Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Live from the corner of Carnegie and Ontario...

I don't have much explanation for it. I'm not from Cleveland, I've lived in a half dozen cities of some note (or suburbs, at least), but not one of them seems to connect with me. I'm not, contrary to my Twitter handle, a DC maven, I'm certainly no power broker. When I set foot in Dayton and its surroundings, it just seems foreign to me. I root against the Huskers anytime they're not playing Iowa, so we can rule Nebraska out in a hurry.

I am an Ohio guy to be sure. When I remember growing up, my childhood was more about Butler By'not'e, Raymont Harris, and Greg Frey than it was about Reagan, Bush, or Clinton. But my childhood was spent ay Riverfront Stadium watching the Reds lose, always lose. I saw Kal Daniels pull a hamstring on a ground rule double, I saw Tracy Jones pitch. I apparently saw the Beach Boys...but I was three. And I've been back to Cincinnati. Let me assure you I've never belonged anywhere less. You could drop me in Midtown Manhattan, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, or Miami and all of them would make more sense than Kentucky's neighbor. It's a red city, I'm a blue person. In both senses.

And so Cleveland feels like home. It's just me. It's a city that's about struggle -- joys are few, far between, and fleeting -- every celebration is premature and defeat is around every corner.

Except this one.

No matter what happens tonight, this is a tremendous team. They are champions, and I'm glad I get to be here tonight no matter what. And if, through fortune and skill, I get to be back here Monday, I will be overjoyed.

Go Tribe. Thank you for making me at least a temporary denizen of Tribetown in October.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mitch Albom -- intellectual titan

Miguel Cabrera is a tremendous hitter, one of the best the game has seen in an incredibly long time. He would be, if baseball consisted solely of hitting, likely the best player of the last decade and only Albert Pujols has a right to be mentioned in the same breath as him. In 2010, he almost certainly should have won the MVP. In 2012, he should have finished no lower than second. One could, I believe, make an argument that Miguel Cabrera could be the MVP in 2012.

On the other hand, one could just scream that he is the MVP and rejoice in vanquishing a straw man who do not willfully blind themselves to knowledge, facts, analysis, and meaningful comparison.

I'll let you guess which Mitch Albom chooses.

Mitch Albom: Miguel Cabrera's award a win for fans, defeat for stats geeks

Ok, maybe you don't have to guess.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Selig Test

Thus far this season, two Indians starters (and no other pitchers) have been suspended for "intentionally" throwing at hitters.

Ubaldo Jimenez was suspended 6 games after hitting his BFF Troy Tulowitzki in his final spring training start (in an inning where he walked two other batters).

Jeanmar Gomez got a five-game suspension for hitting Mike Moustakas in retaliation after Jonathan Sanchez hit Shin-Soo Choo (a season after he broke Choo's hand).

Gomez's HBP was certainly intentional; he threw behind Moustakas before plunking him with his second effort. Jimenez has the personality that suggests he threw at Tulowitzki, but it was not abundantly clear he intended the pitch to hit him (his real crime was reacting the way he did, which suggested if he didn't intend to hit him, he was still very comfortable iwth it). Hamels acknowledged his intent, saying "I was trying to hit him, I'm not going to deny it", but says "I'm not going to injure a guy."



I should explain some things to Cole Hamels. First, force = mass times acceleration. A baseball isn't very massive, but it moves pretty fast, especially when you, protector of the Ark of the Baseball Covenant, throw a fastball. While you were "not going to injure anyone", you were hurling a baseball at a rate of 93 mph. That has a phenomenally good chance of ... injuring someone. If you don't believe me, well, ask Shin-Soo Choo, David Freese, Jeff Bagwell, or the players who broke hands or wrists from hit by pitches. Ask Ray Chapman, Tony Conigliaro, Kirby Puckett, Marlon Byrd, or any number of people who suffered concussions or worse from being hit in the head. And yes, you were a gentleman, you threw at his back. But hey, you may remember, o, lord high keeper of the faith, when your Phillies legend predecessor Mike Schmidt got ribs broken when he got hit by a pitch.

