August 15, 2014

Indians 1, Athletics 0: Zach Attack, We’ll Be Friends Forever

zach attack7:33 PM – A bit late getting started here, but luckily we haven’t missed much. Through two innings, both Zach McAllister and Tommy Milone are perfect.

7:35 PM – Oh look. Mike Aviles is playing left field tonight. That’s weird.

I remember thinking when they traded for Aviles that it was all but certain that Asdrubal would be traded and that Aviles would become our starting short stop. That obviously would’ve downgraded our infield: even if you think Cabrera isn’t a great fielder it’s pretty evident he’s a much better hitter than Aviles.

But I remember thinking to myself, Hey self: we could really use some starting pitching on this team, and if trading your starting SS with two years left on a contract that isn’t necessarily cheap would give us a real #2 starter or a young SP stud to dream on I’d probably do it. It’s not like our system lacks for impact SS prospects and it’s also not like Asdrubal is likely to stay in Cleveland beyond 2014 and it’s also not like we have any better trade chips right now and it’s also not like some of the bigger payroll teams don’t have gaping holes at SS right now.

Anyway, that’s how I remember it going in my head. Obviously they moved Choo instead of Asdrubal, and they got more from him than I thought they would. I still wonder what they could’ve gotten for Cabrera last winter, but we’ll probably never know. And to be clear: Mike Aviles is much more valuable as a utility player than an everyday short stop. We’re in a fine place, but that hasn’t stopped me from wondering what could’ve been.

7:42 PM – TD and I have a bit of a running joke regarding Ryan Raburn. TD—who has a brother living in Detroit who witnessed the stinking dumpster fire of a season that Raburn put up there last year—is not a fan of the stylings of Mr. Raburn. He likes to point out how flawed he is (true) and how he isn’t an everyday player (true) and how he’s a fraud who will suck the lifeblood out of a team (seems a bit harsh).

And because TD has voiced such a strong and definite opinion on the matter, I enjoy pointing out to TD each instance of Ryan Raburn’s intermittent success. This is because I am a petulant child. Needless to say, these last few weeks have been fun for me.

Which is just to say: Hey TD, Ryan Raburn just led off the inning with a double off the left field wall and moved to third on a base running play that Rick Manning wouldn’t stop fawning over. AL player of the week, baby!

All for naught though. Yan Gomes and Drew Stubbs couldn’t get him home from third, and this game has officially settled in. Through three innings the game remains scoreless.

8:01 PM – I’ve been on twitter for the last 15 minutes wondering aloud whether Vinnie Pestano’s elbow issues will result in his second UCL replacement procedure (Tommy John surgery). It seems to me—and yes, I know that means nothing—that most elbow issues eventually lead to TJ. Maybe this is true and maybe it isn’t, but the fact that I immediately equate elbow injuries with 15 months off is not a good sign. Furthermore, if it came to that it would be Vinnie’s second UCL procedure, which led me to this piece, which led me to vomit in my mouth.

Meanwhile, despite another leadoff double from the Indians in the bottom of the fourth—this one off the bat of Jason Kipnis—the game remains scoreless through four, due in large part to the Kipper getting picked off in a rather bone-headed fashion.

8:26 PM – This was kind of a stupid inning, but we scored, so I suppose I’ll talk about it.

Santana led off by sending a grounder that deflected off the first baseman’s glove to the second baseman, who then proceeded to throw the ball away giving Santana second base uncontested. Because we started the prior two innings by getting our leadoff man to second, I thought for sure this was a bad sign.

Anyway, after a Raburn groundout that failed to advance Santana (point, TD), Aviles lifted a bloop single to left that moved Santana over. First and third with one out, and no one has hit the ball remotely hard.

Luckily, Yan Gomes hits balls hard. Specifically, he hit this ball hard to deep center field, deep enough to score Santana and give the Indians the 1-0 lead. Drew Stubbs followed with a weak flyout to right. If only he had full-grown arms instead of Stubbs…

Heading to the sixth, the Indians are up 1-0 and while McAllister isn’t exactly dominating (1K, 1BB) he’s been effective, giving up only two hits, both singles.

