Friday, May 13, 2011

The B-List: 5/11

FINAL           1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R  H E
Rays (21-15)    0 1 0 3 0 0 3 0 1 8 11 0

Indians (23-12) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2  5 0
W: Price (5-3) L: Carrasco (1-2)



ERAs of Cleveland pitchers used last night: 5.29, 6.17, 6.75.  Where were we playing, Colorado?

1) Structural integrity

Carlos Carrasco returned from the DL and drew a lousy “Welcome Back” assignment, being paired up against David Price, who is much better than he is.  Carrasco didn’t look all that impressive in his last rehab start, but I guess it was deemed that from a physical standpoint, there was nothing preventing his return to the majors.  While you’d like a more ringing endorsement than, “Well, he’s probably not going to wince a lot,” the fact is that Carrasco was considered one of the five best (as defined by “ability to get major-league hitters out right now”) starters in the Cleveland organization at the beginning of the season, and no one (specifically Carrasco) has done anything to change that evaluation, so into the rotation he goes.

I still think Carrasco has a higher ceiling than most of his contemporaries, and I consider him one of our top THREE starters because I like his groundball/strikeout mix more than Josh Tomlin’s flyball/homer/mirrors mix, Alex White’s fastball/splitter mix, Mitch Talbot’s changeup/blunderbuss mix, or Jeanmar Gomez’ chuck-and-duck mix.  He’s not a polished product, and while I understand that the priorities of a 23-12 team aren’t 100% in synch with that of a young, developing team, polishing Carrasco’s repertoire might be as important as anything else the Indians do this season, the ultimate win-win scenario.

Carrasco certainly started the game poorly, walking the first two hitters on nine pitches, but he was able to fight through the inning without allowing a run (or a hit, for that matter).  This was a bit of a harbinger of things to come, as Carrasco threw but 56 strikes in an even 100 pitches, walked 3 men, and generally commanded the strike zone in the manner of George McClellan.  His overall numbers weren’t any good (6 hits, 3 walks, 4 runs in 5 innings), but he didn’t pitch all that badly.  He just didn’t pitch all that well, either.

The first three innings were pretty encouraging as far as they went, though: he gave up a run in the second on a pair of singles and a double, but the double was a blort that landed just inside the foul line.  More interestingly, of the nine outs recorded, one was a strikeout, and the other EIGHT were ground balls.

While three runs scored in the third, it’s not like Carrasco was getting shelled.  The first single was a beaten-out bunt, and the first run scored on a ground ball to first.  After an RBI single, the third run scored on a sac fly.  Of the three fly ball outs Carrasco got (out of 15), one was a popped up bunt attempt, one was a popup to short, and the sac fly was the only ball that made it as far as an outfielder on the fly.

Now, after the game, Manny Acta was asked about rust and properly said, “No excuses, he just didn’t throw enough strikes.”  I like that Acta took the opportunity to publically establish that while he’ll stand up for and behind his players, accountability remains important, too.  Carrasco got poor results because he didn’t pitch well enough to prevent them.  But he DID pitch well enough for me to think he’ll be fine every fifth day, and the first three innings give me reason to believe he’ll have some success doing it.

2) Theory and Practice Corner

Last year, I opined that Jamey Wright made perfect sense for last year’s roster because the rotation was so full of question marks.  It wasn’t clear that Jake Westbrook would hold up after UCL replacement or that Fausto Carmona wasn’t simply a cabbage or Justin Masterson could get a left-hander out or Mitch Talbot was actually a real person or anything.  Having a veteran on the staff with the potential to eat some innings made all kinds of sense for a team with so many questions.  When enough of these questions were answered to everyone’s satisfaction and Wright was proven to be Not Very Good, the team moved on and so did Wright.  So is the fate of the swingman.

Justin Germano is, in essense, Jamey Wright with better “stuff.”

Well, he doesn’t have the kind of groundball tendencies, but Wright never struck anyone out and Germano has been, up to this point in his career, potentially better than that.  And, of course, it’s a bit of a stretch to call Germano a “seasoned veteran,” seeing as though he’s only 28 and has a grand total of 78 games under his belt.  Still, in terms of role, Germano is not a setup man.  He is not a bridge guy.  He doesn’t really set up the setup man.  He’s a guy who can throw a baseball, and when you have innings that aren’t really very important or your starter is tired or you run out of other guys or you hate your fans, you can call on Germano instead of forfeiting outright, which in some circles is considered “poor form.”