Second, you are really not the guy who should be sending a lecture about honor and "how the game works". "The honorable game" you're protecting here doesn't abide by pitchers who show up their teammates when they commit errors. Old school baseball would consist of you having to spend your offseasons working at real jobs, or at the very least, not demanding in excess of $20 million a year. And I think the next time you see Bob Feller posing with a WWE champion would have been the first.

Despite living in Washington, I can't say I'm a big fan of Bryce Harper. I will say that for all his arrogance over the past few years, since he got to the Majors, he's been a class act and has been incredibly boring off the field. And if you hit him with a pitch, so be it. Things happen. Appointing himself baseball's honorary night watchman should have gotten Hamels ejected; it had better get him suspended longer than Jimenez. Otherwise Jimenez's next hit by pitch should be a called shot. That way he can make it back in time for his next start.

I have no confidence Selig will pass this test. But if he is actually interested in playing fair, instead of just suspending only Indians, Hamels should have a couple starts off.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

You would think...

that after the last two games, Manny Acta would be a little reluctant
to sub out actual hitters for pinch runners -- leaving Jason Donald as
the Indians' DH.

You would think that. And clearly, you would be wrong. And since the
rest of the 'pen has pitched, it's nigh on inevitable that Chris Perez
is about to blow his second save.

Sent from my mobile device

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Indians one of three identified to be options for Josh Willingham

So, let's see if my introduction to logic class still works.

1) Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has tweeted that the Indians are one of three teams (the others being the Twins and Rockies) that are most likely to sign Josh Willingham.
2) I like Josh Willingham. He is a good player. He's an above average and generally underappreciated hitter who has put up solid numbers in some dreadful hitting parks (FLA, WAS, OAK).
3) I love the Indians and want them to succeed.
4) The Indians need another outfielder.
5) I do not want them to sign Josh Willingham.

Only an Indians fan (or a fan of a team that's truly pitiful -- say, the Royals or Pirates) can understand that this is entirely logical.  This would appear to be a huge logical gaffe to a Dodgers fan, a White Sox fan, or a Twins fan.  But that's because this is the move of a team that feels they just need to get a little bit better -- a team that can look at their roster and say 'if we can squeeze one more better than average player into the lineup, we're in the playoffs!"

The Indians aren't that team.

Now hold off. I am not issuing a forecast of gloom and doom for the Tribe. I'm excited by 2012 in a way I never would have thought possible in March of last year (or after the first two games of the year, where I thought the Indians had a genuine chance of going 0-162).  My forecast is, admittedly, one of profound fatalism and inevitability.  But it's one that actually could skew positive.  I'm here to tell you that Josh Willingham is essentially irrelevant because the Indians' futures will be controlled by the production from a load of other variables.

In a couple spots, the Indians cannot match the Tigers. They will not have Miguel Cabrera or Justin Verlander in 2012.  They will not have players as good as those. Period.  The difference between Masterson and Verlander is much more ephemeral than people would ever admit, but there's still a gap there and it doesn't favor the Indians. If Alex Avila's 2011 is for real, you know, despite having a magnificent catcher, we probably aren't going to match that. 

