April 17, 2014

Searching for perspective on the 2013 Indians

what-if-we-die1For all the bluster in Cleveland about stick-to-it-ive perseverance, we’ve become fairly adept at pre-baking narratives of defeat into our sports fandom. Each year, and in every sport, we eventually get ourselves to the same point: The recognition that the team we are watching is not good enough, and that we should’ve seen it sooner than we did. Sucker-punched yet again by training camp kool-aid and spring training storylines. Repeat this loop of failure long enough and you get a group who is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. We replace hoping for the best with fearing for the worst with plain old awaiting the implosion. To be fair, we usually get it, so at least we look prescient when all’s said and done.

In football, there’s the mid-October mass-realization that—despite the biennial front-office and roster makeover—we are again watching what is essentially a five-win team.1 In the NBA, there’s the initial bargaining of “but this is only the second-third first year after Lebron left” coupled with the notion that “if only that guy who always gets injured didn’t get injured we could be a .500 team!” But eventually the reality sets in that the team is still at least another year and star away from anything resembling competence.2 And in baseball, we’ve been let down by the Indians in one way or another every year since at least the 1994 players strike, though we could certainly go back further if we felt like it. The Indians’ failures—both the nationally televised heart-crushing ones like blowing the World Series or a three-game lead in the ALCS as well as the banality of their recent August swoons—have become a part of us. It’s not if they’ll blow it, but how and when.

[Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. I used to live on West Ninth St. and, week after week, I’d sit on my balcony and watch the fans leave the stadium. Week 1’s, “Hey, they’re not half-bad!” turns into Week 6’s “I was right—they’re all bad!” pretty quickly. Hey, at least everyone was drunk! []
  2. This is to say nothing of the failures leading up to and including The Decision™. []

Indians 6, White Sox 1: You can bring your green hat!!

That's So RaburnI didn’t get to watch the Indians sweep the White Sox on Thursday afternoon.  In fact, I only got to hear a little bit of it between meetings, so rather than give you a traditional blow-by-blow, I thought we’d talk about a few big takeaways as the Indians extend their win streak to eight games and come roaring into August with sole possession of a playoff spot.

Justin Masterson is looking pretty ace-y. I’ve written on more than one occasion that our rotation is somewhat unique in that it has a lot of good pitchers, but no great ones.  Most teams have a descending rotation wherein, perhaps, the second best guy is 10% worse than the ace and so on.  I’ve argued that the Indians effectively have five (or six or seven) starters who are all completely capable, above average pitchers, but none of whom can dominate.  In other words, I’ve argued they are “aceless”.

But I may be changing my mind, because Justin Masterson is slowly reinventing himself this season, and you’d have to be willfully blind not to see it.  [Read more...]

Indians 6, White Sox 5: ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

Carlos Santana - Dejak AP8:08 PM – It’s far too late to consider this a live blog recap per se. I remember the salad days of this Indians team, back when I could count on the starting pitching being so terribly inefficient that I could sit down an hour or so into the game and we’d be in the top of the second. No more—not with this staff and not with Corey Kluber throwing darts. So what’s good news for the rotation is inevitably bad news for my ability to live-blog. I tend to think this is more than worth the tradeoff for most of you.

Whatevs. We pick this one up in the bottom of the fourth, with the Indians up 1-0 over Jose Quintana and the White Sox. Kluber is looking sharp, at only 42 pitches through four scoreless innings.

8:13 PM – Aviles, getting the start at 3B, is on first with one out, and Brantley rips a double to right center. Aviles comes around to score to make it 2-0 good guys.

8:28 PM – Much has been made over the last few days of the July 31st trade deadline, and I suppose that if I’m good for anything, I should drop some #HOTTAKES into this recap.

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The Indians and the 2013 Trade Deadline: Decisions Abound

Asdrubal CabreraThe end of July is fast approaching, which means the Indians and Chris Antonetti are once again embroiled in boatloads of trade speculation.  We’ve gone through years where we were clearly “sellers” (2008 and 2009) and years in which we ostensibly found ourselves “buying” (2011).  There’ve been relative hits and misses along the way, but regardless of the strategy that a given season has dictated, it’s become fairly clear that our front office views the July 31st trade deadline as a prime opportunity to impart its vision and direction on the franchise.

