Good afternoon and welcome to my blog. A few times each year I will take to this forum to discuss my favorite baseball team, the Cleveland Indians. Unlike some baseball fans who only gripe about the problems with their team or are completely bias when it comes to their favorites, I break down my team in an honest fashion and at least offer semi-reasonable solutions. Also when I perceive weakness with a player or position or unit, I suggest a solution or point out how the problem could have been avoided. So with the tracks greased, let’s shove off and see how much speed we can pick up before the termination point!
As of today the Indians have played 11 total series and below is a breakdown of how those series have hashed out:
Series total: 11
Won 4 (vs KC, DET, BAL & TEX)
Split 2 (CHC, MIN)
Lost 5 (SEA, LAA, TOR, SEA & NYY)
For the casual baseball fan you may not be familiar with how each of those teams noted above has fared thus far but I am painfully aware of the reality. The Indians have won four series and all of those teams noted have losing records. Of the pair of two games series that were split, only the Chicago Cubs have a winning record…and that is just barely. Now the most dismaying part: Of the five series that the Indians have lost, all five of those teams have winnings records so far.
Well you may say so what? It’s early yes? Sure you can say that but this is just continuing a trend. Over the last 18 months, looping in the end to the 2016 World Series, my Indians have lacked that ‘killer instinct’. No I’m not referring to the 1994 Super Nintendo game Killer Instinct. My Indians were literally one win away from clinching the 2016 World Series but could not close the deal. At the end of last year in the first round of the playoffs, the team was one win away from putting away the New York Yankees but could not close the deal. Then the team’s front office listlessly cycled through the offseason with not much to show for its efforts except Yonder Alonso to replace Carlos Santana. Granted Alonso is out performing Santana in the categories of batting average, home runs and RBIs so far but Santana has a better on base percentage. That signing and non-signing represents the ‘bulk’ of what the front office did in the offseason. As I have observed in previous pieces, the Indians front office seems to go into each offseason with the flawed assumption that they will get roughly the same production from their existing players as the previous season instead of being a realist and assuming a 10-15% regression. With this mindset, their strategizing would take on a completely different tone – in theory. Once again that antiquated approach is costing the team in the standings.
As we interact today, Monday, May 7th the Cleveland Indians sit in first place (by default) in the American League Central Division. The Indians are the only team that are not a minimum of five games over .500. My team is 17-17 after giving away multiple games in the late innings in New York over the weekend. Obviously I am disgusted with the way the club has performed and in light of the non-effort by the front office in the offseason, I will take aim at the team in sections and hopefully it filters into the universe and gets fixed at some point.
The starting rotation is pretty much holding the team together right now. With the exception of Carlos Carrasco’s last couple of starts, four of the starters are churning out good results. The lone exception is Josh Tomlin who falls into the category of a cheap option and shouldn’t be in the rotation at all in my opinion. He is a marginal starter and should’ve been let go after last season to allow one of the up and coming prospects to take over that fifth spot in the rotation. Seeing as how Tomlin’s ERA is over 8, his won-loss record is 0-4 and hitters are hitting .339 off of him including 13 home runs in only 25 innings pitched…it’s probably time for Josh to go. In recent years the Indians’ rotation has been solid but their bullpen has ultimately been their saving grace. Unfortunately, the front office chose to stand pat after letting Bryan Shaw walk away and that regression factor I mentioned above is biting them hard. With the exception of Andrew Miller (currently on the DL) and Cody Allen (for the most part), no one out of that bullpen can be trusted to get critical outs or not to walk opposing hitters to fuel late inning opponent’s rallies.
Now granted some of the topsy turvyness is on account of injuries, but all teams have to account for injuries with ‘quality’ depth. Unfortunately the Indians front office clearly didn’t take that to heart. As of today, the stat sheet shows seven Indians relievers with an ERA north of 5.00. The bullpen version of Josh Tomlin would be Zach McAllister who has allowed 22 runners in only 12 innings of work and the opponents are hitting a ghastly .346 off of him. Hopefully Andrew Miller returns soon and the starters can pitch nine innings for the next few weeks until more reliable relievers can be cultivated.
Now before I swing over to the hitters, let me briefly look at the team defense. Obviously there are items missed in this category with things that are not errors or plays not made due to range, positioning, etc. but let’s look at what the stats did capture. The best defender on the field is usually the shortstop. That would be Francisco Lindor…and he leads the team with seven (7) errors and we are only 20% into the season. Another alarming fact is the backup catcher is second on the team in errors with four (4) in the person of non-hitting Roberto Perez. Combined with the starting catcher Yan Gomes three (3) errors that position is tied with the most active position on the field for most errors where there should be relatively few mistakes from your catching tandem. Other than that there are relatively few errors sprinkled in around the rest of the defense so there’s that to be thankful for at this time.
So that naturally brings me to the team’s offense. The good news is the team has four players with 8 or more home runs and also four players (the same four) with 20 or more RBI’s. Of the players with 90 or more at-bats, which there are seven, only four of those players are hitting above .250 (Brantley, Lindor, Ramirez and Gomes). Right now the team has walked 104 times but struck out 304 times. I know this is the cool trend in baseball, swing for the fences…then go sit down because you just keep whiffing but it defies sound baseball logic. When you give away one-third of your game outs without putting the ball in play, you diminish your scoring opportunities. But let’s move on. Three regular and semi-regular players (Encarnacion, Kipnis and Guyer) are hitting below .200 with 59 hits between them versus 86 strike outs. Looping in the back-up catcher Roberto Perez or as I call him, the automatic out, he chips in 5 measly hits with 7 walks that are more than offset by his 21 strikeouts in 43 at-bats.
I could dice up more stats but that would be overkill. The issues with the team as I see them presently are in no particular order:
The front office had a chance to move Kipnis and Salazar in the offseason and get something in return but right now both are non-producing entities. They could’ve gotten a legit third baseman and moved Ramirez to second base where he tore it up last year but no. Tomlin and McAllister should’ve been let go and let the kids compete for those roles – a money saving proposition and the potential same returns. The entire outfield has injury concerns and aside from Brantley…no real track record to hope for long term. The catching tandem in late innings tends to fall into predictable patterns and they lose all aggressiveness when their pitchers are in advantageous counts. This causes wasted pitches and more wear and tear on a thin group. Like the value window for Kipnis and Salazar, there is very little that can be bartered for with Perez’s stock being rock bottom right now (read: bring up Mejia). With the bullpen in shambles and some (hopefully) minor injuries nagging the team right now, changes need to be made before the rest of the horrible division beneath them can regroup and forge some confidence.
Maybe you will read this piece and it will be July or August and all the warts plus short-comings of this team will be far in the rear view mirror but I fear this malady of the Indians will linger if swift action is not taken. If anyone has a chicken to sacrifice for the greater Cleveland Indians good, please consider doing so.
Thank you and have a great week!
P.S. If the universe could get Corey Kluber to stop giving up home runs that would be great!