July 2011

Betting the farm

While talking to an Indians player a couple afternoons ago, the idea of trading highly-touted left-hander Drew Pomeranz was floated.

“You can’t do it,” he said. “No way.”

You see, Pomeranz, all 6-foot-5, 230-pounds of him, was considered a can’t-miss, a cornerstone, an integral part of the future. The lefty was also, however, an asset. One with exactly zero Major League innings.

Plenty of ceiling. Nothing else but projection.

Well, on Saturday night, the Indians and Rockies agreed to a major swap that sent Pomeranz, right-hander Alex White, Minor League pitcher Joe Gardner and first baseman Matt McBride to Colorado and brought star pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland. The deal is pending a physical, which was expected to be completed Sunday.

I’ve written it before and I’m not going to back away from my stance in the aftermath of all of this: I wouldn’t have traded Pomeranz for anyone. But part of my reasoning is selfish. As a baseball writer, you root for talents like that to make it so you can chronicle their rise to stardom in the bigs. Pomeranz has front-line potential and could be the type of player a team seriously regrets parting with years down the road.

But that’s down the road…

How many prospects flame out? How many suffer an injury or simply don’t live up to all the hype? More than you think. A vast majority of the time, that is the end result. So in sending Pomeranz and White to the Rockies, the Indians are taking a chance that a proven Jimenez is more of a sure thing than two “top pitching prospects.” And Cleveland isn’t wrong in rolling the dice that way.

In reeling in Jimenez, the Indians now have a rotation witht he likes of Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco, David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister, plus the crop of prospects pulling up the rear. That’s a formidable group to have in place for the next couple of seasons (we can talk about Carmona’s club option for 2012 another time).

But the Indians needed offense, you say. There is no denying that, but Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore are expected to be coming back at some point (fingers crossed) and the Tribe might have another more or two in them before today’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline expires. This was a chance to land a stud pitcher and that’s hard to pass up.

Besides, if the Indians do pull this off and make the playoffs this year, they have a rotation that is set up great for a postseason run.

As Indians closer Chris Perez said late Saturday, it’s a lot to give up, and the team might be kicking itself five years down the road, but a team can’t not make moves due to possible regrets a half-decade in the future.

Just as prospects are no sure thing, though, Jimenez is hardly a lock for roaring success, either.

He had that incredible first half a year ago, when he went 13-1 with a 1.15 ERA through June 17 en route to a start for the National League in the All-Star Game. He ended 2010 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA in 33 outings and placed third in balloting for the NL Cy Young Award. He threw a no-hitter on April 17 against the Braves.

Since that 13-1 opening act, however, Jimenez has been inconsistent to the point of some concern. He’s gone 15-19 with  a 4.03 ERA since then and his pitch velocity has dropped. Last year, he averaged more than 96 mph with his fastball. That’s down to slightly over 93 mph this year. Granted, he dealt with some spring injuries (hip flexor, groin, thumb cuticle) that have undoubtedly played a role.

Jimenez, 27, is under contractual control through 2013 — his club option for 2014 can be voided now that he’s been traded. If anything, taking a chance by landing him in a trade shows that the Indians want to increase their chances of making the postseason in the immediate future. The window for competing certainlyhas been shortened.

And, as for the prospects given up, McBride and Gardner do not project to be impact players at the big league level. Sure, they could prove everyone wrong, but this deal was about Pomeranz and White. As for White, there is always the chance that middle finger injury he suffered in May has created cause for concern. There’s also a chance that Pomeranz’s jaw-dropping curveball doesn’t break as well through that thin Denver air.

In dealing Pomeranz and White — Cleveland’s top picks in the 2010 and 2009, respectively — the Indians are sticking by history, which says position players tend to pan out more in line with projections than pitching prospects. Second baseman Jason Kipnis and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall remain very much in the fold and a part of the future.

And, clearly, rookie general manager Chris Antonetti has now officially made his mark on the organization. This could be a move that helps the Indians make a serious run at the playoffs this year and again in 2012 and 2013, but it could also be a move that ends with Pomeranz and White leading a strong Rockies rotation.

Really, we won’t know who won this deal for a few years.

My first reaction was that Cleveland was giving up way too much for Jimenez. The more I think about the trade, however, the more I feel that it’s fair to call this an educated risk for the Indians and a good return for the Rockies.

Cleveland clearly wants to win now, and it’s hard to argue with that approach.

