Thursday, August 04, 2011

Tomahawks Spinning Around

Back when I was growing up, my family would take an annual summer trip east on Route 422 to the now-defunct Geauga Lake to take in the roller coasters and the water rides. While it always represented a bit of a let-down with Cedar Point also so close, my sisters and I would often find our way over to a concealed corner of the park that housed one of our favorite rides, the Rotor.
You remember the Rotor, right?

Everyone takes their spot along the wall, spreads out their arms and their legs and starts spinning. At a certain point while the cylinder spins (and as people gasped), the bottom would “drop out” and fear would give way to amazement that you were somehow sticking to the wall, despite the fact that the floor was what seemed like miles away from your Nikes. As the spinning wore on, you’d watch the kid across the cylinder from you as he contorted his body to somehow become horizontal, trying not to freak out while you felt like you were slipping ever so slowly down the wall.

As many times as I’ve read that this Indians’ season is a roller-coaster ride, maybe a “ride” on the Rotor is a more apt comparison as we find ourselves somehow stuck to the side, despite the fact that the bottom has dropped out (a couple of times), wondering how others could make this look so easy as we attempt to grab onto the carpeted red walls that we remain “stuck” to. With the Red Sox winning the last two games in walk-off fashion, followed by Thursday’s victory in Fenway (in which anything seemed possible), it’s a hard feeling to shake, that somehow this Indians team is still sticking around, against the laws of physics and run differential.

The Indians are once again 3 games back in the AL Central and with nearly 75% of their remaining games against AL Central foes, it certainly feels like they might be sticking around in all of this, despite the feeling (a couple of times…particularly in the past few weeks) that the bottom has dropped out. Maybe we’ve been spinning long enough that the team is somehow going to stick in this thing despite the lack of a floor…or maybe we’re just disoriented and dizzy on the verge of getting sick.

Regardless, let’s get some Tomahawks in the air…

While the obituaries have been written and most of the fans and local media stand at the ready with shovels full of dirt to throw on the Indians’ grave based on the Indians’ recent performance, does everyone realize what one of the main obstacles is facing the current Indians’ team?

The Indians are 10-16 over the last 30 days, with most of those victories coming about thanks to their pitching carrying the burden and, while the Tribe’s offense has gone under the microscope more often than a high school slide of chlorophyll, perhaps taking a look at the pieces that make up that offense would be instructive in terms of making sense of why this Indians’ offense is so inconsistent.

By that I mean, here’s what is interesting as here are the 10 players currently on the Tribe with the most PA in the last 30 days:
Cabrera – 101 PA in last 30 days
Brantley – 101 PA in last 30 days
Hafner – 101 PA in last 30 days
Santana – 99 PA in last 30 days
LaPorta – 72 PA in last 30 days
Chisenhall – 65 PA in last 30 days
Carrera – 55 PA in last 30 days
Kearns – 48 PA in last 30 days
Kipnis – 37 PA in last 30 days
Marson – 37 PA in last 30 days
It should be noted that 2 of the players on that list (Kipnis, Asdrubal) have OPS over .750 in the last 30 days with Hafner, Brantley, LaPorta, Marson, and Kearns all under .700 in that timeframe.

Regardless, let’s take that list again and check in with how many MLB plate appearances each one of those players had coming into the 2011 season:
Cabrera – 1,610 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
Brantley – 446 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
Hafner – 3,852 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
Santana – 192 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
LaPorta – 623 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
Chisenhall – 0 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
Carrera – 0 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
Kearns – 3,799 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
Kipnis – 0 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season
Marson – 400 MLB plate appearances entering 2011 season

Looking at those totals, the Indians have essentially been playing 5 or 6 players every night that had fewer than 500 PA coming into the season and 4 players (Santana, Chisenhall, Kipnis, and Zeke) who entered the 2011 season with fewer than 200 MLB plate appearances.

By no means am I saying that this is a bad thing as Santana, Chisenhall, and Kipnis (most notably) are the future of this team’s offense and getting them accustomed to MLB pitching – particularly in a pennant race – is only going to benefit the Indians going forward.

But the youth in the lineup right now is stunning and the early performance of Kipnis (as Cord Phelps’ future certainly looks to be as trade bait), and the continued improvement of Santana – who has an .803 OPS in his last 82 games heading into Thursday’s game – lend some credence to the idea that the future answers to the offense are already in Cleveland…they’re just still adjusting to MLB.

