April 16, 2014

Indians All-Star Break Review: The Position Players

Asrubal CabreraWe have arrived at baseball’s All-Star break. The Cleveland Indians sit at 51-44, a game and a half out of first place in the AL Central. It has been quite a ride since GM Chris Antonetti hired Terry Francona to manage this club. The shot had been fired – a change in culture was about to arrive in Cleveland. We expected some changes, but nobody could have expected that this team would be as good as it has been.

Yes, they have been up and down and have the nickname “Team Streak,” but this start has a completely different feel than the last two years. This seems real.

With that said, this week we will take a look at the three aspects of the club. We opened with the starting rotation. Yesterday we examined the bullpen.

In part three, we will look at the position players.

The Outfield

Michael Brantley – 91 GP – 333 AB- .279/.333/.378/7 HR/48 RBI/46 R/10 SB/.366 with RISP in 71 AB

Michael Bourn – 68 GP – 279 AB – .290/.331/.366/2 HR/19 RBI/39 R/13 SB/.316 vs. lefties/.291 with RISP in 55 AB

Drew Stubbs – 90 GP – 287 AB – .244./296/.386/7 HR/35 RBI/37 R/10 SB/.224 vs. righties/.286 vs. lefties/.268 with RISP in 71 AB

The Infield

Nick Swisher – 79 GP – 289 AB – .242/.352/.398/9 HR/31 RBI/42 R/.280 vs. lefties/.222 vs. righties/.224 with RISP in 85 AB

Jason Kipnis – 84 GP – 319 AB – .301/.383/.514/13 HR/57 RBI/53 R/21 SB/.312 vs. lefties/.293 with RISP in 82 AB

Asdrubal Cabrera – 71 GP – 271 AB – .255/.315/.421/7 HR/34 RBI/39 R/5 SB/.267 vs. lefties/.249 vs. righties/.239 with RISP in 67 AB

Lonnie Chisenhall – 48 GP – 169 AB – .243/.289/.414/6 HR/25 RBI/15 R/.091 vs. lefties/.279 vs. righties/.235 with RISP in 51 AB/.280 with 14 RBI in 75 AB since recall

Mark Reynolds – 89 GP – 308 AB – .218/.037/.386/15 HR/47 RBI/38 R/113 K/.223 vs. lefties, .215 vs. righties/.245 with RISP in 94 AB/.177 since May 10th

The Catcher

Carlos Santana – 88 GP – 305 AB – .275/.382/.466/11 HR/43 RBI/41 R/53 BB/.282 vs. lefties/.272 vs. righties/.292 with RISP in 72 AB

The Bench

Mike Aviles – 72 GP – 216 AB – .259/.295/.375/5 HR/26 RBI/37 R/11 BB/7 SB/.242 vs. lefties/.272 vs. righties/.228 with RISP in 57 AB

Ryan Raburn – 55 GP – 150 AB – .267/.316/.540/10 HR/28 RBI/25 R/21 BB/.270 vs. lefties/.264 vs. righties/.295 with RIP in 44 AB

Jason Giambi – 41 GP – 115 AB – .200/.309/.409/6 HR/23 RBI/16 R/16 BB/.212 vs. righties/.359 with RISP in 28 AB

Yan Gomes – 39 GP – 130 AB – .260/.293/.477/6 HR/20 RBI/20 R/7 BB/.263 vs. lefties, .260 vs. righties/.281 with RISP in 32 AB/has thrown out 52% of runners trying to steal

Things changed dramatically this winter when Francona, Antonetti, and Mark Shapiro, along with the Dolan Family ownership, decided to reverse course and pursue a big name free agent. After reportedly offering a four-year deal to OF Shane Victorino (who eventually signed with Boston), they were able to reel in the perfect big fish to become the new face of the franchise; Nick Swisher. His excitement was oozing at the welcome to Cleveland press conference. With Swisher and 1B/DH Mark Reynolds on board, Drew Stubbs and Mike Aviles acquired via trades, coupled with the young talent already in tow, the Tribe’s lineup was really taking a nice shape. Then just before Spring Training, almost completely out of nowhere, All-Star Center fielder Michael Bourn stunned the baseball world by signing a four-year, $48 million deal with the Tribe. All of a sudden, an improved lineup became that much better with the addition of one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.

