The Allure of Being Wrong
There are literally hundreds of reasons to love the game of baseball, but one of the things that continues to drive me back to the game is that it is constantly proving me wrong. As much as fancy myself an intelligent baseball fan, the game is always surprising me in ways I don’t expect.
To illustrate the point, let’s use the oh-so-popular technique of the blind résumé:
Player A: 418 PA, .256/.297/.432, 14 HR, 53 R, 49 RBI, 1 SB, .316 wOBA, 94 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR
Player B: 656 PA, .285/.329/.476, 20 HR, 77 R, 87 RBI, 22 SB, .347 wOBA, 115 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR
Player B is clearly superior, even when adjusting for playing time. He got on base at a higher clip, hit for more power, and even threw in some steals for good measure.
Here’s another one:
Player A: 222 PA, .171/.226/.254, 1 HR, 14 R, 12 RBI, 1 SB, .216 wOBA, 27 wRC+, -1.5 fWAR
Player B: 603 PA, .235/.287/.378, 16 HR, 58 R, 49 RBI, 4 SB, .285 wOBA, 76 wRC+, -1.5 fWAR
Player A is Ryan Raburn in 2011 then 2012. Player B is Jeff Francoeur in 2011 then 2012.
Now, we all know what has transpired since. Rabrun signed with the Indians as an NRI, made the team, and had the best season of his career (.272/.357/.543, 2.5 fWAR). He was rewarded with a two-year, $4.85m contract with a $3m club option for 2016, the first multi-year contract of his career.
Francoeur, on the other hand, hasn’t been nearly as fortunate to say the least. After having a season widely regarded as the worst in baseball in 2012, Francoeur followed it up with an equally terrible 2013 (.204/.238/.289, -1.3 fWAR) that saw the Royals eat the $3m remaining on his contract and release him, followed by the Giants signing and releasing him as well.
So after taking two very divergent paths in 2013, Raburn and Francoeur are in the same place heading into the 2014 season, but in two very different situations. Raburn, for once in his career, enters the season with some stability via a long-term contract and a clearly defined roster spot under his belt. Francoeur comes into camp on a minor league contract with no guarantee that even an excellent spring will earn him a spot on the big league club. It’s a situation not unlike the one Raburn faced just one year ago.
With the addition of David Murphy to take the majority of the at-bats in right field against right-handed pitching, the Indians will need someone to make up the other half of that platoon. Ryan Raburn is far and away the leading candidate to do so, and if he can come even remotely close to his 2013 output (I highly doubt we’ll see him post another OPS above .900), the Indians should have one of the better right field situations in baseball. If everything goes according to plan, Jeff Francoeur won’t take one at-bat in an Indians uniform.
But baseball rarely goes according to plan. As good as Raburn was in 2013, he’s still just one year removed from an unfathomably bad season. There are plenty of good reasons offered as to why Raburn struggled so much in 2012, such as the burden of playing every day and his unfamiliarity with playing second base. But just because Raburn had an excellent 2013 doesn’t mean it’s right to completely dismiss the season that preceded it.
And yes, Francoeur was terrible in both the past two seasons. But baseball is full of players who were once written off only to bounce back and recapture some of their lost magic. Jeff Francoeur is obviously a flawed player, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he can be a useful player when spotted in against left-handed pitching.
I certainly don’t think Ryan Raburn will struggle in 2014 like he did in 2012. I certainly don’t think Jeff Francoeur will have meaningful and productive at-bats with the Tribe in 2014. But I’ve been wrong before. We all have.