Second Thoughts Game #21: Royals 3, Indians 5
Offense racking up hits
Despite the continual struggles of a couple of key players, the Indians offense is showing some signs of life. Over their last three games the team has racked up 31 hits. More importantly, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Bourn (discussed further below) have started to unthaw at the top of the lineup. While it’s early, Michael Brantley is showing more power than at any other stretch in his career and could be on the cusp of emerging as a very dynamic offensive player.
There is still a lot of bad at-bats goings around, and hitters such asCarlos Santana, Ryan Raburn, and Asdrubal Cabrera continue to struggle – though Cabrera was 2-for-3 with a stolen base in this game and has squared the ball up much better in his last couple games. Even more positive on the Cabrera front is that his plate discipline seems to have improved. His strikeout and walk rates are back at their pre-2013 levels. Cabrera, Swisher, and Kipnis have been victims to low BABIP in the early going, so they should continue trending upward.
One thing that really stands out is the improvements in plate discipline from Kipnis and Brantley. As a minor leaguer Brantley regularly had seasons where he walked more than he struck out, but that’s never translated to Cleveland. His walk rate in particular has always been disappointing to me. At this point of the season it’s almost foolish to get too excited, but if he keeps his walk rate around 10% with his regular low strikeout totals he’s going to take a big jump as an offensive player, even if the power he’s showing turns out to be a fluke.
Masterson and velocity loss
A lot has been made of Justin Masterson’s velocity loss this season. I’m not quite sure what to make of it yet. I believe velocity is only one of a number of factors that contribute to a pitcher’s success. Items such as pitch movement, command, mechanics, successfully mixing pitches together, and even deception are all important. There’s a couple ways to look at the loss in velocity.
First, it’s normal for a pitcher to lose velocity as he ages. Felix Hernandez has lost almost exactly 1 MPH on his fastball in each of the last four years. He’s still just as good a pitcher today as he was four years ago. Usually these types of velocity changes occur slowly over time. Masterson’s fastball averaged 93.1 MPH last season. This year it’s all the way down to 90.3 MPH, the biggest drop of any starter in baseball. To me, that’s not a natural loss of velocity. The progression is too dramatic.
Other options are injury, which Masterson and the team have denied. An issue in mechanics is another possibility, and one that Mickey Callaway and Masterson acknowledged a few weeks ago. Supposedly, he was coming open to much in his delivery and not getting behind the ball. However, to this point the adjustments haven’t increased his velocity.
Whatever the cause, Masterson’s early season struggles can be blamed on his control and not his velocity. If anything, the decrease in velocity puts more pressure on him to hit his spots and make the right pitches as his room for error is less. The back-to-back home runs Masterson gave up in the second inning were on pitches left over the middle of the plate. I doubt throwing those pitches three miles per hour faster would matter.
In watching him during this game, his sinker was working throughout (12 groundball outs) and his slider looked great, even if it was only being thrown in the high 70’s. There are still a lot of things working in Masterson’s favor. The movement of his pitches is still there, his strikeout rate remains unchanged, and in typical fashion he still seems to be at his best with runners on base. In what has become a nightly routine, the defense put Masterson in a jam in the sixth inning after an error by Jason Kipnis put runners on first and second with no outs. Asdrubal Cabrera then mishandled the ball when trying to turn a double play, getting only one out. The miscues cost the Indians their third run, but unlike Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco when these instances have happened to them, Masterson was able to limit the damage.
Bourn coming around?
Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera’s early season struggles have been discussed, but the player I’ve been more concerned about is Michael Bourn. He’s coming off a down season, didn’t hit well in spring training, got hurt, and then didn’t hit in his rehab starts. Those items may not be concerning on their own, but then Bourn then started the year 1-for-13 with five strikeouts. However, I’m hopeful that he’s turning the corner. Bourn is 7-for-18 in his last four games and had the biggest hit of the game on Wednesday with a two RBI triple in the second inning.
