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The Cleveland Indians
2007-04-16 10:09
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

The Cleveland Indians are a hard team to figure out. Two years ago they looked like an up-and-coming powerhouse in the Central. Built around stone cold masher Travis Hafner, the up-the-middle excellence of Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Grady Sizemore, and emerging ace C.C. Sabathia, they won 93 games in 2005, just missing both the Wild Card and AL Central titles due to a collapse in the season's final week. Last year, they collapsed altogether, winning just 78 games and finishing a distant fourth behind the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox in an increasingly competitive Central division. One seemingly obvious cause of this fall was the loss of Jhonny Peralta's production (he hit just .257/.323/.385 last year, down from .292/.366/.520 in 2005), but closer inspection shows that the Indians collapse was largely illusory.

In large part due to an abysmal showing by their bullpen, the Indians underperformed their Pythagorean record by a staggering 11 games in 2006. In fact, looking at their runs scored and allowed totals, the team the 2006 Cleveland Indians most resembled was the 2006 New York Yankees. The Indians were second to only the Yankees in all of baseball in runs scored per game last year (this despite Peralta's poor showing), and also finished right behind the Yankees in runs allowed per game (seventh in the AL to the Yanks' sixth). In fact, the Yankees and Indians had identical team ERAs in 2006 with the Indians holding a slight advantage in ERA+ due to playing in a less severe pitchers park.

One thing that tripped Cleveland up last year, in addition to their shaky bullpen, was poor defensive play. The Tribe was 25th in the majors in both defensive efficiency and fielding percentage. This year that trend has continued. Though the Yankees are dead last in the majors in fielding percentage thanks to their major league worst 14 errors (nearly half of which are Derek Jeter's), their defensive efficiency--the rate at which they turn all balls in play into outs--is actually the fourth best in baseball, just as it was a year ago. Cleveland, however, is 27th in fielding percentage (having made nine errors in nine games) and 21st in defensive efficiency. That means their pitching staff has to work that much harder to keep runs off the board.

Amazingly, it's been able to do that thus far. The Indians staff ERA is the third best in the American League, while the ERA of their rebuilt bullpen is second best in the AL to that of the Yankees' pen. The offense, however, is in a bit of a slump, though their scheduling problems may have played a part in that.

The big story of the Indians season thus far is that the entirety of their home opening series against the Mariners was snowed out and that their subsequent series against the Angels was moved indoors to Milwaukee's Miller Park because of the ongoing winter weather. The Indians scored 7 2/3 runs per game while taking two of three from the White Sox in Chicago to start the season. They then sat idle for four days as their games against the Mariners were snowed out, rescheduled as double headers, then snowed out again. They finally resumed play with three games in Milwaukee, then returned home for a series against the White Sox and have scored just 3 2/3 runs per game over those last six games.

Of course, it may not be fair to judge the Indians on their performance thus far this season. While the team has gone 6-3, winning all three series, six of their nine games have come against the White Sox. Their eventual home opener at Jacobs Field was played in front of just 16,789 people (as opposed to the usual 42,400 or so), and their catcher and cleanup hitter Victor Martinez has played only three games, suffering a quadriceps injury in the last game of their opening series in Chicago. That is to say, the Cleveland Indians are a hard team to figure out largely because there's not a lot to go on.

Still, the bullpen looks suspect as the new faces are Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez, and Aaron Fultz. C.C. Sabathia (who's still just 26 years old) is a true ace and Jake Westbrook is a strong mid-rotation starter and every bit as extreme a groundball pitcher as Chien-Ming Wang, but Jeremy Sowers' strike out rate is alarmingly low for a flyball pitcher and neither Paul Byrd nor extreme flyballer Cliff Lee or his replacement Fausto Carmona inspire much enthusiasm. On offense, Peralta, who had corrective vision surgery in the offseason and supposedly has put behind him some personal problems that contributed to his poor 2006 season, looks to be rebounding, Martinez should return to action this week, possibly even tonight, and the decision to platoon the outfield corners smells of small market brilliance. On the flip side, that platoon means Casey Blake still has a job, and everyone's still waiting for Andy Marte to hit. As they were two years ago, the Tribe was a trendy pick to win the Central this year. I'm not entirely sold. They're a good team, but not a great one. If they win, I suspect it will have as much to do with the decline of their competition as with their own success.

