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The 10 Most Extraordinary Indians Home Runs: First Half Edition

By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB

The All-Star Break is here, and that means no meaningful Indians baseball for the next four days. Since nothing is happening in the present, let’s enjoy the past! With the Home Run Derby happening tonight, I figured it was a good time to revive a series I did a couple of times over at FanGraphs, looking at the most unique home runs of the season. Rather than looking at the whole league, though, let’s look just at the Indians. The data used in this post comes from HitTrackerOnline and BaseballSavant.

Fast, slow, high and low, these are The 10 Most Extraordinary Indians Home Runs of the first half.

* * *

Deepest

Batter: Carlos Santana

Pitcher: Phil Klein

Date: 5/25

Farthest_Santana

We’ll go ahead and get a Santana dinger out of the way because there’s going to be a few of them. Santana hit 10 homers in the first half and it turns out pretty much all of them were extraordinary in one way or another. At 441 feet, this is the farthest a ball has traveled off an Indians bat this season and the fourth-deepest homer of Santana’s career. Ball went and got itself some Barrio.

Shortest

Batter: Roberto Perez

Pitcher: Phil Klein

Date: 5/25

Softest_Perez

It’s our friend Phil Klein again! Hi, Phil! Phil had himself a rough day at the ballpark. Sorry, Phil. Phil already served up the longest home run of the season to Carlos Santana an inning prior, and then Roberto Perez got him for the luckiest homer of the year the next. In the previous FanGraphs iterations of this post, I had a category for “most wind-aided home run.” This clip serves as both. Notice the flags in center field — the wind was blowing out to right field this day. Under standard conditions, Perez’s shot would have traveled approximately 342 feet and left zero Major League ballparks. On this day, though, the wind gave Perez’s ball an extra 22 feet of carry, just enough to make Shin-Soo Choo run into his old home fence.

Hardest-hit

Batter: Lonnie Chisenhall

Pitcher: Kelvin Herrera

Date: 5/5

Hardest_Chis

Here’s a clip of Lonnie Chisenhall doing something extraordinary in the year 2015. Kelvin Herrera was the pitcher, and Kelvin Herrera throws hard, in part explaining the 112mph exit velocity off Chisenhall’s bat. Though the exit velocity is exceptional in itself, this home run would have been noteworthy regardless of how hard it was hit, because Herrera hadn’t given up a homer all year. No, wait, that’s not it. Because Herrera hadn’t given up a homer all of last year either. Chisenhall’s homer broke a Royals franchise record 105 1/3 inning homerless streak that dated back to July 2013. Herrera gave up another home run later that month, and is currently 20 innings into his next streak.

Highest pitch

Batter: Carlos Santana

Pitcher: Justin Verlander

Date: 6/13

Highest_Santana

Advertising worked. See that Jimmy John’s sign, right above where Santana’s home run landed? Yeah, that did it’s job. I’m currently eating a No. 10 with a side of BBQ Jimmy Chips because of that sign. And, no, I know what you’re wondering — I totally didn’t get one of those massive triple chocolate chunk cookies as well. Yeah, definitely not gonna scarf that down and make myself feel sick as soon as I finish this sandwich.

Oh, the home run? Yeah, geez, that sure was a high pitch. Thirteen inches above the center of the strike zone. Santana can get up and hit the high one.

Lowest pitch

Batter: Carlos Santana

Pitcher: Darren O’Day

Date: 6/26

Lowest_Santana

Apparently Santana can go get the low one, too. Batters swinging at pitches like this is a reason why Darren O’Day is so good. Carlos Santana being able to hit pitches like this for home runs is a reason why, throughout his career, he’s been so good. If you follow me on Twitter, you might already know some fun facts about this dinger. Among other things, it’s the lowest pitch hit for a homer by an Indians player in the PITCHf/x era (2008-present) and one of the lowest fastballs hit out by any player in that same time.

Highest apex

Batter: Brandon Moss

Pitcher: Al Alburquerque

Date: 4/24

HiApex_Moss

No, I didn’t order another Jimmy John’s sandwich. That would be ridiculous. I did just eat that cookie, though, and damn it was good. This ball reached an apex of 138 feet above field level at its peak.

Lowest apex

Batter: Michael Brantley

Pitcher: Mark Buehrle

Date: 5/1

LoApex_Brantley

I’d like to call something to your attention. It isn’t the home run. It’s that guy. Right there. You probably already noticed him. I purposely extended the length of the .gif so you would. That bald man is very excited. His children are embarrassed. Two options for the reason behind his happy dance

The likely reason: “Hot dog! These seats offer me a splendid view of tonight’s ballgame! And at an affordable price, too! Roll Tribe!”

The less likely reason: “Gee whiz! Certainly that will end up as the lowest-apex home run hit by an Indians batter in the first half of this season! I love physics!”

Most inside pitch

Batter: Francisco Lindor

Pitcher: Brett Oberholtzer

Date: 6/24

Inside_Lindor

Just like the scouts said: “can hit pitches 10 inches in from the middle of the strike zone for home runs as well as any shortstop prospect in baseball.” Just imagine if the defense ever comes along.

Most outside pitch

Batter: Carlos Santana

Pitcher: Colby Lewis

Date: 5/27

Outside_Santana

If I can, I’d like to submit this as “most impressive home run” as well. Sure, there’s some takeaways — the score of the game and also the Colby Lewis on the mound. But to take a pitch that low and away and drive it 421 feet to dead center field is impressive, regardless of circumstance. Though, perhaps not as impressive as the final homer on this list…

Most Gattis

Batter: GATTIS

Pitcher: DOESN’T MATTER

Date: GATTIS TIME

GATTIS_Gattis

BECAUSE GATTIS.

Month in review: June

478930288Growing up in Chicago, I was all too familiar with the phrase “June swoon” while rooting on the Cubs. So often, it seemed that promising starts hit a wall in baseball’s third month, shifting fans into an early wait-til-next-year mindset.

Well, Indians fans wouldn’t be blamed for letting their thoughts wander similarly right now.

April was a bust, but Cleveland stormed through May with one of the best collective offensive and pitching performances in baseball. When the calendar flipped to June, the temperature got hot, but the Tribe’s bats went cold again. The pitching was middle-of-the-road, but the run support was nearly non-existent, giving the arms little to no margin for error.

Rock bottom arrived in Baltimore, where the Indians scored three runs in three games, included putting up 18 zeros in a doubleheader in (not-so) Charm City on the month’s final, bloody Sunday. Fortunately for the Tribe, some good feelings arrived in St. Petersburg, where the Indians ended June with a pair of impressive wins, leading up to Carlos Carrasco’s near no-hitter on July 1.

There is still plenty of time for the Indians to regain their footing and make a second-half push, but June made things a little more daunting.

Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…

Overall: 11-15
Record at home: 5-9
Record on road: 6-6

Offense (AL rank)

.249 AVG (9)
.313 OBP (9)
.364 SLG (13)
.677 OPS (12)
79 R (14)
215 H (13)
18 HR (14)
62 XBH (t-13)
73 RBI (14)
10 SB (9)
79 BB (6)
197 K (8)
314 TB (t-13)
1.8 WAR (13)

Notes: The last time the Indians scored no more than 79 runs and had an OPS no greater than .677 was, well, way back in April. Oof. Before April, you had to go all the way back to June of the 1991 season to find an offensive outage of that kind in one month. And, go figure, Cleveland also did the same dubious feat in April of 1991. Baseball is weird.

Pitching (AL rank)

11 wins (12)
3.90 ERA (10)
4.22 rot. ERA (11)
3.15 rel. ERA (6)
4 saves (14)
226.1 IP (14)
29 HR (10)
69 BB (6)
212 K (6)
.245 AVG (7)
1.23 WHIP (7)
3.91 FIP (11)
2.4 WAR (11)

Notes: Let’s flash back to 1991 once again! April of ’91 was also the last time an Indians’ pitching staff had an ERA no higher than 3.90 with no more than 11 wins to show for it. I bet Paul Hoynes’ Plain Dealer articles back then detailed a lack of run support just like in June this year. In April of ’91, though, the staff went 7-10 despite a 2.61 ERA.

