By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB
There was a time when Cody Anderson was the best pitcher in Major League history, at least through his first four starts. Since then, he’s been a disaster. For the time being, he’ll be no kind of pitcher, as he’s found himself on the disabled list with an oblique injury.
The Indians and their fans alike thought they might have found something with Anderson, at first. Now, nobody has much of a clue, and that won’t change for at least a couple more weeks until Anderson resumes pitching. What that time off gives us, though, is a chance to reflect, and to look towards the future.
Certainly, Anderson is not as good as his first four outings, nor is he as bad as his latest four. Results can be fluky. We know this. There are so many external factors in play, especially over the span of a mere eight starts and especially with statistics like ERA, that’s it’s nearly impossible to draw a significant conclusion from results in such a limited sample.
Less fluky than results, though, are the characteristics of a pitcher’s arsenal. While ERA is marred by nine fielders, the quality of the opposition, the park in which the game is being played and the discretion of both the umpire and the official scorer, the characteristics of a pitch have but one variable: the pitcher. The pitcher, and the pitcher alone, has complete control over the velocity, spin, and movement of his offerings. This allows us to have a clear understanding of the true nature of a pitch, even in relatively limited samples.
Rather than attempt to analyze Anderson by his inconsistent results, then, let’s attempt to analyze him based on the qualities of his pitches. Our question: Like whom has Cody Anderson pitched?
You could probably skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t care about the math and just want to see pitch comps and .gifs. I wouldn’t blame you.
* * * * *
The inspiration for the exercise that follows comes largely from the work of FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan. Back in January, Sullivan introduced the idea of using pitch characteristics to create comparisons in the way that will be utilized in this post. The math is boring, but Sullivan essentially isolated velocity and movement to find pitches that behave in a similar manner. I’ve done the same for Anderson, but done so with the added benefit of access to the Statcast database that includes spin rate – something the Indians use to evaluate their own pitchers.
The comparisons were found using z-scores of velocity, horizontal movement, vertical movement, and spin rate, looking only at other right-handed starters. The “comp” score is a sum of the absolute value of those four z-scores. The closer the number is to 0, the stronger the comp. Pitches with a comp score stronger than 2 are displayed. I’ve also included whiff/swing and ground ball/ball in play in the tables to give an idea of the effectiveness of each pitch. Let’s now gain a better understanding of Cody Anderson’s arsenal.
Top comp: Johnny Cueto
Hey! Cody Anderson has Johnny Cueto’s fastball! That’s great news for Cody Anderson, and people who wish to see Anderson succeed, because Cueto’s had more success as a pitcher than virtually every living person on Earth, and the fastball is his primary pitch.
Then again, there’s also those other three names in the table. Without Cueto, that would be an entirely underwhelming list of comps, but Cueto showing up as the top comp is actually kind of perfect because it highlights the main limitation of using pitch comparisons to find pitcher comparisons.
Let’s see these pitches in action. First, Cueto’s fastball:
Now, Anderson’s entirely comparable fastball:
There’s a reason I chose the pitches I did. Anderson’s average fastball is nearly identical to Cueto’s average fastball, in terms of velocity and shape. That’s what these pitch comps can reveal. What these pitch comps can’t reveal is perhaps the bigger part of the equation, relative to a pitcher’s success: command.
Cueto had two strikes on Justin Upton with two outs and the tying run on second base. He needed to make a good pitch. Upton is a great hitter, but an aggressive one with a reputation for chasing and struggling with fastballs. Cueto’s catcher set up for a heater off the plate and Cueto nailed his spot, blowing Upton away to end the inning.
Anderson had Grady Sizemore in a 1-2 count with a perfect game on the line in the seventh inning. Anderson had no incentive to give Sizemore a hittable pitch. Anderson’s catcher set up for a fastball off the plate, just like Cueto’s. Anderson yanked the pitch, leaving it elevated and over the middle, and Sizemore broke up the perfect game in the loudest way possible.
To use two cherry-picked examples as a representation of a pitcher’s entire body of work is nitpicking, sure, but I wrote about Anderson’s struggles to expand the zone with two strikes for MLB.com last month, back when he still had a 1.91 ERA. The Sizemore pitch wasn’t a one-time occurrence. The most interesting thing about Anderson, to me, comes down to the difference between control and command. And there is a difference.
Control could be thought of as the ability to put the ball over the plate. Command, then, would be the ability to put the ball where the glove is. It’s possible to have control without command. Anderson’s eight walks in 48 innings demonstrates great control, which is more than some pitchers can say! What Anderson hasn’t yet demonstrated is any semblance of consistent command, being able to spot a pitch on the corner or in the dirt when he needs to. Therein lies the difference between the Cueto fastball and the Anderson fastball. On to the next pitch.
Top comp: Joe Kelly
The names here aren’t particularly promising, so why don’t we jump right into the visuals. Lest I run the risk of picking on Anderson, let’s observe a very good changeup:
Anderson’s changeup, when spotted like this one, has the potential to be a very effective secondary offering. It’s got some nice fade, and a reasonable 9mph separation from his fastball. Now for the Kelly changeup:
These pitches were chosen, again, for a specific reason. Anderson’s pictured changeup was a fantastic changeup. Kelly’s pictured changeup was a terrible changeup. Adrian Beltre should have taken that pitch deep for a three-run homer. He just missed.
One of the next-closest comps for Anderson’s change, but one that didn’t quite make the cut, was Anibal Sanchez’s split-change. Anibal’s splitter is a great pitch, so it’s nice for Anderson that it could be considered a loose comp. But this, again, brings us back to the control vs. command idea.
Above, I said Anderson’s change can be great when spotted like shown. What follows is an image that shows the location of all of Anderson’s changeups vs. all of Sanchez’s split-changes:
With Sanchez, you see a clear plan of attack: a healthy number of pitches in the dirt with a heavy cluster on the lower edge of the strike zone. Almost nothing is above the waist. With Anderson, you see a scattered representation. There’s red in the middle of the plate, plenty of pitches above the waist and very little in the dirt.
When Anderson throws a changeup like the one he threw to Pedro Alvarez, it’s a great pitch. Problem is, he’s thrown more like the one Kelly served up to Beltre.
Top comp: David Buchanan
Wacha and Miller: inspiring. Buchanan and Williams: not so much.
By now, I’ve largely made my point, so I’ll leave it up to you to parse out the difference between Buchanan and Williams’ offerings with regards to Wacha’s and Miller’s, and why Anderson has only generated a ground ball on one of every three balls in play against his cutter. I’ll give you a hint: the keyword(s) begin with a “C”.
* * * * *
Search for pitch comps for Cody Anderson and names like Johnny Cueto, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller pop up, which is encouraging. Anderson’s stuff might not be electric, but he’s not up there throwing junk, either. Outweighing the Cueto’s, Wacha’s and Miller’s, though, are the Nick Martinez’s, Joe Kelly’s and Tom Koehler’s of the world. Martinez’s name appears twice in this study, and he feels like a reasonable comp for who Anderson might be, as much as that may be disappointing for Indians fans after Anderson’s debut.
Combine the season-to-date numbers of the nine pitchers unearthed in this exercise and you wind up with the following line: 4.00 ERA, 17.6 K%, 7.8 BB%, 0.98 HR/9.
The one constant among the group is that none of these pitchers, including the three upper-echelon names, are big strikeout guys. Anderson simply does not have a strikeout arsenal, regardless of whether he develops the ability to expand the zone with two strikes. Working in his favor is that he does appear to exhibit far better control than the lower-tier names of the group, as evidenced by his probably-unsustainable-but-still-very-impressive 4.2 BB% through eight starts.
As we’ve discussed, however, control is far different than command. With better command, perhaps Cody Anderson could be Shelby Miller. They do throw the same cutter, after all. But for now, he’s probably closer to being a Nick Martinez or Joe Kelly.
Do you remember how excited Nick Swisher was at his introductory press conference with the Indians? Do you, loyal Tribe fan, remember how excited you were at the time, too? It was a Merry Swish-mas! The switch-hitting, living, breathing can of Red Bull had signed with Cleveland and we all suddenly lived in Bro-hio.
Do you recall his first day in Indians camp during Spring Training? He unpacked his stuff, singing his own made-up tune (“It’s Triiibe Time!”) while teammates chuckled and figured Swisher’s energy and enthusiasm would help cure any lingering effects of the 94-loss season in 2012. He roared through the clubhouse on Tito’s scooter, jabbed reporters in the shoulder after questions, handed out high fives daily. Swisher immediately changed the culture.
