As expected the Indians brought up Jeanmar Gomez for today's start and dropped one of their 6 bench players. The interesting part is who they decided to drop (it was Shelley Duncan). Moves like this are what prompt me to say that the Indians do not have winning as their number one goal. Shelley Duncan is unquestionably better than Austin Kearns in every facet of the game. He is better defensively as both have no speed or range, but at least Duncan has a better arm. He's also available at first base if absolutely necessary. Offensively, there is no comparison. Duncan his batting more than 20 points higher and is slugging 100 points more (Kearns .300, Duncan .400). In 6 less games and 20 less at bats he has 15 more RBI and 2 more home runs. He has also only struck out 28 times while Austin has struck out 40. There is no issue of roster versatility as Travis Buck is an almost identical player to Kearns (although slightly better, Buck has an OPS of .642 while Kearns is at .604). The only reason the Indians made this move is so they don't have to pay Austin Kearns not to play, which they will have to do if they release him, while Shelley Duncan, Travis Buck and others still have minor league options left. You don't win championships making moves to save money, you win championships making moves to win baseball games. The prolonged stay in AAA of Lonnie Chisenhall was also based on financial motives as the point was to keep him around for one more season before he is arbitration eligible. As soon as upper management and team ownership figures out that increased attendance follows closely with increased winning percentage, maybe they will stop making stupid baseball moves and start trying to win.no comments
It's time for the All-Star break and the 2011 have been an overall success. While some claim that the Indians have already done enough, by coming within 22 wins of last seasons total at the half way mark, I don't buy that. Last year is firmly in the past and anything can happen in the future. Past seasons performance should never keep a team from competing at its absolute best with the ultimate goal in mind. 89 games into the 2011 season, the Indians find themselves in 2nd place in the AL Central, only a half game behind the favored Detroit Tigers. This is not a mistake. The Indians didn't get any free wins and haven't played better than their record either. This isn't the 2001 Mariners who overachieved in every aspect of the game with almost an entire lineup filled with players who had career years. The team batting average is .250 and they are right in the middle of the pack as far as runs scored and allowed. This can be seen multiple ways.
First, it means the Indians are not playing beyond their abilities, meaning they will probably not have a huge let down. It also means that you probably can't expect a whole lot more out of these guys. One benefit the Indians do have going into the second half is that they were not always playing at full strength during the first half. Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot, Fausto Carmona and Matt LaPorta all missed a significant amount of time and will hopefully be able to finish out the season in full health. The worst injury still looms ahead for the Tribe with Shin-Soo Choo out until basically the end of the regular season. Another injured player that will be coming back to the team soon is Trevor Crowe. He has missed the entire season to this point with a broken wing, but should be back soon. While it is unknown how well he will be able to perform coming off an injury, he has quietly put together a couple good seasons for the Indians and would be a better replacement in right field for Choo than either Travis Buck or Austin Kearns can be. Crowe has 26 steals and 70 runs scored along with 154 hits in what amounts to just over a regular seasons worth of at bats (625).
Everyone who has watched the Indians play this season can tell you they have won as many games as they have because of their pitching. While the starting pitching has been above average and has kept the Indians in almost every game, the bullpen has been magnificent on a possibly historical level. The Indians best pitchers in terms of ERA (Justin Masterson, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Josh Judy are all under 3.00) have combined for an ERA of 2.38 in 299 innings pitching. Josh Tomlin, Alex White and Frank Herrmann all have ERAs under 4.00 as well. Smith deserves as special notation as he has only allowed 3 runs this season in 31.2 innings for an ERA of 0.85. Masterson has by far been the best starter, holding an ERA of 2.64 and leads the all starters in home runs allowed (4) and strikeouts (87). Home runs have been a slight problem for the starting staff in general with every other pitcher giving up at least 10 so far this season.
