Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Sandy Alomar interested in White Sox job “if anyone calls”

DETROIT — Sandy Alomar Jr. knows his name has come up in early speculation about the managerial situation facing the White Sox, but the Indians first base coach has yet to receive a phone call from anyone in Chicago’s front office.

If Alomar’s phone does ring, he is willing to listen.

“I’m definitely interested, if anyone calls,” Alomar said on Tuesday afternoon at Comerica Park. “But, I don’t want to elaborate on stuff like that, though. That’s it. I have nothing else to say.”

On Monday, the White Sox released Ozzie Guillen from his contract as manager of the ballclub and it is expected that he will soon succeed Jack McKeon as manager of the Marlins. That leaves Chicago in the market for a new skipper and Alomar is considered an early front-runner for the job.

Alomar, 44, resides in Chicago and spent parts of five seasons with the White Sox from 2001-06. The former All-Star catcher has never managed at any level, but he is widely respected around baseball for his baseball knowledge and personality.

Last winter, Alomar was on a short-list for the managerial opening in Toronto and Cleveland gave him permission to go through the interview process. After interviewing Alomar multiple times, the Blue Jays eventually hired John Farrell as their new manager.

Alomar said the situation with Toronto helped him a lot.

“Tremendously,” he said. “[I learned] how interviews go about, the process of what they do. [They asked about] what kind of preparation you have and what kind of type of guy you are and how you would treat people and players. That’s the bottom line. You learn so many things.

“How much you know the league and who you’re going to compete against, and what you would do differently, that’s the main thing they asked, but that’s about all I’m going to give you.”

Alomar is in his second season as Cleveland’s first-base coach under manager Manny Acta. Prior to serving as a coach for the Indians — a team he played for from 1990-2000 — Alomar worked as a catching instructor for the New York Mets for two seasons. He played 20 years in the Majors with seven organizations.

Alomar emphasized that he is content in his current role with Cleveland.

“I’m happy with the Indians,” he said. “I don’t want to beat the Indians with the White Sox. I don’t want to right now. I’m with the Indians. … I really don’t know what’s going to happen here. All I know is that I’m here and hopefully we finish second.

“Then, when I go home and relax with my family, if somebody calls me, then we’ll talk. If jobs look for me, that’s fine. I don’t look for jobs.”

~JB

What is ailing Ubaldo?

We can all agree that Roy Halladay is a pretty good pitcher, right? OK. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

In 2004, Halladay was coming off a 22-win, Cy Young season with the Blue Jays. Then, at 27-year-old old, he laid an egg, going 8-8 with a 4.20 ERA in 2005. His season eventually ended with a “dead arm” and people wondering if Doc would ever be the same again.

Well, Halladay’s been just fine since that trying season, going 117-52 with a 2.86 ERA in the years since. Shoot, only a few years ago Halladay had a 10.02 ERA over a four-start stretch that had red flags flying north of the border.

My point is this: even baseball’s best pitchers enduring rough stretches, or even down seasons. Sometimes there are physical explanations, or sometimes it’s a mechanical flaw, or a reduction in velocity, or fading command, or whatever other possibilities exist out there. There are plenty.

Right now, the Indians are trying to figure out what is ailing Ubaldo Jimenez.

Like the good doctor in 2004, Ubaldo is 27 years old, coming off an incredible season (19 wins, 3rd in voting for the NL Cy Young) and only has a handle of solid seasons prior to this one on his resume. The Indians are hoping, praying and begging the baseball gods that Jimenez can have a similar comeback.

Before getting into a pile of Ubaldorithms, it is important to note that the blockbuster trade for Jimenez was not JUST for contending this season. It felt like a “win now” move due to Cleveland’s place in the standings, but this deal was really intended for increasing the chances over 2011-2013.

That said, Ubaldo had a chance to make an immediate impact on the Tribe. He has had an impact, too, just not in the way the Indians had hoped.

To all the Indians fans saying trading for Jimenez was an awful idea, that giving up Alex White and Drew Pomeranz for Ubaldo was a sign of insanity, I’d encourage you to take a step back from the ledge. When in the history of baseball has it been fair to judge a trade after four starts?

White has three big league outings under his belt and is about to make his debut for the Rockies on Tuesday. Pomeranz has zero big league outings to his credit, hasn’t pitched above Double-A and is now likely out for the year after an emergency appendectomy. Who can say whether that duo is the next coming of Curt Schilling-Randy Johnson, or whether they will ultimately flame out? No one knows.

Likewise, there is no way to tell yet whether Jimenez will evolve into the ace Cleveland is envisioning, or whether he will be a bust and set the organization back rather than propel it forward. Time is needed to judge this trade from both sides. So, for now, put the pitchforks and torches down before heading to the ballpark.

It might be far too early to judge this trade, but it’s never too early to look at trends.

Now, I’m not about to look at Jimenez’s four Cleveland starts (1-1, 7.29 ERA, 1.810 WHIP) and jump to all sorts of conclusions. Four starts is too small a sample size. What we can look to are his season as a whole compared to a year ago, or even at his three-year averages to see if there are any patterns.

First off, there is that popular topic of velocity. Jimenez’s pitch speed is down across the board from 2010. It is far to point out that he had early-season injury woes that took some toll, so the average will be down overall as a result. So in this case, let’s look at his Tribe outings.  So far, the velocity averages over four starts have remained down.

In 2010, Jimenez averaged 96.1 on fastballs, 86.6 for sliders, 78.6 for curves and 87.7 for changeups (via fangraphs.com). Overall this year, those numbers have been 93.5, 83.3, 76.7 and 86.3, respectively. In four starts with the Tribe (estimating here based on brooksbaseball.net PitchFX data), his averages have been roughly 93, 83, 78 and 86.

Jimenez and the Indians insist that the pitcher is healthy. Ubaldo even underwent an MRI exam that came back “squeaky clean” (manager Manny Acta’s words) before being traded to Cleveland. A drop in velocity can be common for pitchers as they age, so perhaps Jimenez is dealing with a transitional point in his career.

