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Did The Tribe Win Last Night? | March 25, 2019

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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 13 – Leonys Martin

Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 13 – Leonys Martin

| On 15, Mar 2019

Baseball fans around the globe can rejoice – there are less than two weeks to go until the start of the 2019 Major League Baseball regular season schedule. Join Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we continue our countdown to Opening Day – BT

Countdown to Opening Day – 13 days

Last July 31, the Cleveland Indians looked to upgrade their outfield and picked up Leonys Martin from the Detroit Tigers (with minor league pitcher Kyle Dowdy) in exchange for middle infield prospect Willi Castro, who was on the Indians’ 40-man roster.

Martin, who wore 12 over parts of the previous three seasons with the Seattle Mariners and with the Tigers, could not claim the same digits in Cleveland, as those belonged to All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Instead, Martin found his way one number up the line, suiting up in the unlucky 13 that did not debut for the Indians organization on the back of a player until 1966, when Vern Fuller began a five-year run in it in the Tribe infield.

Martin has since switched to the number two this spring, with non-roster spring invitee Hanley Ramirez sliding into his familiar number 13 (a number that he has worn since 2012 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox) while looking to win a spot on the Indians’ 25-man roster to start the season.

Few have taken the number to the outfield for the Indians, and those who have generally have had very short tenures with the organization (with the exception of Ron Pruitt, who spent six years with Cleveland from 1976-1981 while also playing frequently behind the plate). Martin’s time thus far has been limited to just six official games, as he got off to an impressive start (.333 with three singles, two homers, and four RBI) for the club before a bacterial infection attacked multiple organs of his body and landed him in the Cleveland Clinic for an extended stay. Instead of fighting for a spot in the postseason for a second straight year (as he had with the Chicago Cubs in 2017), he instead had to fight for his life and did not see the field again for the rest of the year.

Martin – Ron Schwane/Getty Images

After spending his offseason working to gain back some of the 40 pounds that he lost during his illness, Martin has come back strong and may be a proverbial “best shape of his life” candidate. Through his first ten Cactus League games, he was hitting .357 with ten hits in 30 plate appearances, including a pair of homers and three runs batted in.

Martin will be an important piece for an Indians club that is lacking a lot of certainty in the outfield. With less than two weeks to go until the regular season kicks off, Martin has been named the team’s starting center fielder by manager Terry Francona. On his sides, first base option Jake Bauers is a candidate for left field, the unpredictable Tyler Naquin is a favorite in right, and Greg Allen and Jordan Luplow are both in line for bench and/or platoon roles (veteran non-roster invite Matt Joyce was eliminated from contention on Friday when he was informed that he would not be on the Indians’ Opening Day roster; he could remain with the organization if opting to go to the minors).

While most outfields tend to have a little more offensive threat, the Indians have shifted away from that after losing Michael Brantley, Melky Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, and Brandon Guyer this offseason. They may be able to provide a little more from the defensive side, but the offensive question marks will persist, especially after the club subtracted the aforementioned options, as well as the likes of Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, and Yan Gomes from the lineup this offseason.

Martin, who has appeared in 705 games over the course of eight different big league seasons, has never been known for his bat. He has shown some flashes in recent years of being able to make a difference on that side of the game, however, as he hit .255 last season with 15 doubles, eleven homers, and 33 RBI over 84 games while limited for stretches with injuries. Two years prior while with the Mariners in 2016, he hit a career-high 15 homers and drove in 47 runs while also stealing 24 bases in 30 attempts, but he also struck out 149 times in 143 games that year and followed it by spending much of 2017 in the minors.

The 31-year-old is a Cuban defector who established residence in Mexico and signed with the Texas Rangers in 2011. By the next season, he was playing at the Major League level, showing flashes of being an impactful player. He was a regular in the lineup for the Rangers in 2013 and 2014, hitting for a healthy average while providing the team with some speed (hitting 13 triples and stealing 67 bases in those two campaigns).

Now, he is the centerpiece of a group of outfielders who will be in the spotlight this season, as the Indians will hope that whatever production that the group can bring to the plate will be a positive addition to what is expected to be better contributions from their gloves, arms, and legs in the grass.

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There may come a point in time in the future that the number 13 finds its way out of circulation and on the list of retired numbers for the Cleveland Indians.

When using wins above replacement (WAR) to compare the players to wear the number 13 throughout baseball history, one thing becomes clear – Omar Vizquel has been not only one of the best to do so for the Cleveland Indians, but he has been one of the best to wear it in Major League Baseball history.

After several years of watching Vizquel suit up as the first base coach in Motown for the Detroit Tigers, he has gotten his managerial career off to a good start after spending 2018 in the Chicago White Sox organization with their Class-A Winston-Salem affiliate. Despite his employment with two division rivals since his retirement, Vizquel’s name still comes up frequently in discussion among Cleveland fans, especially when watching Francisco Lindor flash the leather from Vizquel’s old shortstop position now or even over the last two winters during his highly debated candidacy for inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

As was proven over the last two ballots, Vizquel’s spot in Cooperstown is not guaranteed, despite defensively passing the eye test repeatedly over the course of his 24-year playing career.

Getty Images

The Hall has not always been receptive to the work of defensive wizards and that was exactly what Vizquel was in the field over the course of the majority of his career. Old school defensive metrics like errors, assists, and fielding percentage (where Vizquel showed plenty of worth) have been replaced by other means not as well received nor well understood.

