Tribe Happenings: So many lefties do not make a right
June 24, 2012
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
The Indians decided to go with a very heavy left-handed dominant lineup in the offseason. Their reasoning was that over 70% of the pitching in the league is right-handed, so it was something that they felt they could maximize with a ballpark that favors left-handed hitters and to also have a lineup that can really excel against right-handed pitching.
Currently they are 5-14 against left-handed starters and when facing lefties they are last (14th) in the American League in batting average (.217), OPS (.634), BAIBP (.252), wOBA (.283), and 13th in isolated power (.113). In contrast, they are 32-19 against right-handed starters and when facing a righty they are 5th in batting average (.267), 4th in OPS (.750) and wOBA (.328), 5th in BABIP (.300), and 10th in isolated power (.146).
They have indeed maximized their performance against right-handed pitching, but they very susceptible to left-handed pitching. It doesn’t matter if it is C.C. Sabathia out there or a young minor leaguer making his Major League debut, the Indians struggle against lefties of all size, shape, form and experience.
But the problem with their lineup setup in the offseason is the human element was left out of their reasoning. While the numbers do show that – in general - teams will mostly throw right-handed pitching against a team over a season, it did not take into consideration how teams would adjust and matchup to a team that is so left-handed heavy and lacking any real right-handed threats off the bench.
If you have been watching the games this season, you notice that the Indians are seeing more left-handed pitching than they would normally see. They have actually seen right around that expected 70% of right-handed pitching as expected, but that is deceiving as without their left-handed heavy lineup that may actually be seeing close to 80% of right-handed pitching to date.
The reason for this is because of their lineup construction teams have been throwing lots of lefties against them both in spot starts and also in long relief out of the bullpen. With a more conventional lineup that is balanced, they may have faced a considerable less amount of lefties up to this point.
While the problem is glaring now, it is really going to show itself in crucial games and potentially in a playoff series when teams construct their rotation and bullpen to include more left-handers than they normally would. When crunch time comes, what kind of pitching do you think the Indians will face? If the Indians ever make the playoffs, their opponent likely will have some pitching depth and will setup their staff against them for the series with a lot of left-handed pitchers.
The all dominant left-handed hitting lineup would not be so bad if the Indians had suitable right-handed hitting replacement options off the bench, whether to start against left-handed pitching or to pinch hit late in games to counter a team bringing in a left-handed pitcher. At the moment the likes of Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham are not cutting it on the bench, and I would not be surprised to see both players replaced by the end of July when the Indians maybe pick up a few right-handed bats in a trade.
Right now the Indians have a seriously flawed lineup that when they face right-handed pitching plays well, but is nonexistent against lefties. The fault lies with them for constructing it that way in the offseason, but they have a chance to make things right by getting a couple of right-handed bats between now and the end of July to better complement and balance the lineup. If they do this, then they may finally find some consistency as an offense and the team may begin to take off.
Walk this way
Indians hitters are still drawing a good amount of walks as they are 2nd in the American League with 252 walks, only three behind league leading Tampa Bay who has 255. The walks have helped offset their poor team batting average which is .251 and 9th in the American League, and with the walks their team .327 on-base percentage is good for 5th in the American League. The key to the Indians success as an offensive unit is predicated on their ability to put up consistent, patient at bats.
On the flip side of things the Indians pitching staff has the 3rd most walks allowed in the American League with 245 walks. This is a problem because they do not have a pitching staff that racks up strikeouts as they are 12th in the American League with 452 strikeouts, and they also give up a lot of hits as their .258 batting average against is 10th best in the American League.
The major culprit in all of this is the Indians’ starting rotation as their 162 walks as a unit are 2nd most in the American League, their .270 batting average against is the 4th highest in the American League, and their 254 strikeouts are the 13th best in the league.
The backend of the Indians bullpen has certainly saved the Indians. While the bullpen as a whole has allowed the 4th most walks in the AL (83), they have the ability to miss bats as they are 6th in the AL in strikeouts (198), and they do a better job of inducing weak contact as they are 6th in the AL with a .232 batting average against.
