Archive for Indians

Nights of the Pitcher

Last night was about the pitchers. Nearly every game had at least one good starting pitcher performance, and many of them we’re not even going to talk about today. Max Scherzer‘s 11 strikeouts? Nope. What about Tyson Ross‘ 11 strikeouts? Nope, not them either. We’re not even going to talk about Jeff Samardzija and Wei-Yin Chen, who combined to allow one run across 16 innings. No, we’re going to talk about the five pitchers who posted a Game Score of 75 or better last night — Corey Kluber, Marcus Stroman, Danny Duffy, Matt Garza and Cole Hamels.
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Whom The All-Stars Are Looking Forward to Seeing

Because of  interleague play, many of this season’s All-Stars have already seen who’s on the other side. But there’s a unique opportunity to see the best of the other league on one field in Minnesota. So I asked some All-Stars if they were looking forward to a particular matchup today.

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The Aftermath of the Carlos Santana Experiment

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona had this to say before Wednesday’s home game against the New York Yankees:

“Early in the year, there’s always some inconsistencies that take a while to kind of play themselves out. That’s just the way a year is. It happens with every team. Then, once guys get settled in and get on a roll, then you see how good you can be. For whatever reason, sometimes it takes a while.”

Carlos Santana started this game at first base for the Indians. Lonnie Chisenhall played third. Nick Swisher served as the designated hitter.

There’s a reason I’ve presented those three facts to you immediately following that quote. The reason is because the “inconsistencies” Francona spoke of relate to an experiment the Indians underwent to begin the season, concerning those three players and those three positions.

Well, the experiment really had just one subject, Santana, but it ended up effecting all three players. The experiment was a big deal when it was first announced. Quietly, nearly two months ago, the experiment came to an end without an official announcement or much fanfare.
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Prospect Watch: Polished Hurlers

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment, I’ll discuss three pitchers I’ve come across in A-ball who boast more polish than most at their level.

Adam Plutko, RHP, Cleveland Indians (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 41 IP, 41 H, 23 R, 31/9 K/BB, 4.83 ERA, 4.86 FIP

Plutko gained plenty of prospect helium with a dominant run at Low-A early in the season, but he’s found the going tougher after a promotion to the Carolina League.

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Chisenhall, Brantley, and Regression Games

Everyone knows projections are not guarantees. Anything is possible. But even those alternate possibilities can be surprising in themselves. For example, some people, prior to the season, picked the Royals as dark horse contenders. However, how many of them said Kansas City would be on top of American League Central by midseason despite Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Billy Butler all being almost completely worthless at the plate?

Along the same lines, it was not inconceivable for Cleveland to have a pretty good offense in 2014. In 2013, Cleveland hit pretty well. But again, who would have thought that the 2014 team would have one of the better offenses in the American League about halfway through the season despite Jason Kipnis missing time with injury and (to date) not playing well, Carlos Santana hitting .193, and Nick Swisher sporting a 76 wRC+? Kansas City’s ascension and Detroit’s struggles are rightfully getting the attention, but Cleveland is hanging in there. Much of the credit has to go to two players having shockingly monstrous seasons at the plate: Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley.

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Dave Wallace on Analytics and the Minor Leagues

Dave Wallace played several minor league seasons in the Indians organization as a catcher before beginning his coaching career as a staff assistant in Cleveland from 2009-10. He has moved his way through the Indians organization quickly, managing the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2011, the Class-A Lake County Captains in 2012 and the High-A Carolina Mudcats in 2013 before joining the Double-A Akron RubberDucks this year.

