Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cleveland 2010 and the Posnanski Treatise

By now, I would like to believe that you've already read Joe Posnanski's treatise on how non-competing teams (in this case, the Kansas City Royals) OUGHT to approach the decisions they make during the course of the season.  If you haven't, this means that you are not a fan of Joe Posnanski, and this makes you a Philistine.  QED.

In any event, we start with the premise:
It seems to me that the Royals must take advantage of the one advantage they have — time. How do they do that? Well, the big thing is to know is that while, sure, you want to win, the goal must be bigger than that. You are building a team to win down the road. Everything — and I mean EVERYTHING — must be pointed in that direction. Every break you take, every move you make, every smile you fake, every bond you break should have 2011 and 2012 and 2013 in consideration. And with time, you can do things. If you have some young and reasonably talented players, you can give them give them opportunities to learn and grow at the Major League level. If you have prospects you are not quite sure about — you can FIND OUT what they have inside.
So, there it is, in three parts:
  1. A non-competing team's real asset is time, and the freedom to allow players to develop
  2. Winning is important, in that it breeds a culture of success, but development is bigger than winning
  3. A non-competetive year is about the players who are already here learning and growing, and properly evaluating the players who aren't here by playing them to see what they have
Joe mentions several specific cases, and although I've been reading Royals bloggers for years because they tend to be Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli and Joe Posnanski, those cases will resonate more with Royals fans than Indians fans.  I'm sure every team can point to a guy who "should have been up" or "was grossly mishandled."  Red Sox fans pine for Lars Anderson.  Reds fans wonder what the heck happened to Homer Bailey.  Every team has these stories: the differentiating factor is the volume and degree of egregiousness.  Consider:
But Yost has a history of playing young guys. And the other day, late in the game, with the Royals up, he showed his strength as a manager. He basically left Luke Hochevar in the game to lose. Hochevar had been pitching really well, and the Royals led 4-1 going into the seventh. He had only thrown 76 pitches. And he was facing a Chicago White Sox team that cannot hit. And then, it all kind of fell apart for him. A line drive single … a ground ball single … a 7-pitch walk … a hard line drive single … a ground ball single … a bloop single … and the White Sox took the lead. The White Sox eventually won the game.

The Star’s Bob Dutton asked Yost to explain what he was thinking, and this is what Yost said: “I told (Luke), ‘Look in those those types of situations, I’m going to let you pitch yourself out of trouble. You need to learn how.”

I love this. I don’t love it because I think it will work … like with Kila, I have no idea if it will work. But this is exactly what I think the Royals should be doing. Developing players who actually matter in the future. Challenging them. Sticking with them.
Yeah. And it hit me: this reminds me of college philosophy classes.

See, I was going to be a double major in chemistry and philosophy.  As someone approximating an arrogant know-it-all at age 18, I decided that, hey, I'd taken a four-week summer introduction to philisophy, I didn't need to sit in the intro classes.  I'd just jump straight to the 300-level classes.  Something straightforward.  "Plato."

So, here I was listening to the professor explain Plato's argument for something (doesn't matter what: happened every time), and I found myself nodding along, "Yes, this is a terrific argument, not exactly how I would have gone about it, but yes, this rings true."  And then the professor would talk about the common historical counter-arguments to Plato's: hey, given 2000+ years, you can poke a hole in almost anything.  So I listened, and I found myself nodding again, "Yes, these are terrific points, they totally destroy Plato's argument, thank goodness I was able to hear how good sound logic can defeat an argument, even by a master."  And then the professor would point out the weaknesses of the counter-arguments, and I realized ...

... dude.  This guy can pretty much convince you of ANYTHING.  You are not a philosophy major.  (I got a minor and learned a lot about critical thinking, but by golly, I'm no classical philosopher.)

Anyway, here we are with Mr. Posnanski.  He is great.  He makes what sounds like an extremely obvious contention.  My father, when presented with it, noted, "Yes, this is exactly how Cleveland did NOT manage their team except for the early-90s gork."  Okay, he didn't say "gork."  Dad's 70.  That's what he meant.  I could tell.

But my point is, I may believe these things ... I may have SAID these things ... and then I call for Mark Grudzielanek to bat second against left-handed pitching and complain that Justin Masterson drives me bananas.  There is something to be said for the daily fan not wanting to go bananas.  But it sure does fly in the face of what I just wrote like 10 minutes earlier.

Simple case: Justin Masterson as a starter.  Masterson may be more-suited to the bullpen.  He's still tough on righties and posts a terrific K-rate.  He has terrible trouble with lefties and walks too many guys.  The combination results in a streaky pitcher who can look great for a stretch and awf-tastic for a stretch and ends up with an 0-4 record and an ERA near 6.00.

