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Second Thoughts: Game #13: Indians 5, A's 1

Second Thoughts: Game #13: Indians 5, A's 1
April 22, 2012
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The Indians beat the Oakland Athletics last night 5-1, running their season record to 8-5 and within one game of first place Detroit.

Here is a list of 10 observations or thoughts from last night’s game:

Please try to pay attention. Hey Gomez, when guys are on base, you have to pay a little attention to them. Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez was a little rusty in the early going both with his pitches and holding runners as he allowed three stolen bases in the first inning. All three stolen bases were stolen off of him as runners were in motion well before he even went into his windup, which gave Santana no chance to throw them out. Even with the mental lapses and his lack of command in the first inning, he got through it unscathed and really settled in after that and went 5.1 innings on the night and allowed one run on four hits, one walk, and struck out three. I said it before the season, and I will say it again. I think he is primed for a breakout year and is ready to show he can be a consistent middle of the rotation starter in the big leagues.

I hate bunting. Look, I understand the need to bunt when it is appropriate. And what I mean by appropriate is when a game is close and late. Not the fourth inning. Not the sixth inning. And certainly not the second inning. The only time I am even considering bunting is if there are no outs, it is the 8th inning or later, the leadoff batter reaches base, the game is tied or you are down or up a run.  I can live with that, although I don’t always agree with it. But bunting any time before the 7th inning is absolutely mindboggling.  You get 27 outs in a game and with the bunt you are simply giving the team an out. Outs are precious and are the only thing which brings the game to closure.  To give them up so freely just to try and avoid the double play or put a runner in scoring position flies in the face of the true reality with bunting: it really gives you no advantage. History shows that teams are more likely to score at least one run in an inning with a runner on first and no outs instead of a runner on second with one out. I read such a study a few years ago and it will always stick with me on why bunting is just a useless play. Not all the time, but most of the time. If I ever find a link to that study I will post it to the site. So why am I rambling about this? Well, manager Manny Acta had Jason Donald bunting in the SECOND inning. Ugh.

Chisenhall who? Boy, Jack Hannahan is doing everything he can to make the Indians’ front office look smart for opening the season with him as the third baseman and not top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. While Chisenhall is hitting well in Columbus, Hannahan is also off to a hot start at the most important level in Cleveland. At some point Hannahan’s performance will level out because it is hard to see him sustaining this, but his start has not only helped the team on the field with clutch hits, it also helps them off it by letting them be patient with Chisenhall so he can continue to work on some flaws in his game while at Triple-A Columbus and not have to be forced to rush him to the big leagues like they did last year.

Not dead yet. Left-hander Tony Sipp had a nice (and much needed) 1-2-3 inning of work last night in the seventh inning. He has struggled in the early part of the season and even after the clean inning last night still owns an 11.57 ERA. With today being the last game before the team heads home, has an off day on Monday, and then Asdrubal Cabrera rejoins the team on Tuesday, the Indians are going to have to decide whether to send Sipp down to Columbus (he has all three options left still) or send down the recently recalled Nick Hagadone back to Columbus. Hagadone almost made the bullpen out of spring training, and they called him up right away. I find it hard to believe that they called Hagadone up with the intention of sending him right back down, especially after his perfect performance in two outings. This will make for good discussion on their off day and be newsworthy when they probably announce the move on Monday or Tuesday.

A slide always starts somewhere. Is Shelley Duncan starting to regress to the mean? Sure looks like it. The 32-year old journeyman outfielder has certainly gained a ton of fans because of his underdog status, and he helped gain fans with a strong spring training hitting only .161 but piling up 6 HR and 19 RBI in 21 games. He got off to a great start to the season his first nine games hitting .333 (9-for-27) with 2 HR and 6 RBI, and most impressively 10 walks and only 6 strikeouts. But in his last four games he is just 2-for-14 at the plate with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. Eventually water finds its level, and while I am one of those that hopes that Duncan is a late bloomer and remains productive, I am also a realist and think in a month his numbers will revert to their career norms.

The Damon Watch. It has begun. Damon had three plate appearances in an extended spring training game on Friday and then played the outfield and had two more plate appearances on Saturday. He also hit a long homer in the game on Saturday. I don’t care what anyone says, he helps add more length to this roster and helps protect against injury and performance. It is hard to bank on Duncan remaining productive, and each of the last four seasons Travis Hafner has missed significant time.  Plus, with Aaron Cunningham on the roster, there is certainly room to add him and he will help.

