Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Livin’ the High Life – 2008 Part I

Sitting here watching two extremely mediocre teams battle for the right to call themselves AL Central Champions for 2008, I can’t help but be bitter. While the Indians ultimately finished 7 games out of this eminently winnable division (and, truthfully, it took a phenomenal 2nd half to get there), to watch the flawed White Sox and the equally flawed Twins attempt to hand it TO EACH OTHER for the last week of the season, then square off to make the playoffs has me looking for the TUMS.

Maybe its sour grapes, but the Indians’ team that broke Spring Training this year is a superior team to either of these two teams vying for the AL crown. While there’s no use crying over spilled milk, the Indians’ rotation boasted two pitchers who could sweep the Cy Young Awards…and one had to battle to be the 5th starter out of Winter Haven.
If pitching wins championships, what went wrong here?

Obviously, we all know about the injuries (Carmona, Westbrook, Victor, Hafner), the slow starts (Sabathia, Carmona, Cabrera, Borowski), the severe regressions (Betancourt, Garko, Gutierrez), the bullpen implosion with the same arms that led the stretch run in 2007, and the disappearance (perhaps forever) of The Mighty Pronk, done in by a “mysterious” shoulder injury. But as the roller-coaster ride that the 2008 season ends, from the high expectations to the trade of CC to the push in the 2nd half that revealed some surprises on the roster, we enjoyed one of the greatest seasons by an Indians’ pitcher, Grady Sizemore’s ascent to the elite of MLB, saw young hitters and relievers emerge. All of those things that leave us with the “warm fuzzies” though are countered by being forced to watch the playoffs without the Indians’ participation, a result of medical issues, downturns for certain players, and one of the most poorly-timed losing streaks in recent memory. 2008 began as a year full of high hopes, only to see them dashed – so what went right this year and what went wrong…and what does it all mean for the Indians’ going forward?

Figuring that a little extra time will be on my hands, I thought I’d take a look back at 2008, the highs and the lows, before looking ahead to 2009. Of course, since I tend to get a little long-winded on this stuff (no….me?), I decided to break it up into three parts to space it out a little and to get you begging for more (OK, maybe not begging). First, I’ll examine the high points of the 2008 season, followed by the depths of the season, ending with an analysis looking ahead to close it out, setting up the off-season staring the Indians in the face.

For now, let’s hit all the highs that 2008 provided for us:
Cy Phifer Lee
With the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award already in the bag, I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that Clifton should perhaps make some room on the old mantle at home or make plans for an awards room to house the hardware that’s going to be coming his way after the 2008 campaign. If there was a better story or a more shocking surprise on the Indians (and maybe in all of MLB) this year, I'd like to hear it. Going from a year when he was demoted to AAA, booed by the fans, fought with the team captain in the dugout, and was completely left off the postseason roster to sliding into the 5th spot in the rotation then transforming into Sandy Koufax for 6 months is a pretty incredible sequence of events over the last 14 or so months for Cliff.

In a year when the Indians traded their reigning Cy Young Award winner and saw what many thought would be the “ace” of the future (Carmona) battle injury and ineffectiveness, Lee provided superb stability at a level unseen in Cleveland since the days of Feller, Lemon, and Garcia. Can he translate his 2008 performance into a stretch of a few comparable years? Hard to say ANYONE could continue the level of dominance that Lee displayed in 2008, but that argument is for another day as it’s time to welcome Lee back to the top of the rotation and appreciate his historic season.

The 30-30 Man
After 2006, when Grady put up his historic line of 53 doubles-11 triples-28 HR-22 SB as a 23-year-old, many were expecting SuperSizemore to take that next step as a player into the elite among the MLB. His 2007 disappointed (if one can truly call an .852 OPS for a 24-year-old playing Gold Glove CF a “disappointment”) those who thought that 2006 was just scratching the surface of what promised to be an illustrious career by seeing his extra base hits decline and his K total rise.

Then came this year, when Sizemore – batting at the top of a lineup that boasted him and…well, a bunch of guys that were disappointing or still emerging for most of the year – became the leader of the Indians, both on the field and off of it. He finished the year with 33 HR and 38 SB (even with a late-season swoon) and ended the year second in the AL in VORP, behind only A-Rod. His importance to the lineup cannot be underestimated as the Indians played 2008 essentially without Victor and Hafner and STILL scored over 800 runs (actually, 805 – good for 6th in the AL) with Grady paving the way, sitting atop the lineup of a team that boasted only 4 players with VORP’s over 12 for the second half of the year, when the Indians thrived. To put that 12 number in perspective, the magnificence that is the season put together by Edgar Renteria resulted in his VORP finishing with 12.2.
Ultimately, Grady put the offense on his shoulders and carried them while establishing himself as among the top 3 to 5 hitters in the American League. Have I ever I mentioned that he turned just 26 at the beginning of August and that he is under club control through the 2012 season?
Yeah, that’s a bright spot that figures to burn for a while on the North Coast.

Mr. Show Pack and The BLC
When 2008 began, Shoppach and the good S.S. Choo were thought to be on the outside of the Indians’ plans going forward, blocked by entrenched stars (Victor), young players who performed well in 2007 (Gutz), or “similar” players being paid more money (The Looch). It was thought that Shoppach would simply provide depth at C and see a few more starts behind the dish with Victor playing up the line more frequently to reduce the burden on him physically. With Choo, coming off of TJ surgery and out of options, the hope was that they could at least find him a spot to keep him on the roster, perhaps taking AB from Dellucci from time to time so the team could better evaluate whether he was a strict platoon OF or if he merited more of a look as an everyday OF. For both, AB looked to be scarce and a good read on either seemed unlikely when the year started.

Of course, Victor then Hafner hit the shelf and these two essentially replaced them in the lineup. Maybe not in their spots in the lineup (certainly not at the beginning), but their AB went ostensibly to Shoppach as C and Choo as an OF (as Dellucci was relegated to DH duty and Gutierrez’s struggles continued). What the two of them did as a response to getting regular playing time serves as the great revelations of the 2008 season. Since the All-Star game (because it’s an easy to pick date, if arbitrary), Choo posted the 3rd best OPS in the AL and Shoppach posted the 8th best. These two players, thought to be complementary players (and maybe even afterthoughts) performed better than A-Rod and Miguel Cabrera over the course of 200 some plate appearances. Both established themselves as viable MLB players with the upside of All-Star potential, two pleasant surprises on a team full of disappointments.

Stomping Out the 9th
There weren’t many bright spots in the black hole that was the Indians’ 2008 bullpen that seemed to suck any light out of anything threatening to shine this year. But Jenny Lew (after some velocity issues sent him back to Buffalo) solidified the back end of the bullpen when he ascended to the role of closer. Maybe his “ascension” was more of a result of simply no other arms being options – but whatever the case, from the time that Lewis took the reins as the closer, he performed at a level that was pretty close to the elite of MLB. Saving 13 games while striking out 22 and walking only 6 in his 21 2/3 innings since his first save opportunity, Lewis stabilized the madness that had prevailed throughout the 2008 season in the bullpen. His “give-me-the-ball” attitude has come across on the mound and quotes like this about saving a game for college teammate Jeremy Sowers haven’t exactly hurt the idea that the mentality is there:
''We haven't picked Jeremy up all year,'' Lewis said, referring to the bullpen's deficiencies. ''I went out there with the idea that he was going to lose this game over my dead body. This is like going back to our college days, when Jeremy would start and I would finish. I told him after the anthem that 'this is your day, and I'm going to finish it.'''
“Over my dead body”? Yeah, I like the attitude…the results didn’t hurt either.

Guess Who’s Back?
One of the great surprises of the 2007 season, and probably an impetus for the Indians making their run into the playoffs was the preternatural play of Asdrubal Cabrera after he was called up to the parent club to take the place of Josh Barfield. Given his bat control and glove, most figured that while he may not be able to replicate his breakthrough performance, that he would do enough to work his way through the difficulty and find a groove in MLB, all while providing stellar defense. Well…the defense was there, but the groove proved elusive. He couldn’t hit, waving at pitches out of the strike zone, while looking helpless at the plate with the line to prove it:
First 52 games
.184 BA / .282 OBP / .247 SLG / .529 OPS with 1 HR and 14 RBI over 158 AB

He was unceremoniously sent to Buffalo as the Indians’ season at that point was slip-sliding away, losing his job to Josh Barfield who had been similarly unimpressive at AAA. After a month-plus in Buffalo, Cabrera returned to the parent club (aided by Barfield’s finger injury and the fact that the season HAD, in fact, slipped away) with a vengeance. He displayed the bat control and the occasional power that his 2007 season had promised:
Last 62 games
.320 BA / .398 OBP / .464 SLG / .862 OPS with 5 HR and 33 RBI over 194 AB
The trajectory of his career path (he STILL doesn’t turn 23 until mid-November) survived a blip and an adjustment period to put himself firmly back into the Indians’ plans, regardless of position.

Jhonny 4-Spot
After a phenomenal 2005 season and a dismal 2006 season, Jhonny Peralta’s 2007 season and start to the 2008 season seemed to put Jhonny basically into the category of “he is what he is”. A nice 20 HR, 75 RBI player whose OPS sits between .750 and .800 from the SS position. In fact, in late June with about 68 games under his belt, Peralta looked to be in line for those numbers, though his OPS hovered around the .700 mark. If anything, it looked like Peralta had regressed a bit, reverting closer to Jhonny v.2006 than resembling even v.2007.

