Monday, April 18, 2011

The B-List: 4/15 - 4/17

FINAL           1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9  R  H E
Orioles  (6-6)  0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1  2  8 0

Indians  (9-4)  0 0 4 0 0 1 3 0 X  8 12 0

W: Masterson (3-0) L: Britton (2-1)

FINAL           1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Orioles  (6-7)  0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 7 1
Indians (10-4)  0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 6 1

W: Tomlin (3-0) L: Guthrie (1-2)

FINAL           1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R  H E

Orioles  (6-8)  2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 6 11 0
Indians (11-4)  0 0 0 1 0 0 3 0 0 4  5 1
W: Carmona (1-2) L: Bergesen (0-2) S: C. Perez (5)

The latest the Indians were ever TIED in a game was the bottom of the THIRD.  The latest they ever trailed was … never.

1) A Lack of Adversity

At some point, it will be necessary to see how Justin Masterson adjusts to adversity, whether this is not having his best stuff, falling behind early, having the defense fail behind him, an extraordinary performance from the opponent, a few flat pitches with rotten location, or a combination of all of them.  We won’t mention the other thing that can go wrong because it already has with another, similar pitcher.

The fact is that the complete absence of such things is not something that’s going to cause me a lot of lost sleep.

All Masterson did was saw through the Baltimore lineup with roughly the difficulty of Charles Barkley faced with a quarter-pound hamburger.  Consider this: in the spirit of C.C. Sabathia’s Inning of Crap™, Masterson’s worst inning by FAR was the 4th, in which he allowed a single, an infield single, and an RBI single.  Of course, no two of the hits were consecutive, and between them he induced a routine groundout, a swinging K, and another routine groundout.  Outside of this inning, Masterson retired 18 of 20 hitters, allowing a single and a walk in 6 (other) innings of work.  Both other baserunners came in one inning, meaning that fully five of Masterson’s innings were 1-2-3 affairs.  He threw 66 strikes in 90 pitches to complete the 7 innings, and was lifted more to take advantage of a more favorable matchup against left-handed hitters than any sort of fatigue or ineffectiveness.  His last inning was perfect with a pair of groundouts.

Using the same K+GO measure introduced last week, Masterson’s 12 groundouts and 3 whiffs produced another 15, above the minimum of 14 set in his previous start.  But more than just a raw number of outs or types of outcomes, the fact is that Masterson simply controlled this game.  Six batters of 26 reached a TWO-ball count off Masterson.  He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 26 hitters he faced.  And part of the reason was because his strikes were not grooved, get-me-over type pitches just to say they were strikes, but rather because the quality pitches with late movement he threw were also in the strike zone.

If there is a nit to pick, it would be that before this season, Masterson was one of the few credible strikeout pitchers in the rotation.  Thus far, he has only 12 strikeouts in his three starts and a rather pedestrian K-rate of 5.31 per 9 innings.  However, this appears to be a minor concern given the way he is thus far handling opposing lineups.  After hovering around 17 pitches per inning over the past three years, he is so far using a mere 14.7 in his three starts.  And he’s not getting hit-lucky: if anything, his BABIP of just over .300 (15 for 49) is slightly unfortunate.  It will take more than three starts in cold weather against teams without elite offenses to convince skeptics that this is anything more than a great early start, but right now, you simply couldn’t ask for more.

(Note: Fangraphs shows Masterson’s BABIP as .242, which IS low, showing that I don’t actually know how to calculate BABIP.  I would trust them over me in this case, but I don’t see my error.  I think it’s because I’m counting things like double play outs and basepath outs in going off the number of innings pitched, and they’re not, because they’re correct, and I’m not.  But it should be noted that extreme groundball pitchers form a class that holds BABIP down more than more “centrist” pitchers.)

2) Did someone mention BABIP?

In contrast, Josh Tomlin has allowed 9 hits in 45 hitters that put the ball in play for the defense.  That’s a .200 BABIP, and that’s just unsustainable.

(Again, Fangraphs lists his BABIP as a comical .164, even MORE obviously unsustainable.)

The AP writeup said that Tomlin had no problem being pulled after only 79 pitches:

Acta said Tomlin was "one pitch from disaster."

"I was," Tomlin said.

Exactly.  With another brisk 5:9 GO:FO ratio, we got to see first-hand what the danger of those fly balls is when two of them flew out of the yard for homers.  To Tomlin’s credit, they were solo shots, in no small part due to the fact that he didn’t walk anyone to diminish his 4 Ks.  And he certainly did a wonderful job of getting out of a jam in the 5th when, with no outs and runners on 1st and 2nd, he escaped damage with a fielder’s choice, a sharp single that didn’t score a run, a popout, and a grounder to first.  There is certainly something to be said for composure, poise, and quality stuff.

