April 24, 2014

Reliving Yesteryear: 1970 — The Curious Tale of Tribe Slugger Tony Horton (With Bonus Quiz)


“Wait, wait- stop. Whatcha got there?” The black borders were what caught my eye.

The young boy had been flipping through the clear plastic pages of his baseball card album, which now lay open. Sure enough- those were 1971 Topps cards. The boy had them sorted by team, much like I did back in the day. The photos of the Cleveland Indians players were familiar, as I had collected and began studying most of those cards during the winter following the 1970 season. There was Ray Fosse, the 1970 rookie catcher who hit cleanup most of the year. He was an immediate star, and would earn Indians co-Man of the Year honors with 20-game winner Sam McDowell. Duke Sims had been the previous catcher for the Tribe, and was now playing a lot of left field with the emergence of Fosse. He often hit fifth. Graig Nettles was the young third baseman. Very good glove; his bat was not fully developed although he was reliable enough to be the regular two hitter.

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Bourn, Bullpen, and Bitter Cold: Tribe edges Royals late

Bourn Hit 4/23/2014In a rotation where Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco are struggling mightily to the point of removal or demotion, the fact that Justin Masterson’s fifth start came and went with the team’s supposed ace remaining winless may be a snippet of catastrophic news. Rather, it only reinforced how worthless pitcher wins are as a metric on their own. Masterson turned in his third good start of the season against two poor ones. Add in Michael Bourn’s bat coming to life, the Indians coming through in the late innings in the clutch, and the sign-off from a better-by-the-day bullpen, and it amounted to a 5-3 win over the Royals.

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The Evolution of Michael Brantley

Kipnis and Brantley

As I have discussed in this space before, my estimation of Michael Brantley has not often aligned with those around me.  Where I saw a player failing to live up to his on-base pedigree, others saw someone with innate clutchiness.1   Where I saw a player who seemed to lose his base-stealing ability upon meeting better opponents, others saw a gritty gamer whose presence made the team stronger.  Where I saw a below average defensive center fielder, others were relieved finally to be rid of Grady Sizemore’s noodle arm.

Because I was so often on the opposite side of what I considered to be cock-eyed optimism, I was deemed a naysayer.  This, to me, wasn’t entirely fair.  As I’ve written several times, Michael Brantley is fine just the way he is.  He is something like an average, everyday baseball player in the best professional baseball league in the world. Players like that are really valuable, and Cleveland should know, after the disgraces that have been roaming left field since Manny Ramirez left town.  There’s nothing wrong with average and there’s nothing wrong with Michael Brantley.

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  1. Look, Brantley has been better in what has generally been termed “clutch situations”.  For the record, I’ve never argued that he hasn’t been.  For his career, Brantley is a .315/.386/.433 hitter with runners in scoring position. The question isn’t whether, heretofore, he has performed well in high leverage situations (even better than RISP, actually: .343/.409/.429).  The question is whether that sample of excellent performance is enough to convince us that what has happened in those clutch situations is repeatable, and not the product of randomness.  Brantley has had a total of 210 at bats in what Fangraphs deems “high leverage”.  That’s basically a third of a season.  Is it unreasonable that a career .277/.331/.386 hitter might have two months of numbers better than that?  Not to me, but we’ll fight about clutchiness another day. []

Royals 8, Indians 2: Salazar falls apart early once again

The Indians have a problem. I won’t sit here and sugarcoat it. To me, it is a big problem. Right now 40% of their starting rotation cannot be counted on. It is one thing to not be able to pitch deep into games. It is another when said 40% can’t get out of the fifth inning on a regular basis. It is even worse when one of the two starters is being counted on to be the future of the front end.

Right now Danny Salazar is a mess. A lot of expectation was bestowed on the Tribe’s right-handed phenom after he burst onto the season with 11 starts at the end of 2013. We all know about his high-90′s fastball and the devastating change-up that come from the same arm action. What we didn’t know was how the kid would respond to being anointed the next big thing in the Indians rotation.

