Archive for Indians

JABO: Rx for Cleveland: Catch More Baseballs

We love to discuss and analyze hitting and we love to discuss and analyze pitching, but when it comes to fielding, we often just lump it in with pitching and move on to cleaning the kitchen or preventing the kids from setting the TV on fire. Well put down that sponge and don that flame-retardant suit because we’re going to talk about fielding!

A quick perusal of the AL Central standings reveals a few things. The Royals still think they are in the 2014 playoffs. The Twins don’t know they’re not very good. The Tigers don’t know they’re too old. The White Sox can apparently sign whomever they want and they’ll still be the White Sox. And at the bottom, Cleveland fields the ball like their gloves are made of actual gold. Contrary to anything awards-related you might have heard, this is not good. It is a problem for more reasons than irony and it is a primary reason the Indians are where they are in the standings.

But I’m presupposing here. Cleveland is allowing 4.6 runs per game. Only Boston (4.8) is giving up more among American League teams. The problem doesn’t sound like fielding; it sounds like pitching! Let’s see.

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MLB Scores a Partial Victory in Minor League Wage Lawsuits

Eight Major League Baseball teams won an initial victory on Wednesday in two federal lawsuits contesting MLB’s minor league pay practices under the minimum wage and overtime laws. At the same time, however, the judge denied the league a potentially more sweeping victory in the cases.

The two lawsuits were filed in California last year by former minor league players who allege that they received as little as $3,300 per year, without overtime, despite routinely being required to work 50 or more hours per week during the playing season (in addition to mandatory off-season training). MLB and its thirty teams responded to the suit by challenging the plaintiffs’ claims on a variety of grounds. Wednesday’s decision considered two of these defenses in particular.

First, 11 of the MLB franchises argued that they were not subject to the California court’s jurisdiction and therefore must be dismissed from the lawsuit. Second, all 30 MLB teams argued that the case should be transferred from California to a federal court in Florida, which they argued would be a more convenient location for the trial.  In its decision on Wednesday, the court granted MLB a partial victory, agreeing to dismiss eight of the MLB defendant franchises from the suit due to a lack of personal jurisdiction, but refusing to transfer the case to Florida. Read the rest of this entry »


JABO: Don’t Forget About Michael Brantley

Thursday afternoon, the Indians lost another close game, which is the sort of thing I have to presume they find awful maddening. Among the few bright spots was Michael Brantley, who batted four times and wound up with a homer and a walk. Said homer was all of the Indians’ offense, and it did come close to holding up. Brantley’s been outstanding on a team that’s underachieved.

Let’s stick with the same baseball game for a moment. In the game, Matt Adams struck out swinging three times. Nick Swisher struck out swinging two times, and so did Roberto Perez. I don’t bring this up to say anything about Adams, Swisher, or Perez. Rather, it just seems like an appropriate lead-in to this astonishing fact: Brantley has struck out swinging two times all season.

What’s taking place for Brantley isn’t a breakthrough. Brantley’s breakthrough happened last year, following seasons of gradual development. He wound up a participant in the All-Star Game, and he finished third in the voting for the American League MVP. What’s taking place is a continuation, a demonstration that Brantley doesn’t intend to return to what he was before as an almost impossibly average ballplayer. Brantley doesn’t have a single flashy skill. His team is threatening to drop out of the race before the season’s half over. The ingredients are there for Brantley to become a forgotten star. Consider yourself urged to not forget him.

So far this season, Brantley has been a top-15 hitter, a hair behind Mike Trout and Joc Pederson. If you expand the window to the start of last season, Brantley’s been the fifth-best hitter in the game, between Jose Abreu and Andrew McCutchen. There’s nothing about his results that seems particularly unsustainable. His improved power is almost all to the same area, but in that way, Brantley is sort of an outfield equivalent of Kyle Seager. More than anything else, Brantley’s been able to combine a quick and smooth swing with a smart approach. He hasn’t meaningfully altered his swing. It just seems like he’s always getting smarter.