On Day 1, here was what one of his teammates said: “That’s definitely somebody you want to have on your team. For him to be the kind of leader, and vocal leader, that he is, that’s definitely going to be something we need.”
With Swisher, and Michael Bourn, now in Atlanta, try to remember.
Underneath the bitter pile of frustration and anger over diminished performance, unexpected injuries, roster limitations and a tightened payroll, try to remember the good vibes that existed when both Swisher and Bourn signed with the Indians. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone — in the media or among fans — who knocked the deals at the time. Both were top-flight free-agents, and they came to Cleveland?
These were veterans with track records and there was little to nothing that said they couldn’t be productive for the Tribe over the life of their respective four-year deals.
“The free agent stuff, sometimes it’s a little bit of a crapshoot,” Indians manager Terry Francona said earlier this week. “That was one of the things I think we had really hung our hat on, was the level of consistency both guys had had.”
MLB Trade Rumors — as reliable a resource as any for projections, speculation and rumor roundups — ranked Bourn as the third-best free-agent before the 2013 season. Swisher was ranked sixth that winter. The site noted that Bourn might be in line for “Torii Hunter money,” referring to the five-year, $90-million pact inked by Hunter in 2007. As for Swisher, no one expected a $100-million contract, but he was viewed as “a fine addition to any lineup.”
Prior to 2013, Swisher hit .256/.361/.468 with an average of 26 homers, 31 doubles, 83 walks and 83 RBIs in 149 games each season. He had just one stint on the disabled list — in 2005 for a shoulder issue. In that eight-year time period, he averaged 4.20 pitches per plate appearance (ninth-best in the Majors in that span). Only five players had seen more pitches than Swisher. Consistency, health and a good eye often mean a player will age fairly well.
Swisher got four years and $56 million. The largest free-agent deal in team history.
Before 2013, Bourn hit .280/.348/.378 with an average of four homers, 28 doubles, 10 triples, 45 RBIs, 61 walks, 93 runs and 54 stolen bases in 153 games in that four-year span. He stole 257 bases from 2008-12 (51 per year and the most in the Majors overall). From ’09-12, he ranked first in MLB in steals, fourth in triples, 10th in runs and 13th in hits. Even if Bourn, 30 years old at the time, wasn’t going to keep swiping 50 bases (or even 40) per year, expecting 30 per season wasn’t unrealistic.
Bourn got four years and $48 million. No pun intended, it was a steal. (OK, pun intended.)
“That was a big part of why he acquired him, was defense in center field and disrupting the game,” Francona said. “He just wasn’t able to disrupt the game like we’d hoped, as often as we’d hoped.”
The Indians couldn’t see the future. They couldn’t possibly predict that Swisher — mostly healthy for his entire career — would break down, hurt both knees and see the leg issues cost him two-years worth of expected production. The Indians couldn’t predict that Bourn would rupture a hamstring in the Wild Card-clinching game in 2013, creating an issue that lingered through 2014. They couldn’t know that, even when healthy in ’15, Bourn wouldn’t be the same player. They figured he might steal 46 bases in a season — not total over the 331 games he’d be in an Indians’ uniform.
In the clubhouse, Bourn had the bigger impact over the past three seasons. After tough defeats, as a veteran on a relatively young team, Bourn was often one of the only position players around when reporters walked into the room. He’d make himself available, taking the heat off some teammates. That kind of accountability goes a long way. And, from his comments, you could tell his diminished production ate at him. You can complain all you want about Bourn’s numbers, and have every right, but he cared and put in the work.
During the 2013 season, Swisher had a good impact on the clubhouse, too. His performance down the stretch played a key role in reaching the playoffs and his energy was unquestionably welcomed after the Tribe’s turbulent 2012 season. Once the injuries struck, and the performance dropped, though, Swisher’s all-out personality didn’t always work well behind the scenes. Some people within the organization don’t mind seeing him in a new uniform.
And, really, that’s kind of a shame. Given the way Swisher embraced the Indians organization and the fan base, and with the charity work he and his wife did both here and elsewhere, this could have been a perfect marriage under different circumstances. As I posted on Twitter after the trade went down, Swisher could’ve owned this town, rather than being run out of it.
“When we signed both guys,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, “we were hopeful that they would help expedite our return to competitiveness. And in the 2013 season, both guys were key contributors to us making the postseason. Unfortunately, since that time, things haven’t played out maybe the way anyone would’ve hoped, and so that got us to [this point].
“At this point, we had to not necessarily dwell on the past, but figure out the path forward. We felt this move made sense for us and allows us that flexibility that would be helpful for us as we build our teams.”
This team needed a culture change heading into 2013, and it needs one again heading into 2016.
Trading Swisher and Bourn was needed in order to begin that process.
But, try to remember what it was like when they signed.
Remember how many times Swisher used the word “excited” when he first donned a Cleveland uniform? True to his persona, Swisher still used that word as he emptied his locker on Friday.
“I’m just excited, packing up all my stuff,” Swisher said. “I’m really just excited to get back on the field and play again — just be myself. Everything that’s went down here in the last year-and-a-half has been tough. Not only for myself, but organizationally as well. I just wish these guys the best of luck in everything they do and I hope they do the same for me.”
Like it or not, the Indians have now entered into a two-month evaluation period. Things have not as planned or expected — just ask the people who planned Sports Illustrated’s season preview during the spring — and now Cleveland has to begin thinking about its future.
In the final days of July, which resulted in a .500 record for the Tribe, the Indians dealt away Brandon Moss (Cardinals), David Murphy (Angels) and Marc Rzepczynski (Padres). That sheds some potential salary for 2016, and it also opens the door for the Indians to test out some of its internal options down the stretch this year.
“We want to make sure that we learn something about ourselves in the second half,” Indians GM Chris Antonetti said on Thursday. “We have to look at it as an opportunity for us to go into the offseason and next year in a better position.”
The pitching continued to rank as one of the American League’s best groups throughout July, and the foundation in place for the rotation is what should provide some optimism about Cleveland’s ability to make this a quick turnaround. That said, this team needs offense in a bad way. July was a perfect example. While the pitchers rated as arguably the best staff in the AL, the offense was in the cellar, making it hard to scratch out wins.
The lineup also had a solid core group, but there will be holes to fill this coming winter.
First, the Indians need to fight through the final two months of this year.
Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…
Record at home: 5-9
Record on road: 8-4
Offense (AL rank)
.245 AVG (12)
.311 OBP (11)
.371 SLG (14)
.683 OPS (13)
93 R (12)
211 H (10)
18 HR (t-13)
68 XBH (12)
90 RBI (12)
15 SB (2)
76 BB (4)
187 K (9)
320 TB (13)
2.6 WAR (10)
Pitching (AL rank)
13 wins (5)
3.52 ERA (4)
3.64 rot. ERA (5)
3.12 rel. ERA (6)
9 saves (t-1)
233 IP (5)
23 HR (t-6)
53 BB (2)
217 K (2)
.231 AVG (1)
1.08 WHIP (1)
3.26 FIP (1)
4.1 WAR (2)
Notes: This was one of the best overall pitching months in franchise history. It’s the first time that Cleveland had 215-plus strikeouts with no more than 55 walks in a single month. If you tweak the criteria to 200-plus strikeouts and no more than 60 walks, it’s happened three times: July 2015, July 2014 and September 2014. This was also the first month a Cleveland staff had a 1.08 WHIP or better since May 1968 (0.93).
Player of the Month: OF Michael Brantley
Stats: .299/.389/.495/.884, 4 HR, 7 2B, 18 RBI, 14 BB, 8 K, 12 R, 26 games
Previous winners: Brantley (April), 2B Jason Kipnis (May, June)
Notes: Brantley became the first Indians batter to have at least 18 RBI and 14 walks with no more than eight strikeouts since August 2000, when Kenny Lofton achieved the feat.
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Danny Salazar
Stats: 2-3, 2.65 ERA, 34 IP, 35 K, 9 BB, .175 AVG, 0.88 WHIP, 5 starts
Notes: Salazar joins teammate Corey Kluber, along with Gaylord Perry, Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, Herb Score and Bob Feller as the only pitchers in team history to have a month with at least 34 innings and 35 strikeouts, plus an opponents’ average of .175 or lower. Kluber accomplished the feat in July ’14. Before that, Perry was the last to do it for Cleveland (June 1974).
