January 2013

See Tribe Run

KipnisSBI can always count on John Bryndal — a loyal reader and Twitter follower — to send me a question that inevitably leads to a couple hours of research and writing. Today, I opened my Indians’ Inbox account (IndiansInbox@gmail.com) to see if there were any thought-provoking inquiries from the Tribe faithful, and John (@jjsnowcat on Twitter) sent me this one:

Around the halfway point of the season last year, I asked you about stolen bases leading to runs, and you calculated that a surprising 47 percent (if memory serves) had led to runs being scored. So… two questions: did you ever follow up and work out the final stat on that at the end of the season? And, is Terry Francona more or less of a proponent of the stolen base than Manny Acta was? My thinking is maybe Acta’s light was little greener with his National League background. What do you think?
–John in Japan (originally Willoughby, Ohio)

Well, John, the answer is no, I did not work out that stat through the end of the season. Until this morning, that is. Thanks for the reminder, because I was definitely interested in seeing how that percentage turned out in the end. I got out my handy-dandy scorebook and found my most recent notation appeared on June 6 (likely around the time you first asked) and, indeed, the percentage of stolen bases that eventually turned into runs was 47 percent (22-of-47). You have excellent memory.

I went through the remainder of the games today and found that only 33 percent of Cleveland’s stolen bases (21-of-62) were converted into runs over the rest of the schedule. There is a slight asterisk involved, because on Aug. 5, Asdrubal Cabrera swiped two bags on the same trip around the bases and eventually scored. So, I counted that as “two runs” since both stolen bases led to a run. If you want to say that only counts for one, then the rate drops to 20 converted in 62 thefts.

Why the dramatic drop-off over the final 107 games? Well, obviously this statistic is extremely dependent on the success or failings of the hitters who are being asked to bring the runner home. Over the first 55 games, the Indians hit .265 (127-for-479) with runners in scoring position, helping to take advantage of the steady stream of stolen bases. Over the final 107 games, Cleveland hit just .226 (202-for-895) with RISP. As the team slumped, the rate of stolen bases also decreased in step with the success rate. Over that 107-game sample, the Tribe averaged one stolen base ever 1.7 games. In the first 55 games, the team swiped one bag every 1.2 games on average.

Overall, the Indians turned 39 percent of their stolen bases into runs (43-of-110). I don’t know how that compares to the rest of the league — I only did this for the Tribe — but it seems fairly solid in light of the offense’s struggles with situational hitting last season. Stolen bases were essential in creating runs for the offense, which was under an increasing amount of pressure late in the season when the starting pitching staff began to crumble.

It is also worth noting that the Indians’ runners began taking more risks on the bases as the season wore on. Consider that the Tribe had a 75.3 percent success rate on stolen bases between April-June, but had just a 67.9 percent success rate over the rest of the season. During one particular stretch between Aug. 2-Sept. 7, the Indians had 10 games with two or more stolen bases, but the team was only able to convert 26 percent of the stolen bases (31) into runs (8) in that stretch. During that period, the Indians went 9-25 as a team, falling out of contention.

Now, I’ll do my best to address the Francona vs. Acta element of your question.

Any manager will tell you that their opinion on using stolen bases is directly related to the roster in hand. If you have players who have the ability to steal 30-plus bags, you’re not going to tell them to stop running. That’s a weapon any manager would want to utilize. Beyond those clear basestealers, though, there will be a difference of opinion from manager to manager on whether to ask the mid-tier runners to try to maximize their running game.

Over the 20010-12 seasons, when Acta was at the helm, the Indians ranked 11th in stolen bases (290) and 12th in stolen-base percentage (70.9) in the American League. Cleveland topped 89 swipes in each season. Last year, the Indians stole 110 bases, which marked the most for the ballclub since 2000. Acta had a bonafide basestealer in Jason Kipnis (31 thefts) leading the charge. I’d say Acta’s use of the stolen base was mostly out of necessity, given the state of the Tribe offense between 2010-12. Creativity was required, and last year Acta had a few runners (Kipnis, Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Brantley) capable of stealing some bags. In Washington, Acta’s teams (2007-09) never topped 81 stolen bases in a season. So he actually ran more in the American League than in the NL.

If we look at Francona’s managerial career, what stands out to me is the success rate he had with having players steal. His Phillies teams (1997-2000) ranked 17th in baseball in stolen bases (416) during his time there, but their 71.5 percent success rate ranked fourth in the NL over that span. In Boston (2004-11), the Reds Sox ranked 22nd in baseball in stolen bases (676) under Francona’s watch, but 2nd in the AL and 4th in the Majors in success rate (75.3 percent).

