Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Deep End of the Talent Pool

As frustrating as the Indians’ offense has been and as many teeth have been gnashed and walls damaged watching the Indians’ hitters flail away, let’s sit back and appreciate what we’re watching from the Indians’ pitching staff – which, as a baseball fan, is a truly amazing thing to witness from night to night.

Consider that since 13-2 loss at the hands of the Tigers on April 16th, the Indians have gone 11-8, despite scoring four runs or more in only 8 of those 19 games. We all know why this has happened (um…the pitching), but does everyone realize HOW good the Indians’ starters have been since that terrible outing by C.C. against the Motor City Kitties?

In the 125 1/3 IP that the starters have thrown over those 19 games (which means they’re averaging better than 6 IP per start), they’ve collectively posted an ERA of 2.73 and a WHIP of 1.10 while striking out more than three times the number of batters they’re walking. From top to bottom, the Indians’ rotation has completely shut down opponents with the weakest link actually coming from arguably their most talented player (not just pitcher) in Carmona, whose wildness has been saved by his general nastiness. They’ve been paced mainly by exceptional performances from Cliff Lee who, you may have heard by now, is the latest in a short line of pitchers to start a season at 6-0 with an ERA under his 0.81 ERA…all of whom preceding him went on to win the Cy Young. How does he look like a completely different pitcher now than he EVER has in his career? I don’t have a clue, but as long as Clifton Phifer Lee is OK with the knowledge that his soul is destined for the “Down” escalator when it comes to pass, I am too.

Beyond C.P., both Paul Byrd and Aaron Laffey have emerged as pitchers capable of twirling six to seven innings of dominant baseball through impeccable control and simply pitching to contact. The expected turnaround for C.C. that we have all been hoping to arrive has occurred as he’s posted a 2.21 ERA since the aforementioned mid-April night against the Tigers, and Fausto’s sinker getting him out of some self-made jams. All of this dominance has occurred while the pitcher who looked most dominant out of the gate (Westbrook) hasn’t pitched in 2 ½ weeks. The point is, from night to night, I almost pencil in the Indians starter for the night to go at least 6 innings while giving up less than 2 runs…and I’m generally neither off-base nor disappointed.

I know that this is something that I’ve harped on for quite some time, but the Indians’ grand scheme of consistently contending in the AL Central and the American League is to field a team designed to rely on strong starting pitching that goes as deep as possible to allow for the ups and downs of a MLB season. That has come to fruition here in the past few weeks as Jeremy Sowers, and then Laffey (in grand fashion, I might add) simply stepped into the Tribe rotation and proved to be more than competent starting options. The fact that both figure to be back in Buffalo when Jake returns from the DL (and can we say right now that with the way Laffey’s going, let’s make sure that Jake is COMPLETELY healthy before Laffey is sent back to devour wings at the Anchor Bar again) is quite a testament to the depth that the Indians have accumulated in their starting pitching.

But wait, you say, enjoy it while you can because if C.C. leaves and Byrd is allowed to fly away after the season, didn’t our “window of opportunity” just close…isn’t that what every national scribe is suggesting? Only if you think that Carmona (24, under club control through 2014), Lee (29, under club control through 2010), Westbrook (30, under club control through 2010) are incapable of anchoring the top of a rotation that will be augmented by Laffey for sure (23, under club control through 2013) and either Atom Miller (23, under club control through 2013) or Sowers (25, under club control through 2012) with more arms scheduled to emerge from Akron (David Huff, Chuck Lofgren, etc.) to serve as the depth going forward.

Remember the famous “waves of arms” comment that Shapiro said that the organization would be leaning on for contention as needs arose on the parent club? The performances of Sowers and Laffey served as quite a preview as to how this strategy figures to play out over the next few years…and there’s more down there (the team ERA of the Lake County Captains sits at 2.90 with a WHIP of 1.21 with most of the main pitchers being either 19 or 20 years old) to fill the pipeline.

It’s a simple philosophy that should serve this team pretty well year after year as hitting remains a volatile commodity (ask the Detroit Tigers, who have been shut out 6 times this season, twice as many times as the Indians) and solid and consistent pitching remains a constant, particularly when depth (and quality depth at that) exists for the organization.

Is it easy to get frustrated with the Indians’ offense and imagine what kind of roll this team would be on with any kind of sustained production from the lineup? Sure, and it makes for spirited discussion that tends to be emotional, but it’s more important to understand how this organization is set up through “The Plan” laid out so long ago – that starting pitching is designed to be the strength of the team with a competent offense and a bullpen that figures to evolve every year (just as it does for every MLB team) supporting it to put the Indians in contention to make the playoffs every year, with the ultimate idea that pitching wins in the playoffs carrying the day.

With the pitching going like it is (by the way, not to be outdone, the bullpen has posted a 2.52 ERA in the same 19-game timeframe), that offense that is designed to be “competent” needs to be merely that for the run of wins to begin.
Now, has this offense been “merely competent”?
Not right now…but the starting pitching is such a strength that it serves as the bedrock of the team, a role it should continue to fill as long as the pitchers simply move up the organizational ladder, regardless of what the offense is or isn’t doing.

2 comments:

Cy Slapnicka said...

thank you, i needed that. now lets get them bats going!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbqZJ2FNijg

minktrapper said...

While watching the post game interview with Ben, how many of you were waiting for that pie?