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A Eulogy For the 2015 Indians

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 Corey Kluber1no longer Hans set 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.

At that point, who even cared? They were 7 games under .500, 14.5 games behind the Royals, and in the middle of spending a full month in the American League Central Division cellar. These are symptoms of a team whose clean-up hitter was batting .229, and I’m not talking about Ryan Raburn here.

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..

References
1 no longer Hans
2 …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.

Fun Stats about the Indian's Pitchers

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.

Relievers:

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.

 

 

 

Tribe Time Now Episode 15: The Power of the Stache?

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:

 

Topics:

  • 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.

Tribe Time Now #11: R-E-L-A-X. RELAX.

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!

 

Tribe Time Now #11: R-E-L-A-X. RELAX.

Topics:

a. Today’s game

b. Lineup, Raburn, reactions

c. Lindor, Holt, Wolters, potential call ups: when, where and why

d. Schedule, off days and errors

e. Starting pitchers

f.  Bullpen issues/concerns

g. What’s going on at IBI, next week’s guest, the big dog is coming

 

 

You can subscribe to the Tribe Time Now podcast (and all other Tribe Time Now features) by following this link!

Tribe Time Now #10: Expansion by Inclusion

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:

  1. Wednesday’s game: CLE:4 CHW:2
  2. WP: Bauer | SV: Allen | LP: Danks
    • Lonnie, Sands, Bourn collect two hits a piece
    • Great bullpen outing
  3. Jerry Sands: Where does he fit on the roster?
  4. Roberto Perez: More than meets the eye
  5. Stadium renovations: Thoughts and analysis
    • The corner, mezzanine
    • Bullpens
    • Upper deck
    • CSU turbine
    • Gate C
    • Kids club house
  6. Detroit: Transitioning to collect a lot of hits over the long ball?
  7. Injury round-up: Yan, Dr. Smooth and Carlos Carrasco

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast: TribeTimeNow.com/subscribe

Tune in Next week and Go Tribe!

Cleveland Sports Week in Review 9/15-9/21

A week in Cleveland sports at times can be unlike anything else. There are days where if you are out of the loop even for a couple of hours you can miss a big story or development. From a Monday to Friday the collective pulse and emotion of the city can go from overly optimistic/joyous to doom and gloom/we’re not going to take any more of this. Things in Cleveland sports can and do change by the day. How can you keep up? Fear no more! Here is the More Than a Fan Cleveland sports week in review.

Cleveland Indians

Winners of five of their last seven games, the Indians currently find themselves 3.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals for the second AL Wild Card spot. After getting swept by the division leading Detroit Tigers, the Indians responded by winning a series against Houston (taking three out of four) and the Minnesota Twins (taking two out of three). This was done in large part to some excellent pitching. Over the last seven days the pitching staff has boasted an impressive 2.01 ERA, while the offense has struggled (Indians batting just .248 as a team during this stretch). Leading the Tribe offensively has been (you guessed it) Michael Brantley. Over the last seven games Brantley has a batting average of .419 with one home run, three RBI and four runs scored. Yan Gomes has also been productive, hitting .269 over the last seven games with two home runs, nine RBI and three runs scored. On the other side of the ball, Corey Kluber has continued his Cy Young award caliber season. In their last seven games Kluber has made two starts for the Tribe. During that time (15 innings pitched) he has struck out 28 batters, has a 1.50 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP while batters are hitting just .237 off of him. Carlos Carrasco has also made one start for the Tribe this past week, and he’s continued his somewhat unlikely second half resurgence. In his last start (September 17th against Houston) Carrasco didn’t allow a run and only gave up two hits in nine innings while walking one battery and striking out twelve. Cody Allen has continued to be reliable in relief for the Indians. He’s made three appearances over the last seven games (3.1 innings pitched) and has allowed just one earned run on three hits while striking out six batters. Unfortunately for Allen, that one run allowed resulted in a blown save.