Gone were the days of Shelley Duncan hitting cleanup, Jack Hannahan playing every day, and a six through nine that looked like a Columbus Clippers game had broken out. Bringing Bourn to Cleveland moved shook things up. Swisher, signed to play right field, would move to first. Reynolds, brought in to play first, became the regular DH. Stubbs was supposed to be roaming in center, but moved to right with Bourn on the roster. Last year’s center fielder, Michael Brantley, moved back to left field. They stayed strong up the middle with the Jason Kipnis/Asdrubal Cabrera double play combo, and Carlos Santana behind the plate. Lonnie Chisenhall could hang in the bottom of the order with no pressure on him at third.

What is amazing in baseball is how different things can look from month to month. In April, the Tribe’s hottest and best hitter was unquestionably Reynolds. It looked as though the Tribe got themselves an absolute steal for one year and six million for the power hitting DH. He led the Indians in homers (eight), batting average (.301), RBIs (22), and OPS (1.019) and people around town talked about wanting to extend him. On the other side of the ledger was Kipnis, who could not seem to get things going his way. He finished the month .200/.269/.286 with one homer and four RBIs. He struck out 21 times in 70 at-bats and looked completely lost at the plate.

Fast forward to the break and Kipnis is an All-Star who was named AL player of the month in June and sits at .301/.383/.514 with 13 homers, 57 RBIs, and 21 steals. His 1.216 OPS in June is an amazing number. Jason has played stellar defense and has settled into the three-hole in Francona’s lineup. It is not a coincidence that his play elevated at the same time the team turned it on.

In the meantime, Reynolds hasn’t been able to get out of his own way since his incredible start. As good as he was in April, he has been on the opposite end of the spectrum. Since May 10th, Reynolds has played in 58 games and ranks dead last in the majors in batting average (.177) and slugging percentage (.242) for all qualified hitters. We knew he would strike out a ton, but as long as the power was there, nobody would care. Mega Mark only has two homers since May 30th – his only two extra base hits. He heads into the break in the midst of a 3-37 skid. It wouldn’t shock me one bit to see less of Reynolds in the second half unless he can get hot again.

It’s not like Francona doesn’t have options.

While Swisher is still one of the more likeable players we have ever seen in Cleveland, his performance on the field hasn’t been as advertised. I touched on this in late June, but Swisher has yet to break out for a hot streak. He is still riding a honeymoon period with the fans, but the numbers don’t lie. .242/.352/.398 just isn’t going to cut it for a middle of the order bat. .224 with runners in scoring position is the worst of any regular on the team. His numbers are more Drew Stubbs than Jason Kipnis. No doubt Nick battled some shoulder issues and continues to play through them, but a big second half out of Swish would make a huge difference for a hot and cold offense.

Speaking of a guy who could use a big second half, Cabrera has been a guy who has collapsed the last two years, which has been well documented. The 2013 season has been spotty for Asdrubal, who spent the better part of June on the DL with a quad injury. After a slow April, he picked things up in May. He came off the DL firing with 10 hits in his first five games, but fell into a 0-20 skid. He did go 4-8 in the last two games against KC and welcomed the break. The thing is Asdrubal looks as good as he ever has physically. With Kipnis raking the way he has, Cabrera has moved back into the two hole. Defensively his range leaves a little to be desired, but he still has the great hands and has made just three errors. Also playing in Asdrubal’s favor is the fact that he won’t be as worn down as he was the past two seasons with Aviles around to spell him. In addition, he doesn’t have to carry the offense the way he used to.

Moving to the hot corner, Chisenhall was handed the job and was given every opportunity to succeed as an every day player. The knocks on Lonnie were always his inability to hit left-handed pitching and his shaky defense. In the field, Chiz did a good enough job. At the plate, a .222/.253/.403 April spawned a .182/.250/.182 May and a demotion to Columbus to find his swing. At the time, it didn’t seem to matter because of the way Reynolds was crushing the ball. Francona made Reynolds his regular third baseman with veteran Jason Giambi getting more at-bats at DH. Lonnie spent just over a month in Columbus, didn’t complain, and did nothing but rake. In 27 games, Chisenhall hit .390/.456/.676 with six homers and 26 RBIs. With Reynolds crashing back to earth both at the plate and with the glove, Lonnie came back up and has done a nice job, hitting .280 in 75 ABs with 14 RBIs. The problem area against lefties has not gone away. 3-33 (.091) is just brutal. I’ve said this many times, but Chisenhall figuring it all out is about as important to this team’s long term success as anything. They have no real backup plan at third base should he fail. Aviles or Reynolds will play third against tough lefties the rest of the way, but it would be nice to know Lonnie could be the guy every single day.

