As unlikely as it may seem, the Indians have yet to fail me this offseason. While failing to sign Shane Victorino and turning away from Jason Bay, the Indians have set their sights on two options that will make me ecstatic, to say the least.
Whether these options will ever come to fruition remains to be seen. We are dealing with the Indians here and, as the cries of small market can be heard on the horizon, anything can happen.
I happen to be a huge fan of Moneyball. Not necessarily the movie, although it was great, or the book, although it was better, but the concept in and of itself. Moneyball, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is the practice of building a winning baseball team without a great deal of money by using statistical analysis in ways that were previously unheard of. For example, in the pre-Moneyball era, baseball players were measured, statistically, in terms of batting average. Batting average was the be all end all in terms of the productivity of a player. The more hits he got, the more valuable he was to your baseball team. Technically, that is still true. A higher batting average, more often than not, means a better player. However, for teams in small markets with small money, a higher batting average also means that one is more than likely out of the pay-range. Moneyball doesn’t use batting average as a primary measure of statistics. Instead, the main measure of a player’s worth is OBP (On Base Percentage) and OPS (On Base Percentage Plus Slugging). Guys with high OBP and OPS can often go unnoticed in the baseball world if their batting average is low or power isn’t there. These are the guys that the Moneyball players will go after, and those players will make their team better.
For the Indians, being in a small market, Moneyball seems to be an option in terms of building a winning baseball team. The Indians, however, have failed to use Moneyball as an option and instead have relied on the development of the farm system and will compete for one or two years at a time before their players go to the Yankees or Red Sox. It’s a flawed system that, obviously, hasn’t worked.
While the Tribe may not be fully aware, they could be playing a form of Moneyball for the very first time.
The Indians are going after Swisher and Youkilis to make their baseball team better, and they will. Not because of their average, nor their home runs, but their OBP and OPS numbers. Nick Swisher ranked 30th in professional baseball in terms of On Base Percentage, at a .364 mark. His numbers ranked above guys like Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter. While Hamilton and Upton are considered to be very hot commodities during this offseason, a guy like Swisher gets on base more times, and therefore makes less outs, than either of those guys. Swisher’s .837 OPS is good for 38th in the league, above guys like Bryce Harper, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Zimmerman, Jason Heyward, and the Indian’s own Shin Soo Choo. While Swisher will surely get paid, and maybe that’s a luxury the Indians now can afford, it’s clear that Swisher’s value gets lost in the batting average and power numbers that the big money teams only look at.
Youkilis, or in Moneyball lingo “The Greek God of Walks”, isn’t nearly as valuable as Swisher, but is still more valuable than one might think. Even in a down year, Youkilis ranked 68th in the Majors in OBP with a .336 mark. He was above guys like Jason Heyward, Jason Kipnis, Mark Reynolds, Justin Morneau and Mark Teixeira. His OPS numbers were good for 92nd in the league just below BJ Upton, Brandon Phillips, Michael Brantley, and Ian Kinsler. He was right above Hunter Pence, Jimmy Rollins, Coco Crisp, and Michael Bourn. Youkilis needs a fresh start and what better place to give him one than Cleveland.
Essentially, both of these guys are overlooked and underpaid. Swisher is one of the better players in the league, but ceases to get recognition because he was hidden in a New York Yankees lineup filled with All Stars, and his traditional numbers weren’t all that exciting. For Youkilis, it was a bit of a down year, but in a way that’s in the Tribe’s advantage because even in a down year, Youk was way better than a lot of other options for the Tribe.
If you look at the Tribe’s lineup, with Youk and Swish included, the possibility of World Series contention could be very real. Of course, the pitching would have to improve dramatically, but offensively, the Indians would be a team to look out for. The infield would be a great mix of veteran leadership and young talent: Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Kevin Youkilis and Lou Marson. The outfield would be an All-Star cast: Nick Swisher, Shin Soo Choo, and Michael Brantley. Again, a great mix of the young and the old, all filled with huge amounts of talent and all who are going to help this team to contend. While the DH spot would still be a cause for concern, I’m sure guys like Swisher, Youkilis, and Santana wouldn’t mind filling the gap for a few nights here and there.
While the acquisitions are yet to be official, and in all likelihood may not ever become official, having guys like Youkilis and Swisher on this team would restore the faith for many Tribe fans, including myself. Not only would it set a standard for winning in Cleveland again, but it would restore the faith in the front office and the managerial position to get things done in order to win baseball games. I know I’m a sucker for stories, but two Ohio guys coming to play for the Tribe and competing for a World Series would just sound magical.
Don’t hold your breath, but if the Indians pull through on these deals with Swisher and Youkilis, the Indians would be right back in their mid-90’s form, once again.