Today marked the first Spring Training game in sunny Goodyear, Arizona. Over 6,000 fans watched as the Cincinnati Reds played host to the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark. The first pitch of the game came at 1:11 MST, as Michael Brantley took as called strike from Reds pitcher Mike Leake. The Indians took an early lead in the top of the first inning after Brantley led off the game with a double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Santana. The Indians added another run in the second inning after Jason Kipnis singled and later scored on a Lonnie Chisenhall single. David Huff started for the Tribe, pitching two solid innings, giving up just 2 singles. The Indians added two more runs in the third inning when Carlos Santana (who reached on a single) scored on an RBI double by Casey Kotchman and Travis Hafner (who reached on a single) scored on a sacrifice fly by Kipnis. Vinnie Pestano came on to pitch in the third inning, retiring the Reds in order. The Reds came back to tie the game in the fourth inning, after pounding several singles and doubles off Indians pitcher Frank Herrmann. After the fifth inning, all the the game's starters left the game. After nine innings of play, the Indians and Reds ended in a 6-6 tie.no comments
Now that pitchers, catchers and yes, even the hitters have arrived to spring training throwing, hitting and running, injuries are going to occur. One of the first players of fantasy importance to get hurt was closer Chris Perez, who will be out until perhaps early April. Perez didn't rank as one of my top 20 closers for the pending season, as there were numerous red flags in his 36-save season from 2011, notably with strikeout rate, but he still seemed relatively safe in his role.
But this is what happens in late-February and March and the general result can be a good one for fantasy owners. In this case, Perez goes from overrated to … yep, a potential bargain, if he drops enough in your draft.
Vinnie Pestano was clearly -- if you remove saves from the equation -- the team's top relief pitcher in 2011, and he's likely to inherit closing duties until Perez returns. We don't know for sure that Perez will miss Opening Day, but this is a reminder that saves often result from opportunity, not performance. Perez fanned 39 hitters (in 59 2/3 innings) in 2011. He saved 36 games. I don't need to remind former Ryan Franklin owners in the fantasy realm that while strikeout rate doesn't tell us everything, it tells us enough that Perez wasn't the safest closer heading into 2012.
Pestano dominated right-handed hitters in 2011, permitting a .115 batting average, and while he needs work against lefties, let's just say if the Tribe let him close in 2012, he too could save 36 games. I don't think that's going to happen; Perez's injury doesn't seem to be a long-term issue, and since he's got that closer history, it's likely the team will give him the job whenever he is ready.
Knowing how potentially shaky Perez was even before the injury (high walk rate, .240 BABIP against), Pestano was on that list. For now, I'd still draft Perez over Pestano, because saves drive the bus in standard fantasy leagues more than effective relief pitching. Lower the season expectations for Perez a bit, perhaps to 25-30 saves, but he should remain attractive for the later rounds in a 10- or 12-team format, probably right where the likes of Twins right-hander Matt Capps, Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Sergio Santos and Dodgers right-hander Javy Guera are going. There's some degree of doubt with each of them as well.
Vinnie Pestanono comments
They always say that pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training, but how can you believe them? We here at Burning River Baseball have terrible quality video and decent quality photos proving that the Cleveland Indians players have actually reported to Goodyear, Arizona. As many as tens of fans watched as Indians starters and relievers participated in the most the important training there is, PFP. After the pitchers moved to the bullpen to throw some real pitches while the catchers came out to hit a little batting practice. The group in the video below consists of all the potential starters in the upcoming season. Along with Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Tomlin were new-comers Kevin Slowey and Derek Lowe as well as Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff and Zach McAllister.
For pictures in addition to the video, check out my flickr page here. This page will be updated as I take more pictures.no comments
The Tribe recently signed veteran shortstop Cristian Guzman to a one-year deal.
Talk about doubling down: after already getting a four-year, $16.8 million deal from former Nationals GM Jim Bowden before the 2005 season, Guzman managed to have 18 months of relatively useful production into a two-year, $16 million extension signed during the 2008 season. The ink on the contract was hardly dry before he reverted to his "out-making" ways. His ephemeral offensive value had been constructed on a short-term jump in his line-drive rates and the concurrently higher BABIPs they produced, but walking in fewer than three percent of his plate appearances last year—a rate only surpassed in the NL by the swingin’ comedy team of Miggy and Bengie—guaranteed that he would once again show up on most “OBP sinkhole” lists. The Nationals once considerd a move across the keystone to hide his ever-decreasing range. It’s safe to say 2010 was his true level of production.
