Tag Archives: David Murphy

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.

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 Weekend Update Ep. 6: Winning Out the Season

In this week’s episode of Tribe Time Now: Weekend Update…

Host Joe Coblitz (@BRBBlog) of Burning River Baseball welcomes in Jim Berdysz (@JBirdman27) of Indians Baseball Insider discuss the most recent week in Indians baseball focusing on the Rangers series and the increased offense. In addition, they make a plea to stop being so mean to Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Ramirez and David Murphy. After the past comes the future and it looks to be a good one with Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles and Shaun Marcum all scheduled to come back this week. They discuss the ramifications of that as well in addition to who is the most likely to be cut.

 

Topics:

  • Recap & Winning Every Game for the Rest of the year
  • Zach Walters’ woes & the Return of Mike Aviles & Yan Gomes
  • Stop Being mean to Lonnie Chisenhall
  • Stop Being Mean to Jose Ramirez & Why Lindor Should be Up Now
  • Who To Cut & Why David Murphy Isn’t A Good Option
  • The Return of Shaun Marcum & What to Expect

 

Links

 

Tribe Time Now online, all the time:

Kluber Enters Record Books… Again; Top Third of the Lineup Dragging the Team Behind Them

The dichotomy of the top third of the order and middle third of the order: A study of the last 7 days

Since the early days of last week, Santana has solidified himself as the number two hitter in Terry Francona’s “new and improved” lineup. Jason Kipnis has been hitting leadoff since the beginning of the Toronto series and Michael Brantley has been in the three hole since the beginning of the season.

In the past seven days, the top of the lineup has been very productive. In 62 ABs, the tenacious three have 20 hits (.318), three 2Bs, one 3Bs, two HRs, and 11 RBIs. The three have also drawn seven walks in the same span against six strike outs.

In big picture terms: The first three hitters in the Indians lineup are getting on base at a very good clip (.378) and hitting the ball very well.

Let’s look at the middle of the lineup in comparison

The middle of the lineup in the past seven days has generally consisted of a rotating group of four players:

  1. Brandon Moss,
  2. Nick Swisher,
  3. Lonnie Chisenhall and,
  4. David Murphy

Now, David Murphy has only had 8 PAs in the past seven days and his role has been somewhat diminished. I will include his numbers post-facto regardless so as to not bias the data.

Anyway: The middle of the lineup.

In the past seven days, the middle three players* has been moderately productive. In 56 Abs, the three middle hitters have only 14 hits (.247) with three 2Bs, one 3B, 2 HR, and eight RBIs. In the same breath, the middle lineup has walked only three times and struck out twice as many times (6).

The middle lineup is getting on base nearly 10% less than their top-of-the-lineup counterparts in addition to hitting 7% less (with regard to batting average) than those same counterparts.

Here are the middle-of-of-the-lineup hitters numbers with RISP (which almost exclusively were either Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, or Michael Brantley) in the past seven days:

  1. Brandon Moss: 1/8
  2. Nick Swisher: 0/6
  3. Lonnie Chisenhall: 3/5
  4. David Murphy: 2/4

For those of you who don’t enjoy math, the latter four “mashers” are a paltry 6/23 with RISP (.261). We’re going to give Nick Swisher a break considering he just broke into the lineup within the last seven days coming back from his start on the DL.

When it comes to the likes of Brandon Moss though, that .125 average with RISP is EGREGIOUSLY FOUL. The front office brought him in to do one thing: Drive in runs.

Thus far, he isn’t doing that. He is being given plenty of opportunities to do so. If Kip, ‘Los and Dr. Smooth get on base anymore, they’ll (well, mostly Kip) will be on pace for a couple of the greatest months in MLB history.

When you have disparity between sets of hitters like the Indians do now, you’re not going to see gobs of runs being scored; just a run here and there. When lineups are experiencing normally distributed hitting with RISP rather than the severely left (left being the front of the lineup) skewed version we’re currently witnessing, good things happen.

For those of you who want to argue about the circular nature of batting orders as it pertains to a “normal distribution”, leave it in the comments. I’ll go in depth there a little more if you have serious issues.

 

Jason Kipnis: April showers bring May flowers…well, hits anyway:

Can we just talk about Jason Kipnis right now?

That dude is on fire. I’d really like him to sit down with Brandon Moss and teach him his secret ways. In the month of May, Jason Kipnis is hitting .488/.551/.814 and, over the course of the season, hitting right-handed pitching really well.

