“We’re going streaking.” –2016 Indians

WinningStreakIt appears that I have been voted off the island.

More than 1,000 of my Twitter followers have turned in a ballot and only 18 percent want me to return to the Tribe beat on Thursday. The reason? As of this writing, the Indians are on an 11-game winning streak. I went on vacation when Cleveland was only three games into this incredible run.

First of all, a big THANK YOU to the 18 percent! I’m flattered! To the 82 percent that voted for me to stay far away from the Tribe? I’ll remember this. And, sorry, I’m scheduled to be in Toronto on Thursday for the four-game set north of the border. Hopefully for the Indians’ sake, the Bastian Jinx doesn’t clear customs.

Sidenote: I don’t really believe in jinxes.

The only baseball I’ve seen over the past 10 days has involved my 6-year-old son’s team. A lot of swings and misses, infield choppers, throwing errors, playing in the dirt and packs of kids chasing down baseball’s skipping away deep in the outfield. You know, stuff like this…

Before I return to the press box, though, I wanted to post some notes from The Streak, along with some leftovers I stashed in my back pocket before I departed on this staycation. Let’s get to it…

ON THE STREAK

MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince touched on the 11-game winning streak in detail in this column:

Castrovince, who I joined for a podcast this week as well, hit on all the key narrative points involved in this memorable run for Cleveland. As we discuss in the linked podcast, too, this stretch seems to be the embodiment of all the reasons why the preseason prognosticators, and projection systems, were so high on the Tribe this year.

Going into this season, Cleveland was viewed as a contender due to the combination os strong starting pitching, good run prevention and enough offense. Well, we’ve seen the first two aspects on full display over the past 11 games. The offense? It’s gone above and beyond. When this team hits, it’s dangerous, because the pitching and defense should be there on the majority of nights.

Something else that’s interesting about all of this. As you may recall, Bad Luck Bastian was in Kansas City, where the Royals swept away the Tribe before this winning streak. After the sloppy final game in that set, Francona said: “We didn’t play very well. I think that’s on me. They weren’t prepared to play tonight and I guarantee you that’ll change.”

Cleveland hasn’t lost a game since Francona issued that message to his clubhouse.

THE STREAK BY THE NUMBERS

The Rotation

Trevor Bauer: 2-0, 1.64 ERA, .162 AVG, 24 K, 7 BB, 22 IP
Corey Kluber: 2-0, 1.06 ERA, .111 AVG, 16 K, 3 BB, 17 IP
Carlos Carrasco: 1-0, 1.10 ERA, .164 AVG, 13 K, 5 BB, 16.1 IP
Josh Tomlin: 1-0, 3.60 ERA, .196 AVG, 6 K, 1 BB, 15 IP
Danny Salazar: 2-0, 3.65 ERA, .200 AVG, 10 K, 6 BB, 12.1 IP

Total: 8-0, 2.07 ERA, .165 AVG, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 69 K, 22 BB, 82.2 IP

The Bullpen

Total: 3-0, 1.56 ERA, .242 AVG, 24 K, 3 BB, 17.1 IP

The Pitching Staff

Total: 11-0, 1.98 ERA, .180 AVG, 93 K, 25 BB, 100 IP

The Lineup

Carlos Santana: .320 (.920 OPS), 43 at-bats
Jason Kipnis: .262 (.843 OPS), 42 at-bats
Francisco Lindor: .357 (1.036 OPS), 42 at-bats
Mike Napoli: .297 (.832 OPS), 37 at-bats
Jose Ramirez: .295 (.781 OPS), 44 at-bats
Lonnie Chisenhall: .371 (1.091 OPS), 35 at-bats
Juan Uribe: .281 (1.105 OPS), 32 at-bats
Yan Gomes: .286 (.775 OPS), 28 at-bats
Rajai Davis: .375 (.818 OPS), 24 at-bats
Tyler Naquin: .450 (1.727 OPS), 20 at-bats
Chris Gimenez: .375 (.750 OPS), 16 at-bats
Michael Martinez: .267 (.620 OPS), 15 at-bats

Overall: .317/.365/.565, 73 runs, 121 hits
With RISP: .333/.396/.500 (96 at-bats)

Fun fact: The Indians’ rotation has allowed only 47 hits, while the Indians’ offense has produced 46 extra-base hits during the 11-game winning streak.

