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Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: DH's, Ubaldo and the kids

Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: DH's, Ubaldo and the kids
January 23, 2013
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It’s an amusing day here at the frigid corner of Carnegie and Ontario, as stories of fake internet girlfriends and “shocking” admissions of PED’s have been floating through the air like frosted, Lake Erie snow. With ESPN covering more drama than Maury Povich, the Cleveland Indians have been busy saying hello to their fans via the Tribe Fest this past weekend. The chance to interact with several members of the Tribe’s 40-man roster brought thousands of fans to Progressive Field.

It seems odd to find the Indians PR-machine churning out goodwill while the rest of the sports world seems mired in spewing 10 cent gossip about athletes. I received several e-mails over the weekend from friends, family and fans of all ages pumped up about the Indians, showcasing the knowledge that doing good things can work like dominoes when it’s all going in the same direction.

It’s just good to be on the good side for once, while everyone else in the world is worrying about their fake dead girlfriends…god rest their souls.

Now, about the Browns and LeBron James…er…well…let’s talk some Tribe…

The DH position leaves a lot to be desired on paper right now, but it’s not like the Indians rolled out massive production from the DH in the past several years. Here’s a look at the past five seasons:

Year

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

2008

559

71

133

37

0

16

80

64

133

4

4

0.238

0.328

0.390

0.718

2009

573

71

146

36

0

23

76

65

136

2

0

0.255

0.337

0.438

0.775

2010

555

63

140

36

1

20

68

61

142

5

1

0.252

0.336

0.429

0.765

2011

572

72

153

32

2

23

90

56

144

1

2

0.267

0.340

0.451

0.791

2012

553

52

123

17

3

22

69

63

114

2

3

0.222

0.312

0.383

0.696

5-Year

562

66

139

32

1

21

77

62

134

3

2

0.247

0.331

0.418

0.749

You can see that the five-year average for the Indians isn’t anything special from a position that you’d like to see big offensive numbers. Just for a matter of reference (this is by no means a scientific or sabermetric comparison), I took the #5 rated DH based on OPS over the past five seasons, figuring that if the Indians could manage those numbers, it would be considered a successful season (the Indians highest finish was sixth over this span of time, in 2010 and 2011).

Teams

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Baltimore Orioles

586

85

161

44

3

25

107

49

104

3

2

0.275

0.330

0.488

0.818

Chi White Sox

540

78

137

23

0

30

95

89

154

4

1

0.254

0.359

0.463

0.822

NY Yankees

569

78

146

31

1

25

81

64

144

2

1

0.257

0.338

0.446

0.784

NY Yankees

548

69

138

21

1

30

82

62

124

2

3

0.252

0.333

0.458

0.791

LA Angels

603

79

166

33

2

27

91

37

139

3

0

0.275

0.323

0.471

0.794

 5-Year

569

78

150

30

1

27

91

60

133

3

1

0.263

0.337

0.465

0.802

My immediate thoughts are that the Indians numbers, which were never better in any given year, aren’t far off in the big picture. Granted, 2012 was a bad season with regards to the Indians and the DH position, but I think that it’s safe to say that as bad as the Indians have been since their last winning season in 2007, last season shouldn’t be the trend.

What do the Indians plan on doing with regards to the DH-position? If the roster stands as is, I would have to believe that the Indians plan on utilizing a time-share. Candidates for the position in a time-share are likely going to be Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds.

Santana is a given to play DH now and then to give him time of from playing behind the plate. While you can argue all day long about whether or not the Tribe’s starting catcher can provide enough value, I think it’s shortsighted to think that he’s going to be prone to the struggles he went through through the middle of last season, in particular after his concussion. Santana’s numbers post all-star break were solid, and while I doubt you’ll ever see the kid hit .300, his peripheral numbers should continue to improve.

There’s also opportunity for Santana to play first base, getting Marson or Gomes into the game, and giving a guy like Aviles a chance to DH. Santana is going to catch his fair share of games, but he should have some opportunities to play some first and DH out of necessity.