Halfway through May, he’s already eclipsed the amount of walks he had over the entire month of April (and end of March; 6:5). This would indicate more patience from Kip at the plate (i.e.: he’s working counts deeper).  At the same time, he’s only struck out four times through nearly half of May. In the month of April, he struck out 13 times. If he can continue to maintain his patience at the plate, I see his strikeout rate remaining low.

To put the cherry on the top of the sundae that has been Jason Kipnis’ 2015 May, he has six 2B halfway through May. In March/April, he only had one. I don’t expect him to hit a ton of homeruns; he’s not a power guy. I expect him to hit for average and hit to all parts of the field well. His numbers through the first half of May tell me that he’s figuring things out and getting into a groove.

Like I said, hopefully Brandon Moss can sit down with Kip and ask him about the ways of the force.

 

These cleats were made for walkin’

I wanted to quickly touch on Carlos Santana’s walk rate through one and a half months of the season. He’s only second to Bryce Harper (30) in walks with 29 and only has 22 strikeouts (that’s a 1.32 BB/K ratio). Harper’s BB/K ratio is 0.77).

It should also be noted that Harper has 10 more ABs than Santana.

Harper is raking right now (similar to Kipnis) and has like…. 15 HRs in his last 5 games (obviously exaggerating, but he’s still blasting HRs like no other).

With Santana’s placement as the number two man in the lineup, those walks are going to be all the more important. They’ll mean that much more if the guys behind him can drive him in. Letting Santana rot on 1st or 2nd base isn’t going to help this team win and I know that he would do anything to help his teammates bring him around and in.

 

Corey Kluber: Doin’ the Cards dirrrrrty on Wednesday

Finally, can we talk about the bad man, Corey Kluber?

On Wednesday, the big dog went 8.0 innings, allowed only one hit and collected 18 strikeouts.

Yeah, you read that right: E-I-G-H-T-E-E-N strikeouts.

Whiffs.

Six golden sombreros.

His WHIP on Wednesday was 0.13. He’s just filthy.

Oh, by the way: He did this all on 113 pitches and dropped his ERA by nearly 80 points (5.04 to 4.27). Interestingly enough too, his GB/FB ration was 1:5. In his more recent starts, his strikeout totals have been lower and his GB/FB ratio has been 1.00+ (abnormal for him). Corey Kluber’s success lies in leveraging his fastball down in the zone and working his off speed stuff (cutter/slider) in on the hands of lefties and trailing away from righties. When he lets his fastball rise up into the zone (like Danny Salazar) and doesn’t have get movement from his off speed stuff, it allows hitters to put bat-on-ball and put it in play; often in the air.

I didn’t have to watch the game on Wednesday to know that, but I can guarantee he had everything working tonight as I just described.

In other news:

In my first softball action of the year, I went 2/5 with 2 RBIs. In the field, I played 3B for the first time in a while and had 3 putouts and 1 error. If I’m going to channel my inner Lonnie Chisenhall, I get at minimum one error per game right?

Keep it real Tribe fans. I’ll catch you on the flip side

Go Tribe!

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!

Cleveland Indians News & Notes: 28 Days Until Pitchers & Catchers Report

With less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, this tribe fan is skeptical of the 2015 Cleveland Indians due a lack of moves made over the off-season

Color me skeptical

Unfortunately, the 23 years of disappointment that I’ve endured as a Cleveland sports fans tells me not much more than the same as last year from the 2015 Cleveland Indians. I don’t say that as a debbie-downer. If the Tribe plays above potential (see: 2013) in 2015, I will be more than happy to write about how wrong I was at the end of the season. Like I said: if my experience as  a Cleveland fan tells me anything, it’s this: The Cleveland Indians Front Office did not make enough moves to compete in 2015.

The Washington Nationals made moves to get better.

The Detroit Tigers made moves to get better.

The Seattle Mariners made moves to get better.

The Chicago White Sox made moves to get better.

And those are just a few of the teams that significantly improved their rosters in the off-season.

The Indians’  biggest signing has been acquiring 1B/RF Brandon Moss from the Oakland A’s for minor league 2B Joey Wendle. I wrote back when the move was made about how it will benefit the Tribe in the long-run due to Nick Swisher’s diminishing returns and the smoldering dumpster fire that is RF for the Tribe. As much as I like David Murphy, he is not the long-term solution in right field. Moss will at least allow for Tito to squeeze a few more hits/runs/etc out of his everyday lineup.