It’s also worth noting that in 12 seasons with Francona as manager, his teams have topped 90 stolen bases eight times, 100 stolen bases five times and 120 stolen base attempts eight times.

What this all says to me is that, if Francona has the right players in place he’s going to utilize the stolen base. More importantly, though, he wants his players to be smart on the bases. If you’re going to run, you better make sure it’s the right situation, and you better make it.

In 2013, it seems a safe bet than the Indians will have the players in place to make stolen bases an important part of the offense. Kipnis — a threat to swipe 30-plus bases — will be back. Cleveland also acquired speedy outfielder Drew Stubbs — another 30-plus stolen base threat — this winter. Cleveland hasn’t had two players steal 30-plus in a season since 2000, when second baseman Roberto Alomar and outfielder Kenny Lofton accomplished the feat.

Cleveland also added utility man Mike Aviles this winter. Over the past three seasons, Aviles has had a rate of 21 stolen bases per 162 games, with a success rate of 74 percent over that span, and in his career. Stubbs has an 162-game stolen base rate of 37 thefts, and he brings an 80 percent success rate for his career. Add that to Kipnis, who has an 84 percent success rate in his two seasons in the big leagues, and the Indians look like a team that will be on the run.

Cabrera also has the potential to steal 10-20 bases, and the shortstop has a 72 percent success rate over his career. Another intriguing option will be outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, who is out of options and a front-runner to break camp as the Tribe’s fourth outfielder. In the big leagues, Carrera has had a 75 percent success rate, and he has posted a rate of 26 stolen bases over an 162-game sample. Brantley could be a 15-20 stolen base threat as well, but his career success rate of 66 percent needs improvement.

In my recent post projecting the offense for 2013, I had the Indians stealing 141 bases in the coming season. Cleveland hasn’t swiped that many bags since 1999, when they had 147. From 1996-2000, the Indians ranked second in the AL with 681 stolen bases and had the best success rate (72.9 percent). That said, those clubs could also mash the ball, put up runs in bunches and were yearly contenders for the postseason. Stolen bases back then were a part of a balanced, potent offense. Right now, it’s a necessary element to help generate runs, regardless of who is occupying the manager’s office.

–JB

Projecting the Tribe’s win total

BPSThe Indians won 68 games last season, falling far short of what many predicted for a team expected to be on the cusp of contention when the 2012 tour began. With a young roster, and an 80-win showing in the previous campaign, the Tribe looked like a club on the rise.

Now, Cleveland’s ride back to the bottom of this decade-long roller coaster has everyone wondering what is in store for 2013. With its agressive offseason — reeling in the likes of Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers and Trevor Bauer — will the Indians be significantly improved in the coming year?

As I did a few days ago, I grabbed my notepad and my trusty TI-86 calculator and went to work on trying to find a way to project some realistic numbers for this club. In my previous post, I tackled the group of “regulars” expected to be in the lineup. Today, I sorted through a majority of the Tribe’s potential pitching staff.

With both sets of projections in hand, I believe I have a realistic win range for fans to expect this season.

Before I get to that, let me explain how I went about projecting the pitchers.

Similar to how I handled the offense, I looked at each pitcher’s past three seasons (or career, if they lacked three seasons in the big leagues) and averaged against their most recent season.

  • For starting pitchers, I projected over 180 innings if they lacked a number in that range for their three-year, career or 2012 numbers. I projected for Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, Carlos Carrasco and Zach McAllister.
  • For Myers, I used his past three full seasons as a starting pitcher, because he worked as a reliever last season and had an injury-shortened season a few years ago.
  • I did not project for Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber given the lack of experience on their respective big league resumes.
  • For the main relievers (Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw), I worked off a projection of 60 innings. I used a 40-inning projection for Cody Allen and Frank Herrmann, because that seems more likely to be near their work load if the other five arms log 60-plus.
  • I did not project for David Huff, because we don’t know yet if he will be starting or relieving. I also did not project for Scott Barnes or Nick Hagadone due to their extremely small sample sizes in the big leagues.

One thing I did not do was use the three-year/2012 averaging method to project a win-loss total. Wins and losses are too dependent on the offense on any given day. What I did instead was I took each starter’s projected ERA and then looked at pitchers in the same over the past decade. Example: With a projected ERA of 4.60 for Masterson, I averaged the win-loss total of each starter with 170-plus innings and an ERA between 4.55-4.65 from the past 10 seasons.

I did not project a win-loss total for relievers.

