September 2012

Where to start?

“I think we have a solid starting staff. We have four guys who are locked in, in my opinion. And then you have three, four or five guys who have been in that fifth starting role and who will fight and be prepared. We’re definitely in a good spot.”
                                                              — Justin Masterson, in February

A lot has changed since Masterson made those comments about the Indians’ rotation battle at the onset of Spring Training. There is no denying that Cleveland entered this season with plenty of questions surrounding its starting staff, but the organization — from the front office to the clubhouse — was optimistic and confident about the group at the time.

Much, if not all, of that confidence has since been shaken and shattered.

Where does the Tribe go from here?

The Indians thought they had the makings of a group that could help the ballclub contend this season: a veteran (Derek Lowe) mixed in with a couple of up-and-comers (Masterson and Josh Tomlin), a past star (Ubaldo Jimenez) and a prospect (Jeanmar Gomez). Instead, that group faltered greatly and has been the catalyst behind this collapse.

Every team enters a season with a rotation depth chart that is eight to 10 arms deep. Sure enough, Cleveland has cycles through nine starters this season. Here is that list, and their overall showing out of the rotation, through Tuesday:

Justin Masterson: 11-13, 4.96
Ubaldo Jimenez: 9-16, 5.52
Derek Lowe: 8-10, 5.52
Jeanmar Gomez: 5-7, 5.54
Zach McAllister: 5-7, 4.31
Josh Tomlin: 5-8, 5.72
Corey Kluber: 1-3, 5.26
Roberto Hernandez: 0-3, 7.53
Chris Seddon: 0-1, 5.23

Masterson, Jimenez, Gomez,  McAllister and Kluber currently make up the rotation with roughly three weeks to play. Lowe was released. Tomlin is done for the year (and likely all of next season) after Tommy John surgery. Hernandez is sidelined with a right ankle sprain and his status is up in the air. Seddon is in the bullpen, where he is a better fit.

Given Cleveland’s slide in the standings — from first place through 70 games to tied for last in the American League Central — the question is simply: Where do the Indians go from here? After this season’s collapse, it is hard to fathom the club trying to sell 2013 as a season of expected contention. It is more likely a year that will help sort through the building blocks of the future. Again.

The 2013 rotation could include Masterson (arbitration eligible), though Cleveland will probably entertain any trade offers for the sinkerballer this winter. McAllister, Kluber and Gomez are all pre-arb. Don’t forget, pitchers such as Carlos Carrasco (returning from Tommy John) and Kevin Slowey (arb eligible after injury-marred Triple-A season this year) will likely be in the fold next spring. Lefty David Huff is still around, too.

Lowe is in the past. Tomlin is part of the distant (2014) future. Cleveland has club options on Hernandez ($6 million) and Jimenez ($5.75 million). In the Minors, upper-level arms include guys like T.J. McFarland, T.J. House (Double-A), Giovanny Soto (Double-A) and Paolo Espino (Double-A). Austin Adams? He’ll be coming back from shoulder surgery.

The Indians lack upper-level impact arms — the type that would be clearly ready to slide into the 2013 rotation for a chance to see what the Tribe has waiting in the wings. That is why it would not be surprising to see Cleveland float players like Masterson, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera or Chris Perez in trade talks this winter.

Cleveland had two top-tier pitching prospects poised for the big-league stage, but — thanks to the trade for Jimenez — they are now with the Rockies (Drew Pomeranz and Alex White).

Some free-agent pitching options this offseason include the likes of Kevin Correia, Ryan Dempster, Jeremy Guthrie, Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Jason Marquis, Kevin Millwood and Anibal Sanchez, among others. But, under the circumstanes, I wouldn’t expect the Tribe to be big spenders.

Shocker, you say? Come on. What team should spend big after a 90-plus loss season? The time has come again to shift the focus back to building a better foundation. The current core is not breeding confidence, especially on the mound. There is no quick fix to what has transpired here over the past two months.

It begins and ends on the mound. One or two hitters — not Josh Willingham, not Prince Fielder — could have overcome Cleveland’s rotation woes this year.

On the year, among AL teams, the Indians’ rotation ranks 11th in innings (807.2), 12th in wins (44), 13th in ERA (5.28), hits allowed (903), walks issued (313), strikeouts (546) and average (.283), and last in losses (68), runs allowed (529), earned runs allowed (474), stolen bases allowed (93), stolen base percentage (83%) and WHIP (1.51).

Dating back to July 27, when the Indians were just 3 1/2 games out of first place, the rotation has gone 8-26 (14th in both) in 43 games with a 6.88 ERA (14th) and .305 average against (14th). Over that period, the group has allowed 194 runs (14th), 169 earned runs (14th), 277 hits (12th), 82 walks (10th) in 221 innings (14th).