After lengthy bullpen work with pitching coach Mickey Callaway and conversations with both Callaway and manager Terry Francona after his last start in Detroit, Salazar was hoping to emerge as the guy we saw come up and be an instant impact a season ago.  Instead, Danny did what Danny has done thus far – look great the first time through an order before losing it.

“The first three innings he was real aggressive,” said Francona. “He stuck some fastballs and off of that he threw some really powerful breaking balls.”

But then came the fourth. [Read more...]

Unsolicited Observations: Axford, the Pen, O-Woes, and it’s “Chiz Kid” time

John Axford nails down his seventh save

John Axford has the credentials. He’s a former All-Star and Rolaids Relief Man Award winner. He’s endeared himself to fans by letting the masses choose his entrance music and his mustache is the envy of all facial hair enthusiasts. Most importantly: He’s closing games. For a team whose closer imploded at the end of the 2013 season, that’s the only thing that counts.

Cleveland fans know the front office loves reclamation projects as much as TBS loves airing reruns of the Big Bang Theory. That’s why it’s never a surprise to see a pitcher come to the Indians whose star once shined bright for another team. Last season it was Scott Kazmir; this year, it’s Axford. The season is just 19 games young, but so far the experiment’s been a success. Axford is 7-of-8 in save situations, with a 3.12 ERA.

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Indians 4, Royals 3: Deep blasts, solid pitching and a squirrel help Tribe win

Nick Swisher

Last year it was the Rally Chicken. Is 2014 the year of the Squirrel? Twice during last night’s series opener with the Kansas City Royals, a squirrel interrupted play. Players and members of the Indians ground crew tried to corral the little guy who was eventually ushered off the field. “I was like, `C’mon over here and sit in my glove,” Nick Swisher said. “I thought maybe he’d sit on my shoulder like a parrot. I tell you what, that squirrel is eating, bro. That was a big squirrel.”

The squirrel gave some comic relief to a tense, close game that went back and forth, but was eventually won by the Tribe 4-3. It shouldn’t have been that close.

Let’s start with the positives. The offense, which sputtered most of the weekend, clubbed out 11 hits, but needed two long balls to do the damage. Facing ex-Indian first round pick Jeremy Guthrie, Michael Brantley once again provided the dramatics. He broke a scoreless fourth inning tie with a two-run homer to right. It was his second blast in as many days and his fourth on the year. Dr. Smooth has never been a guy known for his power, but he currently sits tied for third in the AL in homers (4) and is second in RBIs (18). [Read more...]

Tribe Weekend Recap: Poor fundamentals, RISP problems, Carrasco watch, and an Easter gift

Michael BrantleyThe weekend at Progressive Field did not go as planned for the home team. The visiting Toronto Blue Jays, with hordes of their fans on hand after making the four-plus-hour trek down from Ontario, took of three from your Cleveland Indians and may have come away with the sweep if not for a managerial blunder and one big hit from one of the few Wahoos who is actually hitting in the clutch. It was more of the the same from the team who has sputtered out of the gate. But as the Tribe’s most outspoken player, Nick Swisher, reminded us “We started last season 5-10. Lets not all jump off the bridge just yet.”

Manager Terry Francona held a team meeting before Sunday’s come from behind 6-4 win to refocus his group. “Nobody likes coming to the ballpark and having to look at your record when it’s not what you want it to be,” he told his team. “That’s just plain and simple. Saying that, I don’t want them dragging in here. It’s a new day. We need to make it be a better day. And then also, not look too far in the future. Just take care of today. If you do that enough, man, it always seems to work out.”

Whether or not it will light a fire under his team is up for debate, but Francona is as good as it gets inside that clubhouse. It was the right move at the right time. The Tribe’s fundamentals have been subpar for three weeks and it has clearly affected them. The good news is that we are 18 games into a 162-game season. Yes, they lost a home series, but the season is a marathon, not a sprint. [Read more...]

Bourn Identity: What’s going on with the Indians center fielder?

michael bournA massive debate broke out on Twitter at the end of Friday’s disheartening 3-2 Indians defeat. This time around, it wasn’t actually about attendance.