Once Choo returns and if Sizemore returns, the Indians’ offense will only improve (although you can color me impressed by Zeke Carrera, even if his ceiling is as a 4th OF) and with the Indians’ pitching staff rounding into shape, this young team figures to make the rest of the season interesting in a still-winnable AL Central.

Obviously, the split in Fenway is impressive…if a little bittersweet as the two losses came about in winnable games for the Tribe. But does everyone realize how good Boston has been since their slow start?

The Red Sox are now 66-32 in their last 98 games, meaning they’ve won at a .673 clip for nearly 100 games now since their 2-10 start. That clip would win them 109 games and, given that they play in the absurdly competitive AL East, to call them a juggernaut at this point may be an understatement. Yet here are the “Little Injuns that Could”, splitting the series in Boston and winning the season series against the big, bad Beantowners.

Maybe that’s making too much of 4 days in Boston, but the Indians’ starters posted a 3.75 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP with 22 K and 6 BB in 24 IP against the Red Sox in the series…and that was without the newly acquired Ubaldo Jimenez. Those numbers may not seem all that impressive, but against the LOADED Red Sox lineup (and I’ll get to that) in Fenway, the Indians’ quartet of Masterson, Carrasco, Tomlin, and the since-departed Huff put the Indians in a position to win all 4 games.

That they did not is disappointing for sure (particularly because of how the losses came to be), but the Indians continue to run through this gauntlet in front of them, heading for the final two months of the season with expectation that their best offensive player coming into the season will be returning in less than two weeks and with their newly acquired ace about to take the ball for them in an Indians’ uniform for the first time in Arlington on Friday.

This playoff race?
She’s just starting…

It is worth noting that the hero of the two Red Sox victories this week was none other than Boston lead-off hitter Jacoby Ellsbury and while that may be stating the obvious, the performance of Ellsbury this season is telling in terms of how good the Red Sox lineup truly is. By that I mean that entering Thursday’s game, Ellsbury had a .318 BA / .374 OBP / .510 SLG / .885 OPS with 30 2B and 18 HR…again, this is their leadoff hitter.

To put that line into the proper context, other than Asdrubal having 1 more HR than Ellsbury, the numbers for Ellsbury in 2011 are better than the Indians’ most consistent and best offensive player, their SS, who some are mistakenly inferring should be part of the MVP discussion in an attempt to recognize Asdrubal for his breakout season. But let’s be honest here as Ellsbury is having a better offensive season than Cabrera, and the aspect of that that may take your breath away is about to hit you.

Here it comes…despite having the NINTH highest OPS in the AL, Ellsbury has the FIFTH highest OPS on the Red Sox. Read that again and realize that the Red Sox have FIVE of the top NINE players, in terms of OPS in the AL, all of whom have 25 2B or more and 15 HR or more with 1/3 of the season still left to play. If you prefer wOBA, that quintet of Red Sox still rank in the top 9 in the AL in wOBA…which is nothing short of stunning.

That also does not include one Carl Crawford, who was just given a 7-year deal worth $142M last offseason, and (in turn) includes neither of their corner OF.

Again, for some context on the excellence in the Red Sox lineup in terms of what we’ve seen with the Tribe, Asdrubal ranks 22nd in OPS and 19th in wOBA in the AL.
It’s been said many times here before that the Red Sox are the model franchise in MLB right now and as deplorable as Pink Hat Nation may be and as insufferable as their “fans” may be, the Boston organization is run efficiently, smartly, and takes advantage of their built-in advantage the way that other large market teams do not. For proof of that, realize that of the 5 players in the top 9 in OPS and wOBA, 3 were Red Sox draftees (Youkilis, Pedroia, and Ellsbury) and another is the most famous scrap-heap signing (Ortiz) of all time. The Red Sox scout brilliantly, use their financial advantages to sign young players that most cannot, and utilize those assets adroitly as they set themselves up for the present and the future every single year.

Know how excited we are about Masterson as a starter this year?
We all know that he was a Red Sox draftee, giving an even better example of what Boston seems to have perfected – keeping the pipeline to Boston constantly filled, using what is deemed “extra” to fill in at the big league level, something they did again this past off-season with the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez. Obviously, the Red Sox don’t ever have to worry about “contention windows” or losing a FA that they want to keep, but the manner in which they stockpile young talent in the amateur draft is unreal.

