Month in Review: April

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Indians

One of the big storylines heading into this season for the Indians was the persistent April issues during manager Terry Francona’s time at the helm.

Over his first three years as manager, the Indians turned in a 28-44 record in April. Each slow start was followed by a strong finish, but only in 2013 did that late-season push produce a place in the postseason.

So, the big question going into this season was: How will the Indians get off to a hot start?

For starters, this isn’t something a team can simulate in Spring Training. Unless the Tribe rolled in some snow machines or played with the sprinklers on, I’m not sure how you’d go about creating a Cleveland environment in Arizona in February and March. Hot and cold starts are often the result of circumstances — things like schedule, weather, opposing pitchers and hot/cold streaks by individuals over a small sample.

A great April also isn’t a great indicator for future success. Sure, it helps, but a great first month doesn’t come with any guarantees. Shoot, the last time Cleveland had a winning April, in 2012, they were in first place as late as June… and then lost 94 games when it was all said and done. In 2011, the Indians went 8-18 in April! They started 30-15 and were in first into July! They ended that year 80-82.

Needless to say, a lot gets made of strong starts or bad starts, but it’s what happens over the entire slate that matters. All of this is to say that I’m not going to make a huge deal about another sub-.500 April for the Tribe, especially when it’s a 10-11 record we’re talking about for the first month. (Yes, I know it’s 10-12 now. We’re focusing on April today.)

After Cleveland swept the Tigers in Detroit two weekends ago, the Indians were 9-7 and on the cusp of its first winning April since that memorable (for all the wrong reasons) 2012 season. Then, the Tribe suffered four one-run losses (three in walk-off fashion) to close out the month. It wasn’t pretty. It stung. It continued some unfortunate first-month trends, but the Indians were seemingly a pitch or hit away from winning each of those games.

If anything, I’d say the 10-11 record for April was actually impressive. Offensively, Cleveland’s strikeout rate and on-base percentage has been a cause for concern. On the mound, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw (the primary reason for the losses in late innings in the season’s early going) have been off to a rough start. Carlos Carrasco was lost to injury. Michael Brantley missed most of April while on the DL (and hasn’t hit well since coming back). Cody Anderson’s struggles sent him back to Triple-A for now.

Through all of that, Cleveland has stayed right around .500 and, thanks to a slew of weather issues, the Indians are only four back of the first-place White Sox in the loss column as of this writing. I think 10-11 is a step forward, considering the Indians went 7-14 last April and 10-17 the April before that.

The sky isn’t falling yet, Tribe fans. Some cracks have been spotted, though, and there’s plenty of time to try to fix them.

A glance at Cleveland’s April showing…

Offense (AL rank)

.248 AVG (6)
.306 OBP (11)
.399 SLG (5)
.705 OPS (8)
20 HR (12)
91 R (8)
19 SB (2)
7.8 BB% (10)
24.6 K% (12)
.151 ISO (8)
96 wRC+ (7)
5.1 BsR (1)
3.6 fWAR (3)

Notes: As noted above, the biggest thing that stands out here is the strikeout rate and the OBP. Once Cleveland got runners aboard, they did well in moving them over via baserunning. The Indians have been stealing bases well and have the AL’s best extra-bases-taken rate (54%). The Tribe has been middle-of-the-pack with RISP (.677 OPS, 7th in AL). In terms of strikeouts, Mike Napoli (39.3 K%), Jason Kipnis (29.6), Rajai Davis (27.5) and Yan Gomes (26.4) have struggled. Napoli, Kipnis and Davis are well above their career norms, so the hope would be that there will be some regression.

Pitching (AL rank)

10 wins (12)
4.01 ERA (12)
4.05 rotation ERA (7)
3.93 bullpen ERA (11)
4.15 FIP (11)
0.9 fWAR (13)
8.2 K/9 (6)
3.0 BB/9 (5)
1.3 HR/9 (13)
169 K (12)
61 BB (3)
21.9 K% (6)
7.9 BB% (5)
.228 AVG (5)
1.19 WHIP (4)

Notes: So much of the pitching issues can be attributed to a handful of areas. Anderson (7.65 ERA, 6 HRA, 20 IP) skews the rotation numbers and the combined woes of Allen and Shaw (8.24 ERA in 19.2 IP) paints a poor picture for the bullpen. Really, if the back end of both the rotation and ‘pen are cleaned up, the staff has a much different look. Here’s hoping Anderson is able to correct the mechanical flaw Cleveland feels it found, and that Allen and Shaw can settle into their usual mid-season form. With a league-average (or slightly below average) offense, the Indians need more from their pitching.

Player of the month: SS Francisco Lindor
Slash: .294/.365/.376
Stats: 4 SB, 5 XBH, 9 RBI, 10 BB, 12 R, 11 wRC+

Pitcher of the month: RHP Danny Salazar
Stats: 2.40 ERA, 34 K, 15 BB, 30 IP, 0.97 WHIP

Reliever of the month: RHP Zach McAllister
Stats: 0.93 ERA, 9.2 IP, 8 K, 5 BB, 1.14 WHIP, 11 games

 ——APRIL’S MINOR LEAGUE STANDOUTS——

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the month: INF Michael Martinez
Slash: .289/.357/.434
Stats: 8 XBH, 7 RBI, 9 R, 7 BB, 2 SB, 20 games

Pitcher of the month: RHP Mike Clevinger
Stats: 3-0, 2.92 ERA, 25 K, 12 BB, 24.2 IP, .227 AVG, 1.30 WHIP

Double-A Akron

Player of the month: 3B Yandy Diaz
Slash: .282/.429/.394
Stats: 3 XBH, 5 SB, 10 R, 14 RBI, 19 BB, 21 games

Pitcher of the month: LHP Shawn Morimando
Stats: 4-0, 2.00 ERA, 19 K, 13 BB, 27 IP, .174 AVG, 1.07 WHIP

Class A (high) Lynchburg

Player of the month: 1B/OF Mike Papi
Slash: .261/.422/.536
Stats: 4 HR, 11 RBI, 19 BB, 13 R, 18 H, 20 games

Pitcher of the month: RHP Julian Merryweather
Stats: 4-0, 0.76 ERA, 16 K, 3 BB, 23.2 IP, .239 AVG, 1.01 WHIP

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the month: 2B Tyler Krieger
Slash: .360/.456/.440
Stats: 5 XBH, 10 RBI, 13 BB, 6 SB, 23 R, 20 games

Pitcher of the month: LHP Thomas Pannone
Stats: 2.25 ERA, 26 K, 6 BB, 24 IP, .202 AVG, 1.00 WHIP

–JB

2 Comments

I’d be curious for someone with more time than me to calculate what the Indians record is when the starting temp is less than 60 vs. when it’s above – dated back through the Francona era. I don’t think it’s as much an April issue – we have a # of players who just don’t play well in the cold, and the Tribe seems to play in more lousy-weather games than most. Yet we did fine in Tampa (domed) and in Detroit (looks like it was around 60?)

I just saw my man main michael martinez show off his manly arm in mecklenburg county (charlotte) tonight. Does he play “INF” as well?

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