Saturday, June 30, 2007

And In This Corner...

After The Frisco Kid burst onto the local sports scene last night (and Frank the Tank continues to impress), the call for a more productive LF & RF will intensify as people will see how these “kids” can do better than Michaels and Nixon and dream about how a Ken Griffey, Jr. or an Adam Dunn immediately makes the Indians the odds-on favorite to win the World Series because of the increased run production.

But how important is it to have a stud corner OF if the other positions are producing runs (the Indians remain 2nd in MLB in runs scored) and the starting rotation finally looks to be healthy and intact for an extended run?

How have past WS winners been constructed in regards to their corner OF positions?

Using Baseball Reference, here are the players that manned the two corner positions (or played the most games that particular year at that position) for World Series Champs since 2000:
Note: The first three numbers refer to Batting Average / On-Base % / Slugging %
2006 St. Louis
LF – So Taguchi (.266 / .335 / .351, 2 HR, 31 RBI)
RF – Juan Encarnacion (.278 / .317 / .443, 19 HR, 79 RBI)

2005 Chicago
LF – Scott Podsednik (.290 / .351 .349, 0 HR, 25 RBI)
RF – Jermaine Dye (.274 / .333 / .512, 31 HR, 86 RBI)

2004 Boston
LF – Manny Ramirez (.308 / .397 / .613, 43 HR, 130 RBI)
RF – Gabe Kapler (.272 / .311 / .390, 6 HR, 33 RBI)

2003 Florida
LF – Todd Hollandsworth (.254 / .317 / .421, 3 HR, 20 RBI)
RF – Juan Encarnacion (.270 / .313 / .446, 19 HR, 94 RBI)

2002 Anaheim
LF – Garrett Anderson (.306 / .332 / .539, 29 HR, 123 RBI)
RF – Tim Salmon (.286 / .380 / .503, 22 HR, 88 RBI)

So, while it’s obviously nice to have a Manny Ramirez in the lineup, having a huge corner bat doesn’t automatically translate into World Series pennants.
So Taguchi?
Gabe Kapler?
Todd Hollandsworth?

Consider the outfield production of this pair:
LF – (.317 / .401 / .690, 50 HR, 126 RBI)
RF – (.308 / .402 / .558, 31 HR, 107 RBI)
Now that’s some corner production!

Yes, it’s Albert and Manny, circa 1995, the combination of unrivaled talent that has led a generation of Indians’ fans to believe that it is imperative to have two HUGE bats in the corner OF positions.

Not to discount that unbelievable team that 75% of Clevelanders can still name top to bottom, but that team didn’t win the World Series did they?
Got beat by some team that hung their collective hat on their starting pitching, right?

While I certainly agree that better production from RF is necessary as the team is getting nothing from Trot Nixon and should give Frank the Tank and The Frisco Kid a good long look, where exactly does it say that you MUST have corner OF that are MVP candidates to win the World Series.

It may be blasphemy, but the build of the 2007 Indians most closely resembles the Yankees teams of the mid-1990’s. Both teams feature exceptional catchers (Hip-Hip Jorge & The Stick), SS (Jeter & Peralta), CF (Bernie & Grady) and a 1B/DH (Tino & Pronk).

Between the Indians’ runs at the pennant, the Yanks pulled two rings in 1996 and 1998. Their starting corner OF production:
1998 New York
LF – Chad Curtis (.243 / .355 / .360, 10 HR, 56 RBI)
RF – Paul O’Neill (.317 / .372 / .510, 24 HR, 116 RBI)

1996 New York

LF – Gerald Williams (.270 / .319 / .433, 5 HR, 30 RBI)
RF – Paul O’Neill (.302 / .411 / .474, 19 HR, 91 RBI)

Paul O’Neill’s a nice little player, but Chad Curtis? Gerald Williams?
The rest of their 1998 lineup (the one that won 114 games) included Chuck Knoblauch , Scott Brosius, and Daryl Strawberry. The 1996 team had Mariano Duncan, Wade Boggs, and Ruben Sierra!

The point is that the production from one particular position gets overblown by expectations that your “power positions” should be generating RBI’s by the bushel every day. The fact is that run-producing corner position players don’t just grow on trees is lost on people who long for the days of Manny roaming RF (by the way, Dellichaels – or Dellucci and Michaels – have 45 RBI, Manny has 43) and Albert prowling around LF.

I’m all for giving the youngsters some AB’s in lieu of Nixon in the lineup, but let’s hold off the “they’re one or two bats away” talk and turn to the real issues that litter the 6th and 7th inning relief corps.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Ben Francisco Treat

Guess what’s back…back again?
The magic’s back…tell a friend.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Riding the Waves

After the Nationals’ debacle over the weekend, the ledges of Greater Cleveland filled with Tribe fans ready to blow the season up and throw this team under the bus. Now, just as quickly after a 5-run comeback against the A’s, all is well?

Stop the train…I want to get off.

Sure, the Indians blew an opportunity to capitalize on a soft part of their schedule; but even with the frustration that pervaded the Nats’ series, it’s time to take a step back from the ledge. It’s a marathon, people, and there’s going to be some ups and downs – the first two games of the A’s series did a pretty good job of proving that.

Take a breath, break out the yoga mat and remember how this Indians team is built, where it stands as we approach the halfway point and have some faith in the big picture while not getting too wrapped up in small stretches of the marathon of a 162-game season.

The current Indians are built on strong starting pitching and three excellent position players in Sizemore, Hafner and Martinez. The remainder of the lineup is designed to be filled with a mix of moderately productive veterans (Blake and Michaels) and emerging young talent (Garko, Barfield, and Peralta) while the bullpen is meant to maximize the hot hand until the right progression of relievers is found to solidify the back end of the bullpen, where Borowski and Betancourt have taken care of the 8th and 9th innings thus far.

Up to this point of the season, even with its ups and downs, the team stands at 45-31. At their current clip, they would close out the season at 96-66. Because of the great start, even if they just play .500 baseball over the last 86 games, they project to finish at 88-74.

All of this with Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook spending about 8 weeks apiece on the DL, Jeremy Sowers and Andy Marte being sent to Buffalo for injury or ineffectiveness, Travis Hafner not hitting a HR for 19 games, and getting zero production from RF.

It could be argued that this team has not even played it’s best baseball yet as the rotation finally looks settled (with an adequate 6th starter/long man on the pitching staff), the offense will likely fall somewhere between May’s production (an MLB-leading 180 runs) and April (14th in MLB in runs scored) and June’s (15th in MLB in run scored) production, and that the Indians have yet to have a true relief stud emerge from the bevy of relievers in Buffalo (though Perez is making a case).

Despite an imperfect beginning to the season, the Tribe is still 3 ½ games up in the Wild Card and tied up with the suddenly-cooling Tigers in the toughest division in baseball.

Have there been disappointments?
Sure, but let’s table the “sports talk radio syndrome” and not just dwell on the negative as it’s easy to sit there in the sniper’s nest, picking off your poor targets one by one.
Everyone loved to tear Roberto Hernandez (with good reason), but he’s gone. Move on.
Trot Nixon is a complete dead weight on the offense, but Frankie Gutierrez has started 6 of the last 9 games and it seems that he’s working his way into the rotation.

Can we look at the half-full glass for once in this town?
C.C. has taught us that ace can be spelled with two C’s, Fausto Carmona has established himself as a top-of-the-rotation starter, and while Westbrook, Lee, and Byrd have all had varying degrees of inconsistency this year – the rotation looks to be settling in. Does anyone realize that the Indians are 2nd in the AL in Quality Starts, behind only the Angels and ahead of that vaunted Red Sox rotation?

Why can’t we focus be on the rebirth of Casey Blake, who keeps hitting wherever they put him in the lineup?
Or the return of Jhonny v.2005?
Or how about the fact that Garko, Barfield, and Shoppach have established themselves as legitimate MLB players or that Victor Martinez is a legitimate MVP candidate in the AL?
Or Hafner, not at full speed, having 50 RBI and looking like he’s broken out of whatever has hampered him?

It’s true that the bullpen hasn’t been pretty, but Joe Borowski has 21 saves, to rank 2nd in the AL, and has only blown 2. Rafael Betancourt has been one of the most effective set-up guys in MLB, with a 1.36 ERA and 15 Holds, while only allowing one inherited runner (among 19) to score all year. While it’s true that the rest of the bullpen has been a work in progress, there’s at least some arms to work with in Tom Mastny and Rafael Perez, with the idea that uber-prospect Atom Miller helping out in a Wainwright/Papelbon role is not as far-fetched as once thought. Luckily for the Tribe, bullpen help is actually available from non-contenders without having to give up the farm.

