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Cleveland Indians: There's Still Time to Jump Aboard the Matt LaPorta Bandwagon

Quick! Time's running out to jump on the Matt LaPorta bandwagon. It was pretty empty here for a while, but a trickle of people are finally starting to find their way aboard.

Matt LaPorta has played in all but one game of the Cleveland Indians' torrid 11-4 start, and yet he can't seem to get the monkey off his back. As recently as last week, one of the Tribe Talk questions was basically, should we pull the plug on Matt LaPorta at first base?

The vibe in Cleveland has been essentially "thank goodness we got Michael Brantley in the CC Sabathia trade because Matt LaPorta is a bust."

Luckily for the Tribe, that's just not true. Let's do a quick stat check between LaPorta before this year and LaPorta this year to help prove this point:

2009-2010: .232 BA, .307 OBP, .388 SLG, .694 OPS, 91 OPS+, 119 SO, 58 BB, 2.05 SO:BB, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 623 PA

2011: .239 BA, .345 OBP, .457 SLG, .802 OPS, 134 OPS+, 10 SO, 7 BB, 1.43 SO:BB, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 55 PA


Sure, the batting average is still low, but everything else is much better. He's getting on base, slugging well, and drawing walks; what else do you want?

If we project out LaPorta's numbers to the 623 plate appearances he had before 2011, his line looks like this:

Projected 2011: .239 BA, .345 OBP, .457 SLG, 134 OPS+, 113 SO, 79 BB, 1.43 SO:BB, 23 HR, 91 RBI, 623 PA


More home runs and many more RBI and walks; sounds like an improvement to me.

That stat line may not make him the elite first baseman we were hoping to get for CC Sabathia, but it's a start. Plus, this line doesn't even account for the biggest drag on LaPorta's numbers to date.

Like it or not, Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) exists. It just does. When it's below .300, a player's been unlucky. Anyone who has played baseball knows the feeling of being robbed on a hard hit ball and getting on base after a soft liner fell between the infielder and the outfielder; why can't most people believe that this luck factor can be measured?

(I'd be remiss not to mention that Lewie Pollis beat me to the punch in posting these ideas in Tribe Talk last week. His work on it definitely merits a read).

Sabermetrics plea aside, Matt LaPorta has been feeling the frustration of being robbed for the entirety of his big league career.

There's no logical reason that LaPorta's minor league BABIP of .309 would permanently drop to .260 in the majors. He's simply been unlucky. Check out how his stats jump when adjusted to a .300 BABIP:

2011 (with a .300 BABIP): .272 BA, .373 OBP, .519 SLG, .892 OPS

2009-2010 (with a .300 BABIP): .262 BA, .334 OBP, .439 SLG, .772 OPS


I know I've overloaded you with stats, but I can sum up everything in one sentence:

Matt LaPorta has not been playing that bad!

If he had a .272/.373/.519 line this year, no one would be upset. If he had a .262/.334/.439 line prior to this year, no one would be calling for his head 15 games into the season. 

I don't hear anyone calling for Shin-Soo Choo's head (.214 BA, .286 OBP, .339 SLG, .625 OPS, 83 OPS+). All I hear are calls for patience and that he'll turn it around.

Same goes for Carlos Santana (.196 BA, .276 OBP, .314 SLG, .590 OPS, 73 OPS+). Everyone's fine with his struggles because he'll turn it around.

If the Indians are 11-4 and scoring runs (5.3 runs per game) without their two best hitters, someone must be picking up the slack. Matt LaPorta's one of those people.

One final sabermetric stat before I wrap up. Matt LaPorta's Runs Created per Game (RC/G) right now is 6.0.

Simply put, a lineup of Matt LaPorta's in 2011 would score six runs a game. Since that's more than the already good 5.3 runs the Indians are scoring today, Matt LaPorta is doing just fine this year. 

To wrap things up, let me channel my inner Chris Crocker to all of the LaPorta haters out there and say: Leave Matt LaPorta alone!

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