November 2013

Murphy’s law (of averages)

MurphyRight field will have a new look for the Indians in 2014. Cleveland has agreed to a two-year, $12-million contract with outfielder David Murphy, and the deal includes a club option for 2016. Things will be made official once Murphy completes a physical.

You can expect Murphy — a veteran of eight Major League seasons between stints with the Red Sox and Rangers — to play a lot of right field. What that means for Ryan Raburn or Drew Stubbs remains to be seen. As of right now, a lefty-righty platoon of either Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs makes the most sense.

What might the production of those platoons look like? We’ll get to that in a moment. First…

Could the Indians carry Michael Brantley (left field), Michael Bourn (center), Murphy, Raburn and Stubbs on the roster? The flexibility of players such as Raburn (corner outfield, second and third base, DH), Nick Swisher (first base, right field, DH), Carlos Santana (catcher, first base, DH) and Mike Aviles (corner outfield, all over the infield) make it possible.

Cleveland could also clear up this perceived outfield logjam by attempting to trade Stubbs, who is arbitration eligible this winter. The Indians might also consider non-tendering Stubbs prior to the Dec. 2 deadline for offering a contract to arbitration players. That would provide some salary relief for the pursuit of other roster needs.

For now, the outfield in Cleveland is crowded, and that leaves everything else up to speculation.

The heart of this signing is Murphy’s consistent track record, experience in all three outfield spots and his numbers against right-handed pitching. Yes, the 32-year-old Murphy had a down year in 2012 (.220/282/.374), but he also seemed to fall victim to some hard luck (.227 BaBIP compared to .302 for his career). Consider that Murphy actually saw improvement in his strikeout-to-walk ratio, had nearly an identical groundball-flyball ratio (.79) as his career rate (.80) and posted a line-drive percentage (22) near his career rate (20). Murphy’s contact rate (85 percent) was also in line with his career performance (84 percent).

Taking all of that information into account, along with Murphy’s slash line of .283/.346/.449 over the 2008-12 seasons, and it’s easy to see why he’d be a strong bounceback candidate for 2014.

It might not be fair to judge Murphy only on his subpar production in 2013, just as it’s not entirely fair to look at Raburn’s 2013 (.901 OPS) or 2012 (.480 OPS) in a vacuum. As for Stubbs, well, his 2013 slash line (.233/.305/.360) was pretty close to his career rate (.239/.310/.381). At this point, Stubbs is what he is: a better center fielder than right fielder, and a player with plus speed and a solid ability to hit lefties.

True, Stubbs was less exposed as a No. 9 hitter for Cleveland than he was as a leadoff man for the Reds in previous seasons, but putting the outfielder in an everyday role cost the Tribe some offense against right-handed pitching. Over the course of his career, Stubbs has hit .274 (.796 OPS) against lefties, compared to .226 (.652) against righties. In 2013, his showing vs. right-handers dipped to .216 (.637).

On the season, the Indians saw right-handers 67.5 percent of the time (4,163 plate appearances out of 6,665). Among Cleveland’s right fielders in 2013, Stubbs drew 50.5 percent of the plate appearances (318-of-630). The Indians went into the season hoping Stubbs’ speed and defense could help make up for the expected performance against righties as an everyday right fielder. That wasn’t the case, and that’s why a free-agent signing like Murphy comes into play as a possible way to upgrade.

So, again, what might a Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs platoon look like? Hang with me now…

Over the past five seasons, the Indians had a 69.8/30.2 percentage split when it came to plate appearances against righties and lefties. With that in mind, I projected based upon a 70/30 line. Cleveland’s right fielders (Stubbs, Raburn, Swisher, Matt Carson, Jason Kubel and Ezequiel Carrera) accounted for 630 plate appearances in 2013, though the average for all nine positions was 675 PAs. Right field was lower due to the position being lower in the lineup most of the time.

The three main right fielders (Stubbs, Raburn and Swisher) accounted for 610 plate appearances. With that in mind, I projected based on 600 PAs for a Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs platoon. That leaves anywhere between 25-75 plate appearances for other players, which we’re tossing out for the sake of this experiment. Using the 70/30 split, that creates a PA split of 420/180 for the platoon. To project the numbers, I used the combined 2011-13 production of Murphy (vs. RHP), Raburn and Stubbs (each vs. LHP). A three-year sample tends to be more accurate than looking at one isolated season.