All glove, no stick. Thank goodness Casey Kotchman can pick the hell out of the ball at first base because at the moment he is really struggling at the plate. Without that offensive explosion he had against the Royals where he went 5-for-11 with 2 HR and 3 RBI in three games, he is just 3-for-40 with 1 RBI in the other nine games he has played. Over time he will probably do much better, but I still wish Carlos Pena would have chosen to sign with the Indians (it was between the Indians and Rays). He is a good defender like Kotchman and also left-handed, but a more productive hitter. In 15 games for the Rays he is hitting .315 with 3 HR, 12 RBI and 1.003 OPS.

A star is born. Okay, so it was not one of his better games (0-for-4, BB, 2 K), but catcher Carlos Santana is on the verge of super stardom. He showed glimpses of his power and production potential last season with 27 homers and 79 RBI, and he also showed his ability to be patient and draw walks by piling up 97 walks last year. He looks a lot more comfortable both behind and at the plate this season, and if he stays healthy, he is going to make more than good on the five year $21 million investment the Indians made on him a few weeks back.

Welcome to the party. Second baseman Jason Kipnis broke out with a four hit game last night going 4-for-5 at the plate with a triple and three RBI. He came into the game with a .167 average and .622 OPS in his first 12 games, but after his blow up last night his average shot up 59 points to .226 and his OPS shot up 126 points to .748. Oh the joys of the first month of the season where one good or bad game can really affect a player’s overall numbers.

Road warriors. With their win last night the Indians are now 7-1 on the road to start the season, the first time they have started 7-1 on the road since the 1988 season. I don’t put much stock into these kinds of things – they went 78-84 in 1988 – but if anything their hot play in their first road trip was MUCH needed after a very disappointing 1-4 homestand to open the season.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Tony
April 23, 2012 - 3:45 PM EDT
Good point Seth on McCarthy as I discredited him too much. But I still am no fan of bunting in the second inning against any pitcher and in any situation except maybe with 1st/2nd and no outs, a weak hitter up, and you are facing one of MLB's elite pitchers.
Seth
April 23, 2012 - 12:56 PM EDT
Agree with Tony on the bunt in that situation, but McCarthy's no slouch, he had the 5th best FIP in MLB last year, better than Verlander's.

There were 2 Donald-aided singles yesterday by the A's, one from Cespedes early on, I forget who hit the other one, both should've been outs but he took too long with his throw. He's a decent second baseman, not very good at any other infield position. Maybe that's why Masterson was afraid to throw strikes, ha.

Tony Lastoria
April 23, 2012 - 10:26 AM EDT
Richard, I am not against bunting, I just hate it early in a game and not in a proper situation. Bunting early in the game is simply not a proper situation, unless MAYBE when you are facing a stud pitcher like Verlander, Halladay, etc where you want to try to maximize your scoring opportunities. But against Brandon McCarthy? You gotta let your guys swing the bats against those guys. All it shows is a complete lack of confidence in the player if you have him bunting against that kind of pitcher early in the game. Struggling or not, as a manager, you have to believe the player will turn it around, especially against a mediocre pitcher.
Rich
April 23, 2012 - 8:41 AM EDT
With respect to Donald bunting, I agree that you're giving up one of your 27 outs, but my feeling is that when a guy is not swinging the bat well and is not in a favorable matchup, you're also giving up the out if you let him swing, and possibly two outs if he grounds into a DP, so why not have him bunt and at least advance two runners? IOW, make sure he makes only one out and get something good out of it.

As for the argument that it's too early in the game, hey, the idea is to maximize runs scored, and a run in the 3rd inning counts the same as a run in the 9th. Manny agrees - he had Donald bunting in that situation.

Against a left-handed pitcher I'd have him swinging away based on his success against lefties that last two years.
Tony
April 22, 2012 - 9:45 PM EDT
Anonymous, I saw it differently with Donald. He is a borderline ML shortstop and should only be playing there in emergency or one a week to give Cabrera a break. Makes some plays look much tougher than they need to be....and just a lot more limited with his range and lacks the quick hands/feet to play the position on a regular basis. He filled in admirably though, and the Indians played well without Cabrera.