Then there is the idea that Gavin Floyd is just going to magically step into the #4 starter role

Again: Really? That’s the best we could do (I wrote recently how Antonetti’s signing of Floyd was an attempt to reincarnate Scotty Kazmir from the ’13 campaign). I’d take ’09 Floyd over ’14 Floyd any day of the week (just look at the numbers). To say that he is the #4 starter is ballsy, particularly on the part of Chris Antonetti. What about T.J. House? He had a solid 2014 campaign and he isn’t even in the rotation. Sure, Salazar, Bauer and Carrasco have much higher upsides than T.J. House, but all three of them have proven inconsistent at times. House was no Kluber, but at least he provided some consistency in the back-end of the rotation.

Floyd is going to have to really prove it to me in spring training that he belongs as the #4 man in our rotation.

There is an upside to all of this though

As ESPN and FanGraphs noted in their ESPN Insider story (full text available here), the Indians’ starting rotation (on the surface) can be described in two words: young and inexperienced (save Kluber of course).

But then people began to dig a little deeper and discovered that the Indians don’t have just 1 very descent starter — they have 4. Bauer, Carrasco, and Salazar all took positive steps forward in their development as top-tier starters while Corey Kluber just went out and won the AL Cy Young. IF the Indians can get 150+ consistent, quality innings from Bauer, Carrasco, and Salazar, not only will the Indians win the AL Central, they will cruise into the ALDS with the best, if not one of the best rotations in baseball.

So: If Floyd doesn’t work out, at least we’ll have a plethora of able starters ready to jump up into his place.

Signings, arbitration, etc.

Over the course of the last week, the Indians avoided arbitration with several players including: Carlos Carrasco, Lonnie Chisenhall, Mark Rzepczynski, Brandon Moss, and a few others.

I’m really happy we got that mess out of the way in a timely fashion this year. I’m all for players fighting for their worth, but last year’s arbitration “issues” leaked in spring training and it just left a bad taste in my mouth going into opening day.

In addition to avoiding arbitration with the latter players, the Indians signed former Twins pitcher Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak’s best year was in 2013 where he went 3-2 in 48 appearances with a 2.91 ERA over 96 innings. Looking at next level stats: Swarzak had a 3.28 FIP and 1.156 WHIP. He regressed somewhat in 2014 posting an identical record over 50 games with an ERA of 4.60 over 10 less innings.

Swarzak provides a solid relief arm in the bullpen which Terry Francona so eagerly goes to in the middle innings. If Swarzak makes the big league club out of spring training, he’ll make a cool $900k with an opportunity for an additional $350k in incentives.

Finally, 1st round draft pick Justus Sheffield was arrested in Tullahoma, TN on charges of aggravated burgalary and underage drinking after allegedly braking into a residence in Tullahoma around 4:30 AM on Monday, January 12th. The Indians released a statement that stated they were “aware of the report” involving Sheffield and “will not comment further until the legal process is completed”. Sheffield was released after posting bail ($5,500). He is scheduled to appear in Coffee County Court on February 5th.

In Memory of Hank Peters

Sadly, on January 4th, Former Indians GM and President (’87-’91) died from complications with a recent stroke in Boca Raton, FL. He was 90.

I feel that it’s fair to credit Hank with the foundation of what was the most amazing decade of Indians baseball ever. Before his 2nd tenure with the Tribe, Peters served as GM of the Baltimore Orioles for 12 years where he won a world series (’83) in the midst of ten consecutive winning seasons.

Next week: A preview of the 2015 depth chart

Tune in next week for a detailed preview of the 2015 Indians depth chart in addition to guesses at the final starting rotation, record at the All-Star Break, Post-season birth %, etc.

Should be fun; Go Tribe!

 

Indians execute trade for Moss, trade AA second baseman Wendle

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Earlier today, the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland A’s completed a trade in which the Indians received OF/1B/DH Brandon Moss for Double A 2B prospect Joey Wendle.

Moss, who is 31, recently had hip surgery, but should be ready by the time the tribe opens the season in early April. He has been in the league since 2007 and has received playing time with the Phillies, Red Sox, Pirates and Athletics. His first full year of playing time came in 2009 with the Pirates where he hit .236/.304/.364, collected 20 doubles, smacked 7 homeruns and collected 41 RBIs.