Then, The Atomic Wedgie put his SS in the 4 hole probably because he had no other options and hoped it would maybe jump-start Peralta’s season. Jump start is a subtle way to put it:
First 68 games (not hitting 4th)
.238 BA / .285 OBP / .423 SLG / .708 OPS with 11 HR and 30 RBI over 265 AB
Last 86 games (hitting 4th)
.306 BA / .365 OBP / .512 SLG / .877 OPS with 12 HR and 59 RBI over 340 AB

Are those the numbers of a true #4 hitter? No, but on a team that SHOULD have Victor and some amalgamation of Travis Hafner and Pronk on the team, Peralta’s numbers sit very nicely in the #5 or #6 hole. The old “he is what he is” phrase still applies…but he “is” a fixture in the lineup, regardless of position (what, is there an echo in here?).

2nd Half Offensive
Due to all of the names listed above, the Indians were able to settle at the top of MLB in runs scored after the All-Star Break. The contributions of Sizemore, Choo, Shoppach, Cabrera, and Peralta augmented Cliff Lee and a solidified bullpen (thanks to Jenny Lew) to help the Tribe go 40-28 after the Break.

But really, most of the credit goes to the offense for winning as many games as they did. Why does the offense get most of the credit in the 2nd half of the season?
Consider the starters not named Cliff Lee in those 68 games:
Jeremy Sowers – 5.05 ERA, 1.25 WHIP over 13 starts
Fausto Carmona – 7.61 ERA, 1.66 WHIP over 12 starts
Zach Jackson – 5.60 ERA, 1.43 WHIP over 9 starts
Anthony Reyes – 1.83 ERA, 1.25 WHIP over 6 starts
Paul Byrd – 1.24 ERA, 1.10 WHIP over 4 starts
Scott Lewis – 2.63 ERA, 1.08 WHIP over 4 starts
Bryan Bullington – 7.45 ERA, 1.55 WHIP over 2 starts
Aaron Laffey – 12.91 ERA, 3.26 WHIP over 2 starts
That’s 55 starts by pitchers who aren’t going to win the Cy Young Award, who collectively posted a 5.11 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Now, it should be noted that the Indians posted a post-All-Star game record of 30-27 in games started by these non-Cliff Lee pitchers (yes, Cliff was 10-1 after the break)…but still, over .500 with THAT cast of characters starting games?

The Indians’ offense in the 2nd half of the season may not have been the prettiest to watch and didn’t have the “likely” pieces and parts doing most of the damage, but the results are hard to argue with. Of course, a potent 2nd half doesn’t mean that the Indians’ offense is fine or that it doesn’t need tweaking (see Cleveland Indians, circa 2007), but it offers hope that didn’t exist at the beginning of July that some pieces are here and that the end of 2008 showed a glimmer of hope for the club’s offensive future.

With 2008 firmly in the rearview (thank God), it’s almost finally time to look ahead to 2009…as if that hasn’t been the focus since the beginning of July. Next up though, I’ll take a look at what went wrong this year (as if this hasn’t been beaten like a dead horse), then finish with the questions facing the Indians this off-season, including examining holes to fill, decisions to make, and what can reasonably be expected to position the 2009 Indians in the mix for the 2009 AL Central Crown.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lazy Spoiler Sunday

With the Indians’ foot firmly entrenched on the throat of the White Sox’s playoff hopes, it’s time to pull out that Bryan Bullington jersey and cheer on Our Spoilers. What’s that, no Bullington jersey? All right, get that CC jersey out from the back of your closet (where it went when you never thought the opportunity to root for him would come up again) and cheer on those Brewers. If you can’t do it for me (lest anyone forget, The DiaBride is from Milwaukee), do it so the Indians get to choose the PTBNL in the Sabathia deal instead of the Brewers, as Hoynes has reported on numerous occasions.

Ironic that we’re cheering on the Hefty Lefty at the end of September to push his team into the playoffs, but only so we can get better player in return for him. What a wild year it’s been…

And with that, we’re off:
Terry Pluto has a little “what we learned this year” segment that basically echoes all the things he’s been writing for a few weeks/months now. The only real departure from his past columns is that it looks like he’s put down the Jeremy Sowers pom-poms and has given up hope that the 2006 Sowers is ever coming back.

Pluto’s former ABJ compatriot Shelly Ocker lays out what the Indians will be looking to do in the off-season in the sarcastic and condescending tone that we could only expect from the Shocker.

Anthony Castrovince recounts a funny moment from the Tribe locker room on Friday afternoon over at his blog:
The front page of today's Chicago Tribune sports section has the headshots of tonight's starting pitchers. When Scott Lewis took a look at it earlier, he remarked, "Man, did I get ugly." He made sure to make this comment within earshot of Jensen Lewis, whose picture was mistakenly used in place of Scott's.
Well played, young Scott.

Over at the LGT, Jay Levin posted a tremendous farewell to Yankee Stadium that seems apropos after the love fest that we were all subjected to last weekend. The title of it is “Cesspool Scheduled for Demolition”, so that should answer any questions you may have regarding the angle Mr. Levin took in the piece.

Also at the LGT, frequent contributor APV broke down the top hitters and pitchers in the Tribe organization, based purely on the highest numbers for statistical categories. It’s certainly not a “Top Prospect” list, but it’s interesting to see how the years of some of the names we’re becoming familiar with (Huff, LaPorta, Santana, etc.) look up against the rest of the farm.

Ken Rosenthal is looking for an apology from the Indians for him making the team (along with the Braves) his pick for the WS. The linked piece also has a nice backhanded comment about Chicago GM Ken Williams and his (as Rosenthal puts it) “bluster”.

Rosenthal also discloses his year-end voting, giving C.P. Lee his Cy Young vote, putting Grady 9th on his MVP submission, and slotting Lee behind Carlos Quentin in the AL Comeback Player of the Year. Notably, CC is omitted from his NL Cy Young vote, but puts the Hefty Lefty 4th in the NL MVP race (Manny is 6th). Oh, and not to say that these two players weren’t given enough of a chance in Cleveland (because both have been on multiple clubs since leaving the Tribe), but Rosenthal has Ryan Ludwick and Jody Gerut pegged with his #1 and #3 vote for NL Comeback Player of the Year.
You just never know with some of these guys…

Back to the topic of year-end awards, regardless of how arbitrary they generally end up, here’s where Jayson Stark’s ballot comes down. Stark has Lee receiving the Cy for his season and points out that the aCCe is tied for the league lead in shutouts for the season…that is tied for the lead in BOTH the AL and the NL.

Since I haven’t yet changed all of the links for the AAA affiliate moving to Columbus, here’s a piece from the Columbus Dispatch on why the Columbus Clippers should consider changing their name. The piece is a poor attempt at humor by someone who’s not a sports reporter for the Dispatch, verified by the fact that he settles on Sliders to play off of White Castle hamburgers (which, apparently, were first made in Ohio’s capital) and to tie in the Indians’ disgusting amalgamation of pink fur and yellow snot that they call their mascot.

Nevertheless, it would be pretty cool if the team was called something like the Buckeyes (as long as Ohio State didn’t object, which they would) as it is not without precedent. Even if the precedent is over 100 years old (there was also a Negro League team that went by the same name in 1921)…yeah, I’m pretty sure they could sell hats and jerseys in Columbus and throughout Ohio with the name “Buckeyes” on it.

The Buffalo News, by the way, has already transitioned to following the Metropolitans. I can only hope that the Dispatch provides the same terrific coverage of the AAA affiliate that Mike Harrington of the News did for many years, both in print and online.
EDIT - As noted in the comments section, here's Mike's latest piece from this morning on C.P. Lee and his take on Shapiro's recommendation to Omar Minaya regarding Buffalo as an affiliate.

Finally, on a topic that is (for some odd reason) very near and dear to my heart, ESPN The Magazine has decided to create a sort of Jukebox for players’ and their entrance music, which allows you to listen to all of the Tribe’s “walking” music.

Though he’s not a Tribesman anymore, CC’s warm-up song, by the way, is listed incorrectly as Rick Ro$$’s “Millionaire”. Actually, it’s Rick Ro$$’s “Billionaire”…not that anything should be taken from that title, right?

As long as the aCCe’s arm doesn’t fall off today (which would only set the stage for him to be hurt early next season in the first year of his eight year deal), it will be nice to see him attempt to put the ghosts of the end of 2007 to bed.
If only it would be in a Tribe uni…

All over about 4 PM today – it’s been a fun and wild ride and I’m sure I’ll be obsessing about the Tribe all off-season, so thanks for climbing aboard with me and stick around as the real work now begins for the Indians.

My eyes have been almost exclusively on 2009 since about the 4th of July…after today, the next game they play will finally be in 2009, that ubiquitous “next year”.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tomahawks Nearing The End

As October looms, here come some meandering Tomahawks, slowly making their way to their mark…the end of the season.

In case you don’t have the Indians’ 40-man roster at the top of your list of things to watch these days, you may not have known that OF Brad Snyder and LHP Reid Santos were claimed by the Cubs (Snyder) and Blue Jays (Santos) this week as the Tribe removed both from the 40-man in an attempt to clear them through waivers. Both Snyder and Santos had been passed in the organization by other players at their positions or had seemingly hit their ceilings in AAA or AA, meaning that their presence on the 40-man roster was unnecessary as neither figure very prominently into the Indians’ future plans.

The Indians have many 40-man decisions to make this off-season and this looks to be nothing more than a clearing out of some space at a time that the Indians may have thought that other teams’ 40-man rosters were relatively full.

Regardless of the timing, the loss of both players was met with a chorus of crickets from the North Coast.

Andy Marte’s season is officially over, despite numerous reports that it was over when Lacey Cake made the team out of Winter Haven – which ultimately proved to be premature, with a leg injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season.

