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Second Thoughts Game #1: Indians 2, A's 0

Second Thoughts Game #1: Indians 2, A's 0
The Indians won 2-0 in a well pitched game for both teams. (Photo: AP)
April 1, 2014
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Hours and hours of rain in Oakland threatened to take Opening Day away from us, but Mother Nature cooperated enough to allow the game. And what a game it was.

Masterson in familiar form

If any Indians fans wondered whether or not Justin Masterson's failed extension negotiations were going to affect him on the mound, they quickly found out that it appears to be a non-issue for him.

After dominating an assortment of different-level professional players in the Arizona desert, he took the mound against a genuine Major League team that most in the baseball community expect to be one of the best in the the game. The results were similar.

Over seven innings of work, he allowed just three hits and a walk, to the tune of zero runs. He pitched stress-free in all but one inning, the sixth, in which he was tested with runners on second and third and only one out. He escaped the jam with relative ease, helping his own cause by making a fine play on a liner right back at him that he nearly caught clean.

Beyond that, just two other hits. He assaulted the strike zone (66.3% of his pitches were as such), moving the ball in, out, up and down effectively. A's hitters often got aggressive and went after the first or second pitch in at-bats, but generally generated harmless contact. His sinker appeared to possess absurd sink, even for him, and the post-game data confirmed that. Per Brooks Baseball, that pitch has averaged 0.98 inches of natural downward movement over his career. In this game? 3.02 inches. Comparing seven innings of data to 1,020 can be deceiving, but that is an undeniably huge difference.

He clearly suffered from a bout of common early-season down velocity (sitting 88-90), and subsequently didn't quite generate the strikeouts that were routine last season (just four), but again, Oakland tried to prevent him from getting to two strikes by swinging early. No problem, though. It backfired for his opposition, allowing him to work quick innings and extend his stay.

If the front office's plan is to wait him out and see if he can replicate his 2013 season before committing to paying him, this was a step in the right direction to reaching that agreement. Unfortunately, it is possible that he ends up pitching himself permanently out of the team's price range.

Baffling baserunning

This game could have gone very differently for the Indians. One play in the eighth inning threatened to put them down, and it could have decided this offense-starved opener.

Cody Allen's first appearance of the season wasn't off to a great start. After inheriting a baserunner from Marc Rzepczynski, who spelled Masterson, he threw a wild pitch to advance that runner to second, and then surrendered a walk. Josh Donaldson then proceeded to destroy a fastball to straightaway center, but what happened next was unbelievable.

While the ball was busy hitting the absolute top of the 10-foot-high wall, Daric Barton was still standing on second base. For reasons beyond everyone's comprehension, he went back to tag up, even though Nyjer Morgan had his back turned to the infield and was clearly planning to play it off the wall (and he did, beautifully). What should have resulted in a run scoring to break the tie and runners still on second and third, turned into the bases loaded and a still-scoreless game. Barton, nor any of his teammates, would touch the plate.

To be fair, Allen still had to escape a bases loaded, one-out jam, and he did. But, again, the run that Barton represented could have been enough to put the visiting team on the wrong end of a tight game. Instead, he committed one of the worst baserunning blunders I have ever personally seen, and it left the door open for an Indians offense that had been clawing at it all night.

Consistent threats finally pay off

For eight innings, this first game of 2014 brought back unpleasant memories of the last game of 2013, in regards to the aforementioned Indians offense. They created opportunity after opportunity for themselves, but had nothing to show for it.

The team's patient approach caused Sonny Gray to labor through the majority of his six innings of work. Carlos Santana, for example, saw 22 pitches in his three at-bats against the starter. They put eight men on against him, but any key hit eluded them, as they went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position up to that point.

In the ninth, they finally broke through. Asdrubal Cabrera, having swung at the first pitch in his previous two at-bats (trademark), led off the frame with a five-pitch walk. David Murphy, having put up three terrible at-bats to that point, followed by guiding a single into right field. Yan Gomes was then hit to load the bases. A Morgan sacrifice fly finally broke the 0-0 tie, and Nick Swisher followed with a run-scoring single to add on.

Although it was frustrating to watch promising innings go for naught most of the night, it is always better to have created those positive situations for yourself than not. On many nights, this patient-but-potent lineup is going to turn 13 baserunners (five coming to lead off innings) into more than just two runs.

Additional notes

John Axford made his regular-season debut, earning the save. He walked two, and threw more balls than strikes (14-to-12), but the stuff was there. He sat at 94 miles per hour, and flashed an excellent curveball that was the subject of his much-talked-about pitch-tipping in seasons past.

