August 26, 2014

Tribe Weekend Recap: Brooms, Good Guys, and Great Pitching

David Murphy

Do I say the same thing every three weeks or so? Just when you think you are out, this team sucks you right back in. Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians are not the sexiest group, nor are they the most talented. Their starting pitching is essentially Corey Kluber, hoping for the best with two youngsters, then trying to limp past five innings with whomever is currently slotted fourth and fifth. The offense is extremely streaky and lacks power. The defense is the worst in the American League. They just traded their Opening Day starter and their starting shortstop of the past five years, a two-time All-Star. Sounds like a last place doom and gloom scenario doesn’t it?

I for one have been very critical of Francona’s in-game managing. He is far too in love with the bunt, his lineup decisions at times are head-scratching at times, and he overuses his main bullpen arms. All of this goes on without anyone uttering a negative word about him. Why you ask? Well the fact of the matter is that Tito is an absolute freaking wizard inside of that clubhouse. These 25 guys plus would run through a wall for Francona if he asked them to. He preaches playing the game with class and dignity and gives his players the leeway they need. At the end of his time in Boston, the veteran clubhouse began to tune him out and take advantage of his players-first mentality. It was time for him to move on. After a year off, he came to Cleveland as the perfect elixir to the combustible situation with the fan base and its distrust of the front office. [Read more...]

Watch Michael Brantley and David Murphy bring the Tribe within three of the Wild Card

brantley celebration

Despite the fact that the Indians didn’t make any trades that brought Major League starters to the club, they’re firmly in the Wild Card race. Thanks to Michael Brantley’s walk-off home run against the Rangers today, the Tribe are currently three games back.

Of course, the Indians wouldn’t have been in position at all without some heroics by David Murphy against his old club in the ninth inning. With the Tribe trailing by two, Murphy bombed a game-tying shot.

Animated: David Murphy nails Adrian Beltre at the plate

Murphy Rocket Arm 140801

In the second inning of Friday night’s series opener against Texas, former Ranger David Murphy did his old team dirty by gunning down Adrian Beltre with a one-hopper at home plate to end the inning and inherent scoring threat.

Beltre could’ve helped his case by running a bit harder from second base, but then again—it’s not wise to mess with Good Guy David Murphy.

Indians 17, Rangers 7: Chisenhall delivers a performance for the ages

Lonnie ChisenhallLast April, after a third consecutive awful start, I famously called for the Indians to cut the cord on the Ubaldo Jimenez experience. Pretty much from that point forward, Ubaldo turned back into the pitcher the Indians had hoped they traded for at the deadline in 2011. On April 2nd of this year, I wondered aloud if we had seen the end of Lonnie Chisenhall in Cleveland. The reverse jinx king may have struck again!

The Indians have given up too soon on prospects before, only to see them flourish elsewhere (Brandon Phillips and Jeremy Guthrie to a lesser extent). They have also stuck with prospects at times for too long after being burned by the Phillips situation (Matt LaPorta and Andy Marte). In additon, their first round drafting has left a lot to be desired since CC Sabathia was taken in 1998. [Read more...]

Tribe Weekend Recap: Bauer & Tomlin as saviors, Carlos’ triumphant return, and a major roster decision looming

Josh TOmlin

If the last three weeks taught you anything, it is that a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. In this space a short three weeks ago, I wrote that as Yogi Berra once said “its getting late, early” and that the Indians season was spiraling downward in an out of control manner. The starting pitching wasn’t cutting it, the offense couldn’t score in a whorehouse with a fist-full of $20′s, and defensively, the Tribe resembled the Bad News Bears. They sat 10.5 games out of first place in the AL Central behind the smokin’ hot Tigers who could do no wrong.

So now, here we are 21 days later and the Indians have crept over .500 for the first time since April 9 when they were 5-4. [Read more...]

Seahawks’ Russell Wilson to dress for Rangers against Tribe

russwils

Russell Wilson’s baseball career will live on, at least for one more day.