No, it was about Michael Bourn and his eventually failed bunt attempt. After red-hot Lonnie Chisenhall started the bottom of the ninth against the Blue Jays with a double, Bourn attempted to bunt twice and failed each time. On the 0-2 pitch, he struck out with a weak swing.

Was it the right decision to bunt when the Tribe needed just one run to bring the game into extra innings? Should Bourn be bunting at all? And what does this all have to do with WAR and the changing evaluations of baseball?

It’s all wrapped together in the way we think, talk and write about Michael Bourn, a 31-year-old center fielder being paid $13.5 million this season and a guaranteed $27.5 million more through 2016. He’s back in the lineup after starting the year on the DL. What should we expect? What’s next? [Read more...]

Tigers 7, Indians 5: Salazar’s implosion starts Tribe demise

Michael BrantleyWhat was thought to be a pitchers duel turned into something unexpected. The sun splashed afternoon at Comerica Park and Detroit had a much different feel than the frigid night before, but with Justin Verlander and Danny Salazar locking horns, the thought was that the fans in attendance would be in for a quick afternoon. What transpired was three hour and thirty-eight minute affair where neither starter pitched past the fifth.

For the first three innings, things breezed right along with Salazar and Verlander putting up zeroes. The Tribe’s phenom was actually better, setting down the first eight Tigers he faced. Offensively, the Wahoo offense continued where they left off a night earlier, leaving runners on base. A leadoff walk from Michael Bourn was wasted after Nick Swisher struck out and Jason Kipnis grounded into a double play. Two innings later, the Tribe really had Verlander on the hook. David Murphy started things with a walk, but a second double play ball – this one from Yan Gomes – erased that mini-threat. But Lonnie Chisenhall and Bourn both singled in front of a Swisher walk to load the bases. It was Kipnis’s chance to get the Tribe on the board, but he K’d on three pitches. He was clearly upset by an iffy first strike call from umpire Lance Barrett and told him so on his way to the dugout after the third strike. Barrett used an extremely quick hook, tossing Kipnis for the first time in his career. [Read more...]

Reliving Yesteryear: Cleveland Softball, Ted Stepien, and More Balls off Terminal Tower (Plus, a Quiz!)


Men’s amateur slow-pitch softball exploded in the 1970s. On any day of the week, teams could be found slugging it out on baseball fields all over the country.

Softball had been played in northeast Ohio for fifty years, and was part of the evolution of baseball in Cleveland. Like hardball, it could be played at a highly skilled level. Or, it could be played at a more relaxed pace.

Throughout the middle part of the century, Cleveland’s sandlots had been an important breeding ground of major league ballplayers. In the decades preceding team-sponsored minor league farm systems, teams represented factories, unions and various businesses. By the ‘70s, the sandlot fields had now become meccas for softball. Businesses and local taverns sponsored teams, both within the city limits and throughout the suburbs.

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Indians 3, Tigers 2: The Zach Attack delivers again

Zach McAllisterWhen looking at the Detroit Tigers compared to our Cleveland Indians, one distinct advantage sticks out for the Kitties – starting pitching.  The Detroit top three — Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez — would all be the Indians number one if they toiled in Cleveland. Rick Porcello and Drew Smily also dwarf Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco as a tandem. Thanks to Tuesday’s postponement due to freezing temperatures, the Tigers were able to skip Smily over the shortened two game set. Sanchez got the first crack at the Tribe last night with Verlander going Thursday afternoon.

Manager Terry Francona stayed with his normal turns, sending out Zach McAllister on a cold night at Comerica Park. The last time we saw Zach, he was dominant in a win against the San Diego Padres and if the Indians were going to win this one, a similar performance would be helpful.

The first inning had the look of a game that could be high scoring. Sanchez, who normally has impeccable command, walked the newly activated Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Jason Kipnis to start the game. A potential big inning was thwarted by Carlos Santana’s sixth double play ground out of the year. A run did score, but Sanchez got himself right off the hook. Carlos is locked in a 2-24 slump.