Rather than moaning and pulling your hair out about Paul Byrd’s June or Trot Nixon and his .659 OPS in the lineup against RHP (remember that he is the only LH OF on the team not named Grady), or proposing ridiculous trade proposals to “shake things up” – let’s all get our fingers off of the panic button, and watch an excellent Indians’ team make a push for the playoffs.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lazy #*!@$ Sunday

After losing two of the three to the Nationals (THE NATIONALS!), just a quick Lazy Sunday as I have to try to wrap my head around what has happened to the Indians’ offense:

Terry Pluto examines the bullpen, and how the Tribe is still in search of that second arm to set-up JoeBo.

Perhaps the answer to Terry Pluto’s question is contained in this piece from the Buffalo News, which mentions that Atom Miller will begin to see some work out of the Bisons’ bullpen.

Paul Hoynes pulls the old “Hindsight is 20/20” story with Jeremy Guthrie, who has found success in Baltimore. Nowhere in the article does the word “Leo” or “Mazzone” appear, nor does it list the pitchers that Mazzone has helped to become effective under his tutelage in Atlanta and Baltimore when they appeared to be lost causes otherwise.

Sheldon Ocker thinks that C.C. should be a regular pinch hitter for the Tribe. Apparently, Ocker thinks enough of the topic to devote the one column he gets a week to simply offer his opinion.
I’ve heard of out-of-the-box thinking, but this constitutes outside-of-the-zip-code-where-said-box-is-located thinking.

I suppose this downturn by the Indians could be worse…they could be the White Sox, now actively shopping Buehrle and Dye, among others.

Whether or not the South Siders slide offers any solace, it’s time for the Indians to take a good, long look at what’s happened to them since they swept Detroit in the Motor City. They’ve gone 12-14 since that high-water mark and have seen their offense drop to 9th in the AL in runs in June after being the highest scoring offense in the AL in May.

What will cure what is ailing the Indians’ struggling offense?

Who knows, but 4 games against the A’s and their pitching staff with an ERA of 3.33 doesn’t look to be a recipe for success.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Paging Pronk

Noticeably absent from the 2007 Cleveland Indians’ team has been everyone’s favorite alter ego – that of DH Travis Hafner – Pronk.
Pronk, that menacing presence in the on-deck circle and monster crouching over the plate, daring pitchers to make a mistake that will land in the outfield seats has been replaced by a rather pedestrian DH…goes by the name of Hafner.

Now, this Mr. Hafner’s numbers so far this year are by no means terrible:
.257 Batting Average
.401 OBP
.432 SLG
.833 OPS
10 HR
42 R
46 RBI

His RBI totals put him in the top 25 for MLB, tied with David Ortiz in RBI, so the production has not been completely absent; but he is far from the hitting machine that averaged 37 HR and 112 RBI in the past two years, while spending a good deal of time on the DL.

He looks like the same hitter and no glaring differences are obvious to the naked eye, so perhaps the statistics will tell the story. Don’t worry, math makes my head hurt, so we’ll keep it pretty basic.

One strength of Pronk has always been his plate discipline and his ability to discern a ball from a strike, work a count for a walk, and avoid strikeouts.
His walk and strikeout percentages for the last 3 seasons:
2005 – 14.0%
2006 – 18.1%
2007 – 19.1%

2005 – 25.3%
2006 – 24.4%
2007 – 23.2%

So his pitch selection seems to be unchanged as he is, in fact, walking more and striking out less than he has in years past. It’s possible that he’s not seeing the good pitches, but at least he’s still identifying the good pitches to hit.

Pronk, much like Barry Bonds (warts and all) has a discriminate eye that is able to identify the pitch that he should drive and hit it hard. He may not see that many good pitches to hit in an at-bat, but he has always been able to identify the pitch to hit and make the pitcher pay for the mistake.

However, despite this continued excellence in plate discipline, which has allowed his OBP to remain above .400, there has been a huge drop in Hafner’s slugging percentage:
2005 - .595
2006 - .659
2007 - .432

This means that when Hafner is making contact with the ball, he’s not driving the ball resulting the in the extra base hits and HR that had become his hallmark. This becomes apparent by looking at his HR/FB % (or out of Fly Balls hit, how many were HR), it’s apparent that he’s not getting his normal power in the balls that he’s driving.
2005 – 24.4%
2006 – 30.2%
2007 – 16.1%

While that’s an awfully precipitous drop, the most concerning trend is his newfound frequency to hit grounders on the pitch he selects to put a meaningful swing into. Whereas in the past, Hafner would spray liners and fly balls into the gaps, he is now meekly grounding out to the middle infield with alarming regularity. His ground balls, by year:
2005 – 158
2006 – 133
2007 – 91
Or, he’s already hit about 70% of the amount of ground balls he hit all of last year. Through 71 games, that does not bode well for him as he’s on pace for over 200 ground balls, which would smash his previous numbers.

So, essentially, it looks like his batting eye is still there, but Hafner is missing the ball that he used to crush. Whether he’s not getting enough on it to hit it out of the park, or topping it into the ground, he’s just not hitting the ball on the screws as he has done in the past two years.

Why would this be happening?
Perhaps it’s his chronically sore right elbow and the fact that he’s playing 1B much more frequently than he ever has (9 games already this year, compared to 5 combined games the previous two years) that has rendered his swing weaker or altered the torque of his swing.
If that is the case, it’s time for him to put the 1B glove in mothballs and let him go back to full-time DH.

Perhaps it’s the contract negotiations that have started with the Indians, as Hafner becomes a FA at the end of the 2008 season. With the reports today that clarify Peter Gammons’ report that Hafner turned down a 5-year, $60M deal to bring the reported offer to either a 5–year, $70M or a 4-year, $60M offer (which is an eminently fair deal, in line with David Ortiz’s extension and an offer that should quiet any talk that the Dolans are unwilling or unable to make fair and legitimate offers to existing Indians to prevent their Free Agency), it’s very possible that Hafner is pressing to enhance his market value to the team.
If that’s the case, somebody needs him to pull his head out of his…well, someone needs him to start playing baseball.

Whatever the reason for Hafner’s difficulties and the disappearance of Pronk, let’s hope the Travis didn’t go into Wedge’s office and pull a Scott Howard in “Teen Wolf”, saying that he’s going to go as himself and not his wildly successful inner animal. Because if he did, I have some news for Travis – people don’t go to watch “The Incredible Hulk” to find out about Bruce Banner’s inner demons, they go to see a monster rip a town apart.

Travis, unleash the fury.
Open the cage and let Pronk out.
Unleash the fury.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Shakin' Things Up

As David Dellucci pulled up lame with a “hamstring strain” on Tuesday night (moments after I posted that we should stay the course with Dellichaels in LF), the problem of keeping Jason Stanford on the 25-man roster looked to be solved.

It laid out quite nicely:
Dellucci goes on the 15-Day DL.

A reliever is called up to take his place until Westbrook’s start on Sunday.

Go with a 13-man pitching staff until it is determined that Jake was healthy.

Nixon takes Dellucci’s spot in the LF platoon, Gutierrez plays RF full-time.

In the scenario, the Indians retain their 4 OF (with Michaels and Gutierrez having the flexibility of moving them around if needed) and keep Stanford on the roster in case Westbrook comes back and realizes that he’s still injured.

Well…the Indians had more moves than just this solution in mind. And the cause of the moves was the continued ineffectiveness of Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez, he of the 6.23 ERA, the 1.88 WHIP, and the one who has allowed nearly 1/3 of his inherited runners to score, was handed a ticket out of Cleveland – to go along with a nice, fat $3.5M parting gift.

In Tuesday’s loss, Hernandez was brought on in the 9th to keep it close in a 1-run game and pitched…well, like he has all year. He struggled from the start and removed any chance that the Indians had to win the ballgame, as Wedge watched from the dugout with an look of “get yourself out of this one” on his face. After Hernandez finally recorded the 3rd out, the damage was done and a 4-run lead had been re-established. The Indians went on to score another run in the 9th (which would have tied it), making Hernandez’s performance all the more frustrating.

Apparently, the frustration existed in the Tribe offices as well; as he was DFA’d the next day to make space for Edward Mujica from Buffalo. No problem at all with this move as Hernandez was never effective for the Indians and often downright maddening.

But wait, this creates 2 roster spots because of Dellucci going on the DL – so was it really necessary to do now? Couldn’t the Indians follow the scenario above, call up Mujica to take Dellucci’s spot and DFA Hernandez before Westbrook’s start on Sunday? That would keep Mujica and Stanford in the bullpen and still have a roster spot open for Westbrook.

But the Indians took the next step in recalling Ben Francisco from Buffalo to become their 5th OF. Now, generally, when a team carries 5 OF, it means that they’re running some sort of platoon system at 2 of the OF positions (as the Indians were doing to start the season).

