Monday, May 05, 2008

The Sum of All Fears

Heading into the 2008 season, the Indians’ offense was not generally thought to be the strength of the team or an incarnation of “Murderers’ Row” that was thought to reside in that city Northwest of Cleveland; but was instead considered a decent offense built around a few exceptional hitters (Sizemore, Hafner, Martinez), a couple of young RH power bats who projected to develop into bigger run-producers (Garko and Peralta), some very young hitters (Gutierrez and Cabrera) thought to be capable of maturing into MLB hitters, and a few role players who filled out the roster (Blake and Dellichaels).

Instead of those pieces revealing themselves, the Indians’ offense has fallen flat on their collective face with no obvious turnaround and a lineup full of players not meeting (much less exceeding) expectations that were held for them as 2008 dawned. Throughout the frustrating games, the Indians’ brass has stated that the Indians’ hitters were “better than they were showing” or that they were “close to the breakout that was coming”. Even AL Central managers Trey Hillman, Jim Leyland, and Ozzie Guillen went on record to say that the Indians’ offense was better than the team their clubs faced in April. Unless we’re dealing with lip service from many sources, how could they have that optimism or opinion based on the poor plate appearances and the inability to string together a rally that we’ve become accustomed to watching from the Tribe offense in this young season?

The only factor that I can find that would support that the team is simply slumping (albeit in unprecedented ways) and that the Indians’ hitters truly are “better than what they’re showing” is by comparing the 3-year averages for players from 2005-2007 to their production for this year. The line of thinking being that MLB players show their true colors not over two weeks or one month, but rather over the track record that they themselves put in the books over the course of multiple seasons. Every player on the Indians except for Asdrubal has such a track record, which the Indians no doubt use to create expectations for a player entering a season. With the exception of Cabrera (and realizing that Garko and Gutierrez don’t have lengthy track records), the comparison of the Indians’ hitters 3-year averages to their 2008 numbers to date is both jarring and disturbing.

For the sake of comparing apples to apples, I’m only comparing BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS as the comparison of runs, HR, and the like is only going to murky the waters. The comparison of the track record that the hitters have entering this year, compared to what they’ve put forth in the first 30-plus games of the season goes a little something like this:

Martinez
3-year - .308 BA / .381 OBP / .482 SLG / .863 OPS
2008 - .347 BA / .380 OBP / .411 SLG / .791 OPS
If you need an indication of truly how bad this team is hitting, realize that their best hitter this year is still markedly off his 3-year averages. Victor has seen his BA raise and his OBP stay in line with his 3-year track record, but the drop-off in his SLG is puzzling unless his hamstring is robbing him of some power or the lack of production from ANYWHERE else in the lineup is causing his approach to simply getting on base and trying to get rallies started. Yes, he’s hitting very well…but still not at the rate that he’s established for himself from 2005 to 2007.

Garko
3-year - .290 BA / .358 OBP / .479 SLG / .837 OPS
2008 - .242 BA / .361 OBP / .354 SLG / .715 OPS
While Garko really has only played a full season once (last year), he did post limited AB in 2005 and 2006 so the track record is there - it’s just not as lengthy (only 670 AB prior to 2008) as the other players on this list. That being said, Garko’s OBP has remained consistent while (like Martinez) his power numbers are off which, again, could be a result of him being mainly concerned about getting the bat on the ball versus getting something behind his swing.

Peralta
3-year - .272 BA / .342 OBP / .442 SLG / .784 OPS
2008 - .216 BA / .279 OBP / .392 SLG / .671 OPS
Peralta’s numbers are just too similar to the rest of the players shown as his numbers are down across the board. His OBP has fallen to ridiculously low levels as his 3-year track record show that there is a better hitter there….we’re just not seeing it now. Maybe it’s time to check the warranty on that LASIK surgery that we’ve heard so much about.

Blake
3-year - .263 BA / .333 OBP / .448 SLG / .781 OPS
2008 - .202 BA / .286 OBP / .340 SLG / .626 OPS
Being the RBI leader on this team is like being the prettiest girl in the Omega Mu Sorority at Adams College, so let’s get the argument that Blake is producing out of the way as 63% of his RBI (12 of the 19) have come in 11% of the games he’s played (3 of 28). Lacey Cake’s 2008 numbers, like the rest of the lineup, are significantly down from his 3-year averages. The difference, though, is that Blake’s 3-year average is lower than anyone else on the team to begin with more than two full years under his belt – which means that the drop in his production comes from a lower ceiling, the production at a lower level is going to be below the rest of the lineup. Looking at those numbers again, you have to ask if Casey is a valuable piece on this team. I would say yes…just not as an everyday player.