Aviles has been the type of utility man this team has sorely lacked and hoped Jason Donald would be. He filled in nicely when Cabrera was on the DL and plays a quality short. If Kipnis gets a day off, Aviles plays second. He has also made 10 starts at third base and three in left field. Aviles played for Francona in Boston and fits in perfectly with this club. The versatility and reputation for being a great teammate has certainly preceded him. A free swinger, Aviles has shown a nice ability to go to all fields. He is the perfect bench player and invaluable to this club. Imagine Cord Phelps in his role, because that would be the next best option in the organization. Scary thought.

The most tantalizing bat in the order still belongs to Santana in my opinion. The ball just stings off his bat. While the home run power is right around where it was last year, he has almost as many doubles (23) as he did all of 2012 (27). Once again, he leads the Indians in walks and keeps his strikeout numbers down. Of the regulars, only Brantley has less. His on-base and OPS numbers are right there with his All-Star teammate Kipnis. Other than a slow May, Santana has been pretty solid throughout. In years past, he has been extremely pull happy, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in 2013. That is something he has worked on to correct with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo. Nobody questions Carlos’s bat. His defense behind that plate is another story.

Over the past few years, it is almost as if he has regressed defensively. At times, it seems like a lazy approach. Blocking balls in the dirt can often be an adventure and he has thrown out just five of 44 runners on stolen base attempts (11%). By comparison, backup Yan Gomes has thrown out 10 of 19 would be base-stealers (52%). With Reynolds hitting the way he has, Santana can see more time at either first base or DH with Gomes getting more run behind home plate.

The Yanimal has been something of a revelation for the Tribe. His defense was not supposed to be his calling card and the Indians started him in Columbus to work on that aspect of his game. Once Lou Marson was hurt the first week of the season, Gomes was recalled and essentially grabbed a bench spot by the throat and refused to let go. He has handled the staff beautifully and has shown a cannon for an arm. With the stick, he burst onto the scene in May, hitting .370 with an OPS of 1.010, driving in 11 runs in 46 ABs. The capper was his walk-off, extra inning three-run homer on May 20th to beat the Seattle Mariners. That hot month made him something of a cult hero in Cleveland. Gomes has somewhat slowed down and is in the middle of a 1-14 slump, but needless to say Yan has made quite an impression with the organization. The Gomes/Aviles for Esmil Rogers trade has turned out to be a big win/win for both the Tribe and the Blue Jays as Rogers has become a member of the Toronto rotation.

Moving to the outfield, you have to start with Brantley. Dr. Smooth will never put up huge power numbers, but he has easily been the most consistent Indian throughout the first half. Most importantly, he has been the most clutch. No matter where Francona puts him in the lineup – he has hit in every spot except for ninth – he seems to come through when his team needs it the most. With runners in scoring position, Brantley is hitting .366 (26-71) with 39 RBIs. Think that’s impressive? With runners in scoring position and two out, he is hitting .390 (16-41). Defensively, Michael glides in left field and makes it look easy. He has shown off his arm as well, ranking second in the AL in outfield assists. I think my favorite thing about him is his unassuming way. Brantley plays hard and does so with a calm, quiet demeanor. The Dr. Smooth moniker fits him like a glove.

Brantley shifted to left originally to make room for Stubbs, who has been a career center fielder. The former Red came with the reputation of a great speed and defense guy who strikes out a ton and has decent power. The pressure of being a former top 10 pick in Cincinnati probably hurt him when he didn’t live up to the advanced hype. Here in Cleveland though, he has moved to right field and hits ninth, a perfect place for him. I will say I have been pleasantly surprised with Stubbs. Not every lineup is going to be loaded with studs one through nine. But the Tribe could do a lot worse than having one of the fastest guys in the game with some decent pop at the the bottom of their order. Yes, the strikeouts are there, but his speed and defense are game-changing. He is 10 for 10 in stolen bases and gets from first to third on any hit. When Bourn went down for a few weeks with a finger injury, he seamlessly took over center. Drew covers as much ground as any outfielder you want to see. His big issue is that he can get eaten up by right-handed pitching at times, hitting just .224. But Francona does a nice job mixing and matching with Swisher and Ryan Raburn.

