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Right on, or way off: Can the offense keep getting on base?

Right on, or way off: Can the offense keep getting on base?
May 7, 2012
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In an effort to maintain a fresh format, I’d like to introduce my first edition of “Right On or Way Off”, in which I will offer a few quick-hitting, potentially polarizing statements about the Tribe, while giving my take on whether the statement is accurate or deluded. Enjoy and please opine in the comments section with your own take. All stats used below are current heading into play Sunday.

Here we go:

The Tribe’s offense will finish in the top five in the American League in OBP...

The early results for the Tribe’s lineup are uniquely inconsistent. First, the good: Cleveland is 3rd in the league in On-Base % (.338), 1st in walks (118), and 1st in OPS with RISP and two outs (.875). The not-so-good: the Tribe is 12th in total bases (333), 13th in batting average with the bases loaded (.115) and 13th in OPS with the bases loaded (.251). These sharp discrepancies are perplexing; how can a team hit so well with two outs, but unravel when the bases are loaded?

Tribe hitters have caught a lot of flak in the season’s early going, as the pitching is often revered as the strength of the team. However, with the game-changing sticks of Cabrera, Hafner, and Santana, in addition to very good complementary pieces: Kipnis, Choo, and Brantley, the Tribe offense has plenty of firepower to compete. Not to mention the season’s early clutch performer: Jack “The Ripper” Hannahan, who currently possesses a triple slash of .500/ .600/ .833 with runners in scoring position.

If they can keep their heads clear with the bases loaded and maintain paramount patience at the plate, Tribe hitters should have a very legitimate shot at placing in the top five in the American League in OBP, therefore I’m saying right on to this one.

Johnny Damon should be hitting leadoff...

Manny Acta is on the record as saying that Damon will lead off on days he is in the lineup. Is this the right move, to bring in a new player— one who couldn’t get a contract from any other major league team in spring training— and have him hit leadoff?

The other two viable, everyday options are Brantley and Kipnis. On the season, Brantley has received the bulk of the at-bats (85) in the top spot, as he sports a .312 OBP, 12 runs scored, and two stolen bases (versus being caught stealing three times). In fairness, Brantley started off slowly, but few (including Acta) seem to have faith in him as the long-term answer.

The other potential option is Kipnis, who seems a more natural fit in the two-hole. With a .510 slugging percentage on the season, second on the team to Cabrera, J-Kip doesn’t seem like a logical fit at the top of the order. Yet, he owns a very solid .364 on-base percentage and team-leading six stolen bases (against only one caught stealing), two key stats for leadoff hitters. In a perfect lineup, Kipnis would be the archetypal two-hole hitter, but like most lineups, the Tribe’s has its weaknesses.

Therefore, for as long as Hannahan is hitting well, I propose a one-two punch of Kipnis & Hannahan at the top of the lineup, with Brantley and Damon anchoring the seventh and eighth spots in the lineup. The ultimate goal for the one and two hitters is to spark the big sticks in the meaty part of the lineup, and I just don’t see a declining Damon and streaky Brantley doing that, so this one is way off.

Derek Lowe will lead the team in innings pitched...

Yes, it’s still early in the season, but Derek Lowe is playing an instrumental role in the middle of the Tribe’s rotation; he’s the inning-eating, veteran presence in a talented, but still nebulous Cleveland starting rotation. Easily the oldest pitcher on the staff at 38, Lowe leads the starting staff in innings pitched (37.2), innings per start (6.28), ERA (2.39), and wins (4).

Before you metrics guys jump on him, it must be noted that Lowe has an ugly opponents’ batting average (.295) and WHIP (1.49), so obviously it is unlikely that he continues to lead the team in ERA and wins, but that’s not the job of a 3rd starter, it’s to eat innings and preserve the team’s most precious commodity, the ‘pen. And, if he could straighten out Ubaldo’s mechanical issues that would just be swell.

Seriously though, General Manager Chris Antonetti deserves praise for pulling off the Tribe’s best trade since landing Carlos Santana in a deal that sent Casey Blake to the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2008. He’ll continue to anchor a young rotation, which doesn’t have another starter over 28, and the smart money says he’s a virtual lock for 200 innings pitched this year. So, I’m saying right on.

Vinnie Pestano will supplant Chris Perez as the closer by season’s end...

This one’s for you, Vin-maniacs. What’s not to like about a reliever who rocks an eye-popping 12.79 strikeouts per nine innings? Obviously, nothing. The interesting question is when should Acta start considering sticking Pestano in the closer’s role. Hmm, a side-by-side stat comparison seems necessary:

Pestano, V
14 G, 12.2 IP, 2.13 ERA, 18 SO, 2 HR, .217 OPP AVG, 0.95 WHIP

Perez, C
13 G, 11.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 8 SO, 0 HR, .182 OPP AVG, 1.11 WHIP

Unfortunately for Pestano’s closing prospects, these numbers are too close to necessitate consideration of a role change, for now at least. But, what happens when Perez goes through a rough patch and blows a handful of games, while Pestano continues to strike out twice as many batters as Perez (currently, 6.17 strikeouts per nine innings)?

Pestano’s future as closer is bright, no doubt. However, the Indians likely don’t have any plans to demote Perez, who currently makes $4.5 million, in favor of Pestano, currently making a modest $491,000. Therefore, I must rule, way off.

Topics receiving honorable mention: “Marson needs more playing time”, “Acta should be replaced if the Tribe doesn’t enter the All-Star break in second place or better”, “Ubaldo should publically apologize to the city of Cleveland”.

User Comments

Tony
May 7, 2012 - 11:55 AM EDT
I agree that Damon's best value is hitting leadoff. He helps lengthen the lineup there. Kipnis could handle it, but he is more effective in the 2nd spot where his bat can be both a tablesetter and run producer. Damon is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game the last 20-30 years, so I am fine with him hitting there and he will continue to be there as long as he is healthy and on this team. Even when he doesn't get a hit he still gets on-base with walks, puts up professional at bats, and can do some things on the bases.

As for Perez, I still think long term that Pestano is the closer for this team. But for now there is no way they consider the move. That said, I think Perez could be trade bait they could use to get an impact bat in the offseason or even this July. He's getting too expensive as a closer and I just don't think in the long run that he is effective enough for that cost (I hope I am wrong).
Steve
May 7, 2012 - 11:38 AM EDT
The best scenario for any team is not to have their best reliever as a closer.

Cleveland fits this mold perfectly.

Even today, men at 1st and 3rd and less than 2 outs in a tie or 1-run game....NO WAY do I want Perez (EVEN AT HIS BEST) trotting in from the pen in that situation.

That situation is key to handing the ball to Perez in the 9th.

R.Perez/R.Bettancourt were both WAY better relievers as Joe Blow & in much the same way the Tribe was lucky to have the duo setting up.
Steve
May 7, 2012 - 11:20 AM EDT
one who couldn’t get a contract from any other major league team in spring training— and have him hit leadoff?

This is one meme that really needs to end.

He had several offers from teams to come in...it was Damon who didn't like the terms of the contracts and felt it better for him to wait it out and find the right spot for him to land.

Damon may have found the right spot and yes, he should bat leadoff when he is in the lineup. He'll give you a good at-bat, he'll make contact and he will get on base.

Once on-base JD can move around the bases. He will also hit a few homers for the Indians especially in Progressive Field.

Damon was smart to hold out...personally, I believe he was eyeballing New York and Raul Ibanez all through spring training.

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