But it's 8 starts.  He's made EIGHT STARTS.  This isn't enough time to evaluate the quality of his shoelaces.  Eight starts is noise.  And if I want to be true to the Posnanski Treatise, I would have to say, "Let Masterson fail.  Let him work through it.  See if he can do it."  You can always 'pen him if it looks like he'll never turn that corner, but realize that eight starts ... heck, one whole SEASON ... is probably not enough rope.  You look for progress.  You fish for hints about his psyche.  You let him work with Mike Redmond ... actually, note that he's barely worked with EITHER catcher he has this season in any season before, and he's going to inherit ANOTHER one soon in Carlos Santana ... I mean, he may frustrate the heck out of me in May of 2010, but there is NO WAY I can say something DEFINITIVE about Justin Masterson's long-term likelihood of being a successful starting pitcher.  There just aren't enough data.

So ... here's the starting point: can we reasonably define the Cleveland Indians in 2010 to be a team that meets the criterion for the Posnanski Treatise?  Are they contenders?

Well, contenders for WHAT?  For the playoffs?  The A.L. Central is not a good division, but the Twins are a pretty good team.  Not without flaws, but a good, solid, 90-win team in all likelihood.  Detroit is almost certainly better than we are.  And it's VERY unlikely for the Wild Card to come out of the Central (it looks very much like New York or Tampa Bay from here).  To make the playoffs, the Indians must beat both the Twins and the Tigers.  And once there, I suppose anything could happen, but they sure wouldn't be the favorite in any series they played.

I thought that my initial estimate of the Indians as an 85-win team was optimistic but plausible.  They don't look that good right now, but things can change.  Huff might learn on the job.  Santana will come up and Donald might be a shot in the arm.  Overall, though, you're asking the Indians to OVERachieve to get to the high 80s, and you're asking the Twins (possibly the Tigers) to UNDERachieve to fall to the mid-80s, and the combination makes it pretty damned unlikely that the Indians are really contenders.  Let's play into June and see what happens, but ... this is kinda a .500 team unless things go badly, in which case they could be considerably worse.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but let's says Westbrook is all the way back and Carmona and Talbot can maintain.  That's three good (not great) starters.  The other two are execrable.  And what are you going to replace them with?  Carlos Carrasco?  Aaron Laffey?  Jeremy Sowers?  Notready McGillicuddy?  No.  This team is not a contender.  It could be fun to watch ... I will follow them closely and emotionally ... they aren't going to win the World Series.

So ... yes, the 2010 Cleveland Indians fit the Treatise.  They should be looking to next year.  What does this mean?


Carmona: continue to give him innings, keep him with Redmond for the time being.  He is part of the future.
Talbot: continue to give him innings, be willing to accept some bad outings.  He LOOKS like part of the future, but he has warts.  There's no reason to hide him from major-league challenges, though: that's what he needs, so give 'em to 'im.
Westbrook: probably NOT a part of the future.  Look, it's conceivable that Westbrook, as damaged goods, would sign another short-term deal.  He might even be young enough to stay good for several more years.  But he is already expensive and unlikely to take much of a pay cut, and I would say that trading him in July is as reasonable a course as any.  Nothing against Jake, and who knows what he'd fetch, but I expect him to go (potentially to Philadelphia or Los Angeles ... maybe even Texas).
Masterson: sort of covered above, but let's be explicit: he stays in the rotation.  Who are you going to replace him with?  And why not find out if he can do more tomorrow than he's doing today?  He's no blocking anyone, and we're not going to the Series.  Give him the ball.
Huff: okay, it's hard for me to be objective about Huff.  He drives me SO crazy ... his numbers are just SO bad ... I just see SO little "there" there ... I could be wrong, and maybe he learns command or a two-seamer or a cutter or a valid change-up ... I suppose the Treatise says he gets more starts, but he is the one player I have to say the fan (as opposed to the philosopher analyst) hates, hates, HATES to WATCH.


Laffey: he's fine.  Should he get another shot at the rotation?  Eh.  I mean, what does the Treatise say about young players who are just fundamentally limited?  There's a part of me that would rather watch Laffey start and Huff relieve, but ... at least Laffey has proven he can be effective out of the pen.  No reason to change that, really.
Wright: must go.  Pointless player.  I understand that given that EACH ONE of our five starters was no guarantee to last even five innings a start, it made sense to have another innings sponge in the 'pen, a multi-inning sacrificial lamb who would be the right-handed Laffey, but ... no.  What can Jamey Wright do that, say, Frank Herrmann cannot?  Or if not Herrmann, someone else?  It's Jamey Wright.  He's a guy.
Ambriz: feed him innings.  Feed him leverage over the course of the season.  Find out what you have.
Sipp: probably the best Cleveland Indian right now.
R. Perez: I'm torn.  On one hand, he throws mid-90s and once had a wipeout slider.  He makes people beat it into the ground, and is the victim of some horrific small-sample BABIP effects.  On the other hand, he looks virtually broken.  I gotta say, now that we're in Treatise mode, I'll give him more chances, but I can no longer consider myself emotionally invested in Raffy Perez at this point.
C. Perez: feed him innings.  Make him the full-time closer once ...
Wood: ... Wood is off-loaded.  If Wood is on this roster on August 1, I will be furious.  Until then, I guess you have to let him pitch to show that he's worth acquiring.  Which he is, for the right team.  We are not that team.


