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Second Thoughts Game #3: Indians 6, Athletics 4

Brantley's walkoff gives Cleveland a doubleheader split, series win

Second Thoughts Game #3: Indians 6, Athletics 4
Jason Kipnis & Ryan Raburn (Photo: ESPN)
April 3, 2014
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Game 1: Oakland 6, Cleveland 1

Game 2: Cleveland 6, Oakland 4

Let’s break down the Indians day-night double-header split by reviewing the major areas of the game.

Starting Pitching

In short, the starting pitching was very bad. Both Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister had trouble finding the zone and were too hittable when they did throw strikes. This was in large part due to falling behind in the count and having to either nibble at the corners (leading to walks) or throw down the middle (leading to hits).

Game 1

Corey Kluber: 3.1 IP, 8H, 5/5 R/ER, 3BB, 2SO, 55.8% strikes

Corey Kluber looked off in his start to 2014. He fell behind hitters, throwing only 50% of his first pitches for strikes, and this led to a higher reliance on his sinker to get back into the count. A quick comparison of his pitch usage between 2013 (on the left) and last night (on the right):

 

Sinker/Fastball

Slider

Curve

Change

% Thrown

53%

66%

25%

13%

13%

16%

9%

5%

% Strikes

63%

53%

69%

66%

69%

70%

61%

25%

*note pitchFX classifies some sinkers as straight fastballs, but they really are just sinkers that have “flattened” out

That’s a lot of percentages, but the main takeaway is that Sinker/Fastball column. He threw more sinkers, for fewer strikes and this is a bad recipe. Not only were hitters able to sit on the hard-stuff, but they could take strikes on the off-speed pitches because they were ahead in the count. This proved costly as Kluber’s pitch count rose very quickly and he was ineffective overall.

The good news is that Kluber’s repertoire seems to remain intact from 2013. The velocity and movement of his pitches was there and there is no reason to believe that he won’t convert them into more successful outings going forward.

Game 2

Zach MaCallister: 4 IP, 6H, 3/3 R/ER, 4BB, 4K, 55.8% strikes

Similar to Game 1, the Indians bullpen was called on earlier than expected to mop-up the mess created by the Starter. In an odd coincidence, Kluber and MaCallister threw the exact same % of strikes. However, ZMac was able to weather the storm and keep the Indians in the game, though only for 4+ innings. No fancy analysis here; nights like this are going to occur for Zach every few starts: he is a back-end starter meant to keep the Indians in the game. Technically, he did his job last night.

Batters

Game 1:

1 run, 5 Hits, 2 doubles, 0 walks, 1 GIDP, 5 strikeouts: 156/156/218

This sight is all too familiar from this Indians’ lineup. Some days there is just zero punch and it seems as if getting the ball out of the infield is a moral victory, if not an actual one. Jason Kipnis was the best hitter of the afternoon managing two hits and scoring the lone run.

Frankly, the Indians were lucky to get the sole run they did manage. Scott Kazmir had the Indians number and looked every bit as talented as we remembered him down the stretch in 2013. It’s too bad the Indians’ front-office was focued elsewhere in the off-season: 2 years and $22mil is a small gamble to make for a pitcher with his potential.

Game 2:

6 runs, 9 hits, 1 double, 1 HR, 7 walks, 4 strikeouts: 258/381/371

Better late than never.  The Indians accounted for 50% of their runs, 33% of their hits and 31% of their base-runners in just 11% of their opportunities. The big hit was obviously Michael Brantley’s single through the right side, but it was made possible by two great at-bats from Ryan Raburn and Nick Swisher. Both guys fell-behind in the count, but managed to take what they were given and drive singles to the opposite field.

Jason Kipnis failed to bunt them over, but was savd by his speed when he hit a grounder to the right side and got down the line quickly enough to erase any chance of a double-play. Later, he would steal 2nd to force the newly acquired (and soon to be demoted) Jim Johnson to unintentionall-intentionally walk Carlos Santana. Brantley jumped on the first pitch and was fortunate that it found the hole on the right side: a few feet either way and that’s an easy double play ball.