It is fair to point out that Jimenez has shown the ability to reach back and find something extra so far with the Indians. In Texas, he maxed out at 97.7 mph on his heater. He’s topped 95 mph in each start with Cleveland, too. Jimenez has said that pitch command has been the  biggest issue.

After Sunday’s start in Detroit, Jimenez said the curveball was the primary culprit. On average the breaking pitch had a horizontal break of 3.68 and a vertical break of -3.82. In his first start in Texas (Aug. 5), those numbers on the curve were 7.71/-5.64. In Ubaldo’s no-hitter last year (hey, that’s when a pitcher is at his best, right?), the curve break was 7.02/-6.12. The velo on the curve that day was about the same as it has been up to this point in his time with Cleveland.

Promising numbers can be found in Jimenez’s BB/9 (3.7 in both 2010 & 2011), K/9 (8.7 in ’10 & 8.8 in ’11) and K/BB (2.33 in ’10 & 2.37 in ’11) ratios. The difference has been in the H/9 average. That has climbed to 9.3 from 6.7 a year ago. As a result, Jimenez’s BaBIP has jumped to .325 this year compared to .274 last season.

So, what gives?

 Well, over the past few years, Ubaldo has been throwing fewer first-pitch strikes (56.5% in 2010 and 53.9% in 2011) and missing fewer bats. His swinging-strike percentage has steadily decreased from 9.6 to 9.1 to 7.7 in each of the past three seasons. Predictably, hitters’ contact percentage against him has climbed from 77.3 to 78.2 to 81.6 over the past three years.

If you throw fewer first-pitch strikes, you’re going to fall behind in the count more often. As a result, a pitcher can’t expand the zone as  much, needs to throw over the plate and now the hitters have the upper hand. Ubaldo has thrown 45% of his pitches in the strike zone this year, up from 44.8 in 2010.

It might also be worth noting that Jimenez has thrown lower percentages of fastballs (61.4 in 2010 and 60.6 in 2011), sliders (15.4 in ’10 and 13.3 in ’11) and curveballs (9.3 in ’10 and 7.8 in ’11) this year. Changeups, on the other hand, have increased. That offering was featured 13.8% of the time a year ago, but is now worked in 18.4% of the time. The slider has been virtually non-existent over Ubaldo’s last three outings.

Know that Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and his front-office team craves statistical information. They have access to all the numbers I just gave you, plus even more detailed data that I can’t just hop online and find. The Indians knew the risk involved when they dealt for Jimenez, but the team also knew the upside of the deal.

This much is clear: Jimenez is not  the same pitcher right now that he was a year ago. All the superlatives in the world can’t hide that reality. That said, Jimenez is still a bonafide star with ace potential. That much can’t be denied, either. The Tribe’s job now is to figure out what has gone wrong and what can be done to fix the problem.

In the meantime, keep your fingers off that panic button.

~JB

Do the math…

What’s it going to take for the Indians to come out on top in the race for the American League Central?

Obviously, there’s no way to predict what is going to take place over the next six weeks, but we can take a look at what has happened to this point… and then break out the abacus.

Inspired by the back page of one of the Chicago papers earlier this week, I decided to sit down and crunch some numbers to determine the Tribe’s chances of capturing the division crown. As things stand right now, the Tigers (66-58) are in first with a winning percentage of .532. If that holds, Detroit would finish 86-76.

That being the case, Cleveland would need to go 25-16 over its final 41 games in order to achieve 87 wins, taking the division title outright. Given the Indians’ win-loss output to this stage in the game, the team needs to catch fire and a few breaks in order to piece together a winning streak.

No matter how you slice it — based on what has happened so far — the Tribe does not look like an 87-win team. Entering tonight’s game in Detroit, Cleveland is 62-59 and on pace for an 83-win finish. Somehow, the Indians needs to find out how to pick up four extra wins.

Perhaps having five more home games than road games can help?

Consider that the Indians have gone 33-25 at home (.569 winning percentage) and 29-34 on the road (.460) this season. If those percentages hold down the stretch, Cleveland projects to go 13-10 at home and 8-10 on the road. In order to beat that 21-20 finish (making for 83 wins overall), the Tribe needs to pick up the pace on the road.

Maybe the remaining slate of opponents can help?

Consider that the Indians have gone 19-18 (.514) against the AL East, 22-21 (.512) against the AL Central and 10-13 (.435) against the AL West. The Tribe is done seeing the East, so it’s all Central (29) and West (12) from here on out. If the winning percentages hold, Cleveland projects to go 15-14 vs. the ALC and 5-7 vs. the ALW.

That would lead to an 82-win season. That’s not going to cut it.

OK, well, maybe then, we should look at the specific teams left on the schedule?

The Indians have games left against the Tigers (8), White Sox (8), Twins (7), Royals (6), Mariners (5), A’s (4) and Rangers (3). Up to this point this season, the Tribe’s winning percentages against those teams, in that same order, are as follows: .600, .300, .455, .667, 1.000, .667 and .143.

Again, if those percentages were to hold, the Indians would finish with a 22-19 record down the stretch, which would make for an 84-78 finish. That’s getting closer to the end goal, but still falls a bit short.

Obviously, all these winning percentages will move up and down over the next 41 games. There is no way that they will all remain fixed as they stand right now. But, this at least shows that the Indians need to find a few extra wins in order to exceed the projections based on production to this point.

Can they do it? Definitely. But it won’t be easy, especially with 18 games in the final 16 days as part of a 45-game in 44 days stretch to finish the year. Say this about this season’s Indians, though, they always seem to pull themselves back into the mix after it looks like they’ve hit a wall.

One solid winning streak is all it might take.

~JB

First-Half Grades

It begins on Thursday. I’ll hop in an early a.m. taxi, head to the airport, catch a flight to Baltimore, and welcome the season’s second half. It’s hard to believe we’re already at baseball’s midpoint.

As has been customary on this blog over the past few years (when I covered the Blue Jays), it’s time to pass out the Bastian’s Midseason Report Card for the ballclub. There’s no specific metric I follow to arrive at these grades. I go by the general numbers, but also by what I’ve seen first-hand.