Player of the Month: 2B Jason Kipnis
Stats: .358/.441/.484/926, 10 XBH, 8 RBI, 15 BB, 15 R, 5 SB, 25 games

Previous winners: OF Michael Brantley (April), Kipnis (May)

Notes: Man, Kipnis really slumped through June. I mean, he hit .429/.511/.706 with 30 runs and 51 hits in May, taking home the AL’s Player of the Month award. Oh well. Looking at his June, Kipnis is the first Indians batter to have at least five steals, 10 extra-base hits, 15 runs and a .926 OPS in a month since… Kipnis did that in June 2013. In the last 10 years, only Asdrubal Cabrera (May 2011), Shin-Soo Choo (Sept. 2010) and Grady Sizemore (twice in ’08 and twice in ’06) achieved the same feat.

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Danny Salazar
Stats: 3-2, 3.82 ERA, 30.2 IP, 30 K, 8 BB, .233 AVG, 1.14 WHIP, 5 starts

Notes: There wasn’t anything particularly historic about Salazar’s month, but he was arguably Cleveland’s top start for June. I could’ve easily gone with reliever Zach McAllister here, but I decided to pick him for the next category.

Previous winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April), RHP Corey Kluber (May)

Reliever of the Month: McAllister
Stats: 2.61 ERA, 10.1 IP, 14 K, 1 BB, .200 AVG, 0.77 WHIP, 9 games

Previous winners: LHP Nick Hagadone (April), RHP Cody Allen (May)

Notes: McAllister has developed into a solid part-time late-inning option, or a bridge to Cleveland’s setup men and closer. He’s on a short list of Cleveland pitchers to ever have 14-plus strikeouts with no more than one walk in nine-plus outings in one month. Prior to his June, that list included Chris Perez (July 2012), Rafael Betancourt (April 2004), Paul Shuey (July 2002), Sean DePaula (September ’99) and Paul Assenmacher (July ’96).

Game of the Month (hitter): 1B Carlos Santana
June 16 vs. Cubs: 2-for-3, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 RBI

Notes: Over the past 10 years, an Indians batter has had two-plus hits, two-plus walks and six-plus total bases in a game 16 times. Players on that list include Grady Sizemore (four times), Santana (three times), Jhonny Peralta (twice), David Murphy, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Jason Giambi, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko.

Previous winners: OF Brandon Moss (April 24), Kipnis (May 3)

Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Cody Anderson
June 21 vs. Rays: 7.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R/ER, 1 BB, 4 K

Notes: There’s an argument to be made that Anderson’s eight-inning gem vs. the Rays on June 29 was actually the best start of the month, but I’ll go with his MLB debut due to the historical elements. Anderson joined Scott Lewis (2008), Luis Tiant (1964) and Ray Benge (1925) as the only Cleveland pitchers to log at least 7.2 shutout innings in an MLB debut.

Previous winners: Bauer (April 9), Kluber (May 13)

———————————————————————————–

Minor League standouts for June

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: 1B Jesus Aguilar
Stats: .310/.352/.469/.821, 4 HR, 9 XBH, 24 RBI, 11 R, 28 games

Previous winners: OF Tyler Holt (April), OF James Ramsey (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Shawn Armstrong
Stats: 1.29 ERA, 14 IP, 19 K, 6 BB, .170 AVG, 1.00 WHIP, 4 saves, 10 games

Previous winners: LHP Bruce Chen (April), RHP C.C. Lee (May)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Anthony Gallas
Stats: .326/.364/.576/.940, 5 HR, 12 XBH, 18 RBI, 24 games

Previous winners: OF Ollie Linton (April), SS Erik Gonzalez (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Mike Clevinger
Stats: 1.84 ERA, 29.1 IP, 32 K, 7 BB, .206 AVG, 0.99 WHIP, 5 starts

Previous winners: RHP Cody Anderson (April), RHP Josh Martin (May)

Class A (high) Lynchburg

Player of the Month: 1B Nellie Rodriguez
Stats: .341/.412/.541/.954, 3 HR, 10 XBH, 18 RBI, 14 R, 23 games

Previous winners: OF Brad Zimmer (April, May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Justin Brantley
Stats: 1.17 ERA, 15.1 IP, 19 K, 7 BB, .157 AVG, 0.98 WHIP, 8 games

Previous winners: RHP Adam Plutko (April, May)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: 1B Bobby Bradley
Stats: .277/.346/.574/.921, 7 HR, 12 XBH, 20 RBI, 15 R, 24 games

Previous winners: None (April), 2B Claudio Bautista (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cameron Hill
Stats: 0.90 ERA, 10 IP, 14 K, 5 BB, .147 AVG, 1.00 WHIP, 3 saves, 7 games

Previous winners: RHP Dace Kime (April), RHP Nick Pasquale (May)

Class A (short-season)Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: OF Anthony Santander
Stats: .419/.486/.903/.1.389, 3 HR, 9 XBH, 9 RBI, 6 R, 4 BB, 8 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Shao-Ching Chiang
Stats: 0.82 ERA, 11 IP, 3 K, 1 BB, .132 AVG, 0.55 WHIP, 2 games

—————————

Month in review: April
Month in review: May

–JB

The Complete Guide to the Indians and Miguel Cabrera in 2015

By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB

Want in on a little industry secret? I’m not even sure if I should be sharing this type of information with the public. I had to do a lot of reporting and digging for this, and I think I’ll be the first to report it. OK, ready?

Miguel Cabrera is really, really good.

Maybe that’s already made its way out there. I don’t know. Cabrera is 26-for-42 against the Indians this year with five homers and a 1.697 OPS, so I guess it probably has. Shoot. Really thought I had a scoop there.

Those kind of numbers have had Indians fans scratching their heads. Those kind of numbers have had the Indians scratching their heads. A reporter asked Corey Kluber how to pitch to Cabrera. The reigning Cy Young Award winner said he was “the wrong guy to ask.” It’s been the question on everybody’s mind this year, so why don’t we break it down?

How should you pitch to Miguel Cabrera? How have the Indians pitched to Miguel Cabrera, and what does the way they’ve pitched him tell us about the season’s most lopsided player vs. team matchup?

First, let’s briefly address the question the fans keep asking. “Why don’t they just walk him every time?” Well, because you just can’t do that. Cabrera is still a human being. Cabrera still makes outs more often than he doesn’t. I ran the math, and even with Cabrera’s otherworldly stats against the Indians this season, they would’ve been worse off issuing him a free pass every time.

When Terry Francona was asked about the subject, his response backed that up:

“I guarantee you, if we just went into a series and said we’re walking Miggy every time, they’d score more runs than if we pick our spots,” Francona said.

Walking Miggy every time is simply not an option. The Indians have to pitch to him, just like anyone else. Which leads us to the million-dollar question: What’s the best way to pitch to Miguel Cabrera?

Well, see, here’s the problem with that:

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 8.00.24 PM

That’s a heatmap of Cabrera’s career slugging percentage against all teams, going back as far as that kind of information is on record. Cabrera covers the plate as well as any hitter of our generation, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who’s seen him hit. I’ve heard plenty of people say something along the lines of “You’ve got to pitch him inside to keep him honest,” but the inside pitch is actually Cabrera’s biggest strength, so that doesn’t exactly apply here.

I sought out pitching coach Mickey Callaway in an attempt to find what, if any, are Cabrera’s perceived weaknesses, and how Callaway’s instructed his guys to face the slugger. Callaway’s opening statement mirrors the image above:

“The bottom line is, he doesn’t have any holes,” Callaway said. “And the more pitches he sees, the better he gets.”

That second part piqued my interest. On one hand, Cabrera is the kind of guy you’d intuitively want to pitch around. On the other hand, it makes sense that the more pitches he sees, the better timing he’d have, making a potential mistake later in the at-bat more costly. So Callaway really wants Miggy to put the ball in play as early as possible?

“That’s exactly what I want,” Callaway said. “I want them to attack him to a good area, knowing he’s going to be super aggressive. We want him to put the ball in play early. When he starts fouling balls off, fouling balls off and timing our guys up, it gives him a better chance to square the ball up, and that’s what he usually does.”

Against Cabrera, Callaway wants short at-bats. Have the Indians done that? Cabrera’s faced Cleveland 52 times this year, and averaged 3.6 pitches per plate appearance. Against the rest of the league, he’s averaged exactly 4.0 pitches per plate appearance. In this one way, Indians pitchers have accomplished a goal! Clearly, though, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Callaway also wants them to “attack to a good area.” Based on the heatmap above, it appears no such thing exists. However! That first heatmap dates back to 2007, and Cabrera is older now than he was in 2007. Has anything changed since then?