The third center fielder the Indians have is the actual center fielder. Like Stubbs, Bourn has the type of speed this team just hasn’t had in years. Not since Kenny Lofton have the Tribe had a leadoff man this dynamic. While he could definitely walk more (16 in 279 ABs), Bourn always seems to be in the middle of big Indians rallies. He is hitting .290 which is right around his numbers the past two years and defensively he has been superb. The difference in having three guys with good arms who can cover all sorts of ground has been huge for the pitching staff. Not much can get by these three. Bourn missed almost a month with a fluke finger injury and he didn’t miss a beat when activated.

Against left-handed starters, Tito makes sure that he finds a way to put Raburn’s bat in the lineup. He has a .949 OPS vs. southpaws and much to my chagrin, Francona often hits him fourth or fifth in those games. When Bourn was on the DL, it was Raburn who picked up the slack. One of the biggest highlights of the season was his 11-13 run where had back to back multi-homer games against Kansas City and Philadelphia. Not bad for another guy who was picked up for nothing after being DFA’d by the rival Tigers. Raburn has been clutch hitting .295 with runners in scoring position and a whopping .524 (11-21) with 17 RBIs with runners in scoring position and two out. The 32-year old always had decent power, but he looked cooked in 2012, hitting just .171. Francona admitted having a soft spot for him and wanted Raburn on this team. He raked in Spring Training and became a Tribe extra. He has played both corner outfield spots and second base and like Aviles, his versatility allows Francona to keep not only an eighth reliever, but a veteran DH-only guy in Jason Giambi.

We all know that Big G is not just here for his bat. There is more to it than that. Giambi is essentially a player coach. To a man, the 42-year old may be the most popular guy in the clubhouse. From Kipnis to Gomes, from Masterson to Allen, you hear how much Giambi has influenced the players. While many think Giambi’s on the field exploits haven’t been good enough, I would show you his .357 average with runners in scoring position. Yes, he can’t play in the field, but it doesn’t really matter when you consider how Aviles and Raburn can handle multiple spots. Francona calls him the “veteran’s veteran.” This club is extremely tight knit and has some good mojo working. To me, it is not worth upsetting the chemistry to exchange Giambi for either an extra bullpen arm or a bat from the minors, which the Indians don’t really have.

Now if at the trading deadline another veteran bat is acquired, that could change things. However, if the Tribe does make a move, I believe it will be for a reliever.

————

The biggest offensive keys during the second half are easy to point out. Reynolds has to get out of his funk. We saw what he is capable of in April, but these past two and a half months have been a real struggle. Having him regain his power stroke is essential. Getting Asdrubal going certainly wouldn’t hurt as well. He has had poor second halves the last two seasons and is looking to shake that stigma. Lastly, Swisher being the guy he was in New York the last four seasons rather than the guy he has been in Cleveland the last three and a half months would lesson the pressure on guys like Kipnis, Brantley, and Santana. He was signed to be the middle of the order run producer. So far, he has been essentially an average player.

If everything falls into place for the offense, we could be playing meaningful games down the stretch, which is all that we can ask for.

  • Kevin Huyghe

    I do love having Giambi on the team, and the way you analyzed his presence is perfect. I am still completely baffled by the decision to NOT pinch-hit him for Avilas in the Monday night game against Detroit, in the bottom of the 10th with 2 outs and 2 on, down 2, against a right-handed pitcher. It seems like the ultimate no-brainer decision. If Giambi is not here for that exact situation, then take him off the roster and make him a full-time bench coach. I don’t disagree with alot of things Tito does, but that one still sticks out so much. (We also had Santana on the bench that game).

  • Jaker

    First of all, I love our bench. Giambi and Raburn are the perfect pinch hitters and occasional starters. Their numbers with RISP is exactly what you need from bench players. Our bench used to have just whatever guys we could get, now its filled with two good pinch hitters, a utility man who is a capable starter, and a backup C who should be a starting C. Wonderful. I had to say that…

    It’s crazy how bad this offense was a year ago. To think I actually wanted to see Russ Canzler in the lineup. CANZLER! Anyway, even though our lineup is vastly improved, there are still a few things needed to be fixed.