Before we dive into all that, though, I can now shed some light on where I’ve been over the past week and a half or so. One Twitter follower asked me why I was taking time off and where I was going, and I replied that it was top secret. I wasn’t kidding. It really WAS top secret. The MLBastian clan was all heading to Colorado to throw my dad a surprise 70th birthday party.

With my siblings and I scattered around the country, rare is the opportunity to have all of us, and our kids, in the same room at the same time. So after months of planning, we pulled off quite the feat. We all were at the airplane hangar where my dad flies cessnas when he arrived on the morning of July 6. He didn’t see it coming.

So I took a week to see the old man, visit with my brother and sisters, and their kids, and stepped away from baseball to focus on family. Now that my extended All-Star break is over, however, it is time to get back to ball. The Indians are within sniffing distance of first place and the second half is upon us.

Let’s get to those first-half grades. And as an added bonus, I’ve added a category called “Fun with Splits,” which takes a look at some odd numbers within the numbers for each player.

For grades, I went with hitters with a minimum of 60 at-bats and pitchers with at least 12 innings. That means Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phelps, Ezequiel Carrera, Luis Valbuena, Josh Judy and Zach McAllister get incompletes. For fun with splits, I also excluded Adam Everett, Jeanmar Gomez, Alex White and Justin Germano.

On with it already…

FIRST-HALF GRADES

Hitters

Player: SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Grade: A
Comment: Steady at the plate and solid in the field. Played like an All-Star in the first half and was easily the team’s MVP.
Fun with splits: Keep AC in the No. 2 hole. When batting second, he’s hit .310 (84-for-271). In the Nos. 3-4 spots, Cabrera hit only .241 (21-for-87) in the first half.

Player: DH Travis Hafner
Grade: A
Comment: Has been Cleveland’s Renaissance Man this year. The Tribe has been a much better team with him in the heart of the lineup.
Fun with splits: Pronk comes out to play when runners are in scoring position. With RISP, Hafner posted a 1.436 OPS in the first half. With a man on first? Only .554.

Player: OF Michael Brantley
Grade: B
Comment: Inconsistent at times, but has proved to be one of the Tribe’s more reliable hitters (not to mention a solid defender) within this year’s enigmatic offense.
Fun with splits: Brantley’s production has decreased as baserunners have advanced. His averages with a man on first, a man on second or a man on third are .364, .316, .000, respectively.

Player: C Carlos Santana
Grade: C+
Comment: Santana’s power production brings his overall grade up. Without the pop, the first half would’ve been a full-fledged flop.
Fun with splits: CSan’s power has come with sporadic performance. From the left side, he’s hit .207, but has averaged 1 homer per 20.3 plate PAs. From the right side, he has a .281 average, but has only 1 homer in 111 PAs.

Player: 2B Orlando Cabrera
Grade: C
Comment: There has definitely been inconsistency at the plate, but OC definitely brings something to the clubhouse. You can’t quantify it, but it’s there. Trust me.
Fun with splits: Tribe fans have been hard on Cabrera. Maybe his .204 average in 41 games in front of the home audience is to blame. On the road, he’s hit .295.
Fun with splits II: What a difference one pitch makes. OC has hit .327 on the first pitch, .233 on a 1-0 count and .375 on a 2-0 count.

Player: OF Grady Sizemore
Grade: C
Comment: Got off to a strong start, and has been solid enough in the field, but his offense has dropped off between two DL stints.
Fun with splits: Say what you will about “clutch” stats, but Sizemore has posted a .894 OPS when the Indians have a lead and a .651 OPS when the team is trailing.

Player: 1B Matt LaPorta
Grade: C
Comment: Both at the plate and in the field, LaPorta has been consistently inconsistent. Flashes of wow and flashes of yow. Tribe is still waiting for him to break out.
Fun with splits: LaPorta has put up an impressive .900 OPS with no outs. But it decreased from there. With one out, he has a .799 OPS. With two? Try a .471 OPS.

Player: OF Travis Buck
Grade: C
Comment: Really, Buck has performed about as well as was expected, given his history. When he’s been in there on a regular basis, he’s looked even better.
Fun with splits: Figure this one out… Buck has hit at a .350 clip with a .850 OPS as a right fielder, but has hit .253 with a .614 OPS as a left fielder.

Player: OF Shelley Duncan
Grade: C
Comment: Fits perfectly as a pinch hitter off the bench. Has been brutally exposed when he’s been in the lineup on a regular basis.
Fun with splits: As a sub, Duncan has hit .500 (4-for-8) with seven RBIs. As a starter, he’s hit .217 (20-for-92) with only 13 RBIs.

Player: C Lou Marson
Grade: C
Comment: Overall, has been inconsistent at the plate, but Marson has delivered some big hits. His strong arm behind the plate ups his grade.
Fun with splits: What’s wrong with batting 8th? In the 7th or 9th spots, Marson has hit .333 and .303, respectively. In the dreaded eight hole, he’s hit just .108.

Player: OF Shin-Soo Choo
Grade: C-
Comment: Choo’s strong arm and solid defense (though the routes are suspect at times) save him from getting a “D” in my book. Tough first half for the Tribe’s star player.
Fun with splits: Choo’s discipline as a hitter has taken a big hit this year. Consider that he’s hit .345 (29-for-84) in one-strike counts compared to .111 (15-for-135) in two-strike counts.

Player: 3B Jack Hannahan
Grade: C-
Comment: Hannahan has been a joy to watch at the hot corner. He was brought in for his defense and he has not disappointed. At the plate? You take what you can get.
Fun with splits: Hannahan has gone against the typical trend in the batter’s box. As a left-handed hitter, he’s batted .328 with a .947 OPS vs. LHP. Against RHP, he’s hit .183 with a .554 OPS. It’s opposite day.

Player: INF Adam Everett
Grade: D
Comment: Before being releases, Everett brought solid veteran leadership to the clubhouse and sound defense to the field. His offense left something to be desired.