With Wedge saying that RH bats Michaels and Gutierrez will get most of the starts in LF and RF, it means that Trot Nixon has become the 4th OF and the LH bat off of the bench. This is great and I have no problem with this. I’d like to see Nixon take some AB away from Michaels against RHP as we’ve all seen what he does in a full-time role (I believe it was last year and his performance as a full-time LF prompted the signing of Dellucci), but that still may happen.

So why call up Francisco at all? While he certainly merited a call-up with his International League leading batting average and solid overall numbers in Buffalo, when is he going to play? He’s RH, like Michaels and Gutierrez, and doesn’t seem to be more than a 5th OF. How is this going to help his maturation and development, sitting on the bench in Cleveland? He’s already been on MLB roster once without an AB, is that the plan again?

I’m aware that Francisco has hit RH pitchers (.984 OPS) better than LH pitchers (.644 OPS) in Buffalo this year, so some are saying that he will be a platoon in LF with Michaels; but, does anyone believe that Wedge will have a platoon consisting of 2 RH hitters? And the unbalanced success against RHP in Buffalo is not consistent with his history in previous years, so it is likely just an aberration appearing over 61 games in Buffalo.

Unless the Indians are using Gutierrez or Francisco to showcase them for a possible trade for bullpen help, the second move doesn’t hold water for me as it makes the OF too RH heavy with too many similar players. Finding AB’s for all 3 of them in 2 positions (with Nixon still in the mix) is something I’ll believe when I see.

For now, everyone who bought their Hernandez jerseys at the beginning of the season (all 4 of you), it’s time to break out the duct tape over the name as Browns’ fans have done for so many years.

After an off day today, the Indians head to the nation’s capital to try to get fat on the Nationals like the Tigers just did.

They face three starting pitchers named Micah Bowie, Matt Chico, and Jason Simontacchi (which all, frankly, sound a little made up), so the Indians can’t afford to let the opportunity to beat up on Washington pass them by.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Painted Into a Corner

Much has been made recently about the lack of production coming from the corner OF positions on the Indians. While Dellucci and Nixon have become the whipping boys du jour (as Casey Blake and Jason Michaels are unsure what to do with their newfound popularity), it’s time to look at the actual numbers being produced by those two positions in the Indians lineup.

The cumulative season statistics follow the position, and then are shown how they rank against the same position production among the 30 MLB teams:
Left Field
.769 OPS (19th of 30)
40 R (10th of 30)
9 HR (13th of 30)
38 RBI (14th of 30)

Right Field
.715 OPS (22nd of 30)
37 R (13th of 30)
5 HR (24th of 30)
34 RBI (22nd of 30)

Not setting the world on fire, but not necessarily as bad as it looks from day to day on the field. Essentially, Dellichaels in LF has performed around the middle of the pack while RF falls further down the list, partially due to a full-time job being given to Nixon after Blake moved to 3B to take over for the injured (and struggling) Marte.

The individual players’ numbers currently filling those spots in LF break down like this:
.800 OPS - 19 R - 5 HR - 19 RBI

.697 OPS - 25 R - 4 HR - 19 RBI

While some would argue that Michaels has earned more playing time, I would counter that he’s being used exactly as he should – exclusively against LHP. Last year, we saw how Michaels performed against all pitchers and his splits this year (.854 OPS vs. LHP, .638 OPS vs. RHP) validate the use of him as a platoon player who struggles once he is forced to be in the lineup everyday and go up against RHP regularly.

His platoon partner, Dellucci, has also proven that he is best served in the role of only playing against RHP, though his numbers against both RHP and LHP are drastically below his career averages:
.501 OPS vs. LHP in 2007, .605 OPS vs. LHP from 2004-2006
.727 OPS vs. RHP in 2007, .875 OPS vs. RHP from 2004-2006

As long as Dellucci trends back towards his career averages against RHP in the platoon with Michaels, the LF platoon will do the trick.
Not tremendously, but effectively.

The prevailing notion that Big League Choo should be in Cleveland, taking Dellucci’s spot in the LF platoon, is undermined by the fact that Choo is struggling in Buffalo, particularly against RHP (.771 OPS vs. LHP, .672 OPS vs. RHP) whom he would face. While Choo would certainly bring more athleticism to the platoon in the field than Dellucci does, his numbers in Buffalo don’t merit a promotion. If he were crushing AAA pitchers, he could certainly represent an upgrade.
But right now, the BLC doesn’t.

The situation in LF is one that bears watching if Dellucci is unable to trend towards his career numbers vs. RHP, but Dellichaels in LF does not pose the biggest problem on this team, or even in the outfield.

The much bigger problem exists in RF, where Trot Nixon has seen his OPS drop from .894 on May 7th to its current .664 over a period of 32 games, with just 6 XBH in that stretch. If that was an aberration or just a prolonged slump, the alarm wouldn’t go off.
But, here are Nixon’s OPS numbers from the past 5 years:
2003 - .975
2004 - .887
2005 - .804
2006 - .767
2007 - .664
And, here we find the problem. Nixon, who has been playing RF against LHP and RHP until just recently with Gutierrez coming into the picture, has either been playing injured (off-season back surgery) or is simply on the downside of his career. The fact that his defense has been substandard only builds the case against Nixon as an everyday, or even platoon, player.

Consider Nixon’s numbers for 2007:
.664 OPS - 22 R - 2 HR - 23 RBI
Even with the excellent production from C and SS (two positions that historically don’t produce a lot of runs), Nixon in the lineup every day has become a liability.

But before throwing all sorts of RF possibilities out there not currently in the organization, let’s make another consideration – give Franklin Gutierrez the full-time gig in RF on a 6-week trial basis (until July 31st) to see what we have in Frank the Tank.

With Gutierrez out of options at the end of the year, the team needs to find out if Gutierrez has the potential to become an everyday player to line up beside Grady Sizemore for the next few years, or if he is simply a 4th OF that can be used for trade bait to a team in need of a CF (his natural position) like the team did with Coco Crisp a few years ago.

In his short time with the parent club, Gutierrez has posted this line:
.635 OPS - 7 R - 2 HR - 5 RBI
Notice that Gutierrez, who is by no means a HR hitter with his new shorter stroke, has as many HR as Nixon does in 174 fewer plate appearances.

While the Atomic Wedgie seems to working Nixon and Gutierrez into a platoon in recent games, a better approach would be to give Gutierrez a spot in the lineup every day. In Buffalo, Gutierrez performed equally well vs. all pitchers, posting a .938 OPS vs. LHP and a .847 OPS vs. RHP (notice the marked difference to Choo’s lesser numbers in Buffalo); so it may be time to give Gutierrez a long look in RF.

While some may clamor for the release of Nixon to bring another player in, he still does offer a LH bat off of the bench and veteran leadership. That “veteran leadership” is not a quantifiable quality, but there is something to be said for a team’s chemistry that is sitting on top of the toughest division in baseball, having overcome numerous roadblocks already in the young season. Whether Nixon’s presence is a factor or not is debatable, but the performance and attitude that the team conveys is not.
For now, Nixon keeps his spot on the team, just not in the everyday lineup.

Another option to solve the problem in RF would be to bring Andy Marte up to face LHP (he’s sitting on a 1.024 OPS vs. LHP in Buffalo since he returned from injury in an admittedly small number of plate appearances) and move Blake back into the platoon situation where he would play 3B against RHP and RF against LHP.
But, with Blake going the way he is as the everyday 3B – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Many fans are vocal about upgrading one (or both) of the corner OF spots as the season moves closer to the halfway point. For now, the team should allow the LF platoon (which has been serviceable, but not spectacular) play out as it was designed for Dellichaels, and give Gutierrez a shot in the everyday lineup in RF. If a change becomes necessary from either Dellucci’s continued struggles or Gutierrez’s failure as an everyday player, so be it.

But for now, with the trading deadline 5 weeks away from today, the Indians would be best served to put those plans into motion (or keep them in motion) to fully determine if an in-house solution exists before jumping the gun on bringing a corner OF in from the outside at the expense of prospects when the answer may already be in the Indians’ clubhouse.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Thing of the Past?

A few appetizers, with the usual suspects on a Lazy Sunday, before the main course arrives on something that’s been bothering me for a while.
First a Lazy Fathers’ Sunday:
Sheldon Ocker sees what is in his perpetually half-empty glass.

It takes a while to get to something noteworthy from Paul Hoynes, but he has a nice perspective on whether this Indians team will capture the imagination of Cleveland.

Finally, Jim Ingraham provides a Kevin Millwood update. Even with Byrd’s past three forgettable starts, that 2-year deal with an option for a 3rd for Byrd is looking better than the 5 guaranteed years Millwood received from the Rangers with each passing day.