Perhaps more than any team in baseball, ours has been shaped by trades.  Consider this: Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Asdrubal Cabera, Mike Aviles, Michael Brantley, Drew Stubbs, Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes were all acquired on the trade market. That’s five competent-ish starting pitchers, a closer, a setup man, two above average catchers, an All-Star shortstop, two serviceable everyday corner outfielders and a quality utility guy.  I’m not going to check this, but I’d be surprised if you could find another Big League roster so littered with trade acquisitions. 1 [Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. Of course, let’s pause to remember why the Indians have had to rely so heavily on the trade market: their drafting and (to a lesser extent) their international scouting have produced sub-par results.  You might suggest that this problem has been solved, and we’re on the right track with Brad Grant’s regime. Forgive my skepticism: in his five or so years at the helm, armed with copious high draft picks, he’s produced exactly one good player (Kipnis) and one legitimate prospect (Lindor).  I understand these things take time, but I’m going to withhold the beatification for another few years if that’s ok with you. []

Trevor Bauer’s Troubles

Trevor BauerYou can forgive me for missing Trevor Bauer’s most recent start.  I left work a little after 5:00 PM on Friday, and by the time I was home Bauer’s day was done and the longest doubleheader in the history of Major League Baseball (sans extra innings) was underway.

Of course, we shouldn’t mistake the brevity of Bauer’s outing for effectiveness.  He pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowed six hits, five runs, two home runs, one walk and one hit batsman while striking out no one.  He faced 10 batters and threw 49 pitches before being removed, nearly 40 minutes after his first pitch.  In a move that seems to me odder with each passing day, Bauer eschewed his windup for the start, choosing to throw only from the stretch.  From postgame interviews, it seems that Francona had not been entirely aware that this was going to happen.  The whole thing was as train-wrecky as things like this get, at least in games the team ends up actually winning.

Bauer came to Cleveland as part of the deal that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds last winter.  It would be fair to say that, for a system as starved for starting pitching prospects as Cleveland’s, Bauer was the biggest part of the deal—no disrespect to Drew Stubbs.  The Indians desperately need him to become a meaningful part of their future rotation, and that last start wasn’t such a great sign. [Read more...]

Indians Add “Brohio” Section to Progressive Field

Seriously BROSEPH! You got NO IDEA how BADICAL this is gonna be! For you.  For ME.  FOR EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE O-H……….

EYE-OHHHHHHHHH!!!!!1111one1!!

Dude, if you can’t tell, I’m stoked like a frickin STOKE MACHINE!!

What happened is that while we was rakin’ mad wins all up and down the skizzy-schedule—it’s a skizzy-schedule I RESPECT, AND WANT TO PLAY FOR—what happened is that my homeboyz Marky S and the Funky Bunch (GET IT??) up and decided that we was gonna out-and-out RENAME a section of the ballpark, Bro-diddley!! 

From Fridays henceforth to every Bro, Brian and Bilbo Baggins, we gonna flat-out REFER to section 117 as THE MUTHA-TRUCKING BRO-HIO!!!!

MLB News: Clint Frazier makes pro debut, named BA High School Player of the Year

On the day Tribe top draft pick Clint Frazier makes his pro debut for the Arizona League Indians, he gets even more good news. Baseball America has named Frazier their 2013 High School Player of the Year.  The award’s recent winners include Bryce Harper (2009), Mike Moustakas (2007) and Justin Upton (2005).

Frazier hit .485 with 17 home runs, 45 RBIs and 22 stolen bases for Loganville High (GA) before becoming the fifth overall pick in this month’s Rule 4 Amateur Draft.  The Indians secured him on June 15 with a $3.5 million signing bonus.

According to Frazier’s twitter account, he will be batting lead-off in tonight’s game against the Arizona League Brewers.

So yeah.  Pretty good day, all around.

[Related: Indians shoot for the stars with potential-laden Clint Frazier]

Indians 4, Royals 3: Deserve Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Do With It*

HOMER_Santana8:12 PM – Much like Homer’s epic poetry, I’m making a habit of starting these recaps in medias res. Let us pretend that this is a literary gesture toward gravitas rather than a byproduct of a life that frequently intervenes.

