What can you say about the 2015 Cleveland Indians? They had their moments, sure, but to compare the end result to where we figured they would be in late September before the whole party began in April, leaves an almost unexplainable discrepancy.
When the front office pulled off the coup of landing Terry Francona, straight out of the ESPN broadcast booth in 2013, it was supposed to be different. When they pulled out all of the stops for Nick Swisher, and then signed Michael Bourn, under the RADAR, it promised to be a new day in Cleveland.
All three had grossly underperformed in Cleveland, and two of them didn’t last three full seasons. The third, Francona, was brought aboard by someone who opted not to stick around to watch it all crumble. It crumbled in Boston, but they had a couple of shiny trophies on the mantle to remind them of the good times. Progressive Field has only a painted grey flag with the numbers “2013” to show for all of they hype that came with the 2012-2013 off-season.
The 2015 season didn’t mean the arrival of too many new faces; the headliner of the group was Brandon Moss, but the former Oakland Athletic was damaged goods, and the Indians’ brass was all about the reclamation projects (see: Kazmir, Scott). Gavin Floyd and Jeff Manship decided to come along for the ride, joining the pitching staff. They didn’t figure to need a lot of new faces, as the familiar faces were supposed to carry this squad to a title, said the experts at Sports Illustrated.
After all, they had the reigning Cy Young winner, in CoreyKluber1no longer Hansset to take the ball on Opening Day, and pick up where he left off in 2014. Carlos Carrasco showed the accountants enough in the second half of the prior season, that the club decided to extend him 5 years. Trevor Bauer was expected to turn the corner this season, Danny Salazar was expected to bounce back from a sophomore slump of sorts, and Gavin Floyd was the big veteran the team needed to eat up innings at the back of the rotation every fifth day.
It turned out to be the rookie Cody Anderson, and not Floyd, due to completely foreseeable injury, that owned the 5th spot, after Bruce Chen and Shawn Marcum reminded everyone why they were available to anyone willing to give them a shot. Bauer had his glimpses, but finds himself in a battle with Josh Tomlin for a 2016 rotation spot, after Tomlin showed flashes of brilliance, but no consistency in 2015.
Those who did start on the bump, on a semi-regular basis, all flirted with no-hitters. Trevor Bauer was first, but it was early in the season, so he combined with the bullpen for about 8 innings in Tampa, before Nick Hagadone blew the no-no and the shutout. Kluber went 5 or 6 on multiple occasions. Cody Anderson went 5, to kick off a remarkable streak of games in Tampa for the rotation. It was during that stretch that Carlos Carrasco came closest to finishing the job, surrendering a hit with 2 outs in the 9th. Carrasco was on a nice run last Friday against the Royals’ taxi-squad, the night after they clinched their first division title since 1985. Unless it happens in the next four games, Len Barker’s 1981 perfecto against Toronto will remain the last no-hitter of any sort from Tribe pitching.
In a time when the city has moved on to the Browns and getting Johnny Manziel on the field, you could put the celebrity quarterback in the same bucket with the group that plays 81 games a year in the building a few blocks south of First Energy Stadium. You might love the snapshots, but have to understand there’s nothing sustainable, just yet.
Carlos Santana is a first basemen; his days of catching or playing third base have gone the way of the dodo. That might be more of a Yan Gomes thing than a Santana thing, but the effect was felt when Gomes’ season was put on hold in early April, and we entered the black hole of the Roberto Perez/Brett Hayes platoon offensively. The thing offensive about that duo is that fans took offense to the lineup card, but Yan couldn’t go between suffering an injury on April 11th and returning to the lineup in late May.
Arguably, Yan never got things going with the bat all, after a 1-for-4 outing on Opening Day. It was June 6th before he broke the Mendoza line, and his water mark in the batting average category was .237, after a 3-for-4 day in a home loss to the Yankees in August.
Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley had some lofty expectations set on them, and despite some really badly-timed slumps, they’ve given everyone everything they can honestly expect at the plate, when you’re looking at the big picture. The problem is, that can’t do it alone, and the players who manned the left side of the infield on Opening Day in Houston weren’t cutting in the field or at the plate. Eventually, the club understood the formula for insanity, doing the same shit and expecting different results, wasn’t going to work, with Jose Ramirez at shortstop and Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, though Chisenhall was reborn as an outfielder, a la Alex Gordon, in the minor leagues. There’s a definite “to be continued” happening there, so stay tuned.
Alas, we get the relatively unknown Giovanny Urshela up from the minor leagues to play third base, and not too far behind, but way too late for many die-hard Tribe fans, Francisco Lindor to play short. People who couldn’t pick the latter out of a lineup admired and pined for the services of Lindor in Cleveland. Going against the grain of everything not named LeBron James in Cleveland, Lindor has lived up to the hype, and should be named American League Rookie of the Year. In resetting a season that largely makes me frown, it’s all smiles when it comes to the 8th overall pick from the 2011 draft.
Lindor passes the eyeball test, even when he swings and misses. At shortstop, he turns into outs and fielder’s choices into double plays. While I liked Julio Franco, Omar Vizquel, and various stages of the Asdrubal Cabrera Experience, it’s fair to say this young man is one of a kind. He has fun, he takes instruction, and oh by the way, the numbers on the stat sheet are sexy as hell too. They’re not good for a rookie, they’re good for a baseball player. It’s all there in black and white.