Ah, here comes the server with the Fathers’ Day dish, the death of Saturday afternoon baseball at the hands of MLB and FOX.

About 5 years ago, while planning my Bachelor Party, the group of us decided that that perfect way to spend the day was to buy a block of seats in the bleachers for a Saturday afternoon game, then have our way with the city after the game. Considering that the game ended about 4:00, the city was our oyster and spending the day under the sun in the LF bleachers at the Jake couldn’t have been a better start to the day/night.

Going even further back, my grandfather took me to a Saturday afternoon baseball game at Municipal Stadium as the Erie Warriors faced off against the Bash Brothers version of the Oakland A’s in the late 80’s. The day was memorable in that we had seats behind the visiting dugout and we marveled at the size of the players under the glare of the Saturday sun. While our astonishment at the size of those particular players has since been affected by subsequent findings, it’s not the only lost innocence that the day represented.

The glory that Saturday baseball represents, sitting under the sun with your friends or family, watching baseball the way it was intended to be viewed has been forever altered by (surprise, surprise) the shortsightedness of MLB and the greed associated with the exclusive contract with FOX for the Saturday Game of the Week.

The current set-up works like this:
FOX looks at the Saturday match-ups throughout the league and selects the 2 or 3 games to feature in a 4PM EST game to different parts of the country. For example, the Indians/Braves game yesterday was selected and was available to about 26% of the country. The decision-making process and the selection of where the games are viewed is not the problem though.

Because FOX has an exclusive contract to broadcast MLB games on Saturdays, most teams schedule their games for night games as if they schedule an afternoon game (say, 1PM EST), the game is blacked out locally and can only be broadcast later in the day on a tape delay so as not to conflict with the FOX broadcast. Again, using yesterday as an example, the Yankees/Mets game was played at 1PM, but (since it was not a FOX game) it was blacked out locally and was shown later in the day on a tape delay as it is not allowed to be shown live as it may conflict with (and take viewers away) from the FOX games.

Now, of course, FOX being what they are, the Saturday games that are chosen are invariably Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, Cardinals, Astros, and Cubs games. Do you think that the folks in Kansas City have seen Saturday afternoon baseball in a few years, or that it’s going to happen anytime soon?

Essentially what this does is prevent teams from scheduling Saturday afternoon games as they are not allowed to broadcast them in real time. Even if they are chosen for the FOX game, the game does not occur until 4PM, ending sometime around 7PM in the Eastern Time zone. This eliminates the best part of the Saturday game, getting to the park about noon on a Saturday, having lunch at or near the park, enjoying a summer afternoon at the ballpark, and making it home (or going out somewhere) to catch dinner and still have Sunday in front of you for the completion of your weekend.

Saturday baseball (not Sunday baseball) was the time for parents to take their children down to the park and for friends to gather downtown for an afternoon out, all without the specter of a Monday morning coming up quickly.

What MLB and FOX have done, with the goal of lining their pockets with money, is eliminate the 1PM Saturday baseballs game for a generation of fans. And, unlike basketball, which is played indoors (although a 9PM NBA Finals start time is laughable), baseball was meant to be played outside, under the sun, in front of their young fans.

Unfortunately, it represents another poor decision in a long line of them made by MLB that are meant to be in “the best interests of the game”, but couldn’t be further from the truth.

While I’m on that topic of misguided, short-sighted decisions by MLB (and the view from this soapbox is so nice), let’s have a look at the debacle that is inter-league play.

This season, the Phillies play as many games at the Jake as old Tribe AL East divisional rivals the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Blue Jays, and the Orioles. Also, due to the games moved to Milwaukee for weather reasons, the AL West leading Angels won’t make a trip to Cleveland. So, if the Indians and Angels meet in the playoffs, the Angels will be making their first 2007 trip to the Jake.
How, exactly, does that make an ounce of sense?
So, this week, instead of seeing another AL team come to Jacobs Field, I’ll sit through two games against the Phillies, a team that the Indians have no history or interest in.

If MLB wants to create a rivalry with Cincinnati…fine. Have a home and home with the Reds and limit it to that. This extension into the Indians playing the NL teams instead of seeing their OWN league rivals borders on the absurd.

Now, MLB says generates that inter-league play draws more fans than intra-league games, but have they ever considered that most inter-league games are played ON THE WEEKENDS when families are able to make it to the ballpark? The Indians played Cincinnati last weekend, have Atlanta this weekend and will face off with Washington next weekend. Do you think that those weekend games will draw more than a Tuesday night against Oakland? Sure, but it’s not because of who the Indians are playing.

MLB is setting attendance records IN SPITE OF decisions made regarding the scheduling of inter-league games and the elimination of the Saturday afternoon game. It speaks more to the appeal of the game, that it is able to overcome shoddy decision-making from the MLB offices, than it does that they are making the right decisions.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue – fans (and specifically families) WANT to attend weekend afternoon games, but the money grab by MLB and FOX have removed a full ½ of those games from the equation through their poor policies and seemingly endless ignorance of their fan base and the burgeoning fan base of youngsters that are continually shorted in the MLB decision-making process.

On this Fathers’ Day, it’s time for MLB to recognize the error of their ways and embrace their next generation of fans by revising their obviously ill-advised decisions regarding Saturday baseball.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I'm Disappointed!

Trying to put into words the last couple of nights as a Cleveland sports fan, I decided that Otto from "A Fish Called Wanda" goes through the proper series of feelings in the clip here.

The part that I refer to is his opening the safe and finding it empty.
He is:
1) shocked and coming to grips with what just transpired
2) angry but trying to keep his emotions in check
3) out of his mind upset (with a nice little car kick)
4) calmed down by the voice of reason
5) acting erratically while trying to wrap his head around what just happened

After getting swept by the Spurs (a better team for sure...but a sweep?) and losing to the Braves when a win was in their grasp (throw in the fact that we were on the receiving end of the Wicky tightrope save), I think that Otto has it pretty much nailed.

By the way, watch the whole 5:38 clip if you've forgotton how great Kevin Kline is in his Oscar-winning performance.

Moving on, a day game today as MLB and FOX have decided that the Tribe-Braves game is worthy of Saturday baseball, for 26% of the country.

Tomorrow, a little bit about the debacle that is Saturday baseball and how MLB and FOX have ruined that once sacred part of the season for a generation of fans.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

First Place Flurry of Tomahawks

Going into the Marlins’ series, knowing that the Tribe would throw Carmona, Lee, and Stanford…how many of those games, and which ones, did you think they would win?
Worked out just like you thought? Yeah, me too.

With the Tribe heading back to the Jake from sunny FLA, after taking 2 of 3 from the Fish, to continue Interleague play, let’s watch the air fill with Tomahawks:

If someone had told you that Casey Blake was hitting 3rd for the Indians on June 14th, would you have:
A) asked how severe the injuries were to The Stick and RePronkulous?
B) thought that the Tribe would be sitting in last place and the fire sale had begun?
C) imagined that the world was playing a horrible joke on the Indians?
D) wondered all of the above?
Obviously, D. Until I remember that he’s sporting one of the better beards in recent memory (even if Casey’s #1 fan, the DiaBride, does not like the man growth), then it’s makes perfect sense.

All bearded men are successful, right?
One can only hope that Casey shaves it into a Tom Selleck mustache for a week before his eventual return to the clean-shaven look.

Great piece by SI’s John Donovan on our ol’ Crooked Cap.

Between C.C. and Carmona, the Tribe has the makings of throwing two potential aces every 5 games. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that’s how the Twins overtook the Tigers last year. Riding Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano down the stretch, the Twins dominated the 2nd half of 2007.

With Marlins’ manager Fredi Gonzalez saying that Carmona “belongs in another league”, you can add his name to the roster of those who feel that Carmona is the real deal. The group could be called the Devil’s Advocates (remember, a Faustian bargain is a deal with the devil); I think that Torii Hunter (not hung-over) is the President of the DA.

Throw Jason Stanford in the mix and we’re looking at 3 potential aces!
Just kidding.
As many of the faithful readers know, for some reason, I have an almost unnatural interest in players’ introduction songs.

The leaders in the clubhouse so far for the best intro music?
Ryan Garko – “This is Why I’m Hot”
This song is, apparently, by someone named Mims and I was completely unaware of its existence. In the same vein of Grady coming to the plate with Pink Floyd singing “I need a dirty woman”, it is a great refrain to come into.

Trot Nixon – “I Walk the Line”
I’m not linking this because, frankly, if you can’t think of this song off of the top of your head…stop reading right now and go do a Google and Wikipedia search of the song and of Johnny Cash and spend a solid 30 minutes reading about the Man in Black. If you’re familiar with the song already, you know what a cool guitar riff it is to stride to the plate with.