Cleveland Indians

2006 Record: 78-84
2006 Pythagorean Record: 89-73

Manager: Eric Wedge
General Manager: Mark Shapiro

Home Ballpark (2006 Park Factors): Jacobs Field (97/98)

Who's Replacing Whom?

Josh Barfield replaces Ronnie Belliard and Hector Luna (minors)
Andy Marte takes over Aaron Boone's playing time
Ryan Garko takes over Ben Broussard's playing time
Mike Rouse replaces Joe Inglett (DL)
Trot Nixon replaces Shin-Soo Choo (minors) and cuts into Casey Blake's playing time
David Dellucci replaces Todd Hollandsworth and cuts into Jason Michaels' playing time
Jeremy Sowers takes over Jason Johnson's starts
Fausto Carmona is holding Cliff Lee's place in the rotation (DL)
Joe Borowski replaces Bob Wickman, Brian Sikorski, and Jeremy Guthrie
Roberto Hernandez replaces Guillermo Mota, Danny Graves, and Andrew Brown
Aaron Fultz replaces Scott Sauerbeck and Rafael Perez (minors)
Tom Mastny takes Edward Mujica's (minors), Brian Slocum's (minors) and Matt Miller's (DL) innings

25-man Roster:

1B - Ryan Garko (R)
2B - Josh Barfield (R)
SS - Jhonny Peralta (R)
3B - Andy Marte (R)
C - Kelly Shoppach (R)
RF - Trot Nixon (L)
CF - Grady Sizemore (L)
LF - David Dellucci (L)
DH - Travis Hafner (L)

Bench:

R - Casey Blake (OF/1B/3B)
R - Jason Michaels (OF)
L - Mike Rouse (IF)
S - Victor Martinez (C)*

Rotation:

L - C.C. Sabathia
R - Jake Westbrook
L - Jeremy Sowers
R - Fausto Carmona
R - Paul Byrd

Bullpen:

R - Joe Borowski
R - Rafael Betancourt
L - Aaron Fultz
R - Roberto Hernandez
R - Tom Mastny
R - Fernando Cabrera
R - Jason Davis

DL: R - Cliff Lee, R - Matt Miller, L - Joe Inglett (IF)

*Martinez hasn't played since April 5 due to a quadriceps injury. He could return during this series, but might DH, pushing Travis Hafner into the field at first base and Garko to the bench. Martinez would then slot into Garko's lineup spot as the cleanup hitter.

Typical Lineup:

L - Grady Sizemore (L)
L - Trot Nixon (RF)*
L - Travis Hafner (DH)
R - Ryan Garko (1B)
L - David Dellucci (LF)*
R - Jhonny Peralta (SS)
R - Josh Barfield (2B)
R - Andy Marte (3B)
R - Kelly Shoppach (C)

*Nixon and Dellucci are in strict platoons with Casey Blake and Jason Michaels respectively. The lineup against lefties, however, has left fielder Michaels batting second and right fielder Blake batting fifth. A line-up with both Martinez and Garko would have Martinez fourth, Garko sixth and push Peralta, Barfield and Marte down one spot each.

Comments
2007-04-17 09:37:22
1.   mehmattski
Excellent as always. Some notes:

- Seeing the sidebar with "Wright v Westbrook" made me throw up a little in my mouth. Then I remembered that Jaret is gone forever. Here's to hoping that Chase does better than Henn did in 2005.

- Hafner's been struggling so far this season, hitting at a Womackian .212/.341/.333, with only two extra base hits. You gotta think that the reigning VORP and RC27 champ will turn it around. My fantasy team hopes so too.

- The Indians should be exhibit A in the counterargument titled "Yeah, the Yanks have a crappy BUC, but so does everyone else." Kelly Shoppach is making the Coco Crisp deal turn out like more and more of a steal for the Red Sox every day.

2007-04-17 09:57:12
2.   Zack
I think the Coco Crisp deal has looked like a steal for ahwile, and if Marte can actually hit a little, wowza...

It will be nice to have a gameon tonight, yesterday was not a fun night to not have a distraction...