Previous winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April), Kluber (May), Salazar (June)
Reliever of the Month: RHP Bryan Shaw
Stats: 1.00 ERA, 9 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, .167 AVG, 0.67 WHIP, 9 games
Previous winners: LHP Nick Hagadone (April), RHP Cody Allen (May), RHP Zach McAllister (June)
Notes: Shaw now has three months in his Cleveland career with no more than one walk, at least nine appearances and an ERA of 1.00 or better. While that has been done 17 times in team history, only Paul Assenmacher also did it three times (once each in the 1996-98 seasons).
Game of the Month (hitter): Brantley
July 22 at Brewers: 4-for-5, 1 HR, 1 2B, 2 R, 4 RBI, 8 TB
Previous winners: OF Brandon Moss (April 24), Kipnis (May 3), 1B Carlos Santana (June 16)
Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Carlos Carrasco
July 1 at Rays: 8.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R/ER, 2 BB, 13 K, 89 Game Score
Previous winners: Bauer (April 9), Kluber (May 13), RHP Cody Anderson (June 21)
Minor League standouts for July
Player of the Month: 1B/OF Jerry Sands
Stats: .333/.465/.603/1.063, 5 HR, 6 2B, 20 RBI, 18 BB, 19 R, 25 games
Previous winners: OF Tyler Holt (April), OF James Ramsey (May), 1B Jesus Aguilar (June)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Shawn Armstrong
Stats: 1.86 ERA, 9.2 IP, 15 K, 3 BB, .216 AVG, 1.14 WHIP, 2 saves, 10 games
Previous winners: LHP Bruce Chen (April), RHP C.C. Lee (May), Armstrong (June)
Player of the Month: OF Bryson Myles
Stats: .316/.398/.487/.885, 2 HR, 8 XBH, 15 RBI, 10 BB, 10 R, 5 SB, 22 games
Previous winners: OF Ollie Linton (April), SS Erik Gonzalez (May), OF Anthony Gallas (June)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Jeff Johnson
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 9 IP, 10 K, 4 BB, .103 AVG, 0.78 WHIP, 6 saves, 9 starts
Previous winners: RHP Cody Anderson (April), RHP Josh Martin (May), RHP Mike Clevinger (June)
Class A (high) Lynchburg
Player of the Month: OF Clint Frazier
Stats: .363/.442/.559/1.000, 3 HR, 12 XBH, 17 RBI, 16 BB, 21 R, 6 SB, 28 games
Previous winners: OF Brad Zimmer (April, May), 1B Nellie Rodriguez (June)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP D.J. Brown
Stats: 4-0, 2.91 ERA, 34 IP, 22 K, 4 BB, .246 AVG, 1.06 WHIP, 5 starts
Previous winners: RHP Adam Plutko (April, May), RHP Justin Brantley (June)
Class A (low) Lake County
Player of the Month: 3B Taylor Murphy
Stats: .290/.396/.441/.837, 3 HR, 5 2B, 12 RBI, 16 BB, 22 R, 27 games
Previous winners: None (April), 2B Claudio Bautista (May), 1B Bobby Bradley (June)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Luke Eubank
Stats: 0.96 ERA, 9.1 IP, 14 K, 2 BB, .129 AVG, 0.64 WHIP, 8 games
Previous winners: RHP Dace Kime (April), RHP Nick Pasquale (May), RHP Cameron Hill (June)
Class A (short-season) Mahoning Valley
Player of the Month: 2B Mark Mathias
Stats: .320/.361/.454/.815, 1 HR, 9 XBH, 11 RBI, 7 BB, 11 R, 23 games
Previous winners: OF Anthony Santander (June)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cortland Cox
Stats: 1.46 ERA, 12.1 IP, 15 K, 2 BB, .143 AVG, 0.65 WHIP, 5 games
Previous winners: RHP Shao-Ching Chang (June)
Arizona (Rookie) League
Player of the Month: OF Gabriel Mejia
Stats: .354/.463/.418/.881, 5 2B, 10 RBI, 15 BB, 22 SB, 18 R, 22 games
Pitcher of the Month: LHP Sam Hentges
Stats: 3.13 ERA, 23 IP, 31 K, 10 BB, .250 AVG, 1.39 WHIP, 5 games
Dominican Summer League
Player of the Month: SS Elvis Perez
Stats: .333/.448/.417/.865, 4 2B, 10 RBI, 18 BB, 17 R, 26 games
Pitcher of the Month: LHP Ramon Tieno
Stats: 4-0, 0.54 ERA, 16.2 IP, 15 K, 4 BB, .190 AVG, 0.90 WHIP, 9 games
By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB
The All-Star Break is here, and that means no meaningful Indians baseball for the next four days. Since nothing is happening in the present, let’s enjoy the past! With the Home Run Derby happening tonight, I figured it was a good time to revive a series I did a couple of times over at FanGraphs, looking at the most unique home runs of the season. Rather than looking at the whole league, though, let’s look just at the Indians. The data used in this post comes from HitTrackerOnline and BaseballSavant.
Fast, slow, high and low, these are The 10 Most Extraordinary Indians Home Runs of the first half.
* * *
Batter: Carlos Santana
Pitcher: Phil Klein
We’ll go ahead and get a Santana dinger out of the way because there’s going to be a few of them. Santana hit 10 homers in the first half and it turns out pretty much all of them were extraordinary in one way or another. At 441 feet, this is the farthest a ball has traveled off an Indians bat this season and the fourth-deepest homer of Santana’s career. Ball went and got itself some Barrio.
Batter: Roberto Perez
Pitcher: Phil Klein
It’s our friend Phil Klein again! Hi, Phil! Phil had himself a rough day at the ballpark. Sorry, Phil. Phil already served up the longest home run of the season to Carlos Santana an inning prior, and then Roberto Perez got him for the luckiest homer of the year the next. In the previous FanGraphs iterations of this post, I had a category for “most wind-aided home run.” This clip serves as both. Notice the flags in center field — the wind was blowing out to right field this day. Under standard conditions, Perez’s shot would have traveled approximately 342 feet and left zero Major League ballparks. On this day, though, the wind gave Perez’s ball an extra 22 feet of carry, just enough to make Shin-Soo Choo run into his old home fence.
Batter: Lonnie Chisenhall
Pitcher: Kelvin Herrera
Here’s a clip of Lonnie Chisenhall doing something extraordinary in the year 2015. Kelvin Herrera was the pitcher, and Kelvin Herrera throws hard, in part explaining the 112mph exit velocity off Chisenhall’s bat. Though the exit velocity is exceptional in itself, this home run would have been noteworthy regardless of how hard it was hit, because Herrera hadn’t given up a homer all year. No, wait, that’s not it. Because Herrera hadn’t given up a homer all of last year either. Chisenhall’s homer broke a Royals franchise record 105 1/3 inning homerless streak that dated back to July 2013. Herrera gave up another home run later that month, and is currently 20 innings into his next streak.
Batter: Carlos Santana
Pitcher: Justin Verlander
Advertising worked. See that Jimmy John’s sign, right above where Santana’s home run landed? Yeah, that did it’s job. I’m currently eating a No. 10 with a side of BBQ Jimmy Chips because of that sign. And, no, I know what you’re wondering — I totally didn’t get one of those massive triple chocolate chunk cookies as well. Yeah, definitely not gonna scarf that down and make myself feel sick as soon as I finish this sandwich.
Oh, the home run? Yeah, geez, that sure was a high pitch. Thirteen inches above the center of the strike zone. Santana can get up and hit the high one.
Batter: Carlos Santana
Pitcher: Darren O’Day
Apparently Santana can go get the low one, too. Batters swinging at pitches like this is a reason why Darren O’Day is so good. Carlos Santana being able to hit pitches like this for home runs is a reason why, throughout his career, he’s been so good. If you follow me on Twitter, you might already know some fun facts about this dinger. Among other things, it’s the lowest pitch hit for a homer by an Indians player in the PITCHf/x era (2008-present) and one of the lowest fastballs hit out by any player in that same time.
Batter: Brandon Moss
Pitcher: Al Alburquerque
No, I didn’t order another Jimmy John’s sandwich. That would be ridiculous. I did just eat that cookie, though, and damn it was good. This ball reached an apex of 138 feet above field level at its peak.
Batter: Michael Brantley
Pitcher: Mark Buehrle
I’d like to call something to your attention. It isn’t the home run. It’s that guy. Right there. You probably already noticed him. I purposely extended the length of the .gif so you would. That bald man is very excited. His children are embarrassed. Two options for the reason behind his happy dance
The likely reason: “Hot dog! These seats offer me a splendid view of tonight’s ballgame! And at an affordable price, too! Roll Tribe!”
The less likely reason: “Gee whiz! Certainly that will end up as the lowest-apex home run hit by an Indians batter in the first half of this season! I love physics!”