The obvious question, with this news, is who The Atomic Wedgie will regularly pinch-hit for late in games as the season winds down with Marte out of the picture?
Thanks a lot - I’ll be here all week…try the chicken paprikash!

Seriously, I’m not sure if this spells the end for Andy Marte on the North Coast no matter how obvious that conclusion may seem. If the Indians are unable to add an infielder (although it is their stated “highest priority”) this off-season, the Indians could very well go into next year with Andy Marte as their starting 3B, or at least split time with Jamey Carroll.

Knowing what’s out there on the FA market for 2B and 3B, not too many of the names jump out at you as “must-have” players, particularly the way that FA are generally overpaid, either in terms of dollars or years. To go past that, look at the 2B and 3B around MLB (ranked here and here by OPS) and tell me the name that jumps out at you. Outside of the obvious “untouchables” of Utley, Kinsler, Pedroia, Wright, Aramis, Longoria, etc. is there a player out there that a team would be willing to move that you’d fire your biggest single bullet (namely Shoppach) for?

Additionally, if the Tribe thinks that Wes Hodges is going to be ready to take over 3B at some point in 2009 (and that, to me, is a HUGE leap of faith), the Tribe could go into 2009 with Marte as their starting 3B, giving him that “one last shot” (though the handling of AB, or lack thereof, for him this year is baffling) at success at the MLB level before passing the baton to Hodges, assuming that he thrives in Columbus to start 2009.

While this scenario of keeping Marte as the 3B seems both unlikely and unsettling (and the alternative of letting Josh Barfield start the 2009 season as the starting 2B is no less unsettling), the Indians’ Front Office is known for targeting the most value they can get on the market. If, by chance, that value doesn’t exist for infielders, and perhaps is more prevalent with outfielders or starters, the Indians could go into 2009 with Marte (or Barfield) taking up a spot in their infield and strengthen the team’s weakness in other areas.

Not likely, but not as patently absurd as it looks at first glance…

With another Emmy going into the pocket of AMC’s “Mad Men”, I’m intrigued (though don’t ask me what channel AMC is) to the point that the Netflix queue may soon be populated by Season 1 of the show, once the “Freaks and Geeks” DVD’s have been exhausted and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has been completed.

Is anyone a fan of this show, which I find myself reading about with no other knowledge than the general premise?
Is it Netflix-worthy?
Would The DiaBride vehemently object, the way she does when a film like “Transformers” (a horrible, horrible movie) arrives in the mail?

Since the logic of Bob Watson in the MLB office for handing down the suspensions that he did in the Sheffield fight is beyond comprehension and not worth even trying to figure out, here’s my favorite part of the fracas which was caught by the FSN Detroit feed (sorry the YouTube video that I got the screen capture off of violates MLB rules):

Yep, that’s The Atomic Wedgie, nose to nose with the madness that is The Sheff.

So not only did Sheffield get owned by the Indians (despite what his warped mind may tell him), with no help from his teammates, but he got an earful from the opposing MANAGER during the melee.

Say what you will about Wedge and his apparent lack of emotion (“The Comatose Rabbit” I think is the popular moniker because of the nose twitch) in the dugout, but he was right up in the face of a mentally imbalanced individual right after said individual got his face bloodied.

I’ll take that over a “leader” who wears (but rarely speaks into) a headset on the sidelines while showing no emotion.

And with that said, the most disappointing thing about the 0-3 Browns playing the 0-3 Bengals this weekend is that it takes me back to those fall weekends in college when I was stuck at the University of Dayton surrounded by Bengals’ “fans” (term could not be used any looser). Of course, my collegiate tenure coincided very unfortunately with the Browns either getting ready to pack up their belongings and heading towards the Inner Harbor or playing their games in purple and black (August of 1995 to May of 1999), so my barbs about the ineptitude of the Bengals were generally countered with the old “at least I have a team to cheer for” fare.

With that background in place, realize that the falls began in college with Bengals’ “fans” chirping about how “this was their year” as Training Camps broke, only to see the Bengals fall on their collective face out of the gate and Bengals’ “fans” simply tuned out until they could boast about how GREAT the team was going to be when Labor Day of the following year rolled around.

Of course, as every September drew to a close, the vicious cycle would hit the mid-point:
We’re Going to Be Great!...
We’re Not So Great, Who Cares?...
Oh Yeah? Well Next Year, We’ll Be Great!...

Anyone else seeing the Browns’ 2008 season marking the beginning of this cycle, when we’re “one” player away or a “coach replacement” away from REALLY turning this thing around? Because once we do…WATCH OUT!

Actually, watch out for me enjoying my fall and winter Sunday afternoons outside with The DiaperTribe if the Browns drop this one and my voicemail fills up with the gloating of Bengals’ “fans”, convinced that the Browns and Bengals are the most bitter of rivals.

The way that this AL Central race is narrowing, is there any way to make this picture a fixture in the Indians’ dugout throughout the ChiSox series to close out the season?

Lord knows the players will be acutely aware of the choking gesture that Ozzie made towards the Tribe dugout as the Indians’ 2005 push for the playoffs ultimately ended in their exclusion from the postseason.

How do I know they’ll be acutely aware?
Because I was sitting behind home plate that fateful day with my buddy C-Badd – in the general direction of the “choke”, and it’s not an easy thing to remove from the recesses of one’s brain. And I’m pretty sure the guys that were there (Grady, Victor, etc.) will be more than happy to illuminate some of the younger players who were a few levels away from that 2005 Tribe team to inform them of importance of sending the White Sox home.

Finally, you may have noticed that I added an RSS feed to the top of the right sidebar and I’m not going to pretend to know what that is or how it works. But I’m told that it allows you to subscribe to the rantings of a madman and his merry batch of serial posters so you’ll be informed when something is posted on this site or commented on by one of the readers.

So, if you ABSOLUTELY have to read anything that comes from this here keyboard, the tools are allegedly in place for you.

One series remains in a season that was over long ago for the Indians…push through it, fellas.
It’s time to force the White Sox into tee times a few weeks earlier than they expected.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Kelly Blue Book Value

As the season winds down and the Indians (apparently relishing this “spoiler” role that I want no part of in future seasons) racking up victories on their march to finish above .500, it has become obvious that the biggest decision that the Indians must reach pertaining to players already on the roster involves what to do with Kelly Shoppach.

As anyone who hasn’t been in a coma since the beginning of June knows, Kelly’s emergence as a fixture in the Tribe lineup since becoming an everyday player because of the injury to Victor has been one of the bright spots of 2009. Shoppach has transformed himself from one of the best backup catchers in baseball to…well, one of the most offensively productive catchers in baseball over the course of about four months.

How productive has Mr. Show Pack been in relation to the rest of the AL, regardless of position, since entering the everyday lineup on June 7th?
OPS - .951 (12th in AL)
SLG - .588 (6th in AL)
HR - 20 (tied for 7th in AL)
Given that the timeframe that is involved here, which covers 272 AB for ShopVac, the “small sample size” argument begins to dissipate that Shoppach is just riding a wave of success.

Now, given Shoppach’s good standing among ALL players in the AL, realize how valuable Shoppach’s bat is because it’s at a position that generally isn’t an offensively productive position.
Shoppach’s rank among all catchers with more than 300 AB this season:
OPS – 3rd behind Chris Iannetta (COL) and Brian McCann (ATL)
SLG – 1st
HR – 3rd behind McCann and Geovany Soto (CHC)
Starting yet to appreciate what Shoppach has put together and how he’s burst into the upper tier of catchers in all of MLB with his offensive output since Victor went on the shelf? Factor in that Shoppach is just hitting arbitration and under club control for another three years and his value right now cannot be understated.

As a quick aside here, let’s get in the Silver DeLorean for a moment and go back to the Coco deal and imagine that the assumed return for Coco was Shoppach, some AAA 3B and a PTBNL instead of Marte, some AAA C, and a PTBNL…does it take the sting out of Andy Marte’s regression as a player? Maybe not, but Coco’s been relegated to the role of a 4th OF in Boston this year while one of the players the Indians received in return has established himself as a Top 10 player at his position in MLB with three more years of club control in front of him while Crisp is still owed $5.75M in 2009 with a $8M club option ($500,000 buyout) for 2010. Interestingly, though, is there any irony that the Indians face the same question with Shoppach that they did with Covelli? That question is what to do with a player not thought to be irreplaceable on their roster, who likely has more value to another team in need of a player that the Indians already possess.

Back to the matter at hand here as the whole purpose of laying Shoppach’s accomplishments out is to quantify what Shoppach has been able to do by busting through the window of opportunity presented to him in June. What he’s done, suddenly, is provided the Indians with TWO completely viable options for catcher in 2009 (remember that Martinez guy, who has averaged a line of .308 BA / .381 OBP / .482 SLG / .863 OPS with 20 HR and 95 RBI from 2005 to 2007?) – and here’s where “The Kelly Question” comes into play. That question, of course, is that if the Indians are sitting on a surplus at the catching position and Victor Martinez is assumed to be the starting catcher for 2009, what does the team do with Kelly Shoppach?

To me, there really are only two answers here, which would be to either trade Shoppach to fill a hole on the roster or move Victor to 1B and allow Show Pack to become the starting catcher. Seeing as how one of those options goes against the organization’s stated stance that Martinez is the everyday catcher in 2009, the trade of Shoppach this off-season looks to be both imminent and logical. The thought process being that (if Victor is going to be the starting C in 2009), returning Shoppach to the backup role is folly as he’s proven that he CAN be a viable starter and finding the necessary AB on the Indians just doesn’t look to be feasible.