As for Hagadone being a starter...just not going to happen. I am not sure why everyone keeps thinking he should be one. The guy is a bullpen pitcher. Was one in college, and only started early in his pro career in order to develop his pitches/delivery and not completely rule out starting. But, going from everything I have heard from decision makers with the Indians and with scouts from other teams, he is in no ways a ML starting pitcher. His value is to the backend of a bullpen.
Seth
April 22, 2012 - 3:33 PM EDT
Masterson also has a plus fastball, ok slider and crappy changeup, and he was one of the best starters in baseball last year. So yeah, why not Hagadone. I don't really buy the logic that he can't stay healthy as a starter just because his elbow was Tommy John'd at one point in his career. He'd be much more valuable as even a middle of the rotation starter than as a reliever. Right now, I would rather see him in the bullpen, in hope of seeing an actual consistent lefty rather than the brutal highs and lows of Sipp/Perez, but long term, it would be nice if they'd try stretching him out to see what he can do.

One bullpen-related thing I didn't like about last night was Wheeler, who has looked awful. Gotta love his 3/1 walk to k rate, and 6.95 FIP. He gave up 2 blasts that looked gone off the bat but died on the warning track. Chris Perez missing by 3 feet on his first two pitches and then grooving one that Kila just missed wasn't too encouraging either.

I disagree about the comment on Donald below, the problem when he plays SS, is he's sooo slooowww getting the ball out of his glove. 9th inning was classic Donald, and brought back memories of '10, watching simple slowly hit ground balls turning into infield singles. It's like he thinks he's closer to 1st than he is, and can take more time than he actually can, which is weird, because in the Phillies org he was a SS not a 2B, so you'd think he'd be used to it. I like Donald, but I don't know that he works well as a utility guy because his defense is so shaky at 3rd and short. If not for Kotchman, he'd have likely committed about 3 errors in the game against KC where he was at third, he was bouncing everything he threw.
Jim
April 22, 2012 - 11:53 AM EDT
Ben--

I watched him as a starter in Kinston...granted High-A...but still as a starter...and damn if he wasn't just explosive. There's a combo of reasons why they have him in the pen though...first off...his health, and there's just a fundamental feeling that he's better in short appearances. He has a plus fastball...hell...a plus, PLUS fastball that can hit 100 on a good day. The starter issue comes with his secondary stuff. He has a plus slider that he's really now starting to control, and a below average changeup, that I'm guessing they don't want him to use very much because of it's utter hit-ability. Now, better starters have done more with less, but I think Tribe management believes he's better suited to the pen, in short, concise outings, where he can just rip the heat and bender...

Can they Masterson Hagadone? I would love it...that's just me...
Ben
April 22, 2012 - 11:35 AM EDT
The Rangers have had good success taking relief pitchers and turning them into starters. C.J. Wilson, Feliz, and Ogando. If Hagadone is healthy this season I think the Indians should consider making him a starter.
Ben
April 22, 2012 - 11:29 AM EDT
I would not call them bad teams. Both were at .500.
anonymous
April 22, 2012 - 10:30 AM EDT
I like the defense Donald played last night. He seems more comfortable at SS vs 3B. How about Chris Perez finishing again last night. Brantley seems to be driving the ball. Keep it up tribe
Tony
April 22, 2012 - 8:38 AM EDT
Rich, not early in a game though. Bunting runners from first and second with no outs and putting them on second and third with one out simply increases your chances of scoring from 64% to 69%. That's not much of an advantage gained. Yes, in a tie game or down/up a run in the 8th inning or later, you definitely bunt Donald there. Or maybe consider if facing a top line pitcher like Verlander......but you simply don't do it in the 2nd inning of a game you are already up 1-0 and facing Brandon McCarthy. You are giving the guy an out. You get 27 the whole game. They are like the clock in baseball as you play until you run out of 27 outs.
Rich
April 22, 2012 - 8:26 AM EDT
I think there's a difference between bunting to advance one runner and trying to advance two. Donald was bunting with runners on 1st and 2nd and no one out. Plus, he's the 9th hitter in the order and his average was below .200. Also, he was facing a right-handed pitcher. I thought it was a defensible move given the circumstances.

Tribe fans should be ecstatic over this 7-1 road trip, even though it's against three bad teams.

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