I remain convinced that there will be starts in which a homer comes with a runners on base and another couple of balls drop in for hits, and we’re talking about a David Huff 5-or-6-run outing and Josh Tomlin morphs rather unceremoniously into Just Some Guy.  For now, he has a 3-0 record, a 2.75 ERA, and a 0.92 WHIP.  It’s certainly rude to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, as long as you remember that, at the end of the day, the horse was a gift.  Hey, it’s a free horse!  It’s just not something I feel you can DEPEND on yet.

3) You can barely see that crater in the rearview

After being aired out in his last start, Fausto Carmona had a rather leisurely 7-inning 101-pitch affair that resulted in his first win.  Huzzah!

Was this his best start?  I’ll have to say no, for among other reasons he was somewhat scattershot with his location.  While it might have been easy to rationalize not starting an aggressive Angels’ lineup with first-pitch strikes, a lousy 9-for-25 against the O’s is beginning to look more like a disturbing pattern.  Of the 101 pitches, only 61 were for strikes.

Now, Carmona only walked one hitter and didn’t get into many jams.  He ripped through the first three innings in order, and the first two times he had a runner in scoring position, he simply induced a double play.  His second run allowed was unearned in that it came from a walk, a single, the runners advancing on a bobble by Shin-Soo Choo, and a sacrifice fly.  (He then induced a pair of groundouts to end the inning, his last (the 7th).)  With 5 hits and a nice 5:1 K:BB ratio, Carmona’s 11:5 GO:FO ratio was right in the Carmona Comfort Zone.

One of the interesting things in watching the game though was that this did not appear to be the archetypical Sinker Fest: Carmona was using his slider more than I’d deem typical, and instead of a change-of-pace pitch to change the batter’s horizontal plane, it was a real purpose pitch with some good effect.  While hard sinkers are likely to be the main weapon in Fausto’s arsenal for the foreseeable future (that is, two years), having the slider be a quality pitch instead of simply one that exists will make it more likely that he can have good stretches of success rather than just scattered good outings.  While his overall numbers will need more time to overcome the helium of his first start, Carmona has now produced three starts over which he’s amassed:

21 2/3 IP
11 H
4 R
15 K
6 BB

That’s a 1.66 ERA with a 0.78 WHIP, supported by a 6.23 K/9 and a 2.5 K:BB.  So … yeah, that’s damned good.

4) So much for the Weakest Link

On the season, the starting rotation has made 15 starts.  They are now 9-3, averaging nearly 6.5 innings per start, sporting a 3.26 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP, which is very good.

Now, remove the first two starts, which were really quite bad.  In Carrasco’s case, it was Simply Awful, while Carmona’s Opening Day start was Abject Failure.

Over the last 13 starts, Cleveland starters have allowed 18 earned runs, 57 hits, and 26 walks in 87 innings.  They have averaged 6.69 innings per start for an ERA of 1.86 and a WHIP of 0.95.  The only start that was not a Quality Start was Mitch Talbot’s first start, in which Manny Acta called on the bullpen for the Fifth Inning Save (he still allowed only 2 runs, but didn’t make the requisite six innings for the QS).  The team’s Quality Start percentage even WITH the first two games is 80%.


5) Welcome Back!

All Grady Sizemore did in his return from the disabled list was smash a homer and a standup double from the leadoff spot.

Look, I literally have no ideas that are better than randomly-generated platitudes about knee surgeries whether Grady is back to “100%” or “his old self” or “a shadow of his former greatness” or “for the entire week.”  I don’t play a doctor on television have haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in my entire life.  I’ll stick with the basics: having the Old Grady Sizemore clearly makes this a better team.  Having the 2010 Grady Sizemore clearly makes this a worse team.  The fact that he looked more like the former than the latter is very encouraging indeed.  Past that, I got nothin’ in the way of insight.

Let’s look at something for a moment, though: I think a lot of people were concerned about slotting Sizemore into the 1 hole right out of the blocks, for two reasons:

a) Sizemore wasn’t guaranteed to start fast after a year off
b) Mike Brantley was doing a bang-up job as leadoff

And it’s well documented, here and elsewhere, that Brantley has been getting on base, often twice a game.  That’s really good, and very encouraging.  And yet, after all the games on base and the long hit streak to start the season and all that, Brantley is hitting .302/.367/.377 on the season.  This is nothing to sneeze at: regardless of how you feel about batting average, .300 is still a good one, especially since it comes with enough free passes to drive the OBP up to .367.