Now that all of that is out of the way, I’ll get to the results, including Bill James’ 2013 projections (which you can find on fangraphs.com).

ROTATION

Justin Masterson

Bastian: 12-10, 4.60 ERA, 203.2 IP, 210 H, 156 K, 82 BB
James: 10-12, 4.01 ERA, 204 IP, 206 H, 160 K, 79 BB

Ubaldo Jimenez

Bastian: 12-12, 4.78 ERA, 186.1 IP, 185 H, 161 K, 92 BB
James: 9-10, 3.97 ERA, 170 IP, 158 H, 151 K, 82 BB

Brett Myers

Bastian: 12-11, 4.27 ERA, 213 IP, 219 H, 164 K, 60 BB
James: did not project Myers as a starter

Zach McAllister

Bastian: 12-11, 4.35 ERA, 18o IP, 196 H, 157 K, 49 BB
James: 8-11, 4.50 ERA, 170 IP, 190 H, 134 K, 50 BB

Carlos Carrasco

Bastian: 12-11, 4.75 ERA, 18o IP, 196 H, 125 K, 60 BB
James: did not project

BULLPEN

Chris Perez

Bastian: 3.24 ERA, 58.1 IP, 47 H, 56 K, 20 BB, 36 saves
James: 2.79 ERA, 58 IP, 44 H, 59 K, 20 BB, 41 saves

Vinnie Pestano

Bastian: 2.63 ERA, 65 IP, 48 H, 75 K, 24 BB
James: 2.72 ERA, 76 IP, 60 H, 89 K, 27 BB

Joe Smith

Bastian: 2.86 ERA, 63 IP, 49 H, 48 K, 24 BB
James: 2.91 ERA, 68 IP, 58 H, 55 K, 25 BB

Matt Albers

Bastian: 3.25 ERA, 63.2 IP, 54 H, 49 K, 26 BB
James: 4.21 ERA, 62 IP, 62 H, 47 K, 25 BB

Bryan Shaw

Bastian: 3.47 ERA, 59.2 IP, 61 H, 43 K, 23 BB
James: 4.06 ERA, 62 IP, 63 H, 47 K, 23 BB

Frank Herrmann

Bastian: 3.38 ERA, 40 IP, 35 H, 27 K, 9 BB
James: 4.15 ERA, 39 IP, 43 H, 28 K, 11 BB

Cody Allen

Bastian: 3.83 ERA, 40 IP, 40 H, 37 K, 21 BB
James: did not project

With these projections in hand, combined with the offensive numbers I compiled on Friday, I tried to come up with a reasonable expectation for a 2013 win total for the Indians. I looked at the combined rotation numbers, took the projected runs scored for the offense, and then compared the results to the past 50 years. Let me walk you through it.

While it is rare to have five pitchers each compile 180-plus innings (Cleveland has only had four-plus accomplish the feat in the same season twice in the past 23 years), the projected ERA that I came up with for Masterson, Jimenez, Myers, McAllister and Carrasco was 4.54. For argument’s sake, let’s say that is where Cleveland’s rotation ERA ends up for the season.

Over the past 50 years, excluding strike-shortened seasons, there have been 12 teams to end a season with a rotation ERA between 4.50-4.60 in a single season. According to my offense projections, this Tribe team hs the potential to score roughly 756 runs in 2013. Of the 12 teams I filtered out, only five have scored 680-plus runs, and only four had 700-plus runs from the offense.

2006 Reds (80-82 overall), 749 runs scored
2005 Yankees (95-67 overall), 886 runs scored
2003 Cardinals (85-77 overall), 876 runs scored
2000 Marlins (79-82 overall), 731 runs scored
1970 Expos (73-89 overall), 687 runs scored

The average record of those five teams is roughly 82-80. The average record of the four clubs that scored more than 700 runs is roughly 85-77.

If history is any indication, and if you deem my projections to be realistic, well then the 2013 Indians appear to be a good bet to win between 82-85 games. That won’t reach the playoffs, but it would be an improvement of at least 14 victories in one year.

If Cleveland wants to make the postseason, it is going to have to do better than that. Masterson and Jimenez will need to be better than my admittedly pessimistic projections. Maybe Bauer can rise to the big leagues, live up to the hype and drop the rotation’s ERA down a couple notches to put the Tribe in a better position.

Detroit claimed the American League Central crown with only 88 wins last season, so a team like Cleveland — a team capable of winning 82-plus games — should be able to stay within range of contending. Over the past decade, however, it has taken an average of 93 victories to win the Central. Last season was a down year.

The question for Tribe fans is: what would your reaction be to an 82-85 win team?