Looking ahead: The Indians have an extremely important series against the Kansas City Royals, starting with a unique double header tonight. The Indians and Royals will play the remainder of a weather postponed game from 8/31, a game in which Cleveland was winning 4-2 with Kansas City coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth when bad weather struck, before the start of the scheduled game today. Should Cleveland finish off that game and sweep the rest of the three game series they would be in the driver’s seat for the last AL Wild Card spot.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns dropped a heartbreaker to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, losing by a score of 23-21. Despite the team playing well enough to win on Sunday (maybe not well enough to win every week) Cleveland’s defense was the largest reason for Sunday’s loss. Many will point to (and rightly so) the 32 completion to Steve Smith late in the fourth quarter who was being covered by Joe Haden as the games defining moment. Haden, who by all accounts hasn’t really lived up to the contract extension he signed this offseason, will be the first to tell you he has to make a play on that ball. He’d also be right. If Joe Haden wants to be considered one of the top defense backs in the league those are the types of plays he cannot give up. However, don’t fool yourself into thinking this was all Haden’s fault. Considering the timing of the play, yes that one completion that he allowed ended up being a defining moment in the game. But the Browns defense as a whole was unimpressive all afternoon. The front seven was unable to sack Joe Flacco once and the run defense was pitiful, allowing 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries to Lorenzo Taliaferro (who got the start with Ray Rice’s suspension and Bernard Pierce’s thigh injury) and also allowing Justin Forsett to rush for 63 yards on 11 carries. The Browns defense was also flagged twice for too many men on the field.

The poor play of the defense doesn’t excuse the offense either. While Brian Hoyer and the offense did manage three 80 yard scoring drives (all three touchdowns) they also failed to put the game away in the fourth quarter with multiple chances. In the fourth quarter Cleveland’s four drives yielded 65 yards (including a 4 play -2 yard drive) with two missed field goals (one blocked) and two punts. Their final two drives of the game resulted in punts and totaled six yards on six plays.

In off the field news, Josh Gordon officially had his indefinite suspension for a failed drug test reduced to ten games. This means that Gordon will be available for the team’s final six games of the season, doesn’t have to apply to play again next season and (under the new agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA) is allowed to be around the team during his suspension.

Looking ahead: The Browns have a bye week this coming week.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers signed free agent power forward Lou Amundson. The 6’9” eight year veteran appeared in 18 games for the New Orleans Pelicans and one game for the Chicago Bulls last season. Amundson averages 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds a game (averaging 12.6 minutes per game) for his career. He and Cavs GM David Griffin were both in Phoenix from 2008-2010.

LeBron James will once again tower over downtown Cleveland, literally. The City of Cleveland approved a Nike sponsored banner of LeBron James to once again hang from the Sherwin Williams building.

The Cleveland Indians Are Finding Success in July

In case you haven’t noticed, or have just been too frustrated to care, the Cleveland Indians are doing all they can to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves in the first few months of the season. At the end of June, the Indians found themselves in a rough spot. They were 40-43 and in third place in the AL Central, 7.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers and 5.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race. Since then the Tribe has gone 11-6 (now 51-49 overall) and are sitting in second place in the Central, 5.5 games back of Detroit and 2 games back in the AL Wild Card race. More impressive, the Indians are 6-2 on the road in July (including 4-2 on their current road trip). While that’s clearly only a small sample size, it’s still encouraging for a team that had a .378 winning percentage this season on the road through the month of June. Whether this is just a flash in the pan or a turning of the tide for the Indians will remain to be seen. Here are some of the July heroes for the Indians, some expected and some unexpected.

The phrase “heroes for the Indians” cannot be brought up without mentioning Michael Brantley. Through the month of June, Brantley was batting .314 for the Indians. This includes a .341 batting average in June and a .345 average in May. Somehow, he keeps getting better. So far in July, Brantley is batting .365 with 3 home runs, 10 RBI and 13 runs scored. There is no question Brantley is the MVP of the 2014 Indians and should be in the discussion for AL MVP.

Brantley isn’t the only one who is hitting the ball well for the Tribe of late. Jason Kipnis has also been swinging a hot bat. After a rough start to the season (partly due to injury) the Tribe second baseman is hitting .280 in July with 2 home runs, 8 RBI, 14 runs scored and 7 stolen bases. His current batting average of .254 would be the lowest of his career, however if Kipnis keeps hitting the ball well .254 will be a distant memory.

While Brantley and Kipnis may seem like obvious heroes for an Indians turnaround, this team has been getting help from more unexpected places – like Nick Swisher. For the month of July, Swisher is batting .290. This is not a typo. Nick Swisher is batting .290 for the month of July. He’s hit 3 home runs, has 15 RBI and has scored 10 runs. Over the last 28 days (22 games for Swisher) he is hitting .266. While he isn’t playing like a $15 million per year player (did anyone really ever expect him to?) this upward trend from him is a good sign for the Indians lineup. It’s worth pointing out that July was Swisher’s best month last season as far as batting averages go, as he hit .284. Hopefully this time Swisher can continue hitting well not just in July but into August and September (and possibly…October?).