Player: OF Austin Kearns
Grade: D-
Comment: It’s been bad, but in my years of covering ball, I’ve seen worse. That’s about all that keeps Mr. Kearns from getting a failing grade for the first half. Adjusting to a pure bench role has not gone well for the veteran outfielder.
Fun with splits: With a runner on first base, Kearns has actually hit .407 with a .948 OPS in 31 plate appearances. In 74 PAs with no one on base, he’s hit .154/.472.

Offense Overall: C

Pitchers

Player: RHP Joe Smith
Grade: A+
Comment: It’s not often I hand out an “A+” but Mighty Joe gets it. No one saw a sub-1.00 ERA at the break coming.
Fun with splits: Smith has heated up with the summer. Over 14 2/3 innings between April and May, he allowed four total runs. In June and July (so far), he’s given up zero runs in 17 innings out of the bullpen.

Player: RHP Justin Masterson
Grade: A
Comment: Toss out the W-L record and look at how solid Bat Masterson has been for the Tribe this season. Critics saying he should be in the bullpen have gone quiet.
Fun with splits: Masterson seems to get stronger as his pitch count rises. From pitches 26-50, batters have hit .339 off Big Nasty. From pitches 76-100, he’s held them to a .143 showing.

Player: RHP Josh Tomlin
Grade: A
Comment: Tomlin has been the picture of consistency and has 10 wins at the break. Has been a rock within the starting staff. 
Fun with splits: Run support doesn’t influence Tomlin’s performance. With 0-2 runs of support, he has a 3.82 ERA (5 starts). With 3-5 runs of support, it’s a 3.80 ERA (7 starts). Tomlin has a 3.82 ERA (6 starts) with 6+ runs of support.

Player: RHP Vinnie Pestano
Grade: A
Comment: If he were closing, he’d surely be in the discussion for the Rookie of the Year. For now, Pestano’s gem of a season is quietly hidden in a setup role to All-Star closer Chris Perez. 
Fun with splits: Hitters have a .733 OPS on a 0-1 count against Pestano, but it’s pure filth after. If they don’t get to him then, on 0-2 counts they’ve hit .000 (0-for-17 with 15 strikeouts).

Player: RHP Chris Perez
Grade: A
Comment: Say what you want about the drama he creates at times, but one thing is for sure: CP gets the job done when it counts. He wouldn’t have been an All-Star otherwise. 
Fun with splits: He takes the mound to Prodigy’s “Firestarter” and he certainly puts out the flames in save situations. Pure Rage has a 0.93 ERA in save situations (19 1/3 IP) compared to a 3.29 ERA in non-save scenarios (13 2/3 IP).

Player: LHP Rafael Perez
Grade: A
Comment: The Silent One has quietly put up a stellar showing to this point. Has been a solid lefty option out of the ‘pen. 
Fun with splits: It means nothing, but Perez has held No. 5 hitters to a .343 OPS, while No. 6 hitters have thrived to the tune of a 1.385 OPS against the lefty.

Player: RHP Carlos Carrasco
Grade: B
Comment: Carrasco has shown flashes of brilliance and was one of the main reasons Cleveland’s turbulent June didn’t completely derail the season. 
Fun with splits: Carrasco has done much better against righties. RHH have hit .210 with a .555 OPS and he has a 6.33 K/BB ratio against them. LHH have hit .315/.868 and that K/BB rate drops to 1.32.

Player: LHP Tony Sipp
Grade: B
Comment: Sipp has been a solid lefty setup man for the Indians’ strong bullpen. A few lapses have taken a toll on his overall stat line. 
Fun with splits: Sipp loves pitching in Cleveland. At home, he has a 1.74 ERA with a 4.00 K/BB ratio. On the road, he’s posted a 4.02 ERA with a 1.56 K/BB rate.

Player: RHP Frank Herrmann
Grade: B
Comment: The Harvard Heat has improved as the season has progressed, giving the Indians with a good multi-inning or middle-relief option. 
Fun with splits: Herrmann performs best when there is a lack of lefties on the agenda. Against righties, he has a OPS against of .385 with no homers allowed. Against lefties, it’s a 1.164 OPS against with four homers yielded.

Player: RHP Alex White
Grade: B
Comment: Called up earlier than expected, and sidelined with a finger injury for more time than anyone would want, White performed admirably in his first brief taste of the bigs.

Player: RHP Jeanmar Gomez
Grade: C
Comment: Gomez has been an outstanding member of the Triple-A Columbus rotation, but has been just so-so in his small sample of Major League outings this season.

Player: RHP Chad Durbin
Grade: C-
Comment: Durbin has his critics, and his showing has certainly been up and down, but he has been a solid veteran leader in the clubhouse and his performance with inherited runners has been fantastic. 
Fun with splits: Relievers don’t get personal catchers, but one split that is glaring for Durbing is hit 2.55 ERA with catcher Lou Marson compared to his 10.07 ERA with Carlos Santana.

Player: RHP Justin Germano
Grade: D
Comment: The Indians gave Germano a shot as a multi-inning/middle relief man as part of the Opening Day bullpen. His struggles knocked him right off the 40-man roster.

Player: RHP Fausto Carmona
Grade: D
Comment: How do you solve a problem like Carmona? When he’s been on, he’s been really on and ace-like. And when he’s been off, well, it’s been nearly unwatchable. Too many starts unraveled out of control in the first half.
Fun with splits: Carmona has gone 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA in eight starts resulting in a win or a no-decision. In his 10 losses, he has a brutal 9.56 ERA.
Fun with splits II: With 6+ runs of support to use to his advantage, Carmona has posted a 10.27 ERA.
Fun wuth splits III: With no one on base, Carmona has held hitters to a .228 average. With the bases loaded, however, hitters are coming through at a .700 rate.

Player: RHP Mitch Talbot
Grade: D-
Comment: Cleveland’s lack of organizational depth, combined with Talbot being out of Minor League options, has saved him from losing his job up to this point.
Fun with splits: Over the first two innings, Talbot has posted an 8.59 ERA, giving up 21 of his 41 runs in those frames. He has put up a 4.95 ERA across innings 3-9.

Pitching Overall: B

Catch you from Baltimore…

–JB

The Pronk Effect

The last few years, Indians fans might argue that Hafner and his once-ailing shoulder were bring the offense down when he was IN the lineup.