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Corey Kluber Rides the High Strike into History

Corey Kluber just regressed very quickly. After a high-profile winless start to his post-Cy Young-winning campaign that had many wondering what was wrong with him, the Cleveland right-hander struck out 18 Cardinals yesterday over eight innings, allowing only one hit and no walks along the way. In reality, there was nothing wrong with Kluber; his 5.04 ERA was mostly a mirage overlaying a 3.20 FIP, and given the fact that his peripherals were almost in line with last year’s stellar figures, better times were always ahead.

The better times came all at once, however, and they came in a package that almost made (and did make) history: Kluber finished the eighth inning just three strikeouts shy of the single game record for most in a game, 21. He didn’t get the chance to go out for the ninth, something that is being hotly debated, but the facts speak for themselves: Kluber had the most strikeouts in a game since 2004, he was only the second pitcher ever to have 18 Ks in eight innings (Randy Johnson, 1992), and his game score of 98 was the highest in an eight inning outing since 1914.

I won’t list all of the records because there are a lot of them, but the bottom line is that he had an almost impossibly great day. August summed up the impact on Kluber’s season stats well in this tweet:

That’s quite a turnaround, as you might expect, so let’s dive a little deeper into the start. We’re going to kick this off with a GIF. It’s a good GIF, and it illustrates a few points we’re going to talk about. The camera angle changes slightly as the innings progress, but it still gives us a pretty good idea of where Kluber was operating yesterday. Green circles are swinging strikeouts, red circles are looking strikeouts:

Kluber_Supercut

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Healthy Jason Kipnis Taking Ball the Other Way

A little over a year ago, the Cleveland Indians locked up much of their future core, signing Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes to contract extensions. Kipnis received double the guarantees of his teammates after a great, five-win 2013 season, but last year the fortunes reversed, as Brantley and Gomes both had breakout years and Kipnis struggled. Kipnis got out of the gate slowly in 2015, as the hits were not falling, but a solid approach taking the ball the other way has the new Cleveland leadoff hitter’s production on the rise.

Last April, Kipnis performed well in the first month after signing his $52 million extension, posting a .234/.354/.394 line with a 120 wRC+ that could have been much higher if not for a .250 BABIP. At the end of that same month, though, Kipnis strained his oblique on a swing, forcing him to miss a month. He never got going in his return, hitting just .241/.299/.315 with a 77 wRC+ in 442 plate appearances over the rest of the season despite an acceptable .297 BABIP. Kipnis finished his lost season having produced roughly a win.

Determining the effect of Kipnis’s oblique injury on his production the rest of the season is a tricky proposition. The injury does not require surgery, varies in severity and does not have a set recovery time. Chris Davis and Ryan Braun suffered oblique injuries last season and neither player had a good season, but Joe Mauer played well, albeit without power, after hitting the disabled list for the same injury. Jason Kipnis played through his struggles last year, but he did admit in the spring that the injury gave him trouble.
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The Devastation of Danny Salazar

Breaking out for three consecutive years certainly has some positive elements to it, but it also means that the first two breakouts did not completely take. After failing to make the rotation out of Spring Training, Danny Salazar might have moved himself from potential breakout star to post-hype sleeper. After his hot start, the sleeper tag has been removed, and only a potential star remains. Salazar has had periods of dominance in each of the last last three seasons, but those dominant stretches have been followed by problem periods. This is now the fourth time Salazar has been called upon to for an extended role in Cleveland’s rotation, and Salazar, helped by his previous experiences, is now pitching as well as anyone in Major League Baseball. Consider his first roughly-30 innings each time.
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The Madison Bumgarners That Once Were

We have a Madison Bumgarner, right now. He just put a whole team on his shoulders and blew our minds last October, even. And with that Paul Bunyanesque workmanlike yet fiery demeanor, he seems a snowflake. Unique and alone. But maybe we have we seen pitchers like him before?

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The Cleveland Indians, Now Playing Catch Up

We didn’t envision April going like this. The Cleveland Indians received 35 total votes for a playoff appearance in our 2015 preseason staff predictions, the most out of any team in the American League. Four weeks after those predictions were published, Cleveland finds themselves 7-14 — seven and a half games back of the Royals in the AL Central — tied for the biggest deficit in any division outside of the one containing the Brewers.