Regardless of the cause, I feel that there is some good fortune involved here—good fortune for me, I mean—as I can just copy and paste snippets from Monday night’s recap. The fortune for the team hasn’t been nearly so hot. For instance, just as they did last night, the Royals have another strong pitching performance going while, just as he did last night, Carlos Santana continues to audition convincingly for a position change.

Ubaldo Jimenez has not been remotely sharp, but two more wild pitches past an inept Santana resulted in a two-run third inning for the Royals. The Indians haven’t been able to put together anything resembling a credible threat against Royals starter Ervin Santana, whose no-hitter against the 2011 Indians already seems to be hanging heavy.

So here we sit, heading to the fifth inning with the Tribe trailing 2-0. Muses of Musial: Sing to me of the slow slide of summer. Sing of the disaffection and dissolution of defeat. Sing of the North Shore, and the misery therein.

[Read more...]

Indians 1, Royals 2: Bullpen and Defense Spoil Carrasco’s Gem

Chuck Crowe/PD8:02 PM – The way Carlos Carrasco has been pitching of late, I figured starting a liveblog recap an hour into the game would put us roughly in the bottom of the first inning.  But you know what they say about assumptions in the Bible, don’t you? (It’s against it.)

Anyway, Carrasco is working on a perfect game into the fifth inning, while his counterpart James Shields is looking pretty good himself. This game is approaching its halfway point and we’re scoreless.

8:05 PM – Welp. There goes the perfecto.  After retiring the first 13 Royals he faced, Carrasco gives up a hard-hit single to Lorenzo Cain to right.  Jinxety-Jinxy-Do.

That said, Carrasco is looking sharp—pitching on both sides of the plate with good separation and command.  I mentioned this to Craig on Sunday, but I find it odd how quickly the rotation seemingly has been converted from contact-groundball types to power-strikeout-flyball guys.  Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir, Carlos Carrasco and Zach McAllister are all guys who get it up in there in the mid-90s and induce lots of swings and misses.  We’ve come a long way from 2009, when Jeremy Sowers had the single worst swinging-strike rate of any pitcher in Major League baseball.  In fact, let’s look a quick chart of the Indians starting pitchers over the last five years. [Read more...]

Michael Brantley and the Wait ‘n See Approach

brantley22As surprising as the Indians off-season spending spree was, I still think the club’s basic strategy is unchanged: develop a young core of players internally and dip into free agency when you need it.  It just so happened that they needed a lot of help this past off-season, and there was a bit of a perfect storm of available money, available talent, and a protected draft pick.

More often than not though, that sort of approach isn’t going to happen here.  Mostly, the team is going to have to sink or swim with players who come up through the system.  That’s why, of course, they have to draft well and lead the way in the international amateur market—to make up for what will often be paltry free agency spending.

And while developing good major leaguers is a wonderful thing, it’s also nice to have a front office that has some strategy for keeping them beyond their first six or so seasons (MLB players cannot elect free agency until they’ve served six years).  The Indians teams of the 1990s were largely built around GM John Hart’s ability to lock up his young talent beyond those first six years, and it’s become clear that Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro learned their lesson.

The problem over the last several years hasn’t been that the Front Office doesn’t recognize the sound strategy of locking up young, core players to affordable contracts; it’s that there just haven’t been a lot of players worth investing in.  After all, do you want a cost-controlled Matt LaPorta for the next five years?  How about Lou Marson for a few million?  Maybe I could interest you in a late-model David Huff or Jeremy Sowers? [Read more...]

Weekend Recap: Bizarro-Tribe Drops Two to Rays

Jason GiambiThe Indians lost two of three to Tampa Bay Rays this weekend, which really isn’t all that interesting until you stop to notice exactly how they went about it.

We should have known that strange times were in store on Friday evening when, after being delayed by two hours, the Indians allowed the game to begin before succumbing to a second rain delay just ten minutes later.  Perhaps this was the plan of the crafty Tribesmen, thinking that their starter, Corey Kluber, wouldn’t be able to match up against the Rays young ace Matt Moore.  Perhaps the Indians thought they had a better shot throwing their bullpen against that of the Rays, who are sporting an ugly 4.25 ERA on the season, good for 13th out of 15 AL teams?  Get both starters out early, and steal game one with a strong bullpen effort?