But, wait…why are the Indians looking to MOVE a productive bat from behind the dish when a reasonable alternative exists? Namely, why couldn’t Victor improve the overall offense by moving down the line to 1B for 120 or so games, allowing Shoppach to stay as catcher, have Victor play behind home plate for the other games, and keep a player like Garko (or someone else) around as a 1B/PH/DH as insurance that “Pronk” (as we once knew him) is never coming back and to allow more roster flexibility as Victor would essentially serve as the “backup catcher” while being a “starting” 1B.

The plan is not without merit as the numbers that Victor has averaged over the last three years is pretty much in line with average production from 1B in MLB within that timeframe:
Victor Martinez (2005 – 2007)
.308 BA / .381 OBP / .482 SLG / .863 OPS with 20 HR and 95 RBI

Average Production for 1B in MLB – 2007
.276 BA / .357 OBP / .464 SLG / .820 OPS with 25 HR and 94 RBI

Average Production for 1B – 2006
.285 BA / .362 OBP / .488 SLG / .850 OPS with 28 HR and 101 RBI

Average Production for 1B – 2005
.276 BA / .352 OBP / .471 SLG / .823 OPS with 27 HR and 96 RBI

But I suppose the key phrase there for me is “Average Production” as Victor goes from a plus bat as a catcher (an “average” OPS for a catcher is usually between .700 and .750) to merely an average bat as a 1B. Now if the Indians feel that the years of by Victor is going to be catching (pun intended) up with him soon at the plate, as it has to Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada recently, and that a move to the less strenuous position of 1B will increase his offensive numbers due to less wear and tear on him throughout the season, this scenario absolutely needs to be considered. However, all public comments coming forth from the Indians convey the idea that Martinez is the catcher in 2009, leaving Show Pack on the outside looking in.

Another factor in the whole “Victor to 1B” idea is the very real possibility that the Indians are pegging Matt LaPorta to be their 1B of the (very near) future as 1B is his “natural” position and that his bat is purported to be very nearly MLB-ready, if not already an MLB-ready impact bat (and he sure better be if the Brewers get to decide the PTBNL if they miss the playoffs). And that doesn’t even take into account the batch of 1B elsewhere in the system with Garko, Mike Aubrey, Jordan Brown, Beau Mills, etc. Granted that most of those names don’t exactly get the pulse racing until you get down to Les Beaux Moulins, but if LaPorta’s natural position is 1B, the logic of suddenly blocking him with a player who provides a plus bat from the catching position doesn’t hold water.

Now, if LaPorta’ performance as a LF allows him to stay slated in the outfield AND the Indians feel that Victor’s offensive numbers would improve dramatically with less wear and tear by moving him from C to 1B, the case for keeping Kelly becomes much more compelling. But those two answers look to be pretty big leaps of faith, mainly based on the comments from Tribe that Victor is “still our catcher”.

So where, ultimately, does that leave us in terms of trading Shoppach?
If Kelly is deemed to be a luxury on this roster, would trading him weaken the team from the standpoint of depth?
Not really, as the Indians have players in the upper levels of the organization that project as backup catchers in Wyatt Toregas and Chris Gimenez. While neither Toregas or Gimenez project as much more than a serviceable backup catcher, capable of spelling the starting catcher from time to time and serving as a defensive replacement if necessary, as long as the team isn’t asking either of the 25-year-olds to sit in the middle of a lineup and put up an OPS over .800, having either on the team isn’t too much of an issue.

Are they steps down from having Shoppach as the backup?
Absolutely, but remember that prior to this year, the most AB that ShopVac had ever logged were the 161 AB he accumulated last year. So, as long as Victor is able to stay healthy (fingers crossed and knocking FIRMLY on wood) next year, the Indians should be able to carry either as a backup catcher. If reservations exist about either player’s readiness for MLB, the Indians can always re-sign Sal Fasano, or a player like Fasano, as middling veteran catchers are bountiful throughout baseball.

Beyond Toregas and Gimenez and the possibility of adding a backup catcher from the scrap heap, the addition of Carlos Santana to the organization cannot be underestimated in this decision as Santana finished his brilliant 2008 campaign in Akron and figures to top many national prospect lists for the Tribe. Santana looks to remain as a catcher with the Indians and has been compared favorably to Victor Martinez at similar stages of their development, particularly offensively. While Santana doesn’t figure into the 2009 plans, there certainly exists a possibility that he could flourish in Akron next year to merit a call-up to Columbus at some point or even factor into the Tribe’s plans as early as 2010. That, too, would figure to give the Indians enough confidence in their catching depth (and the quality of it) to consider Shoppach as more of a luxury than a necessity.

And that’s where this all comes down for me, the question of luxury versus necessity, in that Kelly Shoppach proved this year that he is a viable MLB catcher. Unfortunately for him, he did this on a team with one of the top 5 catchers in all of baseball. His 2008 put Shoppach on a short list of top offensive catchers…it just so happens that one of the names above his (because of longevity and track record) is also the name above his on the depth chart for the Tribe. Thus, he becomes more of a luxury on a roster that has holes elsewhere than a necessity as a contributor from the backup catcher position. Given that the Indians are looking to fill holes in the infield (2B or 3B), the bullpen, and the middle of the rotation, wouldn’t one HAVE to assume that the biggest chip that the Indians have to play this off-season would be Shoppach?

Trading him doesn’t create a hole on the team the way that trading a player like Peralta does in that his assumed role (that of a backup catcher) is not essential in the way that a starting IF would be. Rather trading him now, at the point that some could argue is the peak of his value given his productiveness and contract status, actually allows the Indians to FILL holes as opposed to creating them by dealing from their depth.

Could Shoppach be moved in a package for a 2B or 3B, similarly under club control for the next few years, which would shore up the infield?

What about seeing him moved to a team that may have an extra middle-of-the-rotation RHP a few years away from Free Agency?

Certainly he would net a bullpen arm – but would an established, bona-fide closer be too much to ask in return for him?

There’s no question that interest would be out there for him on the open market, particularly when you consider that he could (note the “could” not “does”) project as a middle-of-the-order hitter, particularly in the NL. Consider for a moment what type of production certain teams received from their catcher position…and know that this is not just from their regular catcher, but SEASON-LONG production from anyone who donned the tools of ignorance for them and picked up an AB:
Astros - .195 BA / .274 OBP / .279 SLG / .553 OPS with 8 HR and 48 RBI in 502 AB
Padres - .201 BA / .267 OBP / .291 SLG / .558 OPS with 8 HR and 52 RBI in 547 AB
Yankees - .234 BA / .294 OBP / .340 SLG / .634 OPS with 8 HR and 43 RBI in 526 AB

And that’s just the bottom three among the 14 teams that have not even received OPS production over .700 for the season from the catcher position. In reality, it’s easier to determine who DOESN’T need a catcher like Shoppach instead of who DOES as it can reasonably be argued that Shoppach (if his 2008 is not a mirage) would represent an offensive upgrade for every team save…say nine teams.

One of those teams, unfortunately for ShopVac and his tenure with the Tribe, is his current team and as long as he remains on the same roster as a healthy Victor Martinez, his time to take the reins as a starting catcher (something he has certainly earned this year) doesn’t figure to happen in Cleveland in 2009.
It will likely happen for him somewhere next year…just not with the Tribe.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lazy Sunday on the Sunny Side of .500

A late and quick Lazy Lazy as the cobwebs are still fluttering around after a Bachelor Party in the Bleachers last night (plus…um…going out afterward) gave way to the Indians game/Ryder Cup, followed by some debacle in Baltimore. So yeah, I spent a lot of time on the couch today – and with The DiaBride’s Packers lining up for SNF, it looks to be more of the same.

Nevertheless, we’re off...
Terry Pluto touches on the idea that Jenny Lew may have established himself as a viable option for closer next year, as well as touching on Betancourt possibly rebounding for 2009 and essentially saying that Masa Kobayashi has been a bust. While I’m with Pluto that Stomp Lewis certainly has established that he has the ability to close, let’s get some more arms out there – particularly ones with closing or back-end experience.

On a wildly related note, the official “Atom Miller is going to the bullpen in 2009” proclamation was released this week. I’m hopeful that The Atomic One is all he’s cracked up to be and the mention of him as a possible closer isn’t just wishful thinking, but let’s see the kid stay healthy for more than a few months before he’s anointed any kind of savior for the bullpen.

To close out the bullpen for 2009 discussion for the day, Shelly Ocker adds little to the conversation that wasn’t already known – but here’s the link if you have the extra time.
I still think that the name that’s added isn’t going to be one of the names Ocker lists (although Beimel and Cruz are intriguing) as I think that they’re looking for a guy who has a couple years of success under his belt with SOME history of closing. We don’t necessarily have to add the single-season record holder for saves if he’s going to cost too much. Guys like Scott Downs, Beimel, Dan Wheeler, and Cruz are much more appealing to me as they’ve been solid bullpen guys for a few years, with some history of closing, and have every chance as being as successful as the K-Rod’s or Fuentes’ available out there.

Elsewhere, Tony’s Lastoria comes through with a plethora of information in his latest, including a blurb from Ross Atkins on Matt LaPorta, saying that LaPorta was the best player on the field in the AA playoffs that just wrapped up. Lastoria also has his usual quotes from the likes of John Mirabelli, etc. on some of the more exciting prospects on the farm.

Back to the LaPorta comment, does anyone else see a scenario playing out next year where LaPorta starts in AAA, splitting playing time between 1B and LF? That way, if he excels out of the box he’d be ready to step into two of the more tenuous positions going into 2009, those that figure to be filled (at this point) by Garko and Francisco. If Garko or Francisco struggle out of the box, either can be sent down to Columbus and replaced by LaPorta in the same manner that the Brewers promoted Ryan Braun after he got into a rhythm in AAA a few years ago.