But more significantly, the Indians just have a load of question marks that because of a lack of depth will likely determine the Indians' success or failure. Here's how I see the opening day roster right now:
SP - Masterson, Jimenez, Carmona, Lowe, Tomlin - Tomlin is the only one who could fall out for non-injury reasons, and he strikes me as the second coming of Mitch Talbot, but I think he's safe to fend off Huff/Gomez for now.
RP - Perez, C., Perez, R., Smith, Pestano, Hagadone, Sipp. Herrmann - This is an odd bullpen because it'd have 3 left-handers, but I think Hagadone has to stay. Maybe Huff or Gomez makes the team as a long reliever at the expense of Hagadone or Herrmann, but if that's the case, the Indians need to move Hagadone back to being a starter so he can be useful to the club down the road.
C - Santana, Marson - there's a good argument for carrying three catchers so they can use Santana as a full-time 1B, but Marson doesn't hit enough to play him that much.
IF - LaPorta, Kipnis, Cabrera, Chisenhall, Donald, Phelps - there's no other full-time first basemen on the roster or in the organization, so LaPorta is at least in some role with this team until they make a move (like signing Willingham). There's a chance Phelps won't be on the roster, the alternative would likely be Ezequiel Carrera (which, in case you're not as worldly as I am, is Spanish for "Trevor Crowe", because that's the level of non-production you'll get from him) or Jack Hannahan, who is hard to carry on the roster without some demonstrable ability to play 2B.
OF - Brantley, Sizemore, Choo, Duncan - my spanish is rusty, but I believe Ezequiel Carrera is Spanish for Trevor Crowe. He is not a major league player. So there's definitely reason to consider signing an outfielder. 
DH - Hafner - I always forget this guy. Poor Travis Hafner.  He's probably my second favorite Indians player ever (after Lofton), but he's become such an afterthought.

Let's address these in order of significance.
1) Ubaldo Jimenez - if Ubaldo Jimenez pitches like he did in 2011, the Indians are done. They aren't going anywhere north of second place without a huge pitching season from someone else -- and with Carrasco shelved for 2012, there's not likely to be another # 2 starter.  Unless...

2) Fausto Carmona - I know, I know. He's had one great season, one very good season and a whole lot of mediocre or worse seasons.  But last year he got stung with some real bad luck -- his ERA was over a run over his xFIP, his FIP was .39 higher than his xFIP -- he should have been decent, but his season was bad.  But it also was a season of pockmarks more than anything. He had a couple astonishingly bad starts that really made his season look atrocious. If he could have just gotten the flu before his opening day start, his ERA would have been .40 lower.  If he'd simply missed the game on September 6, he'd have dropped his ERA by .31.  In other words, as mediocre as Carmona was, two atrocious starts made up .71 of his ERA.  He misses those starts, he has a 4.74 ERA and is firmly within the realm of adequacy.  The ship has sailed on Carmona being an ace. It's abundantly clear that 2007 is the outlier in his career. But that doesn't keep him from being a # 3 starter. And if Jimenez performs the task he was acquired to perform, that's all Carmona needs to be.

3) Grady Sizemore - Ugh. Here is my prediction for Grady Sizemore in 2011. .000/.000/.000.  He'll get injured in spring training and miss 2012. That's my projection. You know why that's my projection? Because if it's not that, then there's simply no discernable projection left.  Sizemore in 2012 is basically like Travis Hafner in 2011 -- all we know is that he used to be a fantastic player and that in the years he hasn't been fantastic, he's been significantly injured.  That doesn't mean he still is a fantastic player, it doesn't prove that he's finished. It just proves that what's past is past.  But Sizemore, despite having no projection left in him, is the most critical hitter because the Indians simply don't have a replacement for pre-2009 Grady Sizemore. Michael Brantley is an adequate CF offensively, but he's not going to provide much in the way of power. Sizemore could do that -- and did during his fantastic debut to the 2011 season.  In April, Sizemore was better than he'd ever been. He had never had a month that good. It was only 11 games, certainly, but he'd never had an 11 game stretch that was that productive before. Then he fell off in May back into the realm of sustainability, but spiked again with home runs in back to back games and then...injured.  He went on the DL, rushed back, played very poorly for a lengthy stretch, went on the DL until September, came back and played poorly for a while. So what did we learn? Lord if I know. He's not going to do April for an entire season. But he's never been bad when he's actually healthy.  Which he most likely will never be.  But oh, if he were...

