Cleveland Indians: Collin Cowgill Is What He Is

Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the things I have always told my daughters is that people don’t change.  I was applying that wisdom to potential husbands, but it applies to outfielders as well.  Sure, guys figure things out as they go along, and their bodies get stronger, legally or not, but after a guy has been around for a certain length of time you pretty much know what to expect.

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Which is to say that when Collin Cowgill came into this season with a career-high OPS of .684, the fact that he is hitless through his first five at-bats should not be viewed as a statistical aberration.  At age 30, this is who he is.  Now, you can say that Cowgill does much better against left-handers, to which I would reply that all five at bats thus far have been against left-handers and that his OPS over the last three years against left-handers is .717, which would be less than adequate for a corner outfielder.  You can also say that Cowgill is an excellent defensive outfielder, which I won’t argue because I haven’t seen enough.   I would say, though, that if Willie Mays had an OPS of .631 he probably wouldn’t have stuck around long enough to rob Vic Wertz.

It is reasonable to assume that over the next month Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall will return to the active roster as both are on (or beginning) rehab assignments.  As that happens, two out of Cowgill, Marlon Byrd, Tyler Naquin, and the thirteenth pitcher will be cut loose by the Cleveland Indians.  My guess is that Byrd and Naquin will remain.  Even if Cowgill remains, he will be at best the fifth outfielder, probably subbing defensively in the seventh inning for Byrd or playing once a week against a lefthander.  But until that point, he seems destined to play against all left-handers, which includes the first two games next week against Tampa Bay.

The Indians always preach that they win by being solid one through nine.  This is partly how they compensate for not being able to afford superstars, but it is also the most effective way to build a lineup.  If every man in the lineup is a threat, the odds of long scoring droughts become much lower.  Unfortunately, a corollary fact is that in a lineup where everyone is more or less equally dangerous, the number nine hitter is more or less just as likely to come to bat with, say, runners in scoring position as the cleanup hitter.  This makes for a situation in which guys like Cowgill are constantly killing rallies.  The longer he sticks around, the more likely it is that one of those rally-killing outs costs them a game.

It’s important to keep in mind that the entire starting outfield is out of action if you include Abraham Almonte.  Thus, an argument could be made that the front office should get a pass for being forced to give Cowgill significant playing time.  On the contrary, though, Brantley’s absence has been anticipated since November, and the damage from Almonte’s suspension has been mitigated by the emergence of Naquin.  So the only real surprise at this point has been the injury to Chisenhall, which was covered by the late spring training signing of Byrd.

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It seemed obvious throughout camp that, of the twenty-some outfielders roaming around Goodyear, Cowgill had the inside track on a job.  His 58 at-bats in spring training ranked fifth on the entire roster, certainly an indication that the Indians wanted him to succeed, or at least find out what he was capable of.  It is reasonable to assume, in fact, given the timing of his acquisition, that Cowgill was viewed as the replacement for Brantley all along.  Now that Byrd has been signed and Jose Ramirez has shown himself capable of playing the outfield and contributing offensively, there is little reason for Cowgill to remain when Chisenhall is activated, probably within the next week.  Let’s hope that the front office sees it that way.