Overall, the Indians gave no indication that they are going to be a different offensive team than they were in 2013. Very good patience, middling power and a little too much reliance on the clutch-hit will create a decent offensive environment and strong pitching will be need to get  back to 90 wins.

Relief Pitching:

Let’s talk about the relief pitching collectively, rather than focus on either of the individual games.

Overall line: 10.2IP, 2/1 R/ER, 5H, 4BB, 8K, 62% strikes

This is a really good start to one of the larger question marks on the 2014 edition of the Indians. Every bullpen member of the 25-man roster: Scott AtchisonVinnie PestanoBlake WoodJosh OutmanMarc RzepczynskiBryan ShawCody Allen and John Axford saw time and pitched well. The only reliever not used by Terry Francona was C.C. Lee, who was the 26th man on the roster, only called up as emergency support.

The bullpen collective put together an ERA under 1, a WHIP under 1 and a solid 2:1 K:BB ratio. This is a great sign for the rest of the season: with question marks up and down the starting rotation, the Indians will need an effective, and deep, relief corps to patch things over until more stability presents itself at the front-end. 

Defense

One good thing: Carlos Santana made a tough play at third base. In the first game, he ran-in on a choppy grounder and made a do-or-die scoop and throw to get the runner at home. The play was reviewed by the new, and oft-talked about, MLB review system and was ultimately upheld. Unfortunately, Santana later booted a routine grounder that accelerated Corey Kluber’s exit from the game.

The bigger mistakes of the day were made in the Indians’ victory, however. In the bottom of the 7thJosh Donaldson hit a lazy fly ball to left-cent field. Both Ryan Raburn and Michael Brantley could have easily made the catch, but miscommunication led to them bumping into each other and a missed catch. Next, a wild-pitch moved Donaldson to 3rd. Even with all these mistakes, it took a third mishap for the Athletics to push across the go-ahead run: while covering 1st base, Bryan Shaw simply dropped a ball thrown from Jason Kipnis.

Overall, a bad night in the field and it seemed like the defense is still rounding into form. 

Coaching

Terry Francona continues to impress. After a fantastic first season and playoff berth in 2013, Francona is clearly hungry for larger success. He used his bullpen effectively and won his only challenge of the game when Nick Punto tried to phantom tag Mike Aviles at 2nd base, and won an overturned call verdict after review.

As most sabermetricians will suggest, sacrificing an out on a bunt is a cardinal sin. However, Francona called for this tactic in the one situation where it actually is worth the out: down by 1 run with runners on 1st and 2nd in the 9thinning while on the road. If you think that is way too narrow of a criteria to use a sacrifice bunt, I encourage you to go here (http://sports.stackexchange.com/questions/64/when-is-a-sacrifice-bunt-a-statistically-good-option), follow all the links, and read up on the numbers.

I also applaud the heavy use of relievers and not falling into the trap of “it’s a long season and we need to save our relievers” as an excuse for keeping starters out there once they have shown they don’t have the stuff today. Wins and losses in April are just as important as those in July or September. 

Overall

The Cleveland Indians escaped Oakland with a well-deserved series win following a split of the day/night double-header at the Coliseum. While the first series of the season definitely exposed some potential problems with the rotation; the Tribe faithful has to be very happy that the winning attitude seems to have carried over from 2013. Though I am a stat-heavy consumer of baseball, one must credit Terry Francona with instilling, and maintaining, that atmosphere in the clubhouse.