2007-04-17 10:05:26
3.   joejoejoe
Joe Torre would give up green tea for pruno before he ever made up lineup with so many LLLs and RRRs in a row. I'm sure if you asked Eric Wedge why he makes out the lineup that way he would say 'I want to get my better hitters the most ABs'. Crazy!
2007-04-17 10:17:05
4.   yankz
1 Oh man, I totally had the same Jaret Wright nightmare.
2007-04-17 10:37:14
5.   Max Nomad
Isn't Sabathia a lefty?
2007-04-17 10:43:24
6.   jayd
Bring up the double A guy with the hot hand...even if it turns into a Sean Henn thing, Chase comes away with something to build on. I thought I knew all our young arms but here's another. Upside is everyone pulls for the kid, so pencil this in as an 11-4 win for the good guys.

I've always wondered with all the extra shots Derek takes (was it 19 HBP last year?) that the body would begin to betray him on defense first.

Although the analysis of his defense is over-the-top negative, one wonders what happens when you realize your best ss is playing 3rd and where DOES Derek go for his golden years? LF/RF? What a waste...

There was the talk of center a few years back but that's as premier a defensive position as SS, so I could never understand that.

2007-04-17 10:54:07
7.   Sliced Bread
Given Hafner's early struggles at the plate especially against southpaws (.071/.133/.143) the Wahoos might want to rest him tonight.

Sizemore on the other hand (same hand actually) has been absolutely raking lefties (.417/.462/.917) in the early going.

This could get ugly early for the kid from Trenton.

Westbrook's off to a shaky start too, so we could be in for a slugfest.

2007-04-17 11:14:29
8.   Sliced Bread
What's the word on Hafner's slow start? I read something about contract negotiations but he's too good to let something like that mess with his game. If anything I'd expect him to be mashing in his walk year. Maybe he's pressing? Anybody seen him? Any insights, mehmattski 1?
2007-04-17 11:15:47
9.   Max Nomad
6 Sean Henn NEVER had the upside that Chase Wright has. He was a top pitching prospect because the Yanks had no one else. I'm optimistic about Wright, for tonight or the future.

As for Jeter, first is a possibility, maybe. Or left field. He's still good enough to play SS, but the time is coming soon. Cano can play 3B, so maybe if ARod is to be the future DH, Jeter to 2nd? Jeter to 1B, Arod to SS, Cano to 3B?There's a lot of possibilities.

A-Rod says he has put SS behind him, that he's a 3B now and forever. That said, he might move back to SS in the interests of the team, but even if he went to another team after this year (god forbid), he'll probably stick to 3B.

2007-04-17 11:41:48
10.   thelarmis
1 4 me too.

cliff, i always look forward to your new series team previews. here's to a good week with lots of wins, no injuries and no errors!

2007-04-17 11:51:25
11.   Max Nomad
Interesting article about a former Indian we know well...

http://tinyurl.com/2mulfz

2007-04-17 11:52:55
12.   Cliff Corcoran
5 Yeah, he is, sorry, typo. Fixed it.

I'll have more on Chase Wright before game time tonight.

2007-04-17 11:52:59
13.   Andre
1 are you truly suggesting the Shoppach deal was a steal for Boston?? The Boston media and fans are VERY down on Crisp these days. Also, they could really use a backup catcher (given the dramatic decline of Varitek and the uselessness of Mirabelli).

EEI is making a big story about getting rid of Crisp.

2007-04-17 11:54:45
14.   Sliced Bread
10 good call, thelarmis, lest we take Cliff's work for granted. These previews are the best in the business.

Should be an exciting game, new blood and all.

Let's go Chase! Show 'em what you got, kid!

2007-04-17 12:09:27
15.   rbj
Given all the troubles the Yankees had last year against rookie pitchers, can we hope that the situation gets reversed this year?
(what was that acronym, anyhow)
2007-04-17 12:11:37
16.   OldYanksFan
Excuse me:
Lohud has a wonderful video from Fenway Park which I dub:
"Ejected for ruining a pefectly good piece of Pizza"
One more reason I love Jerry Remy
2007-04-17 12:18:22
17.   OldYanksFan
"Though the Yankees are dead last in the majors in fielding percentage thanks to their major league worst 14 errors (nearly half of which are Derek Jeter's), their defensive efficiency--the rate at which they turn all balls in play into outs--is actually the fourth best in baseball, just as it was a year ago."