Nick Swisher playing DH really will depend on who else makes the club. With Drew Stubbs and Michael Brantley playing center and left in some form, a player like Ryan Raburn, Ben Francisco, Yan Gomes or Chris McGuiness would have to prove to be a factor in spring, which would potentially allow Swisher to move to DH on occasion. I could also see a guy like Mike Aviles playing a game or two in the outfield, in a similar fashion to Jamey Carroll a few years back. I don’t, by any stretch, believe that to be a regular occurrence.

Reynolds moving to the DH would again depend on the players that ultimately make up the utility slots on the 25-man roster after the spring. McGuiness and Gomes would be the guys that could move him to the DH here and there, but like Swisher, I don’t see that being something that happens regularly.

The real factors at the DH could be some of the infielders. With Mike Aviles in the utility role, the Indians could get him four starts a week by rotating him between short, second and third, with an occasional start in the outfield. This would allow Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera the opportunity to DH on occasion as well.

In a perfect world, a guy like Ryan Raburn would return to the form of his 2009 through 2011 seasons in which his OPS was between .729 and .891. The problem with banking on that is that his numbers have dropped pretty consistently since the 2009 season, and with Raburn turning 32 this year, it would be unrealistic to think that the trend, at this point, is one that’s going to reverse.

There’s also a lot of buzz that Chris McGuiness is a guy that’s ready to take over the DH role with regularity. I just don’t see it that way. Is he an interesting player? Sure. He’s definitely got ability, but you always have to question a “prospect” that turns 24 in his first year at Double-A. I’m not counting on him at all, and you could see the Indians returning him, or working out a deal with the Rangers to keep him and slot him in Columbus.

There are a lot of other wildcards here, including the potential for Ben Francisco or Zeke Carrera to make the team. I don’t see either happening. You could also see the Indians signing a guy like Travis Hafner as a part-time player from the left-hand side of the plate. He would be an interesting guy in a three-game-a-week role, and would make a nice platoon with some of the switch-hitters and righties mentioned above. A guy like Raburn making the team could make that possible.

So is any of this optimum? No, and I still think there is a possibility that the Indians have a move or two to be made to bring someone in. Terry Francona has talked about line-up stability, so if he finds someone he likes, this whole DH-by-committee could go out the window, but right now, it doesn’t appear that there is another clear option.

At some point, I have to tackle the Ubaldo Jimenez question, so I suppose now is as good as any. The Indians rotation, as much as it pains me to say it, depends on Jimenez figuring something out to get it together. If you read this column with any regularity (heaven help you), you know my thoughts on the enigmatic righty, but I’m an optimist, so I always hope for the best.

The facts have been laid before you in the past. Jimenez was bringing it over 96 MPH when he was pitching well with the Rockies. Last year, he was barely over 92. Can he get it together?

I just don’t see it. He throws 20 different pitches, and he seemingly uses an endless array of deliveries. In other words, he’s every pitching coach’s dream. Mickey Callaway will be his third pitching coach in as many years, and while you never know when lightning will strike, I just don’t see it happening with Jimenez.

So, what does that mean? The Indians just can’t afford to leave him in the rotation if he’s as bad as he was last season. Could there be a situation where Jimenez could be moved to the bullpen? Boy, if that’s the only option, I suppose the Indians could take it.

A lot of folks have been discussing Brett Myers potentially being moved to the pen should Trevor Bauer make the team at some point. If you look at the rotation as it stands, it should look like this: Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, Zach McAllister and Scott Kazmir/Carlos Carrasco. While Myers is the clear candidate should Kazmir and/or Bauer pitch into the rotation. Perhaps that’s the wrong way to look at it.

What if Kazmir’s velocity is back up, and he proves to be durable and he makes the team? What if Carlos Carrasco is sound, and ready to pitch a full gambit of innings. What if Trevor Bauer dominates in the spring, and forces the Indians to put him on the roster. If Jimenez struggles, and two of the previous three occur, the Indians could slot Jimenez in the bullpen.