On the topic of the Brewers, Paul Hoynes mentions AGAIN that the Brewers will get to pick the PTBNL if they fail to make the playoffs, which is looking more and more likely as each day passes. The Indians have neither confirmed or denied that report, but Hoynes is sticking with it.

From the national perspective, Ken Rosenthal has taken note of the Tribe having the best record in the AL Central over the last 6 weeks and mentions that innings and pitches seem to be catching up with a certain Hefty Lefty.

That’s all I’ve got – now off to watch The Pack try to tame The Boys and start the clock on The Romeo Crennel Death Watch before hitting the hay.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Um...I really have nothing to add to this.
I think the picture is pretty self-explanatory.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sweeping Tomahawks

While the week has included two victories at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario for your humble host, how much better did having tickets for the games on Monday and Wednesday look when I bought them prior to the season starting?
Two games in mid-to-late September against the Twins?
We’ll probably see the Indians clinching the AL Central one of those games, right?

Or so we thought mere months ago.
Alas, the final visit to Progressive Field comes on Saturday night against the Motor City Kitties…”that series will probably decide the Central – we have to be there”.
So with a sweep of the Twins in our back pockets, let the tomahawks fly:

The 2009 schedule is out with a few enticing weekend getaways to see the Tribe on the road standing out. A series in Wrigley over a weekend in mid-June? I’m in for a game at Wrigley with the Cubs playing the Jamestown Jammers, as long as the Old Style is cold and Murphy’s Bleachers are in the cards for after the game…but the Erie Warriors hitting Wrigley? Who’s coming with me?

It’s pretty cool that the Indians will be New York’s opponent for the first game at new Yankee Stadium – though I’m sure that we won’t hear about that game AT ALL from now until April 16th, 2009. And while I’m putting out some pre-emptive moratoriums on that game, can everyone get the “We might see CC vs. Cliff Lee in that game” comments out right now? It’s just so hackneyed and easy to prey on Cleveland’s inferiority complex and making the assumption that CC WILL end up in the Bronx is so entirely premature at this moment that it’s laughable.

Oh, and that series in Boston to close out the season will probably be for home-field throughout the playoffs, right?
Stop…just leave me alone with my dreams for a moment.

Anyone catch that the 2nd best FA 2B just had season-ending surgery, just like the best FA 2B this offseason? That’s right – Mark Ellis is undergoing shoulder surgery to join Orlando Hudson as players that will be looking for long-term deals coming off of surgeries.

Do those injury concerns limit the number of teams interested in Hudson or Ellis or perhaps even work the number of guaranteed years that they figure to be offered this off-season down a bit?
God…I hope so.

Awfully nice to see that 430 foot bomb by that Hafner guy last night, which landed halfway between the right-centerfield wall and the Batter’s Eye Bar. It was absolutely CRUSHED and was quite a nice deviation from the swinging strikeouts and weak grounders that this Hafner guy seems to specialize in.

After reading in Steve Buffum’s B-List yesterday that Juan Rincon had allowed an absurd 10 of the 12 runners he had inherited when entering a game this year as an Indian (after allowing ALL 7 of the runners he had inherited to score as a Twin), I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to see how the rest of the Indians’ relievers fared when it came to stranding inherited runners.

Listed in order of effectiveness:
Slocum – allowed 0 of 3 inherited runners to score (0% of IR scored)
Breslow – allowed 1 of 5 inherited runners to score (20% of IR scored)
Perez – allowed 12 of 40 inherited runners to score (30% of IR scored)
Lewis – allowed 10 of 31 inherited runners to score (32% of IR scored)
Mujica – allowed 6 of 17 inherited runners to score (35% of IR scored)
Betancourt – allowed 10 of 28 inherited runners to score (36% of IR scored)
Elarton – allowed 2 of 5 inherited runners to score (40% of IR scored)
Kobayashi – allowed 7 of 16 inherited runners to score (44% of IR scored)
Mastny – allowed 3 of 6 inherited runners to score (50% of IR scored)
Rundles – allowed 2 of 4 inherited runners to score (50% of IR scored)
Julio – allowed 6 of 11 inherited runners to score (55% of IR scored)
Rincon – allowed 10 of 12 inherited runners to score (83% of IR scored)

Granted, some of these guys have not inherited that many runners, but you get the idea that blown saves have come in all shapes and sizes for the Tribe this year. And does it come as any surprise that Perez and Lewis have been two of the most effective at stranding runners? No, Slocum doesn’t count…and in case you were wondering, Craig Breslow has allowed only 9 of his 44 inherited runners to score as a Twin.

By the by, all of those numbers above add up to 69 of 151 inherited runners scoring on the year or 46% of inherited runners scoring on Tribe relievers. How does that compare to other teams? No idea…as finding THIS data is not exactly easily categorized or easy to find.

But why is that? Maybe I’m overestimating the importance of this attribute in a reliever (as I have been wont to do), but how is this not a more widely known, or at least more widely available, measure of relief pitchers? You would think that given the volatility of relievers, a stat like this would have to tell you SOMETHING about a pitcher that is quantifiable and can be used as some sort of greater evaluation.

Prompted by the realization that Edward Mujica is out of options (something that was told to me as he relieved Cliff Lee on Wednesday and the comment that “there goes the win” passed through my lips), I thought this was as good of a time as any to take a look at the players on the 40-man roster and what players are out of options after this year and which ones will retain options after 2008.

In addition to the players on the roster that were out of options this year (The BLC, Frank the Tank, and Marte) and players that options don’t really apply to (Grady and Fausto, etc.), here’s the list:
Out of Options After This Year
Michael Aubrey
Zach Jackson
Edward Mujica
Rafael Perez
Anthony Reyes
Kelly Shoppach
Brian Slocum
Brad Snyder

Options Remaining After This Year (How Many After This Year)
Josh Barfield (1 more option after 2008)
Asdrubal Cabrera (2 more options after 2008)
Ben Francisco (1 more option after 2008)
Ryan Garko (1 more option after 2008)
Aaron Laffey (1 more option after 2008)
Jensen Lewis (2 more options after 2008)
Scott Lewis (2 more options after 2008)
Tom Mastny (2 more options after 2008)
John Meloan (2 more options after 2008)
Atom Miller (2 more options after 2008)
Reid Santos (2 more options after 2008)
Tony Sipp (2 more options after 2008)
Jeremy Sowers (1 more option after 2008)
Wyatt Toregas (2 more options after 2008)

To me, Mujica and Jackson present the two most interesting players who are our of options as neither has solidified a spot for 2009, but could be carried out of Goodyear instead of a player retaining options if only to give them more of a shot at making an impression (and by that, I mean a “good” impression) on the MLB level.

Also, from the list of players with options, don’t be surprised if the likes of Barfield, Francisco, Garko, Laffey, Scott Lewis, Mastny, and Sowers see those options used next year and get familiar with the trip down I-71 to Columbus as the Indians figures to make moves at each of their respective positions this offseason.

Speaking of trips to Columbus, one of the worst kept secrets in recent memory has come out of the “shadows” and into the light as the Indians have announced that the Columbus Clippers will be their AAA affiliate starting in 2009. The four year deal has the Tribe’s top farm team playing in the new Huntington Park in downtown Columbus and allows the Indians to go after the Columbus fans (as if they’re aware of any sport that doesn’t involve sweater vests) that are right now probably split between the Tribe and the Reds.

MUCH more important than gaining fans in Columbus though (at least from a fan’s perspective) is that STO is allegedly planning to televise home games for the Clippers next year, meaning that fans will be able to see for themselves what players like Wes Hodges, Trevor Crowe, and Matt LaPorta (if he doesn’t break camp with the Tribe) look like with their own eyes rather than relying on simple statistics and hearsay.

Heading down to my last home game of the season on Saturday against the Tigers…this one will still decide the AL Central, right?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Lefty Tree

After sitting in the Mezz on Monday night watching Scott Lewis run his scoreless inning total to 14 in his first two starts, the options for the 2009 rotation ran through my head. Once I got past the notion that somewhere in Winter Haven there sits a tree that grows soft-tossing LHP, I got stuck on the idea that the Indians are sitting (somewhat suddenly) on four young LHP who all figure to be in the mix for the back end of the rotation, which means that the Indians have some decisions to make this off-season in terms of those arms. Notably, the Indians need to determine whether the depth that has been deemed to be so important outweighs what looks to be a surplus of similar pitchers that all look to be MLB-ready or somewhere near MLB-ready.

Between Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, Lewis, and Dave Huff, the Indians have middle-to-back-end of the rotation options that figure (at this point, at least) to slot into Cleveland and Columbus next year. But it raises a fundamental question that has emerged – which is whether the depth that they’ve been forced to rely on for the past two years needs to go as deep as 9 to 10 pitchers into the organization or, if it comes to throwing their 9th or 10th pitcher, the assumption that the season is likely lost makes some of those arms expendable via trade to fill other needs that figure to exist on the roster.

Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at what the Indians’ rotation figures to look like without any moves being made this off-season, and exactly how deep the arms look to go. As you view the list, realize that the names after #2 are not listed in order of preference, but that Anthony Reyes and Zach Jackson are both out of options and figure to break camp with the team as long as they are deemed to be somewhat valuable to the team and Jake Westbrook’s name is listed where it is with the assumption that he will be healthy and available at some point after the All-Star Break in 2009.
#1 – Lee
#2 – Carmona
#3 – Laffey
#4 – Reyes
#5 – Huff
#6 – Jackson
#7 – Sowers
#8 – Lewis
#9 – Westbrook
That list does not take into account the variables of a healthy Atom Miller (who looks destined for the bullpen) and the mystery that is Chuck Lofgren or the organizational soldiers like Frank Herrmann, Kevin Dixon, and Ryan Edell, nor the high-ceiling pitchers like Kelvin De La Cruz and Hector Rondon who may be a few years away from contributing at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

So the question becomes, is it necessary to truly go THAT deep in starting pitching depth or is the idea that once you get to #9 or #10 (hello, Matt Ginter and Bryan Bullington), the season is more than likely a lost cause and to reasonably expect pitchers that far down in the depth chart to be able to contribute at the MLB level is tantamount to plopping money on the roulette table and hoping that you hit it big one of these times. Certainly a case can be made fairly easily that having at least two arms stashed at AAA to dip into if a need arises on the big league club is fairly important, given the nature of injuries and ineffectiveness when it comes to starters. But if Westbrook truly is thought to be returning after the All-Star Break next year, he would obviously slot into the middle-of-the-rotation and it’s not inconceivable to think that the Indians may be looking to add another starter (one more established than the likes of Laffey, Sowers, Huff, etc.) to the mix, pushing all of those names down another peg.

Which brings it all back to where this started, as Scott Lewis has suddenly thrust himself into the mix on the basis of two starts, causing some to come to the premature conclusion that Lewis “has to be in the rotation…somewhere” for 2009. It’s a premature notion as for years Indians fans have fumed over and over again that “some soft-tossing LHP just up from the minors just baffled the Indians’ hitters” whenever some unknown kid from AAA is promoted to face the Indians and completely shuts them down.
Other foot, meet Scott Lewis.

This is by no means meant to discount what Lewis has accomplished in his first two starts as an Indian, but rather as a caution that unreasonable expectations based on two starts (even if they are a pitcher’s two debut starts) sets a dangerous precedent of what can really be expected. While Lewis has looked VERY good in his two starts, let’s temper that enthusiasm with what we’ve seen happen between 2006and 2008 for Jeremy Sowers and even what a few of the other starters in the mix for 2009 have pulled off this year:
Scott Lewis – 2008 (with Cleveland)
2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.57 WHIP with 8 K, 2 BB in 14 IP over 2 starts

Aaron Laffey – 2008 (from May 4th to May 27th)
3-2, 0.79 ERA, 1.03 WHIP with 19 K, 7 BB in 34 IP over 5 starts

Anthony Reyes – 2008 (with Cleveland)
2-1, 1.83 ERA, 1.25 WHIP with 15 K, 12 BB in 34 1/3 IP over 6 starts

What does all of that mean?
Mainly that two starts should not guarantee any kind of spot in the 2009 rotation, but that it certainly puts Lewis in the mix…just not much more than the other pitchers.

With that being said, then, it points to two enormous questions going forward for this organization:
As stated above, does the depth that the Indians been forced to rely on for the past two years needs to go as deep as 9 to 10 pitchers into the organization or does the assumption that the season is likely lost once that 9th or 10th organizational starter is on the 25-man make some of those arms expendable via trade to fill other needs that figure to exist on the roster?
As a corollary then, if some of those arms are deemed to be expendable, how heavily should internal scouting reports be weighed against what can be reasonably expected in return for a trade? That is to say, if the Indians’ internal scouting reports say that Scott Lewis’ ceiling is a 5th starter in the Majors and he closes out 2008 in the way he has started it on the parent club, do the Indians throw their scouting reports aside and work off of the assumption that Lewis may project higher in the rotation or do they sell high (relatively speaking) on him as part of a package deal?

Of course, the notion the idea of trading one (or more) of these young arms goes against the idea that a team can never have enough starting pitching because of the unknowns that present themselves throughout the course of a season. To put it another way, what if the Indians trade a pitcher like Sowers or Lewis as part of a package, then find themselves in need of a starter at some point in the season? To that I would say that (assuming that Reyes, Laffey, and even Westbrook figure to be some sort of healthy for 2009) enough arms exist to allow one of these players to be moved…but which one?

Obviously, the cautionary tale of Jair Jurrjens who (though as a 21-year-old was much younger than any of the aforementioned Tribe arms) burst on the scene with the Tigers last year after being promoted from AA and was moved for an “established player” from Atlanta. Now, less than a year later, the Tigers are looking for a SS not named Edgar Renteria for their 2009 team and Jurrjens has turned into the Braves’ ace…as a 22-year-old. It’s an extreme case for sure as most people were surprised when Jurrjens was moved for an aging Renteria, but it underscores the point. When he was traded, Jurrjens had thrown all of 30 2/3 innings above AA and had posted a respectable 4.70 ERA with 13 K to 11 BB. Impressive for a 21-year-old to say the least, but apparently not impressive enough for the Tigers to deem him as “untouchable”, a move that now looks foolhardy given Detroit’s advancing age and dearth of upper level arms.

I suppose that scenario is what the Indians have to avoid and hope (or is it pray) that their scouting reports are correct on these players if one is deemed to be expendable due to the depth on hand. I’m not going to pretend to know what those scouting reports say, but my guess is that they see Sowers as a 5th starter, Laffey as a 4th starter, Huff as a 3rd starter, and Lewis as the great unknown given his limited inning count. Would another team value one of those players in greater terms than the Indians do? And if they do, what would they be willing to part with to acquire one?

All told going into 2009, after Lee and Carmona, I could see Reyes (assuming the Indians aren’t checking Orbitz to make travel plans for him to visit Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham any time soon) in the rotation out of Spring Training as he is out of options and has been successful in his brief time on the Tribe. Along the same lines as Reyes, I could see the Indians carrying Zach Jackson out of Spring Training as the long man/emergency starter as he is also out of options and could provide the mop-up duty role on the parent club while not exposing him to waivers. Before you ask me if I’ve seen Jackson pitch this year, realize that the rationale for him breaking the team out of Goodyear is that the other candidates to be the long man/emergency starter on the Indians all retain options and can be slotted into the rotation in AAA to get them into a rhythm of pitching every five days rather than logging duty in the uncertain role of a long man.

Beyond that, it’s a crapshoot as Laffey, Sowers, Lewis, and Huff (who isn’t even on the 40-man yet) have options remaining and the pitchers who don’t break camp with the Tribe can fill the Columbus rotation with LHP. That is, of course, unless the Indians decide to pluck one of the shiny pieces of fruit off of their Lefty Tree and take it to town this winter as barter.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lazy Sunday With the End in Sight

With everyone locked up by two football games happening this weekend for Cleveland/Ohio teams, let’s bring it back to Tribe Time on a Lazy Sunday as we’re running out the clock on this 2008 season.
And…we’re off…

Terry Pluto touches on Asdrubal’s emergence since his return from Buffalo and (once again) beats the drum for a “Jhonny to 3B, Asdrubal to SS, find a 2B” solution to the infield hole. I’m not sure if Pluto is so adamant about this simply because he thinks it’s a good idea or if the Indians have intimated to him that the move may be in the works. Quotes like this by The Atomic Wedgie lend credence to the fact that he may be slotting to his right come 2009. Regardless, given what’s available in terms of 2B and 3B this offseason, 2B may be the easier hole to fill.

In a mildly related article, Kenny Rosenthal identifies potential landing spots for 2B Orlando Hudson, listing the Mets or Yankees if either trade their de facto 2B, the Rangers (not sure I get that one), the White Sox, the Rockies, the Cardinals, and…YOUR Cleveland Indians. Rosie also lists Mark Ellis as the “only other quality 2B” on the FA market and points out that Brian Roberts and Dan Uggla are the two 2B most likely to be moved this offseason.
Please Brian Roberts…please Brian Roberts…

Jon Heyman identifies the Marlins as a team who may be compelled to make some moves this offseason as 18 of their players will be eligible for arbitration, and I’m guessing that having a paid attendance of fewer than 600 isn’t exactly helping that revenue stream.
One name on that list – 2B Dan Uggla.
Let me say this again… please Brian Roberts…please Brian Roberts…

Jon Heyman also thinks (in the same piece) that the Angels are readying themselves for a run at a certain Hefty Lefty, which certainly would fit the Left Coast criteria and the offer wouldn’t figure to be short on years or zeroes.

Paul Hoynes has a quick run-down of John Meloan’s first appearance for the Tribe (which some had questioned whether it would ever happen…what with the Indians dead set on seeing that Juan Rincon has nothing left in the tank and that the needle on Masa’s gas tank has broken off because it’s so far below “E”). But back to Meloan, as the Hoynes piece doesn’t do justice to his mid-90’s fastball and a breaking ball (in the low-80’s) that just drops off the table. Obviously one appearance a career does not make, but Meloan looked good, getting two SWINGING third strikes and has the presence on the mound that one would want out of a back-end-of-the-bullpen pitcher.
Then again, so did Ferd Cabrera.

SI.com’s John Donovan identifies the Indians as “spoilers” again, as if this is a new perspective. Can we PLEASE see a September in 2009 when we’re not included in these articles as “spoilers”?

Anthony Castrovince, over at his blog, identified the songs that Indians’ players come out to. Unfortunately, none of them (apparently) read my little exercise in suggestion prior to every year…although Jenny Lew coming out to the theme from the “Dark Knight” is pretty sweet.

Finally, here’s the podcast from this Thursday’s “Smoke Signals” that I do with Minor League guru Tony Lastoria. This week’s show features an in-depth analysis of the arms that may slot themselves into the back end of the Indians’ 2009 rotation as well as getting into the depth that figures to be available in Columbus (remember, that’s the AAA affiliate in 2009), in addition to going deeper into the organization. While we had about 5 topics to hit on, the conversation on starting pitching depth (prompted by Scotty Lew’s debut) lasted nearly the whole hour, with a fascinating interview that Tony did with Jeff Stevens to close it out.