The bullpen did some things, like suffer through CC Lee, Scott Atchison, and Anthony Swarzak outings. Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw didn’t look too bad on paper, but you always cringed when Tito called to the bullpen for their services. Cody Allen was able to stay the course for what he’s been over the course of his still young career, and he will continue to be the starter until he veers obscenely off course (see: Perez, Chris). Manship and Austin Adams seemed to be better with each appearance. We also saw some nice things from Floyd and Shawn Armstrong, but in very small sample sizes.
They sent Marc Rzepcynski packing at the deadline, when Brandon Moss and David Murphy were already gone. Due to their ability to clear waivers, Swisher and Bourn were moved after the traditional July 31 deadline. The moves brought back AAA slugger Abraham Almonte and the albatross contract of Chris Johnson in return; it’s very likely that neither are long-term options, but nice placeholders until the farm system develops recent draft picks a little more.
It was clear after a 7-14 April that this team was not World Series-worthy and the ceiling was reset from 94 wins to 83, and they will be very lucky to even reach that plateau. We’ll miss them anyway.
Rest in Peace, 2015 Cleveland Indians2…or play golf, fish, and have fun with your family. I’m just offering some parting words on the ball club. These players should enjoy their lives..
This is the second part of a series looking at the most interesting, meaningful and sometimes meaningless stats of Indians players. This time we look at our amazing pitching staff. For last week’s piece click here.
Corey Kluber: Kluber leads the majors in: WAR, strikeouts, strikes, strikeout to walk ratio, linear wights for his curveball (means he has the best curveball in the business), swing rate on pitches out of zone, swing and miss percentage, and is tied for the AL lead in losses. Plus he hasn’t been that lucky this year, his Batting average against on balls in play is really high and should go down.
Carlos Carrasco: Carlos Carrasco has a 4.35 ERA. This is mostly due to bad luck and poor fielding because his independent measures like FIP and xFIP are in the 2.8 range.
Trevor Bauer: Trevor Bauer is an interesting case. He is the only qualified starting pitcher on the Indians with a BABIP under .300 (.262). Hitters are only batting .208 against him which leads the Indians staff and is 14th in the nation. Hitters are also having trouble getting good contact against him. 25.9% of the contact hitters make against him have been soft contact which is second best behind Dallas Kuechel. The only issue is that he walks a lot of people.
Danny Salazar: Leads the majors in strikeouts per nine innings. Change-up has vastly improved and he now has the 4th best change-up in the league according to Fangraph’s linear weights model.
Cody Allen: Has been a good closer so far for us this year. His only problem is that when he puts a runner on, (which happens to often because of our poor defense) they score 35% of the time which is way too much for a closer his quality.
Zach McAllister: ZMac has been getting his fair share of criticism so far this year, but he truth is that he has been one of best relievers this year, posting a strong 2.93 ERA. Oh and that whole Zach McAllister only throws fastballs claims that I see on twitter whenever he pitches, is false. ZMac only throws his fastball 70.2% of the time which is 32nd among qualified relievers.
Nick Hagadone: Lefties are going .220/.279/.359 this year against Hagadone. Those numbers are exactly what you need from a lefty killer.
Bryan Shaw: Shaw has done well avoiding hard contact. Only 17% hitter’s contact against Shaw were hard contact. But three of the balls that were hard contact went over the fence for home runs.
Scott Atchison: Grandpa Atch has allowed more home runs this year than walks.
Mark Rzepczynski: 46.8 of the runners that are on base when Zep is up go on to score. This rate is very high for a reliever so hopefully that will improve.
Was the power of John Axford’s mustache powering the Indians bullpen last year? Is its absence this year explanation for the bullpens lackluster performance thus far? Hayden Grove and I discuss that and more on episode 15 of the Tribe Time Now podcast:
Kipnis and batting philosophy
D-day/throwing in the towel: when will it happen
Team building philosophy: How and why were the Indians built the way they were
The bullpen: what is wrong this year?
Marlins head coaching situation: it’s effects and what would happen in Cleveland
Don’t forget to join us Saturday, June 20th at Hoopples Riverbed Cafe for our first tweet up. Information can be found here.
In this week’s episode of Tribe Time Now, Hayden (Indians Baseball Insider) and Ryan (MTAF: Cleveland) explore the reactionary culture of #IndiansTwitter, the concept of defensive sabermetrics, what an error really is, and much, much more!
After extensive conversation and debate, the Indians get an A- on the off season upgrades and we conclude that, overall, the Indians expanded their fan base by increasing Progressive Field’s inclusivity.
Last night, I was joined by Stephanie Liscio (@stephanieliscio) of itspronouncedlajaway.com and we discussed a number of topics already present in this young 2015 season; the most prominent of those being the stadium renovations at Progressive field.
In addition we discussed the following:
Wednesday’s game: CLE:4 CHW:2
WP: Bauer | SV: Allen | LP: Danks
Lonnie, Sands, Bourn collect two hits a piece
Great bullpen outing
Jerry Sands: Where does he fit on the roster?
Roberto Perez: More than meets the eye
Stadium renovations: Thoughts and analysis
The corner, mezzanine
Kids club house
Detroit: Transitioning to collect a lot of hits over the long ball?