4) Shin-Soo Choo - 2011 was as fantastic a season as you could have hoped for if you wanted people to never notice that Shin-Soo Choo had become one of the best players in baseball.  Unfortunately, the reason for this was because he was no longer one of the best players in baseball, he was just a adequate hitter with a great arm. In 2011, he got caught stealing (12/17 success rate = not worth stealing bases), got caught drunk driving (0.20 = not worth driving), and he became a drag on a team that he'd carried out of the realm of awfulness the prior two seasons. A 2010-level Choo wouldn't have won the division for the Indians, but it would have kept it close into September instead of letting Detroit launch to a ridiculous 15 game win on the back of the real difference-maker in the AL (Doug Fister, which we can hope is merely new English for "Doyle Alexander"). And maybe it would have kept the Indians from making desperation moves to try and stay in a race from which they were fading (see #1).

5) Lonnie Chisenhall - As much as Sizemore is the linchpin for the entire offense, Chisenhall is likely second, because he plays a relatively premium offensive position and is one of the most projectable players in the organization.  With the Jimenez trade stripping the Indians of their top-end prospects, Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis are what's left.  Kipnis acquitted himself admirably in the major leagues and looks ready for the challenge of playing every day -- albeit with a likely regression from his power-drenched 2011 stint.  Chisenhall looked like he was Jack Hannahan without the glove. He was impatient, chased everything off the plate, and went from being a hitter who could work counts to a 3-pitch strikeout.  He still hit for a solid slugging percentage, but got on base so rarely that he provided an offensive regression from Hannahan (whose numbers for the year reeked of respectable major league status, despite a lengthy history reflecting the contrary).  Chisenhall doesn't have to become Adrian Beltre in order for the Indians to succeed. But he does have to become Casey Blake -- a hitter whose average won't ever shine, but who can hit 20+ home runs and get on base. 

6) The wasteland at the right corner of the infield - it has been 9 years since the Indians had a first baseman worthy of playing a premium offensive position. 2012 is not about to change this. Shelley "Mr. AAAA" Duncan is currently the most potent option at the first base spot, because Matt LaPorta actually looked worse in 2011 than he ever had before. Yes, LaPorta was hurt, but unless his eyes were injured, that's not much of a comfort. His walks were cut in half in 2011, his power went up, but only to a threshold of mere acceptability (again, we can summon our memories of Casey Blake). Duncan, despite having never warranted substantial playing time in his career, flat out outhit LaPorta. He worked counts, drew walks, hit the same 11 HR LaPorta did, he just did it all in a crazy 7-HR September when it didn't matter because the season was over and the team was in utter freefall. Could Duncan actually hit like he did in 2011 over an entire season?  Answer: probably not. He's been productive in the minors, but only at stages where he was too old for his level. He is worthy of a roster spot and is an acceptable player.  But he's not going to be what Matt LaPorta was supposed to be -- that long-cherished 30 HR, .500+ SLG first baseman that Jim Thome gave us from '97-02. And that is what a legitimate contender is going to have at first base.  Only loaded teams like the Rangers can make do with less.

So there you have it. The Indians have no fewer than 6 major question marks from the 25 spots on the roster -- and 4 every day starters in that lineup.  What the team needs is insurance -- Sizemore is not a likely candidate to play 162 games. Brantley is there as an option in CF, but if Sizemore goes on the DL -- someone else will be needed. 

Unless things have changed markedly, Willingham is going to prove to be too expensive to be an insurance policy (I have little doubt he'll demand -- and get -- in the range of $8-10 million per year). But he won't offer anywhere near that value to the Indians.  He hasn't shown he can play 1B every day -- he has 4 innings there for his career, so he can't be used as an upgrade to the position where the best option is an unknown quantity with a low ceiling. 