User Comments

Tony
April 4, 2014 - 10:35 AM EDT
Yeah, to me Johnson is here to stay. When Bourn returns I would be surprised if Chisenhall is not sent out, or maybe Morgan. Anyone else would be a surprise.
Hermie13
April 4, 2014 - 10:21 AM EDT
I don't think Johnson is gone when Bourn is back. I would not be opposed to it but Francona seems to like him a lot.
Hermie13
April 4, 2014 - 10:19 AM EDT
I just don't see why you bench Murphy....his career ISO is .166...same as Chiz. Chiz may have some untapped potential there but right now Murphy still should be starting. Couple bad games shouldn't force him to the bench.
Rich
April 3, 2014 - 6:18 PM EDT
I don't think Swisher can play RF any more. His arm can't make those long throws without risking injury.

Very happy to get two wins thanks to Masterson, some clutch hitting, great relief pitching, and the A's closer being off his game.

Still, I'm a little concerned about the starting pitching and really concerned about the defense. Not just third base, but shortstop (Asdrubal), and right field (Murphy looks very slow-footed and took a terrible route to a long fly ball by Cespedes that dropped on the grass behind him).

I agree - Elliot Johnson is almost an automatic out. I assume he's gone when Bourn returns.

The fact that Axford went 2-for-2 is very encouraging when you consider how bad he was last April.

We were lucky the A's have a couple of their best starters hurt. That guy who pitched the nightcap shouldn't be in a starting rotation.

If the A's had a decent closer we could easily have been swept.
C. L. Who
April 3, 2014 - 6:12 PM EDT
If the changes I suggested were made, Murphy would be odd man out.

I thought Swisher's shoulder had healed up, but maybe not.

The only player on the roster that might have unused power potential is Chisenhall, so he needs to play at least every game at third vs. RHP just to see if that power manifests.
Hermie13
April 3, 2014 - 4:47 PM EDT
err...Swisher's shoulder issue (not elbow)
Hermie13
April 3, 2014 - 4:33 PM EDT
Swisher in the OF...just moves Murphy and Raburn to DH though. Swisher is a better defensive 1B than Santana...could argue Murphy is a better defensive OFer than Swisher (especially now with Swish's elbow issue). So don't see how moving Murphy to DH, Swisher to RF, Santana to 1B and Chiz to 3B solves anything...same bats are in the lineup and the defense doesn't get much better (if any)...
C.L. Who
April 3, 2014 - 3:59 PM EDT
Santana is an average defensive first baseman....he ought to play there and Swisher ought to be moved to right field, which is the position at which his career batting stats and power stats are substantially better than first base. Swish and Santana could also rotate through DH. Chisenhall should play third. This puts all of the team's "power" bats into the lineup and isn't a defensive disaster.
Walter
April 3, 2014 - 3:32 PM EDT
Yes it was an ugly win, but in the end of the season they count how many you won not how ugly or pretty the games were. I'ii take it. Did not expect the Indians to take 2 out of 3 to team that is picked to win the division.
GSon
April 3, 2014 - 3:19 PM EDT
Avory..you're right..glass half empty.. The same folks call Michael Brantley a below average defensive player who is, now over paid outfielder..

Santana behind the plate.. could be better..

Santana at 3B.. could be better..

Santana as a DH.. could be better..

Any player on any team doing all three.. none better.. Maybe Gones?.. My guess.. when the glut of good catchers start making their way to the corner of Ontario and Carnegie..then it will be the Yanimal being 'saved'..not Santana..

You were at the game?. Wow, not many friends of the feather there on a colder than a witches elbow kind of night.. Are you going to the Giants series at the end of the month ?? it will be your last chance to see the tribe in person for the rest of the year...??
Hawk1228
April 3, 2014 - 2:40 PM EDT
It is what he can’t do that is exactly the issue. As an offensive player I am sure you are correct in what you say about other teams wanting him, but I would believe most would be in the American League. I insist there was a reason the Dodgers traded him for Casey Blake. I find it very hard to believe that teams would be lining up for his services if he was to insist to be a catcher on an everyday basis. A catcher who cannot control the running game and one who allows runners to advance along with limiting what a pitcher can throw with a runner on third is not one who is in high demand.
I am not buying the age argument either, there are plenty of examples of players who became DH’s early in their careers, Hafner and Ortiz are a few that come to mind. In the post steroid era more teams are placing a premium on defense, you are not getting 50 home run guys as you did when playing catchers who were defensively challenged. There is a reason that more than half the teams would be willing to pay boat loads of money to a Yadier Molina
I am looking at this team that will struggle to score runs against quality pitching, we can’t afford the luxury to play a defensively challenged player because his age is too young not to play in the field. We need our best defensive players on the field where we will need every run it takes to win.
Hermie13
April 3, 2014 - 2:28 PM EDT
Another interesting take on Santana's defense:

http://blogs.thescore.com/mlb/2013/08/29/fogging-the-measure-catcher-defense-ratings-august-29-2013/

Ranked as the worst defensive catcher in baseball thru August (and then he didn't really play there in September).

And then there is also pitch framing:

http://www.statcorner.com/CatcherReport.php

In 2013 was at least not a bottom 10 guy...was "only" the 13th worst. In 2012 though...dead last here as well.


Santana a GREAT player...IMO still the best/most valuable guy on the team. But he's a terrible defensive catcher...just a fact. 30 out of 30 teams would love to have Santana...but not sure half would put him behind the plate anymore. Maybe if they really had no other option. Can Santana back up? Yeah I guess...but definitely should DH more (or play 3B).
Avory
April 3, 2014 - 2:17 PM EDT
The issue isn't what Santana can't do, it's what Gomes can. Gomes is a gifted receiver, fine, we move Santana to third base and he becomes our backup catcher. What an incredible luxury! Most teams don't have a gifted defensive catcher who can hit enough to play in the big leagues, which is why history is replete with catchers who can't throw or who are lousy defensively--Piazza, Simmons, Posada, AJ--but can bring a major league stick to the table to make teams overlook defensive deficiencies. And why do they do this? Because it's a tremendous advantage to a lineup! And because defensive catching, while nice to have, is overrated compared to the pitcher on the mound. Unfortunately, in Cleveland, we see a few wild pitches and think it negates the incredibly positional advantage of having a stick behind the plate like Santana's. If you actually think that if Santana were a free agent and said all he wanted to do was catch (which is still his favorite position, by the way) that teams wouldn't be lined up around the block to pay handsomely for his services, then you are delusional...
Hawk1228
April 3, 2014 - 1:46 PM EDT

Half the major league clubs?
Last year in 84 games caught he committed 4 errors, 5 passed balls, 44 wild pitches and threw out 11 of 51 base runners
Gomes in 85 games as a catcher committed 3 errors, 4 passed balls 27 wild pitches and threw out 20 of 29 base stealers
Clearly something is lacking with Santana behind the plate Avory and this is not a glass half full situation.
I read this interesting article last year about Masterson on Fangraphs, here is the link maybe you could read it. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/how-much-better-could-justin-masterson-be/
Avory
April 3, 2014 - 1:20 PM EDT
Just what I've learned to expect from Cleveland fans; we win two out of three on the road against a team that took the Tigers to deciding games in the playoffs two years in a row, and all we can do is bag on Santana. Cleveland fans are notorious for finding the glass half empty in anything, and Carlos is clearly job one. Never mind the incredible value he provides to this team and his fine opening series (three hits, three walks, no K's, and missing a two-run double by an eyelash in the opener) and his smooth play in the field the vast majority of the series. This was a heartening start to his new-found versatility, not one to throw in the dumper. I'm sure had Carlos caught Kluber in the opener all of the haters would have blamed HIM for that Klunker of a start. And of course he gets little to no credit for navigating McAlister through 4+ and doing a good job with the relievers afterward. No, just cue up the old, tired record instead of recognizing that Santana is the man on this team, and at 28, he's not going to be pigeon-holed as a DH, nor should he. More than half the teams in MLB would kill to have him as their regular catcher, and if you don't think that's so, you simply don't know baseball.
hawk1228
April 3, 2014 - 12:20 PM EDT
The back handed stab is something he seems to do quite often and is getting very old. What I found more disturbing is with runners on first and third. Not throwing through to second, allowing the runner to move into scoring position is little league. That should never happen at the professional level. Can’t have this happen and be considered a serious threat to win the Central divison, major league teams don’t play that way. The least amount of time Santana is on the field defensively, the better off our pitching staff will become.
I really don’t care how many positions Johnson can play, this offense can’t afford his bat. Chisenhall has power; we need to find out if his bat will play. Taking him out for a pinch hitter with the defensive changes that followed led to that mix up over who should be taking charge of that fly ball in the outfield. That almost cost us the game and in most cases it will cost us games which in a division that figures to be close could be very costly.
Andy
April 3, 2014 - 11:49 AM EDT
I'm guessing Chiz goes to AAA when Giambi comes off the DL, so Santana needs to get as much exposure at 3B before then. He did look a bit aloof behind the plate, so wouldn't be surprised if Johnson is DFA'd and replaced with Kottaras before the end of April.

