lost it” and 2013 was in fact a fluke year. Though that would be ignoring the injury plus some solid secondary numbers he posted versus left-handed pitching in 2014. He did still managed a solid 8.8% walk-rate and his 0.38 walk-to-strikeout rate isn’t too far off his career number versus lefties (0.41).

So which Raburn should the Indians expect in 2015?  Impossible to say for certain but looking at the incredibly low BABIPs that he posted in both 2012 and 2014, it’s not a stretch to think that a healthy Raburn should be able to bounce back and at worst be an .800 OPS guy he has shown he can be versus left-handed pitching. On the other hand, Father Time could be catching up and more of a culprit in his struggles than just luck. Given his relatively low salary and the presence of Zach Walters, Raburn could be a short leash. On the other, he does appear to be a favorite of Tito Francona so he could have a lot more leeway than one would think. Regardless, look for Raburn to come out with a chip on his shoulder in 2015, similar to what we saw after he was released by the Tigers following his disappointing season there.  Look for Raburn to open the season as one of the first bench options and figuring in as a platoon partner (if only at times) with Brandon Moss in RF.

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