Now, I’m not a fool (well…). I understand that his mechanics and his velocity don’t lend itself to the pen. I also know that his salary isn’t conducive to the pen either. Of course, any of the three potential rotation fillers would offset his bullpen salary since they’d be making relative peanuts.

I know…Ubaldo in the pen likely means really bad things overall, but perhaps Francona won’t waste time if Jimenez is pitching like garbage. Perhaps the pen, where he could focus on 10 pitches instead of 20, and where he could perhaps unleash a bit more, is the fix that he needs to make him a bit more palpable to this team.

Yeah, that would be an epic fail of a trade, but at the end of the day, hasn’t it been that very thing already? I don’t see the Jimenez to the pen being a realistic move, but anything is a better option than the Jimenez as the starter we’ve seen over the past 1 ½ seasons.

I’m bullish on Carlos Santana in 2013. I’m not really sure if I’m in the minority here, or just in the vocal minority, but there has been a lot of discussion about Santana reaching his ceiling already. That’s just idiotic. This kid is about to turn 27, and he’s not even close to his prime.

I know a lot of folks devalue Santana based on his position. Of course, if he’s raking at the catcher position, he’s an added value. That said, I’m not in the crowd that believes he’s not worth the money should he be playing first or DH if he’s right for a full season. My point is that it’s time to start looking at Santana as an offensive weapon.

During the second half of the season, Santana was more than solid. His slash was .281/.389/.498, with 13 homers and 46 RBI. He walked 45 times, while only striking out 41 times. He was efficient, effective, and everything that he needed to be.

With an improved line-up around him, there’s no reason to think that he’s not going to be perched to break out. Is he the perfect player? No, but everything is in place for Carlos Santana to become a superstar. This offense should be improved, and it should be more balanced. Sure, Reynolds, Swisher and Stubbs are going to add a bit of an air conditioning element that we haven’t seen in awhile, but the center of this offense will be Santana this year. Swisher and Reynolds will be in place to protect him, so don’t be surprised when the Indians catcher is mentioned as the best in the game by year’s end.

Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall have become complimentary players on this team, which is the way that it should be. Last season, the Cleveland Indians had to lean on Kipnis, and for a bit in the middle of the year, Chisenhall as well. This is the big leagues, but I can’t help but remember the 2010 season in Akron, when Chis hit .278 with 17 homers and 84 RBI in 117 games, and Kip hit .311 in 79 games, with 10 homers and 43 RBI.

The big leagues are certainly different than the minors, but both have proven that they can play at the big league level. Kipnis clearly had a lot more on his shoulders in 2012 than any “rookie” should. Chisenhall was just catching fire when injury put him down.

I have to believe that with new veteran leadership in Nick Swisher coming on board, along with other veterans such as Mark Reynolds and even Drew Stubbs, that Kipnis and Chisenhall should be able to find their slots on this team. Kip will be at the top of the lineup, either in the lead-off role or as the #2 hitter. Chisenhall will find himself in the bottom of the line-up, adding bulk to a formerly weak spot on the team.

I do think it will be interesting to see where Francona puts Kipnis, who he should view as the Indians’ version of Dustin Pedroia. The year Pedroia won MVP, he was the team’s regular #2 in the batting order, but also spent some time leading off. The year prior, Pedroia batted first, second and ninth. While that’s not optimum, the lineup does take an interesting turn with Kipnis ninth:

  1. Brantley
  2. Cabrera
  3. Swisher
  4. Santana
  5. Reynolds
  6. Chisenhall
  7. Aviles/DH
  8. Stubbs
  9. Kipnis

I don’t see that happening, as they’ll want Kipnis in the heart of the order, but it is an option, especially if they find a way to improve that DH slot.