Dating back to July 27, here is the individual starters’ performances:

Masterson: 4-5, 7.14, 51.2 IP
Jimenez: 1-7, 6.79, 50.1 IP
McAllister: 1-5, 6.08, 40 IP
Kluber: 1-3, 5.26, 39.1 IP
Hernandez: 0-3, 7.53, 14.1 IP
Seddon: 0-1, 5.23, 10.1 IP
Gomez: 1-0, 7.27, 8.2 IP
Tomlin: 0-1, 18.00, 4 IP
Lowe: 0-1, 27.00, 2.1 IP

Masterson and Ubaldo combined have gone 20-29 with a 5.23 ERA and 1.51 WHIP on the season and 5-12 with a 6.97 ERA and 1.60 WHIP dating back to July 27.

The rotation currently has the third-highest single-season ERA in team history, trailing the 1987 (5.37) and 2009 (5.30) clubs. The starting staff is also on pace for 77 losses. In team history, only five rotations (1971, 83; 1928, 81; 1991, 79; 1924, 75; 1987, 75) have lost at least 75 games in a single season.

Something has to give, and soon. But where should the Indians start?


Month in review: August

I will never cover a collapse of this kind again. I could spend the next half-century as a scribe chronicling Cleveland baseball — I doubt my wife will let that happen — and history says this will not occur again on my watch.

There are teams that are supposed to be bad. They turn in 90-loss seasons, or maybe even drop 100, and no one really makes much of a fuss, because, hey, what did you expect? But this? This Tribe team was supposed to contend. And they did contend.

On June 23, the Indians were in first place in the American League Central with a 37-32 record. Since then, the Tribe has gone an incredible 18-45 to fall to 17.5 games out of first place and just 1.5 games from being the worst team in the AL. It has been an historic stretch for this team.

The true start of the rapid descent was July 27 — the day after the Tribe defeated Justin Verlander and the Tigers with a dramatic comeback. From there, Cleveland lost 11 in a row, and later went on to have losing streaks of nine and six games. That last skid is active entering tonight’s action.

In August, the rotation disintegrated and the Tribe parted ways with the likes of Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon, Jose Lopez, Jeremy Accardo and Shelley Duncan. Grady Sizemore was declared done for the season, even though he had yet to play a game. Josh Tomlin underwent Tommy John surgery. Travis Hafner was shelved once again.

In all, Cleveland went 5-24 in August for its worst showing in a single calendar month in the club’s 112-year history. The 1914 Cleveland Naps had a 24-loss July nearly a century ago, but they won six and had one tie that month.

The Indians are the second team to have a 24-loss month this season, joining the Astros, who did so in July. It marks the first time since 1982 that two teams had months of 24-plus losses in one season. The Twins (26 in May) and Mets (24 in August) accomplished that dubious feat 31 seasons ago.

In the last 30 seasons, only the 2012 Indians, 2012 Astros and 1999 Cubs turned in a month with at least 24 losses. It has happened 10 times in the past 50 seasons. Dating back to 1921, there have been 46 such occurrences. The record for futility in a single month (since ’21) is 27 losses. Well done, 1939 Phillies and 1940 Athletics (both in September).

It has been ugly, but I still sifted through the wreckage to find some monthly award winners. It was much easier to do for the Minor League affiliates this time around.

With the calendar flipped to September, here is a look back at August…

Overall: 5-24
At home: 4-11
On road: 1-13

Offense (AL rank):

.231 average (12)
.290 on-base (12)
.352 slugging (13)
.643 OPS (12)
24 home runs (12)
39 doubles (12)
94 RBI (12)
96 runs (12)
72 walks (10)
212 strikeouts (8)
23 stolen bases (6)
223 hits (12)

Pitching (AL rank)

5.49 ERA (12)
4 saves (14)
252.1 innings (5)
291 hits allowed (14)
179 runs (14)
154 earned runs (12)
37 home runs (11)
95 walks (13)
206 strikeouts (8)
.288 opp. average (14)
1.53 WHIP (14)
.838 opp. OPS (14)

Player of the Month: C Carlos Santana
Stats: .277/.368/.436/.803, 4 HR, 4 2B, 16 RBI, 12 R, 28 H, 29 games

Previous winners: DH Travis Hafner (April), 2B Jason Kipnis (May), RF Shin-Soo Choo (June), CF Michael Brantley (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Esmil Rogers
Stats: 2.04 ERA, 17.2 IP, 18 K, 2 BB, 1.25 WHIP, 13 games