–JB

Projecting the offense

math-formulaOn the nights that Mrs. MLBastian wants to go on an “American Idol” or “Biggest Loser” marathon, I’m typically left to retreat upstairs to my office. Since I already breezed through four seasons of “Breaking Bad,” last night I got out the ol’ notepad and tried to come up with a decent projection process for the Indians’ 2013 lineup.

What, you don’t turn your notepad into a Matrix-esque string of baseball numbers when you get bored? I thought everyone did.

No formula for projecting a player’s performance is without its flaws. After all, we can’t see into the future to predict injuries or other scenarios that would influence on-field production. What we can do is look at trends and do our best to create a certain level of expectation.

Along those lines, I decided I’d take a player’s last three seasons of production and, whether their average games per season fell below or surpassed this figure, I’d project their numbers over an 145-game sample. If a player didn’t have three big league seasons, then I’d go by their career numbers.

Once those numbers were in hand, I’d average them against that player’s most recent season. If the player appeared in fewer than 100 games — Lonnie Chisenhall played 43 games in 2012, for example — I’d again project the most recent season over an 145-game sample.

Why 145 games? That seemed like a good number in terms of expected games for a relatively healthy player over a full season. That equates to 1,305 games played for the nine “regulars” in a lineup. Sure enough, when I looked at last year’s Indians team, the “regulars: (1B: Casey Kotchman, 2B: Jason Kipnis, SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B: Jack Hannahan/Lonnie Chisenhall, C: Carlos Santana, LF: Shelley Duncan/Johnny Damon, CF: Michael Brantley, RF: Shin-Soo Choo, DH: Travis Hafner/Jose Lopez) appeared in 1,309 combined games.

Still with me? Thanks to those who are hanging in there. I will get to the point — eventually.

I tested this projection approach against a few actual seasons to see if my figures fell within the ballpark range of a player’s real-world output. Two players I tested the formula against were Asdrubal Cabrera, whose 2011 showing was far above his career level, and Nick Swisher, who has maintained a pretty solid level of consistency over his career.

Here are my projections versus what Cabrera and Swisher actually did in 2012:

Cabrera proj. 2012: .280/.336/.442, 19 HR, 34 2B, 83 RBI, 83 R, 16 SB, 44 BB, 111 K
Cabrera actual 2012: .270/.338/.423, 16 HR, 35 2B, 68 RBI, 70 R, 9 SB, 52 BB, 99 K

Swisher proj. 2012: ..264/.371/.468, 25 HR, 31 2B, 84 RBI, 82 R, 2 SB, 88 BB, 126 K
Swisher actual 2012: .272/.364/.473, 24 HR, 36 2B, 93 RBI, 75 R, 2 SB, 77 BB, 141 K

Hardly an exact science, but I definitely landed in the ballpark of realistic expectations.

Satisfied with my method, I plowed ahead last night and did my best to project expected statistical showings for each of Cleveland’s nine “regulars” for 2013. There is still no clear-cut DH, so I used super sub Mike Aviles as the ninth member of the lineup. Even if the Indians add a DH before the season, Aviles will see plenty of action bouncing between second, short, third, DH and possibly limited outfield.

Enough explanation. Let’s move on to the projections. I will also include Bill James’ 2013 projections (found on fangraphs.com) for each player as a comparison to what I came up on my own.

2013 Offensive Projections

FIRST BASE: Mark Reynolds

Bastian: .217/.331/.440, 27 HR, 25 2B, 1 3B, 75 RBI, 71 R, 3 SB, 75 BB, 174 K
James: .231/.336/.463, 32 HR, 28 2B, 1 3B, 90 RBI, 85 R, 5 SB, 80 BB, 201 K

SECOND BASE: Jason Kipnis

Bastian: .259/.335/.391, 15 HR, 24 2B, 4 3B, 77 RBI, 86 R, 30 SB, 64 BB, 110 K
James: .274/.351/.429, 18 HR, 28 2B, 5 3B, 83 RBI, 100 R, 28 SB, 67 BB, 107 K

SHORTSTOP: Asdrubal Cabrera

Bastian: .272/.336/.421, 17 HR, 33 2B, 2 3B, 69 RBI, 72 R, 11 SB, 49 BB, 102 K
James: .277/.341/.430, 16 HR, 37 2B, 2 3B, 73 RBI, 82 R, 12 SB, 52 BB, 106 K

THIRD BASE: Lonnie Chisenhall

Bastian: .264/.303/.426, 17 HR, 24 2B, 2 3B, 53 RBI, 57 R, 6 SB, 24 BB, 97 K
James: .262/.310/.433, 18 HR, 31 2B, 2 3B, 74 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB, 35 BB, 94 K

