Hot-Hitting Raburn Should See Additional Playing Time
Craig Gifford | On 03, May 2013
Ryan Raburn was brought to Cleveland to be a super utility player. The plan was to have him take the field, part-time, at up to four different positions. During the Indians’ four-game winning streak, he sure has looked comfortable as a regular in the lineup.
Due to injuries, Raburn has manned right field during each of the latter three games. All he has done in that time is have a pair of four-hit gems on Sunday at Kansas City and Wednesday against Philadelphia, to go with two-homer games on Sunday and Tuesday. He has hit safely in 12 of his last 14 at bats.
The kind of stretch Raburn is on has certainly been done by lesser players than him before. Hitters can get hot at any moment. However, with each passing game, the 32-year-old veteran is making it harder and harder on manager Terry Francona to remove him from the batting order.
Raburn’s recent spike in playing time has been brought because of injuries to Nick Swisher (sore shoulder) and Michael Bourn (lacerated right hand). Swisher is expected to return from his two-game absence on Friday. Bourn is on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Apr. 15. He had stitches removed last week and was eligible to return to action on Tuesday. However, the Tribe’s center fielder has still not been cleared for batting practice and could still be a good week away from a minor league rehab stint.
Even when the Indians have both their high-priced free agent pickups back in the lineup, Francona needs to do all he can to keep Raburn’s bat in the order. While the multipositional Raburn is not likely to keep up his current hitting clip, history says he should be productive over the long haul. Rather than being a fluke, Raburn’s past few games may really be a rebirth.
Last season, Raburn’s seventh and final one in Detroit, was forgettable. The veteran battled through injuries, en route to an abysmal one home run, 12 RBI and .171 batting average campaign. He was limited to 66 games a year ago.
Before his injury-marred 2012 season, Raburn was highly thought of and a very solid player. From 2009 to 2011, he average 16 long balls a year. Each season he drove more than 45 runs, with a career high of 62 in 2010. He batted no worse than .256, reaching a .290 clip in 2009. These are not great numbers, but they are worth of full-time playing status.
The thought and fear, before this season, was that 2012 was the beginning of end for Raburn. Instead, it seems last year may have been a hiccup. Many good players have gone through down seasons only to rebound to form the year after. Raburn appears to be following this trend.
If Raburn is indeed going to become the player he was from 2009-2011, he will need to be in batting order more than a couple times a week. He can still play all over the field, but Francona may have to use Raburn a little more than previously thought.
One easy way to keep Raburn’s bat in the lineup could be to have him play in place of Drew Stubbs a little more often. Stubbs has the better glove and speed over Raburn. However, Stubbs is prone to striking out a lot. Raburn is more of a contact hitter and can hold his own in the field. The big drop off between Stubbs and Raburn is in the stolen base department. Stubbs will steal 30-40 bags a year, while Raburn does not have that kind of speed. Besides, the Indians already have speedsters like Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Bourn in the order.
Overall, the career numbers stand as Raburn with 58 home runs, 226 RBI and .260 batting average. Stubbs is at 61 home runs, 186 RBI and a .241 batting average. That’s pretty similar. The glaring difference is in the strike out department, where Raburn has never led a league in the dubious category like Stubbs has. Raburn has fanned 432 times to Stubbs’ 615. Raburn has played 72 more games. With strikeout artists the likes of Mark Reynolds and Swisher in the order, a contact hitter like Raburn could lessen the swings and misses.
This is not to slam Stubbs, it is just a starting point for getting Raburn’s bat in the lineup on a regular basis. In fact, Stubbs is off to a decent start, hitting .253. With Bourn out for at least a couple more weeks, Raburn is going to get more chances to play. If he continues to hit well, Francona will have to get his bat in the lineup. Stubbs is the easiest player to remove from a fairly stout batting order.
Of course, the amount of positions Raburn can play should also get his bat in the lineup regularly. He can play the corner outfield spots, second base and third base. Francona can give many regulars a night off and have Raburn play in his place. Raburn could help keep players fresh and allow someone like Bourn to work back to game shape, slowly.
Having the Raburn of old is almost like dealing with a 10-man lineup, rather than the nine regulars. Regardless of where he plays, Raburn can be counted on. He is a solid fielder in each spot and does not represent a huge drop off in offensive production for anyone he would be subbing for.
Despite the early season aches and pains, the Indians will eventually be healthy. The nine regulars are good producers at the plate. Raburn is showing that he can be just as good as many of them. He may not hit a 12-of-14 clip all year, but he deserves to be more than just a seldom-used, part-time player.
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images