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Second Thoughts Game #49: Baltimore 8, Cleveland 4

Second Thoughts Game #49: Baltimore 8, Cleveland 4
T.J. House (Photo: AP)
May 24, 2014
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Warning: Large .gif files

While not the most inspiring performance, there were reasons why one might step back from Friday's 8-4 loss to the Orioles without the same woe as defines the other losses by the Cleveland baseball club.

The club only used two relievers for a combined two innings, to begin. The team no longer looks like a club lost at the plate, to continue. The game didn't go five hours, to conclude.

Beloved by this site though he is, the start of T.J. House was far from ideal. Though House was regarded as a depth starter, his strikeout rates befit a depth pitcher more than a fearsome major leaguer at this point. From the outset, it was likely to be either an uphill battle or a fluky performance in which a raw southpaw dominates one of the better offenses in baseball.

Shockingly, the probable event happened. Romanticism loses again.

2014: A Double-to-Left Odyssey

Michael Brantley is Dr. Smooth, as the narrative goes.

On offense, 'Smooth' has manifested itself as the fifth-best offensive performance in the American League. Brantley doesn't have a hashtag like #TheSagaOfSmooth to combine forces with The Legend of Lonnie, but he's been extremely good on offense. The group he trails is impressive: Jose BautistaBrandon MossVictor Martinez, andShin-Soo Choo. The group he leads is equally so: Nelson CruzMiguel CabreraJosh DonaldsonEdwin Encarnacion, and Melky Cabrera round out the top ten. The fact that he went 1-4 with 1 K and no walks or extra base hits changes this fact not a bit.

Yet what's often said about Brantley is that he defies the defensive metrics - metrics, the frequent chorus goes, that don't apply to Brantley, just as they didn't apply to Jhonny Peralta or anyone counter-intuitive. Brantley, after all, had a tremendous error-less streak of 248 games, and Brantley's frequently at the top of the leaderboards in outfield assists. The statistics of the last several decades, the ones that suggest that Brantley is a below-average left-fielder (a group not, admittedly, known for their own defense), contradict the statistics of the 19th century that suggest that Brantley is in a class of his own on defense.

What follows are the three doubles to left field hit by the Baltimore batters.

 B4, Markakis

B7, Jones

B7, Young

It's ambitious to expect Brantley even make one of these plays - as in, turn any of them into an out on the fly - and in the case of the first and second, they were grounders that were impossible to catch regardless. Yet with the first two plays, Brantley's speed in getting to the ball raises problems. In the case of the first double, cutting the ball off at the foul line would have at least resulted in the play at second being contested. In the case of the second double, Adam Jones is fifteen feet past second by the time Brantley throws the ball.

In the case of the third double, the ball is not completely unplayable. The play would be extremely difficult, butMichael Bourn, for instance, has made plays like that before. One shouldn't expect a non-elite defender to make that play, but one likely should expect a defender as purportedly good as Brantley to see less than a four-and-a-half second gap between touchdown of the ball in the outfield and the relay throw.

Making the routine plays is better than not making the routine plays, obviously, and it's quite nice that Brantley does so more reliably than Adam Dunn or Nelson Cruz. Yet the advanced statistics tell the story of a Michael Brantley who almost always makes routine plays but who very rarely makes plays on balls that aren't hit at him or nearly so.

From this writer's perspective, that's a proposition that completely passes the eye test.

House of Mysteries

T.J. House's assignment on Friday was fairly simple: give Cleveland as many innings as possible while still allowing the game well in hand. Given a bullpen that had pitched 18.1 innings over the past two days, he didn't need to throw quality innings - he just needed to throw lots of them. House fulfilled this request in remarkably literal fashion.

House's line was 6 IP, 5 ER/R, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HR. All told, this was not the most surprising line in the world - T.J. House had thrown exactly one inning of major league baseball prior to this game, a relief performance on May 17th comprising three batters and three groundouts. It should be noted, however, that despite striking out only one batter, his 9.9% Swinging Strike rate was substantially higher than the league average of 8.7% for starters.