Dellucci (vs. RHP)
3-year - .264 BA / .359 OBP / .502 SLG / .861 OPS
2008 - .268 BA / .346 OBP / .451 SLG / .797 OPS
Like Victor, everyone has hailed Dellucci as one of the players still hitting on the Indians (he is somehow hitting 3rd), which is true…to a point. I’m only comparing numbers against RHP here as he only has 1 AB against LHP all season and his role remains that of the LH stick in the Dellichaels platoon. That all being said, Dellucci’s numbers are also down across the board from what should reasonably expected of him, even with that 3-year average being affected by his dreadful .240 BA / .306 OBP / .403 SLG / .709 OPS line against RHP last year. Is his 2008 an improvement on 2007? Absolutely, but it is still not reaching the levels that should be expected from the track record he’s established in the last three years.

Michaels (vs. LHP)
3-year - .299 BA / .380 OBP / .437 SLG / .817 OPS
2008 - .125 BA / .250 OBP / .167 SLG / .417 OPS
With the news that Michaels has been Designated for Assignment today, this .417 OPS against LHP will disappear from our greater consciousness as The Ben Francisco Treat will join the Indians in the Bronx. Not much more can be written about the anchor that Michaels has been against LHP that hasn’t already been said here or how his presence on the roster and in the lineup effectively set the Indians back in terms of seeing what they had in their prospects. Regardless, a .400 drop in OPS is pretty staggering. For Michaels to post an average OPS of .817 against LHP for the last 3 years only to see it cut nearly in half is a precipitous drop unlike any this side of the Indians’ DH (whose comparison is forthcoming). With all of those ugly numbers, Michaels’ roster spot has been cleared for The Frisco Kid, who will hopefully see the field and (should) perform at a higher level than Michaels.

Sizemore
3-year - .285 BA / .372 OBP / .493 SLG / .865 OPS
2008 - .277 BA / .393 OBP / .446 SLG / .839 OPS
Ever-steady, Grady has actually performed as close to anyone on the roster in terms of coming close to matching his 3-year average. This should be viewed as an “OK” thing and not much more as it means that Sizemore seems to be settling into these numbers instead of gradually improving (if not breaking out) as he matures as a hitter. I suppose in the grand scheme of this lineup, Grady simply walking the line he’s drawn for himself falls pretty far down the line of issues for this team. That being said, it sure would be nice to see him take that next step as a hitter, particularly in terms of power.

Gutierrez
3-year - .267 BA / .308 OBP / .434 SLG / .743 OPS
2008 - .253 BA / .295 OBP / .364 SLG / .659 OPS
Even more than Garko, Gutierrez’s 3-year average isn’t really a great indication of the hitter that he is as he only posted 408 AB from 2005 to 2007. As a player still adjusting to MLB, Gutierrez has to be allowed much more breathing room in terms of his 2008 as he’s still establishing the type of hitter he will be, as opposed to the majority of the lineup having a track record to serve as a comparison. A maturing Gutierrez is the least of this team’s problems, particularly with his defense in RF.

Hafner
3-year - .292 BA / .409 OBP / .562 SLG / .971 OPS
2008 - .209 BA / .305 OBP / .345 SLG / .650 OPS
What was that about Frank the Tank being the least of this team’s problems?
Ladies and gentleman of the jury, here is the largest of the team’s offensive problems. I’ve already addressed (along with about 40 other people) what I think is wrong with Hafner, so I’m not going to bore you again with the percentage of pitches and strikes that he’s swinging at. Just realize that the 3-year average that Hafner put up from 2005 to 2007, with a sub par (for him) 2007 was nothing short of remarkable and the fact that Hafner has the 3rd lowest SLG on this team (just 5 points ahead of Blake and Cabrera…I’m not counting Michaels as his ticket off this team has hopefully been punched) shows that the drop off we’re watching every night bring to mind Jim McKay and Vinko Bogataj, with the difference being that when Hafner strides to the plate these days there is a “can’t look” feeling instead of the “can’t look away” attitude that usually accompanies such a horrific fall.

Not one (NOT ONE!) player on the Indians is hitting at a level equal to or higher what their 3-year average would indicate to be a reasonable expectation. It’s true that certain players have downturns or off years, but to see a regression as sever and widespread as the numbers above is nothing short of remarkable. Realizing that the drop-offs go from (to borrow an old rallying cry) “One Through Nine”, here’s the breakdown of the regressions from the biggest downturn to the least severe in terms of OPS from 2005 to 2007 compared to this year, thus far:
Michaels: -400
Hafner: -321
Blake: -155
Garko: -122
Peralta: -113
Gutierrez: -84
Victor: -72
Dellucci: -64
Sizemore: -26

Outside of Gutierrez, Victor, Dellucci, and Sizemore, every player in the lineup has an OPS more than 100 points lower than what should reasonably be expected of them based on their track record of the last 3 years. Look at those four names again…look familiar? It’s the top four in The Atomic Wedgie’s most recent lineups as they’re trying to at least lump together the players that are hitting (relatively speaking) well and somewhat in line with what is to be expected of them.