–JB

Indians acquire Fukudome from Cubs

The Indians swung a trade with the Cubs on Thursday that brought outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to Cleveland and sent two Tribe farmhands to Chicago.

To fans immediately screaming, “THIS is the Indians’ BIG move?!”, well, no, I don’t think this is a “big” move, or even the only move Cleveland will try to pull off before Sunday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.

This move is an upgrade over Cleveland’s current outfield options and, really, little else. The Indians did not give up much in the grand scheme of things (Class A outfielder Abner Abreu and AAA pitcher Carlton Smith) and the Cubs agreed to foot most of the bill (roughly $4 million of the estimated $4.7 million still owed Fukedome).

Fukudome’s statistics won’t blow anyone away, but he potentially provides Cleveland with an improvement over the Austin Kearns/Travis Buck combination in right field. He won’t bring much pop, but he gets on base, provides solid enough defense and has performed well in the ol’ clutch hitting department.

On the year, Fukudome has a .273 average with a .374 on-base percentage and a .742 OPS. Those figures would rank fourth, second and fifth, respectively, among Indians regulars (if we’re allowing Sizemore’s season line to count, that is). In the OPS+ department, again, including Sizemore, Fukudome would rank fifth on the Tribe.

If you’re quick to point out that Fukudome’s numbers come in the National League, it’s fair to note that the NL (3.80) has a better overall ERA than the American League (3.91) at the moment, for what that’s worth. Against the AL this year, Fukudome has hit .178 (8-for-45) in 14 games, for whatever that’s worth, too.

Fukudome’s RBI total (13) doesn’t come with much of a wow factor, but he has hit .311/.516/.467 with runners in scoring position and .304/.556/.435 with runners in scoring position and two outs. With two outs — runners or no runners — he’s hit .324/.462/.392 this season.

Am I blown away by this move? Hardly. But it’s a step up over Kearns (.216/.318/.313/80 OPS+) and Buck (.228/.275/.342/74 OPS+). To clear room on the 40-man roster and active roster, the Indians actually designated Buck for assignment. Cleveland has 10 days to trade or release him, or re-assign him to the Minors if he clears waivers.

Fukudome waived his limited no-trade clause to approve the trade to Cleveland, which was one of the teams listed in his contract. The outfielder told Chicago reporters that the Cubs presented him with the possibility of going to the Indians shortly after the All-Star break. Word is his personal masseuse and translator are coming to Cleveland, too.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti — still on the lookout for offensive and rotation help via trades — noted that Fukudome could potentially be worth Draft pick compensation. As things stand right now, Fukudome would qualify as a Type B free agent this winter, and would net one compensatory pick if Cleveland offered him arbitration and he declined in favor of free agency.

–JB

Six days until the Deadline…

After Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the White Sox, Indians manager Manny Acta went on a mini rant about the upcoming Trade Deadline. The point he wanted to make was that Cleveland, headed by rookie GM Chris Antonetti (pictured), is working hard to pull off a deal or two.

“The truth will come out,” Acta said. “A lot of people will be shocked, surprised and be quiet for a long time after they find out every effort that the team put into it.”

Now, granted, it wasn’t exactly clear what Acta meant. After all, putting in the effort and making something happen are two entirely different things. But it was clear that Acta wanted Indians fans to know that — like them — the Tribe’s decision-makers see the areas that need obvious improvement, and the team is trying to reel in some players to help.

On Monday afternoon, Acta was asked a follow-up question about his comments the day before. The manager quickly put a stop to the direction the conversation was going.

“I already spent all the time I was going to spend talking about trade talks,” Acta said. “I have to win ballgames and I can’t be wasting my time talking about that anymore. I’m not going to give you names. I know what’s going on.

“I already told you how I feel about it and that’s good enough for me. It should be good enough for you guys, too.”

At that point, a reporter jokingly responded with, “You sure you don’t want to give us some names?”

“No,” Acta said. “That’s why I ignored your e-mail last night. Don’t waste any time sending more, because I’m not going to answer.”

Here is what is known: the Indians are in the market for outfield help and the team is browsing some available starting pitching options as well. The Tribe is not specifically looking for a right-handed bat. The bigger issue is adding any type offense, but the team has to keep in mind that injured outfielders Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo are expected to return later this season.

Right now, there are a heck of a lot of names being tossed around in trade rumors involving the Indians’ search for help. Outfielders that have been mentioned include B.J. Upton, Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick. Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence are also out there, but unlikely to land in Cleveland.