Chris Dickerson
Chris Dickerson has been an unexpected surprise for the Indians.

Rounding out the offensive surprises for the month of July is the trio of Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana and Chris Dickerson. Gomes, who has been reliable all season for the Indians, is batting .333 for the month of July. Since the All-Star break he’s gone 9-17 (.529) with a home run and three RBI. While Santana has actually cooled a bit in July compared to June (.308 in June vs. .250 in July) he seems to have put the dreadful start behind him. His season long batting average will likely suffer but his production will be welcomed. He also seems to have found a home at first base. In 38 games as a first baseman Santana is batting .309. While he will never be considered a star defensive player, Santana is also error free in his 38 games at first base this year and has actually showed off a nice glove. Lastly, ever since arriving in Cleveland from Pittsburgh in a trade, journeyman Chris Dickerson has provided a huge, unexpected spark for the Indians. In his 11 games (8 starts) in the month of July, Dickerson is batting .375 with 2 home runs, 6 RBI and 8 runs scored.

While the starting pitching has continued to be generally unreliable (unless you’re talking about Corey Kluber), the bullpen collectively has gotten even better. Through the month of June, Tribe relievers combined had an ERA of 3.32. Not too bad, especially when you consider how many innings these relievers are forced to pitch. So far for July the bullpen has a collective ERA of 1.77 through 61 innings pitched and has a K/9 ratio of 10, up from 8.9 on the season. John Axford is putting together his best month of the season (albeit in a limited role). Axford has appeared in 7 games in July (7 innings pitched) and has only allowed one earned run while striking out nine. The opposition is hitting just .083 off of Axford in July (27 batters faced). While he has been the Tribe’s most reliable reliever all year, Cody Allen seems to be pitching on another level in July. In 10 games (9.1 innings pitched) he has not allowed a run to score while the opposition is only hitting .206 off of him (37 batters faced).

Looking ahead, the Indians can continue to help their cause in the Central division. After the series finale today in Minnesota the Indians travel to Kansas City to take on the Royals for four games. Winning this upcoming series would help put some distance between Kansas City, who is currently in third place in the Central and only 1.5 games back of the Indians. For the team overall, the last missing piece continues to be the starting rotation. Indians starters currently have a 4.33 ERA for the month of July. Hopefully Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have worked out whatever issues (“injuries”) they’ve had earlier in the year and can be positive contributors to the starting rotation. If that happens, the Cleveland Indians could find themselves in position to make another October run.

Cleveland Indians Midseason Review Part Two: The Bad and The Ugly

The All-Star break is nearly over and the Cleveland Indians are getting ready to start playing baseball again. For the Tribe the first half of the season was a rollercoaster culminating in a 47-47 record, landing them in 3rd place in the AL Central behind the Kansas City Royals (48-46) and the Detroit Tigers (53-38). The first half ended on a positive note for the Indians, as they took 2 out of 3 games against the Chicago White Sox and have won 8 out of 12 in the month of July. Nick Swisher (hitting .289 in July) and Carlos Santana (hitting .276 since the end of May) are finally starting to hit the ball better while All-Star Michael Brantley continues to be the team’s best player. Corey Kluber (9-6, 3.01 ERA) has also emerged as the team’s best starter. Despite this, the Indians still find themselves 7.5 games out of first place. At this time last year Cleveland had a 51-44 record and was only 1.5 games behind Detroit for first place in the Central. Clearly there is still some work to be done for the 2014 Indians. Picking up from yesterday, here is part two of the Cleveland Indians midseason review, this time focusing on the bad and the ugly. For part one (the good) click here.

The Bad

Masterson has been a disappointment for the Indians this season
Masterson has been a disappointment for the Indians this season

