Monday, April 21, 2008

Prognosis Negative

With the offense stuck in neutral and the bullpen still in preliminary stages of an evolution, what’s most frustrating about the last week for Indians’ fans? How about that the Tribe starters (not including the reigning Cy Young winner’s 1 start) have compiled the following numbers over the last 7 games:
49 IP (an average of 7 IP per start)
1.29 ERA
0.90 WHIP
36 K
6 BB
What is the Indians’ record in those 7 starts (again, I’m not including C.C.)?
3-4…with the starters included allowing less than a baserunner per inning, posting a 6 to 1 K to BB ratio, and averaging 7 innings per start.

Their 3 best starters’ respective rankings in the AL in terms of ERA thus far are #1 (Lee – 0.40), #5 (Carmona – 1.96), and #12 (Westbrook – 2.73). Additionally, Lee has the best WHIP in the AL, with Westbrook #12 among AL pitchers. From Lee, Westbrook, Carmona, and Byrd, the Indians have received 12 Quality Starts in their 15 starts….from the #2, #3, #4, and #5 spots in the rotation.

Obviously, the offense and the bullpen are letting this team down in terms of supporting the starting pitching, as they continue to come up short in the runs department or blowing the leads (or ties) handed to them by the starters, who are certainly not struggling.

Not struggling, that is, save one.
I’m going to link this article from Beyond the Box Score again because it comes to an interesting conclusion after proving that Sabathia is not throwing his slider, but takes the next step as to trying to determine why. With the caveat that Sabathia could just have no confidence in his slider and doesn’t want to throw it, Peter Bendix comes up with this:
As much as I hate to say it, there is one potential answer to this question. Let’s say you’re CC Sabathia, pitching in the last year before you are set to earn a bagillion dollars on the free agent market. Perhaps last season, perhaps in spring training, or perhaps in your first start of the season against the White Sox, you feel something strange in your arm or shoulder. Maybe it’s tingling. Maybe it’s pain. Maybe it’s just uncomfortable. But no matter what it is, you only feel it (or it’s exacerbated) when you throw an off-speed pitch. Like a slider. What do you do?
You stop throwing as many sliders. And other teams sit on your fastball. And if you can’t command the fastball (which may or may not have to do with that strange feeling in your arm), you walk guys and get hit hard.

Of course, this is the extreme case of projecting an injury on somebody and, since I’m not in the practice of trying to figure out what’s going on in Sabathia’s substantial head, it’s about as good as I’ve seen thus far in terms of an explanation as to why his velocity is unaffected, but opposing batters have been able to sit on his fastball, wait for it to meander over the plate, and hit it wherever they want.

If Sabathia is truly hurt (and I’m not saying he is, I’m only taking the next step from Bendix’s conclusion), where do the Indians go? As much as Sheldon Ocker would like to see C.C. work out his problems in the minors or the bullpen, it’s fairly obvious that a DL stint may be what’s best for everyone. If that is the case, I don’t think the Indians will blink before the decision to promote Aaron Laffey is made. Laffey’s posted a 3-1 record in Buffalo with a 3.13 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP, and a 3 to 1 K/BB ratio. He’s struck out 18 batters in 23 innings and, in his last two starts he’s posted a 1.38 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP. Moreso than Jeremy Sowers, Laffey has shown that AAA may be beneath him and that the 23-year-old (turned 23 on April 15th) is ready to, once again, contribute at the MLB level.

If Laffey if promoted, it would bring the 3rd groundball-inducing pitcher into the rotation (with Fausto and Jake) and brings up a greater question – namely, what in the name of the DiaBride is Casey Blake still doing starting every day at 3B?

I’ll get into the offensive struggles of Lacey Cake and his counterparts later, but for a moment consider Blake’s standing in MLB for “Zone Rating”, which is a defensive statistic that measures the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive “zone”. Blake is getting to only 2/3 of the balls hit into his zone, BEHIND Fat Miguel Cabrera, whose range has become somewhat of a joke league-wide.

Meanwhile, Andy Marte, who has been voted the best defensive 3B in his league during his stint in the minors a few times (though he’s never shown much consistency in Cleveland) continues to languish, unused, on the bench. Perhaps Marte wouldn’t represent much of an upgrade over Blake overall, but isn’t his defensive upside enough to merit a chance against LHP, whom he’s had better success against throughout his career?
2007 – Buffalo (AAA)
.827 OPS vs. LH
.748 OPS vs. RH

2006 – Buffalo (AAA)
.894 OPS vs. LH
.730 OPS vs. RH

2005 – Richmond (AAA)
.936 OPS vs. LH
.848 OPS vs. RH

It doesn’t seem so, as Marte has yet to face a LHP this year while Casey LOBlake has posted a .143 BA / .200 OBP / .143 SLG / .343 OPS in the (admittedly small sample size alert) 15 plate appearances that Blake has had against LHP thus far this year. But really, amending the Marte-Blake situation (as obvious of a decision as this seems unless the Indians have ZERO interest in seeing what they have in Marte this year) is just the tip of the iceberg as the guy who’s batted #8 or #9 in the order (as Blake has) is not going to make or break your offense.

