Thursday, July 27, 2006

What Went Wrong?

Sitting in Pronkville on Wednesday with my buddy TC, we were trying to figure out what's gone wrong with the Indians. Citing the fact that the Indians roster of 2006 was nearly identical to that of the 2005 team (which won 93 games) with the obvious changes in LF (Michaels for Crisp), the rotation (Byrd for Millwood, Johnson for Elarton), and the bullpen (namely Mota for Howry), we wondered, “How is this team this bad?”

How do those changes, which don’t scream, “downgrade”, translate into a truly disappointing season? There’s a lot of questions, without any concrete answers; but let’s take a look at some of the things that have gone wrong and how this team sets up for 2007, which I still argue is pretty well.

The infield defense has been abysmal, but that infield remained unchanged, as did the catcher position – so how did ALL of these players suddenly regress defensively to such a degree that the Indians’ defense became painful to watch? It’s true that Boone was never a great defender, and it does look like Peralta’s range has lessened – but Broussard suddenly became a HUGE liability at 1B, and Victor (who has been, by all accounts, a competent backstop) allowed teams to run all over the Indians and lacked the energy that he once brought to the position.

Could Peralta have gained weight in the offseason, affecting his agility? Did Broussard decide to mail it in when the Indians didn’t give him the 1B job outright, instead bringing in Perez to form our good friend Benuardo? Is Victor nursing some injury, not serious enough to merit a trip to the DL; but one that limits his defensive ability? If you’ve seen Victor run the bases this year, he is notably slower than he was last year. He’ll never be mistaken for Ichiro on the basepaths, but he was thrown out at 1B on Wednesday AFTER the runner at 2B was safe on a potential GIDP!

Is it all on the defense? No chance. It certainly didn’t help, but you can’t blame a lost season on infield errors.

The bullpen was an obvious disaster as nobody could fill the Howry set-up role, even adequately. Mota, Betancourt, and Cabrera all came out as unmitigated disasters and, from that night in Baltimore, when Matty Miller and Rocky Betancourt hit the DL in the same INNING – it was all downhill. The bullpen became an open tryout for the likes of Guthrie and Slocum. In the meantime, the “savvy veterans” Graves and Sauerbeck proved themselves to be no longer of the ML-quality variety. That’s just about the whole bullpen blowing up, with the exception of what was the biggest preseason question mark, the Sticky One.

By the time the bullpen sorted itself out, with Carmona dominating, Brian Sikorski being picked off the scrap heap to contribute, Cabrera re-capturing his 2005 success, and even Jason Dangerously contributing – the season was done.

Sure, it could have played a role, but can the bullpen be fully blamed? No, teams with lesser bullpens have succeeded.

By the way - on Carmona - while watching the Miami Vice pilot last Saturday, I decided that Fausto's entrance music should be Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” because no song builds up anticipation that delivers with that first drum roll like that one.
Picture it – Collins’ voice comes over the sound system, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life” as the bullpen doors open.

But I digress.

Back to the matter at hand, it’s true that the offense has been inconsistent, but it’s been solid. It seems that they’ll score in double digits, and then go into hibernation for a few games. But you can’t argue with their overall numbers.

Same with the starting pitching – it’s been inconsistent to a degree, but solid overall.

What’s the conclusion? Unfortunately not much, outside of the fact that the 2005 Indians weren’t as good as their final record indicated and that the 2006 Indians aren’t as bad as their record indicates. The folks at Baseball Prospectus seem to agree with their statistically-driven Power Rankings on Monday, saying that the stats dictate that the Indians should be winning at a .524 clip, not losing at a .440 rate (the difference being a 53-48 record and a 44-56 record).

Who knows what it really is, as we can sit here and cry over the spilled milk on the table for the next two months.

Rather than doing that, I’d rather focus on the fact that I don’t think that this team is too far away from getting back to the results of last year.

Jim Leyland, who is enjoying his current status as baseball genius, said that his Pirates had a year similar the 2006 Tribe in 1989 when things just didn’t go right for a young, talented team. He said that the team used it as motivation to rattle off three straight divisional titles, then went further to say that the Indians have that kind of young talent. Could it have been a Lou Holtz-esque sound bite, where you praise your opponent? Sure, but Leyland doesn’t strike me as that kind of guy, huffing heaters in the tunnel, mostly looking like the crazy skinny guy you see at the end of the local bar, sucking down PBR cans, that you would NEVER mess with.

As we’ve said, the question marks for this team for next year are at 2B (where Belliard could be re-signed, or Super Joe Inglett could force his way into the plans like Coco did, just don’t count on it), a corner OF position (where with the addition of SSC, or as serial poster Rodells called him Big League Choo, has another ML-ready player to pick the right mix from; and a FA signing is still a distinct possibility), and the Bullpen (where the open tryouts will separate the wheat from the chaff).

That’s it. There aren’t as many holes or question marks as some people would have you believe.

Sizemore, Hafner, Martinez, Peralta, C.C., Lee, and Carmona are all still going to be the core.