8:34 PM – I should probably talk here about Zach McAllister in more detail, because that last bit wasn’t as glowing as it should have been. I just tweeted this:

That was after he worked another scoreless inning with another strikeout. So far this season, McAllister has thrown 36 innings with a K/BB ratio of 2.60 and an ERA of 2.75. I predicted before the season that McAllister was due for, if not a breakout season, then at least some real and tangible improvement. He’s always had pretty good K/BB ratios and he’s never been particularly “lucky” in regard to BABiP, strand rate or HR/FB tendencies. In other words, it was a smart bet to say that he’d be better than he had been.

That’s not to say that a 2.75 ERA is sustainable with a K/BB ratio below 3. But he is an above-average pitcher who gives us a good chance to win every time he takes the mound.  He might be the only one of those we have right now.

And by the way, we all give the front office plenty of (well-deserved) grief for some of their short-comings, especially in regard to the drafting failures of this particular millenium. It’s only fair then that we remind ourselves that those same executives managed to turn the stinking corpse of Austin Kearns into Zach McAllister, and then turned him into an above-average Big League starter. They’re far from perfect, but they’ve pulled some pretty impressive coups in the last decade, McAllister not least among them.

Anyway, it’s still 1-0 Good Guys.

8:57 PM – After the Indians go down in the bottom of the sixth, McAllister comes back out for the seventh, allows one hit, strikes out two more, and puts up another scoreless frame. He’s now at 98 pitches on the evening. My tendency would be to pull him now to ensure he has something to feel good about. But on the other hand, I’m wrong about everything, so maybe they should keep him in. So far his line is 7IP, 4K, 1BB, 4H, 0ER. Yes, his BABiP is unsustainably low this season (.248), but that just means his ERA won’t be 2.68 forever. It doesn’t mean he’s not pitching well. He is.

9:05 PM – Excellent. They’re leaving him in to start the 8th. I like that they’re doing the opposite of what I’d do. That’s how little self-confidence I have. I cannot believe I used to coach high school baseball with all this Costanzian self-doubt.

9:05:14 PM – One pitch, one out. Groundout to Kipnis.

9:08 PM – Zach battled through that AB, but got Michael Taylor to fly out to shallow center. Now at 106 pitches with two out in the eighth.

9:11 PM – Oof. After McAllister paints the corner with two strikes, John Jaso drills a single to right on fastball that catches too much of the plate. That’s 111 pitches for McAllister, and he’s done. Francona going to Rich Hill.

McAllister goes 7.2 scoreless innings, and looked darn good doing it. His control was great, and he was down in the zone more often than not. A shame he couldn’t get through the eighth on his own, but that was pretty clearly going to be his last batter. For the season, he now has a 2.63 ERA and a 2.8 K/BB ratio. Them’s pretty good.

9:15 PM – Hill induces a groundout to short to end the inning. Going to the bottom of the eighth, the Indians still cling to their 1-0 lead.

9:24 PM – Indians go down scoreless again. Good thing that things always end well between Chris Perez and Oakland. It’s rage time.

9:27 PM – Jed Lowrie just drilled a ball right to Santana at first base. One loud and well-placed out.

9:28 PM – Cespedes follows by shooting a line-drive single up the middle. The good news is that Chris Perez looks to have decent control on his fastball tonight; the bad news is that the A’s are completely dialed in on said fastball.

9:32 PM – Oh boy, Yan Gomes has a CANNON. Cespedes, no slouch at all, got a good jump trying to steal second, but Gomes had him dead to rights by 10 feet. All of a sudden it’s two down, nobody on. Perez better buy Gomes a steak for that.

9:34 PM – Ballgame! Perez gets Brandon Moss swinging to end it.

The story of this game is Zach McAllister, and I don’t plan on downplaying that. But Yan Gomes drove in the only run of the game and managed to save the game by throwing Cespedes out trying to steal in the ninth. It’s nice when you have games that are won by guys like Gomes and McAllister.1 You still want to rely on your big dogs most of the time, but the periphery needs to step up from time to time, and on good teams that happens.