Among starting pitching options, Hiroki Kuroda and Aaron Harang have been mentioned. Other arms rumored to be available are guys like Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Marquis. For what it’s worth, the Indians were also linked to catcher Chris Ianetta in one rumor that surfaced last week.

Finances don’t appear to be a huge part of what might stop a big trade from taking place. I think the bigger issue — one Acta often brings up — is “mortgaging the future” in order to land a big name. While Indians prospects such as Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Lonnie Chisehall and Jason Kipnis might not be entirely untouchable, it’d take something huge to convince Cleveland to send them packing as part of a deal.

Among the names listed above, here are a few candidates that might make sense:

Hunter Pence
Current team: Astros
2011 salary: $6.9 million
Contract: Under control through 2013
Stats: .308/.355/.472 with 11 homers, 62 RBIs (stats through July 24)
Comment: Houston does not need to part with Pence this year, so I think it’d take quite the package to pry him away. A top prospect or two would likely need to be in the deal. Also, his salary could climb to around $10 million for 2012 and even higher for 2013. Pence would look good in a Tribe uniform, but I don’t see it happening.

B.J. Upton
Current team: Rays
2011 salary: $4.825 million
Contract: Under control through 2012
Stats: .229/.310/.395 with 15 homers, 52 RBIs
Comment: People might question his character and attitude, but it’s hard to question his speed and power potential. Plus, what he would earn in arbitration for 2012 would likely cost less than the $8.5 million option on Grady Sizemore. Upton is an intriguing possibility, but would present a whole new set of questions about the 2012 outfield alignment.

Ryan Ludwick
Current team: Padres
2011 salary: $6.775 million
Contract: Free agent this offseason
Stats: .241/.305/.380 with 11 homers, 61 RBIs
Comment: Remember him? The average and on-base aren’t quite there, but he has decent enough power, considering he’s playing in PETCO Park. Would be a rental player and would not likely cost much in terms of Minor Leaguers lost. Could transition nicely into backup or split role when Sizemore and/or Choo return.

Hiroki Kuroda
Current team: Dodgers
2011 salary: $12 million
Contract: Free agent in offseason
Stats: 6-12, 3.19 ERA in 20 starts
Comment: Would be a rental to help the rotation, which has been riddled with injuries and inconsistency all year. Has been a reliable arm for L.A. Don’t look at the win-loss record — it’s deceiving. He’s been a solid bet for six innings and has been strong of late. Over last nine starts, has 2.78 ERA and a .221 average against. Indians could stand to have another arm, expecially with Alex White (on 60-day DL) and Mitch Talbot (15-day DL) set to make their respective returns as relievers.

Aaron Harang
Current team: Padres
2011 salary: $4 million
Contract: $5 million mutual option for 2012 or $500K buyout
Stats: 8-2, 3.29 ERA in 16 starts
Comment: That affordable mutual option is an intriguing aspect to Harang’s deal, potentially providing an added layer of depth for next year. The Indians have also expressed interest in Harang in the past. He missed time in July with a foot issue, but has a 1.47 ERA in three July starts since returning. Over his past eight outings, Harang has gone 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA.

Who do you think the Tribe should add?

–JB

Justin Masterful

I supposed I could use this space to tackle all the trade rumors out there, or to discuss Grady Sizemore’s latest setback or the promotion of Jason Kipnis, but I’m going to go in a different direction.

You see, I’m still hung up (see: fascinated) by what took place at Target Field on Tuesday night. That was when Justin Masterson — with the exception of one fourth-inning slider — only featured fastballs.

He came one pitch — one stinkin’ pitch — from using only heaters for an entire start. And he did so in a showing of total dominance. Masterson logged 7 2/3 shutout innings, scattered four singles, struck out six and created 15 outs via grounders. Only once did a Twins baserunner reach second, and that was helped by an error by Asdrubal Cabrera.

In all, Masterson threw 104 pitches and 103 were fastballs. Now, this is not simply a case where catcher Lou Marson threw down an index finger as he called each pitch. There was variation in Masterson’s approach. He threw 54 four-seam fastballs and 49 two-seamers (sinkers) and mixed up his pitch velocity throughout the evening.

That last part is what Masterson believes made the approach so strong.

“I was able to mix and match,” Masterson explained. “Even within the fastballs, there was a mix, a range of velocities that also helped kind of keep them off-balance. And being able to control the inner and outer half, that’s what kind of made it effective. It was almost like having two or three different pitches just within a fastball.”

