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Trevor Bauer’s top-secret curve

BauerGimenez

The answer is never going to be simple.

When you ask Trevor Bauer why something has been working for him, there will always be multiple layers to his response. From biomechanics to spin-rate studies to velocity training, there is always a lot that has gone into whatever topic is at hand. Months or years of training is hard to sum up with one simplified quote.

So, when Bauer was recently asked why his curveball has been so much more effective this year, his answer was predictable.

“There’s a lot of different factors that have gone into it,” Bauer said. “I’ve done a lot of work on it under wraps, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Or, maybe Bauer just knows the real details would require about an hour of discussion.

On the other side of Cleveland’s clubhouse, Chris Gimenez, who has become Bauer’s personal catcher this season, was willing to shed some light on the improved pitch. The way Gimenez explained things, the success behind the curve this year stems from the sequencing with his other pitches, combined with how Bauer has used the breaking ball within the strike zone.

“Honestly,” Gimenez said, “I think his curveball has gotten better because he has thrown more changeups.”

Let’s start there. Since Gimenez began catching Bauer on May 5, the right-hander has thrown 14.1-percent changeups. That’s up from 8.1-percent prior to Gimenez’s arrival (though it’s fair to point out that Bauer was in the bullpen for much of that time). Bauer threw 8.9-percent changeups in 2015.

Gimenez said the key to the changeup has been trying to get the arm speed in line with Bauer’s other pitches.

“I told him, ‘Listen, I don’t want you to try to baby it,” Gimenez said. “You literally need to throw it as hard as possible. And I know that’s something that doesn’t sound right, because a changeup is essentially a change of pace off his fastball. But, you want the arm speed to be the same. That’s what I think he gets in trouble with, is trying to manipulate the ball.”

And that brings us to the curve.

“It’s the same thing with his curveball,” Gimenez said. “He tries to manipulate it to throw it up or down. Throw it as hard as you can. If it’s a certain situation — 0-2, 1-2 — and we want to throw it in the dirt, OK.”

Throwing the curveball in the dirt was Bauer’s go-to approach prior to this year. That pitch was consistently out of the strike zone in 2015, making it easy to eliminate for hitters. When batters reached 0-2 or 1-2 against Bauer, they could spit on the curve, knowing it was almost always a safe bet to drop below the zone.

Here’s a look at Bauer’s heatmap for his curveball in 2015 on 0-2 and 1-2 counts:

BauerCurve2015

And here is Bauer’s heatmap for his total curve usage in 2015:

BauerCBOverall2015

“In the past, guys would wait him out, because he would throw a ton of pitches,” Gimenez said. “So, the goal is to attack the strike zone with everything you have. Throw it as hard as you can. Try to throw his fastball as hard as he can. He grunts. He grunts on his changeup. Those are things he needs to continue to do the exact same, or guys will pick up on it instantly.

“I think, especially in the past, they’d wait him out. If he gets to 3-0, he’s either going to walk you or throw you right down the middle and guys shellacked it. He’s shown signs in the past of being able to attack the strike zone, and that’s what I’ve tried to [talk to him about].”

BauerCurve

In 2015, Bauer threw 26.9-percent of his curveballs inside the strike zone. This year, that percentage has risen to 34.6. What’s been incredible about Bauer’s curve, though, is that it is generating fewer swings. The swinging strike rate has dropped to 13.2-percent this year from 20.5-percent in 2015.

In fact, this is the second straight year that Bauer’s strikeout percentage has climbed with the curve, while the swing rate of batters has dropped against the pitch.

BauerCBThis is where Bauer’s fastball comes in.

“He uses his fastball up very well. That’s where he lives,” Gimenez said. “He’s not a very good at pounding the bottom of the zone. Let’s be honest and call a spade a spade. I tell him all the time, ‘Let’s make what we are good at even better.’ So I told him, for him to be more successful, he’s going to have to throw more curveballs for strikes.

“Every time he’d get 1-2 or 0-2, he’d throw a curveball in the dirt. And he’d be like, ‘Why aren’t they swinging at it?’ Because guys know you’re going to do it. And, out of your hand, everything you throw is up, and that one starts down lower. These are big league hitters. They can see stuff like that.

“He’s got to raise the sight on it. He’ll get a lot of strike threes on curveballs that pop up. Guys are like, ‘No, that’s a ball,’ but he’s got such depth on his. His is the epitome of a 12-6 curveball. He’ll get some strikeouts looking on that. But, what makes his curveball really good is when it starts at the top of that strike zone and it’s either out of the zone or it’s at the very bottom of the zone by the time it gets to me.”

Bauer has followed Gimenez’s lead, too.

Here is a look at Bauer’s curve heatmap on 0-2 and 1-2 counts this year:

BauerCurve2016

And here is Bauer’s curve heatmap for his overall curve usage this year:

BauerCBOverall2016

Compare those to the two heatmaps from last season. It is easy to see what Gimenez is talking about. Bauer’s curveball is finding the lower half of the strike zone more often this year and, when it drops below the zone, it’s often in that in-between zone for hitters. Should they swing or should they wait it out? With two strikes, waiting it out is now a much larger risk than it was in the past.

As the season has worn on, Bauer has turned to his curveball more often:

April: 13.3 percent
May: 14.1 percent
June: 19.9 percent
July: 23.7 percent

It’s hard to blame him, either. Among all MLB pitchers with at least 50 results, Bauer ranks first in opponents’ batting average against a curveball:

1. Trevor Bauer: .075 (5-for-67)
2. Mike Montgomery: .077 (4-for-52)
3. Clayton Kershaw: .079 (6-for-76)
4. Corey Kluber: .082 (8-for-98)

Given that batters have been fooled so much by the pitch to this point this season, it seems probable that they will try to make some adjustments down the stretch. In Bauer’s previous start, for example, while all six of his strikeouts came via the curve, five were swinging strikeouts by Twins batters. There could be more swings against the pitch from here on out.

“Absolutely. Without a doubt,” Gimenez said. “That’s the whole cat-and-mouse game of making the adjustments based on what other people do. I try to tell him every day, ‘Listen, you have four pitches that we can use on a daily basis, that you can get guys out with.’ I don’t want him to be so reliant on one pitch that every single time he gets to two strikes, we’re throwing curveballs. Or, every time, two strikes, we’re throwing fastball in. He needs to be able to recognize that and continue to attack.”

Keep all this under wraps, though, OK?


From Thursday: A look at the relationship between Gimenez and Bauer this year:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

 

 

Covering the Bases: Game 93

Danny Salazar

Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the Royals.

FIRST: One night after an eighth-inning meltdown, the bullpen came up big for the Indians on Tuesday night.

Lefty Kyle Crockett struck out Eric Hosmer in a critical situation in the seventh. Bryan Shaw breezed through an eight-pitch, eight-strike eighth. And Cody Allen worked a drama-free ninth. It was exactly the way you’d draw it up if you were Cleveland.

“Amazing,” Indians starter Danny Salazar said of the bullpen. “I trust these guys. I trust the bullpen.”

The bullpen not only spun 2 1/3 shutout innings, but came up big for Salazar behind the scenes, too.

If you’ll notice in the photo above, that’s Allen’s name stitched into the glove that Salazar is wearing. While he was in San Diego for the All-Star Game, the pitcher accidentally put his glove in the box he was shipping home to Cleveland. Allen, who had a backup glove with him, came through and let Salazar borrow it.

