Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Positional Analysis, Part III and 24 for 7

First things first, the Tribe locked up Grady Sizemore until 2012, with a deal that could be worth upwards of $31 million when all is said and done.

To say that this is a coup for the Tribe is an understatement, as they now have the young CF under their control, with the option for the 7th year until he’s 31 years old. The final option year in 2012 is for $8.5 million to $10.5 million, which should by then be quite a bargain (heck, it’s a bargain now if Grady continues to develop).

The deal essentially ensures that Sizemore will be in a Tribe uniform during his peak productive years (usually between ages 27 and 30) and adds another name to the list of Martinez, Sabathia, Hafner, and Peralta as players playing with long-term contracts for the Tribe.

Sure, there are risks associated with signing a player with less than two years’ experience to such a long deal, but on a day like today, we’re only dwelling on the positive.

Next on the Tribe’s radar is Cliff Lee, but the self-imposed deadline of Opening Day for these deals to be done is closing in.

With that pleasantness out of the way, onto the continued analysis:
The unquestioned strength of the 2005 Indians was the starting staff, as all 5 starters logged 30+ starts on their way to leading the charge for the Indians to post the best team ERA (3.61) in the AL. But gone are individual ERA leader Kevin Millwood (off to Texas to pitch for 5 years in a hitters’ park) and Scott Elarton (who reunites with Buddy Bell in Kansas City). Replacing those two in the rotation are Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson, two veteran inning eaters who figure to pitch out of the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation (if spots in the rotation mean anything).

The rotation starts with their anchor, and he is a big one. The Crooked Cap enters his 6th big league season riding high after a strong finish to 2005. In C.C.’s last 11 starts, he went 9-1 with a 2.24 ERA and 74 K’s in 76 1/3 IP to lower his overall ERA by over a point.
After a midseason meeting with Curt Schilling (who apparently told him to only throw his fastball), C.C. got hammered in July, going 1-5 with an astonishing 6.68 ERA (after a June ERA of 6.83). Remarkably, after those 2 awful months C.C. rebounded and started to PITCH, as opposed to just throwing his fastball. His comments that he didn’t want to go to the WBC so he wouldn’t be away from Carl Willis show some maturity on C.C.’s part, in that he understands that his coaches are trying to help him maximize his immense potential not just give him lip-service. 2006 could be the season that C.C. finally “puts it all together” and dominates, like he can, from the very first start of the year through October. Granted, we’ve said that for about 2 years now, but Sabathia had never experienced a dominant stretch like last August and September and that stretch may give C.C. enough confidence to lead this team as their true ace, not an ace in name only.

Settling in behind Sabathia is Jake Westbrook, who came back to earth in 2005 with a 15-15 record and a 4.49 ERA after his breakout 2004, during which he posted a 14-9 record with a 3.48 ERA. So, will the real Jake Westbrook please stand up? Which pitcher will we see in 2006: the one with 5 complete games in 2004 or the one who led the Majors with 9 losses on June 9th of last year? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Westbrook, in 2004, rode the wave of some early phenomenal outings to build his confidence and stake his claim in the rotation. He began 2005 slowly, though, and seemed to gain steam as the season progressed, miraculously finishing with an even record and an ERA under 5.00. Westbrook this year will probably come closer to a 4.00 to a 4.25 ERA with about 15 wins again, but should limit his losses by pitching from ahead and with the luxury of a more confident Jhonny Peralta, a fully healthy Aaron Boone, and a short outfielder in Ronnie Belliard to eat up the many ground balls he induces. The other positive that Westbrook adds to the rotation is the change of pace that he provides between Sabathia (a power lefty) and Lee (a crafty lefty). Westbrook’s style of fast-paced baseball and allowing hitters to make contact allows Eric Wedge the ability to break up the two lefties very nicely.