No, there’s plenty of blame to go around here when you take a moment to consider how each position (an easy way to compile Dellichaels’ stats) compare against the rest of the AL. I’ll use OPS as the barometer of production and how each position stacks up against the AL:
C - .807 OPS (4th of 14)
1B - .876 OPS (4th of 14)
2B - .558 OPS (11th of 14)
SS - .742 OPS (4th of 14)
3B - .527 OPS (13th of 14)
LF - .629 OPS (12th of 14)
CF -.740 OPS (7th of 14)
RF - .530 OPS (13th of 14)
DH - .713 OPS (7th of 14)

What does all of this tell us?
Well, what we already knew, in that the holes are at 2B, 3B, LF, and RF – all ranking in the bottom four. Of those vacuums, we know that the defense and youth of Frank the Tank and Asdrubal give them a bit of a longer leash, leaving us with the shocking conclusion that…wait for it…Blake and Michaels are playing terribly no matter how you look at the numbers.

Guess what though? While those two are painful to watch, they’re not the real problem as a closer at those numbers shows that the WHOLE lineup is struggling. Even Victor and Garko, the two players having the best offensive seasons thus far (even if Vic’s SLG is just .400!) aren’t outpacing their counterparts in the AL by any great measure. Grady and Pronk have middle-of-the-pack production from the #1 and #3 holes in the lineup and THEIR struggles are hurting the team much more than the fact that it feels like hitters #7, #8, and #9 often look like a free inning to opposing pitchers.

When your main cogs are not producing at any level of consistency offensively, the rest of the lineup (which is really complementary on most MLB teams) becomes exposed and draws the ire of the fans (see my above rant on Casey Blake’s inclusion in the lineup and my piece on Jason Michaels called “One Man’s Trash” for proof of that), merited or not. In reality, when Sizemore (whose OPS over his last 7 games is .540, nearly .240 points lower than Casey Blake’s OPS over the same timeframe) and Hafner (whose .593 OPS over the last 7 games is all of .013 points higher than Asdrubal) are struggling as they are, the whole offense is going to remain in neutral…or worse.

What can fix the offense?
You’d like to say patience, but that runs low when you see that Peralta’s posted an improbable .376 OPS over the last 7 games while sitting in the #5 hole, stranding runner after runner or when you consider that 35 of the 79 runs they’ve scored have come in 4 games, leaving them with an average of scoring 2.93 runs a game in the other 15 games they’ve played.

Improbably, despite those stats, the team stands at 7-12…and not worse.
Thanks to a starting staff (save one big part of the rotation) that has carried the team to this point, the Indians figure to remain in games until the right combination of players can be found to generate some offense.
Until then, however, get used to 2-1 losses in 10 innings.


Anonymous said...

Winning the CY Young may have been the worst thing to happen to this kid (yes, he is still a kid). Lets not forget that his last 2 starts last year(right about the time the Cy Young talk was hitting a fever pun intended) were as bad as the first 4 this year. Think back to his early years and how rattled he would get under pressure…this is the Sabathia I see today. I doubt that he is injured, I really do….I almost wish he was…but if he is then do we see a trend among Tribe pitchers to hide injuries from the team? If JoBo had owned up to his, and he should have, we may be a couple games better off right now. Is this team’s chemistry that far out of wack?
Tomorrow’s game may well be the biggest of C.C.'s career…I wish him well…

Anonymous said...

I wish to add to the comment I made C.C's is a lot to ask of any pitcher to feel that if he messes up just a little he loses the game....we gotta start hitting and scoring early for these pitchers of ours...easy to say but frustrated people say frustrating things....

woodsmeister said...

The amazing thing is not that this team is 7-12, but that if He Who Shall Not Be Named doesn't blow a couple saves, they could easily be 9-10.

If Grady and Vic return to form, league average production from RF, 3B, and LF would make this team extremely dangerous given the current starting pitching. If Pronk returns to form, watch out. The frustrating thing is that, like July of last year, everyone on this team seems to be slumping at the same time. Some of their poor performance is luck, but the tendency of this team to go on collective slumps is worrisome and leads me to believe that it may be time to revive the Fire Derek Shelton bandwagon.

This team seems to collectively go through stretches where everyone presses and puts up bad at bats, which is particularly disturbing when they are not exactly facing the cream of the pitching crop.

This team bashes fastballs but gets discombobulated by junkballers. Is there a hitting coach out there who can teach this team how to hit soft-tossing junkballers?

Anonymous said...

I really have to agree with minktrapper. There is very little emotion on this team. I watch Wedge argue calls, he strolls over to the ump, say something like “what were you thinking?” The ump replies, “Hey, he slide under the tag.” And Wedge responds, “Well, I guess I can see your point.” And he returns to the dugout. The only emotion I’ve seen this year is JoeBo’s look of disbelief that his 83 MPH fastball was just crushed into the left field bleachers.

