Thursday, June 09, 2011

Offensive Tomahawks

As the Indians finally leave the “friendly confines” of Carnegie and Ontario, after dropping 5 of 6 at home in the past week, there is an inescapable feeling that all of this momentum that the Indians had built over nearly two months has been put to a sudden and uncomfortable halt. While the idea existed that the Indians could perhaps tread water and prey on the cellar-dwelling Twins this week in an effort to keep afloat, the same problems that had been exposed in recent weeks continued to sabotage the Indians chances at pulling out victories in winnable games as the offense’s silence became deafening and as the late-inning magic has disappeared in a poof.

The Indians now find themselves only 1 ½ games up on the Tigers in the Central as their lead has evaporated not only because they’ve been losing at an unmatched pace, but also because Detroit is about as hot as a team can be right now, as they’ve gone 11-5 over their last 16 games. So, while this may be lost on many as we watch the Indians give up ground in the Central, if you were to put the Tigers in the AL East, they would be 2 games back and they would be 1 game back if they were in the AL West.

Of course, they reside in the Central, where they remain 1 ½ games back and while looking at where they would be in other divisions doesn’t make me feel as good as it should given the Indians’ lead just a few weeks ago, it speaks to how quickly the Tigers have catapulted themselves up the ranks of not just the AL Central, but in all of the AL thanks to their recent run. As much as I’d like to say that “baseball is a game of streaks” and that “these things happen”, the performances of the last two weeks (for both the Indians and the Tigers) are more than a little disconcerting as the Tribe and the Motor City Kitties seemed to have changed places from where they were only a month ago as the Indians are seemingly incapable of a winning streak and the Tigers just keep cutting into that lead.

While the Indians’ recent struggles have been jarring (as they look like a completely different team from the one we saw in April), it is not untrue to say that everyone saw this stretch of the schedule coming, if you think back to the beginning of the Reds’ series when they were faced with some tough challenges. They’ve gone 8-11 since the Reds arrived to the North Coast and while that’s disappointing for a 1st place team, it could have been a LOT worse, given the Tribe’s struggles. All told, they won two series (Reds and Blue Jays) and lost three series (Rays, Rangers, and Twins) being swept once (against the Rangers) and sweeping an opponent (the Reds) since the “meat grinder” portion of their schedule began.

Don’t take that rationalization of the tough schedule for the recent struggles and don’t expect the argument that, “well…they didn’t plan on being here, so we should just enjoy it while/if it lasts”, because the Indians are still in 1st place in early June and the Front Office has shown some level of urgency with the call-ups of Al White and Cord Phelps (albeit a couple of weeks late for my liking) as they’ve acknowledged that the Indians are not content to simply batten down the hatches, attempt to ride this out, and see if they could have recaptured the magic of the first few months with what was a flawed team, despite what the record showed.

Now that the Front Office has started to tinker and as the Manager’s lineup card continues to represent attempts at jump-starting the team, the sense of urgency needs to arrive now for the players (and it coincides with a trip to the Bronx, obviously) as the onus is now on the players to prove that their success in the early going was not a mirage. While nobody expects them to get back to the .700 winning percentage that they once boasted, the Indians need to find that happy medium between what they were when they were winning 2 out of every 3 games and this recent stretch when they’ve lost 2 out of every 3 games (and they’ve lost 14 of their last 21) to even out a little and get their sea legs back under them.

Perhaps it comes back with one great push of a game that gets the offense on track or perhaps it comes gradually as the players that should be carrying this team start to shoulder the load while the young players get back to playing the developmental, complementary roles that they were thought to fill when the season started.
Then again, perhaps it doesn’t come back at all…

Obviously, most of the focus on the Tribe’s recent struggles has (rightfully) been aimed at the toothlessness of the offense and the inability of the team to put enough runs on the board to sustain a run of consistent victories. That said, I thought I’d pass along some interesting quotes from B-Pro’s John Perrotto earlier in the week from a manager, a CF, and a SS from a struggling offensive team.
Quotes from the manager:
“I think this lineup is going to hit. It has to hit…I don’t see any reason why we won’t hit. We can get started any time we want, though. That’s how I look at it. I like the lineup, but we’ve got to start scoring some runs.”
“I don’t sit back and worry about the ones we won or lost, I just think about today’s game and putting my best team on the field. Hell, tomorrow might never come.”

And…from the CF:
“Our team has relied on our pitching, and they’ve done a great job. We need to get going as an offense, though. I think it’s good timing that we’ve got everybody together now. We’ve relied on the pitching staff all year, and we need to start giving them help.”
“To have the season we’re having so far, I think we have to step back for a second and say we’re playing pretty well. Still, you always want to do better, and I know we can do better.”

Finally from the SS:
“Teams have won 114 games and still had times when they didn’t score runs. When a team goes 162-0, then you’ll see a team that never had a slump.”

