July 23, 2014

Indians All-Star Break Review: The Starting Rotation

As we do each summer at WFNY when the Cleveland Indians hit the All-Star break, we take a look back at the four facets of the team on the field – the starting rotation, the bullpen, the infield, and the outfield. There’s been been a lot to talk about with this club. Their 44-41 record is good enough for second in the American League Central, but the team has shown some serious flaws. GM Chris Antonetti continues to tell us that the Indians have not played their best baseball yet. I hope he is right. Additions will need to be made and in-house improvements will be a must if the Tribe plans on playing October baseball.

Our first half first look will be with the guys who take the ball every fifth day – the starting pitchers.

The group as a whole has been maddeningly frustrating to watch. In some ways, the starters were a mirror image of the team they play for. At times, they look like the linchpin that will take the Tribe to a division title. Then a week later they are a group of five-and-fliers. On the good side, Manager Manny Acta has only had to use six starters and has essentially been able to roll with them. Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Derek Lowe haven’t missed a start as the top three. Jeanmar Gomez won the fifth spot out of Spring Training, but has since been replaced with Zach McAllister, who had a three start cameo with Josh Tomlin’s May DL stint. All five of the current members of the rotation have had their moments of agony and ecstasy.

Justin Masterson (18 starts, 114.2 IP, 5-8, 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 93 K’s/47 BB’s) - This was going to be the year that Justin Masterson would become one of the American League’s best. Coming off a stellar 2011, J Mast was the no-brainer Opening Day starter for Acta.  The repeated delivery issue was long gone. Masterson was ready to assume his roll as the Tribe’s stopper.

On Opening Day, the big right-hander dominated the Toronto Blue Jays, allowing just one run on two hits in eight innings, while striking out 10 and walking just one. Then the wheels kind of fell off the wagon for Masterson. Save for an eight and a third, two run perfoemance on April 27th against the Angels, Justin was more of less a six inning pitcher with command issues. Walks became a serious problem for him. Even in that game against the Angels, he walked five guys. The Indians were just 3-7 in his first ten starts through the end of May, and Masterson had walked 34 batters in 68.1 innings.

But in June, the Tribe’s ace had found himself. He made five starts and posted an ERA of 2.06. The strikeouts were up (29) and the walks were down (nine). On July 1st, he K’s seven without a walk in a win over the Orioles in Baltimore. Yes, he was lit up by Tampa Bay in his last start before the break, but it looks as if the real J Mast has returned.

Ubaldo Jimenez (17 starts, 102 IP, 8-7, 4.50 ERA, 1.51 WHIP. 77 K’s/58 BB’s) - I’m pretty sure (OK, i know I did) I said that I was completely done with him while he was in his Mid-May dive towards the bottom of all American League starters. I believe I said something to the effect of “it doesn’t matter how good or bad Alex White and Drew Pomeranz become, the Rockies won the deal.” I figured they dumped their problem on someone else and had gotten away with it.

Boy am I glad to admit that I was wrong.

Credit both Ubaldo himself and pitching coach Scott Radinsky for the resurgence of arguable the most important pitcher on the team. In May, Jimenez had more walks (28) than strikeouts (20) in six starts, which averaged just over five innings per. His ERA for the month was 6.75. However in June, U was a new man.

Watching obsessive amounts of video, the pitcher and his coach were able to address some of the mechanical issues that plagued him. Jimenez got back to basics and got his delivery back to where it should be. He responded by posting a 2.78 ERA in his five June starts and reversed his horrific strikeout (32) to walk (11) ratio. Ubaldo finished the first half strong with a six inning, two run, eight K performance in Saturday night’s 7-3 win over Tampa Bay.

If the Indians have any chance of staying in contention, Ubaldo is going to have to continue his ascension back to the top of the ranks of AL starters. If the May Jimenez resurfaces, the Tribe will be sunk.

Derek Lowe (17 starts, 101.2 IP, 8-6, 4.43 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 34 K’s/31 BB’s) - The Tribe acquired the 39-year old veteran just after the World Series in an under the radar move. It looked like a complete steal after Lowe’s first eight starts. He looked like he had regained his old All-Star form and became the Indians stopper. The sinker-ball specialist gave up a lot of hits, but he always seemed to dodge his way out of trouble and get the double play balls he needed. Then all of a sudden, Lowe couldn’t get out of his own way and was getting shelled on a regular basis.

After his complete game shutout of the Twins on May 15th, Lowe was 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA. In his next eight starts, he went 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA. What Indians fans need to remember about his is that he is still a back end of the rotation innings eater. Lowe isn’t as good as the guy we saw the first six weeks of the season, and he isn’t as bad as the guy who was lit up like a Christmas tree for the next six weeks. He is somewhere in the middle.

