Second Thoughts: Starting Pitching and a pennant race
The offensive struggles and upside have been fairly well profiled. Beating a dead horse - while one of my best skills - is one that I am attempting to avoid at least to the best of my ability. Perhaps the most pressing question then is not whether the offense will bounce back - because it will - but rather can this rotation hold together for twenty-three more games.
When looking solely at the month of August it would be fair to expect continued success.
In August, Indians starting pitchers posted the following cumulative line: 156 IP, 9.40 K/9, 3.60 BB/9, 71.8% LOB%, 4.10 ERA and a 3.55 FIP - although win-loss is completely irrelevant as they went 7-13.
A few things should be noted: first they pitched the sixth least innings in the month which is because of three specific things: Ubaldo Jimenez’s inability to get deep into games, Danny Salazar’s pitch count and Scott Kazmir’s struggles.
The second is that they had the highest K/9 by almost half a strikeout per nine innings which is absolutely incredible. Incredible because it speaks to the quality of arms that are in the rotation. Unlike the successful years of Jeremy Sowers or Aaron Laffey, or other fluky strand rate/BABIP performances, this rotation offers arms that have long term sustainability.
Unfortunately, focusing on the next twenty-three starts does not offer as much excitement and positivity. In fact, while the strength of schedule aligns favorably the rotation looks to be running out of innings in a hurry.
Justin Masterson’s oblique injury represents at least one start with diminished expectations - very possibly more. The second loss is Salazar which is major. Danny has been a momentum creating, shot in the arm for a rotation that looked empty when Corey Kluber went to the disabled list.
Lastly, is Kazmir who sans starts against Minnesota and Miami struggled immensely in the month of August. It has become easy to assume that he is running up against a wall due to the manner in which he has struggled.
What is occurring is that the Indians are losing two of their highest impact arms. One is limited for the remainder of the season because of a workload issue while the other is missing one start at minimum and maybe the rest of the season. With Kazmir running into some sort of trouble it is hard to foresee the Indians overcoming a rotation that will see a probable decrease in production from at least three different rotation spots.
I will now continue the economist tradition of saying "well on one hand but on the other hand" in order to hedge my bets being that Kluber, who has been arguably more effective than Masterson, will be returning Saturday evening. Although he has not had the normal rehab or preparation he should be able to adjust and contribute something of value.
Josh Tomlin is also returning and offers an innings eater who with the right matchups and run support can be successful in a short term role. His potential value is discussed more deeply and with more statistical license in my Trend Spotting piece from Thursday.
The expectation being that while both Tomlin and Kluber may be able to replace the innings, Masterson’s missed starts as well as Salazar being shutdown will signal a decrease in rotational production. Fortunately, the Indians face offenses that include the Mets, Astros, Royals and White Sox. Which means the decrease in starting pitching effectiveness may be effectively hidden by quality of opponent.
Up Next: New York Mets @ Cleveland Indians, Friday, September 6, @ Progressive Field, 7:05 PM ET.
Scott Kazmir faces off against the team that drafted him for the first time in his big league career. Kazmir was dealt out of New York in the legendary Victor Zambrano deal. He faces a new Met phenom Zach Wheeler who like Matt Harvey represents New York’s bright future. The ghost of prospect past faces the ghost of prospect future. Most important to note is that from here on out each game is the Indians most important game as each game is a playoff game.
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