Here’s his heatmap, just from this year, against all teams:

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 8.18.21 PM

A weakness appears! Cabrera still covers the plate extraordinarily well, but, as he’s gotten older, he’s become relativey susceptible to the high-and-tight pitch. I noted earlier in the month that Cabrera has been swinging and missing against the elevated fastball more and more over the last four years, so perhaps that’s the place to attack. Have the Indians been going there?

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 8.38.17 PM

Sort of.

Remember, this is from the catcher’s view, behind the plate, so Miggy is standing on the left-hand side of this image. You can see, certainly, the intent to pound Miggy with strikes up-and-in. It’s no secret he’s developed a mini-hole in that area, and surely the Indians are aware. But here’s the problem with that location: if you miss down, at all, you’re throwing to the area of his greatest strength — the inside pitch. And if you miss out, at all, then you’re throwing to the area of every hitter’s strength — the middle of the plate. The key is to pitch up-and-in against Cabrera, but there’s absolutely no margin for error.

Just a few more heatmaps. First, the successes. This is going to show pitches where Cabrera either swung and missed, or made an out:

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 8.41.10 PM

Gameplan: executed! The Indians have attempted to pitch Cabrera high-and-tight, and when they have, it’s worked! It’s that easy. We just went over the problem, though. There’s no margin for error.

Now, the failures. This is going to show pitches where Cabrera put the ball in play for a hit:

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 8.41.35 PM

Miggy’s pounced on the pitches that missed down. Miggy’s pounced on the pitches that missed out. Maybe Indians pitchers have just missed their spots with Cabrera up more than they typically do. Maybe Cabrera’s hit the mistake pitches more often than he usually does. My guess is it’s probably a little bit of both.

One more thing to tie this all together. Remember earlier, when Callaway said he wanted his guys to attack Cabrera in “good areas” early in the count? Make him uncomfortable as soon as possible? Well, all five of his home runs have come within the first three pitches of the at-bat, with the most recent two coming on the first pitch, so that hasn’t gone over well. We’ve seen what the approach has been, overall, but what’s the approach been on the first pitch?

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.11.27 PM

On the first pitch, you see far less reliance on the high-and-tight pitch, with a larger focus on going down-and-away. Cabrera’s latest two homers against Cleveland came on the first pitch, and, on each, the pitcher was set up for a low-and-away fastball. Each missed over the middle of the plate, which of course is the bigger issue at hand, but if the Indians want to make Cabrera uncomfortable as early as possible, it would stand to reason that going up-and-in with the heat early — as opposed to later in counts as a putaway pitch — might better accomplish that goal. Then again, I’m far from a pitching expert. I just play one on the internet.

What have we learned from this exercise? We’ve learned that walking Miguel Cabrera isn’t an option. We’ve learned he’s never had a hole in his swing throughout his career, though lately he’s become relatively susceptible to fastballs up-and-in. We’ve learned that the Indians have made an effort to pitch him there. We’ve learned that when they have pitched him there, it’s worked, but there’s no margin for error whatsoever. We’ve also learned that, despite a focus on making Cabrera uncomfortable early in at-bats, the Indians have seemed unwilling to throw to his most uncomfortable area on the first pitch. That’s the only part of the approach against Cabrera that perhaps seems questionable. The rest can mostly be boiled down to a strong gameplan backfiring by good pitchers missing their spots against the best hitter in the world. It’s a tough game. Becomes a hell of a lot tougher when facing Miguel Cabrera.

Aiken tops Tribe’s pitching-heavy Draft class

Brady_Aiken_1280_yei8jnm8_aw8dc5o9After selecting a position player to open each of the past four Drafts, the Indians returned to the pitching front for its first-round pick this week. With the 17th overall choice, Cleveland grabbed highly-touted lefty Brady Aiken, who went first overall to the Astros last year, but did not sign. It was a pitching-heavy Draft for the Tribe, which selected 23 pitchers compared to 18 position players for this year’s class.

Here is a breakdown of Cleveland’s 2015 Draft class:

Round 1 (17): Aiken, IMG Academy (MLB.com rank: 24)
Story: Indians select last year’s No. 1 pick Aiken at 17

Comp. A (42): RHP Triston McKenzie, Royal Palm Beach HS (53)

Round 2 (59): LHP Juan Hillman, Olympia HS (52)
Feature: Hillman, Gordon family share special bond

Round 3 (93): 2B Mark Mathias, Cal Poly (128)
Story: Indians open Day 2 by Drafting Mathias

Round 4 (124): SS Tyler Krieger, Clemson (104)
Round 5 (154): OF Ka’Ai Tom, Kentucky

Round 6 (184): RHP Jonas Wyatt, Quartz Hill HS (187)
Story: Wyatt highlights home stretch of Day 2

Round 7 (214): OF Nathan Lukes, Sacramento State
Round 8 (244): RHP Justin Garza, Cal State Fullerton (155)
Round 9 (274): RHP Devon Stewart, Canisius College
Round 10 (304): LHP William Strode, Florida State
Round 11 (334): RHP Chandler Newman, Richmond Hill HS

Round 12 (364): SHP Ryan Perez, Judson University
Feature: Indians grab intriguing prospect in switch-pitching Perez

Round 13 (394): C Daniel Salters, Dallas Baptist University
Round 14 (424): RHP Matt Esparza, UC Irvine
Round 15 (454): RHP Daniel Sprinkle, White Hall HS
Round 16 (484): 2B Cobie Vance, Pine Forest HS
Round 17 (514): SS Nick Madrigal, Elk Grove HS
Round 18 (544): 1B Anthony Miller, Johnson County CC
Round 19 (574): OF Todd Isaacs, Palm Beach CC
Round 20 (604): SS Luke Wakamatsu, Keller HS*
Round 21 (634): RHP Brock Hartson, Univ. Texas-San Antonio
Round 22 (664): 3B Garrett Benge, Cowley County CC
Round 23 (694): RHP Chad Smith, Wallace State CC
Round 24 (724): 2B Sam Haggerty, Univ. of New Mexico
Round 25 (754): OF Connor Marabell, Jacksonville University
Round 26 (784): SS A.J. Graffanino, Northwest Christian School**
Round 27 (814): RHP Austin Rubick, Buena HS
Round 28 (844): C Jack Goihl, Augustana College
Round 29 (874): RHP Christian Meister, No School
Round 30 (904): RHP Chandler Day, Watkins HS (86)
Round 31 (934): 2B Dillon Persinger, Golden West College
Round 32 (964): LHP Jacob Hill, University of San Diego
Round 33 (994): C Garrett Wolforth, Concordia Lutheran HS
Round 34 (1024): RHP Andrew Cabezas, Mater Academy Charter School
Round 35 (1054): C Cade Tremie, New Waverly HS***
Round 36 (1084): RHP Ryan Colegate, Ohio Dominican University
Round 37 (1114): RHP Lucas Humpal, Texas State
Round 38 (1144): RHP Braden Webb, No School
Round 39 (1174): RHP Tristin English, Pike County HS
Round 40 (1204): RHP Hunter Parsons, Parkside HS

*Son of Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu
**Son of former MLB infielder Tony Graffanino
***Son of Triple-A Columbus manager Chris Tremie

–JB

Optioning Chisenhall, Ramirez “best for the team”

Chris AntonettiLate Sunday night, the Indians optioned third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and shortstop Jose Ramirez to Triple-A, and the club will recall third baseman Giovanny Urshela and utility man Zach Walters before Tuesday’s game. On Monday morning, Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti went over the decisions on a conference call with reporters. Here is a transcript of the Q&A session:

Opening comments on the roster moves:

“Obviously, it’s been a difficult start to the season for Lonnie and Jose. We tried to continue to work with them as much as possible to help them get it going and be productive Major League players, but we reached a point where we felt that it was best for the team and for their individual development to go to Triple-A and work through some things there, and then hopefully come back and be Major League options for us and impact us later on in the season. That was the motivation and rationale behind the moves.

“In terms of Gio and Zach Walters, they’ll come up and fill roles on the team. Exactly how the playing time will be broken up between shortstop and third base will be to be determined at some point. I’m not sure that there’s a specific amount that we delineated for each guy to play at those positions, but between Mike Aviles, Zach Walters and Giovanny Urshela, they’ll get the bulk of the at-bats at shortstop and third base.