According to fangraphs.com, Masterson’s pitches sat between 89.9-97.7 mph on the night. There was the one exception: a 78.6-mph slider. That lone offspeed offering came on his 47th pitch of his outing on a 1-0 count to Minnesota’s Michael Cuddyer. It was a called strike. Then, it was back to the sinker for a groundout.

So, Justin, um, why fire that ONE offspeed?

Masterson laughed at the question.

“Well, you know, we thought we’d probably use it more,” he said with a chuckle. “We were probably trying to get ready to throw some more sliders. But it just turned out…”

Masterson paused and shrugged.

“I’m sure there were opportunities where we probably could have,” he then continued. “Instead, we went to the sinker to get a groundball. We were getting a lot of ground balls. It was kind of like don’t change what’s working. We just wanted to keep pounding.

“That one would hopefully kind of put it in the back of the head like, ‘Oh, later on in the innings, is he going to throw one here? Is he not?’ It kind of worked out well.”

Masterson’s 54 four-seam fastballs averaged 94.09 mph (topping out at 97.2), while his sinker clocked in at 93.26 mph on average (97.7 at its peak). The right-hander got three swinging strikes with the four-seamer and seven with the sinker.

Here’s a look at his velocity chart (via brooksbaseball.net) for the outing:

That drastic valley in the middle is that one pesky slider.

As you can see, Masterson’s heaters were around 92-98 for his first 50 pitches and around 90-96 the rest of the way. Only once did he drop below 90 mph with the fastball. Masterson said his pitch speed obviously decreased some as the extremely hot night wore on, but he noted that there were time he intentionally took some speed off for added effect.

Within all of that, Masterson also mixed up his pitch sequences with the two fastballs to keep Twins hitters guessing. For the most part, he went with four-seamers early in counts to try to get ahead and then he’d begin working in the sinkers in an effort to induce weak contact, creating all those grounders in the process.

Here’s a look at how Masterson approached three of Minnesota’s hitters. The “4″ indicates a four-seamer and a “2″ refers to the pitcher’s sinker.

Leadoff man Ben Revere
First at-bat: 4-4-4-4-2-2 (groundout 1-3)
Second at-bat: 2-4-4 (flyout to left)
Third at-bat: 4-4 (groundout 4-3)

Catcher Joe Mauer
First at-bat: 4-4-4-4-4 (single to right)
Second at-bat: 4-2-2 (groudout 1-3)
Third at-bat: 4-4 (error shortstop)

Designated hitter Jim Thome
First at-bat: 4-2 (groundout 6-3)
Second at-bat: 2 (groundout 1-3)
Third at-bat: 2-2-2-2-2-2 (Strikeout)

Now, going with a fastball-heavy approach is not out of the ordinary for Masterson. On the season, he has averaged 82.6-percent fastballs per outing, which ranks second behind only Bartolo Colon (84.3) in baseball. But going with heaters 99-percent of the time is an extreme that is very rare to witness.

Sticking with primarily heaters has worked well for Big Nasty this season, though. As of this writing, Masterson had a 2.64 ERA (7th in the American League), a 3.4 WAR (6th among AL pitchers) and a 144 ERA + (7th)  in 21 games for the Indians this season. With a bit more run support, he’d surely have a greater record than the 8-6 ledger he’s sporting.

Masterson’s reliance on fastballs has increased in each of the past three seasons, and his percentage of sliders has decreased accordingly over the same span. Dating back to 2008, Masterson has upped his heater percentage as follows: 66.7, 72.8, 78.1 to 82.6 this year. His slider percentage has gone: 30.2, 24.2, 18.5 to 16.5 this year. His changeup is a rare sight these days, too.

If it ain’t broke…

–JB

Indians searching for outfield help

Cleveland’s need for outfield assistance is clear. On Thursday, center fielder Grady Sizemore underwent surgery to correct a sports hernia — an operation initially planned for the offseason — meaning he will be sidelined for four to six weeks.

Sizemore injured his right knee on Sunday (the same knee he hurt in May) and was going to probably need at least a month to recover. Under the circumstances, the Indians felt it made sense to tackle both issues — rest for the knee and surgery for the hernia — right now.

Unfortunately for the Tribe, that leaves the outfield short Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo (broken left thumb) until late August or early September, if their respective rehabs go well. Over the past two games, Cleveland was also missing Michael Brantley and Travis Buck due to health issues, exposing the club’s depth (or lack thereof).