Wendle, a sixth-round pick by the Indians in the first year player draft in 2012, has spent all of his time in Cleveland’s farm system since being picked. Wendle won the Lou Boudreau award in 2013 which recognizes the organization’s top minor league hitter. In 261 games in the Tribe’s farm system, Wendle hit .292 and collected 28 homeruns, 68 doubles, 155 RBIs.

The Indians will have to make room for their recent acquisition and have designated 28-year-old pitcher Bryan Price.

Inevitably, this trade was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.

The Moss trade had been making its way around the rumor mill for the last week, but we had to wait for the actual deal to be announced. It ended being exactly what we thought: 1 for 1, Wendle for Moss. There were talks that Billy Beane was trying to get one more piece in the deal (Jose Ramirez), but that quickly fell through. My assumption is Moss’ hip injury plagued the potential for a 2 for 1 deal.

Moss looks promising if his hip injury and subsequent surgery don’t linger.

Looking at the numbers, Moss is clearly the value power hitter that we could afford. He’s in his prime (with regard to hitting) and he came pretty cheap compared with some of the right-handed power hitters that were free agents (think: Nelson Cruz; 5 years/$95 million). In his most recent season, he hit .234/.334/.438 with 23 doubles, 25 homeruns and 81 RBIs. He also had 67 walks. One thing that scares me is his SO/BB ratio. In the past three seasons (2012-14) with the A’s, Moss has SO/BB ratios of .29/.36/.44 respectively. At least it’s going up. Additionally, according to ESPN.com, Brandon Moss saw the 18th most pitches per plate appearance (4.07), coming in just above MVP candidate Victor Martinez (4.06) and just below Shin-Soo Choo (4.08). For a guy who is going to inevitably be in the middle of the lineup, I would like to see that ratio between .80-1.10 as we progress through this year. More so, I’d like to see him sit back on a few more pitches, increase that P/PA ratio, and draw some more walks.

Moss’ WAR in the past three seasons (2012-14) was 2.1, 2.2 and 2.6 respectively. Compare that to David Murphy’s over that same time span (3.7 (TEX), 0.6 (TEX) and 0.2 (CLE)) and, offensively, the picture becomes a little more clear.

With regard to defense, I’m not as up-to-date as I should be on advanced defensive statistics, but don’t worry – I’ll have it down pat by spring training!

I like the trade and I think it signals the front office thinks we can win now.

The trade make sense for the tribe, a club on the precipice of breaking through and becoming an elite contender in the American League. Moss brings power to the middle of the lineup that desperately needs an injection of power after last year’s dismal performances by Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn. David Murphy should recognize this trade as the precursor to his exit as a part of the Indian’s organization. I see the Indians including him in a trade as we move into spring training if there are any teams in need of a utility player who has the potential to knock in some runs and get some extra-base hits.

Losing Wendle is rough considering how well he was progressing in the minors. With Jason Kipnis manning second base, Franciso Lindor waiting in the wings and Jose Ramirez ready to plug in where needed, it was one of the few times trading young talent for a proven hitter was worth it.

Moss has the ability to play both corner OF spots as well as 1B and some DH. He’ll be a welcome addition to the Goon Squad and will hopefully see significant playing time in Right field.

What else is in store for the Indians at the beginning of the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings?

As we head into the beginning of the 2014 Winter Meetings, expect many og the high dollar FA pitchers to find news homes. I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Indians making any moves, but If something comes up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the FO perform due diligence just to see if it could help us win now. Certainly, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, and Yan Gomes aren’t going anywhere. I’m nearly certain that our core of young pitchers (Carrasco, Bauer and Salazar) are on lock too, but I have them as less certain than the former.

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.

Balk-ing Home with Hammy

Well, the secret is out, but knowing that the Tom Hamilton walk-off call, be it a home run call or anything a little Hollywood, is almost an unparalleled experience, especially if you’re a Tribe fan. Being off the reservation, or should I just say “out-of-market”, keeping up with the Tribe involves a financial decision each spring.

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For years, I’ve shelled out the extra cash for DirecTV to add the MLB Extra Innings package to my already outrageous monthly invoice, but I made the leap to the more feature-rich MLB.tv Premium a few years back. With other sports offering broadband and mobile packages, in conjunction with the cable/satellite add-on, Major League Baseball was once again behind the times, or so I thought. Extra Innings only served its purpose when I was home, whereas the online service offered some flexibility on the go. One of those services made available was the radio call of all the games, with your choice of the home or away announcer and the Spanish crew, when applicable.