What should the expectations be for a kid like Kipnis? He can hit .300, and hit 15-20 homers, and drive in 90 runs or more, and I don’t even think that’s a stretch. Consider this: he hit .233 in the second half, with three homers and 27 RBI after hitting .277, with 11 homers and 49 RBI in the first half. Now he’s got a lineup that should provide support, is healthy, and should be able to focus on his game, and not carrying a failing team.

What will Chisenhall do next year? He was hitting the ball well in June when he went down, batting .286, with two homers and eight RBI. No, I don’t expect him to put up those kinds of numbers in 2013, but if they take care of him, there’s no reason to think he can’t hit .260-.270, with 15 homers and 60 or so RBI. Those numbers are on the low end of what I think he’ll do as well, but I don’t think anyone would be upset if this is the player that shows up in 2013.

Now, are there questions? Sure, they are young players, so there are always going to be questions. Here’s the thing though…these kids have pedigree. Kipnis is the lock here, as I think he’s going to produce. Chisenhall is the wildcard, and I don’t think it will be his play. I think it will be his health that is the question.

There is no mystery as to what the weakness of this team is going to be. No, the lineup isn’t perfect, but the talk of it being horrible because of the strikeouts is utterly ridiculous. While I agree that there will be days when I want to hurl my collection of Cleveland Indians’ sundae mini-helmets through my T.V. screen, there will also be days where this team will decimate their opponents.

The weakness is that starting pitching (I know, I’m the resident rocket scientist here at IBI).

  1. Justin Masterson—Can he replicate good starts, or will he continue to pitch with the consistency of bad oatmeal over month-long stretches?
  2. Ubaldo Jimenez—See above
  3. Brett Myers—Can he pitch over 200 innings or close to it at the age of 32 after relieving a season, or will his drop in velocity predicate an epic-Derek Lowe-like disaster?
  4. Zach McAllister—Can he replicate his solid performance from 2012, or was that a one-hit wonder?
  5. Scott Kazmir—Is his velocity back up to 93 as has been mentioned, or is that bloated, or just a precursor to more injury?
  6. Carlos Carrasco—Does he have stamina, and when will the Indians let him go?
  7. Trevor Bauer—Why did the Diamondbacks let this kid go for so little?
  8. Corey Kluber—Sure, he can throw, but can he pitch?

When the eight pitchers vying for a spot in the rotation have questions, you are asking for trouble. Ask the 2012 Indians.

Is there a fix? Mickey Callaway should have a say in all this, and he could right the ship with some of these starters. Some will step up, and some will falter, but the Indians clearly need to bring some other “talent” in. Jair Jurrjens seems to be a guy most mentioned, and it’s based on his upside and youth.

Jurrjens was horrible in 2012, but at 27, he has potential upside. When Atlanta gives up on a pitcher, you take notice, and the fact that he hasn’t signed leads me to believe there’s something out there that’s not been said. It could be as simple as Jurrjens wanting to show off a bit in the WBC for the Netherlands, but that’s a potential risk as well. He’s a high ceiling guy though, with the current information available, and it’s clear that he’s a low cost guy at this point.

There are a bunch of other guys out there, but the point is clear that regardless of who they bring in, there will be too many question marks. If history serves, this just doesn’t bode well for the Indians chances of winning in 2013. Perhaps Mickey Callaway can change these fortunes. We shall see.

Make sure you take a look at the IBI Power Polls. I’m not trying to hawk the work as being the best writing of all-time, but I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun writing since I started doing this fifteen years ago. The history of this club is fairly impressive, and to touch upon some of the greats, and the quirks and the fun (and misery) and the interesting stories is really what baseball is all about.

Make sure you vote, comment, and just have some fun with the history of this team. Don’t be afraid to e-mail any ideas that you have for Power Polls to jpete@indiansbaseballinsider.com. These things can cover anything.