According to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Guzman will compete for the utility infielder's job. His last year in the big leagues was 2010, when he played for the Nationals and Texas. The switch-hitter batted .266 (97-for-365) with two homers and 26 RBI. He played shortstop, second base and right field. Guzman said he had rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder three years ago and it prevented him from playing last year. He spent the first six years of his career as the Twins' shortstop where Indians fans hated him for turning hard ground balls in the Baggie-Domes rock hard carpet into "seeing eye" singles.
Cristian Guzman will compete for a spot on the 25 man roster.no comments
Wow, what a winter it has been for ground ball pitchers! You know times are tough when Livan Hernandez and Jon Garland settle for minor-league deals. Aaron Harang got a comfy two-year deal, but that alone can’t fund all the organization getaways and giveaways that come with being a card-carrying innings eater. At least Garland’s minor-league deal is sensible, as it comes on the heels of right shoulder surgery. Some teams seemingly subscribe to the motto that “elbows heal, shoulders kill,” so it isn’t surprising that it took until the final week before camp for Garland to latch on.
When right, Garland is your average pitch-to-contact innings sponge, having tossed fewer than 180 innings in a season in 2011 for just the first time since 2001—and even then, he completed more than 150 innings between the majors and minors. He won’t give a team many strikeouts (he has topped six strikeouts per nine just once in his career), and his strikeout-to-walk rates have sat at below 2.0 in each of the past five seasons, meaning shiny peripherals are unlikely too. What Garland will give you is 30-plus starts and more than 60 percent quality starts by changing speeds and locations and by getting batters to beat the ball into the ground.
The Tribe was primed to trot out a groundball-heavy rotation prior to Roberto Heredia’s arrest. Should Garland return to form, he could add some more ground balls to a staff that already includes Heredia (should he return this season), Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Another storyline to watch for is if Garland can out-pitch Heredia (again, should he be allowed to return to the States). Bill James' and ZIPS projections knows not of Garland’s surgery, but Garland’s projected 4.39 earned run average is close to Carmona’s 4.33 figure. Heck, is it even silly to think Garland may have out-pitched Carmona over the past three seasons?
* QS- Quality Startno comments
It’s no secret that the Indians have been disappointed in Matt LaPorta‘s production and development, and last they took a step towards replacing him at first base.
Casey Kotchman has been the butt of many jokes over the last few seasons, which tends to happen when you’re first baseman that produces just a .304 wOBA with a .125 SLG in nearly 1,500 plate appearances across a three-year stretch like Kotchman did from 2008-2010. He did give the Rays 563 quality plate appearances last season — .351 wOBA and a 125 wRC+ — after coming up in April to replace the suddenly retired Manny Ramirez. That’s the Kotchman the Tribe hope they agreed to sign this afternoon.
As you can see in the graph below, there has been no significant change in the first baseman’s batted ball profile over the last few seasons…
There’s nothing outrageous there that would support his .333 BABIP last season compared to the .277 mark he put up from 2004-2010. I don’t want to take the easy way out and call it good luck, but it is something to be mindful of going forward. It’s possible that many of those ground balls that skirted through the turf infield in Tropicana Field will be slowed down enough by natural grass that fielders will be able to make a play on them, which would do a number on his BABIP and production. For what it’s worth, Kotchman had a .250 BABIP on ground balls last year compared to the .237 league average and his .194 career mark. He also had an operation on his eye last winter, which is definitely worth mentioning.
Kotchman is a very strong gloveman at first base, so he will improve the defense. He’ll also make the lineup even more left-handed than it already is, with switch-hitters Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera representing the team’s only everyday threats from the right side. That can be problematic for a team trying to make a run at a division title, and I can’t help but think Derrek Lee might have been a better fit. Assuming the money isn’t outrageous — and there’s no reason to think it will be — the Indians have upgraded their defense and potentially the offense if the 28-year-old made real improvement last season.
(stats courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)
Casey Kotchmanno comments
With the New England Patriots representing the AFC in the Super Bowl with 18 (!) undrafted free agents on their roster, I have decided to take the next three Sundays to analyze some Tribe offseaon aquisitions. I have decided to focus on the moves that might not have been a newsworthy headline splash, but those that could mean the Indians will be playing in October.
Russ Canzler, the 2011 International League MVP, figured to play at Triple-A Durham again next year after the Tampa Bay Rays signed Luke Scott to DH and Carlos Pena to play first base. But the Indians picked him up for cash after Tampa DFA’d Canzler, adding right-handed punch to a lefty-laden club.