Except the Indians don’t really have a good bullpen this season.  [Read more...]

Indians 7, Reds 1: We Did It, You Guys. The Ohio Cup is OURS!

Scott KazmirAs you’ll certainly note, this is neither a TD-recap nor a live-blog recap, which means we’re treading in dangerous, deep and foreign waters. In an attempt at brevity and concision, allow me the crude crutch of numerically ordering my thoughts on the Indians 7-1 victory over the intrastate Reds last night.

1. Of the game’s 17 half innings, only one deserves any specific mention: in the bottom of the fourth, the Indians did something pretty fascinating. Here’s the inning:

  • Asdrubal Cabrera hit by pitch (0 outs)
  • Nick Swisher strikes out looking (1 out)
  • Carlos Santana singles; Cabrera to second (1 out)
  • Mark Reynolds strikes out swinging (2 outs)
  • Michael Brantley singles; Cabrera scores (2 outs)
  • Yan Gomes singles; Santana scores (2 outs)
  • Ryan Raburn doubles; Brantley scores (2 outs)
  • Michael Bourn doubles; Gomes and Raburn score (2 outs)
  • Jason Kipnis singles; Bourn scores (2 outs)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera doubles; Kipnis scores (2 outs)
  • Nick Swisher flies out (3 outs)

That’s six consecutive two-out, RBI hits, accounting for all seven Indian runs. I don’t feel like looking up the last time that happened, but it seems likely to me that this is somewhat rare (Editor’s note: It is rare. Very rare). Also notable that Nick Swisher made two of the innings three outs. That guy really sucks, huh?

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Carlos Santana’s Coming Out Party

Carlos-Santana1You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you who the best hitter in the American League has been so far this year. 1

(Oh.  You should probably read the last footnote if you care about how we’re defining “best hitter”.)

Anyway, the best hitter in the American League so far this season has been Miguel Cabrera, and if that surprises you then you should come over here so I can hit you in the nose with my ballpeen hammer.  For the last decade, Cabrera has enjoyed a sustained and consistent excellence that has only been bested  in my lifetime by Albert Pujols’ reign in St. Louis and the late-stage Barry Bonds. 2

[Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. We’re going to define “best hitter” using a stat called Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+).  Basically, we’re park- and league-adjusting a player’s value, using linear weights.  If you like wOBA (and if you don’t you’re a communist), then you should love wRC+. []
  2. I know and you know that Barry Bonds took great big barrels full of steroids.  But let’s go way back in time here.  Let’s go all the way back to 1992, back when Barry Bonds looked more like Sammy Davis Jr. rather than Dwayne Johnson.  From 1992 to the end of his career, guess how many times Barry Bonds had an OPS below 1.000.  Go on, guess.

    Ready?

    Once, in 2006, when it was .999.  One year out of 16, and it was still excellent.  A .999 OPS would currently be good for 10th place in all of baseball—and that’s the worst year of Bond’s 16-year stretch. That guy was freaking amazing. []

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.

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MLB Video: Mark Reynolds Destroys Baseball, Spits, Stares, is Cool(est)

Last night Mark Reynolds got hit near the head by a Jarrod Parker pitch in the first inning.  It didn’t make him happy, so he did this to a baseball later in the evening:

Reynolds called the home run (and we can assume the subsequent stare down and bat flip) the “coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

Oh inDEED.

Mark Reynolds and His Missing Strikeouts

reynoldsslamThere were not many sure things coming out of this off-season.  Maybe Michael Bourn would age gracefully or maybe he’d become Juan Pierre.  Maybe Justin Masterson would wrangle some control and be a front-end option or maybe he’d fall apart with his ongoing struggles against left handed batters.  Maybe Jason Kipnis would take the next step to developing into a power-speed second baseman or maybe he’d languish with a sub-.720 OPS for two straight years, reminding us all of that Josh Barfield jersey we burned last decade.

But one thing we were all sure of: Mark Reynolds would strike out.  A LOT.

