The Cleveland Indians have won eight games in a row. They are two games back from the Tigers. If the season ended today, they would be the second wild card team. They have the best home record in baseball. And they have Ryan Raburn batting third last night against Chris Sale. Ryan Raburn batting third!?
This is the same Ryan Raburn the Tigers ditched after a disastrous .480 OPS last season, right? How can he be batting third when the third spot in the order is reserved for the team's best hitter? That is probably because, as of right now, Ryan Raburn is the Indians' best hitter. How the heck did that happen?
Raburn has never been a starting player for an entire season. He peaked at 121 games for the Tigers in 2011. And he has not been a regular starter for the Indians either. He has played in only 62 of the Indians' 108 games. Drew Stubbs started the season as the Indians' right fielder. And Stubbs has played more games than Raburn.
But Stubbs strikes out almost 30% of the time and his power does not warrant such a high strikeout total. Seeing this, Terry Francona has given Raburn more and more starts in right field in the last month or so. But still, Raburn is not out there every day. Both he and Stubbs bat from the right side, so this is not a platoon situation. And Raburn has an OPS over .900 against right-handed pitchers this season.
Perhaps Francona feels that Raburn is better in small doses. Judging from the results, it is hard to argue with him. After his two homers last night, Raburn now has an OPS of .961 with an impressive .377 on-base percentage and an even more impressive .584 slugging percentage.
So where did this Raburn come from? He has shown flashes of this kind of hitting in the past. He had an .847 OPS in 2007 and an .891 OPS for that same team in 2009. But then there have been some clunker years too. He had a .666 OPS in 2008 and then, of course, last year was a disaster.
Can we get a clue to what is going right for Raburn? It is difficult. A lot of his peripherals look the same as last year. His strike rate is actually a bit higher at 24.1%, but his walk rate of 11.6% is way above his 7.1% career average. He showed that kind of walk rate in the minors, but that was a long time ago. Corresponding to his walk rate, his rate of swinging at pitches out of the strike zone is currently the lowest of his career.
So, it may be said that he is being much more selective at the plate and is hammering pitches he can handle. His home run to fly ball rate is easily the highest of his career at 26.5%. Perhaps he is benefiting a lot from his fly balls being hit outside of that big ballpark in Detroit.
But other than the home run rate and the walk rate, the rest of his numbers look familiar. He has always been ground ball / fly ball neutral and that still holds. His line drive rate is still similar to his norms. His BABIP is only a little out of line at .321, but that jumped after last night's three for four performance. It was at .302 before the game started.
So, yeah, perhaps this is an outlier for Raburn this season. But these things happen and you ride it if you are Terry Francona. Raburn has a tidy little 1.310 in the second half thus far and had a 1.034 OPS in July. And of course, his August has started with a bang. Perhaps Francona should ride this hot hitter even harder until it falters.
Baseball is funny and it is hard to explain when a player like Ryan Raburn comes out of the blue to rake like he is. But there is no sense in trying to explain it. The best thing is to put him out there every day and ride it for all it is worth. It has been a charming season thus far in Cleveland and Raburn has been the biggest charm of all.