The problem, obviously, is that the slump is not unique to one or two spots in the lineup and that the players thought to be the #3, #5, and #6 hitters in the lineup have seen significant regressions from what was expected of them entering the season. The net result, obviously, has been an offense without claws and without any semblance of consistency as the team remains fortunate that their strong starting pitching has not forced them to become absolutely buried in their division.

So what do the numbers of this offensive offense tell us?
One school of thought would be that the Indians’ hitters are undergoing a team-wide slump of historical proportions and that the individual hitters will eventually levitate toward the numbers that their 3-year track record indicates them to be capable of achieving. The opposite view would be that the Indians’ hitters are flawed to the point that their regression is an indication that the hitters that they have shown to be in 2008 is closer to their true selves and that little to no improvement is to be expected.

I tend to side with the former and I don’t think it’s just because I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy. Baseball remains a game of averages where a good month balances out a bad month with the numbers coming out in the wash at the end of the season. If that is truly the case, the Indians’ hitters almost HAVE to emerge from the doldrums to approach the benchmarks they’ve set for themselves in recent years. The struggles of the team are simply too far-reaching and too extreme (look again at those OPS drops) for this to be who these hitters are optimally.

Until that day comes, though, when the hitting finally comes around (maybe Benny Francisco will serve as the spark that Asdrubal did last year for a scuffling offense) and the players start to approach the numbers expected of them, the Indians will continue to rely on their starting pitching, hope that their bullpen can right itself, and try to win some low-scoring games before they get too deep in the standings, no matter what the calendar on the wall says.

18 comments:

csusi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
csusi said...

question, and i ask this completely as a question with no implications of assuming a certain answer. but, do you think that any blame is to be put on derek shelton, the indians hitting coach. i remember a few years back when eddie murray got the hack for the offenses issues. whats to say that the indians offensive issues fall on sheltons plate. thoughts?

Cy Slapnicka said...

while i agree with this to some degree regarding accountability, i have two problems with it.

first, does he also get credit for the 2006 offensive juggernaut? if so, do we really want to fire him? we were crushing people with him in place. is it necessary to fire a coach b/c you can't fire the players? is it even his fault? have we tried upending the buffet or throwing a bag of bats on the field? when a team lacks a fire under its ass, shouldn't various "leaders" try and light one rather than someone get fired?

and second, shelton doesn't oil casey blake's glove, help betancourt stretch, hide the close's lack of velocity, or make cc pitch like crap.

overall, i hope that michaels departure is the wakeup call. if not, something has to happen...and we can't wait too long for that moment we'll all look back on fondly as to when this 2008 team gelled.

as a side note, the v2007 seemed like they were having so much more fun than these guys. victor and his high fives aren't the same, cc is quiet, and pronk...wow it must suck to walk around in the pronk household these days. its probably like a funeral home. wrestling on the tv very quiet, perhaps "I just died in your arms tonight" playing quietly in the background....travis in his fuzzy bunny slippers, robe, and tea. someone needs a bud, black t-shirt, and some welcome to the jungle while they destroy their locker with a bat.

CKTribe said...

paul,
did you see our buddy steve phillips' breakdown of hafners' swing? I think he is a dolt but it made a lot of sense. Someone asked shapiro about it in his press conference earlier today but he gave the stock answer that the organization is helping travis out. Can it be so easy as to stand in front of a mirror, stand up more straigt, and raise your hands a bit? Do I need to buy the Tribe a DVD player?

Paul Cousineau said...

csusi,
I tend to go with Cy here (though his re-creation of the Hafner household scares me a bit) in that it does come down to the players, though I think it becomes more of a valid question as the pathetic offensive displays continue.

Maybe it is Shelton (and CTK - I didn't see the Phillips breakdown, only heard the Shapiro retort), but I would think that he's working to try to save his job more than anyone else.

Does he have the answers? Who knows what the answers even are...hopefully him.

csusi said...

yeah, i dont put it all on sheltons plate. i by no means want it to sound as though thats what the issue is, it was more less a question to see what you guys thought. but at the same time, i wasnt claiming that shelton is causing the indians to lose, (in response to blakes glove being oiled/bettancourt stretch/cc pitch like crap) but what i was moreso saying is, does he hold any responsibility for the offensive struggles.

Steve said...

Coaches and Managers find themselves on the hot seat (often unjustly) in these kinds of situations for the simple reason that you can't fire six players. I've never liked that, but it works often enough that teams keep doing it.