“I would expect that you’ll see Mike, as he has over the last 10 days, probably get more of the shortstop opportunities.”

Q: What makes you believe Urshela is ready?

“I think with Gio, he’s always been a very good defender, a guy that’s taken great pride in his defense and the work that he’s put in over there. I think that’s been one of his core strengths throughout his career in the Minor Leagues. I think what we’ve seen with Gio, over the course of the last two years especially, is a maturation and development as a hitter. I think he’s continued to gain an understanding of what he needs to do to be successful, and that has translated to his success on the field both last year in Columbus and since he’s put the injury behind him this year. Now that he’s healthy, we feel like he’s ready to come up and contribute to helping us win games at the Major League level.”

UrshQ: What was behind Urshela’s offensive strides last year?

“I think one of the things, and I think we’ve touched upon this a little bit in the past, between the ’13 and ’14 seasons, Gio went out to Arizona and committed to multiple strength and conditioning programs, and he really focused on becoming more powerful and more explosive and getting his body in a better position. That work that he did in the offseason translated into impacting him defensively and especially offensively, where it’s allowed him to get into his legs better and be able to generate more power and more bat speed to the ball, and get him into a better position to hit and do damage. That, along with his continued maturation as a hitter, and improved approach at the plate, has come together to allow him to contribute not only defensively, but offensively as well.”

Q: What was behind the timing of these moves?

“We just got to that point where we felt it was best for the team to look at other alternatives and then, probably as importantly for Lonnie and Jose, we tried to continue to work with them and help them work through their struggles at the Major League level. But, it got to the point where we felt the best environment for them to make those adjustments and improve was in Triple-A. There’s no immediate science to it. There’s no way to say, ‘This day is better than that day.’ We just reached that point over the weekend. Obviously, it’s something that we’ve been talking about over the last couple of weeks, but it got to the point over the weekend where we thought it was best both for the team and for them individually to make the moves now.”

Q: Was Francisco Lindor considered for promotion?

“Yes, he was a consideration, but just like other guys on the Triple-A roster. We considered all the alternatives, and we felt it was best again for the team and for the individuals involved to go with this series of moves. Francisco is continuing to develop. He’s making progress in Columbus and, again, we’re very confident he’ll impact our Major League team at some point in the near future.”

Q: Is Lindor a little banged up right now?

“He is a little bit banged up. He’s been working through some things with his mid-section, his core, and his hand as well. Nothing major. Nothing that’s kept him from being in the lineup, but he’s working through some things. Last night, him DHing was more a function of us wanting to give Zach a game at shortstop before he came up here.”

Q: Did the minor injury issues play a role in keeping Lindor in Triple-A?

“Yeah. I think we looked at all the information on each of those guys, including where they were physically. That was a consideration, but I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a driving factor.”

Q: What was the message to Ramirez and Chisenhall before they went to Triple-A?

“Most importantly, the thing we reiterated is how much we believe in them and that we know they’re going to be good players and, in fact, we’re counting on them to impact our team at some point later on this season. It’s just … we felt that they weren’t able to make the type of progress that they would’ve hoped at the Major League level to work through their struggles. Our conversation with each one of them is, ‘OK, let’s work together, come up with a plan to get you guys being back to the successful players. We know you’re capable of doing that.’ With each guy, it’s a little bit different. What Jose may need to work on is a litle bit different than maybe what Lonnie needs to work on.”

Chiz3bQ: What have been your thoughts on Lonnie’s season?

“I think Lonnie deserves a lot of credit for the work he put in defensively and for the improvements that he’s shown this year defensively. I know he did not have a great game over the weekend, but on balance, I think everybody would say that we’ve been really pleased with the progress that he’s made defensively. If you take that progress and now maybe get back to some of the things that made him a successful hitter in the past, and now you combine a successful hitter with a strong defender, that’s ultimately what our vision for Lonnie would be. I know he’ll work towards getting to that point.”

Q: And Ramirez?

“It’s important to remember with Jose, he’s still a really young player at 22. He went through a period last year where he came up and struggled at the Major League level, went down to Triple-A and came back a better player. So, hopefully, we can follow a similar pattern where Jose, and actually in partnering with us, we can figure out what allowed that to happen last year with Jose. What are the things he needs to focus on now to get back to that contributing, confident player that we’ve seen? I think it’s important not to lose focus that he was a big part of why we played so well in the second half last year. And so, we need to work with him to get him back to that point. Again, we’re encouraged by the fact we know Jose has gone through this struggle [before]. He went through it last year, and was able to come back to the Major Leagues a better player. Hopefully we can follow a similar blueprint for success.”

Q: Will Lindor and Ramirez split the playing time at short at Triple-A?

“We’ll have to work through exactly how we allocate playing time down there. I think Jose will see time at a number of positions, but he will also play some shortstop.”

–JB

Month in review: May

KipMayThe sixth pitch that Jason Kipnis saw in May was a 77-mph curveball from Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle. Cleveland’s second baseman pulled the ball to right field for a leadoff home run.

Just like that, Kipnis and the Tribe were off and running in what developed into a historical month on a number of fronts.

“I can’t tell you how much a different calendar month does for a baseball player’s psyche,” Kipnis said after the win over Toronto on May 1. “When you say it turns a page, it really does.”

Reminded of that comment after Cleveland’s win over the Mariners on May 31, Kipnis laughed.

“Let’s hope I was full of crap here now that it turns to June,” Kipnis quipped.

KipTOBstreakIn May, Cleveland bounced back from an April that was plagued by bad offense, worse defense and inconsistent starting pitching. Kipnis led the charge by becoming the first Indians batter since 1938 (Jeff Heath) to turn in a month with 50-plus hits and 30-plus runs. Kipnis posted a .511 on-base percentage for the month and set a unique Cleveland record in the process, reaching base three-plus times in eight straight games from May 9-17 (See the chart to the right).

On the mound, ace Corey Kluber shurgged off an 0-5 start to the season with an incredible end to the month, posting 18 strikeouts against St. Louis on May 13, 50 strikeouts in his final four outings and 60 for the month. That helped power a solid month for the rotation and, in turn, helped the bullpen show improvement over a very rocky April.

Cleveland saw designated hitter Nick Swisher and catcher Yan Gomes return to the lineup after injury issues. And, while neither were offensive catalysts so to speak, they provided more balance for a Tribe lineup that labored mightily against lefty pitching in the season’s first month. The lineup was also given a boost when manager Terry Francona moved Kipnis into the leadoff spot and put Michael Bourn lower in the lineup. Both players have thrived since the changes.

Most importantly, Cleveland’s May has them back in a solid position standings-wise with four months to play.

“It was a fun month,” Kipnis said, “not only for me, but for our team as well. We’re finally turning it around, putting things together. All these things wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if we were losing games. It’s a lot more fun when I get to enjoy them.”

Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…

Overall: 17-12
Record at home: 8-7
Record on road: 9-5

Offense (AL rank)

.265 AVG (4)
.351 OBP (1)
.429 SLG (4)
.780 OPS (3)
146 R (t-2)
262 H (t-3)
28 HR (t-7)
99 XBH (3)
142 RBI (2)
18 SB (t-3)
130 BB (1)
194 K (t-4)
424 TB (3)
5.9 WAR (2)

Notes: After ranking in the bottom third in most categories in April (1.4 offensive WAR as a team), the Indians bounced back in a big way in May. The offense was ignited by Kipnis, but a drastic improvement against lefties (.638 OPS, 26th in MLB, in April; .824 OPS, 3rd in MLB, in May) went a long way, too. Ryan Raburn (.895 OPS) and David Murphy (.880) embraced their platoon roles in May and Bourn (.751) had one of his best months since joining Cleveland. Cleveland excelled in drawing walks (130, compared to 95 for the AL’s second-ranked Tigers). It marked the most walks in a month by a CLE team since Sept/Oct 2000 (131). It marked the first time an MLB team had 130-plus walks and 99-plus extra-base hits in a month since the A’s did so in April 2013. The last Indians team to have 130-plus walks and 64-plus doubles in a month before this May? The 1939 Tribe in September that season.