This season, Hafner had been healthy and productive, but a fluke batting practice swing sent him to the disabled list for the past month. Now, Cleveland’s offense was hurting with him OUT of the lineup.

Given the extent of the Tribe’s recent woes in the ol’ batter’s box, not many fans would argue that point.

How much of an affect — whether positive or negative — does one player have on a lineup? On Friday, when Hafner was activated from the 15-day DL after rehabbing a strained right oblique, manager Manny Acta was essentially asked that question.

How many other players are affect when one hitter goes down?

“About seven of them,” said Acta, who hardly kidding around. “That’s the way it is. People underestimate how much one hitter changes your whole lineup, especially if it’s a guy in the middle. And a guy like him, as you saw, we moved some guys lower in the order and some guys back there.

“[Having Hafner] helps lengthen your lineup and put people probably in the spots in the lineup where they can relax more and give you a better chance at the backend of your lineup.”

Consider that Hafner hit fifth on a regular basis for the Indians prior to injuring his side during a BP swing on May 18 in Chicago. In 32 games, the veteran DH hit .345 with a .409 OBP and a .958 OPS (his best since going 1.000+ in 2006). While Hafner was out, Acta cycled through seven different No. 5 hitters.

Here are the individual averages and OPS’s for the seven guys (during Hafner’s absence): Shin-Soo Choo (.247/.657), Matt LaPorta (.210/.605), Carlos Santana (.191/.604), Grady Sizemore (.191/.591), Orlando Cabrera (.184/.439) and Shelley Duncan (.176/.489).

I’m no mathematician, but those numbers aren’t stellar.

This is where one might turn to the age-old theory of “pressing.” You can break down the numbers all you want, but there is still a human element to this game. Without Hafner, without his bat and presence in the lineup, it is only natural (especially as a team begins to slump) for hitters to “press” or try too hard.

“It gets to a point where guys are trying to pick up the slack,” Acta said, “instead of just doing their thing and doing it as a team. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is that way. It’s human nature for guys to try to pick up the slack and do more than they’re supposed to be doing.”

Here’s another way to look at things…

In the period of B.P.
(Before Pronk went down)

Record: 26-13
Standings: First (+5)
Average: .271
On-base: .342
Slugging: 433
OPS: .775
Hits per game: 9.4
Home runs: 44 (1.1 p/g)
Runs: 207 (5.3 p/g)
Walks: 138 (3.5 p/g)

In the period of A.P.
(After Pronk went down)

Record: 10-18
Standings: Second (-1)
Average: .220
On-base: .284
Slugging: .336
OPS: .620
Hits per game: 7.1
Home runs: 16 (0.6 p/g)
Runs: 85 (3.0 p/g)
Walks: 71 (2.5 p/g)

So how much of a problem was not having Hafner?

“About three weeks of an issue,” Acta said. “A month, I would say. It’s just tough to substitute a guy like him. We made it clear from the beginning, we can’t afford to lose guys like him and Sizemore or Choo or Asdrubal Cabrera for an extended period of time.

“We know that in order to stay where we’re at, and win, we’re going to have to keep every one of those guys healthy and playing to their capabilities. It showed as soon as he went down.”

The question now is how the Tribe will respond now that Pronk is back.

–JB

May-hem: A look at the last month

If April was about storming out of the gates for the Indians, and trying to create an early gap between themselves and the rest of the division, May was about keeping their heads above water.

Three starters spent time on the disabled list. Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco are back from their respective elbow issues, but prospect Alex White, who filled in admirably, is still out with a right middle finger injury.

The offense absorbed some blows, too. Grady Sizemore — fresh off a 10-month rehab tour from left knee surgery — banged up his right knee and was shelved for two weeks. Travis Hafner took a mighty hack during batting practice in Chicago, and will be out for at least a couple more weeks.

The hits to the rotation and offense made for a month that included plenty of ups, but also some downs. That’s bound to happen throughout 162 games. No team is immune to slumps. Cleveland can at least count itself fortunate that it really did not lose any ground in the division during its recent rough patch.

Now the calendar flips to June and the Indians remain atop the Central.

Earlier this month, manager Manny Acta summed things up this way: “We’re just trying to keep it in perspective that if you win 15 games a month, you’re in pretty good shape. Right now, we’ve got the first two months covered.”

A franchise-record 18 wins came in an amazing and memorable April. Cleveland followed that up with 14 trips to victory lane in May. That’s 32 wins through two months — just over Acta’s goal pace.

And he’s not wrong in his thinking. If the Indians were to average 15 wins per month, that’s a 90-win season. Over the past decade, it’s taken 92 wins on average to claim the Central crown. Two years ago, 87 wins did the trick.

Here’s a glance at the past month as we head into June…

Offense:

108 runs — 12th in the AL
214 hits — 13th in the AL
48 doubles — 9th in the AL
18 HR — t-13th in the AL
105 RBIs — t-12th in the AL
.248 average — 11th in the AL
.314 on-base — 11th in the AL
.380 slugging — 10th in the AL
.694 OPS — 11th in the AL
328 total bases — 13th in the AL

Pitching:

14 wins — 10th in the AL
4.05 ERA — 11th in the AL
3.25 bullpen ERA — 5th in AL
4.42 starters ERA — 13th in AL
1.312 WHIP — 8th in the AL
8-10 — starter’s combined record

Defense:

16 errors (made 13 in April)
12 unearned runs (3 in April)

The Ledger:

Record at home: 7-4
Record on the road: 7-8

Bastian’s May Awards:

Player of the Month: Asdrubal Cabrera
Comment: Cabby gets the nod as my Player of the Month for the second month in a row. And, why not? The man is playing like an All-Star. In May, the Indians shortstop hit .330/.372/.575 with a team-high five homers and 19 RBIs. He mixed in seven doubles and a pair of triples along the way. Vote early and vote often. Cabrera deserves a spot on the All-Star squad.