Most inside pitch
Batter: Francisco Lindor
Pitcher: Brett Oberholtzer
Just like the scouts said: “can hit pitches 10 inches in from the middle of the strike zone for home runs as well as any shortstop prospect in baseball.” Just imagine if the defense ever comes along.
Most outside pitch
Batter: Carlos Santana
Pitcher: Colby Lewis
If I can, I’d like to submit this as “most impressive home run” as well. Sure, there’s some takeaways — the score of the game and also the Colby Lewis on the mound. But to take a pitch that low and away and drive it 421 feet to dead center field is impressive, regardless of circumstance. Though, perhaps not as impressive as the final homer on this list…
Pitcher: DOESN’T MATTER
Date: GATTIS TIME
Growing up in Chicago, I was all too familiar with the phrase “June swoon” while rooting on the Cubs. So often, it seemed that promising starts hit a wall in baseball’s third month, shifting fans into an early wait-til-next-year mindset.
Well, Indians fans wouldn’t be blamed for letting their thoughts wander similarly right now.
April was a bust, but Cleveland stormed through May with one of the best collective offensive and pitching performances in baseball. When the calendar flipped to June, the temperature got hot, but the Tribe’s bats went cold again. The pitching was middle-of-the-road, but the run support was nearly non-existent, giving the arms little to no margin for error.
Rock bottom arrived in Baltimore, where the Indians scored three runs in three games, included putting up 18 zeros in a doubleheader in (not-so) Charm City on the month’s final, bloody Sunday. Fortunately for the Tribe, some good feelings arrived in St. Petersburg, where the Indians ended June with a pair of impressive wins, leading up to Carlos Carrasco’s near no-hitter on July 1.
There is still plenty of time for the Indians to regain their footing and make a second-half push, but June made things a little more daunting.
Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…
Record at home: 5-9
Record on road: 6-6
Offense (AL rank)
.249 AVG (9)
.313 OBP (9)
.364 SLG (13)
.677 OPS (12)
79 R (14)
215 H (13)
18 HR (14)
62 XBH (t-13)
73 RBI (14)
10 SB (9)
79 BB (6)
197 K (8)
314 TB (t-13)
1.8 WAR (13)
Notes: The last time the Indians scored no more than 79 runs and had an OPS no greater than .677 was, well, way back in April. Oof. Before April, you had to go all the way back to June of the 1991 season to find an offensive outage of that kind in one month. And, go figure, Cleveland also did the same dubious feat in April of 1991. Baseball is weird.
Pitching (AL rank)
11 wins (12)
3.90 ERA (10)
4.22 rot. ERA (11)
3.15 rel. ERA (6)
4 saves (14)
226.1 IP (14)
29 HR (10)
69 BB (6)
212 K (6)
.245 AVG (7)
1.23 WHIP (7)
3.91 FIP (11)
2.4 WAR (11)
Notes: Let’s flash back to 1991 once again! April of ’91 was also the last time an Indians’ pitching staff had an ERA no higher than 3.90 with no more than 11 wins to show for it. I bet Paul Hoynes’ Plain Dealer articles back then detailed a lack of run support just like in June this year. In April of ’91, though, the staff went 7-10 despite a 2.61 ERA.
Player of the Month: 2B Jason Kipnis
Stats: .358/.441/.484/926, 10 XBH, 8 RBI, 15 BB, 15 R, 5 SB, 25 games
Previous winners: OF Michael Brantley (April), Kipnis (May)
Notes: Man, Kipnis really slumped through June. I mean, he hit .429/.511/.706 with 30 runs and 51 hits in May, taking home the AL’s Player of the Month award. Oh well. Looking at his June, Kipnis is the first Indians batter to have at least five steals, 10 extra-base hits, 15 runs and a .926 OPS in a month since… Kipnis did that in June 2013. In the last 10 years, only Asdrubal Cabrera (May 2011), Shin-Soo Choo (Sept. 2010) and Grady Sizemore (twice in ’08 and twice in ’06) achieved the same feat.
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Danny Salazar
Stats: 3-2, 3.82 ERA, 30.2 IP, 30 K, 8 BB, .233 AVG, 1.14 WHIP, 5 starts
Notes: There wasn’t anything particularly historic about Salazar’s month, but he was arguably Cleveland’s top start for June. I could’ve easily gone with reliever Zach McAllister here, but I decided to pick him for the next category.
Previous winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April), RHP Corey Kluber (May)
Reliever of the Month: McAllister
Stats: 2.61 ERA, 10.1 IP, 14 K, 1 BB, .200 AVG, 0.77 WHIP, 9 games
Previous winners: LHP Nick Hagadone (April), RHP Cody Allen (May)
Notes: McAllister has developed into a solid part-time late-inning option, or a bridge to Cleveland’s setup men and closer. He’s on a short list of Cleveland pitchers to ever have 14-plus strikeouts with no more than one walk in nine-plus outings in one month. Prior to his June, that list included Chris Perez (July 2012), Rafael Betancourt (April 2004), Paul Shuey (July 2002), Sean DePaula (September ’99) and Paul Assenmacher (July ’96).
Game of the Month (hitter): 1B Carlos Santana
June 16 vs. Cubs: 2-for-3, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 RBI
Notes: Over the past 10 years, an Indians batter has had two-plus hits, two-plus walks and six-plus total bases in a game 16 times. Players on that list include Grady Sizemore (four times), Santana (three times), Jhonny Peralta (twice), David Murphy, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Jason Giambi, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko.
Previous winners: OF Brandon Moss (April 24), Kipnis (May 3)
Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Cody Anderson
June 21 vs. Rays: 7.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R/ER, 1 BB, 4 K
Notes: There’s an argument to be made that Anderson’s eight-inning gem vs. the Rays on June 29 was actually the best start of the month, but I’ll go with his MLB debut due to the historical elements. Anderson joined Scott Lewis (2008), Luis Tiant (1964) and Ray Benge (1925) as the only Cleveland pitchers to log at least 7.2 shutout innings in an MLB debut.
Previous winners: Bauer (April 9), Kluber (May 13)
Minor League standouts for June
Player of the Month: 1B Jesus Aguilar
Stats: .310/.352/.469/.821, 4 HR, 9 XBH, 24 RBI, 11 R, 28 games
Previous winners: OF Tyler Holt (April), OF James Ramsey (May)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Shawn Armstrong
Stats: 1.29 ERA, 14 IP, 19 K, 6 BB, .170 AVG, 1.00 WHIP, 4 saves, 10 games
Previous winners: LHP Bruce Chen (April), RHP C.C. Lee (May)
Player of the Month: OF Anthony Gallas
Stats: .326/.364/.576/.940, 5 HR, 12 XBH, 18 RBI, 24 games
Previous winners: OF Ollie Linton (April), SS Erik Gonzalez (May)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Mike Clevinger
Stats: 1.84 ERA, 29.1 IP, 32 K, 7 BB, .206 AVG, 0.99 WHIP, 5 starts
Previous winners: RHP Cody Anderson (April), RHP Josh Martin (May)
Class A (high) Lynchburg
Player of the Month: 1B Nellie Rodriguez
Stats: .341/.412/.541/.954, 3 HR, 10 XBH, 18 RBI, 14 R, 23 games
Previous winners: OF Brad Zimmer (April, May)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Justin Brantley
Stats: 1.17 ERA, 15.1 IP, 19 K, 7 BB, .157 AVG, 0.98 WHIP, 8 games
Previous winners: RHP Adam Plutko (April, May)
Class A (low) Lake County
Player of the Month: 1B Bobby Bradley
Stats: .277/.346/.574/.921, 7 HR, 12 XBH, 20 RBI, 15 R, 24 games
Previous winners: None (April), 2B Claudio Bautista (May)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cameron Hill
Stats: 0.90 ERA, 10 IP, 14 K, 5 BB, .147 AVG, 1.00 WHIP, 3 saves, 7 games
Previous winners: RHP Dace Kime (April), RHP Nick Pasquale (May)
Class A (short-season)Mahoning Valley
Player of the Month: OF Anthony Santander
Stats: .419/.486/.903/.1.389, 3 HR, 9 XBH, 9 RBI, 6 R, 4 BB, 8 games
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Shao-Ching Chiang
Stats: 0.82 ERA, 11 IP, 3 K, 1 BB, .132 AVG, 0.55 WHIP, 2 games
By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB
Want in on a little industry secret? I’m not even sure if I should be sharing this type of information with the public. I had to do a lot of reporting and digging for this, and I think I’ll be the first to report it. OK, ready?
