Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Walking Wounded

Just when you thought that the Indians’ season was teetering on the brink after the Royals series, news that Victor’s power has (at least, according to The Atomic Wedgie) been sapped by his hamstring injury from the season opener was followed up by news that Jake Westbrook will hit the 15-day DL again, this time with right elbow inflammation (which doesn’t have a nice ring to it). All of that comes after the not-so-subtle intimation that Hafner’s shoulder has bothered him since Spring Training, laying waste to his swing, and that the TWO cortisone shots that he received in said shoulder did not lessen the pain there. Whether or not the shoulder contributed to the lack of a menacing Pronk in the lineup remains a mystery (and don’t expect a straight answer from the Tribe brass), but it raises an interesting question:
Does the slow start by the Tribe offense sting any less if their #3 and #4 hitters have been less than 100% since Game 2?

That is, let’s say that Hafner started the season on the shelf and Vic hit the DL after the first game…would the scuffling offense be given a longer rope with the knowledge that the Indians were playing without the muscle in the middle of their lineup? If both have been there in name only and Hafner and Martinez have been playing hurt (and why they just wouldn’t have admitted their injury and rehabbed rather than “grinding” through their injury raises question after question), hasn’t that really been the case and aren’t the Indians’ offensive struggles at least explainable?
Would we all be sitting here saying, “well, when Vic and Travis come back, the offense will wake up”?

While the Indians pride themselves on their pitching depth (which makes Westbrook’s injury at least a little more palatable, with Sowers likely coming up for Sunday’s game in Detroit after tonight’s bullpen game), their offense is designed to revolve around Grady, Victor, and Hafner. Grady’s held up his end of the bargain (to a degree) this year, but Victor has similar numbers to Rays’ 2B Akinori Iwamura thus far (with 3 fewer HR) and Travis Hafner has a lower Slugging Percentage than San Diego LF Scott Hairston…yes, Scott Hairston. It’s been said many times before, but it bears repeating – the majority of the Indians’ lineup is filled with role players and complementary pieces because those three are supposed to be the pillars of the offense. Furthermore, with Grady’s role designed to be that of the table-setter (he’s finished in the Top 10 in runs scored the past three years, scoring the most runs in the AL in 2006) – the reliance on Martinez and Hafner to drive in runs is painfully obvious.

When one of them isn’t going well, usually one of the other players can pick up some of the slack (Peralta goes through a hot stretch or Casey Blake becomes Al Pujols for a night). But when two of them aren’t going well, it becomes nearly impossible for the rest of the lineup to fill the void. How much do Indians lean on those two for run production?
2005
188 RBI for Martinez and Hafner
760 Team RBI (not runs scored, RBI)
24.7% of Team RBI from Martinez and Hafner

2006
210 RBI for Martinez and Hafner
839 Team RBI (not runs scored, RBI)
25.0% of Team RBI from Martinez and Hafner

2007
214 RBI for Martinez and Hafner
784 Team RBI (not runs scored, RBI)
27.3% of Team RBI from Martinez and Hafner
So for the past three years, those two have contributed approximately ¼ of the team’s RBI, with the percentage growing (and the amount of RBI growing) for the past 3 years.

How about this year?
2008
40 RBI for Martinez and Hafner
230 Team RBI (not runs scored, RBI)
17.4% of Team RBI from Martinez and Hafner
Considering that the Indians have played just over 1/3 of their season, those two are on pace to COMBINE for 113 RBI…and that’s with Hafner being out of the lineup for about a week of games due to the shoulder.
That catastrophic drop-off cannot simply be chalked up to regression for both players, can it?

Consider that Martinez’s lowest RBI output (prior to this year) in the past three years was an 80 RBI season in 2005, with Hafner’s low-water mark coming last year with 100 RBI. If Martinez and Hafner were having THOSE types of seasons…that is, equal to their worst totals in three years, their RBI total (prorated for the 57 games played thus far) would be 63 RBI instead of 40. Not that big of a difference over the course of 57 games, you say? If the Tribe was dealing with an offensive output of 253 RBI instead of 230 (that 23 RBI shortfall from the middle of their lineup), the Indians’ offense would have the 5th most RBI in the AL, ahead of the Yankees, instead of 10th of 14 AL teams.

