After hitting .256/.311/.430 in 1,573 at-bats over seven seasons with the Tigers, Ryan Raburn had to settle for a minor league contract in the offseason. A few charmed months later, he’s now making guaranteed money through 2015, courtesy of the two-year, $4.85 million extension he signed with the Indians on Wednesday.
There’s no denying that the 32-year-old Raburn has been one of the league’s best role players this season; he’s hitting .277/.370/.565 with 13 homers and 38 RBI in 184 at-bats. He’s not just doing it against lefties, either; he’s hit .257/.347/.523 with eight homers in 109 at-bats against right-handers.
Still, there’s little to suggest this has been any sort of real breakthrough for Raburn. His strikeout rate is a bit higher than his career average. His line drive rate is, too, but only a bit. He’s been more selective than ever before, and it’s helped his walk rate. But much of his success is built on every one of his four flyballs leaving the yard, and that’s just not sustainable. According to hittrackeronline.com, Raburn is one of two players in baseball to have four “lucky homers” this year. His last two homers, coming Aug. 1 against the White Sox, were both wind-aided and wouldn’t have left the yard under normal conditions.
This is also my least favorite type of contract: multiyear deals for part-time players go bad far more often than not. Ask the Cardinals about Ty Wigginton and the Phillies about Laynce Nix. It’s not even about the money; often it turns out to be a waste of a roster spot on a player who doesn’t deserve it.
All of that said, I don’t have much of a problem with the Indians’ signing here. I don’t believe that Raburn will keep this up in 2014, but he’s been a good part-time player more often than he’s been a bad one in his career. Also, the Indians always figure to have use for him with left-handed hitters Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley due to occupy starting spots in the outfield for the next few years.
Little good can come from extending a player at the peak of his value, and that’s exactly what the Indians did here with Raburn. But the money is so modest anyway that this mostly comes down to whether Raburn will still be worth a bench spot in 2015, the final year of the deal. I’m guessing he will be.
Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.
Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.
Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.
It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.
After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.
The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.
Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.
The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.
Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.
Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.
After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.
According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.
The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.