Naturally, the Indians are being mentioned in a variety of trade rumors and reports for outfielders. Cleveland has been tied to outfielders such as Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick and Coco Crisp. Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera also would make sense as targets. Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence seem unrealistic.

The Indians are open minded about pursuing a right-handed or left-handed bat, but the organization does not plan on parting with top core prospects for a perceived “rental” player. Such prospects that appear to be off limits include lefty Drew Pomeranz, righty Alex White, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and second baseman Jason Kipnis.

The outfield is the most glaring area of need, but the Indians have also explored available options to boost their rotation as well.

–JB

First-Half Grades

It begins on Thursday. I’ll hop in an early a.m. taxi, head to the airport, catch a flight to Baltimore, and welcome the season’s second half. It’s hard to believe we’re already at baseball’s midpoint.

As has been customary on this blog over the past few years (when I covered the Blue Jays), it’s time to pass out the Bastian’s Midseason Report Card for the ballclub. There’s no specific metric I follow to arrive at these grades. I go by the general numbers, but also by what I’ve seen first-hand.

Before we dive into all that, though, I can now shed some light on where I’ve been over the past week and a half or so. One Twitter follower asked me why I was taking time off and where I was going, and I replied that it was top secret. I wasn’t kidding. It really WAS top secret. The MLBastian clan was all heading to Colorado to throw my dad a surprise 70th birthday party.

With my siblings and I scattered around the country, rare is the opportunity to have all of us, and our kids, in the same room at the same time. So after months of planning, we pulled off quite the feat. We all were at the airplane hangar where my dad flies cessnas when he arrived on the morning of July 6. He didn’t see it coming.

So I took a week to see the old man, visit with my brother and sisters, and their kids, and stepped away from baseball to focus on family. Now that my extended All-Star break is over, however, it is time to get back to ball. The Indians are within sniffing distance of first place and the second half is upon us.

Let’s get to those first-half grades. And as an added bonus, I’ve added a category called “Fun with Splits,” which takes a look at some odd numbers within the numbers for each player.

For grades, I went with hitters with a minimum of 60 at-bats and pitchers with at least 12 innings. That means Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phelps, Ezequiel Carrera, Luis Valbuena, Josh Judy and Zach McAllister get incompletes. For fun with splits, I also excluded Adam Everett, Jeanmar Gomez, Alex White and Justin Germano.

On with it already…

FIRST-HALF GRADES

Hitters

Player: SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Grade: A
Comment: Steady at the plate and solid in the field. Played like an All-Star in the first half and was easily the team’s MVP.
Fun with splits: Keep AC in the No. 2 hole. When batting second, he’s hit .310 (84-for-271). In the Nos. 3-4 spots, Cabrera hit only .241 (21-for-87) in the first half.

Player: DH Travis Hafner
Grade: A
Comment: Has been Cleveland’s Renaissance Man this year. The Tribe has been a much better team with him in the heart of the lineup.
Fun with splits: Pronk comes out to play when runners are in scoring position. With RISP, Hafner posted a 1.436 OPS in the first half. With a man on first? Only .554.

Player: OF Michael Brantley
Grade: B
Comment: Inconsistent at times, but has proved to be one of the Tribe’s more reliable hitters (not to mention a solid defender) within this year’s enigmatic offense.
Fun with splits: Brantley’s production has decreased as baserunners have advanced. His averages with a man on first, a man on second or a man on third are .364, .316, .000, respectively.

Player: C Carlos Santana
Grade: C+
Comment: Santana’s power production brings his overall grade up. Without the pop, the first half would’ve been a full-fledged flop.
Fun with splits: CSan’s power has come with sporadic performance. From the left side, he’s hit .207, but has averaged 1 homer per 20.3 plate PAs. From the right side, he has a .281 average, but has only 1 homer in 111 PAs.

Player: 2B Orlando Cabrera
Grade: C
Comment: There has definitely been inconsistency at the plate, but OC definitely brings something to the clubhouse. You can’t quantify it, but it’s there. Trust me.
Fun with splits: Tribe fans have been hard on Cabrera. Maybe his .204 average in 41 games in front of the home audience is to blame. On the road, he’s hit .295.
Fun with splits II: What a difference one pitch makes. OC has hit .327 on the first pitch, .233 on a 1-0 count and .375 on a 2-0 count.