Now look: we’ve talked about this enough times.  Germano’s first outing was truly atrocious.  His last outing was supremely bad.  The five outings in between were actually pretty good.  He has a higher percentage of scoreless outings than, say, Chad Durbin.

Here’s the thing, though: Justin Germano instills sub-zero confidence when he’s called into a game.  Whether this is fair to Germano or not is almost immaterial.  Instead, let’s consider what the POINT of Justin Germano is.

Right now, there is little doubt that Germano is effectively an innings sponge.  He is needed to absorb innings when other guys have been used a couple-three nights in a row, or when a starter goes flop, or … nope, I think that’s about it.  As far as I can tell, there has not been a single situation in which Acta has said, “I need a guy who will get THIS hitter out, and the best choice for the job is Justin Germano.”

Let’s contrast this for a moment: there HAVE been a couple instances, misguided or not, in which this HAS been said about Chad Durbin, whose ERA is even higher than Germano’s.  Durbin has been a disappointment.  He may even be a massive disappointment.  He certainly hasn’t been particularly GOOD.  But in Mitch Talbot’s “fifth inning save” game, for example, he was brought in ON PURPOSE.  As I’ve said, he’s walked 7 guys in 14 2/3 innings and has given up 3 homers and doesn’t make me feel confident, either, but Durbin has a PURPOSE.

There is literally NO OTHER TIME that I can genuinely identify where Manny Acta CHOSE to use Justin Germano.  He ACCEPTED Justin Germano, perhaps … he SETTLED for Justin Germano … he determined that Justin Germano wouldn’t HURT … but I honestly don’t believe that Germano was PICKED.  He was what was LEFT.

And none of this is really meant to disparage Germano to the degree that he’s a worthless schmoe, a walking collection of pond scum that must be jettisoned from the roster in order for the Indians to succeed.  This is clearly false … it is EMPIRICALLY false.  It’s false.  Justin Germano’s fine, and he’s okay, and we’re 23-12 with him on the roster, and whatever.

Here’s the thing, though: at this point in the season, over 20% in, I think we can make some decent judgements about what we do and do not have.  We have starting pitchers that can give you a Quality Start more often than not.  Every team has a few clunkers (starts, not starters).  No team has made 162 Quality Starts.  Doesn’t happen.  But more often than not, the starter’s going through the sixth inning.

We have some pretty good back-end guys: it’s hard to objectively consider 2011 VFP to be 2007 Raffy Betancourt or anything, but Smiff and Pestano form a league-average RH tandem, while Raffy Perez and Tony Sipp are … let’s say … above-average from the left.  Our closer is settled in: I’m not willing to consider him in the Great category, but he’s fine.

So, here’s the thing: I doubt a modern manager is going to try a 10-man staff, and I don’t think this particular 10-man staff would hold up over 162 games.  There are too many 6-inning starts and back-to-back appearances and injury risks to think five relievers making 80 appearances each is a good idea.  We need another pitcher, and I’m resigned to needing TWO more pitchers (the “modern classical” 12-man staff).

But if you add TWO more pitchers, does one of them really have to be a traditional “long man?”  Who’s to say Chad Durbin can’t handle BOTH the roles of “mid-game matchup guy” AND “starter flop absorber?”  If you add the 12th guy as a real, bona fide, knockout right-hander, you have MORE guys you can use to match up late in games, shuffling the needs for Smiff and Pestano around some, cutting back the back-to-backs and three-in-a-rows.  If you BELIEVE that your starting rotation is high-enough quality to continue to go deep enough into game, you no longer need the innings as much as you need confidence, or, by extension, quality.

I think, when all is said and done, we are at the point in the season where we can legitimately ask, “Is there an available reliever I would have more confidence in to get a right-handed hitter out than Justin Germano?”

3) Not to put too fine a point on it

There is.

4) Isn’t Durbin worse?

Durbin hurts my eye more, but makes me throw up in anticipation less.  Managing is more of an art than a science.

5) What about the hitting?

David Price is good.

6) What about the ducks?

Did I mention David Price’s goodness?  Because he was good.

7) Who is “R Delaney?”

Could not tell you.

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