Actually, for the Trotter, the line seems to be heading in the wrong direction. When a player’s OPS drops from .894 to .671 with 0 HR and 8 RBI over 29 games and 112 plate appearances, you’ve gone past prolonged slump and moved onto full-blown regression. Unfortunately, that’s the case for Nixon, who has 6 extra base hits in that stretch. SIX…and they’re all 2B!

It’s possible that it’s a product of Nixon’s bad back giving him trouble or it could simply be the writing on the wall that Nixon’s best days are behind him.
Consider his OPS in the past 5 years:
2003 - .975
2004 - .887
2005 - .804
2006 - .767
2007 - .671
That is what is referred to as trending in the wrong direction.
It may be time for the Indians to give Trot a rest and relegate him to the position of the 5th OF (!) and LH bat off of the bench.

In his spot, the Tribe could give Franklin Gutierrez an extended look to see what they have in the young OF before his options run out at the end of the year. It’s time to find out if Frank the Tank is a legitimate option for RF going forward or if his ability to play in CF is a commodity that another team values enough to part with some bullpen help this year.

Gutz’s swing looks shorter and his arm fits in RF and, while I’m still not a huge fan of the Tank, this is as good a time as any to put him at the bottom of the lineup and see if he fits into the Indians plans for the future.

Is it a coincidence that Gutierrez got a start in CF (while leading off) against the Marlins, who were reported to be interested in Franky this past off-season?

After watching the Fish trot out Reggie Abercrombie and Alfredo Amezaga to patrol CF and bat leadoff this series, methinks not.

YOUR 1st place Tribe (2 games up) heads home for another rematch of their two 1990’s World Series appearances.
They don’t have Maddux or Glavine anymore, right?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Art of Roster Manipulation

With the demotion of Jeremy Sowers to Buffalo, and Jake Westbrook not ready to return from the DL, the Indians face a decision to find a starter for Thursday’s game in Florida.
Easy, right? Um…no.

The obvious answer (already on the 25-man roster) to take the spot start would be the 130 lb. wrecking ball, Rafael Perez, who started 7 games for the Bisons before earning a promotion to the parent club. However, prior to Sunday’s game, the Atomic Wedgie stated that Perez’s success in the bullpen for the Indians thus far have convinced the Indians not to shuffle Perez in and out of the rotation, and rightfully so. They prefer to keep him in the bullpen, where he has been extremely successful (0.64 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) through 14 innings and shows a good deal of promise as a late-inning option, not just a match-up lefty, down the road.

So, with Perez out of the equation, we’re back to square one.
Recall that going into the season, the depth of the Tribe system’s rotation was one of the deepest in all of MLB, extending deep into the Bisons’ squad. Arriving in Winter Haven, the Indians’ starters under the surface, number 6 through 9, worked out this way:
#6 – Carmona
#7 – Miller
#8 – Slocum
#9 – Perez

We all know where Carmona and Perez are currently plying their trade, and Atom Miller and Smoke ‘Em Brian Slocum are currently taking up spots on the Buffalo DL, so it’s time for everyone to put on their thinking caps, sit in their GM chairs and get a little creative.

The pitchers listed above represent those currently on the 40-man roster thought to be able to help the Indians if such a situation arose this year as you usually don’t have to go 10 starters deep by June. The only other pitcher on the 40-man roster who would fall under the category of possible spot starter would be J.D. Martin, who is 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA in 9 starts in Akron. Given his struggles at AA, however, an unprepared Martin is unlikely to fill the void on Thursday night against Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins.

With one open spot on the 40-man roster, the answer is going to have to come from a player that will be added to the 40-man in the next few days. Those candidates, which are currently in Buffalo, would consist of:
Jeff Harris – 2-4, 5.69 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Jason Stanford – 4-1, 3.41 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Sean Smith – 5-4, 4.45 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
Aaron Laffey – 2-3, 5.46 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
Bubbie Buzachero – 2-2, 3.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP (only 2 GS in 15 appearances)

Not exactly the cream of the crop, eh?
These players fall into two categories:
The Youngsters
Those first are those who are under the club’s control because of the relatively few years that the players have spent in the organization and whose addition to the 40-man roster would mean that their option clock would start. The upside to this path is that the player, after their spot start, can simply be sent back to Buffalo with an option exercised.

However, their removal from the 40-man (if it came to that) would mean that the Indians would have to designate them for assignment and expose them to waivers. Smith (23 years old), Laffey (22 years old) , and Buzachero (26 years old) fall under this distinction, which the Tribe may be reticent to do as it means that if the Indians add another player to the 40-man roster at some point, the aforementioned spot starter would be the most likely to be exposed to waivers.

With young players, particularly Smith and Laffey, who have reached AAA at a young age, it might be best to let them get through a full year in Buffalo to determine whether or not to add them to the 40-man at the end of the season, when Rule 5 issues arise. Buzachero projects as more of a pugilistic reliever (he broke teammate Eider Torres’ jaw in Akron last year in the clubhouse at the end of the season), so letting him cut his teeth as a starter in MLB is highly unlikely.

The Journeymen
The second category of player would be the pitcher who has already gone through one organization’s system (Stanford with Cleveland, Harris with Seattle), passed through waivers, and has since been signed by the Indians to a minor-league contract. Stanford or Harris would have to be added to the 40-man roster for Thursday’s start; but, unlike the youngsters, they cannot simply be sent back to Buffalo as their contract precludes them from simply being optioned back to AAA.

If the Indians wanted to send Stanford or Harris down (presumably when Westbrook returns from the DL), the player would be exposed to waivers, then become a Free Agent. So, if one of these pitchers were to make a start on Thursday, (then get replaced by Westbrook) they would essentially be making one start then released from the organization. With the pitching depth as it is in Buffalo, this represents the downside of the “call up Stanford or Harris” path.

The final thing to consider in the whole equation is the fact that Cliff Lee continues to struggle and can be sent to Buffalo with a remaining option. So, for instance, if Jason Stanford comes to Cleveland and pitches extremely well while Lee continues to falter, it stands to reason that Stanford could stay in Cleveland to assume Lee’s spot in the rotation while Lee would join Sowers in Buffalo to work out their troubles together.

Wedge and Shapiro have given an indication that they know which direction they plan on going with Thursday’s starter, but have yet to tip their hand and probably won’t until they have to. Just prior to Thursday’s game, they will call up a starter (the guess here is Stanford, who pitched last Sunday and would be pitching on normal rest) and send Matt Miller back to Buffalo (unless Hernandez is handed his walking papers) to open up the necessary spot on the 25-man roster.

The danger in calling Stanford up is the risk in losing him after one or two starts. On the other hand, isn’t that what Stanford is in Buffalo, or much less the organization, for? He’s not really a prospect anymore because of his age (he’s 30), and losing him after a couple of starts isn’t going to send anyone into hysterics.

If, however, Lee is unable to right himself and Stanford puts together some quality starts, I would have no problem with seeing Stanford stay with the parent club to put the best five pitchers in the Indians rotation, regardless of contractual obligations owed to them.

It remains to be seen which direction the Indians will go in for their Thursday starter, but after using 1,000 words detailing the options of one start against the Marlins, a roster move, and the ramifications of those decisions…who said being a GM was easy?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A New Day is Dawning

In lieu of a Lazy Sunday (all the appropriate Sunday links can be found at the OSR here), how about an Extraordinary Sunday?

As the sun rises over another glorious morning in Cleveland, all is well.
The sun is shining over the North Coast, the ill effects of a night out are minimal, my 1st place Tribe pulled out an extra-innings affair in Cincinnati, my basketball team plays in Game 2 of the NBA Finals tonight, and it’s a beautiful day.

But wait, I’m still in Cleveland, right?
The town that received more backhanded compliments from the national media in the past week than any town has endured in a lifetime?

Every “glowing” article about the Cavs, or LeBron, in the past week has dwelled on the fact that Cleveland hasn’t won a Championship of any kind since 1964 (sorry, Crunch fans – pro soccer doesn’t count), how the city is in a freefall due to a loss of manufacturing jobs and a struggling economy, and how we’re so desperate for a winner that we’ll throw our collective weight behind a precocious 22-year-old from Akron, in the hopes that he will brighten our lowly existences?

Look, I get enough doom-and-gloom from my local newspaper (who hasn’t written a positive story about Cleveland, much less their sports teams, in about 8 years); I don’t need to get it from the “national perspective”.
However, reading all of these articles, which used to annoy and depress me to no end, I find myself unaffected.

Unable to be pulled down by the pessimism and cheap shots, I can’t help but wonder why.
I’m from Cleveland. I was born with an inferiority complex, fostered by years of rabidly cheering for sports teams only to have my heart broken repeatedly.