    1- The Lineup. There are a few guys batting in the right spots, and that should continue. Bourn-1(perfect leadoff guy), Cabrera-2(as soon as he gets on base more, this should be his best spot), Kip-3(our All Star is starting to blossom as a 3), Brantley-5(for whatever reason, this is his best spot, and it works), Chiz-8(Congrats on the Breaking Bad Emmy Nomination! Perfect spot for his development), Stubbs-9(one of the best #9′s in the league). Right now we don’t have the right guy at cleanup. The idea would be Swish, but he isn’t meant to bat cleanup, he’s more of a 2,5 or 6 guy. The other option is Santana, which I would prefer, even though he is extremely valuable as a 5-6 hitter. The 7 spot should be the DH, which could be Reynolds, Raburn or Giambi, or C Gomes and make Santana DH/1b every so often.

    2- Our big money bats need to step up. Swish, ACab, Mad Mark and even Carlos need to start improving, with emphasis on the FA additions. I have confidence in Swish and Carlos improving, because those guys haven’t exactly stunk, they just aren’t giving us enough of what we need.They are relied upon as the run producers, and while Santana has done a decent job, he’s in a bit of a downfall since an epicly hot start. He’s gunna get on track . Swish’s pace is not cutting it. While he’s not gunna put up typical cleanup numbers, I was expecting .280/25/80 with good onbase and slugging. If he’s gunna reach that, he’s gunna have to have a monster second half. It’s possible.

    ACab typically has these swoons where he swings at everything. Every time he oes to the plate, I’m scared he’s gunna groundout on the first pitch. No one swings at the first pitch more than he does. With Kip now settling in as the 3rd hitter, Cab is gunna have to work on getting on base more. Another thing I’m not that worried about, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later. And finally Marky Markkkkk. I added the extra K’s to emphasize how much he does just that. If the guys around him were performing better, this wouldn’t be such a crisis, but since we are leaning on him more for rbis and hrs, his recent numbers won’t cut it.

    If you like the Law of Averages, then I think you won’t be all that worried about Swish, Cabrera and Reynolds, because they are bound to not just bust out of the slump, but get some hot streaks going to level out their season averages. I think we are in store for some better baseball, which is good, because this August is a monster schedule, and we will need some hot streaks to keep us in the race come September

  • Harv 21

    This is the best defensive outfield I have seen on any Indians team, ever. While I think Bourn is a tad overrated, every guy out there can pick it and throw it accurately to the right place. Defensively, the ’90s had two blacksmiths and Lofton, and even Lofton outran a lot of bad jumps and regularly made fruitless attempts to throw out runners, letting the runners behind move up an extra base. This outfield is proficient and virtually mistake-free.

    I think Chiz is relaxing and will have a strong second half. The defensive lapses seem to have disappeared. The test will be when he gets hot and pitchers start working him differently. He’s making the initial adjustment being more selective; will he make the second adjustment?

    Watching Santana catch has become more painful now that Gomes is the comparison. And when we face KC and the great Salvador Perez it’s almost like he and Santana are playing different positions. I agree, a lot of his issues are technical and 8 years into the position you can’t expect him to care more at this stage. He doesn’t look like a happy catcher, a passionate guy who loves being in charge out there. He’s more like Baerga – he plays baseball to hit. He’s not an average catcher, he’s now a defensive liability. They need to move him to emergency catching duties only this off-season and everybody – Carlos, the pitchers – will be happier.

  • Jaker

    well said on Carlos, I never thought about it like that. this is why we need to bat Gomes more, to see if he can be an every day Catcher.

  • bupalos

    Francona’s actually baffled me with his in-game management. I thought I’d like him way more than I do. The one you cite was really bad, especially considering Aviles had already been up in two other crucial situations earlier and flubbed it.

  • nj0

    Our lineup last year was so terrible. It’s amazing we did as well as we did.

  • bupalos

    >>> It has been quite a ride since GM Chris Antonetti hired Terry Francona to manage this club. The shot had been fired – a change in culture was about to arrive in Cleveland. We expected some changes, but nobody could have expected that this team would be as good as it has been.>>>

    That’s overdone. Attributing general win-loss performance to the manager, especially some vague moral quality he’s supposedly instilling, without any reference to numbers or actual actions he’s taken always leaves me cold. In this case especially, because Francona’s refusal to play small ball– and the atrocious fundamentals we’ve shown getting guys over and in– have objectively cost the tribe games to this point. Big games. The offensive and defensive fundamentals were better under Acta.