Pitching (AL rank)

17 wins (3)
3.66 ERA (7)
4.26 rot. ERA (9)
2.56 rel. ERA (5)
8 saves (t-7)
260.2 IP (4)
34 HR (t-12)
74 BB (6)
282 K (1)
.238 AVG (3)
1.19 WHIP (3)
3.58 FIP (2)
3.7 WAR (2)

Notes: The Indians ranked first in strikeouts (282) by a wide margin in the AL, whose second-ranked team was Tampa Bay (248). There’s a good reason, too. Cleveland’s 282 strikeouts in May were the fifth-highest total in one month in MLB history, only falling behind the 2012 Rays (294 in September), 2014 Rays (287 in June), 2002 Cubs (286 in August) and 2012 Phillies (285 in September). Cleveland’s previous record for one month was 280, set in May 2013. Third now is the 269 punchouts the Indians had in September 2014. So, the three best strikeout months in team history have now come under manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Before 2013, the record was 264 by the Indians’ staff in July 1964. This also marked the first time in Cleveland history that it had four pitchers (Kluber, 60; Carlos Carrasco, 43; Danny Salazar, 43; and Trevor Bauer, 37) that the team had four pitchers record 35+ strikeouts in the same month.

Player of the Month: Kipnis
Stats: .429/.511/.706/1.217, 15 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 16 BB, 30 R, 51 H, 29 games
Analysis: MLB.com’s August Fagerstrom looked at Kipnis’ swing in April

Previous winners: OF Michael Brantley (April)

Notes: As noted above, this was not only a great month, but one of the greatest months in Indians history. You could argue it was one of the best months in baseball history, actually. Do you know how many instances there are of a hitter having a .429+ average, 15+ doubles, 30+ runs, 51+ hits and a 1.217+ OPS? I wouldn’t expect you know, but it’s four. Kipnis joined Joe Cronin (June 1933), Chuck Klein (July 1930) and Tris Speaker (July 1923) on that list. Need more? Here’s the story from his final game in May with a bunch more information.

Pitcher of the Month: Kluber
Stats: 3-2, 2.95 ERA, 42.2 IP, 60 K, 6 BB, .233 AVG, 1.01 WHIP, 6 starts
Analysis: Fagerstrom recently broke down Kluber’s ability to paint the corners

Previous winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April)

Notes: After an inconsistent April, beep-beep-boop, Klubot was functioning properly in May. In fact, Kluber’s rate of 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings was the best for a single month in team history (minimum 30 innings). He topped his own recod of 12.6 K/9, set in May 2014. Kluber joined Sam McDowell (8 times) and Bob Feller (8 times) as the only pitchers in team history with at least two career months with 60-plus strikeouts. Kluber also joined Clayton Kershaw (June 2014), Curt Schilling (twice in 2002), Pedro Martinez (September 1999), Jim Kaat (September 1967), Sandy Koufax (September 1963) and Juan Marichal (September 1963) as the only pitchers with a month consisting of 60-plus strikeouts and no more than six walks. Look at the names on that list again. Wow.

Reliever of the Month: RHP Cody Allen
Stats: 2.35 ERA, 15.1 IP, 21 K, 6 BB, .167 AVG, 0.98 WHIP, 7 saves, 15 games

Previous winners: LHP Nick Hagadone (April)

Notes: Allen looked much better in May than he did in April, and that’s a great thing for a Cleveland bullpen looking for more consistency and stability. The hard-throwing righty joined Jim Kern (June 1977) and Gary Bell (June 1965) as the only Cleveland pitchers with 20-plus strikeouts and seven-plus saves in the same month.

Game of the Month (hitter): Kipnis
May 3 vs. Blue Jays: 4-for-5, 1 HR, 1 2B, 2 RBIs, 3 runs, 8 total bases

Notes: There was nothing particularly historic about this game. It was just one example of Kipnis’ outstanding month. This marked one of his 16 multi-hit games for May, and one of two four-hit games in the month.

Previous winners: OF Brandon Moss (April 24)

Game of the Month (pitcher): Kluber
May 13 vs. Cardinals: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 18 K, 98 Game Score

Notes: This was one of the greatest singular pitching performances in baseball history. In fact, Kluber’s gem was the only one in MLB history with a 98 Game Score with no more than eight innings logged. Kluber joined Randy Johnson (Sept. 27, 1992) as the only pitchers in MLB history with 18-plus strikeouts in no more than eight innings. It was the first time a pitcher had 18-plus strikeouts since 2004 (Ben Sheets) and first time in the AL since 1998 (Roger Clemens). The 18 strikeouts also matched Bob Feller’s 1938 franchise record for a nine-inning game. Here’s more on his achievements in that game.

Previous winners: Bauer (April 9)

———————————————————————————–

Minor League standouts for May

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: OF James Ramsey
Stats: .296/.402/.500/.902, 4 HR, 8 2B, 12 RBI, 18 BB, 28 games

Previous winners: OF Tyler Holt (April)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP C.C. Lee
Stats: 1.64 ERA, 11 IP, 18 K, 1 BB, .179 AVG, 0.73 WHIP, 9 games

Previous winners: LHP Bruce Chen (April)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: SS Erik Gonzalez
Stats: .291/.320/.504/.824, 3 HR, 16 XBH, 16 R, 27 games

Previous winners: OF Ollie Linton (April)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Josh Martin
Stats: 0.59 ERA, 15.1 IP, 21 K, 5 BB, .125 AVG, 0.78 WHIP, 8 games

Previous winners: RHP Cody Anderson (April)

Class A (high) Lynchburg

Player of the Month: OF Brad Zimmer
Stats: .296/.402/.472/.874, 4 HR, 10 XBH, 13 RBI, 27 R, 16 BB, 12 SB, 29 games

Previous winners: Zimmer (April)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Adam Plutko
Stats: 1.38 ERA, 26 IP, 28 K, 2 BB, .196 AVG, 0.77 WHIP, 4 starts

Previous winners: Plutko (April)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: 2B Claudio Bautista
Stats: .364/.417/.527/.944, 3 HR, 9 2B, 21 RBI, 10 BB, 4 SB, 40 H, 19 R, 26 games

Previous winners: None (April)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Nick Pasquale
Stats: 0.79 ERA, 11.1 IP, 11 K, 1 BB, .205 AVG, 0.79 WHIP, 6 games

Previous winners: RHP Dace Kime (April)

—————————-

Month in review: April

–JB

Corey Kluber, Command, and Living on the Edge

77KluberBy: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB

At this point, there’s little doubt that if Corey Kluber isn’t the very best pitcher in the world, then he isn’t far from it. He’s established himself as one of the few hurlers in the game who is must-watch television every time he takes the mound, and it’s possible he’s still improving. Coming off an otherworldy second half of the 2014 season that earned him an American League Cy Young Award, all Kluber’s done is improve his strikeout, walk, home run, ground ball, and swinging strike rates, while adding about half a tick to his average fastball velocity.

Not that you need the numbers to understand what company Kluber surrounds himself with, but since the start of 2014, he leads all pitchers in WAR, with a full two wins separating him from the guy in third place. Only Clayton Kershaw boasts a better FIP than Kluber over that span.

It’s gotten to the point where it feels like we’ve run out of ways to talk about how good Kluber really is and what makes him so dominant, and if that’s the case, it means we’ve started to take him for granted. We should always avoid taking the truly remarkable for granted in life, so let’s find a new way to appreciate Corey Kluber.

* * *

A couple years back, over on FanGraphs.com, Bill Petti and Jeff Zimmerman started tracking something called Edge%, which is exactly what it sounds like. Using PITCHf/x data, they found all the pitches that were thrown to the edges of the strike zone, and how often each pitcher threw there.

It’s intuitive that the ability to repeatedly work around the edges and corners of the strike zone is a plus. If you have an understanding of baseball, you have an understanding of this concept. It isn’t necessarily a skill that all great pitchers need to have — some guys make their living by getting hitters to chase out of the zone, while others can get away with pounding the heart of the plate — but it’s something that serves as an indicator of a pitcher in command.