Miguel Cabrera is really, really good.
Maybe that’s already made its way out there. I don’t know. Cabrera is 26-for-42 against the Indians this year with five homers and a 1.697 OPS, so I guess it probably has. Shoot. Really thought I had a scoop there.
Those kind of numbers have had Indians fans scratching their heads. Those kind of numbers have had the Indians scratching their heads. A reporter asked Corey Kluber how to pitch to Cabrera. The reigning Cy Young Award winner said he was “the wrong guy to ask.” It’s been the question on everybody’s mind this year, so why don’t we break it down?
How should you pitch to Miguel Cabrera? How have the Indians pitched to Miguel Cabrera, and what does the way they’ve pitched him tell us about the season’s most lopsided player vs. team matchup?
First, let’s briefly address the question the fans keep asking. “Why don’t they just walk him every time?” Well, because you just can’t do that. Cabrera is still a human being. Cabrera still makes outs more often than he doesn’t. I ran the math, and even with Cabrera’s otherworldly stats against the Indians this season, they would’ve been worse off issuing him a free pass every time.
When Terry Francona was asked about the subject, his response backed that up:
“I guarantee you, if we just went into a series and said we’re walking Miggy every time, they’d score more runs than if we pick our spots,” Francona said.
Walking Miggy every time is simply not an option. The Indians have to pitch to him, just like anyone else. Which leads us to the million-dollar question: What’s the best way to pitch to Miguel Cabrera?
Well, see, here’s the problem with that:
That’s a heatmap of Cabrera’s career slugging percentage against all teams, going back as far as that kind of information is on record. Cabrera covers the plate as well as any hitter of our generation, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who’s seen him hit. I’ve heard plenty of people say something along the lines of “You’ve got to pitch him inside to keep him honest,” but the inside pitch is actually Cabrera’s biggest strength, so that doesn’t exactly apply here.
I sought out pitching coach Mickey Callaway in an attempt to find what, if any, are Cabrera’s perceived weaknesses, and how Callaway’s instructed his guys to face the slugger. Callaway’s opening statement mirrors the image above:
“The bottom line is, he doesn’t have any holes,” Callaway said. “And the more pitches he sees, the better he gets.”
That second part piqued my interest. On one hand, Cabrera is the kind of guy you’d intuitively want to pitch around. On the other hand, it makes sense that the more pitches he sees, the better timing he’d have, making a potential mistake later in the at-bat more costly. So Callaway really wants Miggy to put the ball in play as early as possible?
“That’s exactly what I want,” Callaway said. “I want them to attack him to a good area, knowing he’s going to be super aggressive. We want him to put the ball in play early. When he starts fouling balls off, fouling balls off and timing our guys up, it gives him a better chance to square the ball up, and that’s what he usually does.”
Against Cabrera, Callaway wants short at-bats. Have the Indians done that? Cabrera’s faced Cleveland 52 times this year, and averaged 3.6 pitches per plate appearance. Against the rest of the league, he’s averaged exactly 4.0 pitches per plate appearance. In this one way, Indians pitchers have accomplished a goal! Clearly, though, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Callaway also wants them to “attack to a good area.” Based on the heatmap above, it appears no such thing exists. However! That first heatmap dates back to 2007, and Cabrera is older now than he was in 2007. Has anything changed since then?
Here’s his heatmap, just from this year, against all teams:
A weakness appears! Cabrera still covers the plate extraordinarily well, but, as he’s gotten older, he’s become relativey susceptible to the high-and-tight pitch. I noted earlier in the month that Cabrera has been swinging and missing against the elevated fastball more and more over the last four years, so perhaps that’s the place to attack. Have the Indians been going there?
Remember, this is from the catcher’s view, behind the plate, so Miggy is standing on the left-hand side of this image. You can see, certainly, the intent to pound Miggy with strikes up-and-in. It’s no secret he’s developed a mini-hole in that area, and surely the Indians are aware. But here’s the problem with that location: if you miss down, at all, you’re throwing to the area of his greatest strength — the inside pitch. And if you miss out, at all, then you’re throwing to the area of every hitter’s strength — the middle of the plate. The key is to pitch up-and-in against Cabrera, but there’s absolutely no margin for error.
Just a few more heatmaps. First, the successes. This is going to show pitches where Cabrera either swung and missed, or made an out:
Gameplan: executed! The Indians have attempted to pitch Cabrera high-and-tight, and when they have, it’s worked! It’s that easy. We just went over the problem, though. There’s no margin for error.
Now, the failures. This is going to show pitches where Cabrera put the ball in play for a hit:
Miggy’s pounced on the pitches that missed down. Miggy’s pounced on the pitches that missed out. Maybe Indians pitchers have just missed their spots with Cabrera up more than they typically do. Maybe Cabrera’s hit the mistake pitches more often than he usually does. My guess is it’s probably a little bit of both.
One more thing to tie this all together. Remember earlier, when Callaway said he wanted his guys to attack Cabrera in “good areas” early in the count? Make him uncomfortable as soon as possible? Well, all five of his home runs have come within the first three pitches of the at-bat, with the most recent two coming on the first pitch, so that hasn’t gone over well. We’ve seen what the approach has been, overall, but what’s the approach been on the first pitch?
On the first pitch, you see far less reliance on the high-and-tight pitch, with a larger focus on going down-and-away. Cabrera’s latest two homers against Cleveland came on the first pitch, and, on each, the pitcher was set up for a low-and-away fastball. Each missed over the middle of the plate, which of course is the bigger issue at hand, but if the Indians want to make Cabrera uncomfortable as early as possible, it would stand to reason that going up-and-in with the heat early — as opposed to later in counts as a putaway pitch — might better accomplish that goal. Then again, I’m far from a pitching expert. I just play one on the internet.
What have we learned from this exercise? We’ve learned that walking Miguel Cabrera isn’t an option. We’ve learned he’s never had a hole in his swing throughout his career, though lately he’s become relatively susceptible to fastballs up-and-in. We’ve learned that the Indians have made an effort to pitch him there. We’ve learned that when they have pitched him there, it’s worked, but there’s no margin for error whatsoever. We’ve also learned that, despite a focus on making Cabrera uncomfortable early in at-bats, the Indians have seemed unwilling to throw to his most uncomfortable area on the first pitch. That’s the only part of the approach against Cabrera that perhaps seems questionable. The rest can mostly be boiled down to a strong gameplan backfiring by good pitchers missing their spots against the best hitter in the world. It’s a tough game. Becomes a hell of a lot tougher when facing Miguel Cabrera.
After selecting a position player to open each of the past four Drafts, the Indians returned to the pitching front for its first-round pick this week. With the 17th overall choice, Cleveland grabbed highly-touted lefty Brady Aiken, who went first overall to the Astros last year, but did not sign. It was a pitching-heavy Draft for the Tribe, which selected 23 pitchers compared to 18 position players for this year’s class.