Under the old numbers, Vizquel owns the second-best career fielding percentage (.9847) among all shortstops to log at least 500 games at the position. He was surpassed by Detroit’s Jose Iglesias last season.

More recent additions to the defensive measuring stick, like defensive runs saved (DRS), ultimate zone rating (UZR), range factor, and total zone runs, can at times aid Vizquel’s cause. Since 2002, he had a defensive runs above average of 92.2 (that number lacks 13 years of work in his early days and his prime). He ranks fifth overall in that time frame in UZR (50.8) and 19th in UZR/150 (8.6) among all players to take in at least 500 innings or more at short, putting him well above the competition while in in the final years of his career. His career total zone runs saved was 84, putting him 26th all-time on a list filled with HoFers. Six times in 24 years he was a top five player at his position in range factor per game and five times in range factor per nine innings.

Something a little more readily quantifiable, but no less debatable because of the selection process involved, is Vizquel’s collection of fielding-based hardware. He earned his first of eleven Gold Glove Awards in 1993 with Seattle, then was traded in the offseason to Cleveland for Reggie Jefferson and Felix Fermin. He proceeded to win Gold Gloves in each of his first eight seasons in Cleveland from 1994 to 2001, then added two more in the National League in 2005 and 2006 with the San Francisco Giants.

But rarely does defense get you into the Hall of Fame.

Using baseball-reference.com’s similarity scores, Vizquel is in good company historically. Each of the first three comparable players (Luis Aparicio, Rabbit Maranville, and Ozzie Smith) and six of the top eight (adding Luke Appling, Pee Wee Reese, and Nellie Fox to the aforementioned trio) are in the Hall of Fame. The problem there is that all but Smith played in an entirely different era of baseball, and even Smith’s time was more associated with the 1980s (he played 19 years, won 13 Gold Gloves, and was a 15-time All-Star). Smith put up a .262/.337/.328 slash with 2,460 hits for his career, twice leading baseball in sacrifices and leading the National League in games played, plate appearances, and at bats in 1981. While he was serviceable at the plate, Smith’s bat did not hit its way into Cooperstown.

Vizquel, who had a career .252/.309/.303 batting line through five seasons prior to joining the Indians for the 1994 season, made noticeable offensive contributions in the Cleveland lineup during his eleven years in town. He had a couple of thin years, including a .255 mark in 2001 and a .244 average in his injury-shortened 2003 season, but otherwise hovered in the .280s and .290s with the exception of the 1999 season. During that second All-Star season for Vizquel, he had 191 hits in 144 games while hitting .333 with 65 walks and just 50 strikeouts. He also led the Majors with 17 sacrifices that season, a stat that he had previously led the American League in (with 16 in 1997). He led the league again with 20 more in 2004 and led the Majors again with 20 in his first season in San Francisco.

Vizquel Chuck Crow TPD

Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer

A long career, started weeks before he would turn 22 during the 1989 season while with the Mariners and ending on the final day of the regular season in 2012 with the Toronto Blue Jays at the age of 45, helped him to accumulate a surprising 2,877 hits over the course of his career. He still ranks 12th all-time in games played, 17th in at bats, and 20th in plate appearances. His production at the plate never quite got the credit it deserved, but he ended a lifetime .272 hitter with nearly as many walks (1,028) as strikeouts (1,087). Ten different times over the course of his career he was one of the hardest players to strike out in a season.

Vizquel’s candidacy was one of the bigger debates on the ballots for the Class of 2018, the first time that he was eligible. He received a healthy 37% share of the vote on a stacked ballot, one that moved former teammate Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman out of his way in the future.

This winter, Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, the late Roy Halladay, and Mike Mussina were elected. Vizquel saw his vote total increase to 182, or 42.8% of the 75% that he needs to gain entry to Cooperstown.

As the years pass and more of the tainted names on the list fall off, Vizquel’s worth may be better appreciated by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Even then, with just a ten-year window now instead of the old 15, Vizquel’s name may still be waiting at the end of his decade of eligibility for consideration by a future Veterans’ Committee. Regardless, there remains a shot that “Little O” could find a permanent residence in the halls of Cooperstown, just as he has previously done after being inducted to the Indians Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.

Other notable 13s in Tribe history (15 in total): Blue Moon Odom (1975), Ernie Camacho (1984-87), Joel Skinner (1989), Lance Parrish (1993), Asdrubal Cabrera (2007-14)

Photo: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

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Miss out on our other Countdown pieces? Check out more Indians history below.

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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 90 – Adam Cimber
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 61 – Dan Otero
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 59 – Carlos Carrasco
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 58 – Neil Ramirez
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 57 – Shane Bieber
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 56 – Cody Anderson
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 55 – Roberto Perez
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 52 – Mike Clevinger
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 49 – Tyler Olson
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 48
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 47 – Trevor Bauer
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 46 – Jon Edwards
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 45 – Adam Plutko
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 44 – Nick Goody
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 41 – Carlos Santana
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 39 – Oliver Perez
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 38 – Eric Haase
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 35 – Ben Taylor
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 33 – Brad Hand
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 31 – Danny Salazar
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 30 – Tyler Naquin
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 29
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 28 – Corey Kluber
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 22 – Jason Kipnis
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