Best Indians Third Baseman of All-Time

Best Indians' catcher of all-time

Best Indians' First Baseman of All-Time

Best Indians' Second Baseman of All-Time

All-Time Indians Thusfar:

Catcher: Victor Martinez

First Base: Jim Thome

Second Base: Nap Lajoie

Third Base: Al Rosen

On a final note, it’s a blast to write here at IBI, and I appreciate the vast opinions of all the contributors to this site, whether it be a writer, or it be a reader. I’m good friends with many of the writers here, and it’s truly a job of passion for all of us. I don’t agree with everyone, and some days, not with anyone. Point being is that a day talking Indians’ baseball is a good day.

18 days until Pitchers and Catchers report folks…

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Mike
January 23, 2013 - 11:59 PM EST
I enjoyed this article. I do take issue with the following though:

"Chisenhall is the wildcard, and I don’t think it will be his play. I think it will be his health that is the question."

He was hit in the face and hit in the hand breaking bones each time. That hardly makes him injury prone or an injury risk.

I'd expect good things (as you mentioned) out of Chiz this season.
Seth
January 23, 2013 - 11:59 PM EST
I think Hafner and Thome are both guys who've shown they can deal well with part-time play. Hafner definitely seems to perform better when he's given more days off. I would think having interleague play spread out would actually mitigate that problem anyway, since it means you no longer have to sit him for 2 weeks straight, you just sit him for 3 games here and there, which you would want to do anyway. And certainly better to have Hafner pinch hitting for the pitcher in the 9th inning of a close game than ... Aviles?
Tony
January 23, 2013 - 11:58 PM EST
Andy, the schedule change really affects nothing. Still just 10 games in NL ballparks, so will still have the DH for 152 games. Of note, the 10 games are spread out with 2 games in early May at Philly, 2 games at end of May at Reds, 3 games in early August at Marlins, and 3 games in late August at Braves. I am fine with that and like it spread out more rather than the 9 straight games it used to be where you play by NL rules.
Andy
January 23, 2013 - 11:48 PM EST
Any thoughts on how the near season-long interleague play might affect the DH decision? I know Acta vented in 2011 about losing Hafner for essentially two weeks as the away team in NL parks. There has been some discussion on the interwebs about how the All-Star break affects hitters' rhythms, and I can't help but wonder if that will severely limit a guy like Hafner who is only a pinch hit option in NL parks.
Joey
January 23, 2013 - 10:18 PM EST
Completely agree with Santana and always have. I believe he could have a career year almost two years from his LCL injury. I was opposed to sending him down last year also, i always figured it would only be for confidence if he was. I mean post all-star he had .281 avg with 13 hrs and 41/45 K/BB
Seth
January 23, 2013 - 9:35 PM EST
I like Tony's lineup to start the year. You'd have Santana and Hafner and their OBP skills in front of Reynolds, so even though Reynolds was low in the lineup he'd get a lot of opportunities to hit HRs with guys on case. If Reynolds can return to 35-40 HR form, he's a potent addition. One of the biggest problems with recent Indians lineups has been the inability to leverage Hafner and Santana's OBP skills, because they'd have the likes of Kotchman hitting behind them. They needed a Reynolds type, sort of a second cleanup hitter.
Tony
January 23, 2013 - 8:19 PM EST
If the Indians do go out and sign Hafner, my guess at the lineup is as follows:

1. Brantley
2. Kipnis
3. Cabrera
4. Swisher
5. Santana
6. Hafner
7. Reynolds
8. Chisenhall
9. Stubbs
Jwahoo
January 23, 2013 - 8:12 PM EST
I really really feel in my gut this is the best lineup. I would also like to add I would sign Thome or Hafner and Dice K to finish the offseason.

Brantley
Asdurbal
Swisher
Santana
Kipnis
Reynolds
Chisenhall
Thome or Hafner
Stubbs


I feel thats the lineup that offers the best protection for everyone and also "extends" the lineup the best. Making Kipnis a guy who can help protect Sanatana and the rest as well as set up for Reynolds/Chiz/Thome or Hafner. I also feel Stubbs is great at the 9th spot where his speed and power can be used to their best ability.