Here is a breakdown of Cleveland’s 2015 Draft class:
Round 1 (17): Aiken, IMG Academy (MLB.com rank: 24)
Story: Indians select last year’s No. 1 pick Aiken at 17
Comp. A (42): RHP Triston McKenzie, Royal Palm Beach HS (53)
Round 2 (59): LHP Juan Hillman, Olympia HS (52)
Feature: Hillman, Gordon family share special bond
Round 3 (93): 2B Mark Mathias, Cal Poly (128)
Story: Indians open Day 2 by Drafting Mathias
Round 4 (124): SS Tyler Krieger, Clemson (104)
Round 5 (154): OF Ka’Ai Tom, Kentucky
Round 6 (184): RHP Jonas Wyatt, Quartz Hill HS (187)
Story: Wyatt highlights home stretch of Day 2
Round 7 (214): OF Nathan Lukes, Sacramento State
Round 8 (244): RHP Justin Garza, Cal State Fullerton (155)
Round 9 (274): RHP Devon Stewart, Canisius College
Round 10 (304): LHP William Strode, Florida State
Round 11 (334): RHP Chandler Newman, Richmond Hill HS
Round 12 (364): SHP Ryan Perez, Judson University
Feature: Indians grab intriguing prospect in switch-pitching Perez
Round 13 (394): C Daniel Salters, Dallas Baptist University
Round 14 (424): RHP Matt Esparza, UC Irvine
Round 15 (454): RHP Daniel Sprinkle, White Hall HS
Round 16 (484): 2B Cobie Vance, Pine Forest HS
Round 17 (514): SS Nick Madrigal, Elk Grove HS
Round 18 (544): 1B Anthony Miller, Johnson County CC
Round 19 (574): OF Todd Isaacs, Palm Beach CC
Round 20 (604): SS Luke Wakamatsu, Keller HS*
Round 21 (634): RHP Brock Hartson, Univ. Texas-San Antonio
Round 22 (664): 3B Garrett Benge, Cowley County CC
Round 23 (694): RHP Chad Smith, Wallace State CC
Round 24 (724): 2B Sam Haggerty, Univ. of New Mexico
Round 25 (754): OF Connor Marabell, Jacksonville University
Round 26 (784): SS A.J. Graffanino, Northwest Christian School**
Round 27 (814): RHP Austin Rubick, Buena HS
Round 28 (844): C Jack Goihl, Augustana College
Round 29 (874): RHP Christian Meister, No School
Round 30 (904): RHP Chandler Day, Watkins HS (86)
Round 31 (934): 2B Dillon Persinger, Golden West College
Round 32 (964): LHP Jacob Hill, University of San Diego
Round 33 (994): C Garrett Wolforth, Concordia Lutheran HS
Round 34 (1024): RHP Andrew Cabezas, Mater Academy Charter School
Round 35 (1054): C Cade Tremie, New Waverly HS***
Round 36 (1084): RHP Ryan Colegate, Ohio Dominican University
Round 37 (1114): RHP Lucas Humpal, Texas State
Round 38 (1144): RHP Braden Webb, No School
Round 39 (1174): RHP Tristin English, Pike County HS
Round 40 (1204): RHP Hunter Parsons, Parkside HS
*Son of Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu
**Son of former MLB infielder Tony Graffanino
***Son of Triple-A Columbus manager Chris Tremie
Late Sunday night, the Indians optioned third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and shortstop Jose Ramirez to Triple-A, and the club will recall third baseman Giovanny Urshela and utility man Zach Walters before Tuesday’s game. On Monday morning, Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti went over the decisions on a conference call with reporters. Here is a transcript of the Q&A session:
Opening comments on the roster moves:
“Obviously, it’s been a difficult start to the season for Lonnie and Jose. We tried to continue to work with them as much as possible to help them get it going and be productive Major League players, but we reached a point where we felt that it was best for the team and for their individual development to go to Triple-A and work through some things there, and then hopefully come back and be Major League options for us and impact us later on in the season. That was the motivation and rationale behind the moves.
“In terms of Gio and Zach Walters, they’ll come up and fill roles on the team. Exactly how the playing time will be broken up between shortstop and third base will be to be determined at some point. I’m not sure that there’s a specific amount that we delineated for each guy to play at those positions, but between Mike Aviles, Zach Walters and Giovanny Urshela, they’ll get the bulk of the at-bats at shortstop and third base.
“I would expect that you’ll see Mike, as he has over the last 10 days, probably get more of the shortstop opportunities.”
Q: What makes you believe Urshela is ready?
“I think with Gio, he’s always been a very good defender, a guy that’s taken great pride in his defense and the work that he’s put in over there. I think that’s been one of his core strengths throughout his career in the Minor Leagues. I think what we’ve seen with Gio, over the course of the last two years especially, is a maturation and development as a hitter. I think he’s continued to gain an understanding of what he needs to do to be successful, and that has translated to his success on the field both last year in Columbus and since he’s put the injury behind him this year. Now that he’s healthy, we feel like he’s ready to come up and contribute to helping us win games at the Major League level.”
“I think one of the things, and I think we’ve touched upon this a little bit in the past, between the ’13 and ’14 seasons, Gio went out to Arizona and committed to multiple strength and conditioning programs, and he really focused on becoming more powerful and more explosive and getting his body in a better position. That work that he did in the offseason translated into impacting him defensively and especially offensively, where it’s allowed him to get into his legs better and be able to generate more power and more bat speed to the ball, and get him into a better position to hit and do damage. That, along with his continued maturation as a hitter, and improved approach at the plate, has come together to allow him to contribute not only defensively, but offensively as well.”
Q: What was behind the timing of these moves?
“We just got to that point where we felt it was best for the team to look at other alternatives and then, probably as importantly for Lonnie and Jose, we tried to continue to work with them and help them work through their struggles at the Major League level. But, it got to the point where we felt the best environment for them to make those adjustments and improve was in Triple-A. There’s no immediate science to it. There’s no way to say, ‘This day is better than that day.’ We just reached that point over the weekend. Obviously, it’s something that we’ve been talking about over the last couple of weeks, but it got to the point over the weekend where we thought it was best both for the team and for them individually to make the moves now.”
Q: Was Francisco Lindor considered for promotion?
“Yes, he was a consideration, but just like other guys on the Triple-A roster. We considered all the alternatives, and we felt it was best again for the team and for the individuals involved to go with this series of moves. Francisco is continuing to develop. He’s making progress in Columbus and, again, we’re very confident he’ll impact our Major League team at some point in the near future.”
Q: Is Lindor a little banged up right now?
“He is a little bit banged up. He’s been working through some things with his mid-section, his core, and his hand as well. Nothing major. Nothing that’s kept him from being in the lineup, but he’s working through some things. Last night, him DHing was more a function of us wanting to give Zach a game at shortstop before he came up here.”
Q: Did the minor injury issues play a role in keeping Lindor in Triple-A?
“Yeah. I think we looked at all the information on each of those guys, including where they were physically. That was a consideration, but I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a driving factor.”
Q: What was the message to Ramirez and Chisenhall before they went to Triple-A?
“Most importantly, the thing we reiterated is how much we believe in them and that we know they’re going to be good players and, in fact, we’re counting on them to impact our team at some point later on this season. It’s just … we felt that they weren’t able to make the type of progress that they would’ve hoped at the Major League level to work through their struggles. Our conversation with each one of them is, ‘OK, let’s work together, come up with a plan to get you guys being back to the successful players. We know you’re capable of doing that.’ With each guy, it’s a little bit different. What Jose may need to work on is a litle bit different than maybe what Lonnie needs to work on.”
“I think Lonnie deserves a lot of credit for the work he put in defensively and for the improvements that he’s shown this year defensively. I know he did not have a great game over the weekend, but on balance, I think everybody would say that we’ve been really pleased with the progress that he’s made defensively. If you take that progress and now maybe get back to some of the things that made him a successful hitter in the past, and now you combine a successful hitter with a strong defender, that’s ultimately what our vision for Lonnie would be. I know he’ll work towards getting to that point.”
Q: And Ramirez?
“It’s important to remember with Jose, he’s still a really young player at 22. He went through a period last year where he came up and struggled at the Major League level, went down to Triple-A and came back a better player. So, hopefully, we can follow a similar pattern where Jose, and actually in partnering with us, we can figure out what allowed that to happen last year with Jose. What are the things he needs to focus on now to get back to that contributing, confident player that we’ve seen? I think it’s important not to lose focus that he was a big part of why we played so well in the second half last year. And so, we need to work with him to get him back to that point. Again, we’re encouraged by the fact we know Jose has gone through this struggle [before]. He went through it last year, and was able to come back to the Major Leagues a better player. Hopefully we can follow a similar blueprint for success.”
Q: Will Lindor and Ramirez split the playing time at short at Triple-A?
“We’ll have to work through exactly how we allocate playing time down there. I think Jose will see time at a number of positions, but he will also play some shortstop.”
Just like that, Kipnis and the Tribe were off and running in what developed into a historical month on a number of fronts.
“I can’t tell you how much a different calendar month does for a baseball player’s psyche,” Kipnis said after the win over Toronto on May 1. “When you say it turns a page, it really does.”
Reminded of that comment after Cleveland’s win over the Mariners on May 31, Kipnis laughed.
“Let’s hope I was full of crap here now that it turns to June,” Kipnis quipped.
In May, Cleveland bounced back from an April that was plagued by bad offense, worse defense and inconsistent starting pitching. Kipnis led the charge by becoming the first Indians batter since 1938 (Jeff Heath) to turn in a month with 50-plus hits and 30-plus runs. Kipnis posted a .511 on-base percentage for the month and set a unique Cleveland record in the process, reaching base three-plus times in eight straight games from May 9-17 (See the chart to the right).
On the mound, ace Corey Kluber shurgged off an 0-5 start to the season with an incredible end to the month, posting 18 strikeouts against St. Louis on May 13, 50 strikeouts in his final four outings and 60 for the month. That helped power a solid month for the rotation and, in turn, helped the bullpen show improvement over a very rocky April.