If you need another carrot to listen to it, Steve Buffum (writer of the fabulous B-List over at TCF) makes a surprise phone call to lament the presence of Juan Rincon and Brendan Donnelly on the parent club.

Time for some good old couch time with the Indians’ first pitch mere moments away, followed by something happening on the Lakefront that I dare not mention given the risk of throwing my jinx down E. 9th.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tomahawks Rounding Third and Heading for Home

With the Indians gently sidling up to measured mediocrity and only about two and a half weeks left in the 2008 Indians’ season, let’s loose the tomahawks in the direction of October and beyond and let ‘em fly:

While I have done a few updates already pertaining to the principal horses that figure to be “Jockeying for Position” as the season marches on (crazy how that piece is now almost two months old), I thought that it had been about a month since last we saw these numbers and that we would stick with the more pertinent timeframes and splits as opposed to just examining numbers from strictly July, August, or September to date.

Just as a friendly reminder, what I mean by that is picking the specific day when these players started playing every day (or other relevant information) is much more relevant than just picking a random date like July 1 or the All-Star Break that is simply easier to find statistics for.

With that in mind, here are the numbers for the players attempting to work themselves into the 2009 mix with the date that the statistics start indicated:
Kelly Shoppach – Since June 7th (71 games)
.287 BA / .364 OBP / .598 SLG / .962 OPS with 18 HR and 47 RBI in 244 AB
Those numbers have been posted in less than ½ of a season of games and have actually IMPROVED since this little exercise was conducted. Is there any question that Mr. Show Pack is an everyday MLB catcher in anyone’s mind? While his production since hitting the everyday lineup befits that of an All-Star (which he may or may not be able to sustain), Shoppach has established himself as a bona fide option at C for 2009. The question now becomes…for what team?

Ryan Garko – Since June 10th (70 games)
.245 BA / .313 OBP / .334 SLG / .644 OPS with 4 HR and 38 RBI in 257 AB
Again, I’m picking a fairly arbitrary date if only to show how he’s compared against his “competition” in the C/1B battle…which is not good for the man who runs like a refrigerator is attached to his back. Garko’s season has been mired in a level below mediocrity since…well, since the end of May as his OPS hasn’t sniffed the north side of .800 since April 24th. When your Slugging Percentage is a poor number for On Base Percentage and your overall line approaches the “Jason Tyner Line” (higher OBP than SLG…hat tip to Steve Buffum), you should make sure that your affairs are in order. Suffice it to say, a 27-year-old base clogger who is a defensive liability who made it to MLB on the basis of his high OBP in the minors, then posts an OPS of .693 from a corner infield position is not long for an everyday job in MLB.

Asdrubal Cabrera – Since July 18th (47 games)
.310 BA / .395 OBP / .448 SLG / .843 OPS with 3 HR and 22 RBI in 145 AB
Welcome back to the parent club’s plans Asdrubal…if you ever really left them. Nice to see this rebound since Cabrera spent an extended period of time, particularly when the timeframe nearly matches the 52 games he spent topside before being sent down at the beginning of June. Compare the numbers above to what he contributed prior to his demotion (.184 BA / .282 OBP / .247 SLG / .529 OPS line over 52 games) and realize that the stint in Buffalo seems to have done the trick to allow Asdrubal to get past that “adjustment period”.

Andy Marte – Since July 5th (45 games)
.236 BA / .281 OBP / .369 SLG / .650 OPS with 3 HR and 13 RBI in 157 AB
Andy…um, I guess it’s been nice knowing you. When the GM of the Indians says that the team’s greatest need (beyond the bullpen) is an infielder and mentions, specifically, the position you play as a team weakness – that’s a pretty good indication that you are not in the team’s plans going forward. So, if you haven’t gotten the clues from being pinch-hit for at EVERY possible moment or that you lose playing time to Jamey Carroll, count Shapiro going on the record (with no surprising news, just definite statements) that 3B needs to be addressed as the nail in your coffin as an Indian.

The BLC Splits
.303 BA / .399 OBP / .547 SLG / .946 OPS with 7 HR and 37 RBI in 201 AB
.276 BA / .354 OBP / .448 SLG / .802 OPS with 2 HR and 8 RBI in 58 AB
Again, since Choo has played pretty regularly since returning from TJ surgery, the more relevant numbers to examine would be his numbers against LHP and RHP as Choo has long posted significantly better numbers versus RHP than he has against LHP. And here’s where we get to the most promising part of the exercise as The BLC’s numbers against LHP (though admittedly in a small sample size) have merited a discussion to be started if Choo is the everyday RF next year, regardless of which arm the starting pitcher throws with. Given the lineup’s relative lack of LHP (it’s Grady and Hafner), and particularly at the bottom of the order (yes, I know Victor and Asdrubal are switch hitters), Choo’s presence in the everyday 2009 lineup is looking more and more like a certainty. When you factor in that he’s still not that far removed from TJ surgery, Choo is the player (along with Shoppach) who has taken this “audition” and run with it. Now if he could only take better routes to balls…

Franklin Delano Gutierrez – The Two-Term OF
Opening Day to July 18th (76 games)
.215 BA / .263 OBP / .313 SLG / .576 OPS with 3 HR and 18 RBI in 214 AB
July 19th to Present (40 games)
.266 BA / .327 OBP / .483 SLG / .810 OPS with 5 HR and 20 RBI in 143 AB
Since his splits are equally lousy (.644 OPS vs. RHP, .754 OPS vs. LHP), we’ll at least try to make something positive out of Frank the Tank’s year and pick the date when his OPS began a slow climb to relative mediocrity. July 19th is that day as he has seen his OPS rise from the low-water mark of .576 prior to that day to where it sits today at .670. What are we to make of him suddenly hitting at respectable levels after miring for nearly half the season? Mainly that counting on him to be an everyday OF for next year would not be a good idea as his usefulness may be best served as a 4th OF/defensive replacement or as trade bait to a team that needs a phenomenal (and I do mean PHENOMENAL) defensive CF, but is able to put up with what will amount to his maturation as a hitter or accepting him for what he is as a fixture in the lineup.

The Ben Francisco Treat – A Tale of Two Bens
From Call-Up to June 4th (29 games)
.346 BA / .385 OBP / .551 SLG / .936 OPS with 3 HR and 17 RBI in 107 AB
From June 5th to present (78 games)
.253 BA / .322 OBP / .416 SLG / .738 OPS with 11 HR and 34 RBI in 293 AB
Again, since The Frisco Kid has essentially played every day since being recalled from Buffalo, it’s better to look at his numbers from the time he joined the parent club in a blaze of glory to what he’s done since. June 4th/5th is a rather arbitrary time to pick, in that the only point of reference is that June 4th represented his high-water mark for OPS on the season (.927). That being said, after his quick emergence, Francisco has settled into average to below average numbers in the 76 games since he crested in early June, which leads me to believe that the second set of numbers are a better representation of what the Indians could reasonably expect from Francisco for 2009. Whether those numbers merit a spot in the everyday lineup is certainly up for debate, but one thing isn’t – if you see BenFran in the #3 hole in 2009, something has gone horribly, inexorably wrong and I’ll be writing the exact same piece at this time next year.

Things are starting to sort themselves out and the waters that once looked so muddy are beginning to clear as some players (Shoppach, Cabrera, and Choo) have thrust themselves into the mix for 2009 while the future of others (Garko, Gutierrez, Marte) are on much more tenuous footing than when the season dawned.

After watching the brilliant debut of Scott Lewis last night (a night after watching some guy in a Jeremy Sowers uniform baffle Baltimore hitters), is anyone else blown away by seeing these young guys effectively make use of the “Cliff Lee Playbook for Success”?

Locate your fastball, change speeds, change eye levels, and throw in the occasional breaking ball to keep hitters guessing…am I missing anything? We’ve now seen THREE guys who top out in the low-90’s with their fastball (and I don’t think Lewis touched 90 MPH last night) pitch effectively in the past week.

Obviously, we’ve seen Lee do it all year – just putting the ball where he wants to – but Scott Lewis throwing 8 innings of shutout baseball? Who saw this one coming? And is anyone else a more than a little surprised by what seems to be a stable of LHP on the cusp for the Tribe?

Add Scotty Lew (or would it be “Hang On, SLewi” to play off of his OSU affiliation) to Sowers, Aaron Laffey, and Dave Huff as fodder for the back end of the rotation next year. Throw in the intrigue of the excess of what seem to be similarly skilled pitchers into the mix and a couple of bargaining chips for the offseason may be emerging.