It’s also typically an indicator of a certain type of pitcher. Using Petti and Zimmerman’s data, I made a leaderboard of the 10 starting pitchers who have most often worked around the edges of the strike zone, since the start of the 2014 season:

  1. Phil Hughes, 32.9%
  2. Mark Buehrle, 29.8%
  3. David Price, 29.7%
  4. Nathan Eovaldi, 29.4%
  5. Bartolo Colon, 29.2%
  6. Jordan Zimmermann, 29.0%
  7. Corey Kluber, 28.9%
  8. Clayton Kershaw, 28.9%
  9. Wei-Yin Chen, 28.8%
  10. Madison Bumgarner, 28.7%

Up at the very top, we find two guys that I’d wager nobody reading this post is surprised to see. Hughes and Buehrle are two of the most prolific and notorious low velocity strike-throwers in baseball — guys who work around the edges by necessity. Joining them in that mold are friends Colon and Chen. And although Eovaldi and Zimmermann possess elite velocity, each tend to favor a more contact-oriented approach, not dissimilar from the Hughes’ and Chen’s of the world.

So, on this leaderboard, perhaps unsurprisingly are six of the game’s most effective contact pitchers. Six contact pitchers, in Hughes, Buehrle, Eovaldi, Colon, Zimmermann and Chen, and four of the most dominant pitchers on the entire planet, in Price, Bumgarner, Kershaw and Kluber.

Some pitchers are contact guys. Some pitchers are swing-and-miss guys. It’s when the swing-and-miss guys can pitch like the contact guys that you wind up with the best of the best. When the swing-and-miss guys can pitch like the contact guys, you find yourself a Clayton Kershaw or a Corey Kluber.

* * *

With that in mind, I wanted to do what I could to gain a sense of Kluber’s ability to command his pitches, and how he uses that ability to work around the edges to his advantage. Gauging a pitcher’s command can be a tough thing to do, because it’s not something that can be quantified, but, really, what else can we do here in our time on Earth but give everything our best effort?

Inspired, as I often am, by some previous work done by Jeff Sullivan, I took to the video of Kluber’s most recent start with the intent of creating some illuminating images. I decided I’d watch an inning of Kluber’s pitches, focusing on where the catcher’s glove was set, and where the pitch wound up. I picked an inning completely at random, the fourth, which ended up being a convenient inning to pick, because Kluber needed just eight pitches and I was making the images as I went along. Hooray for inadvertently saving time!

The events which transpired in the inning are as follows: Jay Bruce, double. Brayan Pena, fielder’s choice. Zack Cozart, groundout. Skip Schumaker, strikeout. Also, I feel it necessary to note that the pitch locations shown below each .gif were generated using BaseballSavant.com.

Let’s now attempt to learn something from just eight Corey Kluber pitches:

Pitch #1: 0-0 sinker

Kluber1

BS_1_opt(1)

Kluber and Perez begin the inning by setting up with a sinker, low and away, to Bruce. Kluber hits his spot, but the pitch’s seven inches of natural armside run carry it a bit out of the strike zone. This is, more or less, exactly what Kluber wanted to do with this pitch. If Bruce swings, it’s either a whiff or weak contact. If he doesn’t, Kluber either catches the corner of the plate or falls behind 1-0, which is far from the worst result in the world when Jay Bruce is leading off an inning against a righty.

Pitch #2: 1-0 cutter

Kluber2

BS_2_opt(1)

Here’s the one mistake pitch Kluber makes in the inning. Even Corey Kluber makes mistakes! After falling behind 1-0 to Bruce, Perez wants a cutter low and inside, on the part of the plate to which Kluber almost exclusively throws his cutter. It’s a comfort pitch for Kluber, the pitch he commands better than any other, but he leaves this one a bit up in the zone and, breaking into the barrel of Bruce’s bat, he sends it into right field for a double.

Pitch #3: 0-0 sinker

Kluber3

BS_3_opt(1)

Here, Kluber and Perez just want a sinker to go for a strike. With the leadoff man on base, they’re just looking for a quick out, and they get it here. The pitch starts out over the inner-third and runs towards the plate, jamming Pena as he weakly rolls over to first base. This is the second-biggest miss Kluber makes all inning, which is saying something, because he barely missed at all.

Pitch #4: 0-0 sinker

Kluber4

BS_4_opt(1)

Perfect pitch. Perez sets up for a sinker low-and-away and Kluber executes with remarkable precision. PITCHf/x thought the pitch was a strike, the home plate umpire didn’t. Doesn’t really matter. This is exactly where Kluber and Perez wanted this pitch to be.

Pitch #5: 1-0 sinker

Kluber5

BS_5_opt(1)

Another perfectly-commanded sinker. Perez essentially tells Kluber to throw the same pitch he threw last time, just a couple inches up so that if Cozart takes again, they actually get the call this time. Kluber starts the sinker outside the zone and runs it into the outer-third, and Cozart weakly grounds out to third.

Pitch #6: 0-0 sinker

Kluber6

BS_6_opt(1)

Nailed it. Perez sets up for a sinker on the outer half and Kluber puts it right where the glove is. Pretty similar to the first pitch of the inning. Schumaker reaches out and makes contact, but with the location and the movement, it’s an impossible pitch to square up. This ball, when contacted, almost never goes for a hit. Schumaker weakly fouls it off towards the Indians dugout and falls behind in the count.

Pitch #7: 0-1 curveball

Kluber7

BS_7_opt(1)

Enough with the contact stuff. Kluber has finally gotten ahead of a batter, and now it’s time to put him away. Perez sets up for a low curveball, and Kluber delivers. He probably wanted this pitch to be just a bit lower, but given the insane movement this pitch has, he’s got some room for error. Schumaker again fouls it off, and is quickly behind 0-2.

Pitch #8: 0-2 curveball

Kluber8

BS_8_opt(1)

You can ignore where Perez sets up here. On an 0-2 curveball to Skip Schumaker, the intent is clear. Perez helped make it clearer by motioning to Kluber before the pitch:

PerezDown

Where they wanted the curveball was in the dirt. Where they got the curveball was in the dirt. Skip Schumaker doesn’t stand a chance against this pitch. No hitter in baseball stands a chance against that pitch.

* * *

This has been an inning with Corey Kluber’s command. Kluber made eight pitches and recorded three pretty easy outs. He made one real mistake, and it turned into a double. Around that mistake are seven pitches that, more or less, were spotted perfectly every time. Kluber worked around the edges throughout the inning, keeping the ball down on almost every pitch while avoiding the heart of the plate.

I’m being completely honest with you when I say I chose this inning totally at random, with no prior knowledge of what Kluber might have done. It ended up being almost a perfect inning, and surely Kluber isn’t always this sharp, but that’s also kind of the point. Sometimes, when you choose a Corey Kluber inning at random, you wind up with an eight-pitch frame that somehow includes both an extra-base hit and a strikeout. Sometimes, you get an inning where he never misses his spot by more than a handful of inches on any given pitch. Given those two sentences alone, Kluber’s separated himself from the majority of pitchers in the world.

The movement on Kluber’s stuff is what allows him to pile up strikeouts and makes him one of the most aesthetically pleasing pitchers in the game to watch. That’s the obvious part. The command, like we saw in this inning, is what keeps his walk rates among the best in the league. The command is what allows him to consistently work deep into ballgames, which, by proxy, helps pile up the gaudy strikeout totals. The command is what allows Kluber to consistently work around the edges as well as almost any pitcher in baseball. The command is, perhaps, the underrated part of Kluber’s game, if he has one. The two put together — the command and the movement — is what makes Corey Kluber as dominant of a pitcher as this game has to offer.

“In our game of baseball, more often than not, the mom is usually the mom and the dad”

Terry FranconaBefore Sunday’s Mother’s Day game against the Twins, Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if there was a memory that stood out about his mom, Roberta. She passed away years ago after a battle with breast cancer, so this day gives Francona a chance to reflect each year. He shared a fun story from his childhood with reporters. Here’s the tale in his own words:

“I lost my mom a long time ago, so it gives me a chance to reflect, which I appreciate. But then it also gives me a chance to celebrate. I’ve got a daughter that’s now a first-time Mother’s Day recipient. So, that’s a pretty cool thing. In our game of baseball, more often than not, the mom is usually the mom and the dad.

“Probably my favorite story of all about my mom was … when I was 10 or 11, they used to have this thing called the Phillips 66 — remember that was the gas station back then? — they used to have this thing called the pitch, hit and run contest. And my dad was gone that summer and we couldn’t go. You had to throw a baseball into a net — like from the mound. You had five throws into a net. You threw the ball up and hit it. It was almost like punt, pass and kick. So, my mom got a bucket, put cement in it and we put a fishing net [in it]. I practiced for months on my own, because my mom couldn’t catch to save her life.