Player: OF Grady Sizemore
Grade: C
Comment: Got off to a strong start, and has been solid enough in the field, but his offense has dropped off between two DL stints.
Fun with splits: Say what you will about “clutch” stats, but Sizemore has posted a .894 OPS when the Indians have a lead and a .651 OPS when the team is trailing.

Player: 1B Matt LaPorta
Grade: C
Comment: Both at the plate and in the field, LaPorta has been consistently inconsistent. Flashes of wow and flashes of yow. Tribe is still waiting for him to break out.
Fun with splits: LaPorta has put up an impressive .900 OPS with no outs. But it decreased from there. With one out, he has a .799 OPS. With two? Try a .471 OPS.

Player: OF Travis Buck
Grade: C
Comment: Really, Buck has performed about as well as was expected, given his history. When he’s been in there on a regular basis, he’s looked even better.
Fun with splits: Figure this one out… Buck has hit at a .350 clip with a .850 OPS as a right fielder, but has hit .253 with a .614 OPS as a left fielder.

Player: OF Shelley Duncan
Grade: C
Comment: Fits perfectly as a pinch hitter off the bench. Has been brutally exposed when he’s been in the lineup on a regular basis.
Fun with splits: As a sub, Duncan has hit .500 (4-for-8) with seven RBIs. As a starter, he’s hit .217 (20-for-92) with only 13 RBIs.

Player: C Lou Marson
Grade: C
Comment: Overall, has been inconsistent at the plate, but Marson has delivered some big hits. His strong arm behind the plate ups his grade.
Fun with splits: What’s wrong with batting 8th? In the 7th or 9th spots, Marson has hit .333 and .303, respectively. In the dreaded eight hole, he’s hit just .108.

Player: OF Shin-Soo Choo
Grade: C-
Comment: Choo’s strong arm and solid defense (though the routes are suspect at times) save him from getting a “D” in my book. Tough first half for the Tribe’s star player.
Fun with splits: Choo’s discipline as a hitter has taken a big hit this year. Consider that he’s hit .345 (29-for-84) in one-strike counts compared to .111 (15-for-135) in two-strike counts.

Player: 3B Jack Hannahan
Grade: C-
Comment: Hannahan has been a joy to watch at the hot corner. He was brought in for his defense and he has not disappointed. At the plate? You take what you can get.
Fun with splits: Hannahan has gone against the typical trend in the batter’s box. As a left-handed hitter, he’s batted .328 with a .947 OPS vs. LHP. Against RHP, he’s hit .183 with a .554 OPS. It’s opposite day.

Player: INF Adam Everett
Grade: D
Comment: Before being releases, Everett brought solid veteran leadership to the clubhouse and sound defense to the field. His offense left something to be desired.

Player: OF Austin Kearns
Grade: D-
Comment: It’s been bad, but in my years of covering ball, I’ve seen worse. That’s about all that keeps Mr. Kearns from getting a failing grade for the first half. Adjusting to a pure bench role has not gone well for the veteran outfielder.
Fun with splits: With a runner on first base, Kearns has actually hit .407 with a .948 OPS in 31 plate appearances. In 74 PAs with no one on base, he’s hit .154/.472.

Offense Overall: C

Pitchers

Player: RHP Joe Smith
Grade: A+
Comment: It’s not often I hand out an “A+” but Mighty Joe gets it. No one saw a sub-1.00 ERA at the break coming.
Fun with splits: Smith has heated up with the summer. Over 14 2/3 innings between April and May, he allowed four total runs. In June and July (so far), he’s given up zero runs in 17 innings out of the bullpen.

Player: RHP Justin Masterson
Grade: A
Comment: Toss out the W-L record and look at how solid Bat Masterson has been for the Tribe this season. Critics saying he should be in the bullpen have gone quiet.
Fun with splits: Masterson seems to get stronger as his pitch count rises. From pitches 26-50, batters have hit .339 off Big Nasty. From pitches 76-100, he’s held them to a .143 showing.

Player: RHP Josh Tomlin
Grade: A
Comment: Tomlin has been the picture of consistency and has 10 wins at the break. Has been a rock within the starting staff. 
Fun with splits: Run support doesn’t influence Tomlin’s performance. With 0-2 runs of support, he has a 3.82 ERA (5 starts). With 3-5 runs of support, it’s a 3.80 ERA (7 starts). Tomlin has a 3.82 ERA (6 starts) with 6+ runs of support.

