Opponents are Using a New Attack with the Cleveland Indians’ Best Hitters

Casey Drottar

The Cleveland Indians are struggling offensively.

This isn’t any sort of breaking news. If you’ve followed Cleveland over the past week, you’d know the team is only scratching across a couple runs per night at best, routinely spoiling the efforts of the rotation.

What’s a little more jarring is what we’re seeing with the top of the Tribe’s lineup, particularly the team's three best hitters.

Entering Thursday, José Ramírez, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana each boasted a slash line which ranged from “pretty good” to “subpar.”

Ramírez -- .277/.382/.447
Lindor -- .231/.273/.442
Santana -- .171/.346/.244

Ramírez has served as the lone bright spot of the three, though his bat has cooled down a bit as of late. Regardless, when seeing a collective chill impact Cleveland’s best hitters, it’s only natural to dig in and determine what’s taking place.

With Ramírez, Lindor and Santana, you don’t have to look too far.

Simply put, opposing pitchers have adjusted their approach against each of them, utilizing the same strategy with all three. At the moment, two of them are struggling to do much against it.

When taking a look at each hitter’s respective page on Baseball Savant, you’ll notice one thing they all have in common -- their respective pitch percentage by season. Primarily, all three graphs are following a similar trend this year.

JRam1
Lindor1
San1

All in all, opposing pitchers are reducing the number of fastballs thrown to Ramírez, Lindor and Santana. In exchange, said hurlers are upping usage of the breaking ball.

However, it’s not just any breaking ball. Specifically, all three players are seeing a higher dose of sliders.

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Lindor2
CSan2

For all three hitters this season, the slider has been the second-most frequently offered pitch. Ramírez is seeing them 25.2% of the time, Lindor 25.5% and Santana 19.1%.

Now, it does need to be stated that, 13 games into the season, sample sizes are low to date. In order to right-size this a bit, we can take a look at the fastball-to-slider ratio each player has seen over the past four seasons compared to how it looks so far in 2020.

JRam3
Lindor3
CSan3

Noticing a difference?

Collectively from 2016 through 2019, Ramírez, Lindor and Santana each saw an average of at least 2.5 fastballs for every slider thrown their way. Within that time span, Ramírez averaged 2.54 fastballs per slider, Lindor 2.69 and Santana 2.78.

This year, each hitter is seeing closer to a 1:1 ratio. Ramírez is getting 53% fewer fastballs for every slider compared to the aforementioned average, while Santana is seeing 48% fewer.

As for Lindor, this season he’s seeing 61% less fastballs per slider than what he averaged across the previous four years.

To date, only Ramírez seems to be holding his own against this approach. Against sliders, he’s batting .273 with a wOBA of .393 and a whiff rate of 21.7%. It’s worth noting, though, that he's only registered one hit in his last 21 plate appearances.

Santana has a slightly above average wOBA against sliders (.329), primarily due to the fact his lone hit registered off this pitch landed in the left field stands. That said, he’s whiffed at 40.0% of the sliders thrown his way this season.

When it comes to Lindor, fair warning, the results aren’t pretty.

He came into Thursday having faced 53 sliders on the year, against which he has an identical batting average and slugging percentage (.100). Lindor’s wOBA against this pitch (.144) leaves a lot to be desired, while his whiff rate (42.3%) undeniably has room for improvement.

It remains to be seen if this is an approach opposing pitchers will continue to utilize for the rest of the year. Its effectiveness against Ramírez is already up for debate.

However, if Santana and Lindor continue struggling to catch up with this pitch, there’s no reason for opponents to steer away from it. For now, it’s safe to assume these two will continue getting a heavy dose of sliders until they prove they can consistently hit it.

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