It’s no secret that, as a small-market ballclub, Cleveland has one of the most sabermetrically-inclined front offices in baseball alongside organizations like Oakland, Tampa Bay and Houston. After reading Alex Kaufman’s great piece on the Indians DiamondView system, I wanted to know how much of that trickled down to the minor leagues and what Wallace’s stance was with regards to analytics. Wallace mentioned he is a regular reader of FanGraphs and that one of his favorite things to do is comb through our glossary and learn about new stats. We talked about advanced numbers, their prevalence and role in the minor leagues and how he uses them as a manager:

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Trevor Bauer, Now Featuring Strikes

Trevor Bauer has had a few big things going in his favor. For one, most conspicuously, he’s long been in possession of what they call an electric arm. He’s been able to run his fastball up there in the mid-90s, and while an electric arm doesn’t automatically bring one success, it does guarantee one several opportunities. So, Bauer’s arm has been a blessing. Bauer, also, is intellectual and curious about his work, to an extreme extent. Bauer’s always willing to try new things in the name of self-improvement, and while that’s sometimes gotten him in trouble, it reflects a strong inner desire to be the best pitcher he can become.

The only problem was that Bauer didn’t throw strikes. The thing about strikes is that they can have a snowballing effect. If a guy can throw strikes, hitters will be more willing to go after balls, generating only more strikes. If a guy can’t throw strikes, hitters won’t take him so seriously, and they’ll sit on pitches down the middle. Bauer, for a while, had everything but the most important thing, and some people began to think of him as an overrated prospect. Bauer, today, has the same 2014 strike rate as Cole Hamels.

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Justin Masterson’s Immaculate Inning (And Then Some)

Last summer, I saw Joey Votto pop out.

I traveled to Chicago, as I do every summer, to enjoy the city and catch a couple Cubs games at Wrigley Field. The Cincinnati Reds were in town and Jeff Samardzija was pitching for the Cubs. In Votto’s first at-bat against Samardzija, he doubled. In his second at-bat, Votto walked. But in the fourth inning, Samardzija got Votto to pop out to third base. I immediately recognized what had happened. Nobody I was with quite understood why I was so excited. I explained to them how Joey Votto doesn’t pop out to the infield. It ended up being his only infield fly of 2013. He did it one time in 2012. He did it one time in 2011. He didn’t do it at all in 2010.

I’ve been to a ton of baseball games. I’ve never seen a pitcher throw a perfect game, or even a no-hitter. I’ve never seen a batter hit for the cycle. But I have seen Joey Votto pop out. And as lame as it may sound, I contend that pop out is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen at a baseball game in person, alongside Greg Maddux‘s 3,000th strikeoutManny Ramirez hitting three homers and Lou Pineilla kicking his hat all over the infield.

After attending Monday’s game in Cleveland between the Indians and the Boston Red Sox, I can add another statistical quirk to the list of coolest things I’ve seen in person at a baseball game: an Immaculate Inning.
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Corey Kluber: Major League Ace

I’ll begin my second post here at FanGraphs with a lazy comparison, sure to denounce any iota of credibility I’ve yet had the chance to establish.

2013-Present GS ERA FIP xFIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
David Price 37 3.59 3.08 3.08 22.2% 3.2% 44.5% 0.95
Corey Kluber 34 3.72 3.00 2.99 23.7% 5.4% 45.7% 0.80

Now, Corey Kluber isn’t David Price. We know that. But that’s over a full season’s worth of data from which to draw a conclusion, and Kluber has pretty much matched Price across the board. Price is one of the faces of baseball, who will almost certainly be cashing in for well over $100 million when he hits free agency in 2016, while Corey Kluber is mostly known as that guy who doesn’t smile.

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The Indians Are Missing The Easy Ones

Pitching and defense are inextricably intertwined, and that shouldn’t be a controversial statement. Any pitcher who isn’t striking out 100 percent of the batters he’s facing is relying on his defense for help. Any defense can only do so much to stop an opposing offense when their pitcher is giving up an endless amount of homers and line drives. It all comes together as run prevention, which is a team effort, and it’s why we have things like FIP & xFIP and de-emphasize or totally ignore things like ERA & wins that attempt to give the pitcher all of the credit (or blame).