Player: RHP Vinnie Pestano
Grade: A
Comment: If he were closing, he’d surely be in the discussion for the Rookie of the Year. For now, Pestano’s gem of a season is quietly hidden in a setup role to All-Star closer Chris Perez. 
Fun with splits: Hitters have a .733 OPS on a 0-1 count against Pestano, but it’s pure filth after. If they don’t get to him then, on 0-2 counts they’ve hit .000 (0-for-17 with 15 strikeouts).

Player: RHP Chris Perez
Grade: A
Comment: Say what you want about the drama he creates at times, but one thing is for sure: CP gets the job done when it counts. He wouldn’t have been an All-Star otherwise. 
Fun with splits: He takes the mound to Prodigy’s “Firestarter” and he certainly puts out the flames in save situations. Pure Rage has a 0.93 ERA in save situations (19 1/3 IP) compared to a 3.29 ERA in non-save scenarios (13 2/3 IP).

Player: LHP Rafael Perez
Grade: A
Comment: The Silent One has quietly put up a stellar showing to this point. Has been a solid lefty option out of the ‘pen. 
Fun with splits: It means nothing, but Perez has held No. 5 hitters to a .343 OPS, while No. 6 hitters have thrived to the tune of a 1.385 OPS against the lefty.

Player: RHP Carlos Carrasco
Grade: B
Comment: Carrasco has shown flashes of brilliance and was one of the main reasons Cleveland’s turbulent June didn’t completely derail the season. 
Fun with splits: Carrasco has done much better against righties. RHH have hit .210 with a .555 OPS and he has a 6.33 K/BB ratio against them. LHH have hit .315/.868 and that K/BB rate drops to 1.32.

Player: LHP Tony Sipp
Grade: B
Comment: Sipp has been a solid lefty setup man for the Indians’ strong bullpen. A few lapses have taken a toll on his overall stat line. 
Fun with splits: Sipp loves pitching in Cleveland. At home, he has a 1.74 ERA with a 4.00 K/BB ratio. On the road, he’s posted a 4.02 ERA with a 1.56 K/BB rate.

Player: RHP Frank Herrmann
Grade: B
Comment: The Harvard Heat has improved as the season has progressed, giving the Indians with a good multi-inning or middle-relief option. 
Fun with splits: Herrmann performs best when there is a lack of lefties on the agenda. Against righties, he has a OPS against of .385 with no homers allowed. Against lefties, it’s a 1.164 OPS against with four homers yielded.

Player: RHP Alex White
Grade: B
Comment: Called up earlier than expected, and sidelined with a finger injury for more time than anyone would want, White performed admirably in his first brief taste of the bigs.

Player: RHP Jeanmar Gomez
Grade: C
Comment: Gomez has been an outstanding member of the Triple-A Columbus rotation, but has been just so-so in his small sample of Major League outings this season.

Player: RHP Chad Durbin
Grade: C-
Comment: Durbin has his critics, and his showing has certainly been up and down, but he has been a solid veteran leader in the clubhouse and his performance with inherited runners has been fantastic. 
Fun with splits: Relievers don’t get personal catchers, but one split that is glaring for Durbing is hit 2.55 ERA with catcher Lou Marson compared to his 10.07 ERA with Carlos Santana.

Player: RHP Justin Germano
Grade: D
Comment: The Indians gave Germano a shot as a multi-inning/middle relief man as part of the Opening Day bullpen. His struggles knocked him right off the 40-man roster.

Player: RHP Fausto Carmona
Grade: D
Comment: How do you solve a problem like Carmona? When he’s been on, he’s been really on and ace-like. And when he’s been off, well, it’s been nearly unwatchable. Too many starts unraveled out of control in the first half.
Fun with splits: Carmona has gone 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA in eight starts resulting in a win or a no-decision. In his 10 losses, he has a brutal 9.56 ERA.
Fun with splits II: With 6+ runs of support to use to his advantage, Carmona has posted a 10.27 ERA.
Fun wuth splits III: With no one on base, Carmona has held hitters to a .228 average. With the bases loaded, however, hitters are coming through at a .700 rate.

Player: RHP Mitch Talbot
Grade: D-
Comment: Cleveland’s lack of organizational depth, combined with Talbot being out of Minor League options, has saved him from losing his job up to this point.
Fun with splits: Over the first two innings, Talbot has posted an 8.59 ERA, giving up 21 of his 41 runs in those frames. He has put up a 4.95 ERA across innings 3-9.