Yet, I am still unfazed.
What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is going on here?

I’m reminded of the “Seinfeld” episode, in which Jerry lets his emotions out of Pandora’s Box. Sitting on the couch, rubbing his eyes after breaking up with a girl, he says, “What…what is this salty discharge.” As he sat there, incredulously wondering what this new feeling was (in his case – caring for someone), I feel I can relate.

I find myself wondering – what is this feeling, the one that makes my chest puff out and gives me the ability to brag about MY teams? The one that allows me to win arguments with friends from other cities regarding our sports teams with one single word, “scoreboard”? Why is it that I’m the one placing calls to out-of-town acquaintances to gloat and peer down the end of my nose at the “less fortunate” for once in my life? I’m on the offensive, not avoiding calls and ducking arguments.
What’s going on?

Is this Pride? Is this Confidence?

If so, what have you done with my old friends?
Where is Paranoia?
What have you done with Inferiority?
Where is Dread, or Embarrassment?
What have you done with them?

The simple answer is that Cleveland finally has something to be proud of – no some THINGS to be proud of:
The Cavs sit in the NBA Finals with the best player in the NBA, who happens to be 22 and a local product who seems, by all accounts, to understand the enormity of his talent and his current undertaking.

The Indians sit atop the best division in baseball thanks to a nucleus of young talent that rivals the one that captured our hearts in the 1990’s when we needed something to take our minds off of the Cavs’ ineptitude and the Browns’ relocation.

To a lesser degree, even the Browns seem to have finally taken the necessary steps to move away from the category of laughingstock and towards respectability.

Name me another time in Cleveland sports history that two Sports Illustrated covers have been committed to Cleveland athletes in a month’s time – with glowing, almost gushing articles about them in the pages of the magazine.
Throw in the fact that neither athlete is 25, and you cannot help but feel it.

A new day has dawned in Cleveland.
As the sun breaks out, take stock of where we are. While we have not yet reached the summit, it is within our sight. We stand at on an upper ridge of the mountain, completely unaware of how to handle the new view so far away from our usual position much further down.

For the day, shelve all of your complaints about a coach’s rotation, or the perceived thriftiness of ownership, or the inability of a certain Golden Domer to hit a WR in his first team practice.

The glass is already half full and the tap is still going. The Cleveland sports teams are trending upwards and they’re doing it together. This ascent is not automatic nor is it immediate. Growing pains and disappointment promise to litter the road. But, for once, the road represents an ascent, not a descent into the mediocrity and indifference, to which we’ve grown accustomed.

None of the Cleveland teams are taking that “one last chance” or trying to slip through the closing window, as we are seeing the Pistons and Yankees struggle to do. They’re all on the rise (to borrow from the Cavaliers’ playoff motto) and show no signs of taking a precipitous, unexpected tumble back to mediocrity.
It’s time to take the proper perspective and appreciate it.

We stand, collectively, at the precipice of an unprecedented run of success in Cleveland sports. The first chapter of a new book is being written in Cleveland sports as we speak. It is a time that we will look back on with fondness and great pride.

Enjoy it and remember that, no matter what happens from day to day in San Antonio or Cincinnati, or wherever, the big picture is getting clearer and it’s looking better every day here on the North Coast.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Tony Hawk Time

One game down (literally) in Cincinnati and the Tribe is going to have to take the next two to salvage a series win against a team currently residing in the cellar of the dreadful NL Central.
Lots to discuss, so let the Tomahawks fly:

Anyone else think it’s a good idea to separate our “Letdown Lefties”?

Pitching Sowers after Lee on a consistent basis simply allows the other team to become accustomed to seeing similar starting pitchers on consecutive days. Setting up the order in a rotation is never an easy thing because of off-days, unexpected events, etc.; but putting a pitcher like Carmona (a hard-throwing sinkerballing RHP) between Lee and Sowers would at leas keep the other team off balance and unable to reach a certain comfort level against our two ineffective LHP. One of the things that has helped Paul Byrd this year is that he’s followed pitchers so different from him (i.e. Carmona) that the opposing team has an adjustment period at the beginning of the game to go from seeing a 94 MPH sinking fastball to 83 MPH junk.

I realize that the schedule maker, and the Seattle make-ups, have thrown a wrench in rotation juggling, but there should be a way to separate Sowers and Lee in the rotation, if only to give the second pitcher an advantage at the beginning of the game during that adjustment period for the other team.

The convoluted C/1B/DH “platoon” has yielded 32 HR and 124 RBI through the first 1/3 of the season. That means that those 3 “positions” (manned by Garkovich, Pronk, the Stick and ShopVac) are on pace for a total of 96 HR and 372 RBI for the year.
Or an average of 30 HR and 115 RBI through the season – per position. I’ll take that.

Speaking of projecting out numbers, how about this?
Right now, our LF Dellichaels is on pace for 16 HR, 79 RBI, and 104 R for the season.
Fantastic numbers? No, but solid enough for a team getting tremendous run production from their C and SS.

The Indians remain near the top of the AL in runs scored. Having Dellichaels in the lineup every day may be frustrating (last night certainly was with Dellucci), but larger needs on this team exist than a LF, or for that matter, a RF.

Speaking of needs, the names being thrown around, in terms of availability of bullpen help, seem to have settled into a list. The list consists of:
Jason Isringhausen – STL
Brad Lidge –HOU
Eric Gagne – TEX
Akinori Otsuka – TEX
Al Reyes – TB

As has been said here before, the Indians don’t need the second coming of Mo Rivera here; they need someone to fill the void created by the Foulke retirement. All of the players above would fit the bill and lessen some of the burden on the Indians’ two effective relievers, Betancourt and the Big Borowski (ERA be damned, the guy closes games).

Until they are able to acquire some bullpen help and slot the current relievers down a spot in the bullpen and bring some continuity to the 7th inning, we’ll be forced to hope that Nasty Boy Tom Mastny can work out his recent problems (unless he’s sent to Buffalo for Eddie Moo soon) or Roberto Hernandez can pretend it’s 1992 (unless he’s sent to Siberia soon).
Don’t get me started on CaBBrera.

The Indians selected Beau Mills with the 13th pick in the Amateur Draft and I’m not going to pretend to know anything about a 3B from an NAIA school in Idaho to offer any kind of expert analysis. The MLB Draft is a crapshoot for every team, but I’ll take John Mirabelli’s track record over most when it comes to drafting these youngsters.

My only thought on Mills is that his name sounds like Smuckers…I mean Kramer (with a bad cough) trying to tell the cops where a crazy big-headed woman is attacking a man with a fork.
“Trouble?!? Trouble? Where? Where’s trouble...Trouble at the Old Mill?! Oh my god! Good boy, good boy! Lead the way! Come on.”

My favorite thing about Homer Bailey (who pitched well enough last night to offer hope to a team 10.5 games out of the NL Central…until they remember that they’re the Reds) is the fact that he goes by the name Homer. The Social Security Administration, who tracks the frequency and popularity of baby’s names by decade list 1,300 Homers born in the 1970’s. Homer does not appear on their 1980’s list. While he was born in 1986 (that makes me feel old) and his given name is David DeWitt, I can’t imagine that he runs into too many Homers his own age, or even within 40 years of him.

Anyone else hear the “Cleveland Sucks” chant at the GAB last night?

Cincinnati, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no rivalry between our two cities. Not in football, not in baseball, not in anything. The only thing that the two cities have in common is the state that we both appear on a map of the state of Ohio. The similarities end there.

I know that you lack a regional rivalry, unlike Cleveland (who is closer to Pittsburgh and Detroit and holds a dear place in our hearts for the town of Baltimore), but this whole “Battle of Ohio” thing for both sports carries no weight in Cleveland. The Reds fall somewhere under the Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Yankees, and Red Sox in terms of “rivalries” for the Indians; I’ll put you above the Royals, but just barely. In terms of football, recent success be damned, the Bengals rank a far 3rd to the Steelers and Ravens in terms of “rivals” for the Browns.

Not trying to be mean here, just letting you know where you stand.

Tonight (yes, tonight because MLB has nearly completely eliminated Saturday afternoon baseball…which is another post for another day), Sowers goes for the Tribe in what could be his next-to-last start before taking the fast bus to Buffalo.

The Indians have a favorable schedule in the next week (CIN, a SEA team that won’t want to be in Cleveland on Monday, FLA), but they need to seize the opportunity to pad their Central lead while the Tigers take on the Mets and the Brewers.
Tonight would be a good time to start.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

It's Time

With apologies to the Tribe, who will go for the series win against the Royals today with El Diablo on the mound, this day belongs to one team – more specifically, one man.

Throughout the LeBronification of the Pistons’ series, the thought that kept running through my head is, “what is this kid going to do next…what will he do for an encore”.

