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Trend Spotting: Ryan Raburn, regression candidate

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Ryan Raburn was the centerpiece of the Goon Squad, perhaps a goon’s goon of sorts. This is accepting that Yan Gomes graduated the celebrated collection of castoffs to a starting role.

In reality, the Indians bench last year was constructed much differently than many we have experienced in the past. This occurred for multiple reasons. First, they felt that they could more efficiently allocate resources by having a collection of semi-regular/platoon types on the bench. Second, they were simply able to lure a higher level upside collection of guys into bench roles. Lastly, perhaps most importantly Francona is an outstanding manager in terms of matchup based lineups, which is not solely in reference to his ability to mix and match bullpen arms.

In many ways the Indians ultimate success in extracting a career season from Raburn, and an explosion from Gomes, results solely from Francona’s ability to place them in situations to be successful.

The impact ability of the Indians bench in 2013 was integral to its eventual wild card berth, yet it appears as if members of this group could be leaned on more than ever for contribution in 2014. The question is, will the Goon Squad continue to be an asset or will overexposure and possible regression make this group relatively irrelevant?

In order to effectively determine the answer to this question I believe that we must isolate two individuals as being the pivot points on which the impact of the bench will turn. This is with the assumption that the last man on the bench, the 25th guy, rarely impacts or affects 15-20 games a year. In Giambi’s, case 5-10.  Thus, we must consider both Raburn and Mike Aviles in order to project the potential impact of the Indians bench in 2014.

Let us begin with Raburn and his staggering 2013 numbers: .272/.357/.543 with impressive counting statistics as well including 16 home runs and 55 RBI in just 87 games.

There were times when Raburn was the best offensive player on the team and it felt as if, as was the case with many other players that he was at many times responsible for keeping them afloat. Raburn has traditionally been a peak valley hitter but what was incredible in 2013 was that his valleys were not valleys but just solid production.

Raburn’s lowest wRC+ for a month was 106 in September, which is still above league average offensively.  Perhaps Raburn’s most gaudy statistic occurs with two outs and runners in scoring position, where he posted an OPS of 1.275.  Of course his success with runners in scoring position is in an incredibly limited sample, likely to regress to his career numbers just a tick above his numbers with the bases empty.

There are a few pieces of Raburn’s 2013 production which make it seem as if portions of his production are sustainable or at least closely replicable.  The upcoming data will largely address his capabilities against right-handed pitching as his success against left-handed pitching will never be questioned and sits firmly above average, as a plus platoon type.

2013 136 9.8% 0.806 0.276 25.70% 125
Career Production 1052 5.8% 0.714 0.324 11.40% 90

(Note: all of this data is specific to Raburn facing right-handed pitching.)

Three peripheral indicators jump out at us as being particularly large outliers: 1). The HR/FB is an absolutely enormous shift.  2). The BABIP would by an eye popping difference if not for the HR/FB. 3). The walk rate shift was very important and may in fact be a positive indicator.

We will address the most glaring change first, which is a HR/FB more than double his career data. Indeed, 2009 is the only which Raburn’s HR/FB would have been more than half of this season.

Let us first address if there are any homerun tendencies of Raburn which may provide any coherent reason.

(Courtesy of Fangraphs)

Unfortunately, ball tracking data is fairly limited so the most easily accessible, affordable data only covers the past two seasons. There are two discernable pieces of interest. The first is his pull field success, Raburn’s tightest double and HR clusters, exist on or adjacent to the left field line. The other was his ability to drive the ball out in right-center. This was limited enough that I did not deem it significant.

The most shocking aspect is the success to the pull field. Shocking because right-handed hitters are often tortured by Progressive Field; for righties the HR park factor in Cleveland last year was 89. In Detroit it is 100, with a 100 being neutral everything below being pitcher friendly and above hitter friendly. In fact, outside of Pittsburgh, Progressive was the hardest park on right handed home run hitting in MLB.

Which makes Raburn’s HR/FB seem absolutely absurd, more absurd was that his overall HR/FB was actually higher at home than on the road. Perhaps the batter’s better suited Raburn but in reality we have to expect some very serious power regression especially when facing right handed pitching.

Because of the sample on the size of his career we can confidently postulate that Raburn’s BABIP will return to the mean or close to it, which will cover a portion of the value from his HR/FB regression.

The walk rate facing right-handed pitching as well as in general is the one seeming irreconcilable factor. Rarely do we see this sort of plate discipline spike without some legitimate improvement being the heart of it.

Indeed, plate discipline improvement is less likely to regress purely based on sample than things like BABIP and HR/FB. Raburn seemed to actually augment as a hitter, he decreased his chase percentage to 23.1%, a major improvement from his career number of 27.5%. As well as a swinging at a few less pitches inside the strike zone.

In a small way this can affect HR/FB as selectivity can allow for an improved quality of contact; still not impactful enough to not expect major power regression.  Yet, there is a distinct possibility that Raburn has improved his ability to control the strike zone which increases his offensive value.

Raburn’s overall production will unavoidably regress because of an unsustainable HR/FB. However, he still will provide plus production against left-handed pitching while not being too poor against right-handers. Murphy and Raburn are a perfect marriage, who will protect each other from their inadequacies, like any great platoon.

Lastly, in order to maximize Raburn’s production, he should not see more than 350 plate appearances, any more and his warts will start to show.

A few things that may only interest me:

  • Last season with two outs and runners in scoring position, Carlos Santana posted an OBP of .419. When the game was within a run in either direction, an OBP of .393. That is pretty impressive clutch production.
  • For in depth look at Mike Aviles the other central Goon Squad asset one should read this piece by Jim Piascik. 
  • As well as a wonderful argument made for Justin Masterson as a front end guy was made by Tony Blengino of Fangraphs.
  • Lastly, for a non-Indians piece by IBI’s Jeff Ellis, this look at the Browns draft outlook is phenomenal.

Author: Michael Hattery

Currently an Attorney. I have been fortunate enough to be published at Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, The Athletic Cleveland, and Marquette Sports Law Review. Follow @snarkyhatman

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