The Indians now sit two games over .500 and have scored 25 more runs than they’ve allowed, good for the sixth best run differential in the league. Michael Bourn should be coming back in the next week, and outside of Brett Myers impending recovery, things are looking up for the Tribesmen of the North Coast.

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. Nominally, McAllister is the fourth starter. So I’m technically right, but yes, I see your point: he’s pretty good. []
  • Harv 21

    a few things:

    - I’d like Gomes to be our every day catcher one day, maybe after Reynolds signs elsewhere for $50 Billion. He looks like the classic firm jaw, control-the-game-and-pitcher, law and order guy. A Jason Varitek/Team Leader type. Not the He Can Really Hit and Look! … He Can Kinda Catch! guy. [Ducks for expected sabermetrics attack].

    - I really like this team. And the manager. And the pitching coach.

    - I’ve made peace with my irrational Chris Perez hate. I’m trying not to think that his nasty stuff should keep opponents from soild contact, or that he should not frequently spot 9th inning batters a 2-0 count. There’s one Mariano. Let it go, Harv.

    - One run and a handful of hits between two teams and this game still took 2 1/2 hours. Watch a classic game from the 60s. The baseball culture has changed dramatically. No batters would stroll between pitches because the umps wouldn’t grant time for that. Players wore the umps down and strolling (and fidgeting, adjusting, and delays on the mound) became the norm. It was an easier game to watch before.

  • mgbode

    sabremetrics support your catcher thoughts. we have had the worst “framing” for pitchers in MLB the past few seasons. our pitchers get the least balls outside of the strike zone called for strikes of any pitching staff. fangraphs had an article on it in the offseason (I believe centering on Masterson but mentioned the catching issue).

  • JNeids

    I haven’t even read the article yet, I couldn’t get past the picture. You had me at “Friends Forever.”

  • Luke Stavole

    Favorite Line: “…outside of Brett Myers’ impending recovery, things are looking up for the Tribe…”

  • JNeids

    And you linked to the video!

    GREATEST. ARTICLE. EVER.

  • mgbode

    and this is not McAllister’s first season of being our best and most consistent starting pitcher either

  • nj0

    That Gomes throw was the play of the game.

  • http://twitter.com/GreatestHurley Jason Hurley

    What a throw by Gomes. Goodnight, Laser Lou.

  • Harv 21

    I thought saber says a good-hitting catcher far outweighs any and all aspects of defense and certainly intangibles (which, as non-quantifiable with statistics, are fuzzy subjectives for losers), like leadership and calling a game.

  • boomhauertjs

    No more Marson!

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Cannon fodder. Impressive stuff from the Zach Attack. He “battled”.

  • Michael

    If Gomes is anything like Varitek, I think my head might explode. (with pure joy). Especially, if he punches an AL Central Rival in the face.

  • nj0

    After Ubaldo, it’s nice to see a pitcher who will challenge hitters in the zone rather than just handing out free passes.

  • mgbode

    i’ve only lately noticed the actual pitching metrics via catcher being quantified for public consumption (I’m sure teams have done it for years). I think it is a balance. Sabremetrics attempt to quantify that balance.

    Kelly Shoppach has had a 9 year MLB career from mostly sabre-friendly organizations for a reason other than his hitting :)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Kelly KaPOWski #1!

  • mgbode

    71 of the last 82 runners have been safe trying to steal on Marson (had been his best attribute). Fangraphs showed that he isn’t any better at framing pitches than Santana.

    I’m sure neither of those stats are all on him, but if he cannot make a definitive reason to keep himself on the roster, then you will get that wish (because his bat is not going to be that reason no matter how excited G.O. gets about a hit here or there).