Salazar then turned in a quality start against the Royals.

He might just wear Allen’s glove again.

“If I have to pitch against Kansas City again, I will,” Salazar said with a laugh. “For sure.”

Manager Terry Francona said the Indians “needed a bounceback win” like this one. Twenty-four hours earlier, Cleveland’s bullpen coughed up seven runs in the eighth inning, spoiling a strong effort by Corey Kluber. Shaw and Jeff Manship were behind the mess.

Francona was thrilled to see Shaw, who has been hit with plenty of criticism for the handful of collapses he’s been associated with this season, come back with a strong outing one night later. Shaw struck out Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez, and then induced a groundout back to the mound from Alex Gordon.

“He threw strikes and worked ahead,” Francona said. “I think he wasn’t real pleased with last night, but he was kind of all business out there and that was good to see. I know sometimes you have to answer questions, but we can’t run. We need our guys to get where we want to go. I agree. It was good to see.”

SECOND: The one-out appearance by Crockett was encouraging, because Cleveland has been looking for more effective left-on-left production all year.

The Indians have cycled through Crockett, Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny, TJ House, Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando as lefty help this year. The last two were really just insurance during thin periods for the staff. The other four have handled the bulk of the lefty specialist chances this year. And, to date, it hasn’t been pretty.

“We’ve been kind of searching all year to find a lefty,” Francona said.

Heading into Tuesday’s action, Cleveland ranked last in the Majors in left-on-left opponents’ average (.310), on-base percentage (.380) and WHIP (1.59). The Tribe’s .761 opponents’ OPS in left-on-left situations ranked 25th in baseball.

This is why Cleveland is in the market for lefty help — specialist, setup or otherwise — as the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. An arm like Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman or Will Smith would be welcomed additions.

For now, Crockett is getting another look.

“Just to come out and be a part of this team is exciting right now,” Crockett said. “I’m really glad to be here.”

Fresh up from Triple-A, Crockett’s first assignment was to face Hosmer in the seventh inning. Kansas City had just scored its third run and had a runner on third base with two outs. Salazar hit the showers and it was up to Crockett to stop the bleeding.

Here is the sequence that followed:

CrockettK

Crockett worked ahead, 0-2, and eventually got Hosmer to chase a slider in the dirt for a strikeout. Shaw and Allen then went six up, six down to seal the win.

“He made really quality pitches tonight,” Francona said of Crockett. “Now, I know you’ve got to back it up, but even when he missed on the 0-2, he dotted his fastball. That can be really helpful, because this past week we’ve kind of been searching for that one guy.”

Crockett was happy to be thrown right back into the fire.

“I like it a lot. I don’t like to be babied,” Crockett said. “You want to be in a situation that matters. So, I was glad to get out there. I’ve faced him a few times now and I like the way Gimenez threw that pitch sequence at him. Yeah, I was glad to get out there again.”

THIRD: As for Salazar, the righty struck out seven, walked one and scattered eight singles en route to his 11th win. His ERA held steady at 2.75, which currently ranks first among qualified American League pitchers.

This was Salazar’s first outing after the break, during which he skipped pitching in the All-Star Game due to mild elbow soreness. The issue was never considered serious, but Salazar, who averaged 96 mph on his fastball, was happy to ease any concerns that might’ve lingered among fans.

“Yeah, that was nice,” Salazar said. “A lot of people, they were making speculation and things like that. But, it was nothing serious. It was something really small and we’re on top of that. It’s nothing really bad and I think we’re doing a good job with all the training and stuff to keep myself healthy.”

HOME: Helping Salazar’s cause was Mike Napoli, who launched his team-leading 21st home run in the first inning. The two-run shot rocketed off his bat with an exit velocity of 108 mph, giving him nine homers of at least 108 mph this year.

Napoli and Carlos Santana (two-run single in the fifth) have been on a tear of late.

Over his past 25 games, Napoli has turned in a .301/.416/.538 slash line. During that span, he has boosted his overall showing to .249 (.823 OPS) from .229 (.769 OPS). Santana had an 0-for-5 on June 26 that had him sitting at .231 (.790). In the 19 games he’s played since then, Santana has hit .342/.415/.589, putting him at .254 (.834) on the year now.

EXTRAS: Oh, hey, Francisco Lindor also homered again. He’s now up to 12 on the season, matching his career high from last year. The shortstop scored three runs and knocked in two. Lindor also turned in an impressive defensive play in the ninth inning.

“Just real impressed with Lindor,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s just a fantastically talented young man. Both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, left, right. He’s just good.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 92

577293932.0Some notes and quotes from Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Royals.

FIRST: Jeff Manship still looked and sounded rattled as he spoke with reporters following a stunning loss to the Royals on Monday night.

“I definitely let the whole team down,” Manship said quietly. “I let Corey down. I let Bryan down. I gave up his runs. That stinks, for sure. Definitely. I feel sick to my stomach about how that went.”

That would be Corey Kluber, who turned in seven shutout innings before a cramp in his right calf forced him out of the game. And, that’d be Bryan Shaw, who had one of his ugly outings. Shaw has had some great outings of late, but when he has gone south, man, has he gone south.

While Manship faced the music after the loss — one that includes seven runs allowed in a gut-punch of an eighth inning — Shaw shook his head when approached by reporters. He didn’t have any comments after this one. And if his reasoning was because the media didn’t talk to him much during his recent 13-game shutout streak, well, Cleveland reporters wrote all about that on Sunday. As in, one day ago.

Nice timing on that one, huh?

There is no denying that Shaw’s season line is a bit misleading. That 4.58 ERA is mostly the result of a handful of really rough outings.

Consider this: Shaw has allowed two or more runs in only four of his 44 appearances this year. In those four games, he’s coughed up 15 earned runs in three innings (45.00 ERA). In the other 40 games, Shaw has allowed five earned runs in 36.1 innings (1.24 ERA). To put that another way, the righty has allowed 75-percent of his runs in 8-percent of his innings.

This means a couple things. First of all, it means Shaw has been very good for the majority of his outings, working around a walk and home run rate that’s up from previous years. But, it also means that some close games have turned into brutal losses. That’s why there’s a large chunk of Cleveland fans (just check my Twitter mentions) that are not overly thrilled with Shaw being the main setup option as the Indians try for the postseason.

The bridge to closer Cody Allen has indeed been wobbly this year. And there is a distinct lack of left-handed setup help to go with the drama-filled outings Shaw has had at times. With the non-waiver Trade Deadline coming, it’s clear that Cleveland needs to look for bullpen help. It was never more evident than on Monday night.

SECOND: Do you really want to know how the eighth inning went down?

Kluber took the mound and planned on continuing, as he was at 95 pitches. After a few warmup throws, though, the righty looked to the dugout and pointed to his calf. It looked like a cramp and the team confirmed as much later on. This was a hot and muggy night in Kansas City, so it wasn’t surprising, nor serious.

With a 2-0 lead, manager Terry Francona opted to hand the ball to Shaw. Just one day earlier, Francona raved about the setup man and his recent success. The manager had some sharp criticism for reporters, too, noting that no one had really asked much about Shaw over the past several weeks.