We got our first look at both the new plate-blocking rules and video review system on the same play. On a relatively easy call at the plate, Michael Brantley was tagged out. However, there was reason to believe that he should have been safe by the new rules because John Jaso appeared to be close to blocking the dish well before he received the ball. However, the call was upheld.

Roster business

Preceding the game, Gomes' six-year, $23 million extension was made official. It breaks down as follows:

$500,000 bonus
2014: $550,000
2015: $1 million
2016: $2.5 million
2017: $4.5 million
2018: $5.95 million
2019: $7 million
2020: $9 million team option (up to $12 million possible with incentives)
2021: $11 million team option (up to $14 million possible with incentives), $1 million buyout

Personally, I love this deal. Reservations about the length of it, and that it was given based on less than a full season of work are understandable, but there are two certainties here: defense is really important, and Gomes is really good at it. The eye test, throwing percentages, framing analytics, pitcher results, anything you prefer... he's really good. 

Even if one believes that his offensive success last season was a complete mirage, the value is going to be there because of what he means behind the plate. I see at least an average hitter with above-average power, so paired with near-elite defense, the Indians should easily profit.

Up next: The middle game of this opening series. Corey Kluber will take the mound, opposite former rotation mate,Scott Kazmir.

User Comments

Seth
April 2, 2014 - 11:33 AM EDT
Walter, you can have 10 different opinions on any baseball stat, even batting average. Makes things interesting. If there were ever a truly infallible baseball stat, THAT would make a lot of baseball discussions boring.
Walter
April 1, 2014 - 11:59 PM EDT
Sorry I don't care about the WAR stat. I'm from the old school. It makes baseball more fun to follow than trying to keep up with these new stat metrics.

Although it sort of funny how you can have 10 different opinions on same WAR number and reading everyone's comments to justify there viewpoint. on which player to have or play. What happened to K.I.S.S. in baseball?
Seth
April 1, 2014 - 10:18 PM EDT
I like the little WAR arguments that pop up on here time to time, they're funny. It's not a be-all end-all stat, but it's a pretty good way to compare things like pitchers versus fielders, and the actual $ that teams pay players seems to follow it pretty well. To say Bourn's not worth it, and WAR is wrong ... the fact that the Indians did win 92 games last year should make you rethink that. Other things were part of it, but replacing Kotchman with Swisher and Shelley Duncan/etc with Bourn was a considerable part of it, and to think paying $12mil/year to Bourn is a drastic overpay is to ignore market reality and ignore the value of having a not-horrible player.

Fernandez was actually worth 6 bWAR ... in 28 starts. fWAR for pitchers can get kinda goofy, I like it more as a baseline and more what you can expect going forward. bWAR is actual runs against. 6 WAR, that's the difference between 20-8, or 14-14 in those games. A pitcher only controls so much, when there's offense, defense, the bullpen and there's only so much of an impact you can make when you are only participating in about 12% of the total innings your team plays ... heck, the Indians were 2-2 when Bauer pitched last year. It's also not that difficult to find starters for cheap who can keep you in games ... the reason I hated them paying Myers $7 million. You can get guys like Harang for nothing, or go with your Tomlins and the like.
Tony
April 1, 2014 - 9:24 PM EDT
Bourn should thank his lucky stars that WAR was created. Guy is an average player, yet for some reason his number always seems inflated. I mean, he had a down year last season, but according to WAR he and someone like Kris Medlen were of the same value in "wins" which is crazy. Give me a front end of the rotation #1 or #2 type arm any day over a solid center fielder. I mean, Marlon Byrd and Jose Fernandez were near identical with 4.1 and 4.2 WARs.....but it is not even close who is more valuable between the two. Just not a fan of using WAR as a comp between pitchers and position players. Against like positions? Sure.
yourtribe
April 1, 2014 - 9:11 PM EDT
Matthew it was a throw away comment. I could give a rats behind what geek came up with it or who uses it. That was not the point of my comment if you couldn't tell. Bottom line it's a worthless way of valuing players.

Not sure why you responded either. Your comment added nothing of value.

So you think cano is worth just 7 more wins over cord Phelps or someone similar? I could go on with others. But if that comparison doesn't prove the idiocy of war I don't know what does.
Matthew
April 1, 2014 - 8:21 PM EDT
yourtribe--

"some cyber guy" is such an obvious and intentional lie I'm not even sure why I'm responding. Nearly every front office in baseball has admitted they use some version of WAR or RAR. The guys who came up with a lot of the formulas being used to calculate fWAR and bWAR were very quickly hired up by MLB clubs to big salaries to help them find efficiencies. Acting like it's just some blogger who came up with it is complete BS.
yourtribe
April 1, 2014 - 7:19 PM EDT
War is absurd. Just because some cyber guy came up with it doesn't mean it is even remotely worthwhile. And it isn't.

