Second Thoughts Game #82: Indians 0, Dodgers 1
Baseball is a game that at points can be extremely complex and intricate, with detailed statistics that help give a leg up in the chess game that can be roster compilation and in-game strategy. Such statistics frequently lead to clear routes for strategy, to unshakeable if counterintuitive sabermetric maxims.
One such maxim: hits lead to runs. Get more than one to improve chances of success.
For the second night in a row, the Cleveland Indians were one-hit. On Sunday, that one-hitter came at the hands of Felix Hernandez, who has happened to be the unquestionable best pitcher in the American League. On Sunday, Cleveland was one-hit over 7 shutout innings by Dan Haren and held hitless by two innings of Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen.
Dan Haren has not been an abysmal pitcher - formerly, between 2005 and 2011, he had compiled 34.6 WAR, good for the third-highest stretch in the majors over that time, behind only Sabathia and Halladay. Haren's declined effectiveness does not make him an overall ineffective pitcher; nevertheless, however, Dan Haren and his five strikeouts over seven innings falls somewhat short of Felix Hernandez.
The 1-0 loss on Monday, as is the case with most 1-0 losses, was a loss that lies almost solely on the offense.Carlos Santana struck two balls well, one down the right-field line at Adrian Gonzalez and a liner at Andre Ethier;Michael Bourn, moreover, did get an infield hit, and David Murphy drew a walk. That's the extent of Monday's offense. Would that it were less inevitable that Corey Kluber would take the loss on the game. (Editor's note: Michael Bourne's hit was originally called an out but thanks to replay was overturned.....so without replay the Indians may have had a no-hitter thrown against them.)
Karma Levels With Kluber
Corey Kluber had an extremely good game. There's no denying it - his 7 IP, 1 R/ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 102 pitch, 67 strikes, 8 Swinging Strike performance was excellent. It was the first time in 2014 that the Indians ace's ERA has fallen below 3.00 - currently at 2.99. Up to this point in the season, Kluber had had an ERA of 3.09 despite a season FIP of 2.68 - for teams with average defense, that gap should be very close to zero. Kluber's previous .41 ERA minus FIP gap ranked 21st-largest in the majors - in other words, defense had cost Kluber about five ER over the course of the season.
In some ways, the 2.05 game FIP undersells the quality of Kluber's performance - the only walk of the game was an intentional walk of Hanley Ramirez. Yet at the same time, Kluber's outing, while substantially better than his three disappointing starts at the beginning of June, and while entirely unworthy of the pitcher Loss assigned him, the reality is that Monday's performance from Kluber was short of his top-tier starts.
His eight swinging strikes on the game - 7.8% of all pitches, below the league average - had a fairly interesting distribution. It's not as though he had done anything wrong, per se - merely that his breaking pitch was less effective at generating whiffs. In two-strike counts, Kluber could not get batters to chase. His use of the breaking pitch in two-strike counts is both predictable and striking; classified as a slider by Brooks Baseball, more than half of all breaking pitch usage by Kluber is in two-strike counts, and while his overall slider usage hangs around 15.16%, his two-strike slider usage is 30.61% on his career.
Given its stunning 10.69 inches of horizontal movement on average in 2014, the relative predictability of the pitch in two-strike counts is mitigated by how insurmountable it is; relative to the average break on the season of 10.69 in, however, Monday's average slider break was only 9.72 in. It was marginally less effective, which might explain the lack of out-of-zone chase characteristic of two-strike whiffs. To wit: eighteen sliders were thrown, and there were only five swings on the day.
Moreover, while this author frequently makes note of inconsistent releast points to illustrate why a pitcher lacked control, in this case, the converse was demonstrated. Corey Kluber's release point, as illustrated below, was tremendously consistent, which in turn led to not a single (unintentional) walk on the night.
Kluber's performance was too good on the night to merit a l oss. At the same time, Kluber was worse than his runs allowed on the night let on. That said, however, given the rate at which Kluber's effectiveness has been cannibalized by his defense, a game in which his ERA improves without an ace-like performance is karmic justice.
Angel Hernandez Wishes You An Early Christmas
The called strike zone on the night did not tangibly harm Cleveland. Jason Kipnis was called out thrice on strikes, but none of them were in an unprecedented strike zone. If anything, Angel Hernandez's inconsistent strike zone helped Cleveland - not consequentially in the scope of the outcome, but marginally helpful nonetheless.
It is with this gift in mind that Angel Hernandez raises his right hand, waves to you, and wishes you a Merry Christmas, with green balls and red strikes strewn about the batting area with little in the way of consistency.
It was kind of Hernandez to give us a gift. But an inconsistent strike zone is a gift that all teams would very much like to return.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"This is all the more reason why I don't think Kipnis is the impact player he was thought and projected to be, and no way he should be batting anywhere in between those four aforementioned hitters."
No second "not"- besides it being poor English, it implies that Kipnis has been an impact player, which he hasn't been since at least last June- even then, only last May and June can one make that argument that Kipnis has been an impact player. All the more reason why I hold onto Ramirez, since I still see him with a strong chance of unseating Kipnis at second base and shifting Kipnis to the outfield.
Kipnis' track record would suggest that he's been overrated offensively and shouldn't be batting in the middle of the order unless there is significant improvement in his offensive performance, something that has been missing for over a year now. This is all the more reason why I don't think Kipnis is not the impact player he was thought and projected to be, and no way should he be batting anywhere in between those four aforementioned hitters. When you have Kipnis, Swisher, and Murphy, three black holes in the lineup (the first two for the whole season, Murphy for the last month), spread out throughout the whole lineup, it lessens your chances of scoring. If Francona is going to put all three of them in a lineup, he'd be better off putting the four hot, consistent hitters back to back to back to back, while hitting the three weakest hitters back to back to back- this way, you would have a higher chance of scratching out some runs, since the probability of your hitters getting consecutive hits is greatest when you bunch your best, most consistent hitters together. Kipnis is NOT one of those hitters, and hasn't been in quite some time- Bourn and even Cabrera have been better than that, let alone those aforementioned four.
That almost certainly would help the offense to scratch out a few runs, and with the pitching we've had lately, we could probably have won Kluber's outing, and quite possibly House's and Bauer's, in addition to Tomlin's. The pitching has been quite strong to the point where the Indians could win by scoring just 2-3 runs per game- getting your best, most consistent hitters consecutively in the lineup would be a strong proponent toward doing that, while not allowing black holes in the lineup (Kipnis among them) to be intermixed with those best, most consistent hitters. Let's just hope Francona doesn't wait any longer to employ this strategy, as the Indians are running out of time this seaso, as the Tigers are threatening a double-digit lead again.
If this mediocrity doesn't end soon you dump masty and cabby for whatever you can get. Neither gets a QO as they probably take it.
Way to many inconsistent bats in the lineup and no 4 guy.
Need to turn it around ASAP. Or watch attendance crumble even more with the browns opening camp in a few weeks I think they can but not looking good.