Injury round-up: Yan, Dr. Smooth and Carlos Carrasco
With baseball’s All-Star Weekend coming to a close the second half of the season is set to get underway on Friday. For the Cleveland Indians, the first half of the season was a roller coaster ride culminating in a somewhat disappointing 47-47 record. They are 7.5 games back of the division leading Detroit Tigers and 3.5 games behind in the AL Wild Card race. The first half of the season consisted of both a six game winning and losing streak, some unexpected surprises and a couple major letdowns. Here is part one of a two part Cleveland Indians midseason review.
Despite some preseason concerns that the Indians didn’t add much offensively (aside from David Murphy) the offense has actually been pretty good so far this year. As a team the Indians are 7th in the league in runs scored (417), 11th in batting average (.255), 10th in on base percentage (.323), 10th in slugging percentage (.397) and 13th in batting average with runners in scoring position (.252). While he has cooled off, the aforementioned David Murphy started the season off strong – batting .269 through the month of May. While he only hit .185 in June Murphy has started to pick it up again, batting .250 for the month of July. Murphy has also been reliable with runners in scoring position. On the year he is batting .362 w/RISP with 39 RBI. Yan Gomes has also been reliable for the Indians as the regular catcher. He’s hitting .261 this season with 12 home runs, 36 RBI and 37 runs scored. While he started off shaky behind the plate he has been a reliable backstop as of late, with only 2 of his 11 errors coming after May 7th.
While Murphy and Gomes have been good, they haven’t been the offensive stars for the Indians this year. Those honors belong to Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley. After losing his starting third base job to Carlos Santana in Spring Training, many wrote off Lonnie. Prior to the season I hadn’t been a Chisenhall supporter, but earlier this year I wrote that losing his starting job at third might actually work in his favor since this would allow him to focus solely on batting. Whether or not this was the case isn’t important, what is important is that Lonnie has started 70 games this season (51 at third base) and appeared in 79 games. While he has made 13 errors (all coming at third base) he is hitting .328 on the season with 9 home runs, 41 RBI and 39 runs scored. While it may still be too soon for “I told you so’s” yet, Lonnie appears to be on the right track to realizing his offensive potential. Speaking of realizing potential, Michael Brantley has elevated his game to another level this year. The lone Tribe All-Star (aside from Terry Francona), Brantley is hitting .322 on the year with 15 home runs (career high), 63 RBI, 63 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. This year Brantley has hit well against righties (.343) and lefties (.275), with no outs (.318), with one out (.358), with two outs (.289) with runners in scoring position (.360), w/RISP and two outs (.278) and in basically every other situation that is possible. He’s also only made one error in the outfield. Michael Brantley has easily been the Indians best player in 2014 and, while he probably won’t win it, should be in the conversation for the American League MVP award.
The Indians pitching staff has also had a few bright spots. All-Star snub Corey Kluber has been the Indians most reliable starter this year. In 20 starts he is 9-6 (the only Tribe starter with a winning record) with a 3.01 ERA. In 131.2 innings of work Kluber has struck out 142 batters and only walked 32. He has a 1.20 WHIP and the opposition is batting .251 off of him this season. He hasn’t been perfect all year and he isn’t a Cy Young candidate, but Kluber has been the MVP of the Indians starting rotation this year.
The Indians bullpen has generally been good this season. Tribe relievers have a collective ERA of 3.08 (8th in the league), have struck out 304 batters (3rd), have a WHIP of 1.25 (9th) and the opposition is only batting .230 against them (8th). All of these numbers come despite being third in the league in innings pitched (309.1). Notably, Cody Allen has been lights out for the Indians this year. In 46 appearances (41.2 innings pitched) Allen owns a 2.16 ERA. He’s struck out 55 batters and only walked 16 while the opposition is batting a measly .194 against him. Allen also has 12 saves in 13 opportunities. Less talked about, Bryan Shaw has been almost as good as Allen. In 45 appearances (43.1 innings pitched) Shaw has a 2.70 ERA. He has stuck out 44 and walked 26 while the opposition is only batting .230 off of Shaw. Lastly, credit should be given when credit is due. While Carlos Carrasco was a nightmare as a starter he has been extremely reliable out of the bullpen. In 19 appearances as a reliever (33.1 innings pitched) Carrasco has a 1.62 ERA. He has stuck out 31 batters while only walking 6 and has a WHIP of 0.84.
While the Indians overall might be frustrating to watch this year, especially considering their .500 record, they’ve played extremely well at Progressive Field. They are 29-19 and have the 6th best batting average in the league (.266) at home.
While they have underperformed so far, the Indians are 8-4 and haven’t lost a series in the month of July so far this year. Key players struggling early in the year have started to show signs of life. After a dreadful start, Carlos Santana has been showing some pop in his bat. Nick Swisher is also batting .289 in the month of July. Whether or not this is an anomaly will only be determined by time.
Click here for part two of the Cleveland Indians midseason review: the bad and the ugly.
The Cleveland Indians are currently 4-3 coming into today’s double header against the San Diego Padres (2-5) and currently sit in second place in the AL Central, a half game back of the division leading Detroit Tigers (4-2). Despite losing a series to the Minnesota Twins, overall the Indians seem to be carrying some positive momentum from Spring Training (where they went 20-9) to the regular season. The last time the Indians had a winning record through the first “week” (seven games) of the season came in 2011. Not that this is necessarily any indicator of how the season will go, but it’s always good to get off to a positive start. Despite the winning record, it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses for the Indians. There were some concerns about this club before the season began that are, so far, proving to be real on the field. Here is a look at the good, the bad and the ugly so far for the Indians.
