By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
Editors note: Monday night’s game between the Indians and the Los Angeles Angels was not completed in time for this edition. For results go to www.Ohio.com
ANAHEIM, Calif.: Ryan Raburn continues to amaze.
He hit his 15th home run of the season Sunday in the Indians’ 7-3 loss to the Athletics to go with a .272 batting average, 14 doubles and 41 RBI.
Why is that a big deal? There are hitters who have twice as many home runs, doubles and RBI as Raburn. The astounding part is that Raburn has done that with only 195 at-bats.
In that regard, the next lowest at-bat total for a player with at least 15 homers is Evan Gattis of the Braves, who has 247.
So is he really a bench guy getting more playing time than most reserves, or is he a regular who isn’t getting as many at-bats as most everyday players?
You could probably call Raburn a tweener. He began last season as the Tigers’ everyday second baseman and sank lower than one of Tony Soprano’s enemies after being dumped in the Hudson River. That would seem to make his talents suitable for coming off the bench.
But there are bench players and then there are bench players. Many reserves are defensive specialists who play key positions, like shortstop or center field. Others can hit a little and run a lot. Few have produced at the plate the way Raburn has this year.
“I think confidence has a lot to do with it,” manager Terry Francona said Monday. “He has a good routine, so he has maintained his swing all year. That’s not easy to do if you’re a bench player. And he’s a legit power bat.”
If Raburn’s numbers are projected for an entire 550-at-bat season, he would amass 42 home runs and 116 RBI. But the reality is that he probably wouldn’t reach those levels.
Francona takes care in spotting Raburn against pitchers he is likely to hit and in situations that favor his swing or his other abilities.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Francona said of mathematical projections. “Erubiel Durazo, when he played every day in Oakland, didn’t get to face righties all the time.”
Durazo came off the bench for the Diamondbacks in 2002 and hit 22 homers with 48 RBI in 222 at-bats. The next year for the A’s, he received more than twice as many at-bats but didn’t double his production, hitting 21 home runs and accumulating 77 RBI.
Knowing how often to write Raburn’s name in the lineup might be as much art as science, but Francona said, “It’s our job to know that.”
Raburn is part of one of the most productive groups of reserves in the big leagues.
“We’re pretty lucky to have the bench we have,” Francona said. “Jason Giambi gets pinch hit for, and he’s the loudest guy in the dugout cheering for Raburn. I’ve seen the other side of that. Guys want to play every day, and if they sit, they’re mad.”
It’s easy to see why some backup players might feel that they’re second-class citizens. That does not seem to be the case with Mike Aviles, Yan Gomes, Giambi and Raburn.
“I think Raburn would like to play every day,” Francona said. “But these guys are respected, and they don’t get bored.”
The respect shown to Raburn and Aviles extends to their job security. Aviles was signed to a two-year deal worth $6 million over the winter, and little more than a week ago, Raburn agreed to a two-year contract worth $4.8 million plus an option season.
When they show you the money, you know you’re doing something right.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. 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.