To that end, did anyone else dream a little dream like I did regarding a fictional conversation that could (hopefully) have taken place between the tempestuous Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos, Orioles’ President of Baseball Operations Andy McPhail, and Orioles’ Executive VP of Baseball Operations Mike Flanagan after Wednesday’s game:

Angelos: “Who are these two lefties with this great control rolling through our lineup? Why do you two only give me guys that you say have ‘great arms’ but end up leading the world in HBP?”
McPhail: “That would be Jeremy Sowers on Tuesday and Scott Lewis on Wednesday…they’re young, soft-tossing LHP who figure to be back-end-of-the-rotation pitchers for the Indians.”
Angelos: “Back-end my eye, those guys could front any rotation in the League for the next 5 years. In fact, let’s make that rotation ours…get these two in Baltimore for next year. We’ll be set up like we were in the 1970’s and 1980’s with pitching. Remember those days, Flanny?”
Flanagan: “I do, sir, but you’re overestimating the value of these two. And it’s not like the Indians are going to want to part with two young pitchers for nothing.”
Angelos: “Then give them Markakis. He’s had a good year…sell high on him, right?”
McPhail: “Sell high? You’re not serious are you, sir?”
Angelos: “Damn right I am…I need these two arms in our organization, whatever it costs us?”
Flanagan: “But, sir…”
Angelos: “That’s not a suggestion, that’s an order from the Greek god himself. Oh, and see if they’ll throw in that Garko kid. I read in The Sun this morning that Millar is a Free Agent after this year and I like the cut of that Garko kid’s jib.”
McPhail: “Sir, maybe you should sleep on this…”
Angelos: “To hell with that, you always say that…I want these three players. Dangle Roberts out there for them – that should get it done.”
Flanagan: “Wait, Markakis AND Roberts for Sowers, Lewis, and GARKO?!?”
Angelos: “From your lips to me reading it in The Sun at some point this winter online aboard my yacht in the Mediterranean, Flanny. In fact, I’m off to The Motherland right now to soak in that Grecian sun until Spring Training starts. I’m not going to be reachable, so let’s make this deal the centerpiece of our offseason.”


Apropos of nothing Tribe-related, with the TV Fall Season on the horizon, I thought I'd do a little DVReview to share with people I assume to be very similar to me to see what I’m missing out on and to get the DVR rolling. That is to say, here are the TV shows that are on “Record on This Channel at Any Time” that are scheduled to start soon or have started recently:
The Givens
The Office
30 Rock
How I Met Your Mother

Have Been Told to Give Them a Shot
Life (a t-bone fave)
Fringe (anything with the words “from the BLANK that brought you ‘Lost’” gets a look)

The DiaBride’s List
Grey’s Anatomy
Brothers & Sisters
(She loves her some medical dramas, doesn’t she?)

Now, among you folks that love dry humor and intelligent storytelling while despising formulaic shows and being confused by CBS’ success (more specifically, the “CSI” phenomenon), let’s hear it…what am I missing?

Because right now, it looks like the “Arrested Development” DVD’s are going to get a work out awfully soon after the end of baseball season.

Finally, a while back I professed that I was looking for a smart looking jersey to sport to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario and (despite my proclamations otherwise) I do not have a closet full of “THE BLC” or “FRANK THE TANK” or “LE PRONQUE” or “FAUSTASTIC” jerseys.

I do, however, have this one thanks to The DiaBride being the best in the biz:

While an 81-81 season certainly isn’t what most of us had in mind when the season started, it’s a far cry from the days of 16 days below .500 with your aCCe headed to Wisconsin. The race for .500 is on…something to shoot for, I suppose.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Elephant in the Room

As Travis Hafner makes his return to the Indians’ lineup tonight and with most eyes already cast in the direction of 2009, is it time to identify that huge Half Project/Half Elephant that’s been taking up so much space in everyone’s head? Can the issue of Travis Hafner’s health and his importance to the Indians’ 2009 campaign FINALLY be broached?

On the shelf since May 30th (and allegedly playing at a capacity far below 100% before then), Hafner returns the parent club tonight after a few brief stops in the minors to rehab his mysterious shoulder injury. While the news is welcome, it is accompanied by the unsettling news that, after over 3 months of rest and attempts to rebuild strength in his shoulder, he is still unable to play everyday and will probably play every other game as he attempts to continue to return his shoulder to 100%...if that is even a possibility anymore.

Does anyone find this more than a little disconcerting?
He’s still just the DH, right?
He’s not playing the field, right…just swinging the bat?

And after (oh, I don’t know…I’ll just throw a range of numbers out there) 50 to 75 swings on a given night, his shoulder is in SUCH bad shape that he has to rest it for a full day afterwards? Can we ever find out what in the world is going on in that right shoulder – that surgery was not recommended but after months of inactivity and strength-building – that he’s still unable to swing a bat (which is his only real physical job requirement) for two consecutive days?

Allegedly, he’s come a long way back from his placement on the DL in terms of strength and mobility, but if it’s taken him this long and his shoulder is still this weak, what are we to expect for 2009?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the odds are pretty good that “this guy” may have made his final appearance in a Tribe uniform…you may remember him fondly as Pronk:
2004 season
.311 BA / .410 OBP / .583 SLG / .993 OPS with 28 HR and 109 RBI over 140 games

2005 season
.305 BA / .408 OBP / .595 SLG / 1.003 OPS with 33 HR and 108 RBI over 137 games

2006 season
.308 BA / .439 OBP / .659 SLG / 1.098 OPS with 42 HR and 117 RBI over 129 games

Look at those numbers and don’t you just hear Archie and Edith singing “Those Were the Days”?
Even Pronk’s “worst” season among those three would put him 2nd in the AL in OPS this year, behind only The Game Boy. Did we appreciate that while it was happening or did we simply assume that this ridiculously consistent production would continue for a few more seasons…at least? I tend to think the latter, which brings us to where we stand today, wondering where Pronk has gone and when the cliff that he seems to have fallen off appeared before him. To that end, let’s go to the numbers:
2007 season
.266 BA / .385 OBP / .451 SLG / .836 OPS with 24 HR and 100 RBI over 152 games

Meh, right?
No, here’s the problem:
2007 from Opening Day to May 2nd
.337 BA / .487 OBP / .581 SLG / 1.068 OPS with 6 HR and 19 RBI over 24 games
May 3rd until End of Season
.253 BA / .364 OBP / .427 SLG / .791 OPS with 18 HR and 81 RBI over 128 games

Nearly ¼ of his HR and RBI totals came from about 15% of the games he played last year as his OPS just spiraled downward as the year wore on. But it didn’t stop there as the fears of some were drastically realized this year:
2008 season
.217 BA / .326 OBP / .350 SLG / .676 OPS with 4 HR and 22 RBI in 46 games

Now how much of this had to do with the “Incredible Shrinking Shoulder” and distractions that may have stemmed from his father’s battle with cancer is up in the air as we’re obviously not between Hafner’s ears and his medical records seem to be on par with the original copy of The Colonel’s recipe of 11 herbs and spices. But the drop-off is significant and very disturbing – particularly for a team that owes him $49M in guaranteed money over the next 4 years.

And herein lies the main problem – the Indians have been built to rely on production from their DH, with the idea that Hafner would be providing that middle-of-the-order pop. The DH “position” in 2008 for the Indians has posted a .735 OPS, which puts them 10th among the 14 teams in the AL. This after getting the 4th most production from their DH “position” last year (.870 OPS), the most production from the “position” in 2006 (1.016 OPS), and the second most in 2005 (.954 OPS) and 2004 (.953 OPS).

If Hafner is not able to rediscover his inner Pronk or is unable to come anywhere close to it, the Indians could very seriously be looking at a Mike Sweeney-KC Royals situation from a few years ago going forward. By that I mean there would too much money tied up (in a limited payroll) on a player that either is unable to stay healthy enough to contribute or that the player is enough of an albatross on the team’s finances that he is trotted out in the lineup, lack of production be damned – just as Mike Sweeney’s 5-year, $55M deal from 2003 to 2007 crippled the Royals’ payroll as he contributed all of 74 HR over those 5 years, during which he averaged 94 games per season. And this when Sweeney was taking up as much as 29.8% of the team’s total payroll (as he did in 2005) and an average of 22.9% of the paychecks cashed by Royals’ players over those 5 years!

Even if Hafner is able to stay healthy and relatively productive for 2/3 of the game, the amount of money that he’s owed by the organization turns him from a Half Project/Half Donkey into a Half Project/Half Albatross…call him Prolbatross. Non-production from such a giant percentage of the perceived payroll going forward then handcuffs the Indians from the standpoint that they’re either forced to keep an unproductive Hafner in the lineup or are severely limited as to what they can add because of the money owed to Hafner in the chance that his injuries become more frequent and more debilitating.

Now, of course, this team without Hafner in the lineup does have some potential, and it’s actually interesting to compare how the offense fared with Hafner on the team against how the offense produced after his last game on May 25th:
Production of 2008 team with Hafner
.232 BA / .313 OBP / .362 SLG / .675 OPS, averaging 4.04 runs per game over 50 games

Production of 2008 team without Hafner
.273 BA / .346 OBP / .450 SLG / .796 OPS, averaging 5.27 runs per game over 92 games

The second set of numbers is the important one to look at here as it represents a fair to decent offense, but certainly not the offense of a contender. Of course, factors other than Hafner were in play during those two sets of games (Victor’s injury, Shoppach’s emergence, Peralta’s down-then-up season, etc.), but I think it underscores how important a healthy AND productive Hafner is to this team for next year.

If Hafner is able to augment Sizemore, Victor, and Peralta in the lineup, the middle of the order gains some stability and stretches the production further down the lineup as the likes of Choo and perhaps Francisco can slot lower in the lineup. Even if the production from Pronk doesn’t approach Pronkian levels (and really the closest we may ever see to a return of “Pronk” may come from Virginia’s 11th District), it’s vital for the team to get something from Hafner. Because if Hafner’s inexplicable shoulder injury (or whatever has caused his lemming-like descent) carries over into 2009, his ineffectiveness or absence is going to play a large role in the 2009 offense being merely adequate and thinner, particularly in the middle of the lineup.

Due to the way the offense is designed (which is to rely on production from DH) and the fiscal decisions that tied so much money to said DH, one thing has become obvious as we all welcome Hafner back to the lineup with cautious optimism and with bated breath – a lot of what is possible in 2009 sits on Hafner’s shoulders…and one in particular.