“I’ve wondered why people don’t ask me about him,” Francona said on Sunday morning. “Everybody wanted him off the team and released, and I didn’t understand that. He’s a good pitcher. Sometimes, good players, good pitchers, struggle. This is going on four years now where he has shouldered a load, and his stuff is better than when we got him, which is a big compliment to him and what he’s doing. He’s really been good.”

The eighth began with a chopper back up the middle off the bat of Alcides Escobar. Shortstop Francisco Lindor might’ve had a play on it, but Shaw tried to grab it and knocked it with his glove to third baseman Juan Uribe. The veteran charged in, but he could not get to it in time.

“If he just lets it go,” Francona said of Shaw, “we probably get an out.”

Then…

Eric Hosmer singled to center. Pinch-hitter Christian Colon, was going to bunt, but he worked ahead in the count and doubled home two runs with a shot to deep center. Colon was thrown out trying to stretch hit hit into a triple. After Shaw got Salvador Perez to pop out, the pitcher then issued back-to-back walks with two outs.

Manship entered and allowed an RBI single to Paulo Orlando. The righty then walked Whit Merrifield and allowed a grand slam to Jarrod Dyson. That’s the same Jarrod Dyson who had no homers in 182 plate appearances this season and only six homers in 1,384 PAs in his MLB career.

“We just couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Francona said.

THIRD: Before the eighth-inning meltdown, the story of the game looked like Kluber’s strong outing with catcher Roberto Perez behind the plate.

Kluber had worked with Yan Gomes in each of his past 40 starts, dating back to last May. Perez was activated from the disabled list prior to Monday’s game, as Gomes landed on the DL with a right shoulder injury. So, not only was Perez working in his first game after an extended layoff, it had been more than a year since he caught Kluber.

“He was really good,” Kluber said. “Obviously, we threw to each other a fair amount last year when Yan was hurt and we developed a good relationship, too. I thought he did a great job tonight, both with the running game and then with calling pitches and working behind the plate. I thought he was really good.”

Perez helped guide Kluber through seven shutout innings, in which he struck out eight, walked three and allowed five hits. The catcher also showed off his arm, throwing out Dyson on a steal attempt in the seventh inning.

HOME: Nearly lost in all of this was arguably the best home run of Lindor’s young career.

In the first inning, Edinson Volquez fired a 1-1 sinker insider on Lindor, who was not fooled by the pitch at all. The home run rocketed off the shortstop’s bat at 108 mph and soared 435 feet right down the right-field line. It stayed fair, dropping deep into the seats for his 11th homer of the season.

The 107.75 exit velocity made that the fourth-hardest ball Lindor has ever hit in the Statcast Era, which covers his entire career. The blast was not only the hardest-hit homer of Lindor’s career, but it was the farthest he has ever launched a long ball, too. It was, as they say, well struck.

Lindor is nearly to his season volume from a year ago.

Let’s take a look at how his sophomore campaign compares…

2015: .313/.353/.482 (390 at-bats)
2016: .300/.359/.456 (353 at-bats)

2015: 12 HR, 22 2B, 4 3B, 51 RBI, 122 H
2016: 11 HR, 20 2B, 1 3B, 51 RBI, 106 H

2015: 69 K, 27 BB, 12 SB, 2 CS, 50 R
2016: 53 K, 35 BB, 13 SB, 4 CS, 63 R

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 86

NapoliSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 10-2 win over the Yankees.

FIRST: John Adams kept drumming.

Even as the baseball sailed to the top row of the left-field bleachers, and rattled around a section of stands rarely visited by a baseball, Adams just kept pounding away. I think the only thing that would’ve stopped his rhythm was the ball actually knocking one of the sticks out of his hands.

We have seed prodigious blasts by Mike Napoli to date, but not like this. His two-run shot in the third inning against the Yankees nearly struck the new videoboard. It fell just shy of where Mark McGwire’s famous blast caromed off the bottom of the old Budweiser sign that hung beneath the old board. Statcast measure it at 460 feet. Statcast has never recorded a longer home run by an Indians batter.

“Wow,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t know how you hit a ball that far.”

After the game, Napoli was asked if he was trying to hit the drummer.

“No,” he said with a laugh.

Francisco Lindor yelled from across the clubhouse.

“Tell them the truth!”

“I’m going to tell them the truth.”

Lindor kept shouting as Napoli tried to talk.

“You got jammed a little bit!”

“It rattled in my hand a little bit. No, I got a pitch up in the zone and I swung hard. I just caught it perfect.”

“Sometimes you surprise yourself!”

“That was a good game all around. We got a good performance out of Kluber…”

“He just missed it!”

“A good first inning for the boys. It was a good win for us…”

“Don’t lie, Nap!”

Finally, Napoli caved to the distraction.

“Hey, you come do this!”

The home run was the 18th of the year for Napoli, but this one will probably be remembered more than any other one he hits. Well, that is until he actually does hit the scoreboard, or take out Adams with another tape-measure shot.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was asked what Napoli has brought to this Indians team, which is now 52-34 with a 7.5-game lead in the American League Central.

“A little bit more concentration,” Kipnis said. “Not that we were lacking, but with his experience of being in the playoffs seven of the last nine, or something like that, he knows what it takes. He knows the qualities that certain teams that he’s been on have, so he makes that a point of emphasis to, ‘Hey, we need to do the little things. We need to prepare to win each day.’

“I think that’s just a veteran-type leadership, that experience that he’s been there before.”

Kipnis paused.

“And he hits balls like he did today. Those help, too.”

SECOND: Napoli hogged the spotlight, but Kipnis hit 775 feet worth of home runs on Friday night, too.

As part of back-to-back blasts with Carlos Santana in the first inning, Kipnis pulled a pitch from Yankees righty Chad Green into the right-field seats for his 13th homer of the year. No. 14 arrived in the seventh, when Kipnis again pulled one into the seats, this time off Anthony Swarzak.

“I’ve always thought he was a great hitter playing against him,” Napoli said of Kipnis. “But to see it on the daily basis, to be able to talk hitting with him, hit in his group, he’s a great hitter. He can do so many different things. Hit the ball the other way. He’s been good pulling his hands in and pulling the ball with power. It’s nice.”

Hitting the ball the other way was Kipnis’ M.O. over the past few years. This year, however, the second baseman has been having far greater success to the pull side.

Here is where his extra-base hits fell in 2015:

2015KipXBH

Here is what they look like in ’16 (not including the two pulled homers):

2016KipXBH

Kipnis said his normal opposite-field approach wasn’t working early in the season, so he made an adjustment.

“I was kind of chasing that down the rabbit hole,” Kipnis said, “trying to force my way there and making sure that I’m going to left field. It just wasn’t working for me yet. That’s not to say that it might not in the second half, or anything like that, but right now, the way guys are pitching me, and the way my swing’s going and the way I feel, we’re just getting the bat through the zone kind of with a little more whip and a little more, I don’t know what to say, power. It’s just kind of the pull side is working for me right now.”

Kipnis said pitchers have been attacking him in more — perhaps the result of his past success with taking outside pitches the other way.

“You know this is a game of adjustments,” Kipnis said. “The pitchers and the hitters make adjustments back and forth to each other. I think I made the adjustment on the fastball away last year and started to get them. Now, they might be trying to make the adjustment back, but I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve on them. So far, it’s working. We’ll see how it plays out. There’s always new little wrinkles every day. You just try to stay ahead of them.”

