2 hits in MLB debut

Lonnie Chisenhall was called up before Monday’s game in Arizona to make his major league debut and responded with a 2-4 performance. He’s the 7th Indian to collect two hits in his debut since 1990 and the first with two hits and an RBI since Josh Bard in 2002.

And not to put too much pressure on the kid, but the last Tribe third baseman with two hits in his debut: future Hall of Fame Jim Thome

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt AB R H 2B HR RBI Pos.
Lonnie Chisenhall 2011-06-27 CLE ARI W 5-4 4 0 2 1 0 1 3B
Jason Donald 2010-05-18 CLE TBR L 2-6 3 1 2 0 0 0 SS
Michael Brantley 2009-09-01 CLE DET L 5-8 4 1 2 0 0 0 LF
Josh Bard 2002-08-23 CLE SEA W 4-2 4 1 2 0 1 3 C
Dave Roberts 1999-08-07 CLE TBD W 15-10 5 3 3 1 0 0 CF
Jim Thome 1991-09-04 CLE MIN W 8-4 4 1 2 0 0 1 3B
Mark Lewis 1991-04-26 CLE TEX W 5-2 3 0 2 1 0 2 SS
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/28/2011.

Tribe wins on walk-off walk

It’s been a wild season, so it’s only fitting that we add a walk-off walk to the list of ways the Tribe stumbled upon a victory.

Michael Brantley is the first Indian to draw a walk-off walk since Kenny Lofton in 2007 and just the sixth in the Jacobs Field era.

The first man on the list was Rene Gonzales, who walked only five times in his very brief Indians career. On an unrelated note, he’s also the last – and probably only – Tribesman to wear No. 88.

Can Brantley continue his hot start?

According to Baseball-Reference, Michael Brantley has made contact 92% of the time he’s taken the bat off his shoulder this year – good for the second highest percentage in the majors, trailing only Minnesota’s Denard Span (94%).

Brantley's patience at the plate may be too predictable

Brantley’s contact percentage, coupled with his incredible patience at the plate, is why he has been so valuable when leading off for the Tribe this season.

However, a pattern is emerging which may tip pitchers off as to how to attack Brantley.

Brantley may rank among the leaders in contact percentage, but he also has the 7th-lowest first-pitch swing percentage (10%).

His patience, particularly at the start of an at bat, allows him to get into a hitters count and pick out his pitch. However, when pitchers do get ahead in the count, Brantley struggles. After falling behind 0-1, Brantley is batting just .200 with a .254 OBP. When ahead 1-0, his OBP is .524.

Fortunately for Brantley he has gotten ahead 1-0 in over half of his plate appearances this season, but if his patient approach remains too predictable pitchers will start feeding him fastballs early in the count to get ahead.

It’s only a matter of when, not if, pitchers make this adjustment. And Brantley’s continued success will depend upon his ability to then adjust to their adjustments.

Should Sizemore bat leadoff?

Since Grady Sizemore returned two games ago, this has been the great debate: should he remain the Indians leadoff hitter?

I think this debate really has two very different factors that need to be addressed, so I’ll break this post into two sections.

First, let’s forget about whether or not the Indians have an alternative and simply address the question: is Sizemore a leadoff hitter?

Those who want to drop him in the lineup point to his low batting average – just .268 when batting leadoff since 2007, which ranks 29th out of 39 players with at least 150 games from the leadoff spot. It’s certainly a concerning number, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

During that same time span Sizemore ranks 4th among leadoff hitters with a .374 on-base percentage. And what is the job of your leadoff hitter? To set the table for the run-producers behind him.

The anti-Sizemore crowd will also point to his high strikeout total. Since 2007 he has struck out once ever 5.3 PA – 10th worst among leadoff hitters. But again I will point to his OBP. As long as your leadoff hitter is getting on base at .374 rate, does it really matter how he records outs the rest of the time?

One could argue for the important of his strikeout rate if he were batting 2nd, where his job would be to move up runners, but as a leadoff hitter his job is simply to find his way onto the basepaths. If he occasionally strikes out in the process, so be it.

Now that we’ve established that Sizemore is clearly capable of batting leadoff, and is arguably one of the best in the league at setting the table, the second part of the question is: would Michael Brantley be a better option?

I am a huge supporter of Brantley, but I personally do not believe he is ready to replace Sizemore at the top of the order. He is a capable leadoff hitter, but not better than Grady.

In 96 career games batting leadoff, Brantley has a .274 BA (higher than Sizemore in the same time span) but only a .321 OBP (significantly lower than Sizemore).

That said, Brantley did get off to a brilliant start in 2011. In 13 games as the leadoff hitter this season, Brantley is batting .302 with a .367 OBP – well within the range of an above-average leadoff man.

So what’s the conclusion? As long as the Tribe is winning, they need to stick with Sizemore. He is the proven commodity and the one most likely to maintain a consistent pace throughout the season (assuming he’s healthy). However, if the Tribe takes a nose dive I would be in favor of giving Brantley an opportunity. Why not see what the kid can do, while also seeing what Sizemore can do from the three, four or five-hole? If the Tribe expects to compete in 2012, they’ll need to know what they have to work with.

Hafner, Brantley extend hit streaks

Michael Brantley and Travis Hafner each extended their hit streaks to seven games on Saturday night against the Mariners. They have each hit safety in every game in which they’ve played this season.

It’s the first time the Indians have had two players start a season with a seven-game hit streak since 2006 with Jhonny Peralta (9 games) and Victor Martinez (15).

Brantley’s streak is the longest by an Indians leadoff hitter since Milton Bradley started the 2003 season off with hits in 14 consecutive games.

The longest season-opening hit streak (since 1919) belongs to Johnny Temple, who hit safety in 19 straight games to being the 1961 season.

The cautionary tale of Mark Lewis

Through nine career games Carlos Santana is batting .393 with 2 HR, 8 RBI and a .514 OBP. On Sunday he went 3-4 with a HR, collecting his 4th career multi-hit game.

It’s an impressive start, to be sure, but he isn’t the first Tribe rookie to jump out to a hot start. Over the last 25 seasons, he’s the 8th Tribe rookie with at least four multi-hit games through his first nine career games. It’s an odd collection of names, and hopefully the top name on the list give us reason to temper our enthusiasm about Santana.

Here’s a quick history lesson on Mark Lewis, who was our early 90s version of Carlos Santana…

In late April 1991 the Tribe called up Lewis – Baseball America’s 9th-rated prospect entering the season. The former 2nd-overall pick filled in for Felix Fermin and got off to a torrid start, with five multi-hit performances in his first eight career games. By the end of May he was batting .363 and had shifted over to 2nd base, replacing veteran Jerry Browne.

Lewis looked like a future star, but unfortunately that first month was the highlight of his career. As the everyday shortstop in 1992 he hit just .264 and relinquished the job back to Fermin in 1993. After spending the majority of the ’93 season batting .284 in Tripe-A Charlotte, the Tribe essentially gave up on Lewis when they traded Fermin and Reggie Jefferson for Omar Vizquel. Lewis would start the 1994 season in a platoon with Jim Thome at third base, but was sent back down to Charlotte in May after batting .217 through the first two months of the season.

Lewis was traded to the Reds for Tim Costo in December 1994.

So while it’s fun to watch Carlos Santana and imagine him as the next Victor Martinez or Sandy Alomar Jr. Remember, at one time Mark Lewis was the future of our franchise as well.