This would seem somewhat contradictory. Does this mean our pitching staff is inducing lots of softly hit ground ball and harmless flys?

2007-04-17 12:28:00
18.   Schteeve
17 It's not really contradictory at all. It's just saying that the Yankees turn lots of balls in play into out, no matter what type of balls.

What this does is show how misleading a statistic "Error" is.

Let's say every position player you had, possessed exceptional range and got to balls that other defenders couldn't even get to. There's a likelihood that because they are ranging to more balls, they'll bobble more balls, or throw more balls away and thereby commit more errors, but they are also turning a lot more balls into outs than average.

Make sense?

2007-04-17 12:46:55
19.   Shaun P
I'm very pleased to hear about the Yanks' DE ranking, because I hadn't checked the numbers myself. And it seems all the MSM ever talks about is all the errors. Thanks, Cliff!

15 URP! I would love to see Chase Wright URP the Indians.

2007-04-17 13:01:13
20.   jayd
6 I'm optimistic also. In a 2005 interview, Chase talked about 2 kinds of curves and a two seamer and 4 seam fastball. Now I've seen something about a "slurpy slider", whatever that is, but it bodes well in a Daisuke kind of way.

We are continually being bombarded in RS broadcasts with the variety of pitches the Mighty DiceK has and his willingness to use them all. The latter point is that he never "gives up" on a pitch as in "Oh well, curve is not working tonight, I'll go with the slider." thereby giving his opponents something to hone in on.

I wonder whether Chase's recent successes in double A (all 14 innings of it) might not be related to his addition of a slurpy slider and his willingness to throw all his pitches. One of these kids is going to take off, why not Chase, all of Iowa Park TX tuned in tonight....

2007-04-17 13:01:23
21.   JL25and3
6 For years, I was a big proponent of moving Jeter to center. It's as important a position as shortstop is, but it requires different skills. At shortstop, range requires quickness; in center, it's speed. Jeter's already shown that he can cover ground on fly balls, and that he can track them extremely well. His arm is good enough, and his instincts - his ability to see a play develop - are excellent. I think he could quickly have become a very good center fielder.

Shortstops much, much worse than Jeter have become excellent center fielders. Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer come to mind.

2007-04-17 13:03:26
22.   Zack
9 I would actually counter that I don't thinK chase Wright is really a prospect either. He's old for AA, only has one slightly above average pitch (and its a changeup) and only thros around 90 max. Not that velocity means all that much, but for a 24 year old just starting AA who has been toiling for six seasons, it tells you something.

I'm totally against this move by the Yanks, but of course, am 100% rooting for Wright to dominate. Just because I think its the wrong move doesn't preclude me from hoping I eat crow...

2007-04-17 13:03:31
23.   mehmattski
8 Sounds like a good time wasting challenge. One thing that jumps out on his Baseball-Reference page is that Hafner is only seeing a Cano-ean 3.76 pitches/PA this year, as opposed to his career average of 4.08 and his 4.20 in 2006. Even though it's a small sample, it's also inflated because of the three intentional walks issued to Hafner this season.

The other abberent swing statistic is his Contact%, which is at a Juan Pierre-like 87%, much higher than his career rate of 74%. So he's putting the ball in play more than previous seasons. I belive he's hitting the ball on the ground a lot more as well. This season he's hit 12 GB, 5 FB, 5 LD, and 4 Pop-ups (including base hits). Normally his GB/FB ratio is around 1:1, and apparently a PU counts as a FB.

Of course, all the normal small sample qualifiers apply. But it is not as if he is hitting the ball well, just right at people. And with his OBP also down, it may be that he's not seeing the ball well. I hope he turns it around.

2007-04-17 13:09:09
24.   jayd
17 18 Or would it be that they get lead runners and gun down runners trying to advance or at the plate more often. Back when we had Damon and Williams in the OF....

Actually didn't Melky have a fair number of OF assists last year? Like a few short of the surprising Manny Ramirez? Bobby Abreu was no slouch either as I recall.