Cleveland Right Field total production 2013:

PA/AB: 630/562
Slash: .247/.325/.432/.757
Stats: 139 H, 30 2B, 1 3B, 24 HR, 79 RBI, 59 BB, 243 TB

Stubbs, Raburn and Swisher in RF in 2013:

PA/AB: 610/546
Slash: .242/.317/.425/.742
Stats: 132 H, 29 2B, 1 3B, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 56 BB, 232 TB

Murphy-Raburn platoon projection for 2014:

PA/AB: 600/541
Slash: .266/.333/.457/.790
Stats: 144 H, 36 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 66 RBI, 53 BB, 247 TB

Murphy-Stubbs platoon projection for 2014:

PA/AB: 600/535
Slash: .275/.346/.445/.791
Stats: 147 H, 28 2B, 3 3B, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 58 BB, 238 TB

The goal is to upgrade the production from right field and, whether going with Raburn or Stubbs as a pairing with Murphy, the signing projects to accomplish precisely that. Granted, there are flaws in the projection, because it goes without saying that Murphy would also face lefties in spots and Raburn or Stubbs would also see at-bats against righties. The projection is that of a platoon in the purest sense, and it’s just to give you an idea of what the expected performance could look like in 2014.

This might not be a “wow” move that excites the fan base, but it’s a reasonably-priced move that should result in an improved offensive showing out of right field. If you like intangibles, Murphy also has veteran leadership skills, playoff experience and a history with manager Terry Francona. Things like that can’t be quantified, but they are also important for a team that is trying to take the next step after winning 92 games and tasting the postseason.

Now, about that rotation…

—————————————–

FIVE ADDED TO TRIBE’S 40-MAN ROSTER

Wednesday marked the deadline to add Rule 5-eligible players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from exposure to the annual selection process. Cleveland purchased the contracts of RHP Bryan Price (Triple-A Columbus), RHP Austin Adams (Double-A Akron), 1B Jesus Aguilar (Double-A), OF Carlos Moncrief (Double-A) and INF Erik Gonzalez (Class A Carolina). In order to add all five to the roster, infielder Cord Phelps was designated for assignment.

Tribe GM Chris Antonetti discussed each player with reporters after the 3 p.m. ET announcement.

Antonetti, on Price: “In Bryan’s case, it was a guy that really thrived this year at Triple-A. He made a lot of progress in how he attacked hitters. He features a good fastball and two good secondary pitches. He was one of the more effective relievers in all of Triple-A.”

Antonetti, asked if Price could compete for MLB bullpen job this spring: “He could, yes. He’ll come into camp and we’ll have to see how things shake out in our bullpen, but he could b a guy who comes in and earns a spot.”

Price (Double-A/Triple-A) in 2013:
47 games, 2.04 ERA, 75 IP, 92 K, 16 BB, .206 average

Antonetti, on Adams: “Austin bounced back from his shoulder surgery extraordinarily well. He worked really hard to get back to where he was pre-surgery. He’s got one of the best arms, not only in our system, but throughout the Minor Leagues. He has a good complement of secondary pitches as well, and misses a lot of bats. He’s another guy who we feel isn’t too far from contributing at the Major League level, if he continues to make progress.”

Adams (Double-A) in 2013:
45 games, 2.62 ERA, 55 IP, 76 K, 29 BB, .215 average

Antonetti, on Aguilar: “He’s getting closer. He made a lot of progress from last year to this year. The Double-A level is always a good test, especially for position players, and Jesus did a really good job of anchoring that lineup. He’s continuing his work down there in winter ball and is off to an extraordinary start down there. He’s continued to work hard. He has a really bright future and he’s on a good path developmentally.”

Antonetti, asked about Aguilar playing some third base in winter ball: “They had a lot of injuries on their winter ball team, so Jesus has gone over there and played some third base. It’s always good to increase your versatility.”

Antonetti, asked if Indians might consider more time at third for Aguilar: “We’d have to see how that continues to go. It wasn’t something that was top-of-mind for us as the season ended. But the fact that he’s gotten an opportunity and experience down in winter ball, it’s something we’ll look to see and maybe continue as we head to Spring Training. But right now, we still view him primarily as a first baseman.”

Aguilar (Double-A) in 2013:
.275/.349/.427, 16 HR, 28 2B, 105 RBI, 66 R, 130 games

Antonetti, on Moncrief: “He was one of the highlights of our development system this year. He’s a guy that’s made a lot of progress, really, if you look at what he’s done, and how he continued his development as a hitter. He really cut down on his strikeout rate, and really continued to improve his defense in the outfield to the point where he’s now a very good outfielder with a well above-average arm with good reads and routes. That’s now become a strength for him and he’s continued to improve as a hitter. Given his limited experience as a hitter, because he started his professional career as a pitcher, it’s been encouraging to see the progress he’s made.”

Moncrief (Double-A) in 2013:
.284/.354/.470, 17 HR, 26 2B, 7 3B, 75 RBIs, 77 R, 129 games

Antonetti, on Gonzalez: “He’s another great development story. Erik’s one of the hardest workers and best teammates in our organization. He did a tremendous job of improving himself as a player. He’s a guy that’s always been a really good defensive player, and he’s worked hard at every position he’s played on the field. We gave him the opportunity to play some shortstop and he really excelled there. We think he’s got a chance to be an above-average defender no matter where he plays defensively, whether that’s shortstop, second base, he can play the corners on the infield, he can play the outfield, and he continues to improve as a hitter. As much as any player in our system, he’s made progress through his hard work this year.”