CATCHER: Carlos Santana

Bastian: .250/.364/.432, 20 HR, 30 2B, 2 3B, 75 RBI, 74 R, 4 SB, 93 BB, 106 K
James: .261/.383/.476, 25 HR, 35 2B, 2 3B, 91 RBI, 86 R, 4 SB, 103 BB, 103 K

OUTFIELD: Michael Brantley

Bastian: .280/.337/.390, 6 HR, 34 2B, 5 3B, 58 RBI, 67 R, 14 SB, 50 BB, 67 K
James: .279/.344/.379, 7 HR, 29 2B, 3 3B, 55 RBI, 78 R, 19 SB, 54 BB, 60 K

OUTFIELD: Drew Stubbs

Bastian: .226/.294/.357, 16 HR, 16 2B, 3 3B, 47 RBI, 80 R, 31 SB, 47 BB, 171 K
James: .246/.319/.386, 16 HR, 21 2B, 3 3B, 53 RBI, 85 R, 33 SB, 54 BB, 161 K

OUTFIELD: Nick Swisher

Bastian: .273/.365/.476, 24 HR, 34 2B, 1 3B, 90 RBI, 78 R, 2 SB, 76 BB, 136 K
James: .256/.362/.458, 25 HR, 33 2B, 1 3B, 86 RBI, 82 R, 2 SB, 86 BB, 143 K

DESIGNATED HITTER: Mike Aviles

Bastian: .260/.292/.390, 13 HR, 27 2B, 2 3B, 59 RBI, 61 R, 16 SB, 24 BB, 76 K
James: .267/.300/.409, 13 HR, 27 2B, 2 3B, 56 RBI, 60 R, 13 SB, 22 BB, 64 K

What does it all mean? Or, more to the point, how does this group of potential “regulars” stack up against the “regulars” featured by the Indians last season? For that 2012 group, I used the names listed earlier in this post. Let’s take a look:

2013 “regulars” projection:

.256/.329/.414, 155 HR, 247 2B, 22 3B, 603 RBI, 646 R, 117 SB, 502 BB, 1,039 K

2012 “regulars” production:

.259/.331/.395, 122 HR, 233 2B, 18 3B, 559 RBI, 557 R, 86 SB, 482 BB, 822 K

What the Indians should expect is more power, more ability to take extra bases and better run production, even with an increase in strikeouts.

The “regulars” do not make up the entire offense, though. There were 959 at-bats for players not among the “regulars” last season for the Indians. For the sake of this experiment, I added in last season’s bench production to the projections for Cleveland’s nine “regulars” for a glance at what the team’s overall offense might look like in 2013.

I’ve included where each figure would’ve ranked in the American League in 2012.

2013 offense projection

.251 average (8)
.325 on-base (5)
.404 slugging (10)
169 homers (10)
280 doubles (4)
28 triples (8)
679 RBI (8)
756 runs (4)
141 stolen bases (1)
575 walks (1)
1,304 strikeouts (11)

For comparison, the 2012 offense hit .251/.324/.381 overall with 136 homers, 266 doubles, 24 triples, 635 RBIs, 667 runs scored, 110 stolen bases, 555 walks and 1,087 strikeouts.

The gap between runs and RBIs in the projection seems like a stretch, but much of that has to do with Stubbs’ career track record (285 runs/178 RBI). What this shows at the very least is that this Indians team should offer an entertaining brand of offense. They might not outslug teams, but they have the potential to draw walks, swipe bases, go first-to-third and create runs. If the team can do that successfully, the strikeouts will be a moot point.

It will be the starting pitching that needs to hold up its end of the bargain for the Indians to surprise people this year.

–JB

“Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

HobbsThere is a scene in the classic baseball movie, “The Natural,” in which slugger Roy Hobbs meets Glenn Close’s character, Iris, in a diner in Chicago. It’s a short scene, but there is an element to it that bothers me immensely.

The opening dialogue to the scene is as follows:

Waiter: “Hi, folks. What can I get ya?”
Iris: “Al, I’d like you to meet Roy Hobbs.”
Waiter: “Are you kidding? What do you think I ran over here for?  We got jiffy service? The pleasure is mine.”
Iris: “He’s a big fan of yours.”
Waiter: “What can I get ya?”
Hobbs: “Do you have any lemonade?”
Waiter: “Sure have.”
Iris: “I’d like the same, too, please.”
Waiter: “Two lemonades.”