The Indians are managing to score runs late in their games to get wins. So far on the season the Indians offense has scored 34 runs, 19 of those coming in the 6th inning or later. The Indians have a batting average of .321 from the 6th inning onward, including a .429 batting average in the 9th inning. They are also batting .406 when the game is late and close.
Some key platoon players are immediately making a positive impact for the team. While Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn are struggling offensively in the early goings (both hitting .154 in 13 at bats), Nyjer Morgan, David Murphy and Lonnie Chisenhall have all been making their presence felt in the lineup. Morgan, who has been the starting centerfielder while Michael Bourn continues to rehab his hamstring, has been a sparkplug at the top of the batting order. Morgan is batting .389 with a .520 on base percentage. In his 27 plate appearances (18 official at bats) he has seven hits, has drawn six walks and has stolen a base. He also hasn’t made one error in the field (although he may have misplayed a ball or two). While Morgan has been a pleasant surprise for the Indians thus far, Lonnie Chisenhall is doing his best to stay in manager Terry Francona’s good graces. Chisenhall has recorded a hit in every game he’s played in so far and is batting .400 in his 15 at bats on the season. A couple weeks ago I wrote how Lonnie losing his grasp on the starting third base job might be for the best as it would allow him to focus on hitting. So far, that has proven to be true. Lastly, David Murphy has also been a positive contributor to the Indians lineup. After a slow start to the season Murphy has really turned it on, going 6-8 in his last two games for the Tribe. Murphy has also done well hitting with runners in scoring position, batting .429 with a home run and 6 RBI.
Overall, the Indians bullpen has done a good job in relief. Tribe relievers have a 3-1 record so far this season and in 26.2 innings pitched have an ERA of 2.70 (8th in the league). The opposition has a batting average of only .208 (also 8th) and they are tied for 4th best in strikeouts with 31. Cody Allen, Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw, Josh Outman and Marc Rzepczynski have combined to pitch 18 innings of scoreless baseball. Closer John Axford has had some late inning dramatics but has converted all three of his save opportunities and has a 2.70 ERA in 3.1 innings pitched (four games).
A major concern for the Indians 2014 season was the starting pitching, and the first seven games for the Tribe have done little to dispel the notion that this would be an issue for the team. The only Tribe starter with an ERA under four is Danny Salazar (one start, 3.18 ERA in 5.2 innings pitched). Justin Masterson (two starts, 10.2 innings pitched) has a 4.22 ERA, Carlos Carrasco (one start, 5.2 innings pitched) has a 6.35 ERA, Zach McAllister (one start, 4 innings pitched) has a 6.75 ERA and Corey Kluber (two starts, 9.1 innings pitched) has a 7.71 ERA. The staff as a whole has a 5.60 ERA (27th in the league) with a 1.78 WHIP (worst in the league) while the opposition has a .324 batting average (29th in the league). The first inning specifically has been a major issue for four of the Tribe’s five starters (Masterson excluded). Kluber, McAllister, Salazar and Carrasco have combined to give up 8 earned runs in 5 innings in their first inning of work so far this season, which is an ERA of 14.40. It’s one thing to start rocky on occasion and then settle down (they haven’t) but regularly putting the team in a hole early can be the kiss of death.
Coupled with the shaky starting pitching, the Indians are failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities. A big reason for last season’s success was the Indians ability to get hits and score runs with runners in scoring position. Through seven games this season that has not been the case. While they are 8th in the league in runs scored with runners in scoring position (with 29), the team as a whole is batting .205 with runners in scoring position (21st in the league) and only .129 w/RISP and two outs (25th in the league). It’s hard to believe that the Indians will keep being able to score runs while hitting so poorly with runners in scoring position. This must improve for the Indians to be successful.
The bullpen was mentioned earlier as a positive for this team, but not everyone has been pulling their weight. Vinnie Pestano, who today was optioned down to Triple-A, has been a dumpster fire on the mound for the Indians this year. In his three appearances, Pestano has allowed eight hits, four earned runs (six runs in total) in 2.2 innings of work. This all adds up to a 13.50 ERA and a 3.38 WHIP with the opposition posting a .500 batting average against Pestano. This is coming off of a 2013 season where Pestano posted a 4.08 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP in 35.1 innings pitched while the opposition had a batting average of .274. Unless something really turns around for Vinnie, this may have been the last we’ve seen of him in an Indians uniform.
Asdrubal Cabrera has been awful offensively for the Indians so far this year. Cabrera, who is coming off of his worst season as a pro (.242 batting average in 2013) is only hitting .130 in 23 at bats for the Indians. Those asking last season if Cabrera will be traded are now demanding his departure from the team. It doesn’t help Cabrera’s cause that minor league short stop prospect Francisco Lindor is hitting .333 through five games with Akron and was with the Indians for Spring Training this year. Whether it’s to increase his trade value or help the team win games, Cabrera must figure things out at the plate.
The Indians have managed to post a winning record in their first seven games of the season despite having a negative run differential (35 runs allowed vs. 34 runs scored). While some of the early concerns surrounding this team (mostly the starting pitching) have been proven true so far, it’s unfair to abandon hope seven games into the season. That doesn’t mean issues should be ignored, but they will be of greater concern if these same problems are still being discussed by Memorial Day. After all, the Indians are still 4-3 despite these concerns.
