Posts in this series:
|Catcher||First Base||Second Base|
|Shortstop||Third Base||Designated Hitter|
|Left Field||Center Field||Right Field|
|Starting Pitching||Relief Pitching|
Part I: Review
The Indians brought in Russell Branyan to play first base, as Matt LaPorta was coming off two off-season surgeries. But Matt started the season anyways, as Branyan missed most of Spring Training with a back injury. Those two would share the position through the end of June, when the Indians dealt Branyan to Seattle to give LaPorta more playing time. Matt would hold down the position through the end of the season. Three other Indians (Andy Marte, Shelley Duncan, Jordan Brown) would make starts at the position.
2010 was Branyan's second straight season as a full-time first baseman, and he was decent according to UZR. I thought he looked wooden out there, and should have turned more throwing errors into outs. Matt LaPorta looked better around the bag than Branyan, but he does need to expand his range. Matt is still learning the position, and the two surgeries had to have affected his range in 2010, so I'm less concerned with his defense than the other infielders. In fact, I was actually encouraged how well he took to the position. Now only if his offense was as encouraging.
But at first base, defense takes a back seat to offense. How did the Tribe first basemen do at the plate?
Because LaPorta got more at-bats than Branyan, the Indians finished towards the bottom of the league in hitting. In most years, having your first basemen post a 70 OPS+ would place you last in the league with room to spare. But not this season, thanks to Seattle, Baltimore, and the post-Teixeira Texas Rangers.
I wasn't able to access the team splits in a table format, so instead, here's the individual lines:
It was a good thing the Indians did bring Branyan in, for if not for him the Indians might have finished last in the league. But Branyan will not be returning, so let's concentrate on the player the Indians are counting on to be a major offensive contributor.
I think it's very probable that the two surgeries had a major affect on LaPorta's offensive game. Not only did he start the season playing with a gimpy hip, he wasn't able to come into the regular season having gotten his normal reps. He also had to deal with a new position and pitchers who now knew his flaws. Because of all these factors, the Indians are giving LaPorta a mulligan for 2010, and hoping that after a normal off-season, Matt will be that promising power hitter in 2011. But there also needs to be a backup plan.
Part II: Looking Towards 2011
Not Coming Back
Russell Branyan (Traded, 6-26-2010)
Branyan was dealt to give Matt LaPorta unfettered at-bats, but he more than served his purpose with the Indians.
Matt LaPorta (Pre-Arbitration) - 1 Option Year Remaining
Matt is going to be the first baseman in 2011, and the training wheels are going to be off. The Indians really need a right-handed power threat, and have envisioned LaPorta as that guy since trading CC Sabathia for him in 2008. He has the ability to hit 25+ home runs a season, but he's going to have to get better with his plate discipline so that he gets opportunities to use that power.
Jordan Brown (Pre-Arbitration) - 2 Option Years Remaining
Brown had a decent season in Columbus, but with his age (26) and place on the defensive spectrum (LF/1B), he needs to be obliterating minor-league pitching to open eyes. Brown could find his way on the roster as a backup first baseman and fifth outfielder, but it's more likely he goes back to Columbus again.
Shelley Duncan (Pre-Arbitration) - No Option Years Remaining
Duncan has played some first base in the majors, but on the Indians, he's a much better fit backing up a left-handed outfield. So I'll cover his 2011 outlook when I get to the outfielders.
Up in the Air
Andy Marte (Arbitration) - No Option Years Remaining
If by some masochistic miracle Marte is on this team next season, he would probably be the primary backup to LaPorta. But that's not happening...right?