Did anybody else think that Pomeranz looked a whole lot like Hagadone? Threw pretty hard with like 40% for strikes.
shy
April 3, 2014 - 11:48 AM EDT
Went to the game last night. It was cold by Bay Area standards and I almost left after the Indians gave up the lead in the 7th but I stayed and was rewarded w a W. My takeaways: The Indians looked like a Little League team in the 7th. Raburn and Brantley banging gloves on a can of corn fly turning an out into a 2 base pass for Josh Donaldson. Carlos Santana trying a backhand stab at a pitch in the dirt- that's not how Alomar taught him to block a ball- and allowing Donaldson to go to third, and finally Brian Shaw doing his best Klutz imitation covering first base on a ground ball out allowing Donaldson to score the go ahead run. I was so disgusted and the only reason I didn't leave the park then was I knew Josh Johnson would pitch the ninth and he's 0/6 now 0/7 against the Indians. The A's are a team in transition- bad stadium, bad ownership, probably a move/ sale in the works and I believe Billy Beane, Bob Melvin could be getting a little burnt out on trying to play at a championship level year after year on a hamstrung budget. The Indians can't gloat on this victory. They played bad and they could easily have lost both games of the doubleheader.
Hermie13
April 3, 2014 - 11:32 AM EDT
Santana also looked bad behind the plate, doing his typical jab tat the ball instead of smothering balls in the dirt, resulted in the wild pitch mentioned.

Not sold yet on Santana at 3B...but sold that the next time we see Santana behind the plate will be too soon.
Hawk1228
April 3, 2014 - 11:16 AM EDT
I get the versatility mentality, but I am not sold on what I am seeing. I thought the right field position was going to be Raburn/Murphy platoon; the one lefty (Kazmir) we saw in this series,Francona played Johnson in right. To go further we opened with right handed Sonny Gray and Raburn was the DH while Santana played third and Chisenhall on the bench. In the nightcap once we saw a lefty reliever, out goes Chisenhall and Morgan and in come Johnson and Raburn. I am not impressed with Johnson offensively and he has more at bats than Chisenhall who I thought looked pretty good in his 2 at bats for the three games we played. I also am not impressed with Santana at third( I felt that runner at the plate was safe) and I was reminded how much heartburn he gave me last year behind the plate. Oakland found its running game, that backhanded move allowing the runner move up who went on to score the go ahead run late. Its early and maybe this is Francona trying to find what players to keep once Giambi and Bourn return and I hope that is the case, playing players in positions that they are able to play out of necessity is a matter I understand, playing players out there for any other reason I am having difficulty understanding. I guess what I am saying is I hope they stay with the plan Murphy/Raburn in right, leave Lonnie at 3rd against right handed pitchers and the least amount of times I see Santana with any glove other than a batting glove will make me feel much better.

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