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Second Thoughts Game #56: Colorado 6, Cleveland 7

Second Thoughts Game #56: Colorado 6, Cleveland 7
Mike Aviles (Photo: Mark Duncan/AP)
June 1, 2014
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In the 2000 18U World Junior Baseball Championship, Shin-Soo Choo took home the mantle of 'Most Valuable Player' en route to a South Korean championship. Whereas most would recognize Choo for his exploits among the league's on-base elite, it was his achievement as a pitcher in this contest that led to these honors.

On Saturday, Shin-Soo Choo demonstrated that same pitching excellence on Saturday, surrendering 2 runs (2ER) over 7.2 IP - effectively, at least. Being two players that the Indians received in the Shin-Soo Choo trade, Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw combined for that stat line, the former surrendering 2R/ER over 6 IP with 8 strikeouts and 1 walk, and Shaw conceding neither runs nor hits over 1.2 IP with 3 strikeouts.

Despite solid performances from these two, the Indians' 7-6 victory was fueled as much by its offense as its pitching.

Razor-Sharp Lonner

In 2013, Lonnie Chisenhall managed to scrape together 4 hits on 38 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. Through 19 plate appearances in 2014, Lonnie has grinded his way to 9 hits. It's not the case that Lonnie is a true talent .575 hitter against left-handed pitchers, yet given his struggles against LHP last year, saying this same statement even four months ago would have elicited either derisive laughter or an admonition for making a very cruel joke.

With Nick Swisher out with a knee problem and with Carlos Santana briefly out with a concussion, and with Chisenhall hitting a full George Brett better than Jesus Aguilar against southpaws, and given that Chisenhall has received substantial exposure to southpaws as of (very) late, every rationale arguing against Chisenhall batting against lefties has now vanished.

There's no guarantee that Chisenhall will not regress to 2013-or-earlier form against lefties. This two-month span may be just a blip. Regardless of whether it is or it is not, the Indians aren't in a position where they can afford to not know. The Cleveland TV market is too small, the team's financial options too limited, for the Indians to leave a potential everyday player in a platoon role. Even if the worst suspicions are confirmed and if it turns out that these 18 PAs contain the lion's share of his 2014 hits against LHH and that he is only a platoon bat, that knowledge is itself valuable.

Francona let Chisenhall start today against the left-handed Franklin Morales. Whether by injury-induced desperation or increased faith in Lonnie, the original intention of completely shielding Chisenhall from lefties so as to preserve his hot streak has buckled. The result was a 2-3 performance with a single, a home run, and a sacrifice bunt. Chisenhall isn't a .575 hitter against lefties, but as of Saturday, there's no better option.

Mike Aviles's Peculiar Game

Mike Aviles is a utility player. When either Jason Kipnis or Asdrubal Cabrera are injured, Aviles receives regular time; otherwise, he experiences fairly marginal time.

On Saturday, Mike Aviles had no interest in the margins of the game. By some bizarre confluence, Aviles, good and bad, was involved in all of the most momentous plays in Saturday's game - involvement both good and bad.

As a bit of background, WPA stands for Win Probability Added, and refers to the likelihood of victory added by any given play. Most plays - in a close game - typically have a WPA of +/- .02, and a 1st inning lead-off home run has a WPA of .1 - in other words, the addition of a 10% likelihood of victory. What follows are the three most important moments in the game, each of which involved Mike Aviles. Positive numbers indicate increased win likelihood, negative numbers decreased likelihood.

B2: Mike Aviles 3-run HR, 4-0 Cleveland
WPA: .159

This was not Cleveland's first run of the game; just prior, the aforementioned Chisenhall had singled and brought home Yan Gomes for the game's first score. Mike Aviles's home run with one out in the third served to cause the game's second score, as well as its third and fourth.

For viewing, it is included in its majestic sufficiency:

 Aviles HR

T7: Charlie Blackmon 3-run HR, 6-6 Tie
WPA: -.317

If Charlie Blackmon had hit a home run in previous years, wailing and gnashing of teeth would arise from the opposing fanbase. Through two months of 2014, surrendering home runs to Charlie Blackmon has become a rather pedestrian occurrence; of his 18 career home runs, 9 have come in April and May of 2014. Most of the responsibility for this home run falls on Charlie Blackmon.

Slightly less, but still fairly substantial, responsibility falls upon Cleveland left-handed reliever Josh Outman, who was brought in with the singular purpose of inducing an out from Blackmon. Hanging sliders don't typically accomplish that.

However, Mike Aviles's defensive miscue on the previous play, a grounder to second by D.J. LeMahieu, bears a fair amount of responsibility not for the home run itself, but rather for the fact that it tied the game. LeMahieu hit a pedestrian grounder one step to the left of Aviles - but because of the unusual angle of the sun, Aviles broke, instead, to his right. What would have quite probably been a double play ball became a single.

This ignoble play, however, was not Aviles's last moment in the limelight on Saturday.