But here’s the thing: I consider this kind of the ceiling of reasonable expectations for Mike Brantley in 2011.  This is better than I expected … it’s kind of the best-case scenario …

… and it’s … not really all that great.

Again, .367 OBP.  Love that.  Some speed on the bases, patience at the plate, hits to all fields … I get that.  I am not denigrating it.  It is a fine thing, and if the Cleveland leadoff hitters finish the year with a .302/.367/.377 batting line, I will feel pretty satisfied.  But it’s a lot closer to “adequate” than it is to “exciting,” right?

Brantley is a big-league player, but moving him down to the bottom third of the order on the chance that Sizemore can provide something further toward the “exciting” end of the spectrum doesn’t seem like a bad idea, especially since we have some confidence that Brantley could always do the “above-adequate” job if need be.

Also, Joe Smiff.  Of all the low-arm-slot right-handed ex-Met relievers we’ve ever acquired in a Franklin Gutierrez trade, Smiff is the one who wears #38.

6) Pronk Smash!

Given a gale force wind in his face Friday night, Travis Hafner was so fazed that his home run travelled only 390 feet.  Off a left-handed pitcher.  His homer Sunday cracked 400 feet, so everything is back to normal.

Joining Hafner in the hit parade were Carlos Santana (dead center), Shin-Soo Choo (opposite field), Orly Cabrera (down the line), and Sizemore (from 2009).

7) Duckless ponds!

On Friday night, the Indians batted with a runner in scoring position 9 times and collected 6 hits.

On Saturday night, given 9 more opportunities, they collected a mere 5 hits.

When asked, the author admitted that he preferred 11-for-18 to 0-for-8.

(On Sunday, the team went a mere 1-for-5, but the hit was from Travis Buck, so it should count as at least two.)

8) Upside Down Lineup Dept.

On Saturday, the top four hitters (Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Choo, and Santana) combined to go 2-for-17 with a solo homer and a walk.

The 5-8 hitters (Hafner, Orly, Buck, and Matt LaPorta) went 10-for-16 with 3 doubles and a homer and drove in 7 runs.

I do not recommend changing the batting order.

9) Linus Van Pelt’s Favorite Player

Jack Hannahan is now hitting .220/.289/.390 on the season.

10) Ho Hum Dept.

Raffy Perez threw a scoreless inning.

Tony Sipp threw a scoreless inning on each of two consecutive days.

Chris Perez threw a perfect ninth on Sunday for his 5th save.

11) Managerial Back-Patters

It was important to get Joe Smiff some major-league action, and I thought Acta’s pitcking Friday night’s comfortable lead as the spot was a fine choice.  I also liked that, since the game was fairly comfortably in hand, he didn’t panic when Smiff allowed some baserunners and let him finish the inning.  To Smiff’s credit, he threw strikes (15 in 19 pitches).  To his lack of credit, the results.

Similarly, getting Chad Durbin a couple of successful outings will help the bullpen in the long run, and Saturday’s low-pressure situation was a good choice, in my opinion.  Here, I will credit Durbin for the results: a scoreless inning with a strikeout, and (possibly more important) 10 strikes in 13 pitches.  Yes, I understand that giving up hard-hit balls isn’t good, but I think it’s the lack of command of the strike zone that’s Durbin’s more immediate problem.  The walks and wild pitch are what got him in trouble against the Angels: if he can get some confidence that his pitches will in fact be strikes, he can take the next step and make them quality strikes to boot.

The Indians did not have a single sacrifice bunt all weekend.  Huzzah!

12) The Ryan Garko Commemorative Meteor Strike Polar Bear Triple

When I read that Matt LaPorta hit a triple, I had to guffaw.  This had to have been a misprint.  So when I saw it was a triple to LEFT, I realized that something defensively extraordinary must have happened.

It was a little anticlimactic to see the replay in which LaPorta hit a high fly ball double off the wall on which he simply made a Very Bad Decision to run to third.  Yes, the ball bounced away from the outfielder.  No, it was still not a good gamble.  Yes, the throw was off-line and you were safe.  Yes, you are still Matt LaPorta.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I would like Matt LaPorta to finish the year with one triple.


  1. A great weekend of Indians baseball!!! Thanks as always for the entertaining blog Steve!

    Did anyone hear the radio call of Sizemore's home run? Tom Hamilton (as he is prone to do) went absolutely berserk. I literally had to turn down my TV. Of course, I was as suprised as anyone to see his well-hit homer and double, especially after the 20-hopper he hit to second in the first inning.

    Go Tribe!

  2. you sure you have the right box scores for game 2 and 3? from what i remember they won 8-3 in game 2 and the score needs to be 4-2, the rest of the article is great!

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