Cliff Lee won 18 games last year, received 8 points in the Cy Young voting (inexplicably), and led the AL in winning percentage. Not bad for a player with 44 career starts on the resume. Lee wasn’t the best pitcher on the Indians staff last year, but he was the most successful. Whether it was run support or opportune starts, it doesn’t matter how he got to the win total. He just won. That’s what he’s done since he’s entered the Indians’ organization, racking up 32 wins in 2 years (good for 7th most wins in the Majors for 2004-2005). And there’s no reason to think that he would stop winning now. Lee’s ability to get out of trouble improved greatly in 2005, perhaps due to the presence of a veteran like Millwood or perhaps due to a better understanding of the game. Again, you can’t argue with his results. Lee moves up a spot in the rotation this year and will be facing tougher match-ups against better pitchers, but we’re not talking about going from the #4 starter to the #1 starter. Lee will get his share of wins because he is better than most #3 starters out there and will continue to have a good offense behind him. It’s unlikely that he’ll match his 18 wins of a year ago, but his win totals have set a precedent that suits him very well.

With the flight of Kevin Millwood to Texas, the Indians turned to one of their old farmhands to take his place. Byrd, originally drafted by the Tribe in 1991, returns to the Tribe as the veteran arm on a relatively young staff. The wily Byrd posted 22 Quality Starts last year (defined a 6+ IP with 3 ER or fewer), 2nd in the AL behind only Johan Santana. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and he’s not going to lead the league in strikeouts, but Byrd does know how to pitch. Anyone who saw him pitch against the White Sox in the postseason last year (1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 2 ALCS games) knows that. In fact, he was the only pitcher to defeat the White Sox in the 2005 post-season. Well, welcome to the Teepee, Byrdie. Let’s pretend that every start against the White Sox in 2006 is an ALCS contest. Byrd has had some injury problems, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2004. But, like many pitchers who have successfully emerged from TJ surgery, Byrd has excelled since the surgery and may be one of those pitchers who pitch into his 40’s with experience and deception (like a Jaime Moyer or a Kenny Rogers). There won’t be huge expectations for Byrd this season, pitching out of the #4 spot in the rotation, but he provides comparable depth to what Millwood provided last year (at a LOT less dollars and a TON fewer guaranteed years). Some fans will pine for Kevin Millwood, but Byrd should be a nice fit with the 2006 rotation.

Rather than letting the young pitchers (Carmona, Sowers, and Davis) enter Spring Training battling for the #5 spot in the rotation, the Indians signed Jason Johnson away from Detroit on a one-year deal (with a mutual option for 2007). Johnson comes to the Tribe as an innings-eater (he started 98 games since 2003) whose W-L record has been far from impressive. His career record stands at 52-86 after an 8-13 campaign with the Tigers last year. It’s true that Johnson has never played for a good team (Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh are his other stops), but something has got to give here. An average pitcher on a good team will steal some wins, just like a good pitcher on a bad team should be able to overcome his situation to snatch a few victories from the jaws of defeat. According to numerous reports, Johnson is throwing his sinker with more regularity, which could mean that he’s a completely different (and more effective) pitcher. Or it could mean that he’s one step away from learning the knuckleball. He did log 19 Quality Starts last year (Millwood had 20, Elarton had 16 – same as Lee), so maybe it’s just a matter of getting into the right environment. While he doesn’t have big shoes to fill (figuratively speaking) in replacing Scott Elarton, don’t expect the Indians to stick with Johnson too long if his career record is more indicative of the type of pitcher that he is, opposed to something that a scout saw.

In the chance that one of the 5 pitchers in the rotation misses a start or an extended period of time due to injury, the Indians’ farm system is ready to provide some relief in a hurry. The first wave of pitchers (who are not far away from being completely ready) would come to Cleveland in the form of Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers.

Carmona is a 22 year old who has rocketed through the farm system, winning at every stop along the way. He impressed the Tribe brass this Spring and will be the first call-up in case of an injury or prolonged ineffectiveness (probably by Johnson).