Gonzalez (Class A Lake County/Carolina) in 2013:
.254/.293/.417, 9 HR, 32 2B, 12 3B, 76 RBI, 75 R, 132 games

Who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft?

Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, slated to take place on Thursday, Dec. 12. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.

In other words, an international player or high school draftee signed in 2009, assuming they were 18 or under as of June 5 of that year, must be protected. A college player taken in the 2010 Draft is in the same boat.

Among the Rule 5 eligible players for the Indians are right-handers Joseph Colon, Tyler Holt, Bryce Stowell, Enosil Tejeda and Giovanny Urshela; lefties Elvis Araujo, Matt Packer and Giovanni Soto; first baseman Chun Chen; outfielder LeVon Washington; and catcher Alex Monsalve.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Offseason edition

AllenFIRST: Awards season is also, inevitably, debate season. Especially since the BBWAA began disclosing the ballots of its voters, extreme scrutiny has come into play.

One of the voters of the Cleveland chapter, Chris Assenheimer of the Chronicle-Telegram, took some heat for the ballot he turned in for the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award. His top three: 1. Dan Straily, 2. Chris Archer, 3. Cody Allen.

Assenheimer, a friend and fellow Tribe scribe, took some flak for his picks, mostly due to the fact that he was the lone voter to leave Wil Myers (the AL RoY winner) off his ballot. My hope, however, is that people were not scoffing at the idea of Allen being in the top three (the Indians reliever finished sixth).

I wrote in this space a few posts back that Allen would’ve been my top pick for Rookie of the Year. The New York Times’ September awards preview story also chose the young righty as the league’s top rook. Allen’s role as a reliever (and not a closer), created an uphill battle for recognition, though.

This season, no AL rookies had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title or enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Myers only had 335 at-bats, so I can understand Assenheimer putting more of a premium on starting pitching, considering Straily (152.1 IP) and Archer (128.2 IP) were rotation staples for much of the year for postseason teams.

The thin field, in terms of total playing time, could have (should have?) warranted more consideration for Allen, who set a franchise record for appearances (77) for a rookie. In fact, Allen logged the second-most games for a pitcher in team history, and his 88 strikeouts were the most for a Tribe reliever since Paul Shuey had 103 in 1999. It is also worth noting that Allen became a stabilizing aspect to a bullpen that endured and overcame the struggles of setup man Vinnie Pestano and former closer Chris Perez.

If you break down the AL rookie pitchers down to the group that had at least 60 innings (or 15 or more starts), you’ll find that Allen led the way in ERA+ (155), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.38), pitching runs (10.43), strikeouts per nine innings (11.26) and ERA (2.38). Allen ranked fourth in WAR (1.4), behind Archer (2.2), Yoervis Medina (1.9) and Martin Perez (1.6). Allen ranked third among AL rookie pitchers (starters and relievers) in strikeouts behind Straily (124) and Archer (101).

I get the argument for Myers. He had a strong season: .293/.354/.478, and his traditional numbers would project to 23 homers, 41 doubles and 94 RBIs in a 600 at-bat sample. His OPS+ of 132 also topped AL rookie hitters. Was he the WAR leader among AL rookies? No, that was David Lough at 2.7. Myers actually comes in third at 2.0 (tied with Seattle’s Brad Miller).

In a down year for the American League rookie class, Myers was a perfectly acceptable choice as the top performer. Allen would’ve been a fine pick as well. Certainly, leaving one or both of those players off the ballot would also be fine given the proper argument. One voter might value 125 innings more than 350 at-bats.

SECOND: Assenheimer had nothing on Asuka Iinuma Brown of the Jiji Press (Seattle chapter). Brown left both Indians manager Terry Francona and Red Sox manager John Farrell off the ballot for the American League Manager of the Year. Yikes.

Francona took home the AL honor in light of Cleveland’s incredible comeback showing in 2013.

After sitting through the MLB Network special that announced the award, Francona joked that he felt like he was on an episode of the “Dating Game.” Tito also had another classic quip after being asked if he planned on celebrating the win.

“Well, I have a load of laundry in,” Francona said with a chuckle. “No, I have nothing planned. I’m not going to celebrate. I think the way I celebrated it was the whole year. I got to live it. That means a lot more to me than a trophy or a plaque.”

