Can Indians Manager Terry Francona Afford to be Patient with Players in a Shortened Season?
One of the greatest attributes Terry Francona has as a manager is his patience. Sometimes, we feel that patience can become stubbornness, and although it irritates the fan in us at times, it works out more often than not.
With Major League Baseball discussing an 81 (or so) game schedule for the 2020 season, the question is, how will Francona's fabled patience play out with a shortened slate?
In each of the seasons that Francona has been the Tribe's skipper, a player has received an extreme benefit of the doubt. In a half-season, it would seem Tito would have to have a shorter hook.
Going back to 2013, Francona's first year with the Tribe, it was Mark Reynolds.
The slugger and frequent whiffer got off to a great start for the Indians, hitting .301 with 8 HR and a 1.019 OPS in April.
May wasn't too bad, with Reynolds adding five more dingers, but he batted just .218 and the OPS went down to 696.
In June, Cleveland played 28 games. Reynolds started 25 of them and batted .187 with a 541 OPS, and then out of 25 games in July, the slugger started 15 and hit .098 with a 331 OPS.
From May 1st through the end of July, Reynolds batted .181 with 7 HR, 25 RBI, and somehow stayed in the lineup. That's three months of terrible production.
In 2014, Nick Swisher received 401 plate appearances contributing just 8 homers and 42 RBI (608 OPS).
Swisher was a veteran who had a solid year with the Tribe in '13 and was battling injuries, but maybe Jesus Aguilar, who posted a 905 OPS in AAA Columbus, could've received a shot at seeing what he could contribute.
And not to pick on Swisher, but that club had two other players (Jason Kipnis and Michael Bourn) who played a lot but had OPS under 700.
Bourn received the benefit of the doubt the following year until he (along with Swisher) was dealt to Atlanta in early August.
The centerfielder hit just .249 without a home run, and even worse, stole only 13 bases in 18 attempts.
To be fair to Francona, he didn't really have many alternatives, although Abraham Almonte did provide a spark (776 OPS) when given an opportunity.
In 2016, it was Juan Uribe (591 OPS in 238 at bats) before Jose Ramirez took over the hot corner. Uribe was released in early August.
You see the pattern. Over a 162 game season, you are more likely to overcome a bad month or two at a position, but will the same be true in a short season?
Certainly, the proven players will and should get the benefit of the doubt. No skipper in his right mind is going to bench Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Carlos Santana because they had a bad week.
But the Tribe is transitioning at a lot of positions. Let's say Oscar Mercado gets off to a slow start over the first three weeks, can Francona afford to keep him in there if the ballclub is struggling to score runs?
Tito's instinct might be to let the young guy work things out, and many times, it works out the right way in the long run. However, it doesn't appear there will be a long run in 2020.
It's also a moot point if the Indians are winning.
You can afford to have some struggling players figure it out while they are playing if the team is successful. But if the Indians are scuffling, the pressure will be there to make changes before the season is lost.
No matter what, it will be a period of adjustment for every manager in the bigs, not just Terry Francona. Who adjusts best will have a leg up on the competition in what figures to be a weird baseball season.