Cano's is 7. So paying him 200 and some million gets you one more win a month than paying cord Phelps the league minimum!!! How dumb.
GSpm
April 1, 2014 - 5:49 PM EDT
Hawk.. not your comment.. The comment that is calling the Michael Bourn signing bone headed and attempting (and failing) to tie that signing with not signing masterson is just wrong..
Seth
April 1, 2014 - 4:31 PM EDT
When you get to the playoffs would agree, a really good pitcher's value increases, because they might be in 40% of the games instead of 20%. But over the course of a year that's not the case. They did just fine last year when Masterson was hurt. Actually played their best baseball. You think it's unreasonable that they would won two fewer games if they'd had some scrub in there instead of Bourn? There just aren't that many guys who can play CF and handle the defense and aren't a waste on offense. You think they would've won 92 games with Carrera out their last year? That's like a replacement level CF. The Indians do have Brantley, and I know a lot of people think he's ok in CF, personally I thought he was well below average, just too slow ... and they still don't have any corner outfielders to replace Brantley, other than maybe Moncrief.

And I'm sure the Indians would've extended Masterson for the $12 million/year they are paying Bourn, so we're not even talking an equivalency. If Bourn is 2/3 as valuable as Masterson, then paying him $12 million is perfectly reasonable if you think Masterson's worth $17-18.
Tony
April 1, 2014 - 3:57 PM EDT
That's the thing Hawk. A pitcher is getting that 2-3 WAR over his 30-33 starts. A position player is getting his 2-3 WAR over 150 or so games. It is really hard to compare if you ask me. Just two completely different positions and ways the players impact the team. I mean, who would you rather have? Masterson pitch two games in a playoff series or Bourn play all seven games? The value is nowhere close if you ask me. I take Masterson everyday and twice on Sunday and Saturday.
Tony
April 1, 2014 - 3:54 PM EDT
This is where I the saber stuff loses me. Where it can be determined a below average graded defensive outfielder who has a terrible OBP and really didn't do much of anything last year can be worth the same amount of "wins" as a good #2 starter. I get the notion that Masterson plays in 20% of the games....but starting pitchers, to me, will always be more valuable than a middling outfielder. I really think the WAR argument has to separate position players and pitchers....it really is apples and oranges with regard to playing time but the way they impact a game. Sure, a starter pitches in 20% of the game, during those 20% of the time they are involved in a great many of the plays and control a ton.....whereas a position player is maybe involved in 2-5 defensive plays and has 3-5 plate appearances. Definitely an interesting debate.
Hawk1228
April 1, 2014 - 3:40 PM EDT
Tony
You would have to ask Shapiro that question, but I heard him say the same thing when Drennan interviewed him on his show in spring training of 08. Its like there is some unwritten rule for situations like these.
Would a 2-3 WAR mean more with a pitcher who only appears in 30-33 games as opposed to a player who plays in 130 games?
Seth
April 1, 2014 - 3:31 PM EDT
Tony, UZR had Bourn's defense as slightly below average last year, and still had him at 2 fWAR. It was a down year. Not as much of a down year as Masterson's 2012. A position player who's involved in almost all games, versus a pitcher who only can impact 20% of the games. I mean, I thought they should sign Masterson too, but if they want to contend, they also need better than Nyjer Morgan in CF, and without any internal replacement, better than Nyjer Morgan (or a major injury risk like Sizemore) in CF costs money.
Tony
April 1, 2014 - 2:49 PM EDT
And I'm sorry, I love WAR, I believe it has its place. But if a system is telling me that Justin Masterson has the same value as Michael Bourn, it gives me pause. I really think WAR overvalues Bourn. He's an average ballplayer, but for whatever reason it really gives him a lot of value based on defense (which from a scouting perspective is above average at best....not elite).
Tony
April 1, 2014 - 2:45 PM EDT
I don't get the "20% of payroll" argument with resigning Masterson. So paying Michael Bourn 15% of the total payroll is any wiser?
Hawk1228
April 1, 2014 - 2:26 PM EDT
I found this Hermie
In high school, the "malicious contact" rule prevents collisions at home plate or elsewhere on the field. The defense is prohibited from initiating flagrant contact with the base runner while the offense, in turn, is required to attempt to avoid significant contact, often through the use of a slide. If the defense violates, the ball is dead and the offender ejected as the umpire awards penalties that in his/her judgment will nullify the act of malicious contact. If the offense violates, the ball is dead, the offender declared out and then ejected from the game.
In college, the "flagrant collision" rule discourages, but does not prohibit, collisions at home plate and on the bases. Instead, only "unnecessary and violent" collisions are outlawed. While defensive players are allowed to block the plate/base with clear possession of the ball, offensive players must take steps to ensure contact with the fielder is legal—for instance, it must be below the waist. Violations of this rule carry similar penalties to the high school malicious contact rule.
Hawk1228
April 1, 2014 - 2:11 PM EDT
Hermie
The rule through college play is not the same as in the majors. You can not just bull rush the catcher You are taught to slide and attempt to avoid contact.
Joey
April 1, 2014 - 12:59 PM EDT
is the bonus a lump sum or spread out over the first 6 years?
Hermie13
April 1, 2014 - 12:29 PM EDT
I clearly am not a Bourn fan but he played in 130 games last year and had 575 plate appearances. I don't get why some are acting like he's Mr. Injury. Prior to being signed he played in 157, 141, 158, and 155 games. Sure the hammy is concerning (believe me), but bit early to say he is a guy that's can't stay on the field.

