Sunday, September 22, 2013

Are You Not Entertained on this Lazy Sunday?

Well…are you? This week along saw another dominant performance from the Big U, a walk-off single from Matt Carson, Nick Swisher hitting (.313/.400/.578 with 5 HR in September), and the ups and downs of scoreboard watching around the league, I can safely say that I’ve enjoyed watching competitive September baseball. This has been a rough week for me schedule-wise, so I’m apologizing in advance for the brevity of this week’s Lazy one. Between work, house hunting, and family stuff, I’m finding myself away from a computer and unable to put any thoughts to “paper” from Friday night until you’re reading this here on Sunday morning.

As far as a late-season retrospective on the wild ride it has been with this year’s Indians, there’s really very little that I can add to this piece other than to simply say that Castro gonna Castro. One of the biggest free agent losses in recent years has been Anthony Castrovice’s departure from the Indians beat, and that’s no disrespect to Jordan Bastain who is excellent in his own right. As he is wont to do, Castro stepped up and knocked one out of the part this week with his look back/forward at how the 2013 Indians got to where they are today and what we can reasonably expect from them over the next seven games. The thesis is simple enough for a campaign slogan (It’s the rotation, stupid), but the prose is evocative of so much more. If you haven’t already, please go read it. His description of the starting pitching is as long (“better than any ordinary human being could have realistically envisioned”) as his description of the offense (“complicated”) is short, and there is so much more there to enjoy.

I’ll confess to rarely reading the New York Times, but this is the first time that I can remember a random, positive article about the Cleveland Indians appearing in that publication. In it, Times reporter Tyler Kepner discusses the positive impact that Tito Francona has had on the 2013 Indians, and touches on how the relationship between Francona and the front office made the hire a slam-dunk decision for both sides this offseason. There’s not a whole lot in there that Indians fans will find new, but I did enjoy this little tidbit:

After his introductory news conference in Cleveland last fall, Francona flew to Arizona with Antonetti, who has a home in Goodyear, where the Indians train. Francona stayed over and fit right in.
“I feel so comfortable, I’m walking around his house in my underwear,” Francona said. “There’s just no barriers. I can tell him anything — and I have — and I know that when he leaves my office, he’s got my back.”
For some reason, I’m picturing Tito and Antonetti heading to the fridge for a late night snack at the same time and running into each other with Tito in his underwear, Antonetti in khakis and a polo shirt. If that image doesn’t at least bring a smile to your face…well, I don’t know what to tell you.

We discussed Ubaldo Jimenez in this space last week, and then he went out and threw another 7 innings of one-run ball this past Thursday, striking out 9 without walking a batter in what became an extra-innings Indians victory over the Astros.’s Jeff Passan basically cobbled together a couple of older articles on Jimenez to produce this piece earlier in the week, but did manage to offer one original piece of info. Passan agrees with me that Ubaldo will decline the $8 million mutual option and head to free agency this offseason, but he guesses that Jimenez will make “at least 10 times” that much on the open market. I’m bad at math, but Passan is predicting (conservatively) an $80 million deal this winter, which seems a tad aggressive. But if the Indians make the postseason and Jimenez pitches them deep into said postseason, all bets are off. Ubaldo’s numbers since May 27 are startling; he’s gone 13-8 with a 2.45 ERA, striking out 127 and walking 54 in 125 IP. For comparison’s sake, Clayton Kershaw, who is probably the best pitcher on the planet, has gone 11-10 with a 2.22 ERA, 142 K and 32 BB in 149 2/3 IP over that same timeframe. And that’s playing in a pitchers park in the National League. Kershaw’s numbers are better, but he’s Clayton Kershaw. So, like we were all predicting heading into the 2013 season, Ubaldo Jimenez will probably garner a few stray Cy Young votes during this winter’s award voting.

Jason Cole of Baseball Prospectus was lucky enough to spend some time in Arizona during the Arizona Summer League this year, and got a brief first-hand look at Indians draft pick Clint Frazier, AKA The Flying Ginger. As we would hope, he came away impressed:

