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Constructing the Cleveland Indians Opening Day Lineup

Cleveland Indians

Overview of the Batting Order

Sunday, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona spoke to reporters. During the press conference, Francona gave some indication behind his thinking for the starting lineup. Zack Meisel, who covers the Indians for The Athletic, reported Francona’s quote below on Twitter.

When the Cleveland Indians signed Cesar Hernandez this past offseason, the intent was to make him their leadoff hitter. After all, Hernandez is a prototypical leadoff hitter in which he can get on base and steal a bag during certain situations. Last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, Hernandez swiped nine bags and put up a .333 on-base percentage (OBP) over 161 games. In 2018, Hernandez stole 18 bases and had an OBP of .356 over the same amount of games. Therefore, he is just a natural fit for the top of Cleveland’s lineup.

Now that the leadoff spot has been solidified, it would not be a surprise to see Carlos Santana occupy the second spot in the Indians batting order. As Francona indicated, Santana has the ability to hit from both sides of the plate. Additionally, the 34-year old possesses plenty of sneaky power. Last season alone, over the span of 158 games Santana hit .281/.397/.515 with 34 home runs and 103 RBI. Beyond that, he also recorded 108 walks which is extremely valuable for that spot in any batting order.

By having two guys at the top that have a very good chance of getting on-base, the Indians are putting themselves in a good spot leading up to the heart of the lineup.

Focusing on the Heart of the Batting Order

Of course, the most notable hitter in the Cleveland Indians lineup comes in the three-hole in shortstop Francisco Lindor. Last season, the Indians utilized Lindor in the leadoff spot for 141 games. The same goes for the 2018 regular season when Cleveland plugged Lindor at the top of the batting order for 153 games. Now, with Hernandez batting leadoff, the Indians can move Lindor down and really bring out his true skill set.

In 2019, Lindor concluded the regular season with an OPS+ of 118 along with 32 home runs and 74 RBI over 654 plate appearances. Beyond having very good power and bat-to-ball skills, Lindor is also skilled on the base paths. Last season, he swiped 22 bases in that sample.

Next up in the Cleveland Indians lineup should be the third baseman Jose Ramirez. For the Indians to reach the postseason, they will need Ramirez to perform like he did during his age-24 and 25 seasons. Both of those years, he earned All-Star nominations and had a career-high (57) doubles during his age-24 season in 2017. Furthermore, if you recall the first half of the 2018 season was very good for Ramirez as well. Over 94 games or 419 plate appearances, he hit .302/.401/.628 with 108 hits, 29 home runs, 70 RBI, 57 walks, and 48 strikeouts.

Rounding out the heart of the batting order will likely be designated hitter Franmil Reyes. Reyes came over to Cleveland halfway through last season in the three-team trade involving Trevor Bauer. While he can play in the outfield, Reyes has a higher potential at the plate. After heading to Cleveland last season, the 25-year old had an OPS+ of 97, but did have a negative Runs Better Than Average (RAA) value of -7.

Constructing the Rest of the Starting Lineup

Next up in the batting order will likely be offseason acquisition Domingo Santana. With the Seattle Mariners last season, Santana posted a .329 on-base and .441 slugging percentage over 507 plate appearances or 121 games. In addition, the 27-year old recorded 50 walks, 21 home runs, and 69 RBI. One area to watch for Santana this year is when he is squaring off against finesse pitchers. In those situations last season, which accounted for 200 plate appearances, Santana hit .326/.414/.547.

Following Santana will probably be centerfielder Oscar Mercado. Mercado broke out in a big way last year for the Indians and there is a lot of promise for the 25-year old going into the coming season. In total in 2019, Mercado hit .269/.318/.443 over 482 plate appearances or 115 games. In that span, he hit 15 home runs and recorded 54 RBI along with 15 stolen bases. Mercado really excelled in situations with runners in scoring position (RISP). He recorded 114 plate appearances that were RISP situations and hit .323/.367/.531.

Next, the eighth spot of the batting order will undeniably always belong to the catcher. For the Cleveland Indians that will be where Roberto Perez hits in the lineup. The offensive part of his game really came around last year and it was the first time in Perez’s six-year big-league career that he finished the regular season with a positive Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) value (2.1). Furthermore, Perez posted a .774 OPS over 449 plate appearances.

Finally, rounding out the lineup for the Indians will most likely be left fielder Greg Allen. Allen is another switch hitter for Cleveland and although the power isn’t necessarily strong, he does have the ability to come to provide league-average offense for the most part. An interesting note on Allen relates to his hit trajectory from last season. On the hits that went to the outfield, Allen hit .494/.489/.798!

Final Thoughts

In the end, the Cleveland Indians have a very good, sneaky type of lineup. On paper, it might appear as though it has some flaws after the first couple of spots, but when you start to dig deeper you will find that it is a fascinating lineup. The lineup possesses hitters with high power potential, the ability to get on-base, and guys that can steal a bag. All of those things are going to be important for the Indians if they want to beat out the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox for the American League Central crown this season.

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