Wilson, a former second baseman who spent two years in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system before giving up baseball and pursuing a career in the NFL, will be in uniform  and in the dugout for the Texas Rangers during their upcoming exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians.

The Rangers, as you may recall, selected Wilson from Colorado in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft back in December. Texas essentially bought the rights to a Super Bowl MVP for what amounted to a $12,000 fee.

The team has not indicated whether or not Wilson will get an at-bat or not. He batted .229 with five home runs over 93 professional games up to Class A with Colorado before focusing on things like turning around a franchise and winning a Super Bowl.

MLB Free Agency: Shin-Soo Choo signs massive 7-year deal with Texas

We knew former Indian outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was due for a huge payday this offseason after playing last season with Cincinnati. We just didn’t know how big until rumors surfaced that Choo turned down a 7-year, $140 million deal from the Yankees. He signed a 7-year deal for $130 million with the Texas Rangers this afternoon, though Texas’s lack of income tax puts more money in his pocket than the Yankee deal would have.

Texas just signed a new cable agreement for $1.6 billion for the next 20 years. Seattle signed a similar lucrative deal, and it explains why these AL West teams have been two of the biggest spenders this offseason. The Rangers acquired Prince Fielder in a trade with the Tigers involving Ian Kinsler, and the Mariners have signed Robinson Cano, Corey Hart, and traded for Logan Morrison. The Indians’ deal pays that significantly less annually per Tony Lastoria.

Choo played in Cleveland from 2006-2012. He gets this outrageous free agent deal at age 31, having never hit more than 22 homers, stole more than 22 bases, or drove in more than 90 runs. Choo did hit .285 last season with a .885 OPS in Cincy last year in addition to being a 20-20 guy.

This will likely take Texas out of the big starter market, which leaves one less landing place for the big name starters left on the market, including Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez. The market is largely waiting for 25-year-old Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to sign, and everyone else will fall in line after that.

Related: Outman in – Tribe bullpen takes shape before the calendar turns

MLB News: Indians finalizing deal with free agent David Murphy

Texas Rangers outfielder David Murphy was a subject of some curious Twitter rumblings connected to the Cleveland Indians earlier on Tuesday.

Now, it appears there’s actually some weight behind the smoke: The Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant reports, via a source, the Indians are finalizing a 2-year deal in excess of $10 million with the 32-year-old veteran.

It’s a bit of a surprising deal for the Tribe, who already have over $30 million committed to outfielders Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Ryan Raburn for 2014. Incumbent right fielder Drew Stubbs is a potential non-tender candidate, as he’s expected to garner about $3.8 million in arbitration, per MLBTradeRumors.

Murphy has averaged 130 games for the Texas Rangers over the last six seasons. During this time, he’s averaged a .272/.335/.436 line with 1.7 WAR per year. He’s been primarily a left fielder and had by far his worst season in 2013, batting just .220/.282/.374 in 142 contests. He earned $5.775 million in his final arbitration season this past year. A lefty hitter, he seems to be a good fit in a time-share with fellow veteran Raburn in right.

About 10 days ago, Indians GM Chris Antonetti spoke about the team’s offseason and listed bullpen and a “complementary bat” as key areas of need. Of course, that also includes starting pitching as both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir are unlikely to return. That’s why it’s surprising the team splurged on another platoon outfielder as opposed to one of these other areas.

More likely than not, this spells the end of Stubbs’ tenure with the Indians. The team also had Matt Carson and others as potential backup outfield options, but they likely saw more versatility and dependability with the veteran Murphy.

[Related: Hudson to SF – What is the Tribe’s Plan B?]

MLB News: Rays beat Rangers 5-2, to play Indians on Wednesday

The Tampa Bay Rays held on to defeat the Texas Rangers 5-2 in a tiebreaker, advancing to play the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday in the AL Wild Card game at Progressive Field.