LONGEST WINNING STREAKS IN TEAM HISTORY

13: Aug. 2-15, 1951
13: April 18-May 2, 1942
12: July 8-21, 1922
11: June 17-June 28, 2016 (and counting)
11: May 23-June 4, 1982
11: Sept. 8-20, 1954
11: May 12-23, 1954
11: April 25-May 5, 1941


ON TREVOR BAUER

The danger with Bauer over recent years has been that, once you believe that he’s finally turned that corner, the right-hander would slip back into a prolonged slump and render all the analysis moot. Well, we’re starting to buy in to that corner again, because Bauer has looked as strong and consistent as he ever has on the Major League stage.

Over his past 10 outings, Bauer has a 2.60 ERA with 62 strikeouts, 21 walks and a .605 opponents’ OPS in 69.1 IP.

Here was an excellent piece posted recently by August Fagerstrom on Bauer’s evolution as a pitcher this season:

About a month prior to that post, I did some interviews and work looking at the improvement on Bauer’s two-seamer and curveball, but I stashed it away because I wanted to see if the righty would sustain his success a little longer. He has, and the sample is growing large enough to begin looking at what he’s been doing differently this season.

What we’re seeing now is not only the result of Bauer’s diligent offseason training over the past few years, but of him finding a sort of middle ground between his philosophies and those of the Indians. He is sticking with his strength of pitching up in the zone, while pitching with more authority down and away. Bauer has also narrowed his arsenal, but he’s become more unpredictable in the process due to his approach and improvement with specific pitches.

First, let’s focus on his two-seamer, which has become Bauer’s primary fastball this year. As Fagerstrom pointed out in the linked article above, take a look at the progression here of his fastball usage:

BauerFBuse

Why did Bauer move more towards a two-seamer? Here’s what he had to say about the switch:

“I throw a pretty high percentage of cutters,” Bauer said. “So, I just felt like something that was moving laterally to pair with the cutter [would be good to] try to get as much lateral spread as possible. My four-seamer is like four or five inches. My cutter moves like one in the opposite direction, so that’s six inches of spread. I can make my two-seam move 10 inches. My cutter moves one or two the other way, so I get up to 12. And you can pair a four-seam with that at the top of the zone. So, you can share the middle with three pitches, three things that are hard and split it. I don’t know. There’s a lot of reasons for it. I’m trying to get more movement on the fastball and trying to make it more effective.”

The effectiveness of Bauer’s two-seamer this year (career-best 52.6 groundball rate on balls in play with the pitch) comes, in part, from two areas of improvement over the past two years.

First, Bauer’s velocity has steadily ticked up with the two-seamer:

BauerTSvelo

Next, the movement has increased along with the pitch speed:

BauerTShoriz

One thing to note here is that Bauer doesn’t refer to his two-seamer as a sinker (like you would for Corey Kluber’s tw0-seamer, for example). It has been nicknamed the “laminar express” due to its lateral movement. The tweet below is from Kyle Boddy, who works with Bauer over the offseason at Driveline Baseball in Seattle.

“It’s a true two-seam fastball,” Bauer explained. “But, there really is very little difference. It’s just about the spin axis. If I want it to sink more, right now I throw a hard changeup that has more depth to it that’s like 88-90. If I want to get below the zone or the bottom of the zone, I can throw that. It has better depth to it. I’d rather have a two-seam that I can keep on plane, especially to lefties so I don’t run into their barrel. Two-seam sinkers running down and away from a lefty can run right into the barrel plane. I think the flat two-seam is a little bit better of a pitch there.”

Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said another reason for the change to the two-seam dominant approach this year for Bauer was pitching low and away. Callaway indicated that Bauer was more comfortable going down in the strike zone with the two-seamer. In the past, the pitcher has noted that he’s studied the way others such as Marcus Stroman can backdoor a two-seamer to the outside corner against right-handed batters.

“He felt more comfortable with the two-seamer,” Callaway said, “starting it off the plate and bringing it back. He really practiced that in the offseason, because he knew he wanted to start pitching down and away a little bit more. And he also wants that effect of crisscrossing those corners, so he’s got a cutter and a sinker to do that.

“They look like their balls and then they come back at the last second and nick the back corner. Those are hard to hit.”

Added Bauer: “I can throw anything down there, really. I got [Carlos Correa on May 10] on a backdoor two-seamer, a backdoor changeup and then a backdoor two-seam. I can throw cutters down there and four-seams down there. It’s been beneficial to be able to throw multiple pitches down there, because it’s hard to know exactly which way the ball’s going to move, I would assume, for hitters. That’s the thought process anyways.”

One more item of note is that, if you just look at the PITCHf/x data, it looks like Bauer scrapped his slider and replaced it with the cutter this season:

BauerCutter

What really happened is that Bauer’s offseason velo training has caused a kind of recording glitch for the system. That “cutter” you see this year is the “slider” is featured last year, just with more velocity. With the increased pitch speed, the breaking ball has been reclassified by PITCHf/x on brooksbaseball.net. Both Boddy and Bauer have noted this

ABOUT BAUER’S CURVEBALL….

As critical as the two-seam has been for Bauer this season, his curveball has developed into one of the game’s top breaking pitches. According to Fangraphs, Bauer’s curve is the fifth-best curve in the game, and second-best in the AL behind Kluber:

  1. Kluber, 9.4
  2. Aaron Nola, 8.6
  3. Jerad Eickhoff, 8.5
  4. Clayton Kershaw, 6.5
  5. Bauer, 5.8

Bauer’s curveball has been so good, it’s even catching him by surprise:

062216_cle_bauer_surprise_med_0uyzzz63

Take a look at this three-year progression with the pitch:

BauerCB

What that shows you is that he’s fooling a lot of batters, as shown in the above GIF. Hitters aren’t swinging at the pitch nearly as much as in the past, but Bauer’s strikeout percentage on the offering has soared nonetheless.


ON JOSE RAMIREZ

When Ramirez got the nod as Cleveland’s cleanup hitter in Atlanta on Tuesday night, he completed lineup bingo for this season. The pesky switch-hitter has now started in each spot in the batting order this year for the Tribe.

If you ever mention Victor Martinez to Indians manager Terry Francona, you’ll get a warm smile and Tito will go on to call Martinez one of the best “protection hitters” in the game. Francona has started to view Ramirez in a similar light. He’s a switch hitter who uses the entire field and puts the ball in play at a high rate.

“As you’re coming through the middle of the order,” Francona said recently, “those guys are going to be on base the most. Having somebody that’s going to put up a good at-bat and hit the ball in the gaps, I think is very important. A little bit of a connector to the rest of the order.”

If you recall, Francona used Michael Brantley in a very similar fashion back in 2013. This was Brantley before the power spiked and he turned into a legit run producer. From 2012-13, Brantley was more of a gap-to-gap, high-contact hitter. Like Ramirez, Brantley hit in all nine spots in ’13 (starting in eight batting order positions).

Brantley is obviously sidelined right now. But, when you look a little closer at the numbers, it’s almost as if the Indians have replaced Brantley with… Brantley. Well, the ’12-13 version of Brantley I just referenced anyways.

Take a look…

Player A: .288/.348/.402, 92.2% contact rate
Player B: .292/.354/.424, 87.3% contact rate

Player A is 2013 Michael Brantley and Player B is Jose Ramirez this season.