The Indians have had so many injuries during the early part of the season that projecting stats for the rest of the season difficult. I did a straight extrapolation of each starter's stats who I think will finish the rest of the season as a starter. To figure out the projected games played for each player I assumed that all injuries are 100% healed and no player will be injured for the rest of the season. While this is wishful thinking, there is no way to predict injuries. I then took the percent of games played when each player was able and used that for the rest of 2011. Adding those projected end of season stats with the ones that already happened looks a little something like this:
While none of these players are bordering on records, their numbers will be respectable if they can keep up the pace and get near these numbers. 2011 has been a year of the pitcher all around the Majors so, unless your name is Jose Bautista, you can't expect a whole lot. Major League pitching has been so amazing this season that Justin Masterson and his 2.64 ERA (7th in the AL) did not even make the All-Star team even though 6 pitchers dropped out of the game due to injury or because they started on Sunday. Asdrubal Cabrera has done the best so far of all the Indians hitters, which earned him his All-Star Game start, and his numbers are very good for a short stop, but even they are no where near great. Cabrera is the one veteran who is having a career year and has already crushed most of his career highs and will certainly beat the rest by the end of the year.
As far as the rest of the season goes, no one can really tell. The Indians have placed themselves in strong contention for the Central Division crown and will be able to control their own destiny for the rest of the season. The Tribe has 16 series against other Central Division teams out of the 23 left in the season. The Twins and Royals seem to have removed themselves from contention, but will still remain hard teams to beat for the rest of the season. Right now the Indians 4.29 runs allowed per game is the best since 2005 (3.96 RA/G) and better than every team in the 90's except for 1995 (4.22). If they can keep up this amazing pitching combined with the return of Alex White and can increase the level of the offense now that everybody is healthy (except Choo) there is no reason the Indians won't be able to clinch this thing by September 1st.no comments
The Indians have done a lot of roster shuffling in the past weeks, so Burning River Baseball will try to sort it all out for you. Most of this began less than a month ago, on June 17th, when Travis Hafner came off the disabled list. To make room for Hafner, Travis Buck sent down to AAA. The next day Matt LaPorta was injurred, marking the return of Buck. Buck's stay was short lived as 6 games later he was again sent down to AAA for Shelley Duncan. This was also a one day trip as Shin-Soo Choo was added to the disabled list the next day after he was hit by a pitch. Two days later Lonnie Chisenhall made his Major League debut and the corresponding roster move lead to the release of veteran infielder Adam Everett. Two days after that Chris Perez was placed on the bereavement list and Josh Judy was promoted from AAA for the second time this season. After two days on bereavement, Perez returned to take the place of Fausto Carmona who hurt himself running the bases and was added to the 15 day DL. A few days after that Matt LaPorta returned from his base running injury and took Josh Judy's spot on the roster as he was returned to the Clippers. Yesterday, Zach McAllister was brought up to make a spot start for Carmona, so Cord Phelps was sent back to Columbus. This move left the Indians without any infield depth so as soon as McAllister's night was over, he was returned to AAA to make room for super utility player Luis Valbuena.
I guess the only point of all this is that Adam Everett is gone and Luis Valbuena is here. But now you know.
This will be Valbuena's second stint on the Indians this season, although he did not get into a game during his last time up. As stated the last time he was brought up, Luis had a fantastic Spring and has been a star on an amazing Clippers team. Valbuena is hitting .313/.379/.511 with 12 home runs and 56 RBI. While he has still not figured out base running (3 times caught stealing in 6 attempts) his real asset is the ability to play almost every position. The Indians can confidently place him at 2B, SS, 3B or any outfield spot and not have to worry about using a below average player there. Truthfully, Jason Kipnis is having a slightly better season in almost every offensive category, but the Indians must want Valbuena's veteran, known ability rather than risk bringing another rookie up right now. I would really like to see Valbuena get a real chance to proove himself this time, as he has shown glimpses of possible 20/20 talent over his 3 years with the Indians. I would hate to see the Indians give up on him and have him turn into a star, or even a good utility player on some other team.no comments
Chris Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera were each announced as American League All-Stars this morning. There is no question that both of these players are extremely deserving of the honor, however, that is not necessarily true of the rest of the team.