Pitching Overall: B

Catch you from Baltimore…

–JB

The Swoon: A look back at June

The Indians insist that it was just one of those bad stretches that every team goes through. Well, not every team dismisses its hitting coach midway through a horrendous, team-wide offensive slump.

Cleveland’s persistent woes at the plate cost hitting coach Jon Nunnally his job on June 19. The Indians brought in Bruce Fields, who had been the organization’s roving Minor League hitting instructor. It was an odd move for a first-place team, but a sign that the Tribe is not going to just sit idly as the team slides down the standings.

June was a month in which Fausto Carmona struggled mightily on the mound, Grady Sizemore slumped painfully at the plate and the Indians decided the time had come to dip into its farm system for aid. Both Cord Phelps and Lonnie Chisenhall got the call during the Tribe’s June swoon.

June was also a month marred by injuries and schedule quirks. Cleveland lost Shin-Soo Choo to a fractured left thumb and subsequent surgery will likely keep him out until September. Also missing is first baseman Matt LaPorta, felled by a sprained ankle. Travis Hafner came back from injury, but then was turned into the club’s designated sitter during a long Interleague road trip.

And, yet, the Indians weathered the collective storm, for the most part. Entering July, the team was only a half-game out of first place. That is largely due to the continued dominance of the Tribe’s bullpen and the emergence of Carlos Carrasco. Justin Masterson also pitched strong, but run support is typically required to reel in wins.

All things considered, June could’ve been a whole lot worse.

Here’s a glance at the past month as we head into June…

Offense:

91 runs — 11th in the AL
205 hits — 12th in the AL
47 doubles — 5th in the AL
18 HR — 10th in the AL
82 RBIs — 12th in the AL
.228 average — 12th in the AL
.302 on-base — 11th in the AL
.354 slugging — 12th in the AL
.656 OPS — 12th in the AL
318 total bases — 10th in the AL
215 strikeouts — 14th in the AL

Pitching:

10 wins — 12th in the AL
3.98 ERA — 10th in the AL
2.97 bullpen ERA — 6th in AL
4.42 starters ERA — 10th in AL
1.321 WHIP — 9th in the AL
8-14 — starters’ combined record

Defense:

21 errors (May 16; April 13)
14 unearned runs (May 12, April 3)

The Ledger:

Record at home: 5-8
Record on the road: 5-9

Bastian’s May Awards:

Player of the Month: Asdrubal Cabrera
Comment: Cabby gets the nod as my Player of the Month for the third month in a row. The Indians shortstop cooled off a bit, but he was still the team’s most consistent hitter across the board. Overall, Cabrera put up a slashline of .297/.339/.468 for June. He had a .807 OPS with three homers, 10 doubles, 11 RBIs and 17 runs scored. Carlos Santana led the Indians with five homers and 12 RBIs in June, but his average still suffered.

Pitcher of the Month: Carlos Carrasco
Comment: For the first time this year, Josh Tomlin isn’t my pick as Pitcher of the Month. Shoot, if it weren’t for Detroit’s Justin Verlander, Carrasco might be the American League’s Pitcher of the Month for June. All Cookie did was go 4-2 with a 1.90 ERA in six starts — finally looking like the star the Indians believe he can become. Over 42.2 IP, Carrasco struck out 28, walked seven and posted a 0.867 WHIP.

Reliever of the Month: Joe Smith
Comment: In 11.2 innings of work, Mr. Smith posted a 0.00 ERA. In his 11 appearances, the sidearmer struck out four, walked four and yielded 10 hits. Smith enticed hitters to make contact and got tremendous results. Entering July, his season ERA stood at 1.03 over 28 games. Closer Chris Perez jokingly called him “Average Joe” a couple weeks ago, but he’s been “Mighty Joe” of late for the Indians.

Rookie of the Month: Vinnie Pestano
Comment: Once again, Pestano takes home the rookie honors. Perhaps in July, when third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall starts piling up some at-bats, Pestano will have some rookie competition for my monthly accolades. Not that Pestano isn’t worthy. In June, he put up a 1.86 ERA and a 0.828 WHIP over 10 games. Pestano struck out 15 and walked four in just 9 2/3 innings.

Comeback Player of the Month: Travis Hafner
Comment: So what if he only played 11 games in June? The man hit .286 with a .444 OBP and a .619 SLG in the games he did play. Pronk also belted two homers and drove in seven to go along with that 1.063 OPS. He gets the nod for me because he showed how much he affects the lineup. Losing Hafner to the oblique injury hurt Cleveland for a solid month.

~JB

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