“With us, we’re in a different position. We have guys already in those roles that are capable of contributing,” Antonetti said. “For us to improve, we need to improve upon a higher standard. In some cases, we’re counting on guys we’ve already made commitments to rebounding.”
That statement was part of an interview Indians’ GM Chris Antonetti did for Indians.com about the current state of the team and whether or not they would be involved as buyers in the trade market prior to July 31st. The entire interview could easily be taken as a way to ease Indians fans into the realization that the Indians will make no moves to improve externally, but obviously, that was not stated outright. The above statement is the most telling as Antonetti alludes to the fact that without improved play from those already with the team, additions will not be enough.
One of the players insinuated in the statement is most certainly Nick Swisher, the highest paid free agent signing in Indians history. Swisher has been incredibly consistent throughout his career, batting at least .254/.359/.410 every season but one from 2006 through 2012 and playing in at least 148 games each season as well. Even including his poor season in 2008, this has been a most abnormally terrible season for Swisher. In fact, both he and Carlos Santana are on the course for historically poor seasons, currently sitting 568th and 569th in batting average out of 571 qualifying hitters in Indians history. Only John Gochnaur in both 1902 and 1903 has qualified with an average under .200 (both times at .185) and this year the Indians have two players competing for that honor.
The joy of being at the bottom is that there is no place to go but up. The reason no other hitter has ever batted under .200 for the Tribe is that they either are replaced or improve and neither Swisher nor Santana are cheap enough to be replaced, so they will have to improve. This is the “higher standard” that the “committed players” must seek. There is a glimmer of hope for this to happen as well. Santana has already started to improve, batting .308 in June with six home runs and 15 RBI after hitting just .151 in April and .169 in May with six total home runs and 17 RBI between the two months. Swisher, on the other hand, is yet to turn things around, but still could.
One metric often looked at when judging whether a player is currently experiencing some hard luck independent of actual ability is BABIP and Swisher’s is an interesting story. While his numbers have remained consistent, his BABIP has varied wildly, from .335 in 2010 to .249 in 2008. Not surprisingly, 2014 marks his second lowest BABIP in his career to that ’08 season with a .265. Of course, BABIP can only tell so much and there is no guarantee that things will turn around for Swisher. Even if he does, assuming he maintains his normal post All-Star break average of .254, he will finish the season batting around .230 with a slugging percent of just over .400.
Another player hoping for a second half turn around is Jason Kipnis. Kipnis batted .284/.366/.452 in 2013 during an All-Star season, but has struggled at the plate this year after becoming a player the team depends on. He missed most of May with an oblique injury, but the injury can’t be blamed for his poor first half as he has played equally poorly before and after. All done, he is batting just .255/.332/.350 and should be considered as much of a disappointment as Swisher as his expectations were much higher. Unlike Santana and Swisher, Kipnis cannot blame his low average on an unlucky Spring as his BABIP is very near the league average at .306. Kipnis has turned things around slightly in July, batting .294 through the first 12 games, but he still is yet to bring back his power and he hasn’t hit a home run since April 21st.
One positive for Kipnis could come with a recent line-up change. With Michael Bourn out with injury, Kipnis has been bumped up to lead-off, a position that better fits his sans power performance of late. Kipnis is a tremendous base stealer and this new placement has inspired him to steal more and he has done so five times in his six games there. Because of this, he has found a new value and can help the team in a different way, still being somewhat productive. His success in limited time in this role helps bring optimism to the rest of his season and if he can get on regularly, it would be a great boon to the offensive production of the players who are still hitting, like Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall.
While what Antonetti said may not be popular, it is accurate. Last season, the Indians made two of the biggest free agent signings in team history, yet it was Kipnis, Santana, Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez who lead them to the play-offs, all players already under team control prior to 2013. This year is no different. If the Indians are to rebound from a mediocre first half, it will be because of the rebounds of the guys already committed too, not any fool-hardy trades that give away a decade worth of future Indians All-Stars.