Among players with more than 1,500 plate appearances, Mark Reynolds led the known universe in strikeout percentage from 2009-2012, managing to K in nearly 33% of his plate appearances.  Over that four year span, he struck out 790 times in just over 2400 plate appearances—averaging just a hair under 200 Ks per season.  The only other player to strikeout in more than 30% of his appearances was Adam Dunn, who could at least make up for his whiffs with a remarkably patient batting eye (15.2% BB-rate, compared to 12.7% for Reynolds). [Read more...]

MLB News: Still No Timetable for Michael Bourn’s Return

Lost in the shuffle of the Indians’ offensive prowess over the last few games is that they’ve been doing it without their table-setter and $48 million man, Michael Bourn.

Bourn suffered a lacerated finger after being unceremoniously trampled on by White Sox reliever nearly three weeks ago.  After hitting the DL and eventually having his stitched removed last week, Bourn is evidently still not ready and there is no timetable for his eventual return.  According to Jordan Bastian, he has not yet been cleared to take batting practice either.

Drew Stubbs has been manning CF in Bourn’s stead, and has a .253/.315/..361 line.  That’s not great, but so long as the middle of the lineup hits like they have been, no one’s going to notice much.

Indians 3, White Sox 2: Where there’s a Bro, there’s a Way

Swisher and Giambi8:01 PM – I just learned that today is Terry Francona’s birthday. Hours before, I heard that it’s also Jack Nicholson’s birthday. What a small world!  I can only imagine the fun those two might have at a birthday party together, what with all of the chewing tobacco and nubile feminine attention.  Sounds like a good time.  You know what else sounds like a good time?  Live blog recap!  That’s what.

8:45 PM – Speaking of young ladies, my four month old daughter has occupied the last 44 minutes of this recap, giving me a look of suspicion that I can only interpret as: I know that you have no milk, Dad. And I’m going to hold that against you until I’m thirty-seven.

In the midst of my insufficient parenting/lactating, the Indians managed to scratch across a run in the top of the second on a flare off Lonnie Chisenhall’s bat that scored Jason Giambi from second.  The White Sox followed suit in the bottom of the second with a leadoff HR from Conor Gillaspie, who is not, as I assumed, a fictional pub owner from James Joyce’s Dubliners, but a real-live Chicago White Sock with a uniform and everything.

After 2 innings, it’s 1-1 and I’m still getting back in the saddle. [Read more...]

Turning the Masty Corner?

Justin MatsersonI am sort of obsessed with Justin Masterson.

Every year, whether he has a difficult April (like last year) or a fabulous one (like 2011) I find myself poring over his stat line to see if anything remarkable has changed.  More often than not, I end up concluding the same thing each year: he’s a good pitcher who—as most non-strikeout pitchers do—relies heavily on the random distribution of his batted balls.  The things he can control—like strikeouts, walks, and to some degree home runs—suggest that he’s a completely competent starting pitcher.  Not one who you’d necessarily call an “ace”, but not someone who belongs in the bullpen as so many people preached back in his miserable 2010 campaign.

And now that he’s off to another great start (3-0, 0.41 ERA), I figured I’d check again, just to see if anything looks a bit different over these first 22 innings of 2012. [Read more...]

Setting the Lines on the 2013 Indians

Nick SwisherIt’s almost here, you guys.  One more day.  But before each new Indians season starts, I like to indulge my crippling gambling addiction by setting fake lines for the Tribe and then wagering fake money on one side or the other.  Last season, I broke about even, but much like the team itself, I think this year will be different. TD will have a more organized set of predictions tomorrow from the whole gang, but for now, let’s make some fake prop bets.

169.5 Team Home Runs – Believe it or not, hitting 170 home runs would likely still result in a below average performance in the American League.  Last season, eight of the 14 AL teams hit at least 175 HRs, led by the Yankees with 245.  The issue, of course, is that the Indians were woefully under-resourced from a power perspective last season, launching only 136 long balls as a group—with 28 of those coming from players who are no longer on the roster, in Shin-Soo Choo (16) and Travis Hafner (12).   After losing those two, is it reasonable to think the Indians will boost their home run total year-over-year by 40? [Read more...]