There’s still been some struggles in the rest of his game. Bourn has made two miscues in center this season where catchable balls have bounced off his glove. After this game, he’s now been caught stealing three times already. One of those was a play in the first inning on Wednesday where Bourn got caught in no man’s land between second and third base after a bunt attempt from Jason Kipnis. It was a play where the Indians had runners on first and second with no outs, and the base running blunder killed their momentum. Bourn’s caught stealing in the seventh was even more costly as Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis followed with hits and an important insurance run was left off the board.
Gomes’ total regression
Yan Gomes’ problems aren’t limited to his miscues on defense. He seemed like a candidate for a regression on offense all along, and that’s become a reality. He’s not a particularly disciplined hitter who’s going to draw a lot of walks; however, after last season there was some hope that he could cut down on the high strikeout totals that plagued him in the minors. Right now he’s striking out close to 25% of the time, which is an issue.
The worse news is that his .267 batting average is being buoyed by a BABIP of .326. He’s been a bit lucky this season, and his numbers are still down across the board. That’s not a good sign for future success. He doesn’t need to lead the team offensively, but they do need his right handed bat against left-handers. Last year Gomes had a .327/.376/.558 slash line against lefites. So far in 2014 his slash line against lefties is .158/.227/.158. This must improve.
-With the win the Indians are now 2-6 against left-handed pitchers this year. Part of those struggles can be attributed to “Lefty Killer” Ryan Raburn’s 5-for-24 start against lefties. Raburn posted an OPS over 1.000 last year against southpaws to pace the offense. He was 0-for-3 in this game, and is in the midst of a 0-for-14 slump. He’ll get another chance on Thursday with the Indians scheduled to face Bruce Chen.
-Carlos Santana’s slump has no end. He’s had just – get ready for this – two hits in his last 45 at-bats. I’m sure the position change and his other responsibilities are weighing on him, so perhaps some extra days off and time at DH would do him good. Luckily the team has the ability to use Lonnie Chisenhall’s hot start to help them navigate through Santana’s struggles.
-The Indians and Royals will conclude their four game series starting at 12:05 PM. Corey Kluber will face off against Chen, who had a 1.04 ERA in five games against the Indians last year.
Last Tribe pitcher to strikeout 11, have 0 walks and throw a complete game at home? Len Barker....during his perfect game in 1981!
Not just a nice start by Kluber....that was an unbelievable start for Kluber that should have been a shut-out (yay defense). Hell, best start for a Tribe pitcher at home since 1981? Sounds crazy....but is it?
2014 (thru 4/23): .185/.233/.222/.455 w/ a .037 ISO, 17 wRC+, 0 HR
2013: .308/.403/.617/1.020 w/ a .351 ISO, 185 wRC+, 7 HR
2012: .165/.224/.253/.477 w/ a .088 ISO, 27 wRC+, 0 HR
2011: .274/.321/.486/.807 w/ a .212 ISO, 116 wRC+, 7 HR
2010: .295/.363/.566/.929 w/ a .271 ISO, 148 wRC+, 7 HR
2009: .278/.382/.594/.976 w/ a .316 ISO, 150 wRC+, 12 HR
Maybe overall 2013 will never happen again but I don't see why we shouldn't expect another good year from Raburn vs lefties. Yes, his 2014 numbers to date look an awful lot like his 2012 numbers...but it's been what, 8 games against a LHSP? As said, he needs to pick it up vs lefties but think it's premature to think he's 2012 all over again.
As far as Gomes...not much data to go off of. I dont' have his minor league splits. I recall some saying he could be a platoon/utility guy when we first got him so assumed he was always solid against LHP but that may not have been the case. Anyone have any minor league data on him?
Not complaining about no Johnson (he is not a guy you want to be starting)...but that's two LHSPs in a row and no Johnson. He's not playing vs lefties...no being a defensive replacement, and not pinch running...
Striking out 24.3% of the time really isn't that big an issue IMO. Was at nearly 21% last year. If he just keeps hitting like he does he'll be fine....the defense needs to improve though.
Agree his hitting vs lefties is a problem. Him and Rarburn really need to pick it up there or could be a long season vs them....