If we’re searching for a silver lining, the early going hasn’t been easy schedule-wise, with six games against Detroit that resulted in one win and a few bullpen implosions that have ended up as walk-off losses. Those one-run games on the road are the types of results that can easily swing win/loss records; however, if we look at Cleveland’s Pythagorean W/L, it gives us only an ever-so-slightly healthier 8-13. Alas, we can’t simply blame many of their losses on volatile one-run results.

Still, as we like to point out here in the early going, losses count in April just like wins do, and Cleveland has now gone from trendy sleepers in the division to having to play catch up against two fast-starting squads in Kansas City and Detroit. Before the season began, we gave Cleveland a 43% probability of winning the Central with 86 projected wins, and after yesterday’s results, that figure now stands at 13.4% and 82 projected wins.

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The Cleveland Defense Is A Different Kind Of Problem Now

One year ago today, I wrote an article right here called  “The Indians Are Missing The Easy Ones,” which looked into just how awful the Cleveland defense had looked to that point. Though it included all the usual “it’s still early in the season” caveats, the simple fact was that the Indians had done little to help what had been (and would be) a fantastic young pitching staff with repeated miscues in the field, flaws that seemed obvious even in mid-April. (It was also a great excuse to have an article full of blooper GIFs. This is going to come up again.)

As it turned out, it wasn’t just a small sample size problem. The Indians went on to have the worst DRS in baseball at a shocking -75, and as Jeff Sullivan ably noted in August, the defensive gap alone was a huge component of what set the Indians apart from the Royals. If you buy into the idea that 10 runs equal a win, then DRS saw a difference of 11 wins between the two clubs on defense alone. Even if you don’t completely accept that full value as an accurate accounting, it’s pretty clear that poor fielding was a huge detriment to the 2014 Indians, and that’s a big deal considering that they missed the wild card by just three games.

So! Now it’s 2015. With somewhat of an inflexible roster, management was limited in the moves they could make, so while things look similar, they aren’t identical. The Carlos Santana third base experiment is long over. Asdrubal Cabrera‘s adventures at shortstop are now Tampa Bay’s problem, with Jose Ramirez presenting a far superior defensive option. Yan Gomes‘ second half looked a lot better than his first half. Nick Swisher‘s achy knees haven’t yet appeared in a game. Tyler Holt showed defensive value as a backup outfielder late in the year. Jason Kipnis swore he was healthier after oblique and hamstring issues helped to tornado his 2014 season.

Story after story after story came up about the team’s focus on it this winter. This was never going to be a good defense, not with so much of the same cast and crew, but maybe enough had changed to think, okay, maybe this won’t be so bad. So how’s that going? Read the rest of this entry »


What’s Already Happened in the AL Central

Hello! The baseball season just started. We’ve gone from one Sunday to a second Sunday, and we still aren’t allowed to do anything with statistics because nobody cares about them yet. While, in theory, spring training is supposed to get everyone ready for the year, the beginning feels like an extended spring training, a transition period following a transition period, and at this point the standings mean nothing. If you were to ask a player today about the wins and the losses, you’d get laughed out of the clubhouse. It doesn’t just feel like there’s a long way to go — it feels like there’s the whole way to go. Also, the Indians and White Sox are four games back of the Tigers and Royals.

It happened fast. It happened before anyone cared, but the White Sox have been swept by the Royals, and the Indians have been swept by the Tigers. Series conclude every few days, and standings change literally every day, but this is notable because the AL Central has four teams who’ve been thinking about the playoffs. The same four teams are still thinking about the playoffs, but as much as you want to say nothing matters yet, everything matters. This is my most- and least-favorite post to write every season.

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Indians Go Long with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco

The Cleveland Indians already had much of their team in place for many years on the position player side after extensions for Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, and Carlos Santana. In one weekend they solidified their future on the pitching side as well, locking up ace and Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber as well as fellow rotation member Carlos Carrasco. Deals for pitchers are never a guarantee of performance, but with the cost to acquire pitching outside the organization so high, the Indians made out very well in securing potentially six years of free agent years with $60 million in guarantees.