Despite a brutal umpire miscall that cost the Rays a run late in the game in Arlington, they held on with thanks to a final insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. Ace David Price, who seemed to perhaps be done after seven innings, was left in the game to toss the 118-pitch complete game. It’s the fourth playoff appearance in six years for Tampa Bay and manager Joe Maddon.

Third baseman Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer, a double and a single in the victory. Delmon Young and David DeJesus contributed the other two RBI. Meanwhile, the loss completed an epic decline for the Rangers, who started September with a 2-13 stretch before catching fire to finish the regular season tied with the Rays for the second Wild Card spot.

Tampa Bay is expected to toss right-hander Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA) against Cleveland’s Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA). Cobb held the Indians scoreless in his only 2013 game against the team this season, earning the win with a sparkling 7.1 inning performance in his first start of the season. The rookie Salazar has not yet faced the Rays in his 10-game MLB career. He was announced as the Wild Card starter following Sunday afternoon’s clinching victory.

[Related: When a Win is more than a Win]

WFNY Stats & Info: Indians playoff odds before the weekend

It’s officially now a three-team race for the two American League Wild Card spots. With the recent hot streaks by the Rays, Indians and Rangers, all the other would-be contenders have been left in the dust. There are now three games left in the regular season to decide what’s next.

Looking back in the past, here are the days I’ve updated the playoff odds here at WFNY: Sept. 7, Sept. 15, Sept. 16 and Sept. 23. I also featured how the different formulas are composed back in The Diff on Sept. 18. The website Cool Standings, linked below, has some fantastic historical data, too.

Baseball Prospectus: (link)
Rays — 97.8%, 91.7-70.3 final record
Indians — 67.1%, 90.6-71.4 final record
Rangers — 35.2%, 89.7-72.3 final record

FanGraphs: (link)
Rays — 97.2%, 91.8-70.2 final record
Indians — 81.5%, 90.7-71.3 final record
Rangers — 21.3%, 89.6-72.4 final record

Cool Standings (link)
Rays — 94.8%, 91.6-70.4 final record
Indians — 85.8%, 91.0-71.0 final record
Rangers — 19.4%, 89.6-72.4 final record

At first, I was a little surprised to see the Rays having 95-plus percent odds. Then I remembered: Oh, they have a two-game lead over the Rangers and a tie still gets them into post-regular season baseball. The only situation in which Tampa Bay misses out entirely: If they get swept, Texas sweeps and the Indians win at least two, as well. The odds are that, then, are probably close to 5 percent. Makes more sense.

As I’ve shared many times, Baseball Prospectus is the most pessimistic because it continues to rely heavily upon the preseason predictions from the PECOTA system. So the Indians-Twins matchup isn’t as much as a mismatch as this season has indicated on run differential, which is the sole influence in the Cool Standings’ formula. FanGraphs uses a hybrid of both approaches to come up with its odds.

MLB recently re-announced their tiebreaker policy for the American League Wild Card spots. Kirk wrote about the tiebreaker situations a few days back. The Indians formally opted to be “Club A” in the case of a three-way tie for the two spots, meaning they’d host a game in Cleveland on Monday for the right to play in Wednesday’s actual Wild Card game. A possible second tiebreaker game would occur on Tuesday.

[Related: Indians 6 Twins 5: Wahoos win again, but closer problem rears its ugly head]

WFNY Stats & Info: Indians’ playoff odds over 70 percent

With six games left in the season, the Cleveland Indians have reached a new high watermark in their playoff odds. The three major sites — Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs and Cool Standings — all agree that the team’s odds are more than 70 percent.

A week ago, after the previous four-game sweep over the Chicago White Sox, the team’s playoff probability was finally creeping up over 50 percent. With another four-game sweep in hand, the odds jumped up even more over the weekend.

