Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Power Hungry Lazy Sunday


As Interleague Play rolls on and as preparations begin here for a party in which beer, liquor, and various grilled meats will be consumed by deserving Fathers, let’s get off right away into a Lazy Sunday, with the “spoiler” that today’s Lazy One will be a bit abbreviated because I’ve been busy making multiple trips to Minotti’s and getting various sausages from the West Side Market to go along with the casings of meat brought down from Milwaukee by my visiting father-in-law, while readying the house (and the fridge) for today’s festivities.
That said, it is Sunday and it is time to unleash a Lazy One, so with a quick nod to Father everywhere, let’s get it going…

Though the pitching is what betrayed the Indians in the Queen City (and on Saturday night), the offense continues to get the most attention, to the point that the lack of power for the Tribe was the subject of a recent drive-by analysis from Fangraphs.  As usual, the Fangraphs (great site for stats, lousy site for analysis) piece was pretty simplistic and, though it didn’t devolve quickly into a piece relying only on WAR (while ignoring the obvious flaws in WAR, particularly in small sample), the piece boiled down to pointing out that the Indians – as a team – have a low slugging percentage and a low Isolated Power (SLG minus Batting Average) – with the conclusion that the Indians’ weak spots are in…wait for it…LF and 1B. 

While that conclusion could be reached by anyone who even took a quick look at the Indians’ stats for the Tribe regulars or anyone who has watched a couple of games, the fact that the Indians rank SO low among AL teams in pretty much all the power categories do raise some pretty bright red flags.  But looking at that link above that shows the offensive numbers for the Indians’ regulars, what’s more glaring to me is to look at the players that should be pacing the Indians’ power numbers and, in particular, the player that most assumed to be the Indians’ main power source for 2012 – Carlos Santana – and how his recent…well, “slump”, I guess have thrown the Indians’ offense into a punchless tailspin.  

In case you haven’t noticed, The Axe Man has seen his production drop precipitously (and the drop started well before the concussion) to the point that his 2012 numbers don’t even resemble what he was able to compile in 2011:
Santana
2011 – .239 BA / .351 OBP / .457 SLG / .808 OPS
2012 – .230 BA / .350 OBP / .361 SLG / .712 OPS
What’s stunning about this is that Santana still has that low batting average (that is the bane of Sports Talk Radio Hosts everywhere) and the high OBP, meaning that “good eye” is still there, but compared to last year – when Santana looked for “his” pitch and crushed it – he’s not hitting for power…at all.  Mike Brantley has a higher SLG than The Axe Man right now as he has only 15 XBH in 53 games and the last couple of XBH that he’s hit (like Friday night’s “double”…which was a grounder down the 3B line that made it into LF) have not exactly been the booming gappers that we saw last year and certainly aren’t the majestic drives that gave us something to dream on for the future.

Which brings us to the next set of comparative numbers:
Santana XBH% (Percentage of PA that end up in an XBH)
2011 – 9.7%
2012 – 6.4%

Santana HR/FB% (quite obviously, the percentage of Fly Balls that become HR)
2011 – 14.1%
2012 – 6.8%

He’s HR/FB% is less than ½ of what it was last year and if you want some perspective on the XBH%, Lou Marson – in 2012 – has a higher XBH% than Santana does right now.  And I don’t say that to besmirch Marson (who I think should be playing more than he is), but to point out that Santana’s 2012 has been disappointing, if somehow under-the-radar disappointing.  If you remember, there was concern when 2011 started that The Axe Man would be feeling the lingering effects of his knee injury and could affect his performance at the plate.  But Santana’s 2011 felt like a harbinger of an arrival…an “arrival” that hasn’t happened yet – on a consistent basis, at least.  To get some perspective on how Santana’s 2012 has disappointed, take a look at where he ranks among MLB catchers in terms of offensive production.

It wasn’t that long ago that it was thought that Santana’s bat was elite as a C and merely excellent as a 1B (using Marson as a C) and that still may happen, but to see the drop-off in Santana’s HR/FB% is startling when you see it more than halved and when you look at it combined with what’s happening among the other top 4 hitters on the team, you start to see that – while everyone wants to focus on LF or 1B for the lack of power – the players that the Indians may have been expecting to provide the punch haven’t done so for them:
Choo
HR/FB%
2011 – 6.7%
2012 – 5.9%
Prior to The BLC’s 2 HR performance against Cincy, this number was 3.7% for 2012, and he’s actually the closest of any player worth mentioning to his 2011 numbers as Choo also has a SLG in line with where it was last year and he’s hitting more XBH compared to 2011, with his frequency of XBH this year more in line with what he had done prior to 2011.  He may not be “back” to his 2008-2010 production, but seeing him even close to it is a welcome sign.