As Seth said, Bourn still projects to be a solid regular. I was one of the few that expressed some concern with the deal when it happened, but comparing this to Dellucci already is very premature IMO (though don't see any comparison with Dellucci and Bourn at this time).
Hermie13
April 1, 2014 - 12:24 PM EDT
"The problem with this rule, imho, is it goes against everything players (including myself) had done for years.. You block the plate to prevent the runner from getting home regardless if you have or do not have the ball..."

This is my issue though.... it has always been illegal to block the plate without the ball, always. It was just never enforced...and appears the rule still isn't being enforced.

I'm not saying you're wrong in that players have always been taught this as you're right, that's how players from little league thru the bigs have been taught....but doesn't mean they weren't being taught to do something technically against the rules.
Seth
April 1, 2014 - 12:18 PM EDT
It's a little early to be complaining about Bourn and his contract, don't you think? Every projection system out there has Bourn around 3 WAR this year. Morgan, about 1 WAR. If Bourn manages to meet his projection, it's the opposite of a boneheaded move and remains a good value signing. Masterson is a 2-3 WAR pitcher, and Bourn is a 2-3 WAR hitter. They should have extended Masterson, and the Bourn contract can still easily work out in there favor.
Devin
April 1, 2014 - 12:08 PM EDT
Aaand please ignore my typo. Editing fail!
Devin
April 1, 2014 - 12:07 PM EDT
To Matthew and Walter's comments... Mike Chernoff's eluded during the game last night that CA would report on Kipnis' contract situation when the team gets back to Cleveland at the end of the week. I suppose that could go any direction, but if talks were cut off, you'd think one of the camps would have already leaked it. Seems like a great time to announce an extension of your franchise player -- on opening day at your home stadium! Fingers crossed...
matt underwood
April 1, 2014 - 12:02 PM EDT
im not saying the bourn move totally prohibited the tribe from signing masterson, but if we had that extra $13m laying around, i think it would happen. would you want 20% of your team's salary tied up in a #1 or #2 starter (depending on the team) or 17% of your team's total salary tied up in a guy that can't stay on the field.

bourn signing rivals dellucci signing in terms of stupidity
Seth
April 1, 2014 - 12:00 PM EDT
Tough to say whether it's meaningful, being the first game in March and all, but Masterson's velocity was concerning to me. He had great success in the opener in 2012 too, but his velocity was down a lot to start that year, and it was a harbinger of bad things to come.
shy
April 1, 2014 - 11:54 AM EDT
I had planned on going to the game but it was cold and rainy all day and I worked late instead, my bad. I was working at a client's who and we had it on the flatscreen. The first glimpse he caught of Nyjer Morgan he said he was wearing a uniform two sizes too large and I told him it had to be because Tony Plush was in there too. Nyjer played Donaldson's bomb perfectly off the wall. Longest single I've ever seen. Masterson is a different pitcher w guys on base- when he pays too much attention to the runner his command suffers, but this guy is getting better every year, he's an ace, nice to see....
Hawk1228
April 1, 2014 - 11:45 AM EDT
What is wrong Gson about the Michael Bourn comment
GSon
April 1, 2014 - 10:44 AM EDT
Notes/Musings on Game 1: A lot of opportunities missed. The A's deserve some of the credit for the missed chances as they came up with play after play in crucial situations. Sonny Gray made the pitches.. the A's defense made the plays..the same can be said for the Indians in the 6th (Masterson) and 9th (Ax-Man) inning respectively..