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The Tribe rotation and its (early) noisy signals

Danny SalazarHave you heard that it’s early yet and you shouldn’t make too much of small sample sizes?

Well, it is!  And you shouldn’t!

But not making a big deal out of stuff doesn’t pay the bills around here, so we’re going to do it anyway, suckers.

The Indians rotation has been, for lack of better phraseology, somewhat unique this season.  On the one hand, they’re striking people out like crazy: the Indians are the only AL rotation striking out more than a batter per inning pitched (9.87 K/9). That’s really saying something, considering where this rotation has been over the last several years.  From 2009-2012, the Indians’ starting staff had the second lowest swinging strike rate among starting pitchers in the American League and the worst strikeout rate (K%) in all of baseball over that same period.  The gradual progression of Justin Masterson, the breakout of Corey Kluber, and the arrival of Danny Salazar—not to mention the decision to go with Carrasco over Tomlin—have effectively transformed a group contact pitchers into a group whiff artists.  We can discuss some other time why I think this is a good thing, but for now let’s just agree that at least it’s not a bad thing. [Read more...]

On Asdrubal Cabrera, Francisco Lindor and wanting good things too soon


In life, we often yearn for what we don’t have. “The grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. It happens. We take for granted what is right in front of us. In sports, the same thing often plays out. Fans fall out of favor with certain players, wish for a former star to return, desire another team’s starter or hope for the highly touted prospect to finally arrive.

This is happening right now for the Cleveland Indians, and I just couldn’t take it any longer. It’s not really fair; fans are underrating the player that exists right now. And they’re forgetting just how young a certain prospect happens to be.

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South-praw-blem? On the Indians’ early struggles against left-handed pitching

Jose Quintana mowing down the Tribe

An early story-line in the 2014 campaign has been the Indians struggles with left-handed starters. In the last six games alone, the Tribe has seen Eric Stults, Robbie Erlin, John Danks, Chris Sale, and Jose Quintana all of the southpaw persuasion. In Detroit, they’ll see Drew Smyly on Wednesday night. With a 12-man hitting arsenal, the Indians currently house five hitters that bat only from the left side, yet they have amassed an OPS of just .623 against lefties. The Tribe has struck out more often against lefties (40 vs. 38) despite having 71 fewer at-bats. Is this an overreaction of some early season hitting scuffles or the exposition of a larger problem? Let’s dig into the numbers a little bit.

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Tribe Weekend Recap: Masterson’s ill-timed stinker, the Carrasco conundrum, Asdrubal’s impatience, and roster decisions

Jason Kipnis

The Cleveland Indians took two of three from the San Diego Padres and headed to Chicago for a four-game set with the team they owned last year, the White Sox. A 17-2 season-series was never going to happen again, especially with the off-season improvements the South Siders have made. We saw a lot of that this weekend with Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu looking like potential thorns in the side of the Indians for years to come.

After losing the first two, the Tribe took a see-saw affair Saturday 12-6 and looked to leave Chicago with a split Sunday. Corey Kluber gave the Indians a solid performance, but was touched up for an eighth inning solo homer to Marcus Semien which broke a 1-1 tie. But this Tribe team doesn’t quit. They came right back to get two off of closer Matt Lindstrom with the key hit by the hot-hitting David Murphy. But you have to get 27 outs to win a game, and the Tribe couldn’t close. [Read more...]

White Sox 7, Indians 3: Salazar impressive yet disappointing

Danny SalazarWell, that certainly was a weird game now wasn’t it?

On their way to 92 wins and a Wild Card playoff berth a year ago, your Cleveland Indians used the Chicago White Sox as their personal punching bag. The Wahoos beat the White Sox 17 times in 19 games, including the final 14 in a row. During that stretch, they had three walkoff home runs, two by then 41-year old part time DH Jason Giambi. But it is a new year, and the new look White Sox were out to show the Tribe that they weren’t going to be pushovers this year.