Kipnis already has 14 homers, which is three shy of his career high of 17 in 2013. The second baseman is currently averaging one homer every 23.8 at-bats, following a rate of a homer every 71 at-bats over the 2014-15 seasons. Kipnis’ .474 slugging percentage is also a career best, if you exclude his 36-game stay in the big leagues in 2011.

“Early on, everybody seemed like they wanted to talk about his strikeouts,” Francona said. “But, I think through the whole entire year, he’s been very consistent and he’s also been very productive. So, it’s good. That was one of his goals, and I think he’s done a very good job of that.”

THIRD: The first time that Francona used Santana as a leadoff hitter, the designated hitter belted a home run. Of course. Now, following his shot that set the tone on Friday night, Santana has four leadoff home runs this season.

Kipnis said facing Santana first is a tough task for a pitcher.

“He’s not worrying about someone slapping the other way to start the game,” Kipnis said. “What was that, his 20th? A leadoff hitter who has 20 home runs at the break? Not many teams can say that. They know they better locate from the first batter on. That’s the luxury that we have with him in the leadoff spot.

“He’s done a great job to date. You know he can work pitches, work at-bats with the best of them and draw out some long at-bats. He’s done a great job for us.”

Santana came into this year averaging 4.3 pitches per plate appearance across the 2011-15 seasons. Last year, though, the power dipped dramatically. This year? Santana has maintained his patient approach, but he is currently sporting a career-best .494 slugging percentage.

Santana and Josh Donaldson — the reigning American League MVP — are the only players in baseball with at least 20 homers and 50 walks in the first half. No Indians batter had done that before this year since 2008 (Grady Sizemore).

“He’s setting the table,” Napoli said. “To get off to a start like that, hit a homer or get on base, give us a chance to score in the first inning, it’s huge. We have power. He has power at the top of the lineup. It’s nice. We want to get off to a nice start for our starter.”

HOME: Speaking of that, Cleveland’s offensive outpouring (hey, Lonnie Chisenhall homered, too) spotted Corey Kluber a 4-0 lead after one, a 6-0 lead after three and a 9-0 lead by the sixth.

“They go out there and get four runs in the first inning,” Kluber said. “That’s a nice cushion, but they just kept pouring it on. They didn’t really stop. Those are fun games to be a part of in the dugout. That definitely gives you some low-stress innings when they’re putting 10 runs up on the board.”

Kluber went into attack made and showed exactly why he was named to the All-Star team. Over eight innings, the righty scattered five hits, allowed one run and ended with eight strikeouts against no walks.

“Man, he’s good,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “He’s a Cy Young [winner] for a reason. He’s an All-Star for a reason. Just carving us up. He was really good, especially pitching with a lead. He was comfortable going after guys, and he pitched very well.”

For the why-is-Kluber-an-All-Star crowd: He now ranks first among AL starters in fWAR (3.4), second in innings (122) and WHIP (1.02), third in strikeout-minus-walk percentage (19.6%), fourth in strikeouts (122) and fifth in FIP (2.95).

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Catching up with Mark Shapiro

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Press Conference

During the Indians’ series in Toronto, Cleveland reporters sat down with Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, who spent 24 years in the Tribe’s front office before taking the job north of the border. During a 20-minute discussion, Shapiro discussed the move to Toronto, the Indians’ success, and seeing the celebration in Cleveland for the Cavs’ NBA championship, among other topics. Here is the full transcript.


What have the last few months been like for you here?

Shapiro: I think in a lot of ways, what I had hoped from the perspective of the job has definitely energized me, has been invigorating. The new challenge of kind of looking at things through a totally different lens. Reframing all the things I’ve experienced and learned, but reframing all those things in a different place, with a different set of challenges. The technical aspects of doing the job is still the same. So, I’m familiar with the cycle, but the surroundings are all different, the people are all different, the circumstances are very different. So, those things kind of shock you and wake you up a little bit. There wasn’t any lack of happiness. Obviously, I love the people in Cleveland. I love the organization and will always feel an intense amount of both pride and attachment to the organization and the people and the city. But, at a certain point in life, I kind of felt like I needed a jolt. Some of that was to be a little less comfortable, too. I think being less comfortable sometimes creates a little more growth.

How much are you following the Indians?

Shapiro: I would be lying if I said I wasn’t following closely. The first place I look after walking through all of our system and our games is the Indians. I feel deeply invested in the people there, more than anything. [Chris Antonetti] is a guy that I worked with for decades. Up and down the system, from Johnny Goryl to Carter Hawkins was an intern. The organization is full of people that I’ve watched grow and become leaders. So, I have great respect and appreciate for them. And I’m going to always pull for them, always. Except for the seven or eight times we play them. That’s it.

What’d you think when you saw the celebration in Cleveland for the Cavs’ title?

Shapiro: That was surreal. I think it’s a direct reflection of the passion of the fans there. It was strange to see. It’s a downtown that has a couple hundred thousand people in it, usually. So, to see 1.3 million people in it was bizarre.

What’s it like working with a much larger payroll?

Shapiro: I think the payroll piece has not really factored in yet, but the support piece has been [eye-opening]. The point of differentiation for me that was most obvious was Game 2 [of the regular season]. Everybody here was telling me, ‘You need to see Opening Day here.’ I’m like, ‘Hey, I’ve been through that. Opening Day is a celebration in Cleveland.’ And then Game 2, because it’s 37 degrees out and there’s 10,000 people in the stands. Well, we were close to sold out Game 2 here, and Game 3. And then, the other one was the Raptors had a big playoff game and they were 200 yards away and there was not only 20,000 people in the arena there, there was 3,000 people outside the arena and we had 35,000 here. The depth of the market, I think, has been what has been more of a difference to me. As far as the money goes, we have our own set of differences here. We have the exchange rate that diminishes a lot of it. There’s other challenges. Obviously, in our division, it’s not that different from the Indians. We play against teams that have, not double our resources, but close to double our resources. So, there’s still a significant challenge. Not to ever complain, because I think the upside of this market is just remarkable. If you could build a sustainable winner here, it’s just the number of population, the fact that we’re the team for the entire country, the density near the ballpark of the population, it’s just remarkable.

Are you looking to do renovations at Rogers Centre like you did Cleveland?

Shapiro: Yeah, this is a 30-year-old building, much like we had in Cleveland. It’s got to be adapted for the modern generation of fans. Unlike in Cleveland, I’m deeply involved in doing the same thing on the baseball side, so we’re balancing a lot. We have [Andrew Miller]  here who went through that [with Progressive Field]. We also have a Spring Training challenge here we’re trying to work through. So, we’ve got to major projects: Spring Training and a ballpark renovation here. The Dunedin lease has one year left. We’re trying to get something done there. … There’s a real sense of appreciation for how Dunedin feels about the team. The one thing I cannot accept would be the split facility. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to move everybody to one place. Seeing that has made clear to me that that’s a bad arrangement. You want to have an organization that’s aligned, where the big leagues is attached to the Minor Leagues. Well right now it’s like two separate worlds.

How’s it been working with Ross Atkins here now?

