Cleveland Indians: Who Should Hit Behind Edwin Encarnacion?

Oct 14, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) hits a single against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning in game one of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With the addition of Edwin Encarnacion to the Cleveland Indians’ lineup, Terry Francona must decide who will be behind him in the order.

Edwin Encarnacion is almost a guarantee to hit fourth in the Cleveland Indians’ lineup. With the Toronto Blue Jays, he spent time as both the three and four-hitter, but he fits better in the cleanup role for the Tribe.

With Encarnacion hitting fourth and being the productive hitter that he is, Tribe manager Terry Francona and the rest of the coaching staff will be looking for a way to maximize the value of Cleveland’s new right-handed power bat.

Outside of batting him fourth behind a high average and consistent top of the lineup that will consist of Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and likely either Carlos Santana or Michael Brantley, the Indians will need to choose who to bat after the power hitting righty.

The Detroit Tigers have a science to maximize their prize power bat, Miguel Cabrera. Since Cabrera is both a power hitter and has a high batting average, he is one of the most lethal bats in baseball. While it would be easy for opposing teams to simply walk him in tight situations, the Tigers have but the trio of Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton behind Cabrera in the lineup. Because of these three productive and clutch bats, teams are forced to face Cabrera because the bats that follow him are not any more attractive.

The Indians will likely look to do something similar with Encarnacion. The question is, who would be best suited to hit behind Encarnacion?

Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Carlos Santana hits a RBI single against the Chicago Cubs in the third inning in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana and Encarnacion are going to be linked together for as long as the two play on the same team. They are going to bounce back and forth between first base and designated hitter, and the two could also form a dangerous duo in the middle of the Tribe’s lineup.

Santana has proven that he can hit at the top or in the middle of the lineup. He hit in both spots throughout 2016 and found success in both spots.

The experiment of Santana batting leadoff in 2016 was wildly successful. Santana batted .260 as the leadoff hitter in 86 games. He drew 67 walks and struck out just 60 times. However, Santana was equally as productive from the five-spot, albeit with a smaller sample size.

In 59 games batting fifth, Santana batted .259. He had in 37 RBI and struck out just 30 times. He also hit 12 home runs from the five-spot.

While it may not sound like an appealing job, Santana could thrive cleaning up Encarnacion’s leftovers. He also provides a powerful alternative if Encarnacion does not get the job done. On top of that, Santana is the best power threat behind Encarnacion that could scare opposing teams from pitching around Encarnacion.

Santana’s batting metrics are slightly lower from the fifth spot in the lineup compared to the leadoff spot, but the intangible aspect could be enough to get him there every day.

Even if he is not there every day, expect Santana to see ample time hitting fifth again this season.

May 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) hits an RBI single during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Brantley

After missing most of 2016, the Indians are optimistic that Michael Brantley will be back full-time once Spring Training begins. Whether or not he returns as the Brantley that quickly emerged as the Indians best hitter remains to be seen.

It is entirely possible that Brantley comes back and re-injures his shoulder. It is possible that he simply is not the same player he once was. We saw it happen with Grady Sizemore, and it could happen with Brantley as well.

Negative talk aside, Brantley could return just as good as he was. He will likely take some time to get back to form and probably will need extra days off for the first month or two of the season until he gets back up to speed, but he could absolutely be as good of a hitter as he was before he got hurt. If that is true, he will be a great asset to add to an already strong lineup.

Before hurting his shoulder, Brantley mostly hit third in the lineup, but also saw some time batting cleanup. With the emergence of Lindor and his success batting third, it is unlikely we will see him back in that spot. However Lindor has also had success batting leadoff and second, so anything is possible.

If Brantley’s bat comes back as it once was, he would be perfect to hit behind Encarnacion. While he may not have the pop that Santana has, his batting average is higher and his consistency is unmatchable.

Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez hits an infield single against the Chicago Cubs in the second inning in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Ramirez

Nobody saw Jose Ramirez emerging into the star that he was in 2016. The question now becomes, will Ramirez’s success carry over to 2017?

If it does, he will find himself back in the middle of the Indians lineup. His bat likely translates better as a six-spot hitter due to his lack of power, but his uncanny ability to come up with clutch hits in high-leverage situations is oftentimes unbelievable and is reason enough to bat him behind Encarnacion.

If the Indians see Santana as a full-time leadoff hitter and Brantley does not come back as strong as we all hope or hits third, Ramirez could find himself batting fifth.

Ramirez’s 4.8 WAR tied for second on the Indians with Jason Kipnis. The two only trailed Francisco Lindor, who had a 6.3 WAR. Also notable is Ramirez’s strikeout rate, which came in at just 10 percent. If the Indians are looking for somebody that is more likely to put the ball in play, Ramirez could be their guy.

Ramirez hit more in the five-spot than anywhere else in the lineup last season. In 79 games, Ramirez hit .323 and collected 42 RBI. Of course, with the Encarnacion signing, Ramirez could be the odd man out in the middle of the lineup.

While it would not be surprising to see Ramirez regress a little from his 2016 numbers, it also would not be surprising to see him be as reliable as he was in 2016.

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