Previous winners: RHP Derek Lowe (April), CL Chris Perez (May), RHP Justin Masterson (June), RHP Zach McAllister (July)

Reliever of the Month: RHP Esmil Rogers

Previous winners: RHP Vinnie Pestano (April, July), CL Chris Perez (May), RHP Esmil Rogers (June)

Performance of the Month (hitting): INF Brent Lillibridge
Line: 3-for-4, 1 HR, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 runs in 5-2 win over Red Sox on Aug. 11

Performance of the Month (pitching): RHP Zach McAllister
Line: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K in 5-2 win over Red Sox on Aug. 11



Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: 2B Cord Phelps
Stats: .310/.395/.504/.900, 5 HR, 7 2B, 17 RBI, 22 R, 35 H, 29 games

Previous winners: 1B Matt LaPorta (April), INF Jason Donald (May), 1B/OF Russ Canzler (June), OF Tim Fedroff (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Matt Langwell
Stats: 2-0, 1.98 ERA, 13.2 IP, 20 K, 8 BB, 1.39 WHIP, .220 avg, 9 games

Previous winners: RHP Corey Kluber (April, July), LHP David Huff (May), LHP Eric Berger (June)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Thomas Neal
Stats: .319/.426/.451/.876, 3 HR, 3 2B, 6 RBI, 17 R, 29 H, 28 games

Previous winners: INF/OF Jared Goedert (April, May), OF Thomas Neal (June), 1B Adam Abraham (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Toru Murata
Stats: 1-0, 1.17 ERA, 30.2 IP, 26 K, 4 BB, 0.82 WHIP, .194 avg., 6 starts

Previous winners: LHP T.J. McFarland (April), LHP T.J. House (May), RHP Steven Wright (June), RHP Paolo Espino (July)

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: 3B Giovanny Urshela
Stats: .336/.345/.586/.931, 6 HR, 9 2B, 12 RBI, 12 R, 39 H, 28 games

Previous winners: DH Jeremie Tice (April), 1B Jesus Aguilar (May), INF Ronny Rodriguez (June), INF Tony Wolters (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Rob Nixon
Stats: 0.89 ERA, 20.1 IP, 20 K, 4 BB, 0.93 WHIP, .205 avg., 9 games

Previous winners: LHP T.J. House (April), RHP Shawn Armstrong (May), RHP Kyle Blair (June), RHP Danny Salazar (July)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: 2B Jose Ramirez
Stats: .392/.436/.525/.961, 2 HR, 6 2B, 15 RBI, 27 R, 47 H, 30 games

Previous winners: OF Luigi Rodriguez (April), 1B Jerrud Sabourin (May), OF Jordan Smith (June, July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Enosil Tejeda
Stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 12 IP, 9 K, 1 BB, 0.67 WHIP, .163 avg., 11 games

Previous winners: RHP Cody Anderson (April), RHP Joseph Colon (May), RHP Mason Radeke (June), RHP Manuel Carmona (July)

Class A (short-season) Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: INF Joseph Wendle
Stats: .3336/.362/.445/.808, 2 HR, 4 2B, 17 RBI, 12 R, 37 H, 26 games

Previous winners: C/1B Charlie Valerio (June), INF Joseph Wendle (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Luis Encarnacion
Stats: 1.50 ERA, 12 IP, 20 K, 9 BB, 1.00 WHIP, .081 avg., 8 games

Previous winners: RHP Luis DeJesus (June, July)

Arizona League Indians

Player of the Month: OF Anthony Santander
Stats: .371/.439/.614/.1.053, 2 HR, 9 2B, 10 RBI, 14 R, 26 H, 20 games

Previous winners: 3B Jorge Martinez (June), SS Dorssys Paulino (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Felix Sterling
Stats: 3-0, 0.95 ERA, 19 IP, 29 K, 6 BB, 0.95 WHIP, .174 avg., 5 games

Previous winners: RHP Luis Morel (June), RHP Alexis Paredes (July)

Dominican Summer League Indians

Player of the Month: 1B/C Juan De La Cruz
Stats: .317/.416/.413/.828, 4 2B, 1 3B, 13 RBI, 8 R, 20 H, 20 games

Previous winners: 2B Odomar Valdez (June), OF Victor Cabral (July)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Luis Gomez
Stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 13.1 IP, 12 K, 5 BB, 0.83 WHIP, .130 avg., 3 starts

Previous winners: RHP Juan Nivar (June), LHP Luis Gomez (July)


Month in review: July
Month in review: June
Month in review: May
Month in review: April