Here’s where each site stands right now:

Baseball Prospectus: (link)
Rays — 90.1%, 89.9-72.1 final record
Indians — 72.8%, 89.4-72.6 final record
Rangers — 35.0%, 88.1-73.9 final record
Other wild card contenders — 2.1% (best: KCR 85.6 wins)

FanGraphs: (link)
Rays — 87.4%, 89.9-72.1 final record
Indians — 80.3%, 89.4-72.6 final record
Rangers — 29.9%, 80.0-74.0 final record
Other wild card contenders — 2.4% (best: KCR 85.7 wins)

Cool Standings (link)
Rays — 77.4%, 89.5-72.5 final record
Indians — 87.6%, 89.9-72.1 final record
Rangers — 28.6%, 87.9-74.1 final record
Other wild card contenders — 6.3% (best: KCR 86.5 wins)

Last week in The Diff, I featured how these different projection systems operate and why Cool Standings has been the most favorable for the Indians of late. In a nutshell, it’s because that season uses run differential from 2013 alone; the others incorporate preseason predictions from their complicated mathematical systems.

There’s also a very high probability of some ties, as FanGraphs’ site shows most prominently. Kirk had a good breakdown earlier today of what that could mean for the Indians and where they stand if tied with the Rays or Rangers for one (or more) of the wild card spots.

It should be a pretty fascinating race to the finish. The sites see Cleveland winning between 3.4-3.9 of their final six games against two of the AL’s worst teams — Chicago and Minnesota. Winning five mathematically guarantees at least a tiebreaker; winning four should just about do it as well.

[Related: Tribe Weekend Recap: Sweep of Astros has Tribe on cusp of playoffs]

The Diff: Looking at the Indians’ thriving playoff odds

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 about Chip Kelly’s arrival in the NFL. This week, I’m dissecting MLB playoff odds for the red-hot Indians.

The Diff

It’s no surprise now to Indians fans that the Tribe is on the precipice of being an AL wild card favorite. With the help of the lowly Chicago White Sox and some favorable weekend luck, Cleveland is right in the thick of things. While they remain only one-half game back of the both wild card spots, the more jaw-dropping stat has been related to the team’s mathematical playoff odds. But why do the different sites seem to differ so much? Let’s dive into each one. [Read more...]

See, it is not just a Cleveland Problem!

tropicanainprogressThere are now less than two weeks remaining in baseball’s regular season. October is just around the corner. Other than the NL Central, the division races have all but been decided.  The move to the second Wild Card last year was met with skepticism by some and applause by others. Those who oppose it find it ridiculous that the two Wild Card teams have to play one, winner-take-all game to advance to the League Division series where they get one day of travel and start a best of five series with two games on the road. I stand on the other side of the fence. I think the one-game Wild Card places a premium on actually winning your division. Why should a team that didn’t win its own division be on par with a team that took care of its own inner-division business? Plus, with MLB still going with a five-game ALDS and home field advantage in baseball usually meaning the least in any of the four major sports in the playoffs, the Wild Card winner should have to fight more of an uphill battle.

The American League Wild Card race is as wide open as any since the advent of the original expanded format in 1994 (There were no playoffs that year due to the strike, but ’94 was the first year of the three divisions in each league). Six teams are separated by two and a half games. Two monster series between four of the teams started last night and will help shape the final two weeks. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Indians’ playoff odds over 50 percent

What a weekend. With four straight wins over the Chicago White Sox and a boatload of help, your Cleveland Indians are suddenly one-half game behind both American League wild card spots.

With a fortunate schedule on deck, that leaves the Indians now as a near-favorite to grab one of the spots. Here are what popular playoff odds websites say about the Tribe’s current chances:

Baseball Prospectus (link) — 54.4%
FanGraphs (link) — 64.9%
ESPN (link) — 68.3%
CoolStandings (link) — 69.9%

As a brief note, FanGraphs and ESPN both use slightly altered methods related to CoolStandings’ season-to-date approach. That means they focus more on what already has happened with run differential thus far in 2013. Baseball Prospectus’ approach is much different. I’ll have more about this for The Diff on Wednesday.

