Cleveland Indians: Jordan Luplow key to outfield success?

Jordan Luplow of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
Jordan Luplow of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Indians have a giant hole out in centerfield and one potential solution is the southpaw-mashing Jordan Luplow.

Saying the Cleveland Indians have issues in the outfield has taken over as the “Browns have no quarterback” issue in the city’s sportscape. The Tribe has added free agent Eddie Rosario who will be a big boost and Josh Naylor looks like he could potentially fix the other corner spot. But that will still leave a mammoth hole in center and it’s anyone’s guess how Terry Francona and company will handle the position.

Opening Day is upon us and we still haven’t gotten a clear indication of who could see the bulk of the time out there. This spring we saw Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado try to reclaim the spot but both will at the very least begin the season in the minors. Daniel Johnson is a fun prospect but he too is in the minors for the time being. The Tribe brought in Ben Gamel but he’s been a backup everywhere. Even former shortstop Amed Rosario is seeing time there with some ugly results. But one player stands out at the spot for me: Jordan Luplow.

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Luplow has had a couple solid seasons for the Indians since coming over from the Pirates in the Erik Gonzalez trade. He’s struggled to play every day but he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball against lefties. Over the last two years, he ranks fifth in all of baseball with a 1.092 OPS against southpaws and seventh with a 180 wRC+ (minimum 150 plate appearances). The names ahead of him? Nelson Cruz, J.D. Martinez, Alex Bregman, Mitch Garver, Aaron Judge, and DJ LeMahieu. Yeah, not bad company at all.

Can he play every day?

The problem of course is hitting right-handed pitching. In his career, he has just a .589 OPS and 57 OPS against righties, though in just 274 plate appearances. That’s not even a full year of at-bats. Luplow hit righties well in the minors so there’s hope that with some regular time he could at least be closer to average there.

Many will likely feel content letting Luplow remain a platoon bat; however, the Cleveland Indians appear set to allow Amed Rosario to continue to play everyday. Rosario, who I do like in the right role, has a career .667 OPS and 79 wRC+ against right-handed pitching in nearly 1,200 plate appearances. His issue can’t be put up to small sample size, he simply can’t hit them.

So what’s the harm in letting Luplow try? Even Ben Gamel, a left-handed bat, only has a .708 OPS and 92 wRC+ against righties in close to 1,100 career plate appearances. Obviously much better but still good bit below league average. If Luplow stinks up the joint in April, move on to Gamel or someone else but it feels a waste to not try. At least Luplow can play center, unlike Amed Rosario.

Overall 2020 numbers are misleading

One thing I’ve seen a lot of is people talking about how bad Jordan Luplow was in 2020. Sure, his overall numbers were pretty terrible: .192 AVG, .663 OPS, 81 wRC+. But context is key here. Luplow missed much of summer camp with an injury and got off to an extremely slow start to the season going 0-for-July and then some. In fact, from July 24th through August 7th he didn’t record a single hit and had just one walk. But after that? Oh man.

Luplow recorded his first hit on August 8th, a two-run home run. From that game through the end of the season he had a .854 OPS and 130 wRC+. The only Indians’ players to have a higher OPS or wRC+ in timeframe were Jose Ramirez (1.009 OPS, 168 wRC+) and Franmil Reyes (.867, 132). Are we really going to call Luplow’s 2020 season terrible because he couldn’t find his footing in his first 22 plate appearances?

If Luplow is able to handle everyday duties, you suddenly have an outfield that doesn’t have a hole in for the first time in a long time. Sure, maybe Amed Rosario figures things out both at plate and in field and can be that guy, but call me skeptical on him finally doing that. Give me the real outfielder who is a better hitter in Luplow. See if he can unlock that final bit of his game and be a huge key to the Tribe’s offensive success. Again, what do you have to lose?

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