That being the case, sometimes it’s fun to look at ERA-FIP, which shows you the gap between the two, and is a nice rough way to look at what pitching staffs are being helped (or not) by their defenses. Ideally, the teams with the biggest gaps, in either direction, should correspond to the teams with great or terrible defenses. If you look at starting rotations in 2014, you’ll see a few things stand out. First, you’ll notice that the Diamondbacks have an ERA 2.00 runs higher than their FIP, which is probably less about defense than it is about the fact that they’re a flaming dumpster fire that, if they keep things up like this, will give me a nice juicy “this is among the worst rotations ever” topic in a few days. But among teams functioning on some plane of reality, you’ll see that the Indians are the next-worst team, with an ERA 1.62 runs higher than their FIP, and that the Braves are the best, with an ERA 1.42 runs below their FIP.

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Lineup Genius in Cleveland

The Cleveland Indians weren’t supposed to make the playoffs in 2013. They did, briefly, thanks to a 10-game winning streak to end the season. But analysts, pundits and other words for sports bloggers were not impressed enough by the Indians come-from-behind success to predict a return engagement in 2014. Maybe they’re right. As of this writing, Cleveland resides in the basement of the American League Central, but they’re also just two-and-a-half games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers.

One thing seems certain: Some very smart people are working for Team Cleveland. In addition to their focus on those intangible things we’ve had such a hard time measuring — like manager influence and chemistry — the club has also made some smart decisions about the roster’s composition.
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Explaining Danny Salazar

Maybe the most fun you can have with the Danny Salazar start is by just going over the fun facts. Salazar faced the White Sox Thursday, and he’d go up against 18 batters. Six of them hit the ball fair, and six of them ended up with hits. Two batters walked, meaning ten batters struck out, in just 3.2 innings. The following facts are also true: Salazar recorded zero non-strikeout outs, and the White Sox hit to a 1.000 BABIP. So how do you explain the one extra out? Adam Eaton was gunned down at second trying to turn a single into a double. In that way, Eaton was the spoiler.

It was a conspicuously ridiculous start. You don’t need anybody to tell you nothing like that had ever happened before — you can tell that immediately by looking at the numbers. Salazar finished with a 12.27 ERA and a 0.51 xFIP. In fairness, a year ago, Joe Blanton had a start with a 13.50 ERA and a 1.51 xFIP. Roy Halladay had a start with a 13.50 ERA and a 1.58 xFIP. Over the long run, you care more about the xFIP. In the shorter run, though, how does something like this happen? How did Danny Salazar steal from what I can only assume was the Rich Harden personal notebook?

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Jason Kipnis or Matt Carpenter: A Preference Test

A few weeks ago, the Cardinals signed Matt Carpenter to a six year, $52 million contract. Today, the Indians have signed Jason Kipnis to a six year, $52.5 million contract. Both players were four years from free agency, and in essence, they both signed the same basic contract. Which makes sense, because they’re pretty similar players. Here are their career performances, side by side:

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Cleveland Goes Long With Yan Gomes

Eighteen months ago, Yan Gomes was considered the “other guy” in the deal where Cleveland strengthened its infield depth and added Mike Aviles. Cleveland made the move for Aviles after going through myriad replacements at shortstop in 2012, when Asdrubal Cabrera was injured or needed a day off. The move was also made to beef up the team’s right-handed-batting depth because the team had an American League-worst .234 team batting average and .296 wOBA against left-handed pitching. Aviles came to Cleveland with a career .276 batting average and .317 wOBA against lefties in 421 plate appearances, while Gomes had very limited exposure at the major league level.

Ben Zobrist is the exception to the thought that if you can play multiple positions, you can’t play any position. If a player is good enough at any one position, organizations will leave that player there as long as possible until skill or better talent behind that player dictate a move. The latter scenario victimized Gomes as Travis d’Arnaud was coming through the organization at a similar pace. The team exclusively used Gomes at catcher in 2009 and 2010, but then gave him 20 games at first base in Double-A New Hampshire. In 2011, Gomes got  47 games behind the plate in 83 games and d’Arnaud did a majority of the catching. In 2012, Gomes caught 39 games while spending 42 games at other positions on the field as d’Arnaud once again did most of the catching. Gomes was never ranked in the top 30 prospects by Baseball American while he was in Toronto’s organization; he was 27th in Cleveland’s rankings after his trade.