Indians infielder Mike Aviles, who has played for Francona in both Boston and Cleveland, had this to say about the manager:

“Just look at what he did with the bench. The starters are going to be the starters. They’re going to go out and play, and they’re going to put up their numbers. But the way Tito utilized the bench, utilized the bullpen, even the Minor Leagues with guys coming up and down, the way he utilized everybody, those are the things that people don’t understand and don’t get to see. They just see, ‘Oh, we won.’ Or, ‘Oh, we lost.’ They don’t see what goes into.

“Being around Tito for a couple years, I’ve seen how the guy prepares. The guy prepares more than anybody I know. He’ll have a lineup ready two or three days in advance. He has options in his head already about what would happen, if this happens. When a manager does things like that, it shows you that he’s ready to win a ballgame. When you know you have a manager that prepares so hard to win that ballgame, how could you not do the same?”

Giambi also took some time to discuss Francona’s first season with the Indians:

“He definitely deserves [the award]. When you look across the board, John Farrell did an incredible job, don’t get me wrong. But, let’s be honest, Boston is a Ferrari. They’re always going to walk in and put the best guys out there. It’s like being with the Yankees. To handle all the guys and the egos and the city, there is a lot that goes with it. But what Tito did in Cleveland, from where he took over from the past, it’s unbelievable. What a turn in just one year that he had. Basically, he took a dozen brand-new guys on the team and turned it into a winner.”

THIRD: The AL Most Valuable Player Award was won once again by Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who beat Angels outfielder Mike Trout for the honor for the second straight year. Once again, the cry from the naysayers was that narrative defeated analysis. Considering the voters are also professional storytellers, falling victim to the narrative tends to happen from time to time.

I wrote here few posts ago that my pick would’ve been Cabrera and, in looking at the numbers in the time since then, I began thinking Trout was actually the correct pick after all. The data clearly says that Trout is the better all-around player. Oh well. Let’s be honest, both players are deserving of the MVP trophy.

For those scoring at home, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis and catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana finished 11th and 16th, respectively, in AL MVP balloting. Kipnis had 31 points, and received one fifth-place vote. Santana had one eighth-place vote.

MVPsThere were some strange ballots within the voting, though. One, for example, had Trout ranked seventh. Castrovince texted me and said, “Even Hayden could vote Trout seventh,” referring to my 4-year-old son.

And an experiment was born.

I quickly printed out the head shots of the top 10 vote-getters for the AL MVP, mixed them up and handed them to my son. I instructed him to put the baseball players in any order he wanted. Before he did so, he asked me to tell him their names and the teams (some he already recognized by the hats).

My son’s MVP ballot was: Josh Donaldson, followed by Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Cabrera, Trout, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Evan Longoria.

Why Donaldson first?

“His name’s funny,” said my son, who then cackled.

Machado and Davis second and third?

“I like the Oriole.”

Cano was originally first, but after he gave the grouping a close inspection, he said, “Wait, I don’t like the Yankees,” and moved the second baseman down to five.

Hayden held up Cabrera and said, “I don’t like the Tigers,” but he still put Miggy ahead of Trout.

And, as Castrovince predicted, even a 4-year-old could vote Trout seventh.

HOME: The AFL has wrapped up and a number of Cleveland’s prospects, including outfielder Tyler Naquin, were on the championship team from Surprise. You can check out Monday’s story on Indians.com about the players who took part.

More interesting might be 23-year-old first-base prospect Jesus Aguilar, who is currently playing for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League. Due to a team need, Aguilar has been playing some third base for Caracas. It wasn’t something Cleveland planned, but it isn’t something the organization was against, either.

“They just didn’t have a third baseman and he had it in his past,” said Ross Atkins, the Indians’ VP of player development. “He played a little bit of third before he got to us, so they did it in a pseudo-emergency need. But he’s handled himself fine there. For us, there’s not much downside to it. It increases his athleticism and his versatility. You never know.”

Might Aguilar see some reps at third come Spring Training?

“It’s too early to say,” Atkins said. “But to say, ‘Absolutely not,’ I couldn’t. But that’s a very big decision.”

That’d also be GM Chris Antonetti’s decision to make.

Offensively, Aguilar has hit .315/.376/.583 with 10 homers, four doubles, 25 runs and 31 RBIs in 32 games in the VWL. In 2013 with Double-A Akron, he hit .275/.349/.427 with 16 homers, 28 doubles and 105 RBIs. Aguilar, a right-handed hitter, is also intriguing as a first-base prospect for the Tribe. Possibly adding third base to the mix is interesting. It’ll be something to follow up on this spring.

EXTRA: There were Mark Trumbo-to-Cleveland rumors swirling on Twitter late last week. I addressed that and more in a Friday edition of the Indians Inbox. … Also on Indians.com, the team is looking for nominations for the Mentor of the Year. … Indians will have an assistant hitting coach next season. … Catcher Yan Gomes was recently rewarded for his stellar defense.

–JB

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 94 other followers