Carlos Carrasco was not the player most likely to receive an extension, but he will now be guaranteed $22 million over the next four years with two club options after that believed to be worth around $10 million. Carrasco entered arbitration for the first time this year and was set to make close to $2.3 million this season. Extensions for players in their first year of arbitration are not common. Before this offseason, there had not been an extension for a player with between three and four years of service time since January 2011, when Johnny Cueto signed a four-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds for $27 million that included a team option and bought out two potential free agent years, per MLB Trade Rumors Extension Tracker. Even expanding the parameters a little finds few players close to Carrasco’s situation in the recent past. Gio Gonzalez signed his five-year, $42 million deal as a super-2 three years ago, and Jaime Garcia was about two months from arbitration when he signed his four-year $27 million in July 2011.
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Division Preview: AL Central

We’re halfway done, with the wests — both NL and the AL — and covered NL Central yesterday. Today, we tackle the AL’s version of the country’s heartland.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Indians 86 76 43% 14% 7%
Tigers 85 77 37% 15% 5%
Royals 79 83 10% 7% 1%
White Sox 78 84 8% 6% 1%
Twins 74 88 3% 3% 0%

With no great teams and only one franchise not really trying to contend this year, this is one of the most up-for-grabs divisions in the sport. Our forecasts suggest that there are two tiers within those going for it, but I think things might be a bit more bunched up than the numbers above suggest. Let’s go team by team.

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Zach McAllister’s Attempt at the Carlos Carrasco

Carlos Carrasco is probably not the first to pull off the Carlos Carrasco, so perhaps I shouldn’t be terming it as such, but, recency wins over everything. Carrasco, for quite some time, was a frustrating and incomplete potential starting pitcher. Early last year, he worked out of the Indians’ rotation. He was subsequently moved to the bullpen, where his game unsurprisingly picked up. Then he moved back to the rotation, where his game more surprisingly maintained. Early as a starter, Carrasco’s fastball averaged about 93. Out of the bullpen, it averaged almost 96. Back in the rotation, it averaged about 96. Carrasco is now a sleeper who might be way too good to actually qualify as a sleeper.

Topically, Carrasco has this teammate, named Zach McAllister. Like Carrasco, McAllister has worked out of the Indians’ rotation in the past. Like Carrasco, he’s also been bumped to the bullpen. McAllister was just recently named the Indians’ No. 4 starting pitcher for 2015, prevailing over guys like Danny Salazar and the re-injured Gavin Floyd. Salazar’s the one with all the hype, on account of his extraordinarily electric arm. McAllister, though, might be something more than you figured. His assignment might not be only temporary, as there are signs he, too, is pulling off the Carrasco.

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The Top-Five Cleveland Prospects by Projected WAR

Yesterday, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Cleveland. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Cleveland’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Cleveland system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Cleveland system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Cleveland Indians

Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Braves, Athletics, AngelsDodgers, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cardinals, Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Pirates, Royals & Giants

Top 200 Prospects Content Index

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Draft Rankings: 2015, 2016 & 2017

International Coverage: 2015 July 2nd Parts One, Two & Three, 2016 July 2nd

The Indians are deep. I list 50 prospects below and their 27 and under list is among the deepest in the game, along with a surprising amount of recently-emerging high-end talent. That’s good scouting and it’s come from big league moves, trades, the draft and international signings: one team exec said this is the deepest they’ve been on the farm since 2005. The Tribe’s last five first round picks are prospects 1-4 and 6 on this list, with the 5th prospect a 1st rounder they acquired from another club. After Lindor there isn’t an elite prospect, but there’s plenty of upside types in the top half of the list that could make the jump this year.

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A Preview of 2015 Team Defenses

It’s gettin’ to that time of year when folks tend to preview stuff ’round baseball. Our annual Positional Power Rankings will be coming to the site over the next couple weeks, you’ll surely see all sorts of divisional preview pieces pop up between now and Opening Day, and this right here is going to be a preview of team defenses.

We saw last year where a good defense can take a team. The Kansas City Royals were more than just a great defense, but it was evident, especially during the playoffs, how much an elite defense can mean to a ballclub. The same was true, but on the other end of the spectrum, for the Cleveland Indians. Our two advanced defensive metrics — Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating — agreed that the defense in Cleveland was worth around -70 runs last season. In Kansas City, it was something like +50. That’s a 120-run difference! That’s about 12 wins! Those teams play in the same division! Move 12 wins around and the result is an entirely different season! Defense isn’t the biggest thing, but it’s a big thing. Let’s look ahead.