“And we went down there, me and my mom were sitting in the front row getting ready for it. All the dads were like telling their sons all this, ‘Get your arms up,’ and all this [crap]. The competition starts, man, and I beat everybody’s [butt]. And then they disqualified me, because my dad was a Major League player. I hadn’t seen my dad in three months. My mom was so upset. She was so upset that we’re driving home, right? And she was crying. You know when you’re tearing up when you’re so mad? She’s grabbing the wheel and she was going to take me to get ice cream. And I said, ‘Mom, we don’t have to go to Ohio to get ice cream.’ We were across the line. Maybe that’s where I got that from. She was so [ticked].

“For years, it was the funniest story ever. If you look, there was a disclaimer. I’m not sure why the hell it mattered. I hadn’t seen my dad in three months. I was heartbroken, man. And I kicked everybody’s [butt]. I practiced [so much]. It was a little disclaimer like, if you were a kid of one of their employees or a son of a Major Leaguer. Who in the hell thought of that? I hadn’t seen him since February.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all the great moms out there.

–JB

Month in review: April

17489930-standardBefore Friday’s game at Progressive Field, music was blaring in the Indians’ clubhouse. Reporters had to request that the volume be reduced for a moment in order to conduct an interview. The point is this: one day after a rough loss to Toronto, the Tribe had good vibes flowing through the clubhouse.

After all, it was May 1. That alone was reason for optimism.

“I don’t ever want this place to be a morgue,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And that’s hard I think for fans to understand. They want to see the players grumpy and moping. Believe me, we care. But when you show up the next day, it doesn’t help to mope about last night’s loss. If I thought there was a way it helped, we’d do it. … When you show up the next day, it’s got to be the next day. Sometimes, that’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Or, when you show up the next month, it needs to be the next month.

“April’s over,” Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall said with a smile after a 9-4 win on Friday night.

For the second season in a row, April was not a memorable month for Cleveland. A fitting image for the way things went came when Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley accepted their Silver Slugger Awards a few weeks ago. Gomes (sidelined for six-to-eight weeks after a knee sprain on April 11) was on crutches and Brantley was out of the lineup that day due to a nagging back issue.

Cleveland lost Gomes to the injury, saw Carlos Carrasco take a line drive off the jaw (it only cost him a handful of days, thankfully) and dealt with rough starts from key players such as Michael Bourn, Jose Ramirez and Brandon Moss, among others. While the rotation had flashes of its great potential, the bullpen struggled and runs were scarce for the first four weeks.

“It’s early, but we can’t say that forever,” Indians outfielder David Murphy said after a loss in Detroit last month. “We don’t want to be in a situation that we were last September. And, you don’t want to have to think back to April and think, ‘Well, if we just would’ve picked up this win here or there.’ There’s definitely a sense of urgency.”

With the arrival of May, Cleveland will try to put the first month in the past, while attempting to chip away at the deficit created by the hot starts by the Tigers and Royals.

Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…

Overall: 7-14
Record at home: 2-7
Record on road: 5-7

Offense (AL rank)

.238 AVG (13)
.302 OBP (10)
.373 SLG (11)
.675 OPS (11)
79 R (t-12)
168 H (t-12)
19 HR (t-8)
56 XBH (10)
77 RBI (12)
10 SB (11)
66 BB (8)
139 K (2)
263 TB (11)
1.4 WAR (11)

Notes: It was an anemic month for the Indians, who scored their fewest runs in a single month since plating only 77 in April of 2010. Prior to that, the next occurrence of 79 or fewer runs in a non-strike-shortened season was June 1991 (69). June of 1991 is also the last time Cleveland had 79 or fewer runs with an OPS of .675 or lower. That June, the Tribe had a .589 OPS. Oof.

Pitching (AL rank)

7 wins (t-14)
4.54 ERA (11)
4.88 rot. ERA (11)
4.03 rel. ERA (8)
4 saves (t-10)
184.1 IP (13)
17 HR (t-4)
74 BB t-11)
202 K (2)
.273 AVG (14)
1.46 WHIP (14)
3.53 FIP (4)
2.5 WAR (5)

Notes: This marked the first time since Sept. 2003 that the Indians had no more than seven wins and an ERA of 4.54 or better. This marked only the second time in team history that the club registered 200-plus strikeouts, but only won seven or fewer games. The only other time that happened was — shield your children’s eyes — August of 2012. I don’t need to remind you that the Tribe went 5-24 that month, right? Right. Didn’t think so.

Player of the Month: OF Michael Brantley
Stats: .339/.381/.458/.839, 7 2B, 7 RBI, 6 R, 4 BB, 3 K, 20 H, 15 games

Notes: Brantley missed a handful of games in early April with a back issue, but returned strong enough to fashion a solid month for the Tribe. He is the only Indians batter in the past 12 years to have a month with at least four walks, no more than three strikeouts and 20-plus hits. He also did that in Sept. 2012. The last Indians player other than Brantley to do so was Victor Martinez in Sept. 2003. v-Mart also had an .839 OPS that month. The last player to do that for the Tribe with at least a .458 slugging? Tony Fernandez in 1997.

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Trevor Bauer
Stats: 2-0, 1.80 ERA, 25 IP, 28 K, 13 BB, .174 AVG, 1.12 WHIP, 4 starts

Notes: Prior to Bauer, only six Indians pitchers had enjoyed an undefeated month that included at least 28 strikeouts, an ERA of 1.80 or lower and an opponents’ average of .174 or better. Bauer makes it seven. The others: Corey Kluber (June 2014), Cliff Lee (April 2008), Gaylord Perry (May and June 1974), Luis Tiant (Sept. 1968), Sonny Siebert (Aug. 1965) and Bob Feller (April 1939).

Reliever of the Month: LHP Nick Hagadone
Stats: 2.16 ERA, 8.1 IP, 11 K, 5 BB, .188 AVG, 1.32 WHIP, 10 games

Notes: It wasn’t a stellar month for the bullpen, but Hagadone had a solid showing for the Indians. He joined John Axford (July 2014), Vinnie Pestano (May 2011), Paul Assenmacher (Sept. 1997) and Derek Lilliquist (July 1992) as the only relievers in team history with 10-plus games, 11-plus strikeouts and a 2.20 ERA or better in no more than nine innings in a single month.

Game of the Month (hitter): OF Brandon Moss
April 24 at Tigers: 3-for-5, 2 HR, 1 2B, 7 RBIs, 10 total bases

Notes: Moss became the 15th player (18 times) to have at least two homers, seven RBIs and 10 total bases in a single game. The previous two occurrences were Lonnie Chisenhall (June 9 last year against Texas) and Shin-Soo Choo (Sept. 17, 2010 against the Royals). The last player to have such a game for Cleveland against Detroit was Bill Glynn on July 5, 1954.

Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Trevor Bauer
April 9 at Astros: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R/ER, 5 BB, 11 K, 78 Game Score

Notes: Bauer became the only Major League pitcher since at least 1914 to give up no hits and record 11-plus strikeouts in an outing lasting no more than six innings. He joined Len Barker (May 15, 1981), Dennis Eckersley (May 30, 1977) and Bob Feller (April 30, 1946) as the only pitchers in Cleveland history to give up no hits with at least 11 strikeouts in a start.

———————————————————————————–

Minor League standouts for April

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: OF Tyler Holt
Stats: .328/.438/.393/.832, 3 XBH, 4 RBI, 12 BB, 12 R, 5 SB, 19 games

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Bruce Chen
Stats: 1.08 ERA, 25 IP, 17 K, 1 BB, .155 AVG, 0.56 WHIP, 4 starts

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Ollie Linton
Stats: .280/.400/.340/.740, 3 2B,  2 RBI, 8 R, 7 BB, 5 SB, 15 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cody Anderson
Stats: 1.13 ERA, 24 IP, 18 K, 4 BB, .235 AVG, 1.00 WHIP, 4 starts

Class A (high) Lynchburg

Player of the Month: OF Brad Zimmer
Stats: .357/.452/.586/1.038, 4 HR, 8 XBH, 11 RBI, 15 R, 10 BB, 10 SB, 19 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Adam Plutko
Stats: 1.14 ERA, 23.2 IP, 19 K, 3 BB, .148 AVG, 0.63 WHIP, 4 starts

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: None
Stats: .191/.270/.281/.551 combined for the team

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Dace Kime
Stats: 1.85 ERA, 24.1 IP, 25 K, 3 BB, .218 AVG, 0.90 WHIP, 4 starts

–JB

Fagerstrom: Salazar looking like a real starter now

Salazar422By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB

Take a moment to think about what you know of Danny Salazar, the pitcher. Maybe even close your eyes and visualize a typical Salazar pitch, if you will.