Shapiro: It’s natural for me with Ross. It’s just a different relationship and he’s in a different place in his career than Chris is in his. Chris is a mature executive — one of the best in the game. I think it got to a point for me with Chris where the best thing I could do was get out of his way and just kind of be there for him, both to make sure he had the advocate he needed to get decisions made and, if he ever wanted kind of a grayhair to bounce ideas off of, or a different perspective, that I was there for him. Ross is still developing as a general manager. First year doing the job. He hasn’t even been through a cycle yet, so I can play a very different role with him. The task is a big one, because I think a player development system and scouting system, all those things, need to be shaped. So, I can roll up my sleeves and get my hands in on the baseball side, which is something that I had missed. I’m excited to be back involved in it. That’s my foundation. I do enjoy the president’s job. I enjoy the Major League side. In this job, I’m representing ownership. [Indians owner Paul Dolan] will tell you, I sit with him in the meeting of 30. That’s pretty cool. I like the committees I’m on. I’ve been added to some other committees. I’m enjoying that opportunity. I’m still one of the younger guys in the room, which is a good thing. I still enjoy that, but I also enjoy being hands on on the baseball side. That’s the biggest lever of the business. It always will be.

What was it like to have the Jose Bautista contract situation come up like it did?

Shapiro: I was telling guys,’ Listen, I’ve been through players in walk years before.’ We had that with a lot of different players in Cleveland. Every player is his own person. Every player is an individual. You’ve got to deal with every situation. But, Spring Training is a time where the focal point goes on contracts, because the games don’t count and you have to write every single day, and there’s not many things to write about. You can’t write about guys losing weight every day, so inevitably it turns to contracts. You had to expect that coming in, that we were going to have a lot of focus there. We have eight free agents at the end of the year. It’s a remarkable situation. It’s a situation that I didn’t walk into blindly. We knew. There’s challenges here. Solving those challenges, if it’s not fun to you, if you don’t enjoy that, you’re probably in the wrong business.

Has the fan reception been better since you first took over?

Shapiro: I think there was no games being played. Everything ended. People were kind of like shocked at how it ended and I was the only one standing. So, I got a lot of that directed at me. Other than the fact that that wasn’t what you expect when you make a decision to leave a place and come someplace, again, I’ve been through plenty of criticism over a career. You’ve been there, man. I mean, Robbie Alomar. I’ve been through trading Colon. I’ve been through that stuff before. It’s just, I didn’t expect it this time. So, it was a little weird. And, the second we started playing in Spring Training, the focus went back on the team and playing baseball. The front office guy shouldn’t be a focal point. That was kind of my point coming in here. It shouldn’t be about a front office guy. If you’re running an organization well, it’s not about one guy — ever. One guy doesn’t make decisions. One guy shouldn’t be the lightning rod. It should be about an organization.

Is there a sense of pride in watching how the Indians roster has developed this year?

Shapiro: Yeah, it’s an affirmation in doing business the right way and kind of picking players not just for their talent, but also for their character. Again, it’s an affirmation of having a good process and a good system. I’m excited for all those things, because those are things I believe deeply in. They’re the things that aligned me with Chris and Mike Chernoff and with Ross and with Carter Hawkins and with the whole organization. They were things we aligned behind. So, while it’ll be a very different situation here, and we’ll do things somewhat differently, the values will stay the same here, clearly.

Are you completely moved in to Toronto?

Shapiro: No, we can’t get into our house here yet. I haven’t been in Cleveland in over a month, since that day [we came to see the renovations]. And I’m not going to be there until the All-Star break, and that’s going to be to pack. So, I’m only going to be there twice more. Even then, I’ll visit frequently. My kids are going to want to visit frequently. … [My family is] still kind of living two different lives. You know I’m a family guy, so until my family’s here, it’s not really going to feel like home.

How has the media treated you? Have you been accepted or still viewed as an outsider?

Shapiro: I don’t really focus any energy on that. I can’t really tell you. You’d have to ask them. It feels comfortable to me, but nothing’s going to feel as comfortable as when you spend 24 years in a place. I don’t know how it possibly could. It feels as comfortable as eight months can feel. That’s because I think just the business is one I’m comfortable in. There are places and times. Spring Training felt completely natural. Going to owners meetings feelings completely natural. The mechanics of watching a game, except for the fact that I wasn’t freezing in April and May and we didn’t have any delays, it feels natural. I may be the only person that in April and May was like, ‘Yes. Close it. Astroturf? No problem.’ I was applauding.

What’s been the feedback on the dirt infield?

Shapiro: All good. I think it’s taken our grounds crew a little bit of time to get used to keeping it moist and how to break it up a little bit. But, yeah, it’s been all positive. We’re still studying [natural grass]. The turf here actually plays fairly natural. Except for seeing the specks of dirt, or rubber, you won’t be watching and go, ‘That doesn’t look right.’

What do you think about the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement talks?

Shapiro: Listen, anytime you care deeply about the game, and it comes to a moment to talk about kind of how the pie is split, you just hope that all the major stakeholders recognize how great the game is and how good things are going. The role I can play in that, I will do my best to kind of ensure that we work to satisfy both teams, but negotiations are tough. There’s always lots of posturing that goes on along the way, but I think it’s a moment in time where everybody recognizes that there’s good things happening and good progress being made.

–JB

Almonte discusses his return

Almonte

Indians outfielder Abraham Almonte was reinstated from the MLB’s restricted list prior to Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, following an 81-game suspension for testing positive for Boldenone, a banned anabolic steroid. Almonte addressed his suspension and return with reporters in Toronto.


Q: How happy are you to have this day finally here?

Almonte: I’m excited. You guys know what happened. I’ve been waiting for this, this day, this time. Finally, I’m here to support my team and try to help my team to keep doing what they’ve been doing. I feel excited.

Q: Did you ever feel like Indians might cut you loose over this?

Almonte: No, because when that happened, we had a conversation and they know that whatever happened, it was not something I was looking for to be a better player. Like you guys know, it was a mistake. And they always told me that they’re going to be there for me, and they expected me to be ready after those 80 games. I believed that and I kept working, and tried to get myself in a better position to help my team whenever they needed me.

Q: Did you surprise yourself with your performance at Triple-A given the layoff?

Almonte: Yeah, I saw good results, but all that time that I was in Arizona, I’ve been working hard and in a smart way. I was doing a lot of conditioning again, trying to make sure that everything I do I feel like it’s a game, swinging, not like BP practice. So, I kept my mind like a game, and I think that helped me a lot. When I started seeing pitchers, I felt like I’ve been doing this for months.

Q: Did you play extended spring training?

Almonte: In extended, I played a couple games. And then I played a few games in Columbus.

Q: How hard was it to be away from the team during their success in the first half?

Almonte: It’s hard, but at the same time I feel excited, because I’m seeing my team doing good. I wanted to be there and I know the time was going to go and sooner or later I was going to be with the team. For this first time, I feel really excited to see the players having fun and winning the game and doing what we’re prepared to do and what we have to do every day.

Q: Were you disappointed in yourself when you tested positive?

Almonte: It was hard, but something that helped me was that I knew that I was not looking for anything like that. I know, whatever happened, whatever was there, that was not something that I did or said, ‘I wanted to do this and now look what happened.’ It’s something that happened, and it is hard, because you’re going to lose a lot of time. But, after it happened, I just said the time is going to go quick. I’ve just got to invest my time in something good, because in three months, they’re going to need me or they’re going to want me to play wherever, in the big leagues or in Triple-A, and I had to be ready.

Q: Did you or your agent try to go back and find how the PEDs got into your system?