It may seem academic, but for the Indians to maintain success all season and have a chance of winning the division they need their starting rotation to get much better at limiting the free passes. If they do that then there could be a sudden improvement in the overall quality of their starts as a whole, something we have seen of late with the improvement of Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, two guys that up until recently were plagued by high walk totals and having trouble commanding the zone.
With a starting staff that pitches to contact and gives up a higher than normal percentage of hits, when you throw a high walk rate into the mix it is like adding gasoline to a fire. It is just a bad combination that leads to a bad outcome more times than not. The Indians like to get hitters to put the ball in play and pound it into the ground, but they can ill afford to continually help opposing teams out by giving them free passes to a base without having them put the ball in play.
Considering their high walk rate to go along with a poor strikeout rate and high hit rate, it is amazing the Indians have done as well as they have so far in the win column because inconsistent pitching like this typically leads to a lot of losing, especially when you do not have an offense that can cover up those issues. Hopefully they can turn it around before the problem rears its ugly head.
The Indians have several key pieces on the disabled list and working to get out of the trainers’ room and back onto the field.
Designated hitter Travis Hafner is probably the closest of all the injured Indians to returning to game action. He started jogging and doing agility exercises this week and has been taking batting practice for a while now. The initial prognosis when he had surgery on his right knee on May 31st was that he would be out for four to six weeks, but if he responds well to the running program he could soon be sent out for a rehab outing. He would probably only need two or three games before he is deemed ready, and there is a chance he could go on that rehab assignment and be back in the Indians lineup within the next two weeks.
Left-handed pitcher Rafael Perez is still on a throwing program that he just recently resumed after a minor setback. He is currently working on rebuilding his arm strength via a long toss program. Considering he has to progress through flat grounds, bullpens sessions, and potentially a sim-game or two, he does not appear to be anywhere close to a return.
Right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco is currently in the early stages of throwing off of a mound in his return to throw program from Tommy John surgery. This week he will accompany the team when they travel to New York so he can get a checkup on his right elbow with Dr. David Altcheck, the doctor that performed the surgery. He is also scheduled to throw a bullpen this week, though that is not a signal he is close to a return as he is still not expected to pitch for the Indians this season. There is an outside chance he could get a few innings in during September when rosters expand, but if he pitches any innings this year I am willing to bet they come at an Indians minor league affiliate or in an offseason league.
Outfielder Grady Sizemore is still only taking batting practice and throwing. He has yet to dive into a running program to test out his back. There is no timetable on his return, but he appears to be a long way away from a minor league rehab assignment. Considering the Indians will likely give him all or close to the full 20 days of a minor league rehab assignment to get him back into game shape, he probably is not an option until at least the end of July, if even then.
A tale of two cities
The Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds recently completed their home and home series over the last week and a half and split the series at three games apiece with the home team sweeping each three game series.
The Reds are 38-31 and in first place in the NL Central and have a good team; however, they have made the playoffs just one time since 1995 (2010) and have finished with a winning record just three times since 1995 (1999, 2000, 2010).
By the same token, the Indians are 37-32 and in first place in the AL Central. They have made the playoffs six times since 1995 (1996-1999, 2001, 2007) and had a winning record in eight seasons (1996-2001, 2005, 2007). Even if you exclude the Indians’ winning playoff seasons from 1996-2001, the Indians still have one recent playoff appearance in 2007 to match the Reds over that time period.
The point is the Indians have had much more success over the past 18 seasons than the Reds, and just as much success recently. Yet the Reds are drawing about 9,000 more fans a game than the Indians.
In the recent series in Cincinnati between the Indians, the Reds drew 24,758 on Tuesday June 12th, drew 27,428 on Wednesday June 13th, and drew 34,194 on Thursday June 14th. Just a few days later, and on almost the same days of the week, the Indians hosted the Reds in Cleveland this past week and drew 19,948 on Monday June 18th, drew 17,213 on Tuesday June 19th, and drew 23,544 on Wednesday June 20th.
They are almost the same teams with the same records and same recent success, yet one team is getting a much stronger following than the other. While I will agree that it helps to have name stars on your team like Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, this disparity looks to be based mostly on a poor economy as Cincinnati’s is much better than Cleveland’s, and probably most importantly, apathy toward ownership as the fans do not trust nor like Indians ownership while from I gather the Reds fans have confidence in their ownership.