2007-04-17 13:09:09
25.   rbj
19 Thanks, Shaun P. URP it is.
2007-04-17 13:23:45
26.   Bama Yankee
19 URP = Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcher (for those who may have forgotten)

http://bronxbanter.baseballtoaster.com/archives/421158.html

Let's hope that Wright's slider is slURPy tonight... ;-)

2007-04-17 13:31:25
27.   Zack
And, of course, Minky is in tonight's lineup. I mean, hey, why not, he got a hit last game, that's practically a hot streak for him
2007-04-17 13:38:50
28.   thelarmis
well, let's hope it's a reverse URP, as it's usually us getting "URP-ed."
2007-04-17 13:43:57
29.   Zack
And slightly off topic:
Something thats been bugging me, and perhaps this fits better under the media watch posts, is the us of the word "exciting" in the media to describe a player. For instance, Verducci's current piece that calls Jose Reyes "the most exciting player in the game" (not the first writer to dub him that this year). He also says that "No player can beat you in more ways than Reyes."

What Verducci seems to mean by exciting is a combination of speed and power a la Ricky Henderson. Which is certianly exciting in that hes fun to watch. But I'm not sure that translates to being able to beat you in more ways than anyone else. What he means there is clearly that he can steal bases and hit for power, except that if that were really the case, shouldn't Grady Sizemore be even more exciting, as he can do all that and more?

To me, I take "exciting" in that "fun to watch," younger Ken Grifey Junior kind of way, where every at bat was fascinating and you always knew there was a chance he would do something amazing. Which is why Albert Pujols is exciting. hell, Arod is exciting, as every at bat is a drama there.

Thoughts? Or just ignore my ramblings, trying to kill time until game time..

2007-04-17 13:45:09
30.   Cliff Corcoran
"Slurpy slider" sounds like a spitball to me.

24 Actually that's got nothing to do with it. It's about turning balls in play into outs, those sorts of baserunner outs (caught stealing, pickoffs, outfield assists, etc.) don't factor into it. It's simply the inverse of the percentage of balls in play (not home runs) that drop for hits (or errors).

23 3.76 P/PA isn't Cano-like, it's more Jeter-like (in fact, it's Jeter's career average exactly). Those 4+ rates are more Giambi/Abreu-like, just crazy.

That said, Cano actually has the same number of P/PA this year (3.76), but that's a huge improvement. His career rate (2007 included) is 3.16. Though that in and of itself is interesting, as I though I had noticed Cano swinging at fewer first pitches and the numbers bear that out. Of course it's really really early, but his walk rate (thanks entirely to the A's series) has taken a leap over past years. Stay tuned.

2007-04-17 13:46:12
31.   Cliff Corcoran
Oh, and my new post on Wright is up for the game thread.
2007-04-17 13:49:55
32.   Bama Yankee
27 Speaking of lineups (or maybe it should be typing of lineups), I sure miss the posting of the lineup that someone used to do around this time of day. IIRC, randym was usually one of the first to post it (I think he has been rather busy lately). Does anyone have tonight's lineup and is anyone willing to start the tradition back up again?
2007-04-17 13:53:19
33.   OldYanksFan
30 If Reyes was a Yankee, would you feel differently?

11 A long read, but well worth it. If I may inject 1 quote: "But for some reason I have not seen it remarked upon that Ramirez chose to name both of his first two sons Manny, Jr"
Hi, I'm Manny. And this is my son Manny, and this is my other son, Manny.

18 Range? in 2006? Like Giambi and Jeter? My guess is Cano is the only infielder with above average range, and Damon the only outfielder (if Damon still qualifies). You watched the games. Did the 2006 Yankees look like the 4th best team at getting to the ball?

2007-04-17 13:55:35
34.   Cliff Corcoran
33 Don't forget Melky replacing Matsui for a large part of the year and Andy Phillips playing his share of 1B.
2007-04-17 14:07:16
35.   mehmattski
30 Whoops, on Cano's P/PA. I should have looked it up, I was going based on a post I read of Travis G's blog, and remembered the 3.76 number. Silly memory.

27 Yeah, where is Chyll Will these days anyway? Here ya go, from PeteAbe:

Johnny Damon CF
Derek Jeter SS
Bobby Abreu RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jason Giambi DH
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Melky Cabrera LF
Doug Mientkiewicz 1B
Chase Wright LHP

2007-04-17 14:11:16
36.   Bama Yankee
35 Thanks, mehmattski

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