So, Canzler, who will turn 26 in April, has the chance to free himself from the infamous lable of the “Quad-A” label. His power is impressive, he may well be the Tribe's best option at first and his versatility will help him make the squad this spring, but putting his minor league numbers in greater context removes some of the sheen from his award-winning slugging.
Canzler lasted 906 picks into the 2004 draft, finally getting popped by the Chicago Cubs in the 30th round out of a Pennsylvania high school. It took him three years to reach a full-season league, and the 6-2, 220 pound hitter didn’t exactly wallop pitchers once he got to A-Ball. Canzler posted a .697 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the Low-A Midwest League in 2007 and a .779 OPS in the High-A Florida State League in 2008-2009. Those are pitcher-friendly environments, but a guy mostly playing first base isn’t going to climb prospect lists with those stats.
However, his fortunes began to change upon a mid-May promotion to the Double-A Southern League. During the rest of 2009 and in 2010, Canzler hit .276/.362/.500 in 678 plate appearances with the Tennessee Smokies, with his .862 OPS beating the league average by a full 20 percent. Signed to a minor league deal by the Rays last winter, Canzler fared even better with the Bulls while winning International League hardware in 2011. He swatted 18 home runs with a .314/.401/.530 line in 549 PA, splitting time more evenly among the four corner spots. Canzler’s .930 OPS ranked fourth in the IL behind Rever Plouffe and Denis Phipps (none of whom spent the whole season in Triple-A) and was 28 percent better than the league average.
Canzler has crushed minor league pitching at the upper levels, yet he has just five big league plate appearances to his name and isn’t guaranteed a roster spot in 2012, either. Why might teams be skeptical about how his bat translates to the highest level?
First question on the list on Canzler’s resume is his age. He lit up Double-A at age 23-24 and Triple-A at age 25. Sure, it’s not like he was the Jamie Moyer of the Southern and International Leagues, but that’s long in the tooth at those levels for a legitimate prospect. If Canzler makes it to the Prog next year, he’ll be a rookie at age 26. The average age for rookie position players in 2011 was 23.8. Canzler is a few years older than the typical MLB newcomer, and he likely has less upside and development time remaining. What you see is basically what you get.
Another concern is park factors. Canzler hit for a lot of power, but he also benefited by playing in two parks that give a big boost to right-handed sluggers. Smokies Park (AA) has a 124 HR park factor for righty hitters, according to StatCorner. Durham Bulls Athletic Park (AAA) is even more kind to righty power, with a 142 HR park factor. Canzler did actually hit better on the road (.327/.416/.539) than at home (.303/.381/.522) in 2011, so perhaps he’s not just a product of Durham. Still, he won’t find Progressive Field (87 HR park factor for righties) near as cozy.
One other quibble with Canzler is his contact rate. He struck out 20% of the time in the Southern League, which was about 11 percent higher than the league average. In Triple-A, his 23.5% punch out rate was 19 percent above the International League average. K’s don’t necessarily preclude a hitter from having success, but Canzler’s whiffs are concerning. If you’re coming up empty or watching strike three go by that often in Triple-A, what happens when you have to time Justin Verlander‘s fastball or fight off a Chris Sale slider? With a K rate that high, it’s going to be tough for Canzler to keep his average above the .250 range. That puts a big burden on his secondary skills, which are good but hardly star-level.
Canzler’s versatility and pop give him a chance at playing time in Cleveland, but he has minor league options remaining and could open the year back in Columbus.
(all stats courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)
( photo courtesy of TBO.com)no comments
Note: This Indians argument occured earlier this week, before the Casey Kotchman signing. Please disregard all nonsense involving Matt LaPorta as a first baseman. For a more recent outlook on the firstbase situation, check here.
Joe: Last week we discussed the state of the Indians outfield going into Spring Traning. This week we'll take on the infield. Let's start with the easiest question first. Who's on first?
Mike: If we had the answer, we would have a desk next to Antonetti and Chernoff. Will it be Matt LaPorta, overcoming 2½ years of mediocrity? Or an in-house hybrid of LaPorta, Carlos Santana, Shelley Duncan and others?
Perhaps the Indians will eventually land that elusive big bat they've been chasing to play first. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder weren't in the picture because of money, but so far they've missed on Carlos Pena and others. It might come down to another late February addition like [Orlando] Cabrera last year or Russell Branyan the year before.