All sorts of questions can be asked about why these two players (if they have in fact been hurt all season) didn’t simply get placed on the DL to heal with rest and rehabilitation as the Yankees did with A-Rod (quad) and Posada (shoulder), but what’s done is done at this point and crying over spilled milk is going to get you about as far as wondering how Joe Borowski gets people out while having zero swings and misses.

But all is not lost on this injury to the pillars front.
Hafner and his perpetually sore shoulder HAVE hit the DL and he probably won’t pick up a bat until later this week and doesn’t figure to rejoin the team until the last full week in June. In his absence, the Indians have the opportunity to “rest” Martinez hamstring while not removing him from the lineup. With Hafner’s DH spot open, the Indians need to start cycling Martinez through the DH/1B role to allow his legs to rest in the hopes that they will get stronger (as I couldn’t imagine squatting for about an hour a day with sore legs is conducive to healing, much less building strength) and return some semblance of his power.

If the Indians are “so fortunate” to have a backup C of the quality that Kelly Shoppach allegedly is (and he has looked as bad at the plate as any, some of which could be a result of him only having 67 AB at this point in the season), isn’t this the time to use him? Garko has one extra base hit in his last 12 games, couldn’t some sort of rotation be worked out here to have Shoppach catch full-time and let Garko and Martinez switch back and forth between 1B and DH? Since Lacey Cake’s outburst in Arlington probably means that the Andy Marte Experiment is off again, it would seem that he’ll be out of the 1B mix. Of course, if the Indians REALLY wanted to get The Looch in there against tough RHP, fine…throw Garko and Dellucci in there at DH depending on the starting pitcher. At this point, though, putting Martinez behind the plate every night, when other options exist to keep his bat in the lineup WHILE lessening the strain on his sore legs, is just furthering the ineffectiveness of Martinez. Which, combined with the absence of Pronk (and even the absence of that “Hafner” guy), is not something the Indians’ offense can overcome.

Now, with the injuries mounting and the cavalry not only called in but leading the charge on some occasions, the Indians need to recognize that the offense cannot thrive without a healthy Martinez (at least) in the lineup and give him some rest, using their depth, to do so. Otherwise, the team will continue to spin their bad wheels offensively.

15 comments:

Todd S. said...

I don't think it really stings any less -- the whole season has been like one big jellyfish/hornet hybrid sting from the begining.

And like you said, if the 3 and 4 hitters were even playing "bad", we wouldn't be in such a hole.

csusi said...

So ole Garko is batting roughly .430 in the last 3 games. This makes me happier than you can imagine. Garko has always been one that ive hoped the best for. I think his potential as a hitter is great, so hopefully the wheels are starting to turn in that direction for him.

Which, bringing into play what you said PC about the switch up between Garko and Martinez. I would love to see Martinez at DH, mainly for the reason you brought up of, how in the world can a guy with a quad injury regain strength when he's squatting behind the plate for 3 hours plus.

And, what a feeling to finally have the bats going but have the pitching falter for the first time in a long time at the same time.

Which brings me to this theory....Wedge is throwing this season. I swear it seems as though as soon as something starts to go right, Wedge feels the need to "switch it up a bit". A dude on Castroturf brought up a good point about poor asdrubal putting up a solid start 2 nights ago, only to be rewarded the following night with a seat on the bnech. I know its one game, but freaking grief Wedge, allow players to start getting comfortable in their slots instead of playing tribe chess every flipping game.

And lets not forget about the gem of an idea to bring up a reliever to start last nights game. CMON!?!?! man. Say what you want about "having to make things work" in response to Westrbrook hitting the DL, but i repeat....A mid-range, if that, reliever from BUFFALO, (not our bullpen) was called up to START THE GAME!

And we wont get into the amount of time he allows a pitcher to get butchered before, he sends willis or himself to the mound.

Wedge is the culprit and my eyes are on him. Cause im starting to think he's pulling his own version of the black sox scandal.

Tyler said...

Hey, Paul, what's cookin?

Here's another question: Does the knowledge of these injuries change your thoughts on flipping C.C. and Byrd any?