Regardless of how the Red Sox achieve what they do (and the money trees that must be in the basement of Fenway don’t hurt), just to bring this back to Ellsbury, here’s something that is going to remind you of the Tribe’s draft…um, issues…prior to Brad Grant taking the reins in the amateur draft.

Some may already know this, but it’s worth repeating based on what Ellsbury did on Tuesday and Wednesday night in that Ellsbury was the 23rd overall pick in the 2005 draft. Who cares, right?
Well, he was selected 8 picks AFTER the Indians chose another speedy OF from the college ranks, one Trevor Crowe, the almost-28-year-old OF with the career .627 OPS whose future contributions to the Indians are likely going to be related to social media as Crowe’s standing the organization prior to his shoulder injury was tenuous at best. Now that he’s about to turn 28, with the Indians adding 4th OF (Zeke, Tom Neal) left and right, Crowe may find himself following the Jensen Lewis (and read this) path out of Cleveland.

Back to Ellsbury though and just to put a bow on this, realize that both Ellsbury and Crowe came out of Pac-10 schools (Crowe – Arizona, Ellsbury – Oregon State) and while the Red Sox normally do net the best talent available to them by paying overslot money, it should also be noted that Ellsbury received a $1.4M signing bonus while Crowe netted $1.695M upon being drafted by the Tribe.

As the Indians head off to the launching pad in Arlington, with their shiny new toy toeing the slab for the first time donning the Chief, there is a feeling that the floor may be coming back up to the Indians’ feet in this swirling 2011 season as the Indians attempt to find their footing and get their bearings once more…


Bob said...

I really thought you were going to share the story of the legendary 'Rotor Man.'

I'm a little disappointed that you didn't.

Unknown said...

not only do i remember the rotor, i remember that rotor. as amazing as the ride was i also remember it usually ended with some kid hurling blue cotton candy all over the place.

that's still better than not going on the ride at all... i guess. go tribe.

Paul Cousineau said...

Can't believe I forgot Rotor Man. One too many Burning Rivers on International IPA day I suppose.

Remember how Rotor Man used to hide behind the door so he never had to come off?

Ryan Wepler said...

Paul, great stuff. I, too, am heartened by the Indians' recent play. When it looked like the bottom was falling out of the season, it seemed like unless Brantley, Cabrera, Hafner, or Santana got them some runs, they couldn't score. Even if recent results have been less than stellar, they seem to be getting contributions from most of their lineup and their pitching staff has stabilized a bit.

Halifax said...

I think people underestimate the impact that Grady and especially Choo will have on this lineup. Those are two veteran bats with power, and while it may be somewhat unrealistic to expect them to come back and perform like all-stars, they will still help tremendously.

First, you have two young hitters, with Chiz only 21, being relied on to provide offense for the Indians. What Grady & Choo's return does is slot your guys in the order where they need to be.


Inserting Choo back into the three-hole allows Asdrubal to return to his more appropriate two spot. There's way too much pressure on him right now to drive in runs (he almost hurt his surgically repaired wrist last night swinging for the fence).

Slotting Grady behind Hafner in the five-hole allows young Carlos Santana to slide down to the six spot where there will be less pressure to perform than in the cleanup position.

These moves allow you to put LaPorta, Chiz and Kipnis at 7-8-9 which would be more in line with where youngsters like Manny and Thome hit in the 90s initially.

That's a solid lineup, and let's not forget that Choo had back-to-back seasons of .300 BA / .400 OBP with 20HR and 20SB the LAST TWO SEASONS...the guy can hit, and he has a cannon in the OF. It also removes guys like Austin Kearns from the equation.

So, here's to positive thinking. If you made deals at the trading deadline and picked up Ubaldo, Kipnis, Grady and Choo you'd be pretty excited about now, wouldn't you?

They may not win, but if the sticks get hot they will be tough to beat with the pitching they possess.

Halifax said...

I'd also like to see Manny get back to his aggressive style on the bases which was so successful early on. We haven't seen much hit & run action over the last couple months.

Halifax said...

ok boys, here's some numbers to crunch:

How many games will the Indians need to win to take the Central?

If they go 30-23 from here out they finish 85-77. Might get it done.

(30-23) 85-77
(32-21) 87-75
(34-19) 89-73

I'd guess 89 wins gets it for sure, 87 gives them a decent chance and 85 is a big maybe, but unlikely. I can't see them playing well enough to finish 34-19.