Joe: I hope not. I'm really tired of bringing in players that aren't as good as the one's already here. I've been a huge "LaPorta Supporta (TM)" for the last couple years, but my patience is being run thin. As long as the final decision doesn't involve more Lou Marson, I'd be willing to give anything a shot at this point.
Mike: The LaPorta experiment for all intents and purposes is over. You can afford to plug him in at first when you are not expected to contend for the playoffs but not in the current situation. He will have to earn 1B back by contributing when he plays two or three times a week. Also, when you look at the Tigers who have Prince and Miguel Cabrera at the corners, the Indians have to be that much better up the middle (at least offensively).
Joe: The Indians have always been a little abnormal in where the offense comes from. This is probably due to the fact that they can't afford good corner hitters. Next year, the most important infielders offensively will probably be Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis at the top of the lineup. Apparently Manny Acta isn't expecting much from Lonnie Chisenhall since he is giving Jack Hannahan an even shot at the third base job.
Mike: Did you watch Hannahan play third defensively last year. He looked like Scott Rolen in his prime. And with a staff of groundball pitchers in the rotation, he will be very valuable. Did Chisenhall really do anything that said he was ready to play third base on a contending team last year?
Joe: Chisenhall is already better offensively and has more upside. What is the point in waiting for a player to come around for 3-5 years, then when he does pushing him aside for a player with no present or future. Remember Brandon Phillips?
Mike: Who? Never heard of him. Right now, Chisenhall is a project and risky to start at third on a contending team. He needs to get some work at Columbus defensively before he is handed the keys. Why do you think they re-signed Jack?
Joe: There was no reason not to. He's a cheap arbitration eligible player who can play two positions that the Indians aren't deep at. He should be on the team, just not the starter. Here's another name that I feel is in the same situation, how do you feel about Jason Donald?
Mike: Very good defensive infielder who's best position looks like SS. He sort of reminds me of Ben Zobrist of the Rays: versatile and a good clean-up hitter. I think he will become one of the most valuable members of the team as the season begins. Especially if the Indians feel they cannot afford Asdrubal and decide to trade him for a big time first baseman. Yeah, I just started my own rumor.
Joe: You're a nut. I'm going to ignore that and allow you to expand on your love affair with Lou Marson as well.
Mike: Show me a stat that shows Asdrubal as one of the better defensive SS's in the game. they can save money by trading Asdrubal, plugging in Donald at SS (he is better defensively) and possibly gain offensively by adding a big bat.
Joe: Just stop. If it weren't for Asdrubal last season the Indians would never had contended. There has never been a good Indians team without a great short stop. From Joe Sewell and Lou Boudreau to Omar, being strong up the middle isn't just a matter of pride, but of utmost importance to putting a good team on the field. There is not a bigger bat in the league that the Indians could get for Asdrubal and bringing it up is blasphemous.
Mike: Ok name the Cardinals SS last year. oh ok. Anyway...sorry.
Joe: You missed your chance to dote upon #LouMar. So I get to tell you how Carlos Santana is the second most important part of the Indians offense and to reiterate that he needs to stay behind the plate as I wrote about a month or so ago.
Mike: I agree. He has more value behind the plate. But he will get some at-bats at first and our own pickin' machine Lou Marson will get some time behind the plate.
Can sweet Lou play first too?
Joe: No he can't. Here is the list of who is allowed to play first base in order: LaPorta, Santana, Shelley Duncan and Jack Hannahan. Only if Russ Canzler turns out to be something or some new names appear will the situation change.
Mike: Our lack of a first baseman really depresses me. You see, I even resort to extremes by trading Asdrubal. I think there are young, promising 1B out there that could be targeted: Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak just to name a few... are you not as scared as I am?
Joe: If you're scared get a dog. I think that's enough rambling for one night. So just remember, "We are all Kipnisses."no comments
The Indians signed 8 year veteran first baseman Casey Kotchman to a one year deal today worth a reported $3 million. The Indians have been linked to Kotchman all off season because signing him made more sense than any other player. Along with his cheap price, his defensive talent is what really makes this a good deal. Offensively, he is worth about the same as Matt LaPorta, giving up a little power for greater consistency at the plate, but defensively, there is a huge difference. In three seasons, LaPorta has made more errors at first (12) than Kotchman has in his entire eight year career (11). A strong defense looks to be a major part of the Indians strategy going into 2012 with a great bullpen and above average defensive players at every position. First base is especially important, because if Asdrubal is going to keep making plays like these, he can't be worried about whether or not the first baseman is going to catch the ball.