Last, I don't Ubaldo is every going to be the guy he was in Colorado. BUT, I think with the improved defense and lineup he can be a productive pitcher. Something like Pavano was when he made his "come back" here. If not better then that. MCCallister is a guy I am not sure of which is why I think its important to have depth in Dice K and Kazmir. This team needs another lefty so I would sign Bedard with the idea of moving him to the bullpen. If Carraso can come back and Bauer can pitch in the majors then Ubaldo, Meyers, McCalister, Kazmir, Dice K, Tomlin, Kluber and Huff can all compete for the final rotation slots. Out of all those names I believe we can find two starters.
Tony
January 23, 2013 - 8:10 PM EST
Fifth starter, fourth starter, third starter....whatever....bottom line is a guy has to pitch well. I never quite get the whole worry about when a guy pitches. After the first week of the season, your #1 hardly ever matches up with the other team's #1, your #3 with their #3 and so forth....you get just as many matchups with your #5 vs their #1 as you do anything else. So the order never matters much to me. The ONLY time the order really matters is when it comes time for the playoffs and having those three starters you can rely on. Other than that, you need good pitching one through five in the rotation week in and week out to get to the playoffs, so the order has never mattered to me.
Daingean
January 23, 2013 - 7:59 PM EST
I agree Tony the DH position has changed. I think the game has also changed in that managers like the 7th BP arm. If you have 8 position starters, 5 SP and 7 RP then that leaves you with with 5 position guys that only leaves 5 bench guys (C, 1 CIF, 1 MI and 2 OF). Having a DH only takes away a bench guy. whih affects the team's flexibility.
Cody
January 23, 2013 - 7:35 PM EST
Why not have Jimenez pitch where his numbers have him? His numbers indicate him as a #5 pitcher, so why not move him there? Masterson, Z-Mac, Myers, Bauer/Carrasco/Jurrjens/Marcum/Kazmir, and then Ubaldo. Just my two cents.
Tony
January 23, 2013 - 6:37 PM EST
Another thing on the DH, and something I will go into greater detail in Sunday's notebook, is that it has evolved and is now more of a position that teams rotate players in, either to keep regulars fresh by giving them a break in the field or by getting their two best bench players more playing time to keep them ready. The day of a full-time DH is gone. Last year just two players played in 60% or more of their team's games as the DH: Delmon Young and Billy Butler. Most other teams did not have a DH play more than 60 games at the spot.
Seth
January 23, 2013 - 5:11 PM EST
The 2012 DH numbers show why the Indians do need to sign someone like Hafner. What made the DH numbers so poor in 2012 was primarily that Hafner spent more time on the DL than usual, so more ABs were going to the backups like Duncan. Hafner's not dependable, but the solution to that isn't to not sign anyone and go with the year-round crappy/nonexistent DH.

I don't think the Indians necessarily need Ubaldo to do anything to be successful. I certainly don't expect anything from Ubaldo, I don't think he's even capable of success as a starter unless he gains a good portion of the lost velocity back But: Masterson, Carrasco, Myers, McAllister, Bauer, 6th starter Kluber. Everyone there is a question mark as usual, but there's also a lot more upside than what we've seen recently.
Daingean
January 23, 2013 - 3:27 PM EST
I propose this for the line-up:

Kipnis
Brantley
Cabrerra
Santana
Swisher
Reynolds
Stubbs
Chisenhall
Aviles/Gomez/McDade/McGuinness

This moves Reynolds down a slot which reduces the impact of his K's but utilizes his power with guys like ACab/Santana/Swisher on base in front of him. Right now I see the 9th spot rotating between Aviles and whoever wins the DH role (when all the other starters are in the line-up). Finally, I think Brantley will thrive at #2 if Kip gets on base. As a lefty, he should have a hole between 1st and 2nd to fill up plus his ability to score from 1st on a double makes him a better fit as a table setter (he just hasn't gotten on base enough from the lead-off position to be the lead-off guy).

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