Asdrubal Cabrera currently leads all American League short stops in at bats (337), hits (98), runs (53), doubles (21), home runs (14 tied), RBI (49). He is second in triples (3 tied), batting average (.291) and slugging percent (.496), third in OBP (.341) and fourth in steals (12). In fact there is only one other short stop even playing in the same league as Asdrubal and that is Jhonny Peralta. The former Indians SS/3B is leading in almost every catergory that Asdrubal is not. The only other shortstop on the American League team is starter Derek Jeter who was voted in by the fans. By my account he is at best the 8th best shortstop in the American League this season, but when you ask the fans to vote, the team with the most fans will get the most players in. Jeter is just one of the four Yankee starters, most of whom do not even belong in the game at all. Including bench players, the Yankees have 6 total players on the team and yet the number one snub named by the TBS team that announced the rosters was C.C. Sabathia. Hopefully AL manager Ron Washington will realize this mistake and play Asdrubal for most of the game.
Chris Perez is currently third in saves with 19 and only has one blown save, which is two less than the two closers ahead of him. His ERA of 2.37 is third among regular closers, behind only Mariano Rivera and Kyle Farnsworth. His 8 runs allowed are less than all other closers except Rivera and his 2 wins are more than any other closer outside of Farnsworth and Joakim Soria. All four closers with 19 or more saves made the All-Star team this year, including Perez, Rivera, Brandon League and Jose Valverde. The bullpen as a whole is very strong and well picked. While Tony Sipp and Vinnie Pestano deserved consideration, you can't go wrong Aaron Crow and the closers already mentioned. Crow is the only Royal on the team so he needed to go.
The only player on the Indians that could possibly be considered snubbed is Justin Masterson, who has a 2.85 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 113.2 innings pitched. Masterson was hurt by the large amount of great starters this season and the fact that he was unable to amass a large win total due to poor run support. Overall, Indians fans should be very happy with two players in the All-Star game as it has been two years since they have had that many. The next step is getting a starter voted in for the first time since Juan Gonzalez in 2001, but if the Indians keep playing well and making a name for themselves, this will eventually happen.no comments
Finally, Lonnie Chisenhall will make his Major League debut for the Cleveland Indians at third base. The most highly touted Indians prospect since Victor Martinez, was called up today and will be in the starting line up against the Arizona Diamondbacks. We here at Burning River Baseball are so excited that we flew our top photographer out to Phoenix to catch his Major League debut in person. Chisenhall was the top hitter in AAA over the last week and hopefully he will remain hot in the pros. Since his recent return from a concussion, Lonnie has hit .429 with two home runs, a triple and 14 RBI. Chisenhall will most likely immediately become the starting third base man for the Tribe, moving Jack Hannahan to a back-up role at both third and first. To make the move, the Indians designated Adam Everett for assignment. This improves the overall team a lot more than it would have to remove Travis Buck or Shelley Duncan, as Everett was almost useless at the plate, only bringing his exceptional defense to the team. With Hannahan now available as a bench player, the Indians are three players deep at every infield position and no longer need a player whose only specialty is defense. Come back tonight to check out a detailed report of Chisenhall's first game on the Tribe.no comments
For the second time in less than a week, Travis Buck spent just one day in AAA due to an injury. This time it was Shin-Soo Choo breaking his left thumb on a pitch thrown by Jonathan Sanchez. This couldn't have come at a much worse time as Choo had been hitting much better of late with a .370 batting average over his last eight games. This will decimate the batting order again, removing the number four or five hitter and making everyone else move up. Since Matt LaPorta is still on the DL with his injury it makes it even worse as the bottom of the lineup will now have at least two backup players in it every day. This will also cripple the outfield defense as there is no right fielder with the range or arm of Choo. Choo has saved at least 10 runs this year either by actually throwing them out on the bases or by scaring them into not scoring. There is no one else on the entire team that has that kind of arm strength. There is no estimate on his return time at this moment, but I would expect him to miss at least a month.no comments