Cleveland saw designated hitter Nick Swisher and catcher Yan Gomes return to the lineup after injury issues. And, while neither were offensive catalysts so to speak, they provided more balance for a Tribe lineup that labored mightily against lefty pitching in the season’s first month. The lineup was also given a boost when manager Terry Francona moved Kipnis into the leadoff spot and put Michael Bourn lower in the lineup. Both players have thrived since the changes.
Most importantly, Cleveland’s May has them back in a solid position standings-wise with four months to play.
“It was a fun month,” Kipnis said, “not only for me, but for our team as well. We’re finally turning it around, putting things together. All these things wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if we were losing games. It’s a lot more fun when I get to enjoy them.”
Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…
Record at home: 8-7
Record on road: 9-5
Offense (AL rank)
.265 AVG (4)
.351 OBP (1)
.429 SLG (4)
.780 OPS (3)
146 R (t-2)
262 H (t-3)
28 HR (t-7)
99 XBH (3)
142 RBI (2)
18 SB (t-3)
130 BB (1)
194 K (t-4)
424 TB (3)
5.9 WAR (2)
Notes: After ranking in the bottom third in most categories in April (1.4 offensive WAR as a team), the Indians bounced back in a big way in May. The offense was ignited by Kipnis, but a drastic improvement against lefties (.638 OPS, 26th in MLB, in April; .824 OPS, 3rd in MLB, in May) went a long way, too. Ryan Raburn (.895 OPS) and David Murphy (.880) embraced their platoon roles in May and Bourn (.751) had one of his best months since joining Cleveland. Cleveland excelled in drawing walks (130, compared to 95 for the AL’s second-ranked Tigers). It marked the most walks in a month by a CLE team since Sept/Oct 2000 (131). It marked the first time an MLB team had 130-plus walks and 99-plus extra-base hits in a month since the A’s did so in April 2013. The last Indians team to have 130-plus walks and 64-plus doubles in a month before this May? The 1939 Tribe in September that season.
Pitching (AL rank)
17 wins (3)
3.66 ERA (7)
4.26 rot. ERA (9)
2.56 rel. ERA (5)
8 saves (t-7)
260.2 IP (4)
34 HR (t-12)
74 BB (6)
282 K (1)
.238 AVG (3)
1.19 WHIP (3)
3.58 FIP (2)
3.7 WAR (2)
Notes: The Indians ranked first in strikeouts (282) by a wide margin in the AL, whose second-ranked team was Tampa Bay (248). There’s a good reason, too. Cleveland’s 282 strikeouts in May were the fifth-highest total in one month in MLB history, only falling behind the 2012 Rays (294 in September), 2014 Rays (287 in June), 2002 Cubs (286 in August) and 2012 Phillies (285 in September). Cleveland’s previous record for one month was 280, set in May 2013. Third now is the 269 punchouts the Indians had in September 2014. So, the three best strikeout months in team history have now come under manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Before 2013, the record was 264 by the Indians’ staff in July 1964. This also marked the first time in Cleveland history that it had four pitchers (Kluber, 60; Carlos Carrasco, 43; Danny Salazar, 43; and Trevor Bauer, 37) that the team had four pitchers record 35+ strikeouts in the same month.
Player of the Month: Kipnis
Stats: .429/.511/.706/1.217, 15 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 16 BB, 30 R, 51 H, 29 games
Analysis: MLB.com’s August Fagerstrom looked at Kipnis’ swing in April
Previous winners: OF Michael Brantley (April)
Notes: As noted above, this was not only a great month, but one of the greatest months in Indians history. You could argue it was one of the best months in baseball history, actually. Do you know how many instances there are of a hitter having a .429+ average, 15+ doubles, 30+ runs, 51+ hits and a 1.217+ OPS? I wouldn’t expect you know, but it’s four. Kipnis joined Joe Cronin (June 1933), Chuck Klein (July 1930) and Tris Speaker (July 1923) on that list. Need more? Here’s the story from his final game in May with a bunch more information.
Pitcher of the Month: Kluber
Stats: 3-2, 2.95 ERA, 42.2 IP, 60 K, 6 BB, .233 AVG, 1.01 WHIP, 6 starts
Analysis: Fagerstrom recently broke down Kluber’s ability to paint the corners
Previous winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April)
Notes: After an inconsistent April, beep-beep-boop, Klubot was functioning properly in May. In fact, Kluber’s rate of 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings was the best for a single month in team history (minimum 30 innings). He topped his own recod of 12.6 K/9, set in May 2014. Kluber joined Sam McDowell (8 times) and Bob Feller (8 times) as the only pitchers in team history with at least two career months with 60-plus strikeouts. Kluber also joined Clayton Kershaw (June 2014), Curt Schilling (twice in 2002), Pedro Martinez (September 1999), Jim Kaat (September 1967), Sandy Koufax (September 1963) and Juan Marichal (September 1963) as the only pitchers with a month consisting of 60-plus strikeouts and no more than six walks. Look at the names on that list again. Wow.
Reliever of the Month: RHP Cody Allen
Stats: 2.35 ERA, 15.1 IP, 21 K, 6 BB, .167 AVG, 0.98 WHIP, 7 saves, 15 games
Previous winners: LHP Nick Hagadone (April)
Notes: Allen looked much better in May than he did in April, and that’s a great thing for a Cleveland bullpen looking for more consistency and stability. The hard-throwing righty joined Jim Kern (June 1977) and Gary Bell (June 1965) as the only Cleveland pitchers with 20-plus strikeouts and seven-plus saves in the same month.
Game of the Month (hitter): Kipnis
May 3 vs. Blue Jays: 4-for-5, 1 HR, 1 2B, 2 RBIs, 3 runs, 8 total bases
Notes: There was nothing particularly historic about this game. It was just one example of Kipnis’ outstanding month. This marked one of his 16 multi-hit games for May, and one of two four-hit games in the month.
Previous winners: OF Brandon Moss (April 24)
Game of the Month (pitcher): Kluber
May 13 vs. Cardinals: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 18 K, 98 Game Score
Notes: This was one of the greatest singular pitching performances in baseball history. In fact, Kluber’s gem was the only one in MLB history with a 98 Game Score with no more than eight innings logged. Kluber joined Randy Johnson (Sept. 27, 1992) as the only pitchers in MLB history with 18-plus strikeouts in no more than eight innings. It was the first time a pitcher had 18-plus strikeouts since 2004 (Ben Sheets) and first time in the AL since 1998 (Roger Clemens). The 18 strikeouts also matched Bob Feller’s 1938 franchise record for a nine-inning game. Here’s more on his achievements in that game.
Previous winners: Bauer (April 9)
Minor League standouts for May
Player of the Month: OF James Ramsey
Stats: .296/.402/.500/.902, 4 HR, 8 2B, 12 RBI, 18 BB, 28 games
Previous winners: OF Tyler Holt (April)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP C.C. Lee
Stats: 1.64 ERA, 11 IP, 18 K, 1 BB, .179 AVG, 0.73 WHIP, 9 games
Previous winners: LHP Bruce Chen (April)
Player of the Month: SS Erik Gonzalez
Stats: .291/.320/.504/.824, 3 HR, 16 XBH, 16 R, 27 games
Previous winners: OF Ollie Linton (April)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Josh Martin
Stats: 0.59 ERA, 15.1 IP, 21 K, 5 BB, .125 AVG, 0.78 WHIP, 8 games
Previous winners: RHP Cody Anderson (April)
Class A (high) Lynchburg
Player of the Month: OF Brad Zimmer
Stats: .296/.402/.472/.874, 4 HR, 10 XBH, 13 RBI, 27 R, 16 BB, 12 SB, 29 games
Previous winners: Zimmer (April)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Adam Plutko
Stats: 1.38 ERA, 26 IP, 28 K, 2 BB, .196 AVG, 0.77 WHIP, 4 starts
Previous winners: Plutko (April)
Class A (low) Lake County
Player of the Month: 2B Claudio Bautista
Stats: .364/.417/.527/.944, 3 HR, 9 2B, 21 RBI, 10 BB, 4 SB, 40 H, 19 R, 26 games
Previous winners: None (April)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Nick Pasquale
Stats: 0.79 ERA, 11.1 IP, 11 K, 1 BB, .205 AVG, 0.79 WHIP, 6 games
Previous winners: RHP Dace Kime (April)
Month in review: April
By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB
At this point, there’s little doubt that if Corey Kluber isn’t the very best pitcher in the world, then he isn’t far from it. He’s established himself as one of the few hurlers in the game who is must-watch television every time he takes the mound, and it’s possible he’s still improving. Coming off an otherworldy second half of the 2014 season that earned him an American League Cy Young Award, all Kluber’s done is improve his strikeout, walk, home run, ground ball, and swinging strike rates, while adding about half a tick to his average fastball velocity.