It doesn’t matter if I’m at the office, stuck in commuter traffic, or 1500 miles from home; if the Tribe is playing, I can listen to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus on the audio call. The exception to that, of course, is when I’m 35,000 feet above the ground, when I’m without broadband or mobile data service, as I was yesterday, en route to Chicago. To take soften the blow of Chi-town’s swamp-like humidity, I put the headphones on, and let the Voice of the Cleveland Indians take me home, in more ways than one, with an all-important, if not extremely unlikely, series sweep of the Detroit Tigers hanging in the balance.

To reset my perspective, the At Bat app, the one that drives MLB.tv and the bonus audio feeds, sends me an alert that the game is tied at 7 after Detroit added two in the fifth. I paused; seven runs thru 5 for the Braves of the Cuyahoga, but I thought Scherzer was on the bump for the Tigers! That was encouraging for this enigma of an offense that Terry Francona has marched out there, this far in 2014, but it doesn’t matter if you score 20, if you lose 21-20. By the time I was back on the grid, with “Hammy” and “Rosey” in my ear, it sounded as though a bad day from Scherzer wasn’t going to sink the Tigers, who now led 9-7, but David Murphy had no concerns about their backs being against the wall with one on and one out in the ninth.

“A swing and a long drive, deep right center…this ball is…”

GONE! I’ve got no video to go on, hence nothing analytical to add, just the raw emotion of a Missouri native-turned-Cleveland fan at heart in Tom Hamilton. The Detroit closer’s name was Joe, but you could call him Blown Save Nathan after that shot. Out in the visitor’s bullpen, I can only imagine Al Albuquerque thinking, ‘I know this feeling,’ having served up a game-winning bomb to Michael Brantley in the first game of this series.

The celebration didn’t last long, as theme for 2014 continued with the Indians pitching staff surrendering a response run; this potential back-breaking smash came off the bat of Alex Avila after a solid two and two-thirds of solid relief work from usual starter Josh Tomlin. Alex Avila! Must it always be the nobodies, like JD Martinez, Don Kelly, and Avila that punish Indians pitching? Well, in this case, maybe it did, considering Miguel Cabrera got the “Bye Felicia”, as Keith Olbermann would (and actually did) say, in the sixth. However, they still had the sizzling hot Victor Martinez and seemingly, regardless of early 3 games to 1 advantage Cleveland technically has on the Tigers in 2014, the Indians number.

Anyway, Tomlin managed to freeze Danny Worth on strike three to end the 13th, but with Mike Aviles, Michael Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera due up, the Indians had work to do in the home-half of the frame. Down in the count against Phil Coke, Aviles hit one towards the hole at short that Worth could quite squeeze in the glove, and stood on first, representing the tying-run. Bourn, who according to Hamilton, is not the best sacrifice bunter the game has ever seen, laid one down the third base line so poetically that a radio listener may have ascertained scholars would talk about and praise for years. He was thrown out at first, and as my late-night viewing of Olbermann would reveal, he probably shouldn’t have been. Whatever, no need for Hammy to torch a guy with bad hammies in this situation.

Asdrubal Cabrera would be next, and Coke put the 2-1 pitch into his knee cap; the words from the WTAM call left me to wonder if Cabrera would be able to finish the season, let alone the game. Only Yan Games remained on the bench, not exactly your ideal pinch-runner, so after a few minutes, the Indians shortstop limped to first as the potential game-winning run. That meant one out and a runner in scoring position for Ben Maller’s favorite player to be named later against the Detroit southpaw. Left-on-right, left-on-left, it doesn’t matter for Michael Brantley, who delivered with a ground ball to the left side, which Aviles legged out from second to tie the game at 10 apiece.

No sooner than Gene Lamont, assuming the skipper role from Brad Asumus, who got the heave-ho in the Cabrera aftermath, summoned Monday’s goat Alburquerque from the ‘pen, did Terry Francona call Justin Sellers back to the dugout. Now, it was time for Yan Gomes to step into the right-handed batters box against the right-hander. Albuquerque tried two sliders, which went wide with no chase from Gomes, and then stopped the charade and put the Tribe’s usual starting catcher on first to load them up from former-Tiger Ryan Raburn.

It all came down to this at-bat, Raburn stepped in, and the strangest thing happened next. Alburquerque flinched!

“And a balk! Ballgame! How about that! WE NOW HAVE SEEN EVERYTHING! A walk-off balk! Unbelievable, Cabrera scores the winner on a walk-off balk!”