Al heads behind the counter, retrieves two lemonades as instructed, brings them to the table, and then leaves so Roy and Iris can catch up. They chat for a few minutes before Iris announces that she has to get going. It’s a rather insignificant portion of the film.

So, what is it that bothers me? Well, at NO point during this diner scene do Roy or Iris take even one sip of the lemonades brought to their table. They asked for them, they received them, but they did not drink them and, as far as I can tell, no one pays the bill.

Maybe it’s the former server in me, but their refusal to drink the lemonade gets under my skin. ONE SIP! That’s all I wanted to see. Is that too much to ask?

Why bring this up? The point is that every movie has its flaws. Did this ruin “The Natural” for me? No. Neither did the physics-defying home run ball that shattered the lights, sending sparks falling over the diamond in the film’s memorable conclusion. It remains a classic baseball movie, despite its issues with consistency or accuracy.

When you go to the movies, you suspend reality. You allow yourself to forget how the real world works, helping spark your imagination and appreciation for ideas and concepts that simply would not happen in real life.

I’m bringing all of this up in light of recent column by my friend and colleague, Anthony Castrovince. The subject of the column is a good one: the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, has been purchased by a group wanting to develop the land and farm into a super baseball complex for both tourists and traveling teams to enjoy. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs is one of the people helping organize this project.

Castrovince opens his column with a rip job of the movie, “Field of Dreams,” that did not sit well with me — a big “Field of Dreams” fan. Castrovince writes:

Every now and then, I’ll come across some list of the greatest baseball movies of all-time, and almost invariably, “Field of Dreams” makes the cut.

The preoccupation with this frustrating film confounds me. I usually appreciate a paean toward the great game, and I understand the connective qualities the movie seeks to celebrate and the emotional strings it attempts to strum. I also get that sometimes, when you step into the theater, you must suspend your sense of reality.

But the reduction of rationality this movie requires goes beyond what I’m willing to offer. God, ignoring all the other troubles of the world, bends the laws of time and space just so some Iowa farmer can “have a catch” with his dead dad? (Who actually says “have a catch” anyway? Isn’t it “play catch”?) People willingly plunk down $20 to see a ballgame played by ghosts? (Shouldn’t they be putting that money toward psychiatrists?) “Shoeless” Joe Jackson bats from the right-hand side of the plate?

No, no. It’s all too much for me to stomach. I’m sorry, list-makers and Kevin Costner apologists, but “Field of Dreams” is terrible.

No, Anthony, “Field of Dreams” is not terrible. And there are plenty of people in certain segments of the country who ask their dad to “have a catch.” And, believe me, if there were a baseball diamond nearby where ghosts of Hall of Famers gathered for regular pickup games, you’d better believe I’d fork over $20. I might even pay more! Give me Old Hoss vs. Cobb. Ruth vs. Paige. I want to see Cool Papa try to steal off Josh Gibson.

Yes, “Field of Dreams” was filled with flaws and a concept that begged you to ignore the laws and rules of our world. I never have a problem with the latter when it comes to movies. Plain ol’ mistakes are different. Much like the lemonade scene in “The Natural,” I was also bothered by the fact that Shoeless Joe hit from the right side in “Field of Dreams.” Couldn’t they have reversed the film or something?

It might shock Mr. Castrovince, but when people ask me for my favorite baseball movie I always reply with “Field of Dreams.” It was a story of a man doing something he believed in, no matter what people thought of him along the way. He risked everything in order to do something he felt was right. He had a dream, and wanted to have a catch with his dad, and the baseball gods made it possible. That’s my kind of story.

Could it happen? Of course not. But it was a romanticized look at how the game of baseball connects generations, and builds bonds between fathers and sons.

Another reason I love “Field of Dreams” is pure sentiment. For many summers growing up, my family would make the drive from South Holland, Ill., where I spent most of my childhood, to Dyersville to play baseball on that field in the middle of nowhere for a summer afternoon. When the sun started to set, it was time to head home.

We’d sit on the bleachers from the movie, take pictures by the old farm house and walk into the cornfield. And we’d play baseball for as long as we wanted. Kids formed a line and waited their turn to hit. Dads took turn tossing pitches. You could play any position you wanted, or have a catch with your dad in the outfield. No score. No innings. No highly-paid superstars. Just boys and fathers together on a field in Iowa, playing the great game of baseball.

For me, that was a little slice of heaven.

FoD

That’s me with my dad on the far left. I’m wearing a “Field of Dreams” t-shirt and proudly showing off my “Field of Dreams” baseball. That’s me hitting in the middle photo with my dad standing behind. And the third photo is me emerging from the corn field.