I’ll probably be lambasted for even mentioning this, but one has to wonder what effect the likes of Nixon and Lofton had on this team last year. No more rally pies, no more swagger, no more nothing.

Paul Cousineau said...

I'm really split on this - my head agrees with woodsmeister that it's just a matter of time until Grady and Pronk start producing with the rest of the team just trending back towards even mediocrity and the wins pile up.

My heart, however, says that this team is playing with little passion to the naked eye and that the slump is not a slump at all - that this is simply the offensive team that we're dealing with...and that they have no idea how to get back to form.

C'mon head, c'mon head.

Cy Slapnicka said...

well, we've mentioned this in years this team's makeup seems to lack a firey leader. i know cc and victor are leaders of this team...or at least have been seen as such in the past. however, thats not there this year. maybe cc's struggles make his crank shrink and he doesn't feel like he can get the team fired up. maybe he'd do that in the past by going out and pitching 9 innings of inspired, shut-out ball....and lord knows he's incapable of doing that right now. and maybe vic's lack of rbi producing, extra base hits has stolen his thunder? stretches like this, you really wish this team had a resident bad-ass that would take a bat to the water cooler. as much as i hated paul o'neill, i sure would love to have him in clubhouse for a few days.

side note, did anyone else know that victor martinez's middle name is Jesus? Now, I know that is typically pronounced "Heyzeus"...but Paul, do you think big Tom would let you customize a brown monk robe from the store with "Martinez" and #41 on the back? Hmmm 5 loaves and 2 fish equals 7 RBIs on the season? Hopefully he can give some of those to his disciples...

Unknown said...

@ minktrapper -- JoeBlow didn't hide anything: Wedge and Shapiro both knew about (and hid) his injury from the press.

Anonymous said...

Chris, you are correct, Wedge and Shapiro knew about the injury (which is disappointing). But, in an AP article on ESPN, it is stated that JoeBo knew his velocity was down that night but wanted to "take on the Red Sox anyway" and that "Even if I had gone 1-2-3, I think I would have talked to the trainer." We all know what the Red Sox did with his 83 MPH fastballs.

If this isn't "hiding" your injury, I don't know what is.

t-bone said...

Uh, Jake to the DL?!?!?!?

4/22/2008 1:19 PM ET
Indians place RHP Jake Westbrook on 15-day disabled list
Tribe starter has left intercostal strain; OF Ben Francisco recalled from Triple-A Buffalo

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians today announced the club has placed RHP JAKE WESTBROOK on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Sunday, April 20th with a left intercostal strain. To replace Westbrook's spot on the Major League roster the Indians recalled OF BEN FRANCISCO from AAA Buffalo.

Westbrook has made 4 starts for the Indians so far this year as he is 1-2 with a 2.73 ERA (29.2IP, 28H, 10R/9ER, 5BB, 16K). His 2.73 ERA currently ranks 14th in the American League. Today marks the 5th DL stint of his Major League career.

Francisco started the year on the AAA Buffalo roster after being optioned at the conclusion of spring training (March 27). He was batting .208 (15-72) with 7 runs scored, 2 doubles, a triple and 3RBI in 18 games for the Bisons. Francisco appeared in 16 spring training games as he hit .362 (17-47) with 8 runs scored, 3 doubles, 3HR and 9RBI. He wears #12 and will be in uniform tonight when the Indians take on the Kansas City Royals at 8:10PM EST in Kauffman Stadium.

csusi said...

westbrook hits the DL. whats the deal? i tell you what, i think cc's game tonight is gonna say alot. the royals are not much in the offense category. they are last in runs scored, 12 of 14 in HR's, last in RBI's, 12 of 14 in total bases and 13 of 14 in on base percentage. so, im thinking if cc cant make an improvement against the royals, then things could be messy when it comes to cc. i guess we'll see. im with you guys though on the bats being asleep and there not being much emotion shown on giving a rip about it out of the players.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I was expecting an out-of-the-blue trip to the DL, but I wouldn't have pick Westbrook and I figured it would happen tomorrow.


Thanks for the link to Beyond the Box Score, one of the things I love about baseball is the never ending variety of stats that can be tracked. Very insightful stuff.

Chet Wheeler said...

Hopefully Westbrook is only out for 15 days. It's a ribcage injury. Francisco has his chance to make an impact if Wedge is smart, we'll see. He was kind of scraping along down at Buffalo but probably suffered from Garkoitis, having nothing left to prove playing in AAA while you should be in the majors.

Has anyone considered Adam Dunn? His BA stinks but his OBP is outstanding (well over .400) He hasn't done much and the Reds might move him for the right package. Who that would consist of one can only speculate.

Spills said...

On Dunn: I've seen him down here twice and the guy looks awful. Swear it looks like he takes the exact same swing no matter where the pitch is located. Well as long as it is in the strike zone, guy does draw a few walks.