Almonte: We tried to figure it out in Spring Training, the way that we think it might’ve happened. In the D.R., it’s going to be too hard to find out. It’s something that is going on over there with all that stuff and it’s hard to find out. I might say, ‘It was this,’ but then I look at it and maybe not. And I might say, ‘This is not it,’ and maybe it was. We kind of have an idea of maybe how it happened, because we found out what that’s used for and what kind of people use that and where they put it. We may have an idea where it came from, but we’re not sure.

Q: Do you get supplements from a trainer or from someone else in the D.R.?

Almonte: I’m not really that guy that uses supplements, because of my body. It’s a body that is one of those people that if I don’t take care of it, I get fat really easily, I get big. I have to stay running and stay lean. Not too much protein. At this point, I would like to know for sure what it was. I kind of have an idea, but I want to kind of stay away from what I think might’ve caused that. I hope to God it doesn’t happen again.

Q: Did you inject yourself?

Almonte: No, that’s what really got me when they told me it was something that has to be injected. The first time I heard about that thing was when they told me that I tested positive and I started searching to see what it is. If I ever put something in my body, something you inject, it’s not even close to something that is something like that.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 80

CarreraNotes and quotes from Saturday’s 9-6 loss to the Blue Jays:

FIRST: They tried. Man, did they try. Even with a pitching staff depleted in the wake of a 19-inning game, the Indians tried to get their 15th win in a row.

Instead, Cleveland will have to *settle* for the franchise-record 14-game winning streak that we all just witnessed. They’ll have to live with the fact that the Indians, for once, have a solid lead atop the American League Central and don’t have to worry about playing catch-up for the time being.

And, if it’s all just too much for Indians fans to bear in the wake of this one, just focus on the fact that the Tribe is 14-1 in its past 15 games. That’s still pretty good.

“It was going to end at some point,” Indians catcher Chris Gimenez said. “We weren’t going to go 100-0.”

Let’s take a quick look back at The Streak.

June 17: 3-2 win over the White Sox
Highlight: Carlos Santana hits walk-off home run

June 18: 13-2 win over the White Sox
Highlight: Tyler Naquin reaches base five times, ends a double shy of cycle

June 19: 3-2 win over White Sox in 10 innings
Highlight: Jose Ramirez hits walk-off single

June 20: 7-4 win over the Rays
Highlight: Francisco Lindor has a double, homer and three hits

June 21: 6-0 win over the Rays
Highlight: Corey Kluber spins three-hit shutout

June 22: 6-1 win over the Rays
Highlight: Trevor Bauer fans 10 in complete game

June 24: 7-5 win over the Tigers
Highlight: Four triples, including three in a five-run fourth

June 25: 6-0 win over the Tigers
Highlight: Carlos Carrasco throws a four-hit shutout

June 26: 9-3 win over the Tigers
Highlight: Four home runs in the fifth off Justin Verlander

June 27: 8-3 win over the Braves
Highlight: Lonnie Chisenhall hits key three-run home run

June 28: 5-3 win over the Braves
Highlight: Three-run rally in ninth inning seals the win

June 29: 3-0 win over the Braves
Highlight: Danny Salazar gets 10th win with seven-inning gem

June 30: 4-1 win over the Blue Jays
Highlight: Carrasco strikes out 14 and gives up three hits

July 1: 2-1 win over the Blue Jays in 19 innings
Highlight: Bullpen logs 13 shutout innings, including five from Bauer

That run topped the previous team record of 13 wins in a row, achieved in 1951 and 1942. It was the longest run in the American League since the “Moneyball” A’s rattled off 20 straight wins en route to a movie starring Brad Pitt.

The pitching powered Cleveland’s streak.

Overall, the Indians had a 1.58 ERA and .176/.239/.294 opponents’ slash line over 137 innings, in which they tallied 138 strikeouts against 38 walks. The rotation went 10-0 with a 1.83 ERA, 99 strikeouts and 62 hits allowed in 103 innings. The bullpen had a 0.79 ERA with a .182 opponents’ average in 34 innings.

Here is how the individual pitchers fared over the 14-game stretch:

Pitchers

As for the offense? Cleveland out-hit its opponents, 154-84, and outscored them, 82-27. As a team, the Indians produced a .295/.341/.515 slash line overall and a .288/.352/.432 mark with runners in scoring position. Cleveland had 25 home runs and 57 extra-base hits during The Streak.

Here is how the individual batters fared:

Hitters

Here is what closer Cody Allen had to say, when asked about how this streak compared to the 10-game run the Indians had to clinch a playoff spot at the end of the 2013 season:

“In ’13, we did it to end the season to make the playoffs. That was my first experience of it. Because we made the playoffs, I cherished it, but I didn’t really understand how hard it was to do that as a club, especially in the American League. You can run into a buzzsaw of a starting pitcher one night. Like Toronto, they could’ve been on a nine-game or 10-game winning streak, but if Carrasco pitches the way he does, there’s nothing you can really do about it. Then, the next two years, you kind of grasp how tough it was to do what we did in ’13. It makes right now even more special.”

Here is what Josh Tomlin had to say about it:

“I think we have 25 guys right now that are buying in. They’re playing as a team and doing whatever it takes to help us win a game today. We’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. … That to me is the biggest thing for this year, is watching how everybody just tries to do their part, do their job to help us win today.”

Gimenez had this to say about The Streak:

“I really think it’s just the group of guys. I think we’re starting to believe that we’re pretty good, and that’s something that can be a very powerful thing, to be honest with you. You get a group of guys together that start believing that something can really happen here, it’s amazing. We don’t have the flashiest names out there and a couple of our better players have been hurt for a while, and we’re still managing to claw wins out.”

SECOND: Toronto scored nine runs, so there were plenty of pitches and plays that went wrong for Cleveland’s pitching staff. That said, a close play at the plate in the eighth inning proved to be the dagger.

With runners on first and second and the game caught in a 6-6 deadlock, Josh Donaldson drilled a pitch up the middle. Center fielder Tyler Naquin made a nice leaping grab on the high bouncer and then uncorked a strong throw to the plate.

Ezequiel Carrera (remember him?) sprinted from second to home and slid in headfirst as the throw arrived. Gimenez received the ball and made a swift lunging tag on the diving runner. The catcher’s glove grazed Carrera’s leg around the same time the outfielder’s fingers were sliding across the dish.

Blue Jays reporter John Lott got this tremendous photo from the press box:

If Gimenez has the tag on in that photo (it’s hard to tell), then clearly Carrera is out. If the tag arrived a split-second later, well, then maybe Carrera is safe. Looking at many replay angles, it’s hard to say definitively one way or another.

“Our replay coordinator came up to me and said that I definitely tagged him,” Gimenez said. “That was, I think, my biggest fear, was that I might’ve missed him at some point. But, I definitely thought I had his leg. From where my vantage point was, where I was at, and where he was at, I didn’t feel like he could touch the plate yet.”

Home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn agreed with that assessment in real time, calling Carrera out on the play. The runner jumped up and motioned to the Toronto dugout, where manager John Gibbons emerged and quickly challenged the ruling. At that point, it’s out of the hands of the on-field crew. It goes to the Replay Operations Center in New York.

After three minutes and 32 seconds, the call was overturned.