With the Cleveland Indians 2014 season right around the corner (their first game is 3/31 in Oakland) the Opening Day roster is starting has taken shape. These Indians will look to build upon a successful 2013 campaign that they feel was cut short after losing their one game Wild Card playoff game to Tampa Bay. The catchphrase this season seems to be “Unfinished Business”, but will the Indians be able to follow through on this claim? There are several factors that will determine whether this team will be 2014 playoff contenders or just a letdown (see the 2008 Cleveland Indians). With all that in mind, here is the Cleveland Indians 2014 season preview.
The success or failure of the team will likely start and end with pitching, specifically the starting rotation. This is a rotation that lost Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency and, for all the success of last season, is a rotation littered with question marks. Starting at the top, Indians ace Justin Masterson is in the last year of his contract and despite his (reported) willingness to take a pay cut to stick around, extension talks have stalled. Masterson has said this won’t affect his concentration for the 2014 season but that remains to be determined. He posted career bests last season in wins (14), shutouts (3), strikeouts (195) and WHIP (1.20) while notching a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings pitched. Masty did all of this while receiving an average of only 3.52 runs per game, 15th lowest among qualified starters last season.
The concern for the rotation is less with Masterson and more with everyone else. Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco make up the Indians starting rotation after Masterson. Combined, they have all pitched fewer innings in their careers (782.1) than Masterson (1013). This inexperience is a major concern. Last season McAllister and Kluber were borderline starters to start the season. Salazar’s name was hardly brought up and Carrasco was looked to be brought along throughout the course of the 2013 season. Now all four are going to be relied upon heavily to guide the Indians towards the playoffs. While this isn’t an impossible task (McAllister, Kluber and Salazar did have some success last season) an increased role and more innings does not always translate positively. As was the case last season, the starting rotation will have to overachieve for this team to have success.
For Carrasco, this might be his last chance as he is out of options and has failed to live up to expectations since being acquired in the Cliff Lee trade.
Carrasco edged out Josh Tomlin to win the last starting job available in the rotation. Tomlin will begin the season in Triple-A, which might be for the best as he continues to shake the rust off after missing all but one game of the 2013 season (Tommy John surgery). Trevor Bauer will also join Tomlin in Triple-A as he continues to try and figure out how to get his skills to translate to the big league level. Veteran Shaun Marcum will open the season on the disabled list at the Triple-A level, but should his rehab go successfully don’t be surprised to see him in an Indians uniform, especially if Carrasco (or another member of the rotation) struggles. The 2013 season was a disaster for Marcum, but he has a career ERA of 3.88 with respectable K/9 and BB/9 ratios (7.3 and 2.7 respectively). He could act as the veteran presence in the rotation and, if healthy, could be a solid end of the rotation pitcher. Should Carrasco struggle early (or throw at somebody else’s head) and Marcum is healthy, expect to see the veteran in the rotation before the All-Star break.
The Tribe bullpen consists of some familiar faces with a couple new names sprinkled in. Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Vinnie Pestano will all be a part of the Tribe ‘pen. They will be joined by Blake Wood, Scott Atchison, Josh Outman and new closer John Axford. Last season Indians relievers did a respectable job, finishing the season with a 3.62 ERA (19th) while the opposition had a batting average of only .239 (9th best). Still there is room for improvement as Tribe relievers gave up 221 walks (4th most) in 516.2 innings pitched. Terry Francona and (Tribe Pitching Coach) Mickey Callaway will be hopeful that Axford can lock down the closer role, Pestano can bounce back from a disastrous 2013 and that Allen and Rzepczynski can continue to be reliable middle relievers. As with the starting rotation, the Tribe bullpen has talent, but that talent has question marks.
Despite hitting only .255 as a team last year, the Cleveland Indians had a very productive offense. They finished in the top ten in runs scored (745), doubles (290), home runs (171), on base percentage (.327) and slugging percentage (.410). The Indians are actually in a position to put up similar numbers this season as they didn’t really lose anybody to free agency from their lineup. Despite not signing another marquee bat (unless David Murphy gets you excited) the Indians will likely have the same or similar lineup we saw late last season. Jason Kipnis will look to build upon an All-Star season last year. As I wrote about previously, Michael Bourn (once healthy) and Nick Swisher will look to improve upon last season’s numbers. With expanded roles in the offense, Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes hope to provide similar production. Despite all of this, one key stat will continue to be paramount for this offense.
In addition to the previously mentioned top ten numbers the offense posted in 2013, they were in the top ten in both hitting with runners in scoring position and hitting with runners in scoring position and two outs. The Tribe offense finished 9th and 6th in these categories respectively. The Indians don’t have a .300 hitter in their lineup, the closest thing to that coming in the form of Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. Knowing this, the Indians will have to rely upon timely hitting. Last year 564 of the team’s 745 runs came with runners in scoring position, 231 of those coming with runners in scoring position and two outs. They hit 43 home runs and 80 doubles w/RISP; being able to repeat that success will be as important as the starting rotation overachieving.
