DETROIT: How valuable are the Indians’ bench players?
It’s not just the flashy stuff, like Ryan Raburn hitting four home runs in two games. Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi and Raburn, the Tribe’s three-man corps of reserves (Lou Marson has been hurt), have contributed important hits so often that they seem like everyday players.
That’s part of the secret: Raburn, Aviles and Giambi have been regulars in the past.
Raburn is batting .329 with 11 RBI in 22 games.
“He had that great week, that’s why we’re talking about him,” manager Terry Francona said Friday.
“But my opinion of him would be the same if he were hitting .220.”
Francona was making two points: Raburn has been a professional hitter for most of his career, until an awful skid last year induced the Detroit Tigers to release him, and Raburn doesn’t have to bat .329 to be of value.
How often is a guy on the bench recognized as American League Player of the Week, as Raburn was recently?
No wonder Francona isn’t afraid to use Raburn, Aviles and Giambi whenever the need arises, whether an everyday player is hurt or needs a day off.
Aviles plays shortstop and third base and can be spotted in the outfield; Raburn plays both corner outfield positions and second base, so there is no hesitation to call on them to replace a player in a batting skid.
Because all three players are adept at the plate, the chance for a regular to fall into a lengthy slump has diminished. Last year, former manager Manny Acta was forced to stick with a struggling hitter longer than he wanted because his reserves were far less talented.
“I would look at it more like getting a guy off his legs for a while; I prefer to say it that way than the other way,” Francona said, not wanting to frame the proposition.
Comparing last year’s bench to this year’s might be instructive, even this season’s sample is small.
Raburn, Aviles and Giambi have an aggregate batting average of .293 in 164 at-bats. They have accounted for 17 percent of the club’s doubles, 16 percent of its home runs, 20 percent of its RBI and 17 percent of the runs in 15 percent of the team’s at-bats.
The six bench players with 90 or more at-bats in 2012 (Aaron Cunningham, Brent Lillibridge, Jason Donald, Ezequiel Carrera, Jose Lopez and Russ Canzler) combined to bat .234 in 785 at-bats. They accounted for 11 percent of the Tribe’s doubles, 10 percent of the homers, 11 percent of the RBI and 11 percent of the runs in 14 percent of the team’s at-bats.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.