I am not sure it’s possible to transcribe any part of Hamilton’s note-worthy calls without the over-use of exclamation points. Happy to spend my Wednesday afternoon with you, Tom. Happy to be an Indians fan, like everyone back in Cleveland. Happy to have the option to listen to radio call from Chicago.

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11-10, Tribe wins! What a game, even the limited parts I caught; I sincerely hope it springboards us into “What a season!” mode. All in all, I’m quite content with the balk-off.  A win is a win.

It's Not All Dark Clouds and Doomsday Clocks for the Tribe.

Finding a negative angle to write about your 2014 Cleveland Indians is as easy as finding a seat for you and your favorite 15,000 friends at “Progressive Field.” Whether it is the Indians horrific defense, the bats propensity to #whiff in seemingly every key moment or the pitchers consistency in giving up response runs, this has been a campaign of pain thus far. Anybody that follows yours truly @landloyaltyro can get all the negativity and whining needed to last a lifetime. So for this column I decided to forget about the aforementioned failures and focus on the positives in 2014. Yes ladies and gentlemen, the Indians do have some players earning their Benjamin’s and they deserve some love.

Dr. Smooth, All-Star:

When I wrote my predictions column prior to this season, I ticketed Michael Brantley for the All-Star game this season. While he may be a lonely Tribesman in Minnesota, Brantley certainly appears on his way to the Midsummer Classic. The Indians outfielder signed a sizable contract in the offseason and has responded with his typical consistency plus some added power. He doesn’t make errors, he works pitchers both left-handed and right-handed and he is among the most clutch hitters in the American League. He is the Indians MVP for the first quarter of the season and it’s not even close. If he had more company in the consistency department in the middle of the order, he would be getting the national recognition that he deserves.

Murphy Rebounds in Red, White and Blue:

It is a popular sentiment among Tribe fans to attack Indians Owner Paul Dolan for not giving General Manager Chris Antonetti much money to work with this offseason and I can’t say I disagree. Having said that, the 2013 offseason looks like a lot of wasted money, whereas the 2014 offseason hasn’t really had a miss. The biggest hit has clearly been David Murphy, who seems to remember how to swing it again after a forgettable final season in Arlington. Murphy has joined Dr. Smooth in the clutch department and has been a welcome addition to the lineup with his ability to put the ball in play. Some of the pitches he serves into the outfield are at his shoe tops but Murphy just does whatever it takes to get on-base. His approach is exactly what this lineup needs 1-9 without a thumper in the middle of the order. If the best thing one can say about David Murphy is that he does his job that is awfully noteworthy and significant in 2014.

Chis Relishes Last Chance:

As incredible as the bookmakers are in Las Vegas, nobody predicted or could have possibly foreseen Lonnie Chisenhall leading the Indians in batting average after 45 games. As fantastic as Michael Brantley has been and as impressive as David Murphy has performed, Chis is this season’s most pleasant surprise. While he hasn’t hit a homerun, Chisenhall is shooting base hits to all fields with regularity. I expect his power to surface as long as he continues his “hit the ball where it’s pitched” approach but at this point it isn’t really necessary. Hitting near the bottom of the order against righties, Chisenhall is asked to create opportunities for others and he has done just that in 2014. He is not going to continue to hit near .350 for a full season but he also is not going to continue to keep shots in the ballpark at this rate. The future may very well be quite bright for a former first round pick that is trying to buck a devastating trend of early round draft flops for the Tribe.

Kid Kluber, the Emotionless Success:

For anybody that has ever been to London, it is commonly known across the Atlantic that British Royal Guards will not move a muscle when on duty. Yell at them, make gestures, it does not matter: These gentlemen maintain a stone faced disposition at all costs. On the Indians, Corey Kluber personifies the role of the British Royal Guard. Klubes in unflappable and the righty has emerged as the best option for Manager Terry Francona on the staff when a win is needed. Justin Masterson is supposed to be the Ace but the closest thing the Indians have to an actual Ace is Kluber. He throws hard and has very good stuff but it is his command and quiet confidence that really stand out. He is not likely to join Michael Brantley in the All-Star game this season but I expect him to get that level of recognition in the near future. Just don’t expect him to openly enjoy it, that’s not in his DNA. The many minions of Manziel may not like it but a true Indians fan appreciates what Kluber brings to the table every fifth day.

Honorable Mention: Cody Allen, Mark Rzepcynski, Bryan Shaw, Mike Aviles