Interestingly, if the Indians were to fall out of contention quickly and were forced to become sellers, Lowe would be the first pitcher teams would call about.

Josh Tomlin (14 starts, 79.1 IP, 5-5, 5.45 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 48 K’s/20 BB’s) - The man Manny Acta dubbed “The Little Cowboy” was a guy the organization viewed as the perfect back end of the rotation starter for years to come. His stuff isn’t overpowering, but he is a strike-throwing machine who usually doesn’t walk anyone. You know you were going to get at least for or six solid innings from the guy. Slotted fourth to start the season, the Tribe was just looking for more of the same from Tomlin, who was a rock in 2011.

That guy has not really appeared in 2012. Save for a couple of stellar performances (his last start vs Tampa where he gave up one run on two hits in seven innings and an April 19th eight inning, five hit, one run game in Seattle), the results have been less than desirable. Tomlin lives on the plate and everyone knows it and he is susceptible to the home run ball. Opponents have sat back and waited for their pitch and haven’t had too much trouble with him. Tomlin has been consistently average over the first half and that needs to improve. He said so himself after his last start.

His month ERA’s read as follows: April – 5.48, May – 4.42, June 6.89. More troubling are the walks. Last season in 165.1 innings, Tomlin walked just 21 guys. He already has 20 walks in 79.1 innings. He is once again in-pace to match last year’s home run total of 24. The hope is that he has turned the corner with his last dominating start July 5th against the Rays.

I am a Tomlin fan, but if his first half mirrors his second, the Indians may look for a different option in their fifth spot. Acta has already put him fifth behind McAllister in the re-worked rotation order.

Jeanmar Gomez (14 starts,73 IP, 4-7, 5.18 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 35 K’s/26 BB’s)  & Zach McAllister (seven starts, 42.1 IP, 3-1, 3.40 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 41K’s/10 BB’s ) - 

You all remember that it was Gomez who ran away from the pack this Spring in Goodyear to win the fifth starter job. Not only was he the undisputed winner, he was the best of any of the Indians pitchers. It was a no-brainer decision for Acta and GM Chris Antonetti.  Gomez continued that hot streak right into April, where he once again pitched like a guy who was going to be staying for a long time.  In 15.1 innings of April work (two starts and two relief appearances), Jeanmar allowed just four earned runs (2.35 ERA), strikeout out 13 and walking just three. He was consistent and pitched to contact. He was up and down in May – three starts he allowed a total of three earned runs in 20.1 IP, three other starts he made it just 16 innings, giving up 19 earned runs – but tailed off towards the end of the month.

It seemed as though Jeanmar would get through the lineup twice and then fall apart, a la Jeremy Sowers. The month of June became make or break for him with McAllister pitching well in his May cameo with the big club. Unfortunately for Gomez, the results were not what he and the team needed. He made four starts and never made it more than six innings. His 6.89 ERA and eight walk/six strikeout performance was enough for the Tribe brass to make the move to McAllister.

The Zach Attack has got me and thousands of other Tribe fans intrigued. The 6’6 power throwing righty adds a dimension to the rotation that Gomez couldn’t; he is a strikeout pitcher.  Since his recall on June 28th, McAllister has made three starts spanning 17.1 innings. He has 19 K’s to just four walks. And to think the Indians got him from the Yankees for Austin Kearns!

McAllister has the look of a guy who can be a horse at the back end of the rotation the rest of the way. His fastball hangs around 94-95 on a regular basis and as I said before, he comes up with the big strikeout when he needs it. He started Sunday’s game before the break and had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning before his defense failed him. Had Asdrubal Cabrera not made the back-breaking error which would have ended the inning, McAllister and the Tribe would have had a better fate on that day.

I for one expect big things from him in the second half.

——-

Acta will start the second half with his rotation set in the following order: Masterson, Jimenez, Lowe, McAllister, and Tomlin. It would not surprise me one bit if the brass added another starter before the trade deadline. Tomlin and Lowe are iffy propositions from start to start and McAllister is still just a rookie feeling his way through his first regular turn as a member of the rotation. A guy like Ryan Dempster of the Cubs would fit perfectly with this club. He is a veteran, smart pitcher who has been through the wars and is having a terrific season. Don’t look to the minors for any help. If the Indians were forced to go in that direction due to injury, Gomez is there, but the guy who would probably get a look would be right-hander Corey Kluber.

 

 

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    This rotation reflects the team’s record IMO, mediocre. The fact that Jimenez has become the most consistent is just scary. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad largely because it stuck a sock in the mouths of all the people whining about what the Indians gave up for him. They gave up nothing, still, even after all these months. If you think about it this is another idictment on the Indians drafting though. Both Pomeranz and White were supposed to be jewels of the great farm system. Ugh!

