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The Cleveland Indians, Edwin Encarnacion and the Mike Napoli Lack-of-Leadership Myth: Going Deep

By Zack Meisel • Jun 12, 2017 at 2:30 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Welcome to another installment of Going Deep, a regular series in which we'll take a deep dive into a reader-proposed topic.

To have your question or comment covered (or, at least, to have it read), send an email to zmeisel@cleveland.com. Include your first name and city.

A major part of the problem (though certainly not all of it) was the signing of Edwin: $124,000 a day for producing nothing. Napoli is being missed -- not his numbers, but his presence in the clubhouse and dugout. When was the last time you saw a "Party at Edwin's?" Ain't gonna happen.

Edwin doesn't know what the mitt is for and hasn't yet figured out how to produce runs. Get your at-bat, walk back to the dugout, sit in the back away from the younger guys, and wait for your next at-bat. He ain't gettin' it done. I think the Indians have subtracted by adding.

-- John, Parma

Jason Giambi provided the perfect presence for the 2013 Indians, a group that lacked experience, players who had never taken the field in a meaningful game in September. He remained on the roster in 2014, but the Indians finished third in the American League Central.

How could Giambi, equipped with more than a dash of veteran seasoning, have allowed that to happen?

Leadership is admirable and, in certain situations, critical. But player performance ultimately dictates a team's record.

Mike Napoli's absence in the Indians' clubhouse isn't the reason for the team's 31-29 start. They certainly aren't yearning for the .192/.262/.407 slash line he has produced for Texas this season. And while some players might miss his calming personality, that isn't worth a truckload of victories.

Winning breeds team chemistry and confidence. It produces strong leaders. What more must Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Carlos Santana endure to be equipped with enough experience or to be deemed leaders?

"It's OK to miss guys," Terry Francona said Sunday. ... "But, that doesn't mean that we're lacking now."

Kipnis offered this during spring training: "You ask [Napoli] what the ALCS is like. You ask him what the World Series is like," Kipnis said. "Now, all these guys have experienced [that]. We answer our own questions by going through the process on that run we had last year. We can ask each other the questions now. 'How would you handle this or that?' But, we have most of our answers of what it's going to be like. We know what to expect. We know what we need to do. The experience alone from last year's run fills that void of a veteran guy."

The Indians have held a handful of team meetings this season. Whether it's Napoli's voice responsible for the shouting or Kipnis' voice, the message is the same. The goals are the same.

Did the Indians lack leadership when they amassed a 26-24 record over the first two months of the 2016 campaign? Napoli offered a healthy presence in the clubhouse, but he can't force Danny Salazar to keep his fastball down in the zone.

Encarnacion, on the other hand, is quiet by nature.

Whenever Encarnacion smacks the baseball into orbit, the Indians' dugout is not quiet. There are different ways to lead, ways to push your teammates toward the proper state of mind. Napoli could do it with an impassioned speech. Encarnacion can do it by depositing a fastball onto one of Neil Armstrong's footprints on the moon. Watch the reactions in the Tribe dugout when he gets a hold of a pitch. It's fun.

(For full disclosure, John followed up with another email that included the line: "I am really happy that Edwin has started to come around.")

Performance spurs results on the field. Wins spur team chemistry. It's simple, really. The Indians gelled as a team during their 14-game winning streak last summer.

"Winning solves a lot," Francona said, "and we've had our frustrations, for sure."

At long last, Encarnacion has enjoyed a surge at the plate. Over his last 17 games, he has produced a .361/.409/.672 slash line. He owns an .803 OPS this season, 6 percent higher than the league average (when adjusted for ballpark factors). That isn't quite what the Indians had in mind when they committed $60 million to him over the winter, but his numbers are much more tolerable than they were three weeks ago. He seemed to be at the center of every offensive rally over the weekend.

If he can prolong this sizzling stretch at the plate, it should translate into some victories. And then, perhaps, we can put to rest the lack-of-leadership myth.


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