Consider that we may be without Westbrook for the remainder of this year (and, worst-case scenario, a piece of next year as well), that Fausto might not be back at full strength until mid-summer (odd that we haven't heard anything about his progress), and that Victor and Travis are question marks until they prove otherwise.

We're essentially looking at playing .600 ball the rest of the season to get in the neighborhood of 90 wins, and we're supposed to do that with spotty contributions from four of our most important players?

APV's piece on LGT demonstrates to me that we just don't have the prospect chips to swap for major leaguers this season. If we're going to salvage any value in talent from 2008, I think C.C. and Byrd are the only real way to do that.

Cy Slapnicka said...

it makes the sting worse. due to poor player injury management, they both could be at full strength right now mashing the ball, had they been given proper rest. but instead, they "grinded" through these injuries and we are reaping the benefits now. here's a thought, why not just give victor some real time off? no DH, no 1b, just hot tubs, massages, and happy endings. then bring him back at 1b/dh to see how he feels and then get him back to catching.

i realize i am making a lot of assumptions here (they really were and are injured, mgmt knew, they'd be recovered by now), but i just can't understand the logic if this is all true. you have 2 world class players, one whom has a bum arm already and cannot play many games in the field and one playing the most physically demanding position on the field. both are injured in march, not april, MARCH...and you make a conscious decision to allow them to "grind it out" for 162 games and the post-season? what did they think, that victor would get healthier catching in 90F, humid weather with a bad leg? that hafner's shoulder would get better in september?

nothing is going to change my current frustration with this season, but think about this from a business perspective. it appears as though high level club officials were acting in a belligerent manner (at the very least taking gambles that aren't working out) with some of the most significant assets this organization has. does it not? or are we being lied to? either way, you'd expect someone would be held accountable, right?

at the end of the day, i can handle injuries and sophomore slumps....even cc's problems. but we are seeing marte rot on the bench, terrible lineups, injured cornerstones (and the close) mishandled, middle relief pitchers starting games...

what's next, american express commercials?

Paul Cousineau said...

Tyler Titan,
The CC/Byrd thing is getting dicier by the day with these injuries and let's all hope that Jake doesn't have to go the TJ route. I was all for flipping Byrd when Carmona got back, but now with Westbrook down...I'm not so sure. I suppose if Sowers shows himself to be on par with Byrd before Carmona comes back, I pull it off.

Not sure what we'll get for Byrd as I know that some people think we can get a MLB-ready bat or reliever for him as teams are starved for a #4/#5 starter, but are those same teams going to part with anything that would help THEIR stretch run? I'm not sure if Byrd would net much more than a high-A player like Max Ramirez, who we got for a few months of Wickman...and I feel like high-A hitters is all we have.

As for the Hefty Lefty, I'm holding out on a wait-and-see as I just don't think that the Central is going to get away from us. I try not to be the ostrich and avoid that fact that the team needs to go on quite a prolonged run of success to hit that magic 87-90 win mark, but if Laffey and Sowers can pick up the slack in the rotation, I don't think that the Central is out of the question.

I also share your frustration on the dearth of impact offensive prospects in the higher levels and think that moving CC could probably restock the cupboards at the upper levels, but it will on July 31st the same as it would next week.

If the team is ostensibly out of it by mid-July, neither CC or Byrd should be kept; but I STILL could see them making a run at this.

Cy Slapnicka said...

*scared to say anything...

Ryan said...

Not sure why, but I suddenly feel upbeat about the Indians future. They've been scoring runs in bunches this series, which has had little to do with the oppositions pitching (see Royals), and they're bringing up Bauer and Slocum tonight. Maybe they've buried themselves enough that they will finally embrace the underdog role that has become the Cleveland sports mantra.

And if anyone can save this season, it's Jack Bauer.

rodells said...

Arlington, guys. Arlington. Let's not forget this. Hopefully it jumpstarts the rest of the season though...

rodells said...

The Olney stuff on CC's value come July has me thinking. And I'm gonna ramble on here.....

If we keep him and he walks this offseason, we get some draft picks.

Let's say we trade him and the market is peaking at two or three Grade 2 prospects as I'm hearing, is that better than the draft picks? I don't think Olney, and others, believes so.

