July 28, 2014

Zach McAllister adds a slide piece to his repertoire

Zack McAllister

While Spring Training just kicked off a few days ago, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many of the Cleveland Indians players took very little (if any) time off since being bounced out of the 2013 Postseason last October. The latest story comes in the way of Mickey Callaway, the team’s miracle-working pitching coach, and Zach McAllister, who has apperently added a few new arrows to his quiver.

From Indians.com’s Jordan Bastian:

Zach McAllister went home over the winter in search of a strikeout pitch. When the Indians right-hander arrived to Spring Training, he brought a new slider with him.

At the suggestion of Cleveland’s coaching staff, McAllister went to work over the offseason on adding a slider to his repertoire. The goal of the pitch, which essentially replaces the inconsistent cutter he featured last season, is to give the Tribe starter a more reliable weapon for hitters to chase.

McAllister is a lock for the Indians’ starting rotation. Along with Corey Kluber and Ubaldo Jiménez, the 26-year-old was one of the feel-good stories of 2013, providing a  3.75 ERA in 134 1/3 innings. Though hampered by a mid-summer finger injury, his first and second halves were almost identical, allowing opposing batters to produce a .325 wOBA.

If there is much in the way of down side to the towering righty is his penchant for fly balls (41.4 percent, with an incredibly lucky HR/FB ratio of 7.5) coupled with a low swinging strike rate (7.1 percent). If the slider is as good as Callway says it is—”It looks really good.”—then there’s a possibility that these two red flags could be lowered. If these two red flags are indeed lowered, the Indians may have themselves one solid middle-of-the-rotation arm for the upcoming season.

Just another one of the many storylines to watch as the Countdown to Opening Day ticks on.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

My Cleveland Sportsman of 2013: Mickey Callaway

Mickey Callaway, miracle worker (Associated Press)

Mickey Callaway: Not a miracle worker, but pretty darn close
(Associated Press)

Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year is an annual must-read. Given that the national recognition rarely has anything to do with the teams or individuals whom we cover. In turn, WFNY will soon announce its choice for 2013′s Cleveland Sportsman of the Year. Here’s one of the nominations for that honor by an WFNY writer.

[Read more...]

Indians take a flier on injury-prone starter Shaun Marcum

shaun marcum mets brewersShaun Marcum alone is not a game-changer. But with relatively little possible cost and minimal team risk, the Cleveland Indians just added a bit more upside to their 2014 roster.

Yesterday, the 32-year-old former Milwaukee Brewer and Toronto Blue Jay reached agreement with the Tribe to compete for the open No. 5 rotation spot. Marcum has struggled to stay on the mound for years, but if he can stay healthy, he could beat out some of the other competitors in spring training.

With the move, suddenly, the Indians now have become the posterboys of the offseason minor-league deal. Scott Kazmir’s storybook 2013 season is the ultimate best-case example of a former-ace-turned-reclamation-project. Again, there’s no knowing whether Shaun Marcum could be the next such comeback player. But as a fan, but you’d hate for it to be with a different team and there’s no way to truly find out unless your squad is the one making these low-risk moves.

[Read more...]

Starting rotation an unsolved long-term mystery for Indians

ubaldo twinsWhat a season for Cleveland Indians starters. After posting the American League’s 13th best staff ERA back in 2012, the Tribe turned it around magically this year en route to the playoffs, jumping all the way to the AL’s sixth best ERA.

Not many could have predicted that success, probably not even much-applauded pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Yet, after the team’s season ended abruptly last week, it’s worth noting that the composition of the 2014 rotation is now up in the air.

There are two likely-to-be high-priced free agents, one impending free agent after next year and a collection of still-yet-unproven youngsters and inexperienced veterans. Who will step up? What will the rotation look like? What moves are necessary?

Heading into 2013, it was assumed that the Indians would pick up a starter on the free agent market. They did so in the form of $7 million for Brett Myers, but that proved to be a disaster: Myers actually managed to have a -0.6 WAR in just 21.1 innings pitched.

With the below list, I count five likely starters for the Tribe as they begin the season: Masterson, Jimenez/Kazmir, Salazar, Kluber and McAllister. That would be maintaining the same list as this season, provided they can re-sign one of the two free agents.

But Trevor Bauer has to get consistent MLB duty at some point. What will the long-term status be of Carlos Carrasco or Josh Tomlin? Is there anyone else in the minors? And is it actually plausible for the team to re-sign just one of the two free agents? Let’s go name by name.