B8: Mike Aviles RBI Single to RF, 7-6 Cleveland
WPA: .223

Thanks (?) to a sacrifice by Lonnie Chisenhall with no outs in the bottom of the seventh, Jason Kipnis, the go-ahead run, was in scoring position for Mike Aviles with the left-handed Rex Brothers pitching for the Rockies. After two called strikes displeasing to Aviles, he fired a line drive into right field to plate the eventual winning run.

One ought not dole to Aviles all the blame for Blackmon's home run, just as one ought not give him all the credit for his four RBIs on the game. Devoid of context, Aviles's game was a large net positive for Cleveland; with context, it may have been an even larger net positive.

A player's actions in a particular context is not particularly predictive in baseball, since a given, particular context rarely, if ever, arises twice. But there are games in which a particular player's role is so disproportionate to their typical contribution that it becomes noteworthy. In this performance, Mike Aviles's performance, good and bad, was worthy of a whole stack of Post-It notes.

The Bauer Grid Is Down

Trevor Bauer (6 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 100P, 14 SwStr) would have been hard-pressed to outdo Corey Kluber's excellent Friday start. Bauer did not, and none expected him to. However, Bauer's performance was perhaps the best of his pro career - not in terms of run prevention, but in terms of underlying numbers.

Bauer, posting a 14.0% whiff rate, posted his highest swinging strike rate of the year. It's not as though Bauer had in any way been lacking in this respect: all three of his previous starts had a whiff rate over 11.6% (league average of 8.7% for starters, Kluber at a season average of 11.9%). Bauer has been missing bats at one of the best rates in the league even before tonight's game, and Friday's game outdid Bauer's already-excellent season to date re: bat-missing.

Additionally, entering Saturday's game, Bauer had clear and substantial walk rate problems. He responded by walking only one batter over six innings, with a strike rate of 70% for the game. Signal is indistinguishable from noise when attempting to predict control, but today's game was an unambiguously good sign.

Finally, an important note concerns Bauer's batted ball distribution. It wouldn't be incorrect to say that Bauer has had home run problems, but it would be more precise to say that Bauer has suffered from a fly ball problem. Flyballing itself is not inherently a negative approach to pitching, but it's certainly a dangerous one. With a game ground ball rate of 50% (contrasted to a year-to-date GB% of a very low 35.7) and a game fly ball rate of 35.7% (40.5% YTD), Bauer did everything by the book and well.

Intriguingly, Bauer faced 23 batters during Saturday's excellent start. It must be disheartening to know that, even during perhaps his best pro outing, Trevor still gets one-upped by Jack. It's early, of course, but there are a great many reasons to feel pretty good about the Shin-Soo Choo trade.

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

User Comments

Joe Chengery
June 1, 2014 - 7:41 PM EDT
I think a main factor for Lonnie's success this season is the fact that he is no longer focused on trying to hit HRs and prove his value as a first-round pick, thinking he had to hit HRs to do that. He finally started relaxing and staying on the pitches, hitting it where it is pitched. This is also a likely reason why he is doing so much better against LHP- most lefties (unless they throw mid-90s plus, and there are few of those) will try to get LHH out away by getting them to chase out in front. Whereas Lonnie would have attempted to pull that pitch away and either miss it or hit a weak grounder to 2B, now, he is staying on that pitch and driving it to LF- he's done that several times this year.

He has become much more proficient at doing that, much like Brantley. Kipnis is one who could become the hitter some are thinking he could be if he started hitting with authority the other way, as that's the one area of his offensive game that could use improvement. He hits few balls that direction, and the few he does are more of the dribbler/blooper variety. If he can improve on that, he probably could avoid these long dry spells he goes through and be able to hit .300+, something he has not done yet in three seasons.
shy
June 1, 2014 - 12:13 PM EDT
The fact that Lonnie Chisenhall is hot, is carrying this team on his back is not a surprise- to me anyway. He was among the top 5-10 or 10-30 hitting prospects depending on who you ask, in his draft class. The first time I saw him take some swings in the batter's box, I got "that" tingle. Balanced, smooth, and lightning quick. When you look at Brantley's swing- which is also exceptional, it has all those qualities, but it appears to have been constructed through years of diligent training. Lonnie's appears to have been born that way. For the past 2-3 years I have been waiting for Lonnie to be the impact player that I believe it is in him to be. In the beginning there were some character/ personality questions that dogged him from college, then there were guys ahead of him in the system like Andy Marte andJack Hannahan, then there was the platoon mentality of the various managers, then some injuries. All the while he was not getting enough AB's, esp against lefties, and he wasn't getting enough fielding reps. I don't care how much talent you have, if you don't get enough reps in the field , you're not going to get good. This team is being carried right now by Lonnie, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, and Mike Aviles as a super utility guy and maybe Yan Gomes, as pitching staff wrangler. Go figure. I think you have to give some credit to Tito and the coaches to encourage high levels of performance in players whose abilities may have been overlooked among other GM's and managers in the league. This is championship type culture development, we just need a few more pieces.

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