  • Harv 21

    Gomes made a beautiful throw which beat the runner, but anyone else think he was safe? Looked to me like the runner managed to keep his head away from the glove while his left hand got to the bag first. But there was no argument, so …

  • Steve

    Ah, the classic “sabermetrics only care about offense!” fallacy. We made big jumps in measuring offense first, and we’re coming around on defense, but no one has ever said that hitting far outweighs defense, especially at the catcher position. And calling a game certainly has tangible results that we are measuring.

  • woofersus

    It was indeed close, but I slow-mo’d the slow-mo replay and at the last second the glove comes up and tags him with his fingers still about an inch from the bag. Good thing he didn’t just put the glove in front of the guy and wait.

  • nj0

    I kind of did. I thought about posting something about ACab’s lazy tag, but didn’t want to be “The Negative Guy”.

  • woofersus

    Funny, I also ended that game feeling a little anxious about the return of Myers. I guess we might as well rip the bandaid off now though. He probably has a relatively short leash given his early struggles and the success of guys like Kluber and Bauer. Maybe three poor starts or two horrific ones. Worse would be if he’s mediocre and hangs on even though we’re all wondering if Kluber/Bauer/Carrasco would be an upgrade.

    Also, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Lou Marson. It’s not his fault he’s injured, and he probably is better than his recent stats at throwing and catching, but Gomes has shown clearly superior upside. LIke, everyday starter upside. I do think he’ll still get sent to Columbus when Marson gets healthy so he can play every day and continue his development, but the writing is on the wall. He probably doesn’t end the season with the Indians.

  • nj0

    Lot of Marson hate. He’s an adequate back-up catcher. Decent OBP for a catcher. The whole concept of pitch framing is still too new imo. There’s a lot of factors to account for so I wouldn’t want to throw Marson or Santana under the bus for it just yet. But it something to keep an eye on.

    That said, if Gomes is a better player, then you have to go with him.

  • Steve

    His career OBP is only .309. If that’s your best quality, you are very easy to replace.

    Pitch framing may be new, but with pitch f/x we know exactly what should and shouldn’t be a strike. It’s very easy to tell where advantages are being gained. Even so, I believe it was something like 3 pitches per night that were going the wrong way because of Marson.

  • TSR3000

    Epic

  • mgbode

    Not hate at all. Always appreciate a guy doing his best and filling in a need, which Lou has done.

    I agree that framing data is still too new (for what we see – I’d be disappointed if it’s new to teams). The problem Marson has is “explainable value.” He used to throw out a ton of runners, now he doesn’t have that even.

    That said, I hope Gomes proves to be the better player because we don’t know how good he can be (whereas we do know with Lou).

  • mgbode

    the issue with the framing data that fangraphs and such do is that there is alot of qualification that needs to be done. external factors to level out are “specific umpire strike zones” and “pitcher specific issues” (like delivery, etc.) and it’s not an easy thing to separate.

  • nj0

    There are too many variables for me to take pitch framing too seriously. Different umps with different strike zones and different pitchers with different stuff… Who is to say those aren’t bigger factors? I’m skeptical to say the least. Great concept that will probably be valuable one day though I think more works needs to be done.

    .348 OBP last year. The guy is reaching his prime. Looking at career rates isn’t helpful imo.

    And finally – he’s a back-up catcher! If you can find somebody better, great. But he’s not terrible for the role he plays.

  • nj0

    Yeah. Is it something Santana/Marson are doing or is it something about Masterson/Jimenez/et al’s deliveries?

    That said, a.) pitching framing is an awesome concept and b.) it does worry me that our club (for whatever the reason) seems to be terrible at it.

  • mgbode

    yes, agreed on all counts.

  • mgbode

    Bauer challenges hitters too. He challenges them to not swing at all those crazy off-speed pitches but pay attention enough for when he actually throws one over the plate.

    (and it’s actually sort of enjoyable to watch him do it as it’s so out of the norm from most any other pitcher out there)

  • Garry_Owen

    Thanks for starting us down this sabermetrics road, Harv. My eyeballs are bleeding and I only made it down to mgbode’s third comment. There’s a statistic for “pitch framing.” And analysis to back it up.