Cabrera
HR/FB%
2011 – 10.5%
2012 – 5.5%
Certainly, nobody thought his torrid 2011 HR pace would be duplicated and his numbers are pretty similar across the board compared to last year except (quite obviously) his HR totals, but he has a lower HR/FB% than every regular other than Brantley, and speaking of Mike…

Brantley
HR/FB%
2011 – 4.0%
2012 – 1.1%
His SLG is still under .400 and Andrew Clayman points out (in a great piece) that his numbers from last year at this time were better than they are now, so there still needs to be a kernel of skepticism here…even though that’s not always fun to do.  In bringing that to our attention, Clayman also notes the HR drop from this time last year (5 at this time in 2011, 1 currently) for Mike, something that you can see in the reduced HR/FB rate.

Kipnis
HR/FB%
2011 – 14.6%
2012 – 9.8%
If you can believe it, Kipnis’ numbers are down from his time with the Tribe last year and don’t take that as a complaint against Kipnis, who is the only Indian hitting HR this year.  But, his HR/FB% is down this year and it’s worth pointing out.

That said, it is also worth pointing out about Kipnis is what a scout recently told B-Pro’s John Perrotto on Kipnis:
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis: “He’s the next Dustin Pedroia or Chase Utley; he’s that good. He has a nice, compact swing and sprays the ball all over the field, but he also knows how to turn on a pitch and hit out of the park. He’s getting better defensively all the time, and he’s a good baserunner. In a couple of years, we will likely being calling him the premier second baseman in the game.”

Where have I heard that comparison before?

Regardless of whether Kipnis is Pedroia or Utley, it needs to be said that before the Indians consider going out and adding anything (and again, I’m not so sure that “BIG RH BAT” is at the top of their shopping list…if such a shopping list exists), they need to get some production out of their current lineup and some more power from pieces already here – most notably Santana.

Because after a hot start, Santana has flatlined, to the point that since May 6th (admittedly an arbitrary date), he has an OBP of .320 and his SLG is LOWER than that (.311) with just 1 HR in his last 30 games.  Maybe The Axe Man misses Hafner more than one thinks as his OPS is just .479 since Pronk hit the DL in late May of this year and that is not without precedent, if you remember last year, when Hafner was gone from May 17th through June 17th, Santana saw his OPS drop from .786 to .712 in that month last year as he posted a .191 BA / .312 OBP / .292 SLG / .604 OPS over the course of that month’s worth of games in 2011.

Oddly enough, from that point when Hafner returned last year (June 17th) to the end of the season, Santana posted an .870 OPS, so maybe this is just a down time of the year for him or maybe Santana is just streakier than we all want to admit.  Let’s remember that The Axe Man has 5 HR this year as we approach the 65-game mark (40% of the season) and it is worth noting that he had 7 HR on June 16th of last year.  That said, the Indians are going to need a flurry similar to what he did last year (he hit 20 HR in his last 92 games) to even stick around in this AL Central as the Indians need to STICK around the AL Central for the next 6 weeks or so to justify adding that BIG RH bat that dominates conversation.

And really that “big bat, big bat, big bat” is dominating conversation about the Indians, from the North Coast to a couple hours north of the Amalfi Coast, as the names “Quentin”, “Willingham”, and “Soriano” have been uttered more than current Indians in the past couple of weeks.  But let’s remember that Carlos Santana is supposed to be the big bat in their lineup and getting him back to 2011 levels may be more important to the Indians’ long-term chances of contention more than anything that they’re going to add.  That may sound odd, but let’s remember that Carlos Santana hit 27 HR last year, in his first full season in MLB, as a 26-year-old.
Those 27 HR hit by Santana last year were one less than Josh Willingham, one more than Al Soriano, and three more than Carlos Quentin.
Really…

Now, if you want to make the argument that the Indians need to add a bat to be paired with Santana, you’ll get no argument here, but for that bat to be “paired” with Santana presupposes that Santana is going to go off on a hot streak in these final months of the season, as he did last year.  For the Indians, they better hope that’s the case (offensive addition or not), because with Kipnis emerging and Cabrera and Brantley providing some XBH, the Indians do need someone to start hitting HR and the best man to fill that role may be one that’s already on the roster…









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