What a great movie. And what a great place. I am excited to see how the project to restore and expand the farm comes along.

–JB

Does Kenny have a case?

ALCS: Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians - Game 4In a recent conversation with a voting member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, this year’s Hall of Fame ballot naturally came up. I was curious who this person voted for, and even more curious to hear the thought process.

After all, this year’s ballot contains an incredibly star-heavy, yet complicated, list of eligible candidates. I am not going to get too detailed about my own thoughts on the issue of the so-called Steroid Era, suffice to say that my stance falls in the neighborhood of these excellent articles from Joe Posnanski and Richard Justice.

If you ever run into me at a local watering hole, feel free to bring it up and we can debate the subject at length. Right now, I want to take a moment to dive into the case of former Cleveland star Kenny Lofton. In this recent chat, I learned that this voter checked the box next to Lofton’s name, doing his part to try to get the center fielder to Cooperstown.

My initial gut reaction was that Lofton is a fringe Hall of Fame candidate, and I wanted to take some time to consider this voter’s choice, and see if I agreed that Kenny belonged among the game’s all-time greats. When I take my son to Cooperstown someday, should he read a plaque honoring Lofton’s career?

After some research done this morning over coffee — Santa brought me a Keurig machine for Christmas! — I’ve decided that, sure, Lofton indeed has a case for the Hall. Do I think he will get in? Well, if I had a vote (which I don’t), he wouldn’t crack my list of 10 possible votes on the 2013 ballot. So, no, I don’t think Lofton will get in this year.

The more appropriate question is, “Should Lofton get in?” Eventually, yes, I think so. First, though, I personally think the BBWAA needs to put Tim Raines in the Hall to further cement Lofton’s case. On this year’s ballot, I believe Raines is deserving of a vote, and I’d have him clearly ranked above Lofton for enshrinement.

Let’s take a look at Raines compared to Lofton…

Lofton: 17 years (2,103 games)
Raines: 23 years (2,502 games)

Lofton: .299/.372/.423/.794, 622 SB (160 CS), 107 OPS+
Raines: .294/.385/.425/.810, 808 SB (146 CS), 123 OPS+

Lofton: 130 HR, 383 2B, 116 3B, 781 RBI, 1,528 R, 2,428 H
Raines: 170 HR, 430 2B, 113 3B, 980 RBI, 1,571 R, 2,605 H

Lofton: 64.9 WAR (14.7 dWAR) – per baseball-reference
Raines: 66.2 WAR (-9.5 dWAR) – per baseball-reference

Raines clearly has an edge over Lofton in virtually every category, though Lofton scored more runs on average each season and was clearly a superior defender. In Posnanski’s piece, he does a great comparison between Raines and Tony Gwynn, who is in the Hall. I tend to agree that, if Gwynn is in, Raines is also a deserving candidate.

Along those same lines, it could be argued that if Lou Brock is in the Hall of Fame, Lofton deserves to have his own plaque, too. Here is a look at Lofton’s numbers again, but this time let’s compare him to Brock, who made it into the Hall on his first try in 1985:

Lofton: 17 years (2,103 games)
Brock: 19 years (2,616 games)

Lofton: .299/.372/.423/.794, 622 SB (160 CS), 107 OPS+
Brock: .293/.343/.410/.753, 938 SB (307 CS), 109 OPS+

Lofton: 130 HR, 383 2B, 116 3B, 781 RBI, 1,528 R, 2,428 H
Brock: 149 HR, 486 2B, 141 3B, 900 RBI, 1,610 R, 3,023 H

Lofton: 64.9 WAR (14.7 dWAR) – per baseball-reference
Brock: 42.8 WAR (-17.2 dWAR) – per baseball-reference

Brock hit the magical 3,000-hit plateau, and made the most of those 513 games he has on Lofton in terms of extra-base hits and stolen bases. Lofton was the better defender in the outfield. And, it could be argued, based on on-base ability, run production and WAR, Lofton was the better offensive player as well.

As for Lofton’s defense, I’m not going to pay his four Gold Gloves much mind — there are too many flaws in the voting for those awards each year. His defensive WAR (noted above) obviously stands out, though. And, upon looking into it further, it could easily said that Lofton was a top-five (or top-10, depending on how you slice it) all-time center fielder.

If you use the “runs from fielding” metric found on baseball-reference.com, Lofton ranks tied for second all-time (with Willie Davis) among players with at least 2,000 games played and 80-percent of their action in center field. First on the list: Willie Mays. If you drop it to 1,800 or more games, only Mays, Devon White and Paul Blair rank ahead of Lofton.