The way things started off early, it looked as though more of the same was coming. Along with many other members of the Tribe elite, I openly questioned why Terry Francona has continued to use Asdrubal Cabrera as his leadoff man against left-handed pitching. The Tribe’s shortstop has looked putrid at the plate thus far, making many pine for 2015 when top prospect Francisco Lindor will assuredly take over. Naturally, Cabrera led off the game with a double high off the wall in left. After a Nick Swisher walk, Jason Kipnis continued his torrid hitting in his home city with a single to left. The ball took an awkward hop and bounced off of the hand of left fielder Alejandro De Aza, allowing Cabrera to score. A second run would come home on Ryan Raburn’s sac fly. [Read more...]

Remembering Yesteryear: When Tribe players caught balls thrown off Terminal Tower


He commonly was shirtless while grilling chicken in the backyard with my dad. Not that it mattered, but the effect was natural. My barrel-chested grandfather had the deep, permanent tan of a man who’d spent a lifetime of summers out in the Ohio sun.

His hands were toughened from working the Geauga County farm for his disabled father. And then later in his Willoughby auto shop right next to Ohio Rubber, on Vine Street; business was good for the bright, self-taught mechanic who’d also been a factory worker in the 1940s during the war.

What drew others to him was his outgoing manner, and his one-liners. Of course, he likely ramped that up when grandchildren were around to provide the laugh track. An example was when a waitress- a perfect stranger- would seat us at a table. She’d introduce herself, and he’d look up and smile, “Do you still love me?” Typically, the waitress would ‘get it’ within a couple seconds and reply, “Of course I do.” We’d roll our eyes to our grandmother, who’d offer a light hearted smirk.

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Starting pitching excels in double dip split with Padres

Trevor BauerWhomever in the MLB scheduling department that decided having the San Diego Padres come to Cleveland for their one appearance in early April is a genius. Now seriously, who thought this was a good idea? Naturally bad weather postponed Monday night’s game, causing a traditional doubleheader to be played on Wednesday, which was supposed to be the Padres getaway day. It is the second time the Tribe has played a doubleheader this season, which is just a week and a half old.

The Indians sent Zach McAllister to the hill for game one. The last time we saw Zach, his command was a mess. He only could muster four innings, giving up three runs on six hits and four walks. After the first time through the rotation, I will admit McAllister was the guy I worried about the most. For the Indians to reach their goal of returning to the postseason, McAllister has to be very good.

Yesterday afternoon, he wasn’t just good….he was GREAT. [Read more...]

Behold: Nyjer Morgan 2.0

Photo In the fickle world where professional baseball players trade, Nyjer Morgan has everything going against him. He’s 33 years old. He’s on a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians, getting his opportunity thanks to a minor league deal, ultimately obtaining a spot on the big league roster solely due to an injury to the team’s every day center fielder. A season ago, he was taking left-handed cuts in Japan, but was sent to their equivalent of the minor leagues following a slow start. Domestically, he is known more for headline-producing antics and an alter ego named Tony Plush; both Morgan and Plush have worn out their welcome with several teams in Major League Baseball, including the one he helped lead to the playoffs in 2011. Nyjer Morgan may have very well been the 25th man to get his name carved into the team’s Opening Day roster, but here he stands, freshly showered following his team’s series opening win over the San Diego Padres, telling everyone within ear shot that he is as comfortable as he has been throughout his six years in the game.

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Indians 8, Padres 6: The Murph and Plush Show overshadowed by Pestano’s struggles

David Murphy

Raise your hand if you had David Murphy and Nyjer Morgan as Cleveland’s the two hottest hitters?


I will be the first to step forward and say that I wasn’t enamored by the signing of Murphy to a two-year deal this winter, especially coming off of his worst season as a regular.  He started the season 2-for-12 and looked bad doing so. But this early in the season, it only takes a game or two to get things right, and that is exactly what the 32-year-old right fielder has done. Murphy’s 4-for-5 Sunday got him going, and that carried right over into Tuesday night where he was the star of the Tribe’s 8-3 win over the San Diego Padres. [Read more...]