    Masterson isn’t an ace and I doubt seriously he ever will be. He basically throws two pitches and is far to inconsistent. At best he’s a #2 but probably a #3 guy.
    Lowe has regressed back into the pitcher he was for Atlanta a year ago. He started out like a ball of fire and has fizzled away. Now he’s basically just an innings eater with the hope he might keep the game close for a win.
    After these three it’s a crap shoot.

    Tomlin doesn’t move me at all. I liked Gomez but probably favor McAllister more. Sadly I’d trade any of these guys in a heartbeat if it meant bringing in a pitcher like Dempster or even Garza. Can I have both with Soriano as a throw-in?

  • nj0

    The rotation has been bad. No way around it. Not one regular starter with an ERA+ over 90 (100 is average, higher is better).

    I have more faith in Jimenez than Masterson. As I’ve said before, not sure why Masterson seemed to get a free pass from the fans this year when he has much less of a track record as a starter. Even this article claims Masterson has returned to form (seems as inconsistent as ever to me) while worrying that Ubaldo may slide back to the bad Jimenez. Wish people could get over their biases in regards to these two.

  • nj0

    Agree on the point about Masterson. Know how everybody jokes about other teams trotting out any lefty to beat our lineup? Same is true for Masterson. See his name as the starter and just plug in any left-handed bat you can find. Which isn’t the m.o. of an ace, sorry to say.

    re: Pomz and White – pitching prospects are notoriously hard to predict. Both are still young too. Pomz hasn’t been too bad for a 23-year-old. Still, I’d rather have one in the hand than two in the farm league.

  • mgbode

    I would take Garza over Dempster. Garza has been hurt more by the HR ball this year but historically he and Dempster are similar pitchers.

    the difference is that Garza is younger (28 vs. 35), cheaper (by $4-6mil/year), and controlled longer by the team (through 2014 vs. 2013). as such, he’ll cost more too though.

  • mgbode

    I am still shocked the Rockies rushed him up in Sept last year and forced him into their rotation this year. He wasn’t (isn’t) ready for that promotion.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Either one will cost I just don’t see much of anything Chicago would want from the Indians. McAllister and what else? As for Garza or Dempster I agree Garza would make more sense but as you pointed out he’d probably be the most expensive.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Masterson never thrilled me I always felt he received more credit then he was due. I like his personality but he just doesn’t have enough “stuff” to ever be an ace. Boston had the right idea with him his “stuff” is better suited for the bullpen. If his sinker isn’t working all he has is a slider and a fastball that rarely uses because it’s flat. He needed to develop a cutter or additional pitch IMO.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Pomeranz pitched his best game since being with Colorado his last start or maybe the one before that I don’t remember exactly. Until then he hadn’t shown much of anything. I think he has the best chance White seems to have issues, on and off the field. Either way Jimenez has thankfully pitched well enough now that the Indians are out of the woods with other people.

  • mgbode

    depends on how deep they are in their rebuild mode and if they are willing to take on some lower level (but highly graded) prospects. AA-down we have some guys to offer.

    probably out of our trade-range though.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That’d be probably the only hope the Indians would have at completing said kind of deal. The only other thought would be to consider someone like Choo which I absolutely hate BUT you have to be realistic. If he can’t be resigned now might be the time to consider something.

  • nj0

    That was actually kind of my defense of the Jimenez deal from the get go– even when he struggled out of the gate last year, he was still a quality MLB starter who could give you around 200 IPs. Those guys are much harder to find than people realize.

    I think in some way having CC and Lee unfairly altered people’s expectations of what a pitcher should contribute. Guys like Jake Westbrook, Paul Byrd, and Ubaldo Jimenez are actually great pitchers. CC and Lee are just extraordinary.

  • mgbode

    hmmm. interesting thought. though Garza is only controlled for 1 extra year compared to Choo and losing Choo could kill our offense. Cubs might want him though since they are not nearly as payroll-controlled as we are.

    if they throw in Soriano (w/ most of his contract paid), then it gets really tempting.

  • mgbode

    perhaps getting Tabasco back next year along with Fausto-Roberto will help us have more of these innings-eater guys who can give quality IP and strengthen us overall.

    2013
    Ubaldo
    Masterson
    FR-CH
    McCallister
    Tabasco Carrasco

    Lowe likely leaves. Gomez and Tomlin to Columbus (does Tomlin still have options?).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Kind of interesting how much Perez got booed during the pre-game introductions during the ASG. I guess there are alot of native Clevelanders in KC. Good job Chris!

  • @wes_ryan_

    writing off Tomlin to Columbus so soon, after his ’11 season? and just 5 starts from McCallister? i think with as long as he’s been at the big club, if we were’nt going to use him, we’d trade him. i’d take him in next season’s rotation before Fausto or whoever he is anyhow.

  • brook Jacoby

    That’s really good trade. I’d hate to lose Choo, but you have to give talent to get talent.