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Corey Kluber and Kluberization: Ditching the Four-Seam

If Corey Kluber‘s road to the big leagues was long and winding, the reason for his recent success might be short and simple. One day, some time in 2011, the pitcher finally gave up on his four-seam fastball and started throwing a two-seamer. And now you have the current Corey Kluber. A contrite pitcher talking about a simple change doesn’t make for a long interview, but the Corey Kluber Process might be applicable to some other young pitchers around the league.

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Danny Salazar on Returning from Surgery Too Soon

Take a look at how the Indians have handled phenom pitcher Danny Salazar the past couple of years and you instantly notice they’re doing things a little differently in Cleveland. From the long recovery time to the big innings jump, Salazar’s comeback from Tommy John surgery has been on a unique timeline. Salazar is happy to get the training wheels off this year, and before opening night, he talked with me about the long road back and some of the peculiarities of his teams’ approach.

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Is Justin Masterson Actually Being Benevolent?

Justin Masterson is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, but over the last few days, he’s made it clear that he hopes he never gets there. He wants to re-sign with the Indians, and in fact, he’s made them an offer, and one that seems pretty generous on the surface, to be honest.

According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Masterson has asked the Indians for a three or four year extension in the range of $40 to $60 million. I think we can safely assume that a three year deal would be closer to the $40 million figure and a four year deal would be closer to $60 million. Just to make the math easy, let’s say that his offer is $40 million for three years with a $5 million buyout on the fourth year, making it either 3/$45M or 4/$60M, depending on if the option is picked up. That’s the kind of structure that would make sense given the range of numbers being tossed around.

And of course those numbers pale in comparison to what the Reds just gave Homer Bailey a few weeks ago. Bailey, also set to be a free agent at the end of the year, got $90 million for five years with a $5 million buyout on a sixth year option, so the Reds either paid 5/$95M or 6/$115M to keep Bailey in Cincinnati for the long term. Even the low end of Bailey’s total guarantee is 50% higher than the high end of Masterson’s reported asking price, making this seem like an obvious no-brainer for the Indians.

I even said as much on Twitter yesterday after reading the report on his request. But the more I look at it, the less sure I am that Masterson’s offer does represent a significant discount to the Indians. I think that instead, the Bailey deal may have skewed our perceptions for what a reasonable price point looks like for this situation.

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The All Sure-Handed Team

If there are two somewhat separate skills when it comes to defense — getting to balls and converting the chances you can get to — we all know which one gets more attention. The leapers and divers get the oohs and ahs while those watching the ball all the way into the glove gets golf claps at best. It’s time to appreciate the guys that make the plays they are supposed to.

The All Sure-Handed Team.

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The Ball that Allowed for the Rest of a Miracle

I don’t even remember what I was looking up on YouTube this morning, but there, in the sidebar, was this, and it just had to be clicked on.

It was, of course, a legendary baseball game, the rare regular-season game that interests more than just fans of the two teams involved. It wasn’t supposed to be anything special from the outset, but most people understand what happened that day — the unbeatable Seattle Mariners took a 14-2 lead over the Cleveland Indians into the bottom of the seventh, and the Cleveland Indians won.

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Steamer Projects: Cleveland Indians Prospects

Earlier today, polite and Canadian and polite Marc Hulet published his 2014 organizational prospect list for the Cleveland Indians.

It goes without saying that, in composing such a list, Hulet has considered the overall future value those prospects might be expected to provide either to the Clevelanders or whatever other organizations to which they might someday belong.

What this brief post concerns isn’t overall future value, at all, but rather such value as the prospects from Hulet’s list might provide were they to play, more or less, a full major-league season in 2014.

Other prospect projections: Arizona / Baltimore / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cleveland / Colorado / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles AL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York AL / New York NL / Philadelphia / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle / Tampa Bay / Toronto.

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