 

Justin Masterson
Turns 29 in March
Made $5.69 mil in 2013; likely to be $8-10 mil for 2014
Free agent eligibility after 2014 season

The de facto team ace is likely to return to starting duties for 2014. He had success out of the bullpen down the stretch, but that was due to his return from injury. The biggest long-term question mark is whether the Indians will be able to afford him past next year. He’s set to make a nice raise through arbitration.

Ubaldo Jimenez
Turns 30 in January
Made $5.75 mil in 2013; likely to receive $10+ mil offer
Free agent eligibility after 2013 season

Jimenez (finally) pitched like an ace over the last few months of the season. That will only make him more difficult to keep in a Tribe uniform. Some will say Jimenez owes the Indians front office for turning his career around, but unfortunately, that’s not how the open markets operate. Assuming he wants it, he’ll get at least four years and $50 million elsewhere.

Scott Kazmir
Turns 30 in January
Made league min. in 2013; likely to receive $6-8 mil offer
Free agent eligibility after 2013 season

The more affordable free agent option for the Indians would be Kazmir. He was a reclamation project this season, signing a deal just to join for spring training before making 29 starts and striking out 162. He’s not an ace, but a guy most organizations would love to have as a strikeout-prone lefty. My guess: $15 million over two years to stay in Cleveland.

Corey Kluber
Turns 28 in April
Continues to make min. salary
Arbitration eligibility after 2015 season; free agent after 2018

As we discussed in Friday’s roundtable, the development of these next two starters are key for 2014. Kluber was a big surprise this season, jumping into the rotation and dominating for three months. But an August injury set him back to end the year. Indians have to hope he can recover that success and stay in the rotation.

Zach McAllister
Turns 26 in December
Continues to make min. salary
Arbitration eligibility after 2015 season; free agent after 2018

Two full seasons, 46 starts, ERA of 3.99. Another impressive yet relatively inexperienced starter, McAllister also wasn’t great down the stretch. He wasn’t the same pitcher after a six-week injury absence in June and July. He seems to be a fairly reliable No. 4 or No. 5 starter, but won’t be a huge difference marker.

Danny Salazar
Turns 24 in January
Continues to make min. salary
Arbitration eligibility after 2015 season; free agent after 2018

The up-and-coming Salazar supplanted the guy below as the team’s best pitching prospect. He went from Double-A prospect to playoff game starter in one season, just like 1997’s Jaret Wright. Hopefully Salazar’s next few years are brighter however, thanks to the Indians’ watchful eye throughout the season. No questions asked, just let him go full throttle now.

Trevor Bauer
Turns 23 in January
Continues to make min. salary
Arbitration eligibility after 2015 season; free agent after 2018

Remember this guy? The perhaps too-eccentric-or-maybe-ground-breaking prospect? He had a 5.29 ERA in four Cleveland starts and a disappointing 4.15 ERA in 22 starts for Columbus. The statistics are brutal: 73 walks, 106 strikeouts and 119 hits in 121.1 innings pitched. Those are Triple-A No. 5 starter stats. I’d assume he stays in Columbus to start 2014. He’s not ready yet.

Carlos Carrasco
Turns 27 in March
Made $0.5 mil in 2013; likely to be $1 mil for 2014
Free agent eligibility after 2016 season

All the evidence you need: 9.00 ERA in seven starts, 1.32 ERA in eight relief appearances. With the likely departure of Joe Smith out of the pen, Carrasco can slip into a long-term long-relief role and perhaps some sixth-inning duties. That will keep his cost low and perhaps harness his innate strikeout ability.

Josh Tomlin
Turns 29 in October
Made $0.5 mil in 2013; likely to be $1 mil for 2014
Free agent eligibility after 2016 season

The Little Cowboy appeared in only one Cleveland game this season as he recovered from August 2012 Tommy John surgery. He’ll have the offseason to fully recover, potentially returning into a bullpen role as well. It’s also possible that he doesn’t return to Cleveland, considering the lack of available innings.

 

Conclusion: So there you go, nine possible starters and a whole lot of questions still yet unanswered. I’m sure there will be more discussions on available free agent starters over the coming months, just like we had last season. Almost all of these players have had long-ish periods of major league success. Now it’s just a matter of money and composition as 2014 preparation begins soon.

As I shared earlier in the week, my optimism isn’t high. Jimenez’s emergence was a key reason for Cleveland clinching a playoff spot; my odds are probably 75-80% that he’s elsewhere next season. Kazmir would be a nice returning candidate, but who knows how much his value is right now. Then, Masterson’s upcoming availability also casts into doubt how much the Indians are willing to break the bank.

In the end, Bauer and Salazar have to develop as future leaders of a rotation. If that can happen, which certainly is a possibility, then the Indians are in much better shape with a back-end led by Kluber and McAllister. But the young guys could need to step up soon.