Not sure he’s as tall as his 6’1” listing, but I don’t think it matters much. He’s plenty strong; irresponsibly quick hands with sturdy wrists and large forearms; hammered belt-high fastball over plate to center for a long home run; most raw power in AZL this season by a good margin; has swing-and-miss, though pitch recognition seemed okay; tracked breaking balls well; highly aggressive approach and expanded zone at times; given solid recognition, I could see his K rate improving as he matures; made an impressive mid-AB adjustment; after pulling off two breaking balls, stayed on one with two strikes and singled up the middle; appeared to play with #rig; good present athlete who moves around well in center field; one-game look provided little opportunity to evaluate his glove; many scouts believe he’ll likely move to a corner, but I’m looking forward to forming my own opinion on that over the next couple weeks.
Do the Indians finally have a home-grown, impact OF prospect on the horizon? Time will tell, but Frazier has been drawing rave reviews from those in the industry since making his professional debut, and I’m extremely excited to get a first-hand look at him next spring in Goodyear. His ceiling is as high as anyone in the organization, and that includes SS prospect Francisco Lindor. Lindor has a higher floor and is much closer to making it to the major leagues, but Frazier’s ultimate upside is right there with him. He’s a sure bet to be a top-100 prospect in all of baseball when the offseason lists start rolling out, possibly even in the top-25 range. Pretty good for a kid who just graduated high school three months ago.

If (like me) you are both a baseball fan and history buff, I think you’ll enjoy this piece on the true origins of the game from Ben Curtis that ran on earlier this week. Curtis profiles the baseball archeology work of David Block, who is painstakingly searching 18th century texts from across the pond for the true “birth” of baseball. Abner Doubleday was a war hero, having taken over I Corps command (including the famed Black Hats of the Iron Brigade) from Maj. General John Reynolds on day one of the Battle of Gettysburg and buying time for the rest of the Army of the Potomac to arrive on the scene and entrench themselves on Cemetery Ridge. But he did not, as some still believe, invent the game of baseball. The honor was falsely bestowed upon him without his knowledge or consent, and if anything has (ironically) taken away from his actual historical accomplishments as a leader of men in the American Civil War. Block is finding references to baseball from before the French and Indian War, and he’s already written a book on the subject. Before I get too far down the rabbit hole here, I’ll leave you with the link to Block’s book and this teaser from the Granland article:
Block has discovered a 245-year-old dictionary and a 258-year-old comic novel and other "interesting things" that point toward the answer. But that afternoon, he left the room and came back with a copy of his newest find: a 264-year-old English newspaper called the Whitehall Evening-Post. The paper has news of inmates attempting a jailbreak from Newgate Prison, and of a chestnut mare that disappeared from a local forest. On Page 3, there is a small item. It reads:
On Tuesday last his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Base-Ball, at Walton in Surry; and notwithstanding the Weather was extreme bad, they continued playing for several Hours.
The date of the game was September 12, 1749. That's 90 years earlier than, and 3,500 miles away from, baseball's alleged conception in Cooperstown, New York. The "Base-Ball" player is the heir to the British throne. Block is rewriting the prehistory of the game. He is exposing a century's worth of lies. He has come up with a shocking answer to the riddle of baseball's parentage.

While it is not at all surprising that the September weather in Surry sucked (I tried to golf there last September; it was not nice out), it is a little bit shocking to read that the Prince of Wales (King George III’s father) was playing baseball in 1749. And if you want to further discuss Doubleday’s legitimate role in American history, I’m happy to sit down over a beer and talk through Meade’s unwillingness to fight at Gettysburg, Sickles’ move to the Peach Orchard, why Longstreet gets a disproportionate amount of blame for the Confederate defeat or any other aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg.

In what is becoming a nice trend, Cleveland native and Baseball Prospectus author Russell Carleton reminisces on days gone by, this time harkening back to the days of Alex Cole and his rec-specs patrolling center field at old Municipal Stadium. Sparked by Billy Hamilton’s electric introduction to the Reds starting lineup, the team at B-Pro put together a list of their favorite stolen base related memories. Carleton recollects the 8th game of Cole’s professional career, in which he stole 5 bases in 5 attempts en route to a 40 SB rookie campaign. You read that right; Cole didn’t even debut with the Indians until late July, and he still managed to steal 40 bases! On that magical night in August, Cole went 2-2 with a walk, 2 runs scored and was hit by a pitch. He batted leadoff, ahead of cleanup hitter Sandy Alomar, 3B Brook Jacoby, 1B Jeff Manto, and RF Cory Snyder. Greg Swindell started and won the game, throwing 7 innings of one-run ball, and Doug Jones struck out zero (of course) in a clean two-inning save. Pat Tabler was actually a member of the visiting KC Royals. In short, it was the most Indians game ever, and while Cole’s SB tear didn’t lead to much of a career on the North Shore (the 40 SB in 1990 ended up as his career high for one season), it was a nice prelude to the Kenny Lofton era in the mid-90’s.

With that reminder of how bad things really were back in the 80’s, I’ll again apologize for the short and somewhat stale nature of this week’s edition of Lazy Sunday. Here’s to hoping that next week we’re talking about nailing down a playoff roster and rotation, and where to meet up before the Indians home wild card game on October 2. 

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