    If you ran the pre-season expected numbers for all the players and stuck that team in a simulator, I think you’d have a .500 team here. There are 4 points of significant over-performance that account for the tribe’s slightly good .537 win percentage. Kipnis. Brantly. Kluber. Kasmir. Am I missing anyone? Just about all of the FA acquisitions have been net underperformers to this point, Bourne the closest to “as advertised” and Swisher the furthest (that’s provided we all just forget about a certain significant dollar pitcher that should never have even made it out of spring.) Raburn and Giambi in the clutch are the only “Francona” stamped products that i see a small net + sign on.

    I want to like Francona, but I honestly think, having watched most of the games, we’d have a slightly better record with this group of players and Acta. Now you may say we wouldn’t have this group without having gotten tito, and that might be true. but I’m not sure any of those additions have had an impact significantly above replacement.

  • Natedawg86

    Aviles has been huge. Bourne has been good too.Swisher and Reynolds are streaky players. Hopefully they will get hot.

  • mgbode

    the players said it all when they selected Salvador ahead of Carlos for the Allstar game. they respect how Perez plays the position more than Santana’s hitting.

    at this point, it is only hurting Santana’s reputation to keep putting him out there as the main catcher. we absolutely should be using him there part-time (roster flexibility is a key), but I think he should spend more time at 1B and DH than C.

  • mgbode

    “Swisher is still one of the more likeable players we have ever seen in Cleveland”

    am I the only one that has a hard time rooting for him? he’s just so annoying IMO. probably just me and that’s okay.

  • mgbode

    I think a big part of that statement was that the hiring of Francona seemed to indicate that the FO was also going to go into the FA market and find some players (and having Francona may have helped in acquiring those players). So, while his game management may or may not have helped our record, his signing indicated the direction the FO was moving.

  • Harv 21

    I hear you, but it seems his teammates are ok with him so far. I gained respect for Mark Reynolds after an early season homer when he managed not to haul off and pop Swisher who was excitedly ranting 2″ away from his face with a mouth full of tobacco for what seemed like a full 30 seconds. Baseball seems to have a high tolerance for buffoons. If Swish played NFL football he’d probably have already perished in a weight room “accident.”

  • bupalos

    It’s hard to call a 260 hitter with a couple homers “huge,”though it’s nice to have the additional flexibility for nothing. I love Bourne, but he hasn’t played over his head at all. Slightly higher average, steals way down, 2 hrs. He’s by far the best addition. I just mean to say that I don’t think Francona is the difference here. It’s a couple of our pitcher gambles coming through and a couple of our young guys getting better.

  • Harv 21

    Maybe, but I saw a team last year that gave up, completely mailed it in, nothing “vague” about it. Sounds like you’re saying that’s on the players alone, things like leadership and tone are not empirical enough to consider, regardless of what the players say. Baseball GMs certainly look at stats. It will be interesting to see if they agree with you and make Acta a sought after managerial candidate again.

  • bupalos

    That I kind of agree on. Although as I said, the free agents aren’t really all that much responsible for the success here. Well, Kasmir. But that wasn’t a high profile thing, just a kind of toss in low risk gamble.

  • bupalos

    Can’t say I know anything about the motivation and “behind the scenes stuff. Maybe that matters a great deal and maybe acta has some approach that encourages major leaguers not to try hard, or try too hard, or whatever.

  • nj0

    He annoys me too. The whole Brohio, I-didn’t-go-to-OSU-but-it’s-still-my-team thing is not my cup of tea.

  • Steve

    98 wRC+, good for 10th in MLB. Awful pitchers, awful fielders, awful park for hitters, but the lineup was actually decent.

  • Kevin Huyghe

    I keep trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, I mean we are still winning, and he has 2 World Series rings… he must know something. But yeah when Aviles had already left 5 guys on base or something like that.. seemed like a no brainer. And who knows, Giambi might have struck out on 3 pitches, but he might have hit a walk off homer and we would be a half game up.

  • Kevin Huyghe

    He’s like one of those guys who you HATE how energetic they are when they are against you, but like them as a “sparkplug” when they are with you.

    The KEY to my liking this though, is performing on the field. If he were to hit closer to .290-.300 and provide the middle-of-the-order pop, then he can light sparklers in his ass and run around with pinwheels for all I care.