Travis Buck was demoted to AAA Columbus earlier this afternoon to make room for the return of Shelley Duncan. This move is most certainly being made to allow Carlos Santana to move back behind the plate and to keep Orlando Cabrera from having to play third. The only surprise here is that this didn't happen a few days ago when Matt LaPorta was sent to the disabled list with his injured "right lower leg." This will also add an extra pinch hitter since currently the Indians are only carrying three extra batters (Lou Marson, Adam Everett and Orlando Cabrera) and will be playing the next 10 games in National League parks. Shelley Duncan has been the Indians best pinch-hitter over the past two seasons and will most likely be used as the second option behind Travis Hafner during the road trip. The news is sad for Buck who recently broke an 0-23 spell with an RBI single and has played well in his last two games. So goes the life of a man with minor league options.no comments
This year's utter dominance by the bullpen makes you think one thing. Where does this one rank against the best Indians relievers of all time? So far this year the "Bullpen Mafia" has an league leading ERA of 2.99, 8 points better than the second place Yankees. This is in spite of having multiple relievers with ERAs of over 5. Since all relief corps have these mop up pitchers and call ups, I will be only comparing the best of the best on each team, the closers and set up men, to find where the 2011 bullpen ranks among the best Indians pens ever.
There are a couple parameters I am using to see which pitchers are the best. First, I'm only comparing bullpens since 1943 as this is the first time the Indians used a relief pitcher as their top closer (Joe Heving). Before this time starting pitchers did the majority of the bullpen work with the rest of the bullpen being made of the 5th-8th best pitchers rather than highly talented specialized short inning pitchers. Also, I will not be using saves, which weren't really considered relevant until the late 1980's and holds, which weren't even recorded until the 1990's. Instead I will compare pitchers using rate stats, so I don't have to extrapolate what this years bullpen will do for the rest of the season. The main stats I'm using are ERA [(ER*9)/IP], WHIP [(BB+H)/IP], batting average against [H/(IP*3+H)] and strike outs per 9 innings [(K*9)/IP].
Pitchers have been split between closers and other relievers as the closer should be the best pitcher in the bullpen. For a frame of reference, the best relief ERA for a closer in a single season was Jose Mesa in 1995 with a 1.13. In that season he gave up 8 runs, which is the same amount that Chris Perez has given up in about half a season in 2011. The top batting average against for a reliever is held by Vinnie Pestano so far this season with a .138. The top relief WHIP is held by Rafael Betancourt with his .759 in 2007. This means that during the entire season of 2007, Betancourt allowed 3 base runners every 4 innings. The top K/9 relief pitcher was George Zuverink in 1951, when he struck out 40 in 25.1 innings for a K/9 of 14.3. To make things a little more simple, I've taken the top 6 bullpens by ranking all time in these stats and will compare them to find which is the best all time. These six are 1995, 2007, 2011, 1976, 2005 and 1954.
There is no surprise that the years that had the best bullpens were some of the greatest years in Indians history. Two of these six years (1954 and 1995) ended in World Series for the Tribe, while 2007 ended one game short of the World Series. The worst season listed was 1976 when the Indians went 81-78. Every other season saw the Indians win at least 93 games and includes the top two teams in terms of winning percentage in Indians history. This goes well to illustrate the importance of a good bullpen in the modern age of baseball.