If the Indians could somehow drum up the support the Reds get then their financial situation would be so much better, but the problem is getting that support.
All Star consideration
We are about two weeks away from the announcement of which players are named the starters for the All Star game and also the reserves selected by the manager. At the moment the Indians have a few worthy All Stars.
Right-handed closer Chris Perez should be a lock to make the team. Entering play on Saturday he was 0-1 with a 2.54 ERA and his 23 saves lead all of baseball. After blowing a three-run lead in the season opener, he has since converted 23-of-23 save opportunities and been one of the biggest keys to the Indians’ success up to this point in the season.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera should also be a lock to make the team. Among American League shortstops he ranks 2nd in batting average (.300), 2nd in home runs (9), 2nd in RBI (33), 1st in on-base percentage (.385), 1st in slugging percentage (.492), and 1st in OPS (.877). His .877 OPS is 96 points better than the second ranked shortstop Derek Jeter who has a .781 OPS, which shows how good Cabrera has been offensively this season, and why he should be a lock to make the team.
The Indians have two other players worthy of consideration in second baseman Jason Kipnis and right-handed setup man Vinnie Pestano.
I think Pestano should make the team, but I have no say in the matter. It is tough for setup men to get to an All Star game since most of the bullpen is made up of closers, but he might just get consideration as he has become one of the best setup men in the game. In 31 appearances this season he is 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA, and has racked up 35 strikeouts in 29.0 innings.
Kipnis has the toughest odds as he plays at a position loaded with stars in the American League with the likes of Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia. But Kipnis has outperformed most of those stars (sans Cano) as among American League second basemen he ranks 2nd in batting average (.280), 2nd in home runs (11), 1st in RBI (41), 1st in stolen bases (17), and 2nd in OPS (.775). It depends on how the voting shakes out and if a third second baseman is taken as Cano will likely be the starter and Rangers manager Ron Washington will surely take his guy Ian Kinsler.
There are several reports out that the Indians are still interested in acquiring first baseman Kevin Youkilis from the Red Sox. Youkilis is available, but the hang up for any trade is how much the Red Sox are willing to pay of his remaining pro-rated $12 million salary for this season and what the Indians (or any team) would have to give up to acquire him. … On Thursday the Indians parted ways with former 2007 first round pick first baseman Beau Mills when they traded him to the Reds for cash. He had been relegated to the bench with Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler sharing first base duties at Triple-A Columbus, so the Indians did him a favor to find him a team where he could get a chance to play. … Major League Baseball announced their Futures Game roster this week, which is a collection of the best up and coming talent in the minors that plays in an exhibition game over the All Star break. Two Indians prospects were named to the World team: shortstop Francisco Lindor and first baseman Jesus Aguilar.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2013 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
They tried to get Lee or Beltran in the off-season but couldn't get it done.
They kind of got stuck with a left-handed lineup. I don't think it was the plan.
But now they need to do something. Youkilis would not be an upgrade. The guy they need to get is Carlos Quentin, but I don't think that's possible.
Fangraphs has Youkilis at -0.1 WAR this year, baseball reference +0.1, I think you can safely say his performance has been replacement level, but only because he's been primarily playing the 3b, at 1b his value would be even lower. Youk's got a .670 OPS this year, again, Laporta signficantly outperformed that last year.
I also think the fans have lost confidence in the front office, with this LH issue being another contributor. They are slow to act, (or re-act) to these types of situations, and pay for them dearly. They need some big changes, and they need them NOW !!!!
I know that's what's coming down from the front office...but I think it's poor "planning" and not addressing needs through the draft and through free agency.
This is what we're left with, and I attune it to going into a grocery store hungry. You come out with a bunch of junk, and none of it fits together the right way.
So, you sell it as percentage based...
Just another strike against a front office...
I would like to see McAllister called up to replace Gomez immediately. In his short time up earlier, McAllister pitched better than pretty much everyone on the staff. His ERA was good, his peripherals were better, and he really limited the walks. I also think he simply has more talent than Gomez.