  • mgbode

    they are only bleeding because I called you out for loving Marson’s bat :)

  • Garry_Owen

    I stopped before I even got to that! I didn’t even see it. It must have been the blood.

    You are, of course, referencing our discussion from last year. While Marson was the arbitrary object of that conversation, the express subject of the conversation was the comparison of the benefits/risks of keeping a full-time DH that can’t play a position versus employing a varying platoon of capable fielders in the DH role.

    Irrespective of Marson’s particular role in that platoon, I stand by my primary argument – and this year’s line-up is, I believe, proving that point: A platoon of position-playing DHs beats Travis Hafner . . . er, a non-position playing full-time DH (for the Indians)

    (Though I don’t have the sabermetrics to back it up, I do own a saber and will back up even the craziest opinions with it!) (And for the record, I’ll happily take Gomes over Marson – though it breaks Mrs. Owen’s heart. She loves The Marson.)

  • mgbode

    I think 2013 is proving the opposite to be true. Is having Giambi really better than having Pronk? He’s hitting at 2005 numbers right now:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hafnetr01.shtml

  • Garry_Owen

    Giambi’s not a full-time DH. He’s just part of the platoon. So, yeah. He’s better (and cheaper!).

  • nj0

    Better than Myers who challenges batters to hit it as far as they can.

  • mgbode

    I never wanted Hafner as a fulltime DH either. His body requires him to be part-time. The argument was always that having a true well-above average bat on the bench outweighed having hitting-absent guys like Lillibridge (and got extended to Lou at one time because he had a hot bat for about 2 games and became a running joke between us).

    He is a bit cheaper. $750K instead of $2mil.

  • Garry_Owen

    I think it was 6 games!

    The other difference between Hafner and Giambi is Giambi’s age and leadership. Hafner is still relatively young, and it’s hard to justify keeping him out of the line-up, given his past performance and theoretical potential. It’s easier with Giambi because he has an express, defined role that it turns out he performs really well.

    Regardless, I think we can easily agree that this year’s situation is vastly preferable to last year’s! I’m loving it, so far.

  • Steve

    From the study – “Every year, Masterson has had way more pitches in the zone called balls
    than the average. Every year, Masterson has had fewer pitches out of the
    zone called strikes than the average.”

    Sure, Masterson may have faced an inordinate amount of small strike zones year after year, but how likely do you think that is?

    Also, Masterson had a “more favorable” zone when he was with the Red Sox, while a guy like Lowe came to the Indians and saw his strike zone “shrink”. They’re doing a pretty good job taking into account the variables. The constant seems to be guys who pitched to Santana and Marson had smaller strike zones than when they didn’t.

    And Marson had just 235 PAs last year, looking at just that small of a sample is less helpful. And I didn’t say that he was terrible for his role, just that hanging your hat on a .309 career OBP doesn’t impress me.

  • mgbode

    well, how good Giambi does in that role considering the past 4 year sample size is up for debate. however, yes, I’ll gladly argue Giambi v. Hafner as the platoon-DH (potential #11-13 hitter) rather than as our everyday cleanup hitter.

  • mgbode

    hey, it’s challenging to hit the ball off a tee when you’re used to hitting real pitching, right? no? ok, then :)

  • nj0

    And Masterson pitched 88 innings with the Red Sox. Derek Lowe picthed about 120 with us. Not drawing any conclusions off of that.

  • Steve

    But this isn’t like saying “we can determine his true talent ERA based on 88 or 120 innings”. We know exactly how many pitches each guy threw that should have been strikes that weren’t called.

    If you are just arguing that we can’t say it is exactly 52 out of every 1000 of Masterson’s pitches that can be blamed on Marson/Santana, well of course. But we do know that exactly that many strikes were lost, and that strikes are being lost by the majority of pitchers throwing to those two and pitchers are doing better when they throw to other catchers.

    And the argument isn’t that Marson is costing us X runs so we should replace him with a guy who will gain us Y runs, it’s that he’s clearly substandard at this aspect of the game despite his reputation, and if he can’t even do this, what good goes he do for this roster?