Did you see it? It was a fastball! Elevated, around 97 mph. Salazar throws hard, and he keeps it up in the zone. If there’s one thing you know about Salazar, it’s that. OK, visualize another pitch.

Fastball again! This one got a whiff! Salazar throws his fastball a whole bunch. For his career, three of every four pitches have been a fastball. He throws hard enough to where he gets a lot of swings-and-misses, but, boy, that’s a lot of fastballs. More than just about any starter in baseball, in fact. Onto another pitch.

Split-change! It started at the knees and ended in the dirt. The batter either chased, and whiffed, or didn’t, and it was a ball. You decide. This isn’t a real at-bat, you know. Let’s visualize one more Salazar pitch.

Another fastball! And, aw, shoot. This one went for a dinger. The hitter — let’s call him, I don’t know, say, Yelmon Doung — was sitting fastball all the way and parked it about halfway up the left field bleachers at Progressive Field. Salazar starts the next hitter off with a fastball because, hey, what can you do?

* * * * *

This is the Salazar we’ve come to know. The Salazar we’ve come to know has those two pitches, and not much else. There’s been a slider hanging around, too, but it’s a pitch that’s done more bad than good. It’s a pitch that’s seemingly stuck around only out of necessity, as Salazar needed something beyond just a four-seam fastball to get right-handed hitters out.

This isn’t meant to be a knock on Salazar as a pitcher and the innings he’s given the Indians. Since Salazar made his debut in 2010, he’s made 33 starts and thrown 181 innings — conveniently, about a full season’s worth of work — and has produced 3.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. That’s quality, above-average production, and his 27.8 K% — sandwiched between Matt Harvey and Chris Sale on the leaderboard — makes him one of the more electric starters in baseball.

Yet, all this time, watching Salazar, it’s always felt like there’s been one thing missing that’s kept him from making that jump to the next level. Despite all the success, he’s still the same guy who got sent back to the minors for two months in May last year, and who opened there this season. Each time Salazar has struggled, cries have come out from many fans to move him to the bullpen. He’s better suited to be a late-inning reliever, people say. I’ve always been quick to reject this notion, as even back-end starters can provide teams more value than the most dominant late-inning relievers, but it’s easy to see where the critics were coming from.

Salazar is a guy who throws gas, and a guy who’s relied on his gas in a way you typically only see relievers do. That’s because he’s only ever had one other effective pitch — the split-change, a pitch that serves as a way of getting opposite-handed hitters out. His slider has never done its job of getting same-handed hitters out, and because of that, Salazar has ran some nasty reverse-platoon splits in his career. He’s held lefties to a dominant .642 OPS. Righties, on the other hand, have tagged Salazar for a .784 OPS.

It’s due to these struggles against righties that Salazar has had troubles turning lineups over and pitching deep into ballgames. It’s due to these struggles against righties that, despite the electric stuff and above-average results, one could imagine a future in bullpen for Salazar if he wasn’t able to figure out a way to retire same-handed hitters. Two-pitch pitchers just aren’t able to stick as starters in the Majors, more often than not. To date, Salazar’s been a starter getting by with a reliever’s arsenal, and, usually, that can only last for so long.

Now, take a look at this, from Wednesday night’s game:

Salazar.Gordon.CB

That’s a first-inning curveball, at 82mph, for a swinging strike to Alex Gordon. Ignore the fact that it isn’t against a same-handed hitter, which we’ve identified as the problem. It’s a Danny Salazar curveball, and that’s what’s important. And it looks pretty good.

In Salazar’s 2013 debut, he made 10 starts, and threw zero curveballs. In 2014, he made 20 starts, and threw three curveballs. In 2015, he’s made three starts, and thrown 23 curveballs. On Wednesday alone, he threw 14 — more than he’d thrown in his entire Major League career to date.

Immediately following that start, I tweeted this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.19.58 PM

This is something new for Salazar, and the early results are encouraging. The big thing here is that, if it proves to be effective, he’ll have the weapon to use against same-handed hitters that’s escaped him throughout his career. The other thing is that it gives hitters standing on either side of the plate a third speed to worry about. They all worry about the 95-mph heat. But both the split-change and the slider go around 87. Even the slider, serving as a third pitch, never served as a third speed. Hitters only had to worry about 95 or 87. Now they have to worry about 82.

I’d like to examine a particular sequence from an at-bat from the fifth inning of Wednesday night’s game, against Paulo Orlando. We’ll walk through it with added commentary from the man himself. Let’s begin.

Salazar.1.CB

Salazar starts Orlando off with an 81-mph curve, spotted perfectly below the knees. In Orlando’s first at-bat, he swung at a first pitch fastball, so Salazar decided to keep him off balance.

“His first at-bat, he was pretty aggressive with the fastball,” Salazar said. “He hit a line drive to center field and Michael Bourn caught it. So I knew he was looking for a fastball again. I put that in my mind and I tried to go either curveball or changeup down.”

Salazar.2.CB

Then, Salazar comes back with another curve, this time at 82 and again spotted perfectly. Going back-to-back curves is a new development, even in the midst of a new development.

“I think that’s the first time I’ve thrown back-to-back curveballs,” Salazar said. “I wanted to see if he wanted to swing at it again. And he did.”

Salazar.3.CB

After throwing consecutive curveballs for the first time in his Major League career, he comes back with yet another. This one, 83. This one, spotted perfectly, yet again. I asked Salazar whether going three in a row was more his idea, or more of catcher Roberto Perez’s.

“That was Roberto there,” Salazar said. “Sometimes, if they look bad with one pitch and you see that in the second pitch and they don’t make that adjustment, sometimes you want to try to do it again.”

Salazar.4.FB

Then, the heat. The heat’s still there. The heat will always be there. The interesting thing about the curveball development is that it helps set up the heat. Salazar hasn’t had that in the past. In the past, the heat set up the heat. Now, he’s got a new wrinkle to make his already-deadly heat even more lethal.

“I was trying to put him away there,” Salazar said. “I was ahead in the count and so maybe if he likes that pitch, he’ll swing. If he doesn’t, it’s a ball, and I can still come back and throw a change or a slider or maybe another curveball.”

Salazar.5.CH

And so that’s exactly what he did. After three curveballs at the knees at 82, he went with a fastball at the shoulders at 96, which is unfair. Even more unfair than that, is to follow up the high heat with an 87-mph splitter in the dirt. Typically, a splitter or changeup is more of a putaway pitch for opposite-handed hitters, so I asked Salazar about the decision to use it as a put-away pitch to a righty here.

“My changeup, it goes down — like straight down, not to the sides,” Salazar said. “So I feel comfortable throwing it to both righties and lefties, so that’s what I did.”

* * * * *

Now, granted, Salazar’s thrown 26 curveballs in his career, and I might have shown the best four he’s ever thrown in this one post. Over half of them have gone for balls, and there’s a wild pitch mixed in there too. It’s not like Danny Salazar suddenly has Adam Wainwright’s curveball. But he has one, and it’s improving. He’s trusting it more. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway admitted that it’s being developed as a way to replace the slider as his weapon against right-handed batters, and that the slider had “flattened out” in recent years.

“This Spring Training, he really threw [the curve] a lot and I was like, ‘That looks pretty good,’ and now it’s better than it ever was before,” Callaway said. “Now, it’s a pretty good pitch. We graded it out and it’s a full grade better on PITCHf/x and things like that. We were like, ‘Hey, let’s keep on using it.'”

So, Danny Salazar has a curveball now, and it looks pretty good. And it’s getting better. The slider’s getting phased out, because the slider was always more of a placeholder pitch anyway. Its job was to get righties out, and it didn’t do that. Enter: curveball.

The curveball is there to help get righties out. The curveball is there to give hitters a third speed to worry about. The curveball is there to help Salazar turn lineups over. The curveball is what’s turning Danny Salazar from a starter with a reliever’s arsenal, into a real starting pitcher.

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