    But, I agree, he’s annoying as hell when he’s NOT performing. It doesn’t matter how “excited” you are when you are playing like crap.

  • Harv 21

    he did play for OSU, actually

  • Kevin Huyghe

    … he did go to OSU

  • bupalos

    Oozes about 3 tablespoons too much douchiness for my taste. But I’m sure the 230 BA plays into that. I sure don’t care all that much for the team forcing as much marketing around him as they do.

  • Steve

    “Francona’s refusal to play small ball– and the atrocious fundamentals
    we’ve shown getting guys over and in– have objectively cost the tribe
    games to this point. Big games. The offensive and defensive fundamentals
    were better under Acta.”

    Umm, there are more fundamentals than to start bunting every time you get someone on. The biggest difference between this year’s club and last year’s, and what was the most necessary was the magic wand that Francona/Callaway have waved over the rotation. Masterson is back on track, McAllister and Kluber have turned into guys who give us a great chance to win every night, Kazmir has turned his career around, and even Jimenez has become a useful pitcher. Yeah, I wanted a pinch hit for Aviles last week or whenever, but that pales in comparison to the improvement in the rotation.

  • Steve

    nj0 meant from everyone in NE Ohio who didn’t go to OSU. You won’t find a more passionate blowhard OSU homer than you will on Kent St’s campus.

  • mgbode

    I have to disagree.

    5 of the top11 WAR guys on the team are those signings/trades (Swisher, Bourn, Raburn, Stubbs, Aviles).

    and we also have to look at the level of the guys they were replacing. that is huge (though we did lose Choo).

  • nj0

    Exactly. I wasn’t impugning Swisher’s OSU love, but that of the rest of most of the state of Ohio.

    My point was that one of the reasons he is “one of the more likeable players we have ever seen in Cleveland” is because there is so much passion for OSU amongst the Brohio types and the non-grad OSU fans. Being neither of those, I too have a hard time rooting for him.

  • nj0

    While I was not aware of this fact before we signed him, the Indians front office has done everything it can to repeatedly tell me this.

  • nj0

    I should clarify – the bottom third or so of our lineup was terrible. The Damon’s, Kotchman’s, and Duncan’s of the world. We gave Aaron Cunningham 100+ PAs. Switching those guys with replacement level talent must have been worth 5 or 6 wins alone.

    That we still were 10th is a testament to the more productive members of that lineup.

  • mgbode

    I root for Ohio State (I went to Case, so it’s not like they had sports I could watch), but I still find his act tiring.

    Actually, from what I have seen/read, I’m pleasantly surprised that I’m not the only one on this boat.

  • Harv 21

    sorry, now I get it, and agree. “Ohioan” is an afterthought classification for me, and non-OSU alumni Clevelanders doing the spell chant look like a lot LeBron in a Yankees hat to me.

  • Kevin Huyghe

    Yeah I was raised a Buckeye fan, always have been. Had I gone to a D1 school it might have helped, but I went to John Carroll, so not like we had sports either.

    I am a guy who is a huge Buckeyes fan, but I get tired of hearing “Hang on Sloopy” at every single sporting event in the state. I am not at a Buckeyes game, I am at an Indians game. So yeah, I hear ya, we don’t have to like him just because he’s a Buckeye.

  • nj0

    London Fletcher and Tom Arth disagree.

  • Steve

    Those four combined for a negative 1.5 WAR. Yeah, they stunk, at replacement level and below, but we may need to reevaluate what numbers for bad hitters in pitchers parks actually look like in todays game. Just, for example, the average OPS of a 1B today is .774, more than 100 points below the average OPS of a 1B in 2000, .881

  • Drew

    So Grady wasn’t a dynamic lead-off hitter?

  • nj0

    And Lillibridge… Canzler… Lopez… Laporta…. Donald….

    Just saying that we had a lot of negative WAR types on our roster all year long in 2012.

  • Kevin Huyghe

    Haha Touche. And of course, Don Shula.

  • bupalos

    I may just not know how managing works but I have a really hard time crediting Francona with the relative success of the starting rotation. No more than I’m blaming him for the human windmill that mark reynolds has become or for Ascab’s struggles.