BrantRam

“He’s done a great job this year. He’s hit with confidence,” Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said of Ramirez. “In terms of the contact, he finds the barrel really well. Obviously, you give yourself more of a chance if you put the ball in play in those situation. How hard is going to help, too. The harder you hit the ball, the more chances you’re going to have of getting a base hit. He’s been pretty good at finding the barrel and hitting the ball hard.”

Heading into Wednesday’s action, Ramirez was sporting a 1.025 OPS with runners in scoring position and a 1.118 OPS with RISP and two outs. Brantley, who has one of the highest contact rates in the league, has also excelled in RISP situations throughout his time with the Tribe.

All of this said, Indians could still use Brantley back as soon as possible. Two Brantley’s are better than one.


DRAFT LEFTOVERS

The unsung heros of the annual MLB Draft are the area scouts. They’re the ones beating the bushes, getting to know players and their families, traveling all over the country, filing reports and doing it all over again right after the Draft takes place.

Area scout Junie Melendez, who lives in the Cleveland area, handles Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky for the Indians. He was back in town for the Draft earlier this month and saw Cleveland take three of the players on his list. Then, after working to get the players signed, he was headed to the Cape Cod League.

“Right back at it,” Melendez said. “You hope to sign these guys as soon as possible, get them into the system and start working towards 2017.”

The three players taken who were scouted by Melendez were Ball State righty Zach Plesac (12th round), along with Ohio University outfielder Mitch Longo (14th round) and Ohio State left-hander Tanner Tully (26th round). All three are signed and starting their pro careers with Cleveland.

Melendez, on Plesac, who is the nephew of former Major Leaguer Dan Plesac and is working his way back from Tommy John surgery:

“The first thing about Zach is the athleticism. He’s a tremendous athlete. He was a two-way player at Ball State. He also had some wide received in his background and also the size. He’s 6-foot-3, 200-plus. That was the No. 1 intrigue with him, was his athleticism. And obviously we liked his delivery and what he can do on the mound. Given that athleticism and that size and the success that we’ve had with guys who have had Tommy John, we felt Zach was a person that, once he rehabs with us, we can get him back, hopefully, even stronger than he was before the injury.

“I would say we think he has a chance to be a starter. He’s got three pitches that all have a chance to be average or better. He’s got a fastball to 93 and he’s got a slider and a changeup that we feel can also be effective pitches for him. He throws a little bit of both. He uses a four-seam and two-seam. He can sink it, but he also has the four-seamer that he works with as well.”

On Longo, who hit .355/.426/.481 with more walks (60) than strikeouts (48) in 142 career games with the Bobcats:

“Mitch Longo, he’s a hitter. We like the offensive skill-set that he has. He can swing the bat. He’s got a consistent history of success at Ohio University. And he can run. He’s athletic. The tools he brings offensively are what we like. He knows the strike zone. He’s a very patient hitter. He gets on base. He’s got a track record of walks and getting on base and he can swing the bat. All those things combined is what we liked about Mitch. He’ll play left field and maybe he’ll have some center sprinkled in, because he can run.”

On Tully, who had 175 strikeouts against 45 walks with a 2.93 ERA in 276 innings over three seasons with the Buckeyes:

“Three-pitch mix left-hander who can throw a ton of strikes. He’s had a history of success in the Big Ten at Ohio State. He’s not an overpowering guy by any means, but he can command the zone and pitch to both sides and change speeds. That’s pretty much Tanner Tully in a nutshell. We’ll try to develop him as a starter. We think he
has a chance to start. That’s how we envision him. He was an all Big Ten performer this year as their Friday night guy. He throws a ton of strikes. His freshman year, he had like Nintendo numbers.”

Thought I spotted Melendez at my son’s game tonight, too.

Stay tuned for more from Toronto…

–JB

1 Comment

So is Bauer’s saying that pitch is a slider or a cutter? I always thought those were two distinct pitches of his in the past (and pretty unimpressive pitches.) It looks like what he’s throwing now is a decent cutter that’s more effective because it’s closer to his fastball velocity

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