All the numbers used in this piece will come from UZR and DRS. For the team projections, I simply utilized our depth charts and did a little math. We’re going to take a look at the three best, the worst, the teams that got better, the teams that got worse, and then all the rest down at the bottom. For the upgrades/downgrades, I used the difference of standard deviations above or below the mean between last year’s results and this year’s projections.
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Carlos Carrasco’s Change Doesn’t Really Have a Comp

I’m back again to close out your week by talking about pitch comps. I’ve talked about pitch comps a lot lately, looking at Henderson Alvarez, and Mariano Rivera, and Cole Hamels, and so on. Pitch comps love Marcus Stroman. Not coincidentally, I also love Marcus Stroman, but this is going to be about a different guy — this is focusing on Carlos Carrasco. And while I’ve written about Carrasco already in the recent past, I want to add something to that. Carlos Carrasco throws a changeup. No one else really throws Carlos Carrasco’s changeup.

To quickly review the methodology, I use the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards and look at velocity, horizontal movement, and vertical movement. For this, I looked at right-handed starting pitchers who, last year, threw at least 50 changeups, according to the page. For each of the three categories, I calculated the z-score difference between a given number and Carrasco’s changeup’s number. Then I simply added up the three absolute values, yielding a comp rating. That’s all the boring stuff. Below is the more interesting stuff.

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Five Facts About Jason Giambi

Jason Giambi announced his retirement on Monday, after 20 seasons as a major leaguer. For most of those 20 years, Giambi was one of the best hitters in the game. I won’t waste your time putting down the narrative of his career — Jay Jaffe already did that better than I would anyway. But I thought today that we would celebrate his career with a few choice facts and/or moments from a career that at the very least belongs in the Hall of Very Good.
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He’s Not the Same Pitcher Any More

We’re in that awkward time between the true offseason, when most deals are made, and the spring, when all the Best Shape of His Life news stars flowing in. Let’s call it Projection Season, because we’re all stuck ogling prospect lists while perusing the projected numbers for the major league squads.

One of the most frustrating things about projection season can be the fact that most projection systems remain agnostic about change. Many of the adjustments the players talk about in season don’t take, or take for a while and then require further adjustment to remain relevant. So projections ignore most of it and assume the player will continue to be about the same as he’s always been until certain statistical thresholds are met and the change is believable from a numbers standpoint.

But projections do worse when it comes to projecting pitching than hitting, so there’s something that pitchers do that’s different than the many adjustments a hitter will make to his mechanics or approach over the course of a season. The submission here is that pitchers change their arsenals sometimes, and that a big change in arsenal radically changes who that player is.

Look at Greg Maddux pitching for Peoria in 1985. He’s not the Greg Maddux we know and love. Watch him throw fourseamers and curveballs. It was enough to get through the minor leagues, but, at that point, he’s barely throwing the two pitches that made him a Hall of Famer eventually.

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The FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List

Yesterday, we gave you a little bit of a tease, giving you a glimpse into the making of FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List. This morning, however, we present the list in its entirety, including scouting grades and reports for every prospect rated as a 50 Future Value player currently in the minor leagues. As discussed in the linked introduction, some notable international players were not included on the list, but their respective statuses were discussed in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read any of the prior prospect pieces here on the site, I’d highly encourage you to read the introduction, which explains all of the terms and grades used below.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards our YouTube channel, which currently holds over 600 prospect videos, including all of the names near the top of this list. Players’ individual videos are linked in the profiles below as well.

And lastly, before we get to the list, one final reminder that a player’s placement in a specific order is less important than his placement within a Future Value tier. Numerical rankings can give a false impression of separation between players who are actually quite similar, and you shouldn’t get too worked up over the precise placement of players within each tier. The ranking provides some additional information, but players in each grouping should be seen as more or less equivalent prospects.

If you have any questions about the list, I’ll be chatting today at noon here on the site (EDIT: here’s the chat transcript), and you can find me on Twitter at @kileymcd.

Alright, that’s enough stalling. Let’s get to this.

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