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfel

All of the Indians tweets after the AL Wild Card loss

Sometimes, sports are tough. A perfect example would be Wednesday’s gut-wrenching 4-0 loss by the Cleveland Indians at home in a one-game do-or-die playoff game. As we wind down the team’s incredible run to a 92-70 record, I felt it was appropriate to recap some of the team’s best tweets over the past few days since that loss. Hope you enjoy and that this makes you even more pumped for 2014.

The Tribe’s pitching coach got it all started shortly after the game ended with this quick post. [Read more...]

The Diff: Reviewing stats on the surprising 2013 Indians

The Diff is your weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I wrote on the varying playoff odds formulations. This week, I’m revisiting many of my stats comments about the Tribe in 2013.

The Diff

Today is Sept. 25 and the Cleveland Indians have over 80 percent odds of making the American League playoffs. Yes, that’s likely as one of two Wild Card teams, but all that matters is just making it into the postseason. Dating back to the advent of the Wild Card system in 1994, home teams are only 316-271 (.538) in the playoffs. That means it’s still very much an incredible toss-up in the probable one-game playoff that would take place one week from today, regardless of location. [Read more...]

The Diff: Building the Cleveland Indians’ 2014 rotation

The Diff is your weekly Wednesday WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, The Diff covered a trio of topics related to Cleveland sports. This week, it’s time to focus on the Tribe’s starters.

The Diff

Entering 2013, the starting rotation was said to be the biggest weakness for the Cleveland Indians. While many still expected the team to at least finish around .500, it was in question whether the starters would possibly improve upon a third-to-last 5.25 ERA in 2012. Now 70 games into the much-hyped season, there have been some more mediocre results with lots of intriguing storylines on the rotation’s future composition. [Read more...]

What will we see next from mercurial Tribe rotation?

Justin Masterson against BostonEntering the 2013 season, the consensus weakness of the Cleveland Indians roster was its starting rotation. While Chris Antonetti had gone out and significantly boosted the offense — throwing out four-year deals and making small moves for new bench guys — the starters remained mostly intact.

And coming off the 2012 season, intact probably wasn’t the best thing to do. Last year, the Tribe rotation ranked 13th in the AL with a 5.25 ERA. It was one of the main reasons for the team’s abysmal collapse from its similar 26-18 start all the way to a 68-94 final record.

Thus far, we’ve seen flashes of greatness from a moderately improved Indians staff. Some internal changes, such as the impact of new pitching coach Mickey Callaway, might be making a difference. But it’s also been a Jekyll and Hyde situation, often changing impressions of the team’s prospects any given day based on the starter’s performance. [Read more...]

Booooo-baldo – It is time to cut the cord

Ubaldo JimenezThe Indians series with the Boston Red Sox certainly didn’t lack for storylines. First and foremost, you had the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place just after the Red Sox Patriots day game with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox came to Cleveland with heavy hearts to face their old manager Terry Francona. Tito did put it out there right away – this series isn’t about him. But he has to want this one just a little bit more than the others. Then there is Ubaldo….

All spring long, the Indians brass would tell you how well Ubaldo Jimenez was throwing. Few believed it. Then in his first start of the season Jimenez bobbed and weaved his way through six innings for a win. He got the ball from Francona on Opening Day in Cleveland and reverted back into the Ubaldo we all know and…well I won’t say love. He couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning, giving up seven earned runs in front of 40,000 plus at Progressive Field. With the back to back rainouts last week, the Indians smartly moved Ubaldo back in the rotation, giving him a couple of extra days to work out the kinks with pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Again, we were told by the Indians that Jimenez had a “great side session” and would be ready for his next start. [Read more...]

On the 2013 Indians starting rotation and narratives

Ubaldo JimenezLast year, in spring training, I remember the WFNY crew was banging our heads against a wall trying to come up with Indians content. There ain’t no shortage of narratives and storylines this year. And that’s fun for everyone. Positives!

But today, I hope to tackle one specific topic from Jon’s “optimism” article earlier this week: the starting rotation. It’s a topic that divides a lot of fans’ and analysts’ opinions regarding the potential of the 2013 Indians. And while I know there could be millions of other arguments, I wanted to do a three-step piece today.

First, I’ll share an debate as to how exactly the Indians were “historically” bad in 2012. Then, I’ll share some intriguing narratives behind three of the starters. And finally, overall about narratives and the upcoming season.

This won’t necessarily be all stats-y, again, but that’s how it will start off for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts and expectations in the comments as well. [Read more...]