Those words must be coming from Acta, Sizemore, and Asdrubal looking for some patience, right?
Actually, those are quotes this week from Cholly Manuel, Shane Victorino, and Jimmy Rollins on the Phillies’ recent struggles at the plate, passed along by B-Pro’s John Perrotto.

Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this and attempt to put some lipstick on a pig and tell you that the Indians’ offense is a thing of beauty or that it’s something that it’s not, but those quotes are fascinating in terms of how most Indians’ fans have tunnel vision on the Tribe (with good reason) and to see a team like the Phillies having similar struggles (over the same timeframe) at least lends some perspective on the Indians’ offensive situation. That said, the two situations are much different as the Phillies have players that DO have a track record of hitting, something that the Indians do not boast…outside of Choo, Sizemore, and Hafner.

However, even with those “established” offensive threats in Philly, in their last 30 games, the Phillies’ hitters have “boasted” the following hitting line:
.237 BA / .308 OBP / .357 SLG / .656 OPS
In that span, the Phillies have averaged 3.5 runs per game for a team that has gone 15-15 in those 30 games.

How do the Indians compare to that?
Well, in the Tribe’s last 30 games, their offense has posted this line:
.241 BA / .306 OBP / .386 SLG / .691 OPS
Just to further the comparison, the Indians have averaged 4.0 runs per game as the team has gone 13-17 in their last 30 games.

Now, is it true that the Indians scored 44 of their 120 runs over the last month or so in 3 games as they scored 19 against KC, 13 against the Blue Jays, and 12 versus the Reds?

Yes, meaning that they’ve averaged about 2.8 runs per game in the other 27 games, but if you take out the 3 highest scoring games for the Phillies over their last 30, they have averaged 2.9 runs per game in the other 27 games. While this is all semantics and “fun” with numbers, it is interesting that the “juggernaut” Phillies are experiencing the same offensive “issues” that the Indians have over the past month.

Of course, the Phillies rotation is light years ahead of the Indians’ starting staff and they’re able to weather the storm a little better, but for as bad as the Indians have looked at time over the past month, the Phillies – the team with the best record in the NL – has been just 2 games better in their last 30, done in by an inconsistent and underachieving offense…which is a familiar tune on the North Coast.

That all said, the main issue with the Indians’ recent offensive struggles is that it’s so widespread you would think that a haz-mat suit would be necessary in the Tribe locker room, if only to prevent infection. As I mentioned on Twitter on Monday, since Hafner was placed on the DL, the entire lineup has gone limp, with the obvious exception of Asdrubal. While it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, the cumulative numbers are stunning as here is what the Indians’ lineup has put forth since Hafner was shelved, if you exclude the contributions of Asdrubal in those 21 games:
.212 BA / .277 OBP / .320 SLG / .597 OPS

To put that another way, if you combine the contributions of every player not named Asdrubal since Hafner hit the DL, the team has a sub-.600 OPS over 21 games. For as much talk as Mike Brantley gets for being the Boy Wonder to Asdrubal’s Batman recently, Brantley has a .732 OPS over that 21-game stretch (Asdrubal’s OPS is .960 in that timeframe), so maybe Brantley has been better than the rest of the lineup and has shown flashes that he is just scratching the surface, but his contributions since Hafner hit the DL have hardly been Herculean, or even Asdrubalian.

The obvious issue is that the players that are SUPPOSED to carry the offensive load need to…and for longer than the one or two week stretches that Choo or Santana may have gotten hot when they looked to be breaking out of it. What needs to happen with the offense is they need another player (or more) to step up beside Asdrubal and drive the ball with power as the power outage in the Indians’ middle of the lineup is nothing short of jarring. While the Batting Average for some players may dominate the airwaves or get more ink than necessary, if you want to know why the Indians’ offense is struggling, you need to look no further than the SLG for Santana and Choo.

Certainly that duo has been under the microscope in recent days, but I have yet to see mentioned what is obviously the major issue with both players – their alarming lack of power and a dearth of extra-base hits who generally drive the ball with authority and rack up XBH at steady clips.

Choo now has a .353 SLG (his OBP is .316) meaning that the only everyday player on the roster that Choo is outslugging is Orlando Cabrera…who is thankfully no longer an everyday player. Going further, Santana has a .386 SLG (his OBP is .362), meaning that the everyday players that Santana is outslugging are Uncle Orlando, Choo, and Hannahan.
Yes, Jack Hannahan has a higher SLG than SS Choo on June 9th…

While Santana at least has his OBP to fall back on as a point of some promise, Choo hasn’t gotten on base and hasn’t driven the ball with any authority all season. Just to put it into the proper context, The BLC has 14 XBH on the year, equaling the total put forth by…check this out…Adam Kennedy, Alberto Callaspo and Denard Span and fewer than Erick Aybar, Sam Fuld, and Miguel Olivo. Of course Evan Longoria and Eric Hosmer have only 13 XBH, but Longoria has played in 34 games and Hosmer has played in 32, while Choo has participated in 58 games. Up to this point in the season, Mark Ellis has had a higher percentage of plate appearances end result in an extra-base hit than Choo, who averaged 66 XBH over the last two seasons.
Yes, that Mark Ellis…

Of course, just eking out Choo in the XBH category is Carlos Santana, who has 18 XBH, which is lower than the amount tallied by noted slap-hitters Coco Crisp, Maicer Izturis, and Johnny Damon and while Santana’s OBP and batting eye certainly seem to be harbingers of an elite hitter, he needs to start driving the ball with the same frequency as he did when he arrived in Cleveland last year. Lest you forget, Santana had 18 XBH in his first 32 games as an Indian, as he drove balls around the park.