While the Indians offense at times has been maddening, they are currently ranked 7th in the league in runs scored with 417 and also have the 11th best team batting average at .255. So how does a team that scores runs at a fairly good clip (average of 4.4 runs per game) find themselves with a .500 record and in 3rd place? Poor starting pitching. Aside from Kluber the Indians starting rotation has been a mess. As a whole Tribe starters in the first half of the season (Kluber, Masterson, Bauer, Tomlin, McAllister, House, Salazar, and Carrasco) have an ERA of 4.49 while the opposition is batting .273 off them. Justin Masterson, who earlier this year was reportedly asking for a contract extension in the neighborhood of $17 million per year, is 4-6 in 19 starts with a 5.51 ERA. He’s averaging just over 5 innings per start, is second in the American League in walks (56) and leads the AL in batters hit by a pitch (11). Trevor Bauer (3-4, 3.84 ERA) and Josh Tomlin (4-6, 4.26 ERA) have been decent, pitching like end of the rotation starters, but all in all the Indians starters are a big reason why this team is in the hole that they are in. As a team the Indians have a -8 run differential (417 runs scored vs. 425 runs allowed). The 425 runs allowed doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the starters, however as a group they have allowed 307 runs (275 earned runs) to score this year. Injuries have played a factor into this equation (McAllister and Masterson specifically) but all in all the Indians starters, outside of Kluber, haven’t been all that great.

To continue with the pitching theme, John Axford has been a disappointment this year. Brought in to fill the closer role, Axford was stripped of those duties during the month of May. Statistically Axford hasn’t been all that bad this year. In 41 appearances (37 innings pitched) he is 2-3 with a 3.41 ERA. His K/9 ratio is 10.7 and the opposition is only hitting .221 off of him. Axford’s problem seems to be similar to that of former Tribe closer’s Chris Perez, he lost his mental toughness. The Ax Man saved 8 out of 9 games through the end of April, however ninth inning dramatics and a few blown saves forced manager Terry Francona to make the switch to closer by committee with Cody Allen being the committee chairman. Not a good look for Axford, who is getting paid $4.5 million to save games (or in this case not save games) for the Indians this year.

The Ugly

s19tribee.jpgDefensively, the Indians are a train wreck. As a team they are first in the league in errors (76) and, unsurprisingly, have the worst fielding percentage of any team in the league (.979). Cleveland is on pace to commit 130 errors this season, this would be the most errors by a team since the 2011 Chicago Cubs (134). Indians pitchers have also thrown 42 wild pitches (6th most) and there have been 7 passed balls (tied for 5th most). Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera leads the Indians with 14 errors, which is good enough for third most errors in the league this year. Challenging Cabrera for the team lead is Lonnie Chisenhall with 13 errors and Yan Gomes with 11 (although the majority of his came very early in the season and he has been relatively error free since early May). Nick Swisher has also committed 9 errors. The third base and shortstop position combined has committed 36 of the team’s errors this season – offenders here include Cabrera, Chisenhall, Carlos Santana and Mike Aviles.

For the majority of the season two of the Indians heavily relied upon hitters have failed to produce much of anything. While it’s true that both Santana and Swisher are (possibly) turning things around, both were mostly bad for the Indians for most, if not all, of the first half. Santana is hitting .207 on the year. While he does have 14 home runs he was only batting .159 through the month of May. His one redeeming quality was a good on base percentage during this stretch. Currently Santana has an OBP of .349 (top 50 in the league) but a hitter with his potential hitting cleanup in the batting order needs to do more than draw walks. Nick Swisher has been a colossal letdown this year for the Indians. Injuries may be playing a small factor (suffered a hyper extended knee earlier this year) but Swisher has been pretty terrible in just about anything baseball related aside from giving high fives. This year Swisher is batting .208 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI with only a .288 on base percentage. July has treated Swisher better, hitting .289 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI (45 at bats), but in order to salvage his season he is going to have to do more than hit well in 12 games.

The Indians as a team have also played poorly on the road. This year they are 18-28 away from Progressive Field. Offensively they have been outscored 201-210 and pitchers have an ERA of 4.22 on the road (compared to 3.76 at home). While the Indians have played well so far in July they are about to go on an eleven game road trip (against Detroit, Minnesota and Kansas City) to kick off the second half of the season. If this team wants to make a playoff run in the second half they’ll need to play better on the road and it must start immediately with this road trip. Already 7.5 games back and with all 11 of the upcoming games being against teams in the division the Indians could really help (or harm) their chances.

In Conclusion

By all accounts this team has underperformed. The rotation has been awful, key players have struggled mightily offensively and defensively they are the worst team in the league. Overall they play like a team that constantly looks like they are about to turn a corner but never do. If that doesn’t change than the 2014 season will go down as a bust for the Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland Indians Midseason Review Part One: The Good

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.

The Good

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.

 

Brantley All StarWhile 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.

Cleveland Indians Early Season Recap – The Good, 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 Good

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).

The Bad

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 Ugly

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.

In Conclusion

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.