    And yeah, there’s definitely more to fundamentals than bunting (though I consider Francona nearly pathological here so far). The Baserunning has been awful. Hitting behind the runner has been awful. Obviously holding runners has been bad, which you could say has more to do with Santana, but Francona has an option that would improve the defense (and the overall offense, as it turns out) that he chooses not to use. This doesn’t look like a very disciplined team to me so far. I just expected to like Francona more.

  • nj0

    Thanks for making me look up Grady’s stats only to get depressed at “what might have been”.

  • Steve

    Nine guys combined for -3.4 WAR, the Tigers had 11 guys combined for -7 WAR. Sometimes you run through a few scrubs at the end of your roster.

  • Steve

    Reynolds is what he’s always been, I’m not sure what you can put on Francona there. The baserunning is +6.1 runs according to fangraphs, sixth best in the league. Yes, we have faster guys, but the baserunning has been pretty good. I’d argue that more Gomes will just lead to more opportunities for Gomes to get exposed, he has a .567 OPS since the beginning of June, selective endpoints sure, but I’ll take the under on him maintaining his current OPS through the end of the year.

    This seems to be pointing out only the flaws, when, quite clearly, there have been many more plusses for this team over the last six months.

  • bupalos

    The point is I don’t really want to put anything “on Francona” as far as individual player success and failure. I’m kind of suggesting this line of “boy Francona has these guys playing so great” is a little oversold. If the rotation goes south, is he suddenly to blame? Managers get way too much credit and way too much blame. Most of the amalgamated team stats are dominated by the types of players you have. From Swisher not bothering to run out a nubber that the catcher waited to roll fair, to an epic stretch of not scoring anyone from second with no outs or third with one, I just don’t really see a team that is playing terribly smart baseball. And that I guess is one of the things I’m most confident crediting a manager with.

  • bupalos

    I’m not a big fan of WAR, it tries to do way too much. How Ryan Rayburn of the .908 OPS can have the same WAR as Nick Swisher of the .750 OPS is beyond me. I guess it’s because it’s not a really a rate but a total. But now that I look at it, I am surprised Swisher’s OPS is that high.

    Maybe I’m just reacting to the last few weeks. Just seems like it’s all Dr. Smooth, Kipnis, and some gutty pitching performances.

  • jaker

    If he was playing better I think you’d be fine with it. Like, if he was batting .290 and had 12-15 HR’s with 50 RBIs, I think you’d embrace it cuz he’s performing. That’s at least how I’d feel. It’s not like he’s Shelly Duncan, making league minimum and expected to be a pinch hitter. He’s NicK Swisher, and he’s making 14 mil a year. Celebration is fine, as long as you’re proving your worth

  • jaker

    BINGO… 1^

  • mgbode

    perhaps. I think it goes beyond the celebrating though. His general persona. Constantly using the term “bro” in speak, etc. It just irks me. but, I also once rooted for Albert Belle. so, you are correct that I’d probably just ignore the things that irk me if he was doing well enough.

  • Jaker

    LeBron’s dancing would be in that category as well, but since that was amid an MVP season, and the team won 60+ games, no one ever made it a big deal. I get that it didn’t happen as much as the Swisher thing, but one could argue its much more unnacceptable than the “bro” use or energetic attitude. Besides, its nice to have a guy that’s excited to be here and embracing Cleveland(seriously, when has anyone ever embraced Cleveland?) for once

  • Kildawg

    I agree but Giambi and Reynolds have the DH spot thoroughly covered this year. I think the plan for next year is to have Santana be the primary DH with occasional starts in the field (C/1B/maybe OF?). However, if Santana is primary DH, Gomes would need a backup catcher (technically 3rd catcher); hello Lou Marson.

  • woofersus

    That may be true, but there was an awful lot of underperforming in the second halves of the past two years – even moreso than there was overperforming in the first halves. Part of what the manager does is set the tone and keep the guys level and ready to compete. There was also a whiff of dysfunction in the clubhouse at the end of last year, and Francona is a guy players love to play for.

    I get that the performance on the field still comes down to player talent and player performance, and the offseason expenditures certainly had something to do with that, but even though you can always point to things that seem to not be managed well, I think we’re improved in more areas than you’re giving credit for. Baserunning hasn’t been bad at all. Strikeouts have stranded some guys, and you can criticize some of those decisions, but last year we hit into a ton of double plays and played almost zero small ball. It may also be my imagination as I don’t have time to do research right now, but I think holding runners has been better than last year too.