Second Thoughts: A week's worth of stray observations
Although Monday's game was washed away, we are now officially a week into the season, the Indians having played six games thus far.
While I am absolutely not advocating taking much stock in any six-game stretch (especially the first one of the year), there are still observations worth making. In this particular case, most of the following are more so things that I have had in my head before the season ever started that are just starting to flesh themselves out, and essentially all of them have long-term implications. Keep an open mind.
- Although Justin Masterson has always possessed excellent velocity and movement, 2013 was something of an outlier for him, in terms of the frequency with which he achieved swings and misses and strikeouts. Over his first two starts, both of those rates more closely resemble pre-2013 levels. And speaking of his velocity, that is down (way down - over three miles per hour on each fastball down) to start the season, too. This is probably nothing to worry about, as plenty of hard throwers take time to start challenging radar guns, but all of it is worth keeping an eye on as he starts to build up innings. The key to his success last season was an improved slider, not either fastball variety, so that pitch should really tell the story. Still, after bouncing back and forth between good starter and great starter in each of his first four full campaigns with the Indians, this is an important year in figuring out who the real Masterson is, particularly with his loud free agency looming.
- While watching numerous Carlos Carrasco fastballs get assaulted by mostly lowly Twins hitters early in the game on Saturday, I began digging into his career pitch-type values. What I learned wasn't all that surprising: however hard and exciting, his fastball varieties have been worth -38.3 runs (-42.1 after this start). As the matinee wore on, he began thriving with his offspeed stuff. The numbers there told me that he had just about broken even: +0.9 runs (2.7 after this start). Better pitchers than him have done worse with their fastballs, but they tend to throw excellent breaking balls (Ervin Santana, Ryan Dempster, Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris, Edwin Jackson, etc.) Personally, I have little faith in him to be a capable starting pitcher every fifth day, but perhaps what gets him there is more emphasis on his secondary pitches.
- The day that Scott Atchison signed, I thought about what I knew of him, looked at his numbers, and tweeted the following: "Think of Atchison as an older, cheaper Matt Albers. A groundball-heavy middle reliever that has history with Francona." When asked by a follower if I thought he would make the team, I replied, "...he should have as good of a chance as anyone." I viewed it as a shrewd minor-league signing, and so far, Atchison has been something of an unsung hero as one of the first out of the taxed bullpen in the same way that Albers was a year ago. I think it goes without saying that I don't expect him to continue pitching as well as he has (one baserunner in 4.1 innings - a walk - and an 88.9% groundball rate), or even have an expanded role, but he fits in well as a very capable veteran inning-eater/crisis-averter.
- Josh Outman and Marc Rzepczynski have combined to allow zero runs in 6.2 innings of work, but their usage has been somewhat concerning. Rzepczynski has faced 13 batters: seven right-handed; six left-handed. Outman has faced 11: eight right-handed; three left-handed. Certainly, Terry Francona would prefer that they each be able to record more than one out against a left-handed hitter, and he is merely seeing if they can (and there haven't been many ideal nuanced situations to put them in yet), but their histories show that overexposing them to right-handers is likely a trend worth avoiding.
- More platoon posturing here. Lonnie Chisenhall has to be the primary designated hitter against all right-handed starters. All of them. He needs at-bats, they are going to be readily available at a revolving designated hitter "position," and this is his best chance to succeed. I envisioned this exact role for him once the commitment of Santana-to-third was made, and the early returns when he has allowed it have been beautiful: 5-for-11, three extra-base hits, a walk and only one strikeout. He hasn't seen a single left-handed pitcher yet. Francona absolutely deserves credit for that, but he has to fully commit to this deployment plan.
- Carlos Santana is excellent. He is a strike-zone savant, second to only Joey Votto in walks drawn since the start of the 2011 season, and adding more all the time. When I learned that recently, it also occurred to me that he and Votto are not so different over that span, despite an exponential difference in perception. Although Votto has a sizable edge in walks (again, Santana is still second to him among the entire sport) and singles, they are quite similar hitters, in terms of most everything else (surface stats like extra-base hits, runs batted in and strikeouts, plate discipline metrics, etc.). What has separated them more than anything is luck, as Votto has an 85-point advantage in batting average on balls in play. It is undeniable that Santana can be streaky and frustrating, but he is a special hitter that is just now hitting his prime. Perceptions surrounding him could very well be about to change.
- If Asdrubal Cabrera continues to remove himself farther and farther from the time of being a productive hitter, one has to wonder about the expedition of an impending Francisco Lindor promotion. As a defender, Lindor is ready. As a very young player being a professional athlete on the highest level, by all accounts, he is ready. Even if he isn't quite ready as a hitter, how wide is that gap between him and present-day Cabrera, really? For a team that has regularly been one of the worst defenses in baseball, he becomes a major asset. Today.
It's concerning Masterson's velocity isn't close to where it was in the past already, though- he's done a lot of throwing already. Keep in mind Pestano said the same thing last year. I do wonder if the innings Masterson threw last year may be taking a toll.
Mediocre night for Kluber. Has to improve. Need to see our #3 guy step up tomorrow.
I hope McAllister and Bauer have good outing tomorrow. There is no excuse for Swisher having 2 errors in game. They both looked more mental lapses than physical errors.
There is no doubt Pestano is not back; I wasn't convinced he was back in Spring Training; Lee would have been in his place for me, and either he or Lowe should replace him in that bullpen beginning Wednesday, especially with a doubleheader looming.
For now, keep Chisenhall, Morgan, and Johnson up here. Chisenhall is hitting, Morgan is insurance for Bourn in case the hamstrings flare up again (plus he can be useful in his own right), and Johnson provides versatility (though he still is not helping his case with the very weak offense and at-bats).
I'll be very surprised if Pestano is not sent down, and I think it will be a while before Pestano comes back up here (presuming he does come back up, as his velocity is still down and his command is erratic- I don't think he's had one good outing out of, what, three appearances? He needs to continue working in Columbus where he'll get more consistent work, for now, though the bullpen ranks down there are going to start pushing him down the priority list the longer he continues to struggle, as higher priority arms are in or arriving in Columbus.
Seems to me like Terry and the FO are always expecting Chisenhall to fail. This year he is succeeding (so far), and they don't know what to do.