Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Elephant in the Room: Offsetting the Losses

You may have noticed at this point that the Room for Improvement series has, to this point, been exclusively about how Indians players may reasonably be projected to provide MORE performance (as measured by VORP). This is hardly earth-shattering, given the title of the series, but you might get the impression that this is solely about the Indians having a better record in 2010 than they had in 2009. Of course, that's exactly what the series is about, so you should be congratulated for your keen impressionistic sense.

In case you're wondering, the series is only eight players long: I'm not going to try and chart players for whom I have no real confidence, may not play at all, or who can only be projected to make a marginal (if any) improvement. To this end, it's nice, in a sense, that I couldn't really identify an Indians player whom I thought clearly played "over his head" last season: the closest would be the top two offensive performers, Shin-Soo Shoo (53.5 VORP) and Asdrubal Cabrera (38.7 VORP). I don't expect either player to really launch himself into the Pujols-Mauer class of extraordinary player, but Choo's numbers are consistent with his minor-league track record plus three years of major-league development: a .300/.394/.489 is simultaneously quite good but also reasonably sustainable. He's always had good plate discipline, and even if he hits .280 instead of .300, he'll still likely post an OBP near .400, and his power has developed nicely. He hits lefties better than he did, and now that he has more PAs against southpaws, I expect that to at least be stable, if not improve. If anything, it may be that his 21:2 SB:CS is unsustainable, but even that speaks to a baserunning savvy that will serve Choo well in other aspects of the offense as well. (Man's got wheels.) Cabrera, on the other hand, is still only 24 years old, and back at his natural position of shortstop from Day One this season, should be able to post a similar season, which may have had a bit of elevation from the AVG but at leadoff will get more raw bases and should keep his VORP in range.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Room for Improvement: Matt LaPorta

Of course, this whole series was prepared before the Indians signed Russ Branyan and his Three True Outcome Machine to ostensibly play first base. See, the idea from my perspective is that LaPorta would play first, and Mike Brantley would play left, and then the only question would become when we could replace Brantley in left because, look, Mike Brantley can't actually hit. But hey. He can play D and got on base some and he's not entirely Trevor Crowe.

I think LaPorta fits in better at first base because that way, he isn't in left field. Okay, that's not entirely fair: LaPorta is not exactly Pete Incaviglia or Skates Smith out there, but ... look, he's a first baseman.

And so is Russ Branyan.

Now, once upon a time, Branyan was a THIRD baseman. Sure, he anodized his frying pan back in the day, then handed it down to Corey Smiff for safekeeping, sort of a lineage thing that lives on today with Wes Hodges' Cast Iron Special 3000, but he was not arrested for fraud while standing near the third base bag in actual professional baseball games. As far as I know. is a bit incomplete on the matter. But the point is, Russ Branyan is a first baseman now. Let's put it this way: Jhonny Peralta is the third baseman, and has nothing to fear from Russ Branyan defensively. Neither does Wes Hodges. Let that sink in.