Kotchman had the best offensive season of his career last year, breaking into the top ten in the American League in batting average and on base percentage. Most people probably remember him from his time with the Angels, but he has moved around a lot of late, playing with the Braves, Red Sox, Mariners and finally Tampa Bay in 2011. Since this is just a one year deal, it will allow Matt LaPorta to go back to AAA Columbus to try to find his swing, while allowing him a light at the end of the tunnel. If somehow he can get back to the way he used to play in the minors, the starting firstbaseman's job for 2013 could still be his. Either way, Indians fans can finally relax as the question mark that has been sitting on first all season has been replaced by a Kotchmanmark.no comments
The relief market is well known for unusual activity during the off-season. For example, the Philadelphia Phillies made a head-turning move with its signing of Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract this year. Since then, Philadelphia’s former closer, Ryan Madson, signed a one-year deal worth around $8 million with the Reds — and their former, former closer, Brad Lidge, just just a one-year, $1 million agreement with the Nationals.
In addition to those three relievers just mentioned, Matt Capps received a $4.75 million salary to return to the Twins, and Fernando Rodney got $2 million from the Moneyball Rays. But one of the few relievers who could not find a guaranteed contract was Dan Wheeler, who signed a minor league contract with the Tribe last week.
Wheeler re-joined the Rays in late 2007 after spending a few seasons with the Mets and the Astros. As a member of the Rays’ bullpen, Wheeler posted descending xFIP marks — beginning in 2008 with a 4.50 xFIP, but ending with a nice 3.72 in 2010.
Following the mass exodus from the Rays’ pen after the 2010 season, Wheeler landed with their American League East rival Boston Red Sox on a one-year, $3 million deal. While his ERA jumped a full run with Boston last year, his FIP dropped from 4.11 to 3.78 — and his xFIP dropped to 3.71.
A right-handed reliever with a fastball that lives around 89 mph, Wheeler has historically struggled with the long ball as well as going against the platoon split. His career HR/FB rate of 10.2% is significant for a reliever with a 45.5% flyball rate. Versus lefties, he has a 4.73 career xFIP (3.53 versus righties) and allowed a slash line of .275/.341/.487 (AVG/OBP/SLG.)
Rays manager Joe Maddon did his best to control the platoon issue by limiting Wheeler’s exposure to left-handed batters. After using Wheeler against lefties 39% of the time in 2008, Maddon had him face them 29% in 2009 and just 23% in 2010. In fact, Wheeler pitched with the platoon advantage more than any other reliever in 2010 (minimum 40 innings).
For whatever reason, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona decided to increase Wheeler’s usage against lefties last year and had him face a left-handed batters nearly 40% of the time. Although he fared slightly better than his career numbers against the split, his K/BB rate dropped from a ridiculous 13.50 versus righties to 2.0 versus lefties. He actually allowed a higher HR/FB rate versus right-handers though his 3.37 xFIP suggests it could have been a blip on the radar.
While Wheeler did not have a pile of saves heading into free agency, one could argue that he has been a better pitcher than a number of others who have guaranteed paychecks in 2012. In the past three years, Wheeler’s 3.84 xFIP is lower than several notable right-handed relievers: Octavio Dotel (3.85), Matt Capps(3.99) , Kerry Wood (4.08), Francisco Cordero (4.18), Jon Rauch (4.38, and Fernando Rodney (4.52) , who all signed one-year, major-league deals totaling $21.25 million this off-season.
Despite having a decent year which warrented a lengthy contract, Wheeler joins the Indians with no guarantees. One rather large piece of information left out thus far is that the 34-year-old Wheeler was shut down in early September with right forearm stiffness. Although he has avoided major injury and averaged 61 appearances and 62 innings each season since 2003, that type of injury could scare off potential suitors. On the flip side, Joel Zumaya — who hasn’t thrown a meaningful pitch since June of 2010 — got a low-risk, major-league deal with the Twins just a few weeks ago.
Maybe Wheeler’s medical records are a bit worse than they appear, or maybe teams are wary of putting his home-run rate in high-leverage situations. Whatever the reason, the lack of interest could pay dividends for the Tribe if Wheeler is both healthy and Manny Acta uses him to his strengths. If those things pan out, Wheeler could be a bargain in an unpredictable relief market. Much like Chad Bradford was to the A's.
(All stats courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)
Dan Wheeler: 2012 Bullpen Mafia don? Maybeno comments