Per CoolStandings, the Indians’ odds jumped over 40% with the four-game series against Chicago. Per Baseball Prospectus via MLB.com, that number was closer to about 35%. Both are still incredibly substantial changes for this late in the season. For both, Cleveland’s playoff odds are as high as they’ve been all year.

The Indians face off against the Kansas City Royals this week in a pivotal three-game road matchup. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays — the two teams tied for the wild card spots right now — play four in St. Petersburg.

[Related: Tribe Weekend Recap: “Its All Happening!”]

The Boots: Expressing hope for the Indians’ playoff chase

tribe15cut-02In my usual half-rapid fire, half-prose form, I’m back with another edition of The Boots. For those unfamiliar with this feature, I assign loosely defined “Boot Up” or “Boot Down” votes to trending sports topics. Today, I’m all about Indians optimism.

Boot Up: Wild Card odds – With a record 11th straight win over the White Sox on Saturday night, the Indians have catapulted into tremendous playoff position. They now have an 80-68 record with 14 games to go and trail by 1.5 games for both AL Wild Card spots, while leading by at least 1.5 games over the next teams.

Although the Indians have taken advantage of their easy schedule with an 8-3 run, they’ve also received some help from unexpected places. Texas is 2-10 in September, Tampa Bay is 7-13 in their last 20 and Baltimore is six games under .500 over the last seven weeks.

Add it all up and the Indians now have 37.7% playoff odds according to Baseball Prospectus. Those are their best odds since the infamous Detroit sweep in early August. Suddenly, these final two weeks of the season will be very interesting. [Read more...]

The Diff: Statistical thoughts on the Tribe’s outlook

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, I wrote about NBA conference imbalance and the East playoffs. Now, it’s time to get serious about the Tribe.

The Diff

I’m giddy about … Danny Salazar’s second MLB start tonight.

Starting at Progressive Field tonight will be the most prolific strikeout artist in minor league baseball this year. That would be 23-year-old Danny Salazar, back for his second gig in Cleveland. [Read more...]

Tribe Weekend Recap: Brooming the Rangers out of C-Town

Ryan Raburn

Man, I love this picture.

This Cleveland Indians team is amazing. There is no pegging them. Hasn’t been since the first month of the season and their certainly isn’t as we change the calendar to August this week.  Just think, back in April the starting pitching was a serious question mark after Justin Masterson, the bullpen was still strong, and Mark Reynolds was being mentioned as an AL MVP candidate. How times have changed. All of a sudden it has become bizarro world. The starting pitching is essentially carrying the club, the bullpen is a roll of the dice on a nightly basis, and the offense is super streaky.

This weekend the Tribe caught the Texas Rangers on a slide, which was perfect timing. The Rangers have owned the Tribe for the better part of a decade. However, they won two of three in Arlington in June and were welcoming a team into Progressive Field that had lost nine of 11. With the Browns opening up training camp in Berea this past week, this was a huge series for the Indians. Lose and/or get swept, and the city’s collective eyes could move elsewhere. Win and not only stay in the playoff hunt, but keep everyone talking Tribe instead of backup offensive linemen (which people will talk about anyways).

So what did the Tribe do? Oh, just sweep the Rangers right out of town with three exciting wins, highlighted by two incredible pitching performances and a walkoff homer. [Read more...]

MLB Rumor: Indians a potential fit for Houston’s Bud Norris

MLB Trade Rumors are in full swing this weekend, with the latest Cleveland Indians-related news related to a different (edit: former) National League Central starter.

With the Matt Garza sweepstakes likely ending soon with him heading to Texas, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports today that trade talks involving Houston’s Bud Norris have been heating up.

One of the potential fits for the 28-year-old Norris are the Indians, he tweeted, among several others vying for additional pitching help down the stretch. Crasnick reports that Norris is only making $3 million this year and won’t be a free agent until 2015. Thus, his team control is a vastly different situation than Garza, a higher-priced commodity who will also be a free agent this coming winter.