He's superior offensive LF to Michael Brantley, but his defense eats up those gains (in fact, because of Brantley's defensive ability, baseball-reference puts Brantley at a higher WAR for 2011 - 2.2 to 1.8).  So LF isn't likely a marked upgrade.

And so your reason to invest in a Josh Willingham (and the three years at which such a conversation would start) is because you think Michael Brantley will be needed in CF. And if you think Michael Brantley is needed in CF, then you shouldn't have signed Grady Sizemore. And signing a player on the theory that he can spend some time at DH just doesn't make sense when you consider those DHs who can't find demand in the marketplace.  Even knowing that David Ortiz can never play in the field, his value over Willingham's is exponential.  Talent at DH now strikes me as the most undervalued commodity on the market -- and the amazing collapse of Adam Dunn is likely to only exacerbate this inefficiency.  The money would be better spent for a player that offers some offensive production, but also defensive value.  In this market, that's Cody Ross -- a player I loathe, but think would make a lot more sense for the Indians because of his ability to play some CF and keep Ezequiel Carrera far away from the major leagues.   

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Welcome back, FJM!

So a lot has happened through 12 games, the Indians became media darlings, then immediately dropped two games, and for all their greatness, we're still inhabiting a world where the Red Sox are 2-9 and the Royals are a game back of first place, so it's too early to celebrate a turnaround. But there are at least signs of optimism.

Rather than start a blog called Fire Howard Bryant, I'm going to point out some of the myriad problems with this article. It is only that I feel comfortable that my blog will not generate more than three or four hits on this piece of garbage that I can do so in good conscience. (In true FJM style, his words are in italics, mine are not.)

Barry Bonds, baseball's all-time home run leader and from 2000 to 2004 easily the most dominant player since Babe Ruth, will wake up Thursday as a convicted felon.

Or a cockroach, if Kafka was onto something. Maybe even a porpoise. That'd be totally cool.

A San Franciso [sic] jury convicted him of obstruction of justice.

If only they'd been given rice-a-roni. It was not a San Francisco jury. He was tried in the Northern District of California, so that means there were people in the jury panel from Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Salinas, Oakland, Eureka, San Jose. But, obviously, the jury's potential residence in a large city makes it very different. If this were one of those god-forsaken Petaluma juries, they'd just be off their rocker and Bonds would be an untainted legend of the game.

Roger Clemens, arguably the game's greatest pitcher, faces the possibility of a similar fate.

I think if you argue that Clemens is the game's greatest pitcher, you are arguably an idiot, but fine, he was a great pitcher.

Seven times a Cy Young Award winner, Clemens will go on trial this summer for lying to Congress.

Once, twice, three times a Cy Young winner...uh...this sentence has been brought to you by the Commodores.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Indians to sign Nick Johnson

The Tribe is reportedly on the verge of signing Nick Johnson.  Now here's a deal that makes some sense, even if it's not a world-beater.  First, it's a minor league deal, no one's getting shuttled off the roster for Johnson, who may very well be starting the season on the 60-day DL even if he were on the 40-man.  Second, there's no sense in pretending there's not a gigantic question mark playing first for the Indians this year.  If Johnson can play the field (and setting aside the collision with the Indians' current left fielder, he's not found a way to get hurt doing that), he's a decent reserve option, even if he's more punchless than what you'd like from a first baseman.  Even with the dearth of power, though, the guy still churns out great OPS+ numbers because you just can't keep him off first base (career OBP is .401).
Will this work out? Almost certainly not -- he can't swing a bat even though his surgery was in May of last year, he's had back issues, and he was considered a DH-only player when the Yankees signed him last year.  But could the Tribe have added a possible DH to spell Hafner and a first baseman who can get on at a .380 clip and maybe rediscover a power stroke for 20 doubles? Yes. And when the only other "first baseman" the Tribe has is catcher Carlos Santana, it doesn't hurt to have Johnson around, because Santana can't be an every day guy when the Indians don't have any catching in the high minors pipeline (or 40-man roster).