Shoppach, Marte, Gutierrez, Inglett, Sowers, Cabrera, Mujica, Perez. Sipp, Choo, Garko, and those bullpen arms are all youngsters who have opportunity to develop into core players in some form.

Blake, Westbrook, and Byrd are all scheduled to be back to contribute their veteran leadership.

I also happen to believe that the money being saved with all of these moves WILL translate into some money being spent in the off-season, maybe not on Carlos Lee, and maybe on our own guys (like Lee or Pronk) – but the money will be spent.

The way that this team is being constructed is allowing greater flexibility with Blake and Inglett forming a stronger bench for next year and allowing the young core another year to mature.

I’m not sitting here with rose-colored glasses – the current incarnation of the Indians is painful to watch, trust me - I know that.

But to me, the future is still bright for this team (maybe not so bright that I have to wear Timbuk 3’s shades), but bright enough that I can still see the light at the end of tunnel.

9 comments:

warclub said...

Amen, Amen from the guys at Cleveland Sports Perspective

Rockdawg said...

This business with LaCharles is just so disturbing....I can't get over it? Are they sure that field in Berea is level? Are there holes or sprinkler heads poking out in some places?

T-Bone said...

from someone i know, who is definitely in the know...

"
I just flew into Cleveland today to chill with my folks and LeCharles happens to be a friend of the family... the "Keys" family is royally ticked off. Unofficially, this had a little to do with a certain unsigned rookie who was trying waaaay too hard to impress people on the first day of camp. What should have been a walk-through type drill ended up being human carnage, and now the Bentley is immobile, perched atop blocks in the front yard. If my last name was Savage, I'd cut the bastard who did this today just so that I'd never have to see him again.

All the same, injuries happen in sports. Its part of the game, not a voo-doo curse."

T-Bone said...

also, cavs throwbacks next season, check http://www.uniwatchblog.com/

T-Bone said...

PrintPrint © 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
Indians promote Marte to Majors
07/28/2006 1:00 PM ET
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The key cog in the controversial trade that sent Coco Crisp to the Red Sox has made it to the big leagues.

Third-base prospect Andy Marte was promoted to the Indians from Triple-A Buffalo on Friday, with utility infielder Ramon Vazquez optioned back to the Bisons.

Marte, acquired along with reliever Guillermo Mota and catcher Kelly Shoppach in the trade that sent Crisp, David Riske and Josh Bard to Boston, has been generally regarded as the Tribe's third baseman for '07. At the time of the trade, the club said he'd need some more Triple-A seasoning before he'd be big-league ready, and he proved as much with a slump at the plate at the outset of '06.

In recent weeks, though, Marte has been as productive as they come. He earned International League Player of the Month honors in June by batting .304 with 10 homers and 22 RBIs. Earlier this month, he took home the Home Run Derby crown at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Toledo.

For the season, Marte has hit .261 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs. He's made 19 errors in the field.

The Indians had several front-office staff members check Marte out in recent days, with general manager Mark Shapiro getting the final look earlier this week.

With veteran third baseman Aaron Boone struggling both at the plate and in the field this season, the club is expected to give Marte regular starts at the position. Boone could be traded before the July 31 deadline, released or placed in a utility role.

This will be the second taste of the Majors for Marte, originally a Braves prospect who was shipped to the Red Sox during the Winter Meetings last December. A September callup to Atlanta last year, he hit .140 (8-for-57) with four RBIs in 24 games.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Indians Homepage | MLB.com

Cy Slapnicka said...

Special times call for special music! Fire up them speakers.

Its funny, Pluto wrote an article about how its Spring again and I really do feel like it as far as my attitude towards the team. Moped a bit, but then I just started thinking about next year...and not in that negative "i guess we'll wait til next year" sort of way.

Btw, if you haven't kept up with HR being dismissed from BBTN, he appears to be taking the Mark McGuire stance ("I had a meeting," Reynolds said, "but rather than focus on the details, I'd prefer to focus on the future."). I'm assuming his next step is to blame Tejada or pretend he can't speak English.

Pat Tabler said...

Well said.

I have tix behind the visitors' dugout tonight and can't wait to see Choo, Marte, Sowers, and hopefully Carmona.

If there was a mistake this year, it's that the FO waited for too long to bring these guys up in place of Johnson, Boone, Mota, etc.

Look at Minnesota, they gave their young guys a chance and took off.

Who's to say the Tribe can't do the same?

If you couldn't tell by the original post, confidence is still high for this team. 2006, I think will prove to be nothing more than a matter of taking one step back to take two forward.

T-Bone said...

hilarious that this was on the behind home plate advertising board tonight. at first i thought it was just because choo is now here, but i faintly remember it being up before when seattle is in town.

Baltimoran said...

sowers and the choo choo train are immune to PC's jinxability. I'm starting to see the silver lining of a terrible season

you can't blame an undrafted rookie for going balls out in a drill, i hope for his sake he doesn't go to camp next year, Lecharles is a badass

I hope bob hallen didn't hang out with any of those doucebags on the mentor soccer team when he went there