Quality depth was also key for the Tribe offense. The “Goon Squad” played a large part in the success of the team. New squad members this season in the form of Nyjer Morgan, David Murphy and Elliot Johnson will hopefully give Terry Francona a similar spark off the bench. Keep an eye on Lonnie Chisenhall as well. Chisenhall made the opening day 25 man roster, but not as the starting third baseman. That job now belongs to Carlos Santana. Francona made it clear that this is not a platoon situation, although it’s expected that Chisenhall will see some time at third base. As it stands now, the DH spot looks to be somewhat of a platoon situation. Now that Lonnie won’t have to focus on defense as much, keep an eye out for him to possibly become the teams regular DH. Chisenhall made it this far with his reputation of being a good hitter. While that hasn’t translated all that well in the big leagues so far, perhaps just focusing on hitting could be the key to unlocking his talents. In 52 at bats this spring, Lonnie is hitting .308 with 2 home runs, 2 triples, 8 runs batted in and 8 runs scored. If those numbers can translate to the regular season Francona will have no choice but to put his bat in the lineup regularly. With Santana having defensive success at third base (so far), that spot could be DH for Lonnie.
Despite some questions with the pitching staff, this team has the ability to duplicate their success from last season. The Detroit Tigers could take a step back this season with the trade of Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander showing he is in fact mortal. The Kansas City Royals actually lived up to their expectations (for a change) last season but are far from a runaway favorite. The Indians should be able to compete within their division as well as for one of the two AL Wild Card spots (hush hush Kenny Lofton). Predicting another 90+ win season for a team that lacks a true power hitter and has questions in the rotation is difficult. Look for the Indians to finish in the 84-87 win range and compete for a post season spot.
Everything is debatable. Well, almost everything. It started with a discussion over “Free Hat”, the ridiculous and mostly misunderstood cause on South Park, which started as a crusade against Hollywood producers bastardizing their own work, but ended with an angry mob successfully freeing a man who killed infants. It was par for the course for South Park, but properly illustrated that almost nothing can be a unanimous decision any more.
We can’t even get banish Steelers fans in Northeast Ohio, how can we agree on what the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers should do? Clearly, the people that are actually in charge of those groups have struggled to find the answers, and that’s proven by the significance of 1964, even though I personally believe 1948 holds just as much meaning. What big free agent should the Browns sign or who do you want at 4? The latter part of that question seems to apply to just about every team in town, and just give it a year or two if it doesn’t.
It doesn’t matter, because most of our opinions fall on deaf ears. We can’t make those decisions; to fire, re-hire, and eventually re-fire Mike Brown, to put Danny Salazar at the bottom of the rotation, or to replace D’Qwell Jackson with Karlos Dansby. Only the powers-that-be can make those calls, but we sit around the pubs or go to the interwebs to talk about what should happen, what might happen, and what’s going to happen.
I suppose that’s why places like this and people like us get to do what we do. There’s a mainstream, the people who make a living doing something similar to what we do, and they’re the ones that are supposed to get the information. From time to time, especially in the age of Twitter and everything else that’s out there, those who get the facts interject opinion, but that gets them in trouble. I hear a lot of talk about how these guys need to protect their access, which is granted by the teams, but I’m talking about the trouble it gets them into with the fans, aka their readers.
There is no winning that game. Occasionally, I’ll see a writer respond to the vitriol in the comments section of their stories, but I hardly see what good comes of that. On Twitter, a lot of people don’t see the responses these guys get for nothing more than an honest day’s work, but God forbid anyone Retweet any of it, because then we have to hear about how egotistical so-and-so is. An opinion ends up being a risk; it’s not a jump off the building type of risk, but you put yourself out there if there’s any chance of disagreement, and there always is, but there’s seldom a clear cut right or wrong. Supporting Hat McCullough should be one of those things, and though it was fiction, the message sent by the 2002 episode of the show isn’t far off from where we’re at with fundamental differences in 2014.
Two Ways to Say, “That’s the dream.”
Is there a worse time for a show to end its nine-year run than on Opening Day? Well, How I Met Your Mother is doing exactly that on March 31st. Most viewers of HIMYM will tell you that they’re only sticking around for the pay-off, due to the amount of time invested in this drawn-out tale of how Bob Saget met the mother of his children, as he tells the story in the year 2032. If you don’t watch the show in first-run or syndication, you probably don’t care if I fill in the blanks, so I’ll save both of us the time. However, I do need to point out that that an eccentric character played by Neil Patrick Harris has often said, “that’s the dream” about multiple fantasies, even though the saying would probably imply that one thing is the dream. Here are two things that I would say are the dream, given the opportunity to pull the strings on this puppet show we call life.
Don’t get him back, get back at him
So, I heard it through the grapevine that Dan Gilbert was on Late Night with Seth Meyers, a time slot that once featured David Letterman on NBC, to discuss the billion dollar giveaway that Quicken Loans is sponsoring, and the unfunny Meyers attempted to make a joke about the odds of Lebron James returning to Cleveland. Gilbert couldn’t talk about, to abide by the guidelines of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it’s a real live discussion outside of Cleveland, even if it’s died for the most part with all of us…and thank God for that.
Now, I’ve adjusted my position on Lebron James, and I’m really over everything that happened in 2010. It all seems like so long ago now, it seems silly to hold a grudge. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been turned off to the NBA, largely because of the circus, but the trials and tribulations of the Cleveland Cavaliers ever since doesn’t make the Association an entertaining product. In fact, I skipped my annual trip to the US Airways Center to check out the Cavaliers live, not for any real good reason, just that I didn’t feel like spending the money or the time to watch this team. I’ve said it in this space that they’ve lost me.