Using the King’s favorite, Jay-Z, and his unbelievable song with Linkin Park “Numb/Encore”, I present some alternate lyrics, worthy of a King.

To optimize your viewing experience, watch the video on YouTube here in one browser and read along with the lyrics on this page in another browser.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, you're far too kind

Now can I get an encore, do you want more
Cooking raw with the Akron boy
So for one last time I need y'all to roar

Now what the hell are you waiting for
After me, there shall be no more
So for one last time, make some noise

Get ‘em Bron

Who you know fresher than King? Riddle me that
The rest of y'all know where I'm physically at
Can't none of y'all mirror me back
Yeah seeing me play is like seeing the big O in his prime
I'm, young G.I.., rap's Grateful Dead
Back to take over the globe, now break bread
I'm in, Boeing jets, Global Express
Out of Summit County but the blueberry still connect
On the low but the yacht got a triple deck
But when you young, what the hell you expect? Yep, yep
Grand opening, grand closing
Damn your man King cracked the can open again
Who you gonna find doper than him with no pen
Just draw off inspiration
Soon you gonna see you can't replace him
With cheap imitations for THESE GENERATIONS

Now can I get an encore, do you want more
Cooking raw with the Akron boy
So for one last time I need y'all to roar

Now what the hell are you waiting for
After me, there shall be no more
So for one last time, people make some noise
What the hell are you waiting for

Look what you made me do, look what I made for you
Knew if I paid my dues, how will they pay you
When you first come in the game, they try to play you
Then you drop a couple of hits, look how they wave to you
From St. V’s to the Q
To the only thing that matters in just a matter of years
As fate would have it, Bron's status appears
To be at an all-time high, perfect time to say goodbye (to the Spurs)

When I come back like Jordan, wearing the 4-5
It ain't to play games with youIt's to aim at you, probably maim you
If I owe you I'm blowing you to smithereeens
Tim Duncan take one for your team

And I need you to remember one thing (one thing)
I came, I saw, I conquered
From NBA records, to sold out arenas
So Cavs fans if you want this encore
I need you to scream, 'til your lungs get sore

I'm tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless lost under the surface
Don't know what you're expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
And every second I waste is more than I can take
I've become so numb I can't feel you there
I've become so tired so much more aware
I'm becoming this all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you
I've become so numb

Can I get an encore, do you want more
I've become so numb
So for one last time I need y'all to roar

One last time I need y'all to roar

Cleveland…it’s time to roar.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Measure of a Middle Reliever

In this age of exhaustive statistical analysis, the evaluation of relief pitchers has remained an elusive skill to quantify with a simple formula. Closers, obviously, are judged by the number of saves that they amass in a season and the percentage by which they convert their save opportunities. But the rest of the bullpen cannot be judged by such standards, unless you count the “Hold”, which is a start on the quantification of quality.

ERA is a nice statistic if a relief pitcher starts and finishes an inning as all of the runs earned are of that pitcher’s making. But that rarely happens with middle relievers as they often pitch for such a short period of time that their ERA becomes skewed one way or another, depending upon how the OTHER pitchers who precede them and follow them perform.

Let’s say that Aaron Fultz relieves Paul Byrd with two men on and two outs, allows both to score via singles, then gets the final out with a fly out. He’s credited with pitching a 1/3 inning with no earned runs while Byrd is charged for Fultz’s inability to get the third out. Sure, some of the onus lies at Byrd’s feet for allowing the base runners in the first place, but if a primary function of a reliever is to get his team out of jams, ERA has its limitations.

An enormous portion of being an effective relief pitcher is an ability to strand inherited runners. That is, if Rafael Betancourt comes on with the bases loaded and two outs and is able to get out of the inning without giving up a run, he has been far more effective than Fultz in the previous example while both will simply be credited with zero ER in 1/3 IP.

Well, it turns out that such a statistic does exist (though not as easily obtained as you might think it would be) and the statistic is simply Inherited Runners Stranded Percentage, or IRS %. Essentially, you can calculate the number of Inherited Runners that a pitcher strands on the bases against the number that he allows to score to determine the effectiveness of that pitcher when coming into a game with runners on base.

It’s easy to look at a relief pitcher’s WHIP and ERA and say that they are doing well or struggling, but it really requires the IRS % into the equation to truly determine how effective relievers have been for a team.

So, without further ado, using only pitchers who have inherited 10 or more runners this year, the highest IRS %, as of Monday June 4th, break down like this:

Player – TEAM – ERA, IRS% (Inherited Runners/Inherited Runners Stranded)
Rafael Betancourt – CLE – 1.54 ERA, 100% IRS (15/15)
Aaron Heilman – NYM – 3.42 ERA, 100% IRS (14/14)
Justin Speier – LAA – 1.69 ERA, 100% IRS (13/13)
Michael Wuertz – CHC – 3.38 ERA, 100% IRS (13/13)
Sean White – SEA – 7.03 ERA, 100% IRS (10/10)
Pat Neshek – MIN – 1.33 ERA, 94% IRS (17/16)
Chin-hui Tsao – LAD – 3.00 ERA, 93% IRS (14/13)
John Grabow – PIT – 5.28 ERA, 93% IRS (14/13)
Tony Pena – ARI – 2.79 ERA, 92% IRS (13/12)
Trever Miller – HOU – 6.75 ERA, 92% IRS (12/11)
Hideki Okajima – BOS – 1.27 ERA, 92% IRS (12/11)
J.J. Putz – HOU – 1.48 ERA, 91% IRS (11/10)
Chad Qualls – HOU – 4.55 ERA, 91% IRS (11/10)
Joe Beimel – LAD – 3.65 ERA, 90% IRS (20/18)
Brian Moehler – HOU – 7.27 ERA, 90% IRS (10/9)
Scott Downs – TOR – 3.80 ERA, 90% IRS (10/9)
Jeremy Accardo – TOR – 1.07 ERA, 90% IRS (10/9)
Taylor Tankersley – FLA – 6.48 ERA, 88% IRS (16/14)
Jay Marshall – OAK – 5.40 ERA, 88% IRS (16/14)
Bobby Seay – DET – 5.28 ERA, 86% IRS (14/12)
Jason Frasor – TOR – 4.43 ERA, 86% IRS (14/12)
Jamie Walker – BAL – 3.43 ERA, 85% IRS (13/11)
Scott Schoeneweis – NYM – 5.95 ERA, 85% IRS (13/11)
J. C. Romero – BOS – 3.38 ERA, 85% IRS (13/11)
Brian Tallet – TOR – 2.01 ERA, 85% IRS (13/11)
Brandon Morrow – SEA – 1.74 ERA, 85% IRS (13/11)
Pedro Feliciano – NYM – 0.90 ERA, 84% IRS (19/16)
Jonah Bayliss – PIT – 6.60 ERA, 83% IRS (24/20)
Jon Coutlangus – CIN – 5.12 ERA, 83% IRS (18/15)
Kevin Gregg – FLA – 1.93 ERA, 83% IRS (12/10)
Frank Francisco – TEX – 3.10 ERA, 83% IRS (12/10)
Geoff Geary – PHI – 3.58 ERA, 83% IRS (29/24)
Will Ohman – CHC – 5.27 ERA, 83% IRS (23/19)
Chad Paronto – ATL – 7.47 ERA, 82% IRS (17/14)
Javier Lopez – BAL – 3.46 ERA, 82% IRS (17/14)
Brian Shouse – MIL – 4.38 ERA, 82% IRS (33/27)
Jesus Colome – WAS – 2.43 ERA, 82% IRS (11/9)
Heath Bell – SD – 1.08 ERA, 82% IRS (11/9)
Gary Glover – TB – 4.97 ERA, 81% IRS (16/13)
Chad Bradford – BAL – 2.35 ERA, 80% IRS (20/16)

That’s the list up to 80% effectiveness.
Not a lot of household names up there, but a lot of effective relievers.
And, yes, Betancourt is tops in MLB.

But wait, you say, Betancourt is the only Indian on the list. And here lies the problem with the Indians’ current bullpen.

The numbers for the rest of the Tribe bullpen:
Rafael Perez – CLE – 0.00 ERA, 100% IRS (2/2)
Joe Borowski – CLE – 7.29 ERA, 83% IRS (6/5)
Tom Mastny – CLE – 5.01 ERA, 67% IRS (15/10)
Roberto Hernandez – CLE – 6.23 ERA, 67% IRS (12/8)
Aaron Fultz – CLE – 1.69 ERA, 66% IRS (32/21)
Fernando Cabrera – CLE – 5.40 ERA, 25% IRS (4/1)

That’s right, despite a 1.69 ERA, Aaron Fultz has allowed about 1/3 of his inherited runners to score, which is not a great number when you’re the match-up lefty on a team and generally don’t come in at the beginning of an inning.