Branyan: go.  Can't understand why we signed him in the first place.
Valbuena: okay, here is one of the players that this post is actually inspired by.  Valbuena's defense can be spotty, but the question is, do you think it is spotty because of physical limitations or because of lapses in focus?  Because I think it's the latter, and playing bulk innings at the major-league level is the best way to clear that.  Hey, maybe he won't hit enough.  Maybe his range and/or glove AREN'T good enough.  Maybe he's really a utility guy.  You know what?  Let's find out.
Donald: see Valbuena.
Cabrera: part of the future, play him (when he comes back)
Grudzielanek: again, I didn't care for the signing because I figured he shouldn't be playing much and if he does something went wrong and we might as well see Donald.  Now we have BOTH Grudzielanek AND Donald and Grudzielanek has been one of the bright spots in the May offense.  But dude ... he's 39.  If you're going to play Valbuena and Donald to see what you've got, Grudzielanek is a luxury.  Maybe it's nice to have a mentor, but when Cabrera returns, I expect Grudzielanek to get a Jamey Carroll viking funeral and wave into the sunset.
Peralta: oy vey.  I ... I fell in love with Peralta's high-minors performances and the fact that he held his own at such a young age.  His huge 2005 was magical.  Since then, he's just not a very good player.  The question is: who plays third until Lonnie Chisenhall is ready?  I think 2011 is very aggressive for Chisenhall.  Wes Hodges ... the Wes Hodges ship has sailed.  And yet I don't want to pay Jhonny Peralta $7M in 2011.  So I won't.  But I'll play him now.  You need a third baseman.
LaPorta: boy, I wish he made this easier.  But he should play.  Let's find out.
Marson: gah.  I mean, yeah, he should play until Santana is "ready" (scoff, scoff), but when Santana shows, do you send him back to Clumbus?  Or cut Redmond?  Frankly, I like the idea of Redmond working with Carmona et al, but on the other hand, it would probably be nicer to REDMOND if we found a place for him in July with a contender.  Not sure why you want him, but ... anyway, I was talking about Marson.  Which, actually, is pretty damn hard to do.  I ... he's a backup.  Play him until Santana is here.  Then set him on "rot" setting and simmer for 10 years.
Redmond: see above


Kearns: you know what?  I'm glad we could help him, and I'm glad he helped us.  Maybe the guy will get another contract from somebody.  Heck, maybe he's for real?  I kinda doubt it.  Anyway, he can play until we're sure that Grady's healthy and Brantley's ready.  At that point, we'll have a better idea which guy is trade bait.
Sizemore: prohibitive: must play.  Fans would beat you to death with bobbleheads if he is healthy and doesn't play.  Just drop him to the bottom of the order against lefties.  (Here too, though: isn't this a skill I should be lobbying for Sizemore to get more reps on, to DEVELOP?  Well, there are two issues here: first, he's kind of a finished product at this point.  He's not really a young improver any more.  And second, I truly believe his struggles with lefties have a physical component.  I want him to be 100% healthy on the next Division winner.)
Choo: he plays
Crowe: I have not really given Trevor Crowe a fair shot.  He switch-hits.  He can play center.  Thing is, I don't think he's as good a bet to be a real everyday OF as other guys in the minors (Brantley, Weglarz, etc.).  But you know, it's always important to have a 4th OF ... and not everyone can do it, with the sporadic playing time and the moving around.  Maybe we should be seeing if he can do THAT.


Hafner: he's here until the contract is dead.  And he's actually one of our top on-base guys.  Not much sense in taking his contract out on him.

So there aren't really THAT many changes in the patterns, except that Russ Branyan must die.  Okay, not "die."  I don't want him to DIE.  I just want him to ... well ... leave.


  1. Thoughtful, and on the right track, but the biggest player is the owner, followed by the utility guy, the GM. That's where the commitment starts. Also, note that the two solid teams in the division, Detroit and Minnesota, have A-List managers (another function of the owner/GM brain trust),

    That said, a good, frank look at the current mess. Philosophically thinking, you gotta have a plan, man. You do. Do they? But what do I know? I'm a Mets fan.

    Finally, I can TOO say "Gork."
    Gork, gork, gork!
    I'll be watchin' you...

    Great writing!

  2. Fantastic...just fantastic.
    It's a difficult thing to juggle these two emotions - put the best team on the field versus develop at all costs - and how the Indians look throughout this summer is going to show their hand more than anything that they say.


  3. Well said Steve. I'm glad you watch the Indians each day as closely as you do...it spares me the pain of having to do that for myself, since I can just come here and read about the horror rather than living through it...!

  4. By the very nature of the idea - shouldn't Marte get more consideration? He is a guy who has never really been given CONSISTENT time to figure it out. He is playing well in limited time this year. Should he be the #1 option at 3B until Chizz is ready?

    Love to hear your take on Marte.

  5. Wow, that's inexcusable. With Marte on the DL, I completely forgot about him.

    My take is: where I say "But I'll play him now. You need a third baseman." about Peralta, I will now look to move Peralta to any interested party and replace him with Marte.

    For the record, I think Marte isn't any good: he hits one kind of pitch well (fastball in) and nothing else, so unless that changes, he's a schmoe. But yeah, The Treatise says you need to look at him.

    Good catch, Narm!