Not that you need the numbers to understand what company Kluber surrounds himself with, but since the start of 2014, he leads all pitchers in WAR, with a full two wins separating him from the guy in third place. Only Clayton Kershaw boasts a better FIP than Kluber over that span.
It’s gotten to the point where it feels like we’ve run out of ways to talk about how good Kluber really is and what makes him so dominant, and if that’s the case, it means we’ve started to take him for granted. We should always avoid taking the truly remarkable for granted in life, so let’s find a new way to appreciate Corey Kluber.
* * *
A couple years back, over on FanGraphs.com, Bill Petti and Jeff Zimmerman started tracking something called Edge%, which is exactly what it sounds like. Using PITCHf/x data, they found all the pitches that were thrown to the edges of the strike zone, and how often each pitcher threw there.
It’s intuitive that the ability to repeatedly work around the edges and corners of the strike zone is a plus. If you have an understanding of baseball, you have an understanding of this concept. It isn’t necessarily a skill that all great pitchers need to have — some guys make their living by getting hitters to chase out of the zone, while others can get away with pounding the heart of the plate — but it’s something that serves as an indicator of a pitcher in command.
It’s also typically an indicator of a certain type of pitcher. Using Petti and Zimmerman’s data, I made a leaderboard of the 10 starting pitchers who have most often worked around the edges of the strike zone, since the start of the 2014 season:
- Phil Hughes, 32.9%
- Mark Buehrle, 29.8%
- David Price, 29.7%
- Nathan Eovaldi, 29.4%
- Bartolo Colon, 29.2%
- Jordan Zimmermann, 29.0%
- Corey Kluber, 28.9%
- Clayton Kershaw, 28.9%
- Wei-Yin Chen, 28.8%
- Madison Bumgarner, 28.7%
Up at the very top, we find two guys that I’d wager nobody reading this post is surprised to see. Hughes and Buehrle are two of the most prolific and notorious low velocity strike-throwers in baseball — guys who work around the edges by necessity. Joining them in that mold are friends Colon and Chen. And although Eovaldi and Zimmermann possess elite velocity, each tend to favor a more contact-oriented approach, not dissimilar from the Hughes’ and Chen’s of the world.
So, on this leaderboard, perhaps unsurprisingly are six of the game’s most effective contact pitchers. Six contact pitchers, in Hughes, Buehrle, Eovaldi, Colon, Zimmermann and Chen, and four of the most dominant pitchers on the entire planet, in Price, Bumgarner, Kershaw and Kluber.
Some pitchers are contact guys. Some pitchers are swing-and-miss guys. It’s when the swing-and-miss guys can pitch like the contact guys that you wind up with the best of the best. When the swing-and-miss guys can pitch like the contact guys, you find yourself a Clayton Kershaw or a Corey Kluber.
* * *
With that in mind, I wanted to do what I could to gain a sense of Kluber’s ability to command his pitches, and how he uses that ability to work around the edges to his advantage. Gauging a pitcher’s command can be a tough thing to do, because it’s not something that can be quantified, but, really, what else can we do here in our time on Earth but give everything our best effort?
Inspired, as I often am, by some previous work done by Jeff Sullivan, I took to the video of Kluber’s most recent start with the intent of creating some illuminating images. I decided I’d watch an inning of Kluber’s pitches, focusing on where the catcher’s glove was set, and where the pitch wound up. I picked an inning completely at random, the fourth, which ended up being a convenient inning to pick, because Kluber needed just eight pitches and I was making the images as I went along. Hooray for inadvertently saving time!
The events which transpired in the inning are as follows: Jay Bruce, double. Brayan Pena, fielder’s choice. Zack Cozart, groundout. Skip Schumaker, strikeout. Also, I feel it necessary to note that the pitch locations shown below each .gif were generated using BaseballSavant.com.
Let’s now attempt to learn something from just eight Corey Kluber pitches:
Pitch #1: 0-0 sinker
Kluber and Perez begin the inning by setting up with a sinker, low and away, to Bruce. Kluber hits his spot, but the pitch’s seven inches of natural armside run carry it a bit out of the strike zone. This is, more or less, exactly what Kluber wanted to do with this pitch. If Bruce swings, it’s either a whiff or weak contact. If he doesn’t, Kluber either catches the corner of the plate or falls behind 1-0, which is far from the worst result in the world when Jay Bruce is leading off an inning against a righty.
Pitch #2: 1-0 cutter
Here’s the one mistake pitch Kluber makes in the inning. Even Corey Kluber makes mistakes! After falling behind 1-0 to Bruce, Perez wants a cutter low and inside, on the part of the plate to which Kluber almost exclusively throws his cutter. It’s a comfort pitch for Kluber, the pitch he commands better than any other, but he leaves this one a bit up in the zone and, breaking into the barrel of Bruce’s bat, he sends it into right field for a double.
Pitch #3: 0-0 sinker
Here, Kluber and Perez just want a sinker to go for a strike. With the leadoff man on base, they’re just looking for a quick out, and they get it here. The pitch starts out over the inner-third and runs towards the plate, jamming Pena as he weakly rolls over to first base. This is the second-biggest miss Kluber makes all inning, which is saying something, because he barely missed at all.
Pitch #4: 0-0 sinker
Perfect pitch. Perez sets up for a sinker low-and-away and Kluber executes with remarkable precision. PITCHf/x thought the pitch was a strike, the home plate umpire didn’t. Doesn’t really matter. This is exactly where Kluber and Perez wanted this pitch to be.
Pitch #5: 1-0 sinker
Another perfectly-commanded sinker. Perez essentially tells Kluber to throw the same pitch he threw last time, just a couple inches up so that if Cozart takes again, they actually get the call this time. Kluber starts the sinker outside the zone and runs it into the outer-third, and Cozart weakly grounds out to third.
Pitch #6: 0-0 sinker
Nailed it. Perez sets up for a sinker on the outer half and Kluber puts it right where the glove is. Pretty similar to the first pitch of the inning. Schumaker reaches out and makes contact, but with the location and the movement, it’s an impossible pitch to square up. This ball, when contacted, almost never goes for a hit. Schumaker weakly fouls it off towards the Indians dugout and falls behind in the count.
Pitch #7: 0-1 curveball
Enough with the contact stuff. Kluber has finally gotten ahead of a batter, and now it’s time to put him away. Perez sets up for a low curveball, and Kluber delivers. He probably wanted this pitch to be just a bit lower, but given the insane movement this pitch has, he’s got some room for error. Schumaker again fouls it off, and is quickly behind 0-2.
Pitch #8: 0-2 curveball
You can ignore where Perez sets up here. On an 0-2 curveball to Skip Schumaker, the intent is clear. Perez helped make it clearer by motioning to Kluber before the pitch:
Where they wanted the curveball was in the dirt. Where they got the curveball was in the dirt. Skip Schumaker doesn’t stand a chance against this pitch. No hitter in baseball stands a chance against that pitch.
* * *
This has been an inning with Corey Kluber’s command. Kluber made eight pitches and recorded three pretty easy outs. He made one real mistake, and it turned into a double. Around that mistake are seven pitches that, more or less, were spotted perfectly every time. Kluber worked around the edges throughout the inning, keeping the ball down on almost every pitch while avoiding the heart of the plate.
I’m being completely honest with you when I say I chose this inning totally at random, with no prior knowledge of what Kluber might have done. It ended up being almost a perfect inning, and surely Kluber isn’t always this sharp, but that’s also kind of the point. Sometimes, when you choose a Corey Kluber inning at random, you wind up with an eight-pitch frame that somehow includes both an extra-base hit and a strikeout. Sometimes, you get an inning where he never misses his spot by more than a handful of inches on any given pitch. Given those two sentences alone, Kluber’s separated himself from the majority of pitchers in the world.
The movement on Kluber’s stuff is what allows him to pile up strikeouts and makes him one of the most aesthetically pleasing pitchers in the game to watch. That’s the obvious part. The command, like we saw in this inning, is what keeps his walk rates among the best in the league. The command is what allows him to consistently work deep into ballgames, which, by proxy, helps pile up the gaudy strikeout totals. The command is what allows Kluber to consistently work around the edges as well as almost any pitcher in baseball. The command is, perhaps, the underrated part of Kluber’s game, if he has one. The two put together — the command and the movement — is what makes Corey Kluber as dominant of a pitcher as this game has to offer.