Defense can’t be overlooked in evaluating a player and Lofton is statistically among some of the game’s all-time greats in that regard. His offensive production also stacks up against Brock, who was enshrined as soon as he became eligible. If Raines is eventually enshrined, as I believe he should be, then Lofton’s case will become even stronger.

I didn’t view Lofton as being worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame when I started this. In fact, I dug into the numbers with the hope of showing my BBWAA-voter friend that Lofton did not belong among the game’s greats. What I found is that Lofton does have a case, and maybe more voters will agree as time provides more perspective.

–JB

Lining things up

Nick SwisherIt seems like a good time to end my blog-cation. I took a week off to spend time with family after the Winter Meetings, and had happy holidays as I hope you all did as well, but none of that stopped the Indians from making moves in my absence.

Since my last post, Cleveland…

  • Acquired outfielder Drew Stubbs (from Cincinnati), along with starter Trevor Bauer and relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw (from Arizona) in a nine-player swap with the Reds and D-backs. As part of the deal, the Tribe sent Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald to the Reds and Tony Sipp and Lars Anderson to the D-backs.
  • Signed right-handed-hitting first baseman Mark Reynolds to a one-year contract worth $6 million, with another $1.5 million in incentives. The Tribe designated 1B/OF Russ Canzler for assignment to open a roster spot and subsequently lost him on waivers to the Blue Jays.
  • But, wait! Cleveland claimed Canzler back on waivers a few days later… only to lose him on waivers again (on Friday) to the Yankees. In between, the Indians DFA’d pitcher Jeanmar Gomez in order to re-acquire Canzler. Gomez’s status remains in limbo.
  • Cleveland parted with Canzler again to pave way for the signing of right-handed starter Brett Myers (one-year, $7 million, with an $8 million club option for 2014).
  • The Indians also signed outfielder Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million contract that includes a $14 million vesting option for 2017. The Tribe designated outfielder Thomas Neal for assignment in order to add Swisher to the roster.

It has been a busy few weeks that have drastically altered the look of the Indians active roster. Cleveland has also flexed its creative muscles by dishing out some serious dough, but still keeping the payroll in the same range as a year ago. When it is all said and done, the payroll will likely be in the neighborhood of $75 million, which is slight increase from a year ago.

GM Chris Antonetti has said that the club is likely done making any significant money moves, meaning the Tribe is virtually done on the free-agent market (at least with substantial big league contracts). The main area of need left unsettled is the DH role. Might Travis Hafner be coming back on a reduced deal? Antonetti has not ruled it out.

For now, it appears that the Indians’ plan is to use a rotation of players through the DH slot. There is utility man Mike Aviles, an everyday player a year ago with the Red Sox. Swisher, Reynolds, Carlos Santana and others could rotate through that spot for some occasional rest, too. Rule 5 pick Chris McGuiness and Yan Gomes could get a look as well.

In order to glance at the possible Opening Day lineup, I’m going to just slide Aviles into the DH spot for now. In that scenario, here is one version of how the Opening Day lineup might look:

1. Michael Brantley, LF (left)
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B (left)
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (switch)
4. Nick Swisher, RF (switch)
5. Carlos Santana, C (switch)
6. Mark Reynolds, 1B (right)
7. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (left)
8. Drew Stubbs, CF (right)
9. Mike Aviles, DH (right)

If you take the three-year slash lines for that group, or the career big league slash lines for the players (Kipnis and Chisenhall) without three years in the Majors, the combined slash line of that potential starting nine is .256/.329/.419/.747.

Last season, the Indians’ starting nine posted a combined slash line of .250/.332/.396/.728. The group I used for that consisted of the nine players who appeared at each position most often (Santana, C; Casey Kotchman, 1B; Kipnis, 2B; Cabrera, SS; Jack Hannahan, 3B; Shelley Duncan, LF; Brantley, CF; Choo, RF; Hafner, DH).

With the additions of Reynolds and Stubbs, the Indians were surely see an increase in strikeouts, but there is no denying that the current projected lineup should offer a higher average and a solid spike in power. On top of that, there could now be as many as six right-handed hitters in the lineup against left-handed starters. The failed all-lefty experiment against right-handed pitching is also, thankfully, a thing of the past.

I like the retooled look of the Tribe’s lineup. There is more pop, especially from the right side, more consistency against lefty pitching, more balance and plenty of potential for stolen bases and taking extra bags. The only question is whether the rotation can perform well enough for it all to hold up through six months of a season.

I’ll take a look at the potential rotation in a future post.

–JB

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