Pitcher of the Month: Josh Tomlin
Comment: He was the co-Pitcher of the Month for April and Tomlin continued to be solid in what was a turbulent May for the pitching staff. The right-hander went 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts with 16 strikeouts and only two walks over 32 2/3 innings. A 0.888 WHIP for the month? Sign me up for that every five days.

Reliever of the Month: Tony Sipp
Comment: In 10 1/3 innings, all Mr. Sipp did was go 1-0 with a 0.87 ERA, striking out seven and walking one. He has been a reliable left-handed setup man for closer Chris Perez. The trio of Sipp, Rafael Perez and Vinnie Pestano have, statistically, made for the best eighth-nning production in the league.

Rookie of the Month: Vinnie Pestano
Comment: Once again, this is sort of by default. But, hey, Josh “Judge” Judy and Ezequiel “Air” Carrera did make their debuts in May. White also added some rookie flavor to the rotation. But Pestano continued to be a force in the eighth inning, striking out 12 in nine innings of work for the month. He had a 2.00 ERA and had a WHIP of 1.000.

Comeback Player of the Month: Chad Durbin
Comment: Lots of love for the bullpen in this month’s wrap-up. But, that’s because the Tribe’s relief corps was the best aspect of the roster throughout May. The offense and rotation was inconsistent. The bullpen essentially maintained its production from April. Durbin bounced back after a rough first month, though. In 10 May appearances, the veteran went 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA, amassing 12 strikeouts and only two walks over 12 2/3 innings.

Plays of the Month:

1. May 19: The Flip – It came in a loss to the White Sox, but the defensive wizardry turned in by Cabrera might hold up as baseball’s web gem of the year. In the eighth inning in Chicago, Omar Vizquel (how fitting) chopped a pitch up the middle. The baseball glanced off the glove of pitcher Joe Smith and shot to Cabrera’s left. The shortstop’s only play was to reach back and stab at the ball with his bare hand. He did that, and so much more. In one motion, Cabrera grabbed the baseball, dropped to his knees and flipped it behind his back to second baseman Adam Everett. As surprised as anyone else, Everett caught the ball and fired it to first for an unbelievable double play.

Want to watch it? CLICK HERE.

2. May 20: The Drag – Bottom of the eighth inning, Indians and Reds caught in a 4-4 deadlock. Shin-Soo Choo triples with two outs. After an intentional walk to Carlos Santana, Acta calls upon Carrera — promoted from Triple-A that day — to pinch hit. Zeke shocked just about everyone in the stadium when he used a perfectly-executed drag-bunt single to plate Choo. The Indians won 5-4 and Carrera’s first career hit is one he’ll never forget.

3. May 21: The Buck Shot – Tomlin and Homer Bailey locked horns for six scoreless innings in Cleveland before Travis Buck, filling in as the No. 5 hitter and DH for an injured Hafner, played hero for a day. After going 0-for-2 in his first two at-bats, and getting an earful from Acta in the dugout, Buck drilled a two-run homer in the seventh that proved to be the difference in a 2-1 win over the Reds.

4. May 23: The Ejection – In the eighth inning against the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury was ruled saffe on a close play at first base. Indians pitcher Just Masterson clumsily stepped around the bag before hitting it with his foot, but the umpire deemed the base missed before Ellsbury reached. Acta ran out from the dugout and argued the call — a move that his players and the fans in Cleveland enjoyed seeing. Acta was ejected and chants of “Manny! Manny!” rained down as he left the field. Cleveland then scored twice in the eighth to claim a 3-2 win.

Quote of the Month:

“Hopefully people will keep taking us for granted. That’d be nice.” –Indians infielder Adam Everett

–JB

Striking first

If you’ve been following the Indians closely this year, you’ve undoubtedly heard manager Manny Acta go on and on (and on) about the importance of first-pitch strikes.

When asked the difference between this year and last year (as a whole; we all know about that second-half success), Acta is always quick to go back to that favorite topic. First-pitch strikes are up and so is the performance of Cleveland’s pitching staff.

But just how many first-pitch strikes are the Indians shooting for from their arms?

“You always want to be over 60 percent as a staff,” Acta said recently. “If it happens as a staff, you’re in business. It’s tough even to get it as a staff at 60 percent.”

Entering Monday, here’s how the op of the American League looked in that regard:

First-pitch strike percentage
1. Seattle 61
2. Baltimore 60
3. Los Angeles 60
4. Boston 59
5. Chicago 59
6. Cleveland 59
League average: 58

So the Indians are a touch under Acta’s goal of 60 percent. For what it’s worth, last year’s AL postseason teams were each at 58 or higher: Twins (62), Tampa Bay (59), Texas (59) and New York (58). A year ago, Cleveland’s staff was at 56 percent overall for the entire season.

Another area to look at is overall strike percentage. This season, the Indians are doing well in that department as well.

Strike percentage
1. Seattle 64
2. Los Angeles 63
3. Chicago 63
4. Cleveland 63
5. New York 63

Also…

Pitches per plate appearance
1. Tampa Bay 3.72
2. Seattle 3.74
3. Chicago 3.75
4. Cleveland 3.76

Interestingly enough, the Indians are tied for first in the AL with a 73-percent swung-at-strike percentage (percentage of swings at all strikes — simple enough) and with 46-percent rate of swings at all pitches. Plus, Cleveland’s 112 walks were tied for fewest in the AL.

So what does it all mean?

Well, the Indians are peppering the strike zone early and often, drawing swings, inducing contact and minimizing the self-created damage. With one of the league’s top-rated defenses playing behind them, the pitchers are enticing hitters to swing and trusting the plays will be made.

That’s a big reason for the Indians’ strong start.

Good strike percentages don’t always portend low ERA, however. Consider the Oakland A’s (playing in that spacious ballpark), who are below or at league average in strike percentage, first-pitch strike percentage and pitches per PA. In fact, Oakland is tied for the lowest first-pitch K% (56) in the AL at the moment.