The cold wet weather in Oak-Town should prepare our Sons of Geronimo for the coming weekend home opener...

Kazmir being pumped up for the game could/should work in the Indians favor..at least that's my story and I'm sticking with it..

Regarding the Michael Bourn comment above.. wrong..

Regarding the plate being blocked play with Brantley: The catcher clearly had his left foot in foul territory but, still allowed the base runner a clear, unobstructed path to home plate (or at least it can be interpreted as such) Because the catcher caught the ball (at least a full step.. and there is no rule to this effect) before the runner advanced to the home plate area & catcher, this makes the decision / interpretation by the home plate umpire very easy.. Catcher has the ball and only needs to tag the runner while legally stepping into the base path versus catcher does NOT have the ball and must be outside the base path. Michael Brantley did not have an obstructed path to the plate by the catcher. The catcher gained possession of the baseball before contact. So, no automatic "safe" call by sliding. The problem with this rule, imho, is it goes against everything players (including myself) had done for years.. You block the plate to prevent the runner from getting home regardless if you have or do not have the ball...
Hawk1228
April 1, 2014 - 10:29 AM EDT
Matt I don’t believe the Bourn signing stopped us from signing Masterson. I heard almost verbatim that same story out of Shapiro when commenting on negotiations with Sabathia. By committing what would amount to almost 20% of the total salary to Masterson they would be hard pressed to pay players to surround him. That was exactly what he said about CC.
matt underwood
April 1, 2014 - 10:14 AM EDT
it just makes me sick to my stomach that we are probably not going to pay masterson b/c we have an albatross in the form of michael bourn on this team. i mean hell, im quite happy with morgan from what ive seen in the spring and first game.

to say bone head move in terms of signing him is an enourmous understatement. great job antonetti of tying up resources into a a guy that cant stay on the field with bad legs.
Hawk1228
April 1, 2014 - 9:40 AM EDT
I saw a lot of catchers this spring from our farm system that are going to be blocked or trade prospects in the next few years.
Hermie13
April 1, 2014 - 9:26 AM EDT
And also...am I the only one still a bit confused on the Brantley play at the plate?

Winters' explanation after the game just left me more dumbfounded:

“Basically with the new rule, I just wanted to confirm what I saw on the field that the catcher (Jaso) did not block the plate unnecessarily,’’ Winters said. “(Jaso) was in fair territory. He gave the runner plenty of plate to go to, and so I just wanted to be sure."


Correct me if I'm wrong...but isn't ALL of homeplate in fair territory? So what does Jaso being in fair territory have to do with anything? If he's standing on the base line (which replay clearly showed he was prior to having the ball) then he is blocking the entire plate and is in violation of the rule.

Obviously it's a moot point as the good guys still won, but this rule....really have no faith it'll be any better than the old one. Way too much interpretation still there. Basically the precedent set here is you can block the plate without the ball provided you aren't blocking all of the plate and leaving the runner at least some kind of path to the plate (even though again replay showed this not to be the case really).
Hermie13
April 1, 2014 - 9:26 AM EDT
Good outing by Masterson but a pretty atypical one for him. Strikeouts were way down, though so too were the walks...and GB rate was barely above 40%. Not knocking his game as I don't care how he gets it done though, just thought it was an odd stat line for Masterson, especially given the data on how much his sinker was moving. Would have expected a lot more groundball outs. Way too many balls in the air...though as said, can't really look at one game and take much away in this regard.

Ugly win but a good win for the Tribe (way too many wasted opportunities). Bad base running on both sides too yesterday. First game of the year though...can't expect everything to be perfect.
Walter
April 1, 2014 - 9:11 AM EDT
Tonight we face another tough game. I bet Kazmir is going to try to prove that the Indians should have signed him. We could have another low scoring game.

If there is a Kipnis signing announcement, it would add excitement to the home opener.

The big question is will the rain stay away on Friday?
Matthew
April 1, 2014 - 9:02 AM EDT
Great to get the first win last night, even if we had to stay up late to watch it.

Reading between the lines on all the reports out there and the timing of Gomes' announcement, I have a suspicion we will hear that Kipnis' extension is done in the next 2 days, with an official announcement Thursday.

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