Before anyone wants to play the bandwagon card on me, let it be known that I stood by for a good percentage of the games from 2010 to 2013, but this year I opted not to make the investment to follow them closely. Long story short, no League Pass for this household this year. None of this is to say that I’ve completely lost all interest in the Cavs, just that there’s more to life than watching a sub-par basketball team play as inconsistent or as poor as they’ve been known to do. And yes, I realize a lot of this comes from being spoiled for four or five years before the rug was pulled out from underneath is, but suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, there is only one option to save it. It’s an option that I’ve repeatedly said “no thank you” to in the past, even if I’d be more accepting, given my changed position.
Here’s the thing; I want a winner in Cleveland as much as all of the Cavs fans that pine for his return, but it leaves a stone unturned. If we join him, we cannot beat him. I have, in the past, used the word “tainted” to describe a Cleveland championship, if we need Lebron James to do it for us, like a hired mercenary. No matter how many ways the Akron-ites want to paint the picture, he’s not one of them, and he’s certainly no longer one us Cleveland-ers, not any more, if he ever was.
Truth be told, and I don’t care to go too far down this path, I would rather the Indians or Browns are the first to the Promised Land, but I’m willing to enter the land of beggars that can’t be choosers. If it’s the Cavs, at least it’s someone. At the very least, there’s something in the modern era, and yes, that prospect of a tainted title is better than nothing at all. I guess that’s where I’ve made the personal compromise, not to be mad at Lebron, Jim Gray, or ESPN, at least compromised enough to hold such a grudge that I’d reject success for my hometown.
I just don’t like it, and if Kevin Love or any other Top 30 player in the NBA were to come to play for Kyrie Irving and cash Dan Gilbert’s checks, how would that be any different? It would only be different in the fact that the opportunity to beat the guy we couldn’t win without. After 50 years and however many more, the story of our title should be outstanding, epic even. I wouldn’t want it to be a footnote on the career of James. I want it to be our story, and this is the only way it wouldn’t be. Again, it’s not that there is any scenario where I’d reject Cleveland getting that moment, however tainted it might be. It’s just that if I’m scripting it, I want it some other way.
And that, right there, is the dream.
I don’t even worry about the bullpen
It’s just such a lie, but it’s just the dream. Starting pitching was such a major concern at this time last year, and Tito found a way. Of course, a lot of credit is due to Mickey Callaway also, but both he and Francona are back, granted with a few of their projects from a year ago gone to greener pastures, or at least richer ones.
So, the question isn’t about what this club can do to the fill the void left by Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, but what to do to replace Joe Smith and Chris Perez. Now, everyone may have their reservations about Perez, especially with everything that happened in his last season with the club, from his problems with the Post Office in Rocky River to him basically resigning as the team’s closer in September. However, it’s become easy to forget this guy was an All-Star and closed a lot of games for the Tribe.
In the case of Smitty, and aren’t all guys with the surname of Smith cursed with that nickname, you have a late inning guy that you’re going to miss a lot. We’re left with a lot of questions, probably more questions than answers in this bullpen. We all loved Vinnie Pestano a few years ago, but can he bounce back after a demotion last season. Can Austin Adams, CC Lee, and/or Preston Guilmet make the jump in 2014?
Rich Hill went back to Boston, but the hope is for Nick Hagadone to harness his velocity and hit the strike zone. Scott Barnes has been on the cusp of being ready for two seasons, so I think the clock is ticking on him to help out against the lefties at the big league level. Of course, they’ve traded for Josh Outman and Mark Rzepczynksi in the last 12 months, in their never-ending quest to land southpaws to aid this pitching staff.
Cody Allen may or may not be ready to close games, but John Axford is in camp, and the job is probably his on Opening Day, but nothing is permanent. I’m still a fan of Carlos Carrasco in that role, though they really want him to take the ball every fifth day. Maybe I’m just stuck on the idea of how well the conversion went for Jose Mesa, Game 7 notwithstanding, and how good Justin Masterson was in the limited time he spent out in the pen last season. Another starter that might serve this organization better in the Indians bullpen than the Columbus rotation is Josh Tomlin, but I’m just spitballing at this point.
All I really want is a solid set of arms that can get nine to fifteen outs when the starter hands them a lead. That’s going to mean at least one plate appearance from the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler in critical division games. Getting those huge outs with the pressure on, that’s the damn dream.
One Big Deal
With apologies to Michael Brantley, who I planned on featuring in this space this weekend, Cleveland still isn’t a Tribe town. The headlines still belong to the Browns, who brought in Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, and former Texans running back Ben Tate. Dansby and Whitner are plugging holes left by the departures of D’Qwell Jackson (Colts) and TJ Ward (Broncos), but Tate fills a need that hasn’t been properly addressed since Jamal Lewis left this team five years ago.
You always get a little worried about what the “other” back is going to do in a featured role, a la James Stewart after serving as Fred Taylor’s understudy in Jacksonville or Michael Turner after playing behind LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. More recently, Matt Flynn has made buyers beware of what a solid backup can do in a good system, and that’s a legitimate concern for the Browns with Tate. Under Gary Kubiak and the old Broncos zone-blocking scheme, Tate was a more than satisfactory backup for Arian Foster, but you might wonder what he’ll be able to do in Kyle Shannahan’s offense, which promises to be a similar scheme.