As a fan, I am typically impatient. I tune in for pretty much every game and watching this night after night gets old very quickly. Wedge and Shapiro must be walking around at 2am chain-smoking and talking to themselves. (I don't know that either of them smoke, but this would be enough to make you start.)

A few weeks back I made a comment here to the effect that surely this team can't hit .232 for the entire year. As badly as things have gone, they're now up to .242. (When I looked that up I fully expected it to have actually fallen.)

I'm nowhere near optimistic enough to say that this will actually come to pass, but let's imagine the Tribe going on a hot streak and averaging 11 hits a game for the next 15 games, roughly a very-doable .285 average for that stretch. (We're talking about a genuine hot streak here, remember those?) Achieving that would raise their overall team average to .256. Not great, but that would amount to a cumulative 25 points over the course of a month. (Adding the next 15 games to the period since my ".232" comment.)

That would put the Tribe right around the middle of the pack overall in the AL and rising. If the pitching holds up we'll win the lion's share of those 15 games and probably find ourselves in 1st place in the AL Central. I would imagine that Wedge and Shapiro have done the same math and aren't quite as panicky as many of us fans are.

(I'm sure they're at least as frustrated as we are right now, though.) ;)

Halifax said...

1) Francisco's arrival will help at least a little, at most the change will get them going,

2) Michaels' departure will shake things up a tad,

3) It's not all Derek Shelton's fault, but he still needs to be held somewhat accountable. He won't be let go, because he's Wedge's guy,

4) That "offensive juggernaut" team that was referenced probably had oodles of pile on games that this team is famous for.

Halifax said...

If the Tribe were to deal from a strength for a hitter, which pitcher would go and for what kind of player?

Realizing this team-wide funk will not continue (although teams have had collectively poor years in history), this team is not good enough offensively to win a WS.

One stick in the middle could change that, and it's needed because the ghost of Travis Hafner is the only Pronk we'll see from this point on.

rodells said...

Someone mentioned atmosphere.....Lofton and Nixon provided good times for all. Who replaced them on this active roster? I would think Marte and Dellucci?

Joshua Whitman said...

Paul,

Thanks for being "a glass-half-full kind of guy", because most have knock the glass off the table.

On another note, I came across this picture of C.C. sporting a Yankee cap yesterday on the Internet and wondered if anyone know anything about it. Is it authentic? Was there ever any discussion about?

Jon said...

I'm just hoping with finally dumping michaels that this will indeed be a wake up call and light a fire under this team.

Shelton is accountable to an extent but like someone said, dont forget what the offense of 06 was able to do. Murray wasnt all to blame in 05 either. Remember what he was able to do for this offense in 04? it produced 4 all-stars and led the league in several categories.

francisco can help out for sure and certainly cant do any worse than michaels (god lets hope not) but the kid is a solid player, the only real thing he's lacking is consistent experience in the majors. with time, I think him, cabrera and gutierrez will start producing the way we know they can.

I hope you dont mind but I've added you to my blog. http://clevelandbaseball.blogspot.com

minktrapper said...

Hafner is becoming or has become a joke. And we sit here and poor-mouth Michaels. Compare the numbers above...... How long do we wait?

Paul Cousineau said...

Just wanted to let everyone know that I've started another site:
http://heylookatmyindianssite.com

Seriously, if you want me to add a link to your site, just e-mail me (my e-mail is available through the site) and I'll be more than happy to add it to the sidebar links. If you're already linked, people have more than enough information to find your site.

But the constant barrage of website linking and listing of personal websites on these comments is becoming tiresome and, frankly, quite annoying...which after taking the first 2 in the Bronx is disappointing.

Cy Slapnicka said...

paul,

for some additional insight, please check out my site: http://www.cleveland.com/sports/plaindealer/bill_livingston/

Thanks
THE Livy

Halifax said...

Don't forget about me, Roger Brown, I'm back and writing nothing but pure truth . . . just like always.

http://www.i'macluebag.com

I was going to write for ESPN, but I wanted to come back to my roots -- I love this town!

Cy Slapnicka said...

hey paul, i don't have a link to send you, but if you'd like you can submit messages to my mailbag so i can belittle you and tell you that my dad can beat up your dad: socker@thebeaconjournal.com

Halifax said...

Hi Paul,

I love the blog. This is where I get all of my Indian's info on baseball.

I look for the Tribe to be contendors after they trade Ben Gutierrez and Tom Mastny to the Devil Rays for Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee and Erin Laffey to the Reds for Adam Dunn.

Look for me on Baseball Tonight, uh, tonight. (Sorry, they don't let me have my own website)

Thanks,
Steve Phillips
America's GM