Each bullpen seems to be based around one or two fantastic pitchers, with a few other above average pitchers filling out the rest. Every pitcher listed below has a WHIP of under 1.30, a batting average against below .240, an ERA below 2.81 with the exception of Joe Borowski, who was probably the worst pitcher on the 2007 team outside of Edward Mujica and Roberto Hernandez. Of these pitchers, there were two among the top ten all time in every rate stat measured. These two pitchers are Dave LaRoche in 1976 and Vinnie Pestano in 2011. Pestano is exceptionally impressive as he ranks 3rd in ERA (1.33), 1st in BAA (.138), and 2nd in WHIP (.852) and K/9 (12.3) of all Indians non closing relievers since 1943. His numbers are so outrageous that if he maintains this pace, he will have the greatest single season of any Indians relief pitcher ever. What is most interesting about the 2011 team, is that while most of the teams in Indians history had only 2 to 4 stand out pitchers, this bullpen has 5.
The 2007 team can be thrown out of the discussion for best bullpen ever, simply because of the inclusion of Joe Borowski. While Raffy left and Raffy right may have had the best season by 2 set up men ever, Borowski ruined their nights on more than one occasion, blowing 8 saves and taking 5 losses along with an ERA of over 5. The 1954 team can also be removed because they simply did not use their pitchers enough. The 1954 team had 77 complete games, making relief pitching almost unneccessary. Their relief pitchers that are listed pitched almost the same amount of games in an entire (be it short) season as the 2011 pitchers have in less than half a season.
Unquestionably, the best closer listed and in Indians history was Jose Mesa in 1995. While both Mesa and Eric Plunk have come under scrutiny for their downfalls in the playoffs, you can't deny their performances during the regular season in 1995. Two other stand out pitchers on these teams are Bob Howry, who set the Indians record for appearances in 2005 with 79 and Rafael Perez, who is one of only two pitchers to appear on two separate great bullpens. While his 2007 effort has already been removed from contention, his numbers in 2011 are even better to this point then they were in that year. Another impressive stat about the 2011 bullpen is they have the number 1, 2 and 3 relief pitchers all time in earned run average. On this stat alone, they could be considered the best ever, as long as they can maintain for the rest of the season.
In my opinion, the 1995 team had the best bullpen of those listed. They are the only team that had a closer who was by far the best pitcher in the pen and they still had plenty of strong pitchers to fill around him. Along with Julian Tavarez and Eric Plunk, the 1995 team also had Jim Poole and lefty specialist Paul Assemacher. The pen was so deep, that Assemacher was able to be used so rarely that he averaged only 2 outs per appearance over his career, the least amount of IP/G of all Indians pitchers ever. The only other true competitor for the title is the 2011 team, but since they have only played half a season, it is unfair to really compare ERA and WHIP type stats. If they can keep it up, and Chris Perez can get himself into a few more save opportunities, this may become known as the best back-end of a bullpen in Indians history.
(The results of this discussion can be found here.)no comments
Today, according to the Tribe Insider on twitter, the Indians replaced hitting coach Jon Nunnally with Bruce Fields. Nunnally had been the Indians hitting coach since the beginning of the 2010 season and had been with the team since 2006. Before today, Fields was the minor league hitting coordinator for all levels. Since no official announcement has been made as of yet, it is only speculative why Nunnally was replaced. One possible reason is that the Indians hitters have struggled for the most part this season, with only three hitters batting over .250 right now. This move does not seem as impulsive as it could have been however, as it comes after the Indians have won 2 out of the last 3 games and did not occur over their long losing streak. The hitting coach is one of the hardest position to judge as batting struggles can base around so many different things. We just have to trust Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro know what they're doing and made the right move.no comments
The Columbus Clippers are 42-22, 22 games over .500 and on top of the entire International League in AAA. This is a testament to them and the fact that their team is made up almost entirely of Major League ready talent. The Clip Show roster includes former pros, Hector Ambriz, Justin Germano, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Josh Judy, Jensen Lewis, Anthony Reyes, Luke Carlin, Jason Donald, Nick Johnson, Luis Valbuena, Ezequiel Carrera and Josh Rodriguez. That makes 13 of the 29 players of the Clippers roster former Major Leaguers. Some of these players have just been on the Indians this season, but others like Lewis, Reyes, Johnson and Valbuena have had careers more than a couple years long. Along with those players with MLB experience, many of the other players are completely ready for the Major Leagues. This includes, Jerad Head, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Chad Huffman, Zach McAllister, Scott Barnes and Zach Putnam.