And yet, here is the AL ERA and WHIP leaderboards:

AL staff ERA
1. Oakland 2.72
2. Los Angeles 3.33
3. Tampa Bay 3.38
4. Cleveland 3.49
5. New York 3.81

AL staff WHIP
1. Tampa Bay 1.221
2. Los Angeles 1.225
3. Oakland 1.238
4. Cleveland 1.246
5. Seattle 1.298

If you’re curious about Cleveland’s individual strikethrowers, Josh Tomlin is the team’s top performer. He leads the Tribe with a 64-percent first-pitch strike rate (8th in the AL) and a 68-percent strike rate (2nd in the AL). Others: Justin Masterson (56 FPK/64K%), Fausto Carmona (60/63), Carlos Carrasco (61/61), Alex White (60/61) and Mitch Talbot (48/62).

Acta is quick to praise his coaches for the improvement this season.

“Baseball is repetition,” Acta said. “[pitching coach] Tim Belcher and [Bullpen coach] Scott Radinsky deserve as much credit as anybody here. This thing started last year from Spring Training, but it takes time, especially for young guys to buy into it and get it done. They never stopped preaching it. They never got impatient. They just kept at it. The second half of the season we saw some results. Then, the guys, once they see the results, they by into it more and want to do it.

“It was just a very small percentage of first-pitch strikes that  made that huge difference in the second half of the season. They both have been tremendous. They know how to deal with these kids. They’re patient wwhen they have to be patient. They’re straight forward when they have to be straight forward. They do a tremendous job.”

I’m not going to be in KC. I’ll catch up with the team in Chicago on Thursday.

Until then…

–JB

Sizemore has MRI on right knee

CLEVELAND — Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore was not in the lineup and away from the ballpark on Wednesday afternoon.

Sizemore left Progressive Field a few hours prior to Wednesday’s game against the Rays to undergo an MRI exam on his right knee. It is not the same knee that required microfracture surgery last June.

Indians manager Manny Acta indicated that Sizemore jammed his knee while sliding into second base on a play in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s 5-4 win over Tampa Bay. Sizemore remained in the game, but still felt sore on Wednesday morning.

Acta said the MRI was precautionary to give Sizemore “peace of mind” after what he has gone through injury-wise over the past year.

Sizemore, 28, is hitting .282 with six home runs, 10 doubles, 11 RBIs and 15 runs scored through 18 games played with Cleveland this season. He was activated from the 15-day disabled list on April 17.

Last season, Sizemore was limited to 33 games due to a left knee injury that eventually required season-ending surgery on June.

More on Indians.com soon.

UPDATE: MRI results on Sizemore’s knee came back negative (that’s a positive) for structural damage. Acta said Sizemore is considered day to day with a right knee contusion. No word on whether he’ll play on Thursday, but seems doubtful, in my opinion. Check MLB.com for more details.

–JB

“He stole my marble rye!”

Any excuse to quote Seinfeld and I’ll take it. I’ll admit, this one is a bit of a stretch, though.

My train of thought: researching baserunning stats, stolen bases were one area I looked at, made me think of stealing, made me picture that little old lady standing on the New York sidewalk as Jerry ran off with her rye.

Works for me.

But I digress…

I wrote a little bit on this topic last week in an item on Indians.com, but wanted to look a bit further into it for a post on here.

Note from the author: As this season wears on, you’ll probably find me using this space more for analysis every so often rather than daily blog posts. You can follow me on Twitter and read Indians.com for the daily stuff.

Here is a link to the item in question: CLICK HERE.

For those who’d rather stay here and not read the other story, in short, the Indians are being more aggressive on the basepaths this season. This does not mean they are stealing more bases. Rather, the Tribe is taking extra bases at a pretty good clip and that’s played a role in the team’s overall run-scoring ability.

The photo in the post is of my scorebook. That double includes two dots (RBIs). Two batters earlier, there’s a walk and that runner scored from first base on the double (that’s what those two little arcs over second and third base mean). This is an example of the type of aggressiveness Indians manager Manny Acta has emphasized since taking over.

Plenty of people think stolen bases and baserunning aggressiveness go hand and hand.

Not Acta.

“Stolen bases don’t guarantee that you win ballgames,” Acta said. “You can look at every year. The team who leads the league in stolen bases isn’t guaranteed to go to the playoffs or to win.”

Acta does, however, want his basestealer to be successful at a specific rate.

“Over 70 percent,” Acta said. “If you’re not over 70 percent, you’re giving away too many outs and not too many teams have enough guys to do that. If you give me five Jose Reyes’, I’ll run you out of the league. The fact is there’s only one and he’s in New York. You have to have the right guys to do that kind of thing.

“History has shown that because you lead the league in stolen bases, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to go to the World Series and win. I appreciate more guys that take extra bases on a base hit.”

Got it.

Well, for what it’s worth, and it certainly seems to be worth something to Acta, the Indians have a stolen-base success rate of 72 percent, entering Tuesday. Cleveland had swiped 18 (league average is 24) and had been caught seven  times. Acta’s point is made: stolen bases are not top priority.

There is this, however. Baserunners have eventually gone on to score 33 percent of the time for the Indians this year. Only the Royals — at 35 percent — have a better rate of success with its runners among the Tribe’s American League counterparts. The Indians have also run into just 10 outs on the bases — two off the fewest in the league.

So the Indians are being aggressive, but they’re also being smart.

Said Acta: “We worked very hard in Spring Training on going first to third, taking extra bases, and basically telling these guys we have nothing to lose, but a lot to gain. The game has changed a lot. There’s a lot of people that you can challenge, and put pressure on the defense.

“So far, that’s been our motto, just, ‘Go three. Go three. Go three.’ And go from there. Put yourself in scoring position. Everybody here is buying into it.”

More numbers (all entering Tuesday) to back Acta up:

  • Indians have taken 36 bases on either fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks or defensive indifference. The American League average is 31.
  • The Indians have an extra-base percentage of 43. That’s the fifth-best rate in the AL and the league average is 40 percent. What this means is the Tribe  runners have gone more than one base on a base hit or more than two on a double 43 percent of the time.
  • The Indians have gone from first to third or from first to home on a base hit 22 times this year. That is tied for the third-best mark in the AL and the league average is 17.
  • The Indians have scored from first base on a double 14 times this season. That mark is second in the AL and the league average is nine.
  • The Indians have scored from second base on a single on 28 different occasions. That is the best mark in the AL. The league average is 20.
  • Cleveland is averaging 5.00 runs per game, which is the third-best rate in the American League.

