How Will a Shortened Season Impact the Indians' Attempt to Get Jordan Luplow Off the Platoon?
If there’s a baseball season this summer, it’s safe to assume it’ll come with a glaring lack of normalcy.
Fans in the stands. Teams playing in their home parks. A 162-game campaign in general.
Almost everyone around MLB has accepted the fact these aspects of a normal season will mostly be scrapped this summer.
Obviously, these wouldn’t be the only adjustments to navigate through. An abbreviated schedule will force all clubs to reevaluate their original plans for 2020, with roster experiments likely being shelved in order to prioritize a strong start to the shortened season.
For the Cleveland Indians, this could mean putting a pause on their attempt to make Jordan Luplow an everyday outfielder.
Luplow spent his debut season in Cleveland tearing apart left-handed pitching. Against righties, though, his effectiveness at the plate plummeted.
vs. LHP -- .320/.439/.742, 1.181 OPS, 198 wRC+
vs. RHP -- .216/.274/.299, .573 OPS, 48 wRC+
Despite this, the Indians were hoping to give Luplow a bigger role in 2020. Manager Terry Francona said as much at Tribe Fest this past winter, noting the team’s desire to move him off the platoon and get him more at-bats against right-handers.
While the idea certainly made sense, the massive discrepancy between Luplow’s splits indicates this experiment will require some time to play out. Unfortunately, that’s a benefit Cleveland would lose if MLB moves forward with a 2020 season.
As mentioned, a 162-game campaign is almost certainly out of the cards this summer.
While nobody truly knows what kind of schedule the league would be working with, the assumption is at least 50-60 games would be lopped off.
This obviously doesn’t mean every contest should suddenly be viewed as a must-win.
However, it does increase the pressure to avoid a slow start. No longer having much time to make up for any ground lost early, teams may opt to go with their best lineup right away instead of testing things out.
With this in mind, is it safe to assume a schedule reduction would force the Indians to postpone their bid to get Luplow off platoon duty?
Despite having less games to work with, there’s reason to believe Cleveland may still pursue this test, at least early on.
Luplow’s 2019 splits against right-handed pitching certainly don’t do him any favors. That said, these struggles haven’t followed him through every level of his career. In fact, he’s fared quite well against righties in Triple-A.
With Pittsburgh’s affiliate, Luplow logged a total of 350 at-bats against right-handed pitching over the span of two seasons.
During each campaign, he generated solid slash lines and an above average OPS.
2017 -- 124 AB, .315/.401/.468, .869 OPS
2018 -- 226 AB, .292/.352/.451, .803 OPS
Even during his brief cameos in Columbus last year, Luplow slashed .281/.452/.406 in his 32 at-bats against righties.
All in all, there’s enough evidence showing he can hit right-handed pitching, he just hasn’t been able to do so in the majors.
Cleveland may see this as enough of an excuse to still give Luplow everyday at-bats early in the year.
That said, if they do move forward with this plan, there are a few reasons why the leash might not be too long.
For one, despite Luplow performing well against righties in Triple-A, he’s still been very slow to figure it out in the majors. In his 225 plate appearances against MLB right-handers, he’s slashed .207/.276/.320 with a wRC+ of just 57.
This in no way means Luplow will forever be a southpaw specialist. Regardless, there’s no indication this will be an overnight improvement.
As previously mentioned, while a normal season would allow Cleveland the time needed to ensure Luplow received a fair amount of opportunities, that luxury won’t be available this summer.
If the 2020 campaign is somewhere in the range of 80-100 games in length, how long can the Indians afford to wait for Luplow to come around against righties?
Further complicating matters is fellow outfielder Tyler Naquin.
While he missed all of spring training recovering from ACL surgery, Naquin is expected to be at full strength whenever the 2020 season kicks off.
Cleveland will want to get him a fair amount of playing time, and his career numbers against righties (.285/.336/.454) certainly make him look like an ideal platoon partner for Luplow.
The Indians may still get Luplow looks against right-handed pitching this season. However, their attempt to make him an everyday outfielder may have to be postponed until 2021.
Considering the time required, the big league struggles he’s shown so far and the need to account for yet another outfielder, there are just too many complications preventing the Indians from giving him an honest shot.
For now, Luplow opening the year back on the platoon seems like a much more realistic scenario.