Now into June, the onus is on Choo and Santana to show that their past performance and their pedigree are going to start shining through. As the recent record has shown, Asdrubal (whose OBP is the same as Choo’s SLG) cannot carry an offense on his own, as much as he seems to be trying to do so. Choo and Santana need to make adjustments to carry this offense that has been in hibernation since Hafner went on the DL and the surest way to know that either player has turned the corner is going to be when they start driving the ball and generating some extra-base hits.

Despite reports that Hafner is almost ready to take BP, it’s obvious that he’s going to need some rehab starts and – as has been noted here before – the Indians head out to NL ballparks on June 24th for 9 games in which they will not be able to use a DH. Certainly, Hafner could come back to play against NL teams at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, but even if he were to return by the end of next week, the Indians will only have his services until they head out to the Left Coast for some NL baseball.

Thus, the burden falls onto the shoulders of Choo and Santana (plus Sizemore, still obviously not 100%) – to step into the chasm that is the Indians’ offense and start to provide the offensive production that was expected of them when the season started to drive the engine of the Tribe offense.
Until they do, the Indians’ offense figures to remain in neutral.

Finally, while I realize that the fact that many of the eyes that find these words do so because they realize that better and more insightful analysis of the Indians exists outside of what gets delivered to doorsteps around Northeast Ohio, I would be remiss if I did not pass this along as it is simply to unbelievable to be true.

With the Indians in 1st place and in the midst of a serious downturn for the team, this “Q & A” actually appeared in this past weekend’s Akron Beacon Journal in Sheldon Ocker’s “The Write Stuff” in which Ocker answers “questions” that are posed to him by readers. This is merely a cut-and-paste, so this has not been altered in the least as here is the “question” and “answer” as they appear on the ABJ site:
I am glad I don’t have to go to work every day doing something I hate. You hate what you do, and we hate the way you do it.
Alan Cartwright
A fan of 63 years

Dear Alan:

A fan of what? Mean-spirited emails? Your fandom has paid handsome dividends, because you are a master of executing (pun intended) these kinds of messages.
You think I hate what I do? Do you think I loathed writing this response?

Again, with a 1st place team mired in a losing streak and a fanbase full of questions about how the team got to 1st place and whether they would/could stay there is surely more interested in The OC or the rotation or what was wrong with Choo…but THIS gets printed in the Sunday paper.
Really, THIS was really selected as a “question” for Ocker to “answer”…

Realizing that things are not what they once were in the newspaper business (and particularly at the ABJ), this is unbelievable to me that not only was this selected as one of the “questions” that Ocker replied to, but that an editor somewhere agreed to actually put it into print.

Perhaps I’m beating away at a the fossilized remains of a dinosaur (the story has no comments on it on the ABJ site), but to think that a percentage of Indians’ fans get their Indians’ information and opinion from the people responsible for that “question” being recognized, selected, “answered”, and printed is Exhibit V for why people who have wised up as to where to get their sports insight and opinion aren’t going to the newspapers anymore.

As for me, I find newspapers increasingly useful as I’m saving my fishwraps for packing items in boxes for the move later this summer. Other than that…no, there are diminishing reasons for the paper to arrive at anyone’s doorstep, particularly a newspaper with Sheldon Ocker on the payroll.

That all said, it’s off to the Bronx to see if the Indians’ offense can be revived by Nova, Colon, Garcia, and Burnett while the Tribe pitchers attempt to keep the Yankee offense at bay as the Indians attempt to build some momentum or at least change course.


E said...

June 10th...1st place Tribe going to the Bronx...up 1 game in the Central...3 months ago that would have seemed like a joke...lets split in NY and then beat up Mo-troit..go tribe!!!

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a game, on April 1st I think, where the Wahoos were drubbed early and often behind Fausto (who should really be sent down, regardless of his "Ace" status or otherwise, to get his whatever together).

A game marked by a somewhat interesting and honestly breathtaking attempt at coming back.

After a second loss, they went onto a nifty little 8-game winning streak that led to them being in first.

I think last night's game against the Bankees might qualify as a good sign...

Pepe Cadena said...

Santana is really important to the performance of this baseball team , I think that he needs to get a sponsor such as 4rx