Sowers would be the next in line, as a polished LH out of Vanderbilt. Just 2 years removed from being the 6th overall pick in the draft, Sowers has leap-frogged most other pitching prospects and figures to start the season in Buffalo, with a trip to Cleveland not far off. Sowers excelled at three levels last year, posting a 14-4 composite record and a 2.37 ERA. Terry Pluto, in particular, raves about his poise and his presence on the mound and wonders if Sowers isn’t ready right now.

The other group of starters in the high minors consists of former prospects trying to make another impression (Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Stanford) or younger players trying to force themselves into the starter mix (Jake Dittler, JD Martin, and Dan Denham – when healthy). Further down the line is what the Front Office refers to as the next “wave” of arms, which would include the highly touted Adam Miller, Nick Pesco, and Chuck Lofgren along with the underrated Bear Bay, Tom Mastny, and Aaron Laffey.

Tomorrow, the Bullpen.


Baltimoran said...

they just said philips would be traded, graves gets the last bullpen spot, with shoppach at backup catcher. I hope we can get some value from willie mays hayes, i'm gonna miss that guy

Cy Slapnicka said...

less than 92 hours until first pitch...

i'm in chicago now. just drove by that awful block of cement 2 hours ago. if anyone knows of anyone trying to unload tix for the game, let me know.

t-bone said...

was at the last 2 cavs games. disappointing that any time the corners of the arena started up the M-V-P chant for lebron, it never took off. this last night, when he goes 16-23, 4-7 from 3pt, puts up 46 points in a thorough buttkicking of one of the top 3 teams in the league. so one of the biggest things i have against cavsfan is that they still need the scoreboard to tell them when to cheer and what to say. ridiculous.

anyways, this was from the lead story on espn's MLB page on wildcard contenders by Alan Schwartz:

Cleveland Indians
Wild-Card Resembled: 2004 Red Sox. The Indians aren't the 2002 Angels or 2003 Marlins, clubs that rebounded from 75 and 79 wins the previous season, respectively, to vault into the playoffs as relative surprises. These Indians won 93 games last year, staying in the playoff race until the final weekend -- and need just a little push to join the elite.

Why They Won't Win the Division: The White Sox's rotation is still too deep, and if Brian Anderson can do a decent Aaron Rowand impression, Jim Thome is a big bonus. Meanwhile, the Indians' rotation has switched Kevin Millwood for Paul Byrd, meaning it'll be tough to improve much.

Why They'll Win the Wild Card: Youth, baby -- most of the Indians' best players (particularly the up-the-middle core of Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta) are still under 27 and improving. Young teams tend to have less go wrong than old ones, and an awful lot can go wrong with the age of the Red Sox's and Yankees' pitchers. Meanwhile the Indians' starters have a bit more experience than the A's, giving them a reasonable balance that could pay off handsomely -- especially when they meet some wimpy division-winner in the playoffs.

Rockdawg said...

I swear, as I'm looking through the Charlotte Observer this morning, it felt like the PD. Third page there was a big article about Lebron and the Cavs going to the playoffs. Then, on the next page, a pretty big article about Sizemore. They also had a pretty cool comparison about which teams spent the most amount of money per win last year. The Tribe was the second lowest in the league, spending $446,263 per win last year. Compared to the Yankees ($2,192,703 per win) and the Red Sox ($1,300,053 per win), that's a pretty dynamite number. The only team that spent less money per win than the Tribe last year were the D-Rays, at $442,971 per win.

Also, it makes me extremely nervous when we start using phrases like "that position is locked up for the next 10 years", and "I've got to have a kid so I can name him Grady." Remember, a contract doesn't gaurantee anything, just ask Nomahhhhh and the Sox. Keep in mind that I am as jacked as the next Clevelander at the prospect of the Tribe being set up for another mid-90's run, but lets hold off on the World Series party reservations until we keep seeing what we've been seeing on the field.

Cavs in late April (finally!!)

I still don't know what state George Mason is located in, but I'm rooting for them all the way!!