Because of Alfred Morris and because of Olandis Gary, among others, I’m excited for this Shannahan-Tate marriage that we’re about to see unfold in Cleveland. Thus far, we’ve seen Tate take a few pages out of Joe Haden’s How-To-Be-Loved-By-Browns-Fans playbook, engaging social media to tell the world he’s now a Cavs and Indians fan. That promises to go a long way, but Haden has backed up the adoration he receives for his off-the-field character by being a leader on it. That also goes a long way, but leadership only gets you so far, the love fades as more and more 4 and 5 win seasons add up.
Speculation is that Tate will be a part of a running back by committee, with Dion Lewis returning from injury and the smart money saying the Browns will draft the position as well, but they need to start somewhere. Trent Richardson wasn’t the answer, nor was Peyton Hillis, but those guys are part of the past. The former Auburn back may not be the answer either, but he’s a good place to start. And he will start, that’s the kind of money he’s making.
There’s more to Tate’s love for his new team and his new town than the free hat.
Six On Shin-Soo
In a 9-player deal, you are going to consider certain players as what the trade is built around, while others are noted as throw-ins. When the Reds, Diamondbacks, and Indians built a deal around Shin-Soo Choo going from the Indians to the Reds, everyone aside from Choo and Trevor Bauer were considered throw-ins. You could almost consider it two separate trades; Choo, Jason Donald, and cash went to Cincinnati for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorius, then the Tribe flipped Gregorius for Trevor Bauer and a bunch of relievers were thrown in. Matt Albers and Tony Sipp probably fit that bill, but Bryan Shaw is a much underrated part of this deal. At 26, this strikeout pitcher has dynamite stuff, and I’d say he’s a future closer; maybe it doesn’t happen with the Indians, but he’s been quite the pick-up for the Indians to date. Losing Tony Sipp was addition-by-subtraction to begin with, but gaining Shaw was a big, even if unheralded win for the front office in Cleveland.
The principle player in this whole deal was moved to Cincinnati as a one-year rental for the Reds, but the Reds were willing to part with a hot prospect that ended up cooling off as a rookie in Arizona and an excess outfielder with some speed but no stick. The Indians have a shortstop, perhaps multiple shortstops, down on the farm that could fill any voids the big league club might have over the next few seasons, so Didi Gregorius was never a viable option for them, though they basically traded Choo down I-71 for his rights. Indians fans had to wait a while to see what Choo was all about, making his debut in late May of 2008, after Tommy John surgery, but he was a solid addition to the team for a few seasons. In his “walk year” with the Reds, he was pretty much the same player, a .285 hitter who gets on base enough, but probably not worth the $100 million plus that the Rangers threw at him this off-season.
Is it possible that Arizona has taken a good look at all of their young talent, and then decided that it all stunk and to sell high? They’ve dumped Jarrod Parker, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Davidson, Adam Eaton, and Bauer over the last few seasons. They took a middle infielder and a useless left-handed pitcher to dump a guy that was obviously a bad fit in the school of hard knocks that Josh Towers and Kirk Gibson are running in the desert. You try not to use the word “bust” with a 23 year-old that could still be a work-in-progress, but you also wonder if this guy will ever find his command. Of course, if he doesn’t make it, his ego and questionable workout regimen will be put on trial, but who knows if that has anything to do with it. A couple of rocky performances in Spring Training have it looking like Bauer won’t be on the Major League roster on March 31st, so you wonder when, if ever, things will happen for the former first-round pick.
I’m not sure if anyone, other than those with Dutch blood, think too much of a Gregorius, though I often convinced myself that the Indians weren’t doing much better with Cabrera, who they’ve apparently been unable to trade. There’s no questioning that there was never a question of Gregorius spending a minute with the Indians, but why not think about it, if only in theory, since it was completely possible. The best part about Gregorius was his at-bat music, Notorious by Notorious B.I.G., but I highly doubt too many of you attend games at Chase Field to appreciate that. He goes into outrageous slumps, and doesn’t hit well enough at the big league level to really own the shortstop position in Phoenix. The Indians already had a Juan Diaz, and we are now a year closer to Francisco Lindor’s Major League debut; some people think that’s coming in September, but we’ll see.
Last year’s season premiere of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was a brilliant episode called “The Gang Broke Dee”. The focus of the show was Sweet Dee hitting rock-bottom, and then suddenly succeeding because she stopped caring about everything. However, her brother was convinced it was time for her to settle for a man, not a particularly attractive or confident man, but a man nonetheless. That’s how I saw Drew Stubbs; he was fast on the base paths and adequate in right field, but never anything close to what I would consider great in any realm. With the standard of being a throw-in to this blockbuster deal, what thrills me the most about Stubbs going forward, is that he was able to get bullpen help from Colorado when he was traded after one season with the Tribe.
I’m so glad that Drew Stubbs was traded for Josh Outman this past off-season, because he does help this bullpen with a much need left-handed arm, but also because I don’t need to fill the six blurb quota that this column demands without saying much of anything at all about Matt Albers or Tony Sipp. Outman had a rough September with Colorado and nothing on the stat sheet jumps off the page, but he can give you an inning or two, is comfortable throwing 25-30 pitches in an outing, and he strikes guys out, which is critical because it means you can bring him in with runners on base.
That’s all I’ve got for you. Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.
Archives of sports websites no longer available on the Internet