Mastny, Hernandez, and Fultz all rank in the 70’s on the list, compared to the rest of MLB, when it comes to effectiveness when entering a game with runners on base against other relievers who have 10 or more inherited runners on the season. Perez, obviously, has been up for too short of a time to get a real read on his effectiveness, but the early returns look good.
You don’t want to know where Cabrera falls – it’s obvious to the naked eye.

The beauty of the IRS % is it quantifies a reliever’s effectiveness when thrown into a tough spot. Of course, some pitchers come in to start an inning (set-up guys and closers), but some pitchers that you would imagine would be overall effective relievers are, in fact, much worse with Inherited Runners:
Scot Shields – LAA – 2.76 ERA, 47% IRS (15/7)

So, how does a team like the Indians (whose overall IRS % sits at 72%, which means that basically 1 of 4 inherited runners score) do with this statistic. A combination of ERA and IRS % can be used to show a pitcher’s effectiveness to start an inning and also with runners on. But it also gives them an idea of who should enter games with runners on base and whether a reliever is better at starting an inning (as Jason Dangerously famously was) or has the intestinal fortitude to douse the flames of an already burning fire.

What these numbers show is that the Indians need to give Rafael Perez some of the opportunities being given to Aaron Fultz as the match-up lefty as Fultz (with his low ERA and high IRS % may be more suited to start an inning). It also backs up the obvious fact that Hernandez and Cabrera have become complete liabilities in the bullpen and that a move is going to have to be made soon before Wedge taxes the rest of his bullpen (Betancourt and even Mastny) to stay away from those two in ANY situations.

It essentially shows that the Indians are two and maybe even three effective relievers away from having a bullpen that is truly effective in all aspects of their responsibilities. Whether the relievers that can improve this percentage of inherited runners are within the organization (Perez, Eddie Mujica, or Juan Lara) or need to be found elsewhere in MLB is what faces the Indians at this point is what the Indians need to determine to keep the team on top of the AL Central through the long summer ahead.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Boobie Sunday

Please allow me to get something off of my chest:

Behind the young man who may be Robin to LeBron’s Batman, the Cavs rode the hot hand of a man called Boobie to set up this moment that was only a dream on that night when the ping pong balls bounced the Cavs’ way.
On to San Antoine to see if the Cavs can continue their roll through the playoffs on the substantial shoulders of our King.

Meanwhile, across the plaza (which looked like this), the Indians fell victim to the law of averages (and another effort by Cliff Lee to head to Buffalo) and finally lost to the Tigers.

This despite Grady Sizemore not only going retro in his uniform, but in his stirrups as he took that next step to look like a baseball player in 1977.
I hope this becomes a new look for SuperSizemore, but it’s unlikely.

Without dwelling on the only negative thing that happened last night, let’s take a Lazy Sunday:

No sooner had the word “negative” appeared in the intro, does Sheldon Ocker throw some cold water on everybody who’s feeling pretty good about the Indians these days. Let’s see, according to the Bitterman, the Indians have given up on Marte and are unlikely to have Casey Blake on the roster next year.

Does anyone ever wonder if Ocker actually goes to these games or really “talks to scouts”? His write-up of the heart pounding victory on Friday is laughable in that it focused ONLY on the negatives. I was at the game, and sure there were negatives, but if the ABJ ever wonders why their circulation is down, they need to go no further than this dreadful “recap” of what my brother described as “the most exciting game at the Jake in 10 years”.

It is almost a weekly desire stated here, but please…PLEASE, ABJ – take Ocker off of the Tribe beat and promote Stephanie Storm, who covers the Akron Aeros so well.

Here’s the weekly Brad Lidge trade talk, as well as the weekly Rangers’ fire sale talk.

Jim Ingraham finally addresses the elephant in the room regarding Cliff Lee in print. While it’s been discussed here (and dissected very well in the comments section by new serial poster Halifax), Ingraham is the first newspaperman to put it in print that Cliff Lee has just as much of a chance to vacate the rotation as Jeremy Sowers does when Jake Westbrook returns from his rehab stint.

While Westbrook certainly didn’t impress in his first rehab start (1 1/3 IP, 4 ER 7 H, 1 BB), Lee is making it a two-horse race to be sent to Buffalo as he still retains two options.

Consider the numbers in their last 3 starts:
18 2/3 IP, 12 ER, 5.78 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

13 2/3, 16 ER, 13.66 ERA, 2.16 WHIP

While Sowers certainly hasn’t evoked those comparisons to a young Tom Glavine recently, Cliff Lee has performed significantly worse. Sowers at least has moments of being in control and has been victimized by poor relief pitching after him (CaBBrera), while Lee continually walks the tightrope and taxes the Tribe bullpen because of his short starts.

Each will probably get one more start (not counting Sowers this afternoon), but it will be interesting to see which direction the Indians decide to go and if, by chance, Lee becomes trade bait to shore up a beleaguered bullpen (which I promise to dissect at some point this week).

Not to just throw something against the wall (OK, maybe just to throw something against the wall), but would San Diego be willing to part with a piece (or pieces)of their magnificent bullpen (Scott Linebrink or Heath Bell perhaps) to see if Lee’s fly ball tendencies play out well in Petco?

Or maybe the Dodgers (with Jonathon Broxton or Joe Biemel) to get Mark Hendrickson or Brett Tomko out of their rotation and see if Chavez Ravine is kind to Five and (F)Lee?

The Indians will have to part with a valuable piece to shore up their bullpen at some point this season. And Brian Slocum and Ben Francisco aren’t bringing Akinori Otsuka, so the question needs to be thrown out there – is Cliff Lee that piece?

He has a track record of winning (ugly, yes…but still winning), with a fairly reasonable contract ($2.75M in 2007, $3.75M in 2008, $5.75M in 2009, club option for $8M in 2010) that runs for quite a while. So, he is an attractive commodity to other teams. But, are the Indians confident in their current stable of pitchers and their arms just below the surface (Atom Miller, Chas Lofgren, etc.) to trade Lee to shore up the back end of their bullpen?

It can certainly be argued (and has been, by me) that solid starting pitching is a commodity too valuable to trade, particularly for a team in contention. But, if Lee no longer falls under that “solid” category, and is on a downward spiral that will result in him either eventually being moved to the bullpen or falling out of favor in the organization altogether, isn’t it time to at least explore those options, when a 28-year-old pitcher with 51 career wins has some trade value?

Today’s start by Sowers and the next starts by the two LHP will go a long way to determine how this all plays out, but don’t be too surprised if that arm that we all assumed at the beginning of the season to be Paul Byrd to shore up the bullpen becomes Cliff Lee.

Still a great chance for the Tribe to take 3 of 4 from the Motor City Kitties today, as Bonderman has struggled since coming off of the DL.
It’s time to go all LeBron and put that foot on the Tigers’ throat and announce the Central as Indian Territory once more.

Finally, the most poignant moment of the night – LeBron searches out Z, the only player remaining from LBJ’s 1st practice with the Cavs who has endured some hard times in a Cavs uni, to give him this bear hug at center court.Cleveland is rising, enjoy the ascent.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

That Old Familiar Feeling

After spending the last two night immersed in the atmosphere at Jacobs Field, there is an announcement to be made:
The Magic’s Back.

Where did it go? When did it leave?
Not even important, because after watching Dellucci (of all people) knock in the Trotter for the winning run last night, it became fairly obvious that the Magic of Jacobs Field has returned to the days of the mid-90’s…and it’s done so with a vengeance.

The Indians were down by 4 runs three times (!) last night, yet simply put their collective head down, put their blinders on and kept going. The bullpen (Mastny, CaBBrera, and Fultz) did their best to sabotage the game, but the offense would have nothing of it. Behind Victor’s bombs and a balanced lineup (with some nice moves by Wedge to maximize match-ups), the Indians ran their home record to 19-4.

Let me throw that number in there again to let it sink in: 19-4.

That’s a .826 winning percentage at home almost 1/3 of the way through the season!
It’s the best home start by an Indians team in their 107-year history!

The Indians now sit 4 ½ games on top of the suddenly-toothless Tigers at the beginning of June with an opportunity to pad their lead even more as the series moves on.

Should be a great night downtown tonight:
Cavs’ game on big screens for free in the plaza between the Jake and the Q.

There will probably be about 75,000 to 100,000 people in downtown Cleveland tonight, so get down there early, Clevelanders.
This has the makings of something special.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Le Masterpiece

Despite attending the Tribe's victory over the Tigers...

Despite Grady Sizemore literally being a SuperHero...

Despite the fact that the Tribe is now 3.5 games up in the Central...

Only one thing matters as the clock crosses over midnight: