Sunday, March 15, 2015

Running the Bases on a Lazy Sunday

Photo Credit: Al Ciammaichella
I’ll start off this week by begging your pardon for the brevity of this week’s Lazy…an over-aggressive work/travel schedule this week plus friends from out of town prevented me from getting any sort of meaningful writing time. But there were some great Tribe-centric articles floating around the interwebs this week that I wanted to be sure to highlight here, so I wanted to get something on to virtual paper even if it’s not the usual 5-6,000 word effort. I promise that next week will more than make up for it, as I have something special in store to help cure your post-St. Patty’s Day hangovers. If not though, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to The DiaTribe, Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, Cleveland, OH to receive your full refund (purchase price minus small convenience and restocking fees, of course). With that bit of housecleaning out of the way, let’s jump right in to all (ok, most) of the news that’s fit to link…

Francisco Lindor is a guy who I’ve spent plenty of time talking about for the last few years, so I’m not going to spend a lot of space on him this week. But I did want to highlight an article from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that focused on Lindor, because Crasnick is normally a guy who covers the MLB beat. It’s a little unusual to see him write an article focusing solely on a prospect. Crasnick (a closet Indians fan) includes a pretty telling quote from veteran infielder Mike Aviles:

"He's a cocky kid, a confident kid, and that's good," Aviles said. "You want that. But sometimes when you get that much hype, it's easy to let it go to your head. He's also a very humble kid, to the point where none of that gets to him. He's so willing to learn and so appreciative of any information you give him, it's actually a joy to be around him. He doesn't believe the hype -- he wants to prove the hype.
Cocky, confident, but humble and willing to learn. More indications on how special Lindor’s makeup is, and this from the guy who will essentially be out of a job when Lindor comes up to the major league roster. If Lindor takes over at SS, Ramirez will likely slide to the utility role, leaving Aviles to scratch and claw for playing time and provide depth in case of injury. Despite this, Aviles has nothing but good things to say about Lindor, and is playing a significant role in mentoring the young uber-prospect.

I’ve often linked to Grantland’s Jonah Keri, in this space, and today will be no different. Keri has been high on the Indians for the past couple of years, and features no less than three Sons of Geronimo in his “Breakout Players of 2015” piece this week. To absolutely no one’s surprise, those three players are pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar. Salazar was in Keri’s 2014 edition of the breakout players list, and he makes a repeat appearance this year after his solid 2nd half last season. Keri even mentions Yan Gomes (a sure way to get me to link to your article, BTW) as a reason to be optimistic when looking at the entire Indians pitching staff. Music to my ears, especially when Keri provides his justification for predicting breakouts for those three pitchers:

The soon-to-be-28-year-old Carrasco hails from the Hutchison camp, coming to 2014 off of a strong final 10 starts: 69 innings pitched, 78 strikeouts, 11 walks, 45 hits and two homers allowed, and a 1.30 ERA. The third-overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bauer owns an eclectic and at times electric eight-pitch repertoire that helped the 24-year-old fan 143 batters in 153 innings last year. He is also one of the most fascinating characters in the game. As for Salazar, we’re going back to the well after an erratic season that included an extended demotion to the minors, but 120 punch-outs in 110 innings hint at the potential that the 25-year-old’s fastball-slider-splitter combination possesses.
Keri’s effort was far from the only article this week that looked at the Indians starting rotation. We’ll go back to our ESPN friend Jerry Crasnick for a minute, as he penned a nice piece on the Indians starting 5. Crasnick didn’t really break much new ground for those of us who have been devoted fans of the Tribe over the past few years, but he did write a really solid article pulling together the strides that the Indians staff made last year under the tutelage of The Pitcher Whisperer™ and also gave a shout out to Indians minor league pitching coordinator Ruben Niebla for his work with the young arms throughout the org. Niebla is one of those guys who most fans probably don’t know, but he has an impact from Arizona all the way up to Cleveland, and it’s nice to see him get some of the attention he deserves for his tireless work in the organization. Niebla is an experienced guy who has the respect of players and coaches throughout baseball, and plays a significant role in the development of the Indians arms. Crasnick’s article also helps highlight the quiet but steady leadership provided by Corey Kluber, who helped with the enigma that is Trevor Bauer this offseason. Bauer, Carrasco, Salazar, House and Kluber all made significant strides in their development last year, and it’s a credit to the Indians coaching staff that they can work to improve their players while still allowing them the freedom to work things out in their own way. What works with Carlos Carrasco (simplifying his delivery, coming up with a bullpen to mound routine) isn’t going to work with a thinker/tinkerer like Bauer. The Indians didn’t try to copy the Carrasco model with Bauer this offseason, allowing him to pitch in the dark, build drones and do basically whatever he felt he needed to do to get ready for spring training. We’ll still have to wait and see if last season’s performance gains were legitimate and sustainable, but if not, it won’t be for lack of solid coaching throughout the organization.

Both Anthony Castrovince and Matthew Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus wrote similar articles focusing on the volatility of the Indians rotation this week, and both are well-worth the time it takes to read. Castro used a Seinfeld approach (shocking, I know), harkening back to George Costanza’s insanely inconsistent sight without his glasses. George could spot a dime from across Jerry’s apartment, but also managed to accidentally bite into an onion from the fridge, believing it to be an apple. The native Clevelander knows not to get too out over his skis when it comes to the Indians rotation; once bitten, twice shy and all:
I love the enthusiasm about this unit, but, at the same time, I’m a Clevelander who knows how it so often goes, and I’ll admit to being a little more pessimistic about things, sans Floyd.
This rotation could amaze. It could completely unravel. Either possibility is 100 percent realistic. That’s what makes it one of the most fascinating rotations in baseball.
Trueblood doesn’t have the built-in Cleveland fandom (nor impending sense of doom), but is equally fascinated with the Indians rotation. He first looks at how insanely cheap the Indians starting pitching is this year, and he even included Gavin Floyd’s (more on him in a minute) $4 million in the very helpful chart below:

Trueblood goes on to look at the boom-or-bust nature of the Cleveland staff, using Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system to look at the 90% through 10% performance predictions for the Indians 5 likely starting pitchers come April and beyond. What he finds is that while the Indians staff could be among the very best in baseball, it could also wind up down in the dumps:

What does this tell us, other than that the Indians are one of the toughest teams in baseball about whom to prognosticate this spring? Well, for one thing, when it comes to pitchers, ceiling comes cheap. The Indians employ the reigning Cy Young champion, a former third-overall draft pick, three guys who struck out at least a quarter of opposing batters last season and three who throw at least 95 miles per hour regularly. The five pitchers in this proposed rotation will make a combined $6.2 million and change this season. Part of that is, again, that the Indians were excruciatingly patient with the development of these arms, gave them more chances than most organizations would have given, and are now reaping the benefits (while also maintaining many years of team control over the group). Part, though, is that the front office’s appetite for risk here has been stunningly high. Most teams simply wouldn’t allow this much variance to build within one segment of its roster.
When you’re dealing with the financial realities that the Indians face (small payroll, small TV deal, lots of money committed to Swisher/Bourn), you’re going to have to take some chances throughout your roster. If a lot of those chances (we called them “ifs” in this space about a year ago) pay out, then even with a bottom-10 payroll you can contend for a division and even a World Series title. If a lot of those chances go bust, then you’re planning for a top-5 draft pick next June. The Indians aren’t unique in that they have to take risks, but they are a little unique in that they have so much volatility in one specific area of their roster (SP). But the price is certainly right, and if you’re going to load up one segment of your roster with boom-or-bust guys, it might as well be the segment of your roster that is coached by The Pitcher Whisperer™. Having Yan Gomes behind the plate doing the framing for these guys won’t hurt either.

The rotation news wasn’t all sunshine and roses this week, as Gavin Floyd looks to have re-injured his elbow, possibly in the same fashion that prematurely ended his 2014 season with the Braves. Floyd had Tommy John in May of 2013, then another procedure in June of 2014 to stabilize a fracture in the same elbow. Here we are in March of 2015, and it’s looking like Floyd will need yet another procedure in the very same joint that’s given him so many problems over the past few years. Floyd was a $4 million lottery ticket that was signed to give the Indians depth in their young rotation, and it’s looking like that ticket was a bust. It’s hardly the worst injury that could strike this spring, as the rotation is deep and talented even without the veteran Floyd. The Indians still have seven (eight if you count Bruce Chen) legitimate starting pitching options, but their depth took a serious hit with the Floyd re-injury.

Even after the Floyd injury, Jeff Long of Baseball Prospectus ranked the Indians as having “Doomsday Prepper” level depth with their starting rotation. Long took a look at the projected WARP (if they each pitched 165 innings) of MLB clubs’ 6th and 7th starters, using Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister for the Indians. That duo projects to a 2.6 WARP, 3rd highest in all of baseball. Also, I can sorta picture Josh Tomlin in a survivalist store purchasing bulk MREs to store in his underground bunker in case the North Koreans decide to take out our power grid, so the category fits. For comparison’s sake, the Indians AL Central rivals clock in at “Outdoor Enthusiast” (Royals) and the lowly “Millennial” (White Sox and Tigers), suggesting that the Indians are still in better shape to weather a potential injury to a starting pitcher than their direct competitors for the divisional crown.

In his start against the Chicago Cubs earlier this week, Trevor Bauer gave up back-to-back-to-back HR against three of the Cubs young prospects in Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. All three of those guys have prodigious power potential, and there’s really no shame in giving up HR in the thin Arizona air. Tito Francona and Brad Mills decided to have some fun with Bauer after the game, enlisting the Goodyear PD to come into the locker room with three baseballs to return to Bauer, saying they had contributed to a traffic incident on Estrella Parkway outside of the stadium. Bauer took it in stride, posting pictures of the baseballs on his twitter account, and laughing about the gag along with the rest of his teammates. Bauer infamously clashed with his teammates and coaching staff in Arizona before being traded to Cleveland, and he can sometimes get a little bogged down in minutiae of individual results, so it’s especially good to see him laughing off his less than ideal results on the diamond. Spring training stats don’t mean anything, and baseball is still supposed to be fun. Hopefully, this Indians team is still laughing together deep into the postseason in the fall of 2015. 

1 comment:

Spills said...

I have a feeling that this season is going to swing between extremely frustrating and extremely fun many times over the next 6 months... My Tribe flag will be up either way in 14 days