Essentially, I'm looking at this as Grade 1 prospects are almost untradeable.....where Grade 2 prospects project as everyday major leaguers, but not all-stars.

Of course you could hit on a Grade 2, I'm not saying you can't. But the question is, is it easier to find a Grade 1 (or a future all-star or solid major leaguer) with comp picks in the draft or develop a Grade 2 into a near all-star since you should better scouting reports on this player?

Running thru some big player trades might be a great exercise in the coming weeks (much like when PC broke down the long term contracts from various big name SP's).

What was Colon's contract status when we dealt him to the Expos? I'm pretty sure Phillips was a Grade 1, I'd venture to say Sizemore was also but could have been a 2, Lee was Grade 2 at most. We've got the Haren trade coming full circle now with Carlos Gonzalez is up in Oakland, Smith and Eveland were already producing in the majors (wasn't Daric Barton, Grade 1, in a deal with Cards/A's...maybe Mulder?). The the Johan trade w/ Carlos Gomez, Humber and others.

I'm sure it matters WHEN these trades happened and the contract status of the big name players involved...but it would be interesting to break them all down (I know I'm missing others).

Tyler said...

rodells,

I've had that thought before, and it makes a lot of sense until you realize it's wrong. Getting bonafide minor leaguers is 99% of the time a more valuable return than compensatory draft picks, because active players have proved that they can at least play to their level. The rate of attrition for draft picks, even for top-ten guys, is very high.

It's tempting to think it terms of Jay Bruces and Evan Longorias, but that's cherry-picking. It would be hard to find a draftee more highly thought of at the time than Brad Snyder -- look it up sometime, he OPS'ed about a billion in college -- but he's still toiling away in Buffalo, and I think you'll find he's far more representative of draft talent than the players you have in mind.

Not to mention, compensatory picks aren't first rounders. At best, even for C.C., you're likely to get a guy in the 60s and a guy in mid-100s. It's not nothing, but...

If you think we should keep C.C., there are plenty of arguments to be made to support that. But draft picks aren't one of them. To answer your question, then: Yes, two B/B+ prospects would be better than draft picks.

rodells said...

tyler,

That's what I thought and posted it (in not as convincing form as your post) on another site debunking what the OP stated....but he thought opposite (and said many think that way also). We'll see how this plays out over the next few weeks I suppose.

Ryan said...

The other side of that argument includes Marte, Hank Blalock, Dallas McPherson, and Morgan Ensberg are all examples of highly touted players in the upper levels not panning out. Young players, whether in the draft or in the minors, are a major gamble. CC remains one of the top 5 pitchers in the league. As long as we have a shot, we have to keep him.

Steve said...

Two questions:

Q. Would keeping CC all season long in a "go for broke" effort to make the playoffs be beneficial?

A. Almost certainly. If he stays healthy he is going to win you a lot of games between now and the end of September.

Q. Assuming we make the playoffs, what is the risk of a repeat performance of last year's less-than-stellar playoff performance?

A. Who knows? Three games is a small sample, but he didn't exactly shine when it came down to crunch time last October.

It wouldn't be right to hang the "choke" label on him at this point, but his tendency to try and do too much in the big games is troubling.

In the lone game he won in three postseason starts last year he allowed 4H + 6BB in five innings of work with two of the four hits being dingers (against the Yankees). Against Boston he was 0-2 with a combine ERA of 10.45 in those games.

We know he'll win you a lot of games. The great unknown is "Can he win you the BIG game"?

Cy Slapnicka said...

these conversations remind me of all my ben mcdonald and todd van poppell cards and how i thought i was going to retire on baseball card income.

I'm unsure of how to interpret the last few games by "Those We Don't Speak Of". The wind blowing out was so strong you could see ripples in jerseys of players. And the stick still missed a homer by a foot.

I guess I'll still remain positive.....Heed the warning bell, for they are coming.

csusi said...

Starting friday, the central is about to get shaken up. We're playing the tigers. The twins are playing the white sox follwed by us playing the twins and the white sox playing the tigers. If theres ever a time that we need the bats to flourish, id say its from here to the 12th. Its about to get interesting. Freaking cmon cleveland.