There are a lot of ongoing issues with the Cleveland Indians right now. Could a realignment of the infield help the Tribe’s production?
Inconsistency is an understatement when you describe the 2018 Cleveland Indians a little over a quarter through the season. The bullpen is struggling to go a game without surrendering a run, let alone four or five runs.
The rotation has a hole in the number five slot of the rotation. But one problem has stood out from day one of the season for the Tribe: offensive struggles.
It’s not to say the Indians offense hasn’t hit well at times. They are currently second in the league in home runs and have found themselves in relatively high scoring games as of late. But that’s about it.
The team is middle of the pack in RBI, OBP and OPS. That would help explain their continual .500 record when you combine that with the fact that the team is also middle of the pack in nearly every pitching category.
So what is to be done to give this offense some rhythm, particularly from their big bats in the infield? Well not much can change at some spots. Yonder Alonso isn’t going to move from first base, that’s what the Indians signed him for. Francisco Lindor will remain at shortstop as he is one of the best in baseball at the position.
That leaves Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis. There is no way Jose Ramirez will be removed from the lineup, but he is versatile and can be moved to second base if necessary. That leaves Jason Kipnis as the odd man out. Kipnis is batting .176 with an OPS+ of only 41. Despite that he is actually fifth on the team in extra base-hits, just behind Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso. So what are the options for the Tribe? Here are a few.
1B Yonder Alonso, 2B Erik Gonzalez, 3B Jose Ramirez, SS Francisco Lindor
This alignment would allow the team to incorporate Erik Gonzalez who has spent much of the season on the Tribe bench. He has hit fairly well when he gets playing time. One number that stands out is his ISOP or isolated power of .222, which is good for fourth on the team.
What that basically means that he is averaging an extra-base hit in about 22 percent of his at-bats. He leads the team in batting average at .361.
He’s a kid that is out of options and is playing for a chance to either stay on this roster, or audition for another team. Adding him to the lineup would give Jason Kipnis some time off to reflect and hopefully find his groove in that span.
1B Yonder Alonso, 2B Jose Ramirez, 3B Yandy Diaz, SS Francisco Lindor
Most fans remember Yandy Diaz from his time with the Indians for much of last year. He spent time in the outfield and at third base. He wasn’t quite the power hitter the Indians hoped he’d be as he only had nine extra-base hits.
This year in Columbus, Yandy still isn’t raking for XBH, but he is getting on base nonetheless. In fact, Yandy already has 30 walks in 30 games this year in Triple-A Columbus. That’s shot his OBP up to .421.
It would be a bit of a stretch to add Yandy to the 40-man roster when the bullpen is in desperate need of arms. Yandy still needs time to develop into the hitter the Indians want him to be. But it would give him more major league experience, and would allow Jose Ramirez to return to second where some fans prefer him.
Along with the current alignment, the two aforementioned alignments are likely the only other viable options. But for the sake of discussion, it’s worth mentioning that two high-end Indians prospects have a chance at some major league playing time.
The Indians sixth ranked prospect, Yu-Cheng Chang, has hit for some pretty impressive power in Triple-A Columbus. He has a slugging percentage of .401 with 13 XBH.
The young infielder is only 22 and is a natural shortstop, but he has a good chance to see some big-league time here in the coming years. Combine that with the continued acceleration of Shane Bieber and it may not be long before we see some new faces in from Triple-A Columbus. Especially with the current performance of the Tribe.
It is still fairly early by baseball standards to demand drastic change as the Indians are still in first in the abysmal AL Central, but even they can’t hold that lead forever if things don’t change at some point.