Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On the War Path

So, with two great pitching performances (along with Byrd’s beauty on Saturday), we’re getting a look at how this Indian team was supposed to look. Solid starting pitching, enough offense, and a steady bullpen have allowed them to win 3 of their last 4. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the AL Central leaders simply refuse to lose.

Consider that the Twins have won 16 of their last 17 games and have gained a total of ½ game on the Tigers. That’s absurd. The clip at which those teams are winning is going to have more to do with the direction that the Tribe takes before the trading deadline than the Indians’ record on July 15th.

The Tigers, White Sox, and Twins were 39-6 against the NL! It’s a little harder to overtake 3 teams (as the Indians have to do this year…and won’t) than it is to chase 1 team down (as they did last year). By the way, that was a concession of the Central – not the season.

With the way those teams have kept their streaks going, it will be interesting to see who the Tribe sends back to Buffalo when Jason Michaels, then Casey Blake come off the DL. Do they send Gutierrez and Inglett back down? Do they look to move Hollandsworth, allow Gutierrez to play regularly, and move Michaels to the 4th outfielder role? Do they consider optioning Ramon Vazquez, allowing Inglett to fill the role of the utility player? This is the next big decision that will show the direction that the Front Office REALLY wants to take.
Do they keep Hollandsworth and Vazquez around to send a message that they haven’t given up on 2006 (though that’s not the message I would draw from it), or do they get a longer look at Gutierrez and Inglett to see how they fit into the future?

Sorry to the mathematically deficient, but I’m going to get a little technical.
For those unaware of how OPS (On-Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage, and a better indication of how often a batter gets on base and when he gets on base, how many total bases he accumulates) is valued, here’s a comparison of OPS and Batting Average numbers, since most people know that having a .330 average is very good, but few know that a .950 OPS is just as impressive.

OPS over .800 is considered good, maybe about between a .275 and a .300 batting average.
A .900 OPS is very good, and comparable to a hitter hitting between .300 and .350.
Over 1.000 is phenomenal and would be as impressive as a hitter hitting over .350.
On the flipside, under .800 is not very well thought of, somewhere between .225 and .275.
Less than .700 is terrible; it’s like being under the Mendoza line.
To bring it to the Indians, here are the regulars’ OPS:
Hafner - 1.071
Sizemore - .920
Benuardo - .915
Blake - .906
Martinez - .825
Belliard - .732
Michaels - .731
Peralta - .713
Boone - .669
No real surprises here: we know that Pronk (what a legend) and Grady have carried this team, that Benuardo and Blake have been pleasant surprises, that Peralta has struggled, and Boone is painful to watch.
But that OPS for Boone is horrific. I don’t want to hear that Andy Marte “isn’t quite ready” or that Boone brings “great intangibles and leadership in the clubhouse”. Having a hitter like Boone in your lineup everyday is like having an albatross around your neck. It’s a curse.

If the Indians continue to trot Boone out to 3B every day, it’s not going to help anything. It won’t help the Indians of today or the Indians of tomorrow. Right now, a high A minor leaguer and a couple of bags of balls looks pretty good.
It’s time for Marte…now. If the Front Office is going to sell us on the fact that they traded Coco for a MLB-ready hitter, they can’t say that Boone is blocking him. Wedge said last week that Marte won’t come up because they don’t have anywhere to play him. Um, Eric…I think that position to the left of SS might work.

On the pitching, maybe Sheldon Ocker was on to something in his scathing article on Sunday about Jason Johnson and his effect on the Tribe. Rarely does a writer (at least in Cleveland) call out a player this significantly, so it’s no surprise that Ocker waited until Johnson was gone to do so. You have to wonder how much of the article had its origins in “off-the-record” conversations with Indian players. Since Johnson’s release, the Tribe starters have thrived and have seemed looser on the mound. Could Johnson have been that much dead weight on the whole team? If so, shame on Wedge and Shapiro for not identifying it and addressing it – particularly with Guthrie and Sowers pitching well, not to mention Carmona.

Speaking of Carmona, how seamlessly has he moved into that 7th inning role? Betancourt and he have done the yeoman’s work of this bullpen, which is on its way to righting itself. Interesting that talent (Carmona and Perez) has proven to be more effective than “veteran guile” (Graves and Sauerbeck). We haven’t even seen Mujica for an extended period because of the solid starting pitching, and he was ridiculously effective in Akron and Buffalo this year. If anything does happen with Wickman by July 31st, I wonder who the Indians would move to that closer role. Logic would say Betancourt, but I wonder if Carmona would get a look as well.

As has been discussed in the Comments section, the Sports Guy is in on the YouTube craze and lists his top videos. The ones you can’t miss are Boom Goes the Dynamite (which I saw on Letterman last year and can’t bring myself to take off of TiVo), Eddie Murphy’s “Whatzupwitu”, Van Damme’s dancing scene that was cut from “Kickboxer”, and Journey’s “Separate Ways”.
The DiaBride can’t figure out how I can sit on the couch and search YouTube for different things.
But it’s entirely addictive.

Finally, let’s all send some thoughts and prayers to Peter Gammons, who seems like one of us in his love of baseball. The major difference is that MLB GM’s have him on speed dial. I have yet to come home to Shapiro on my answering machine.


Baltimoran said...

boy did they piss that one away, great ninth inning defense

well, I'm pretty happy with the draft thus far, GO CAVS

Cy Slapnicka said...

"By the way, that was a concession of the Central – not the season." Um, I'm not a smart man...but what do you consider "the season"? If it is evaluating young players and trading expiring contracts and preparing for next year, then I agree its not over. But if you're talking wild card, you are certifiably insane. The Tigers and Twins team planes would have to have a mid-air collision over Yankee Stadium during a NY/Toronto game w/their burning wreckage falling onto the field, bullpens, and dugouts for us to get back in it. Oh, and that would have to happen soon so we'd have enough time to catch up with them b/c I'm sure they'd field minor league teams that might be able to win at a clip close to what the Indians are doing.

As for last night's game, we shouldn't be surprised. I am beginning to wonder about Wedgy though. The Shoppach move was questionable, but he is supposed to be a better defender than Victor. But moving the Stick to 1B in the 9th? If we are making defensive subs late in the game, what is the net gain here? I haven't seen any of it nor do I know if I am missing something, but this seems logical to me. I know its been the popular thing to criticize him lately and I'm not jumping aboard the he can't control the performance of the players. But as that talk has heated up, I've paid more attention to his decisions and they are often questionable.

One more thing....your talk of OPS reminded me about Grady's stats this season. If you haven't looked at his numbers lately, this is what he's on pace for roughly: .300, 40-2B, 12-3B, 30-HR, 80-RBI, 26-SB, and 130-runs. Pretty impressive from the leadoff spot...especially when he's trying to knock in the likes of Boone. What would be amazing would be if we get a more traditional leadoff hitter (Trevor Crowe) or and put Grady in the 2 hole and Marte comes up and starts mashing...

Baltimoran said...

never in my wildest dreams would i have imagined that baltimore would be outplaying the tribe at this point of the season. I can't remember a more dissapointing season that started with such positive expectations. Apollo Creed is dead aaron, bring up the youngsters.