Value over replacement player (VORP) is an interesting and useful stat. It is a very complicated aggregate of a whole slew of stats, some conventional and others not. It is used to compare current Major League players with average replacement players, or all those players listed in the first paragraph. A VORP of 0 means that player is roughly the same as any random player you could pluck out of AAA.
Austin Kearns currently has a VORP of -1.1, ranking him 50th in the Majors among left-fielders. There are only 30 teams, so this means at least 20 ML back-up left-fielders are better than him. A couple random LF better than Kearns in VORP are Ryan Ludwick (7.3), Travis Buck (4.6) and Milton Bradley (3.2). It's good news, I guess, that Kearns is still better than Jason Michaels who has a VORP of -2.7. For those who like conventional stats, Kearns is hitting a line of .195/.290/.280. The .195 batting average is about 20 points lower than the next worst Indian, Lou Marson's, batting average.
Kearns other low point (other than being one of the worst offensive players in the league) is his defense. It is hard to point at any particular stats that show this other than simply watching him play. Kearns has awful instincts and has missed multiple catches going back on balls that Michael Brantley could have made without trying. Kearns has made a couple diving plays in the outfield this year, which some look at as impressive plays, but they are always on balls that could have been caught without the dive by a faster player, like Brantley or Travis Buck. While he has yet to make an official error this season, Austin has cost the Indians more than a couple runs than Brantley would have, due to his lack of speed, outfield instincts and arm strength. In the last game against the Yankees alone, Kearns cost the team at least 2 runs, possibly more, by allowing a double to Alex Rodriguez that should have been caught, then was unable to throw out any runners at the plate, even though he had multiple easy chances.
Due to the Indians position of lacking a true DH at the moment, Kearns could be released for a player at any position. With Grady Sizemore back to starting every day, Brantley in left and Shin-Soo Choo rarely needing a day off in right, Travis Buck can more than take care of the off days. With Orlando Cabrera no longer starting in the field, he is available to DH, meaning that the Indians don't even need to bring up a player that is ready to start, just one who will not hurt the team when he is used.
Who the Indians should bring up depends on where they think the biggest holes are on the team. Until a few days ago, the two weakest positions for the Tribe were second and third base, but both of these have been taken care of, at least temporarily, with the advancement of Cord Phelps and the improved play of Jack Hannahan. First base is a weakness, because Matt LaPorta has no back up outside of Carlos Santana, meaning his real back-up is Lou Marson, and he only has a VORP of 4.4. Designated hitter is the other obvious weakness, but this will be filled as soon as 4 days from now when Travis Hafner returns from the disabled list. The main choices in AAA ready to be advanced are Nick Johnson, Jerad Head, Jason Kipnis and Chad Huffman.
While Johnson has yet to prove himself in AAA, he has a long Major League track record and would fill in better than any other player at the first base, DH role. Head and Huffman are both outfielders, but have spent some time at other positions. Head has played a couple games at third, while Huffman has spend considerable time at first. This makes Huffman the more desirable of the two as the Indians don't need another outfielder right now. Most likely, Kipnis will have to wait until another infielder is demoted, meaning the failure of Cord Phelps or whenever the Indians tire of Adam Everett's weak bat. The best move in my mind would be to bring up Huffman immediately and release Kearns. I am aware of the emotional reasons Kearns returned to Cleveland, but the fact is he is not producing. With the plethora of young outfielders the Indians have available, the signing of Kearns didn't really make sense in the first place, but now it is just plain irresponsible to continue to put him in the field.no comments