“I went and looked at it six or seven times and I don’t know how you can overrule that,” Francona said. “I mean, I couldn’t tell if he’s safe or out. If he would’ve called him safe, I don’t know how they would’ve overruled it to call him out. I don’t how you overrule that. I know they keep telling us it has to be conclusive. I will look forward to an explanation that I understand from the league, because as of now, from what I’ve seen, I don’t know how they did that. I was shocked.”

Gimenez said the explanation he received was that the replay officials deemed that Carrera made contact with the plate before the catcher applied the tag. So, that at least acknowledges that Gimenez made the tag, which was also hard to decipher. If he did make the tag, it was very hard to say without a shred of doubt that Carrera was safe.

” I don’t know. He might be safe, but you can’t tell,” Francona said. “I looked at every angle there is. They’re supposed to have the same angles we do.”

Added Gimenez: “I thought we had him out. Nake made a pretty good throw on a pretty tough high hop, but I definitely thought I had him in the leg. The explanation that they gave us was that his arm got in there before I tagged him, which I don’t necessarily think that was the case, but I can’t tell, either. But, I definitely thought we had him out.”

Toronto tacked on two more runs to essentially seal the Tribe’s first loss in more than two weeks.

“It was a hard game to win,” Francona said. “But I still would’ve liked to have seen our chances if that guy’s out at the plate.”

THIRD: On the Indians’ transactions page, this is what you see for today:

transaction

Look how tidy that move was for the Indians. Truth be told, that was an extremely complicated transaction that required key contributions from multiple people in multiple states and countries.

Check out the behind-the-scenes story on Morimando’s trip to Toronto:

And then for his Major League debut, he was asked to enter the game in the third inning with Donaldson, the reigning AL MVP, and slugger Edwin Encarnacion due to bat. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

“I could hardly feel my release point or my legs,” Morimando said.

The 23-year-old rookie worked 3 2/3 innings in an admirable effort, considering his hectic path to Rogers Centre, the fact that he’s never even pitched in Triple-A and that he was forced to face the Blue Jays’ offense in the middle of Cleveland’s record winning streak. Talk about pressure.

He was needed because Trevor Bauer — Saturday’s planned starter — logged five innings to close out Friday’s marathon. Reliever Zach McAllister started for the Indians inetad and gave up a three-run homer to Encarnacion in the first inning, his lone frame in the loss.

Morimando’s lone setback came in the fifth inning, when he gave up a two-run homer to Troy Tulowitzki. That blast came with two outs, and after a play that should have gotten him out of the inning. Third baseman Juan Uribe charged a grounder from Russell Martin and made an off-target throw that Santana couldn’t pick from the dirt at first.

“We bring in Morimando and he actually showed some poise,” Francona said. “And he went out and got two quick outs and he had a ground ball to third that we don’t convert. And then the home run hurt.”

HOME: The last Indians batter to hit for a cycle was Travis Hafner on Aug. 14, 2003. And, whenever that fact is presented, it begs the question: Travis Hafner? Yes, Pronk had a triple, and he was asked about it plenty of times in the years after that game against the Twins.

“I was on turf in the Metrodome,” Hafner recalled on Saturday. “I have an extra gear on turf. But actually [Torii] Hunter was playing me a little towards left-center and I hit it to right-center. No collisions or anything like that.”

Well, Hafner’s name has now been pushed down a line in the Indians’ record book.

In Saturday’s loss, Rajai Davis homered in the first, tripled in the third, doubled in the seventh and singled in the ninth. And the Rogers Centre faithful, who know Davis from his Toronto days, offered him a standing ovation.

“That was awesome,” Davis said.

For 4,706 days, Hafner enjoyed the distinction of being “the last Cleveland hitter to complete a cycle.” No more.

“I’m glad someone fast has done it. I got tired of people asking me how the heck I hit a triple,” Hafner said. “I’m pumped for Raj. He’s playing great and is a huge part of the Indians’ success this season.”

Here’s more on Davis’ historic day:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

“We’re going streaking.” –2016 Indians

WinningStreakIt appears that I have been voted off the island.

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

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

Sidenote: I don’t really believe in jinxes.

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

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

ON THE STREAK

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

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

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

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

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

THE STREAK BY THE NUMBERS

The Rotation

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

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

The Bullpen

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

The Pitching Staff

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

The Lineup

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

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

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

LONGEST WINNING STREAKS IN TEAM HISTORY

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


ON TREVOR BAUER

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

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

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

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

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

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

BauerFBuse

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

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

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

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

BauerTSvelo

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

BauerTShoriz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BauerCutter

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

ABOUT BAUER’S CURVEBALL….

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

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

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

062216_cle_bauer_surprise_med_0uyzzz63

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

BauerCB

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


ON JOSE RAMIREZ

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

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

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

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

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

Take a look…

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

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

BrantRam

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

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

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


DRAFT LEFTOVERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more from Toronto…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 67

ShieldsSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 13-2 win over the White Sox.

FIRST: Heading into Saturday’s game against Chicago, James Shields’ struggles were hardly a secret.

Shields earned the nickname “Big Game James” many years ago for his work with the Rays, but that moniker and his recent meltdowns make for perfect Twitter fodder. After yet another abysmal performance, though, whether you’re a White Sox fan or not, you have to feel for the guy.

Indians manager Terry Francona even admitted that, while Shields’ latest lapse was good for Cleveland, it is odd to see the big right-hander dealing with a slump this dramatic.

“I have seen him so good for so long,” Francona said, “in the American League East when he was going out against really good lineups, and staying for seven, eight, and nine innings. We want to win every game we can, but that’s a tough night for him.”

Shields issued a leadoff walk to Carlos Santana in the first inning and it did not take long for the wheels to come flying off. Jason Kipnis doubled off the left-field wall. Francisco Lindor chipped in an RBI single. Then, Mike Napoli crushed a three-run, opposite-field home run. Tyler Naquin’s two-out, run-scoring single gave the Tribe a 5-0 lead in the first.

In the second, the Indians added three runs, which were all charged to Shields, too.

“I’ve got to get better — bottom line,” Shields told reporters. “You want to come in to your new team and pitch well, play well for these guys. I mean, I’ve said it before: This is a special team and I see these guys want to win every single night. It’s disappointing.”

Chicago acquired Shields from San Diego on June 4 in exchange for Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis Jr., and the White Sox are paying a considerable portion of his contract. In his past four starts, including his last one with the Padres, Shields has allowed 32 runs (31 earned) on 32 hits in 11 1/3 innings. He has 13 walks and six strikeouts in that span, with a .485 opponents’ average and a 24.62 ERA.

SECOND: When there are 13 runs and 15 hits, including a trio of home runs, it’s hard to single out one player as the highlight. Rookie Tyler Naquin stood tall on this evening, though.

Naquin ended the night 3-for-3 with a single, triple, homer, two walks and a career-high four RBIs. It marked only the 13th time in club history that a player had at least one homer, two walks, three hits and four RBIs in a game. The last player to do it for the Tribe was Grady Sizemore on Aug. 10, 2005.

“I think he’s more relaxed, especially at the plate,” Francona said. “He had a little bit of a tough week in the road trip and then bounces back and takes some good really swings and does some damage. When you have guys sitting down in the eight or nine holes, it really helps.”