While his performance may not have been surprising, however, the nature of his departure very much was. While this author wants no part of pitchers like Bronson Arroyo who would likely make Cleveland fans yearn for the relatively carefree days of 2012 Ubaldo Jimenez, an innings-eater, a pitcher who could give the regulars of the bullpen the night off was completely necessary. House being pulled after six innings, then, when he had thrown only 81 pitches on the night came as quite the surprise. While temporary reliever Mark Lowe and noted exile Carlos Carrasco finished out the night without the use of additional relievers, the removal of House after only 81 pitches remains notable.

Returning to his Minor League game logs, it is true that Friday's total batters faced, 28, matched House's season high, but House threw 106 pitches in that May 4th game. The impetus for removing the left-hander for an inning in which Chris Davis was batting third in lieu of the right-handed Lowe, particularly given House's pitch count and the depleted state of the bullpen, does elicit confusion. Further, House had not thrown any innings, major league or minor league, since his May 17th appearance against Oakland.

Nonetheless, given the ad hoc nature of extra innings' cruel demands, T.J. House did his job; Corey Kluber's job as an ace, however, is one that requires not only a desire to eat innings, but devour the will of the opposing line-up. When Kluber takes the mound today, one hopes not for length, but for the dominance of the pitcher that leads the majors in fWAR.

John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimmHe can also be reached by e-mail at john.h.grimm@hotmail.com.

User Comments

Avory
May 27, 2014 - 2:12 AM EDT
The idea that most left fielders do anything better than what Brantley showed in those three plays is laughable. You want to argue that an elite fielder like Alex Gordon MAYBE makes a difference in one of those three plays, fine, but no one is arguing that Brantley is elite, merely that he's an above average left fielder, which he IS, no matter what the (very) questionable defensive metrics say. Trotting out these particular plays to impugn Brantley only undermines your argument; you might want to try again.
Ryan
May 24, 2014 - 3:18 PM EDT
Brantley's problem is he doesn't have elite quickness but he has good speed. This is shown in his very average home to first time but very good first to third and home and second to home ability. That also shows on defense. IMO the gifs don't show any plays that are really that make able, even the third one, unless one believes an elite defender makes up 20 feet in the less than 4 seconds the ball is in the air, what you need is that ESPN axis to draw distances that he has to travel in the time the ball is in the air to really compare everyone. I also think Brantley is much more conservative because he does not want to overrun balls, like the ground ball he did not cut off. Instead of taking a more shallow angle hoping to cut the ball before it gets to the wall, he heads for the rebound area.
shy
May 24, 2014 - 12:34 PM EDT
Michael B has never been known for getting his uniform dirty either in the outfield or on the basepaths- he's got good speed and ball tracking ability- but for whatever reason he has tended to keep these abilities in his back pocket while playing and to comport himself above the gritty down and dirty sandlot mentality- maybe that's why they call him smooth- the uniform has no wrinkles, and the shades no scratches. Even so he's leading the Indians in BA - if you disqualify Lonnie for not enough AB's- homers, RBI's, steals and outfield assists. He has really taken his offensive game to the next level this year- if he takes a more aggressive tack in the outfield then he's one of the premier players in the game. There's an old saying "It's not what you do in life that kills you, it's what you don't do." Or as they say in rehab " You're only as sick as your secrets" I don't know if it's vanity and narcissism or fear or what that keeps M.B.'s uni clean, but the way I see it he's one spiritual resolution away from being great. How 'bout it Michael, can you handle great?
John Grimm
May 24, 2014 - 12:22 PM EDT
Poor choice of words, agreed. 'Survived without being pulled' was what I was going for. On it.
Joe Chengery
May 24, 2014 - 11:38 AM EDT
No offense, but Lowe gave up three runs, so I wouldn't say "without issue" in his case- those three runs made it next to impossible for the Indians to come back late, and they did have an opportunity to come back in the ninth inning, especially if it had remained a one-run game as it was when House was pulled.

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