Another pearl from Acta: “You can always stop a guy from stealing a base by holding a ball long or calling a pitch out. You can’t stop a guy from going first to third unless you’re taking a chance by playing very shallow in right field and you have a name like Shin-Soo Choo.”

Speaking of which, why do runners keep testing Choo’s arm?

That’s a post for another day.

P.S. Thanks to baseball-reference.com for all the lovely numbers.

–JB

“We have nothing to fear…”

…but Miguel Cabrera.

Well, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Indians manager Manny Acta fears the bat of Miggy Cab anyway. I mean, just ask him…

“They’re not afraid of him,” Acta said, referring to his pitchers. “I am.”

During the recent three-game series with the Tigers, Acta had his pitchers intentionally walk Cabrera three times — twice in first innings. Cabrera also drew another four-pitch walk and was hit by a pitch in the series. It was obvious that Cleveland — well, Acta — preferred to put Cabrera on base than to let him swing the bat.

And, hey, Acta has his reasons.

As a manager for the Nationals and Indians, Acta has encountered Cabrera in three seasons — 2007, 2010 & 2011. In those campaigns, Cabrera has drawn a combined 62 intentional walks. Of those, 13 have come with Acta in the opposing dugout. Granted, Acta saw more of Miggy as a division rival, but that still accounts for 21 percent of his IBBs in those three seasons.

When Cabrera has not been given first base without charge, the slugger has made Acta’s teams pay without mercy. Over 122 at-bats against Acta’s clubs, all Cabrera has done his hit at a .361 clip with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs. This past weekend, he went 5-for-11 in the ABs he was allowed to have for Detroit.

“Miggy has earned that from me,” Acta said of the intentional walks. “He did it to me for years in the National League East when I was there. To me, hands down, he’s our most scary hitter in the American League.”

On Friday, when the Indians pulled off a 9-5 victory over the Tigers, Cabrera went 2-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs. On Saturday, Indians rookie Alex White intentionally walked Cabrera in the first and fifth innings. Both times, there were two outs with a runner on second and first base wide open.

Both times, White retired the next batter, Brennan Boesch, to escape unscathed.

“We’ve taken the approach that we’re not going to let him beat us, even in the first inning,” White explained. “We feel comfortable pitching around him and going after the guys behind him. He’s such a great hitter, there’s no reason to chance anything with a man on second and a base open.

“From the get-go, I understood that we weren’t going to allow him to be the guy that drives in four or five runs against us. That’s what we did. We had to put him on twice. The one time I did pitch to him, I made a mistake and he hit it a long way.”

That mistake wound up as a leadoff homer for Cabrera in the fourth inning.

On Sunday, Cabrera was intentionally walked in the first inning with a man on second base and one out in the books. Justin Masterson then retired the next two batters to make the strategy pay off once again. In the top of the ninth, Indians closer Chris Perez was allowed to face Cabrera with two outs and two runners aboard.

“I’m glad Manny didn’t put his four fingers up,” Perez said. “I probably would’ve shook him off. That’s why I want to play. That’s why I’m out there – to get their best hitter out with the game on the line and two outs.”

Cabrera yanked a pitch into left field for an RBI single. Oh well. The Indians still pulled out a 5-4 victory.

Some off-day notes…

  • Indians DH Travis Hafner is expected to have his right foot re-evaluated on Monday’s off-day in Cleveland. With the Tribe heading out to the West coast Monday night, the team needs to decide whether Hafner should be placed on the DL. If he is, I’d be willing to wager that you’d see that other Travis, Buck, return from Triple-A to help hold down the fort until Pronk returned to 100 percent.
  • Indians RHP Carlos Carrasco (on the DL with an elbow issue) was slated to throw a bullpen session on Monday. Mitch Talbot (ditto) is down to travel with the team out west. His next bullpen is scheduled for Tuesday. If all goes well, he could be at extended spring for a rehab outing on Friday.
  • The Indians have quite the logjam at Triple-A when it comes to infielders. There’s Jason Kipnis at second base, Jason Donald at shortstop and Lonnie Chisenhall at third. But what about Cord Phelps, Luis Valbuena and recently-returned Rule-5er Josh Rodriguez. It says here that Valbuena and J-Rod will see some time in LF and at DH to help spread the playing time. Kipnis and Chisenhall will stay at their positions for the bulk of the time. Phelps and Donald will split up the duties at short. Buck and Chad Huffman are helping out at first base. Wed Hodges and Jordan Brown? Their PT is limited right now and they look like the odd men out.
  • Some Minor League injury updates: SS Tony Wolters (right hand surgery in March) is back on the field and could be game ready by March 10. He’d start at extended to build innings before catching a ride to Class A Lake County.; RHP Jason Knapp is still building up at extended. Expect him to have a cap of around 100 innings this year. That being the case, the Tribe is managing the innings load on the front end of the season. He’ll likely be at Class A Kinston within a few weeks.; Jared Goedert (60-day DL with oblique strain) is playing in extended spring and will likely be headed to Double-A Akron when the time comes to begin his official rehab stint.; LHP Drew Pomeranz is fine after a bout with a tight hamstring.; RHP Bryce Stowell hasn’t pitched yet this year due to some personal matters. Expect him to work his way out of extended spring in the near future.

UPDATE — 5:32 pm ET: The Indians completed a Minor League trade today, sending Brown to the Brewers in exchange for cash considerations. Brown will be assigned to Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. His departure clears room on the Columbus roster for Rodriguez’s return. The Pirates returned the Rule 5 pick to the Indians for a cost of $25,000. Pittsburgh initially paid $50,000 to select him in the Rule 5 Draft in December.

For your reading pleasure…

AC weighs in with an off-day feature: Believers or not, Tribe shattering expectations

I weigh in with the latest Indians Inbox: White on borrowed time with Tribe?

Catch you from Oakland.

–JB

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