On the year, Naquin is batting .320/.375/.553 with a 151 wRC+ in 103 at-bats across 41 games. Since his latest recall from Triple-A, following Marlon Byrd’s suspension on June 1, Naquin has turned in a .325/.426/.775 slash line in 14 games (40 at-bats). All five of the rook’s home runs and 12 of his 14 RBIs have come since he returned to the Majors.

Naquin’s homer was a 428-foot shot off former Tribe reliever Matt Albers. The solo shot in the sixth came against a changeup and had a 106-mph exit velocity, per Statcast.

“Albers, I knew he had that fastball and liked to go to his changeup,” Naquin said. “I was just looking for something out over the plate, took a good swing on a fastball, missed it. I was confident to just keep hunting the heater. He left the changeup up and I was able to put a pretty good swing on it.”

THIRD: The Indians also had a big bat back in the lineup on Saturday night.

Juan Uribe, who missed the past few games after taking a 106-mph Mike Trout one-hopper to his manhood, was batting sixth for the Tribe against Chicago. The Big Juan collected three hits, including an RBI single in the second and a two-run home run in the sixth. Progressive Field just could not contain Uribe’s 415-foot blast to center.

“Uribe comes back and swung the bat better than he has all year,” Francona said.

HOME: The wealth of offense helped Danny Salazar cruise to his eighth victory of the season. The right-hander went 6 2/3 innings, limiting the White Sox to two runs on five hits and ending with seven strikeouts against one walk.

Salazar’s ERA actually went up… to 2.23.

What was the key for Salazar in this one?

“Bauer wearing my jersey out there,” Salazar said. “That was great.”

No, seriously. Trevor Bauer wore a Salazar jersey in the dugout:

Kidding aside, Salazar was sharp against the Sox. He retired the first 10 batters he faced in order, escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth and dialed it up when needed. In that fourth inning escape, for example, Salazar struck out Todd Frazier with a 97-mph heater up and in. He then got Dioner Navarro to ground out on a 98-mph fastball.

On the night, Salazar sat around 95-96 with his fastballs and topped at 99 mph. An 11-run cushion was more than ample.

“The way Danny was throwing the ball, his stuff was so good tonight,” Francona said. “You see his velocity, but his changeup almost looked like a breaking ball at times.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 66

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland IndiansSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 3-2 win over the White Sox.

FIRST: This is the benefit of playing at home.

You saw what happened in Kansas City, where Cleveland dropped a pair of close games to open what wound up being a three-game sweep. You watched Bryan Shaw blow a lead late and that was that. The Indians did not come back and did not have the benefit of last at-bat.

Back in the own backyard, though, the Indians capitalized on Friday night in front of a nice crowd.

“We play better here,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “It’s nice to play in front of your home crowd. It’s nice to get back to a park you’re familiar with. It was a great crowd tonight, a full one. We appreciated that. It’s always nice to have the last say in the game.”

After closer Cody Allen blew a save in the ninth — allowing one run to pull the game into a 2-2 tie — Carlos Santana gave the Tribe a win with a walk-off homer to lead off the bottom of the inning. Santana cruised around first base with an arm raised skyward, and his teammates celebrated with a water shower at the plate.

“He tried to save the game but it happened,” Santana said. “But, he never put his head down. We tried to fight, especially being at home and we played very good.”

Francona said the sting of the ninth inning only lasted a moment.

“When you’re playing at home,” Francona said, “even though it’s a kick in the stomach for a minute, you’re still hitting last. You see what happens. You make a mistake on the road and you can lose. Fortunately, they did, because they had Santana down 0-2. Man, he took a nice swing.”

SECOND: The decisive at-bat pitted White Sox right-hander Nate Jones against Santana.

Hitting from the left side, Santana slipped into an 0-2 count after Jones started him off with a pair of sliders low and away (both in 87-88 mph range). Jones considered going with a fastball for the third pitch, but opted instead to stick with what was working.

“That was the first call,” said of considering a heater. “But, I was trying to backfoot a slider. Just left it over the middle.”

SantanaHR

Santana admitted that he was actually looking for the fastball.

“I tried to find the fastball,” Santana said. “But, he threw a slider again and I tried to hit it down the middle with good contact. He threw a slider and I got a home run.”

THIRD: One inning earlier, the Indians took advantage of Chicago’s defensive alignment to generate the rally that produced the temporarily, 2-1, lead.

First, utility man Michael Martinez pushed a pitch from lefty Jose Quintana through the hole on the right side of the infield for a leadoff single. That hit upped Martinez’s average to .444 (8-for-18) in his past seven games, and gave him a .333 average in 21 games.

“They were overplaying him when he was hitting,” Francona said. “And you could see him just trying to shoot the ball through the hole, and that’s exactly what he did. He’s been really good for us.”

Before the Indians signed Martinez, he posted a 32 OPS+ in 440 Major League plate appearances across the 2011-14 seasons. That was the lowest OPS+ in baseball among players with at least 400 PAs in that time period. Since joining Cleveland? Martinez has hit .307 (23-for-75).

“I’ll tell you right now: He’s probably everybody’s favorite player on the team,” Kipnis said. “The guy is awesome. He’s a good dude that you like rooting for. He’s a baseball player. He wasn’t your prospect probably when he was coming up. He’s not a big kid, but the guy is a good baseball player and does everything well.”

Two batters later, Kipnis shot a pitch from Quintana into the right-center field gap. Since center fielder J.B. Shuck was shaded toward left field, the ball was able to skip by to the warning track for a double. Martinez was able to score from first as a result.

“They overplay him so much to the left side,” Francona said. “It allowed Michael, whose done some really good things for us, to score all the way from first.”

KipnisSprayChart

Here is a look at Kipnis’ spray chart for the season. He has noticed outfielders shading him to the opposite-field, and he’s been hoping to exploit it. Kipnis said he even talked about it lately with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo.

“Me and VanBo have been joking about that,” Kipnis said. “When are we going to finally burn one of those center fielders playing me to left-center? Couldn’t have picked a better time. I’m happy about this one.”

HOME: Two things shouldn’t go unnoticed in this one: Trevor Bauer’s start and Rajai Davis’ key stolen base.

As for Bauer, he gave the Indians seven strong innings and was only charged with one run. He struck out nine and walked three. He’s run into some bad luck lately, and that continued in this one. In the third, right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall slipped while charging a low liner from Adam Eaton, opening the door for a triple and, eventually, a run.

“It’s tough, because it cost you a run,” Francona said. “But there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Over his past four starts, Bauer has a 2.12 ERA and a .204 opponents’ average, with 28 strikeouts and eight walks in 29 2/3 innings. In that span, he has one win and three no-decisions.

“Trevor was good,” Francona said. “He was really effective. His stuff wasn’t dropping off. Really good changeup. His pitches were moving. I thought he pitched really well.”

The steal from Davis came in the first inning.

After opening with a base hit off Quintana, Davis swiped second on a slide step from the left-handed starter. It was not only the first steal of the year off Quintana, but it marked Davis’ 18th theft, putting him in a tie with Jose Altuve for the American League lead. The stolen base also set up an RBI single by Francisco Lindor.

“It’s been impressive,” Francona said, “because Rajai’s stolen bases seem like a lot of them have come when they’re trying to defend it. And he still has the ability to go. It’s been something that we had hoped for when we signed him, but it may be better than we expected, just because of the timing of them. They’re trying to defend it and he’s still going.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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