In his five-year career with the Astros, Norris is 34-46 with a 4.33 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. From 2010-2013, he ranks 39th in MLB with 107 starts and 44th with his 627.2 innings pitched. He had been having a career season thus far this year with a 3.22 ERA in his first 18 starts before allowing a combined 13 runs on 17 hits in just 10.2 innings in his last two outings, including last night.

Obviously, Norris is a starter in the No. 3-4 range for a decent team. He would provide depth, consistency, strikeout ability and long-term stability to any contending rotation. He does not have the high-end upside of a Garza, who is in the midst of his seventh straight season with a sub-4.00 ERA. Yet, a starter of his range and durability certainly has some value on the open market.

Is Norris a significant upgrade over the Indians’ existing options? The two weakest links in the team’s rotation actually have been doing better of late: Ubaldo Jimenez has a 3.42 ERA in 15 starts since April 29th and Scott Kazmir has a 1.95 ERA in six starts since June 21st. The rest of the team’s rotation, Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister, appears to be set in stone once the latter returns from the disabled list, perhaps as early as next week.

General manager Chris Antonetti and the Cleveland front office will have to decide shortly whether it’s worth pursuing a Norris-esque starter, or perhaps prioritizing other needs — such as a left-handed reliever that would have been helpful in Friday’s loss to Minnesota.

[Related: Tribe Trade Targets – The southpaw reliever edition]

MLB News: Manny Ramirez signs with Texas Rangers

Manny Ramirez signed a minor-league contract on Wednesday to return to North America America and play for the Texas Rangers.

The 41-year-old mercurial outfielder, who is one of the most prolific right-handed sluggers in MLB history, will work out for the team’s Triple-A affiliate before being activated in the next few days. Ramirez is a 12-time All-Star and ranks in the top-30 in several all-time career statistics such as OPS (9th, .996), home runs (14th, 555), runs batted in (18th, 1,831) and doubles (27th, 547).

In 2013, Ramirez had been playing for the EDA Rhinos of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. He was producing well, batting .352/.422/.555 with eight home runs and 43 RBI as the team’s designated hitter.

He last appeared in the major leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. When faced with a second-offender 100-game suspension for failing for a performance-enhancing drug test, he then retired from the game. The suspension was later reduced to 50 games as he signed with the Oakland Athletics last year, and he served his time before batting .302/.348/.349 in 69 plate appearances for the team’s Triple-A affiliate.

The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes had reported that the Indians were never in discussions this past offseason with Ramirez about him returning to the franchise and his former manager Terry Francona. That also was the case under former manager Manny Acta prior to the 2012 season.

“Obviously, with our history, we like giving guys second chances,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said to the media on Wednesday with the announcement. “We know on and off the field the good and the bad in Manny’s career. We’re inclined to give him an opportunity here.”

[Related: 15 Years Ago: The Team Of (Almost) Destiny]

Indians 5 Rangers 2: Kipnis, Ubaldo, and the pen lead Tribe to series win

Jason KipnisIt feels like forever since the Indians won two games in a row. Actually it was May 29th and 30th at home against Cincinnati. Last night in Texas, they had a chance to do it again and take some much needed momentum home with them after a brutal nine-game stretch against three of the top teams in the American League.

Arlington has been a house of horrors for the Indians over the past decade. But in their one visit this season, the Tribe pulled out the series with last night’s 5-2 win. The offense started to wake up a bit from their three-week funk. The starting pitching over the past two nights has been solid and we saw a throwback performance from the bullpen. All of it added up to a great end to a horrifically started trip.

Facing rookie Nick Tepesch, the Wahoos attempted to jump ahead early. Michael Bourn led the game off with a single to left. With two outs, he stood on second when Michael Brantley lined a sharp single to left. The speedy centerfielder raced around third and for some reason didn’t slide into home, instead attempting to knock the ball out of the glove of Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski. He was tagged out. But the two first inning hits set the stage for the rest of the evening. [Read more...]