Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The B-List: 4/26

Somehow, that felt a lot closer than 5 runs.

1) A very high floor

In his worst start of the season, Justin Masterson allowed 5 hits, 2 walks, and 7 Ks in 6 2/3 innings, meaning he was one out short of posting a WHIP of 1.00.

I am probably going to look to other areas to find something to complain about.

If anything, the 3 runs Masterson allowed serve to illustrate just how fine the line is between a mediocre performance and a good one, or a good one and a great one.  After retiring the first 10 hitters in order, including 5 groundouts and 3 whiffs, Masterson gave up a seeing-Orly single to Melky Cabrera before giving up a ringing double to Alex Gordon and an opposite-field double to Billy Butler on what was, frankly, just a good piece of hitting.  If Orly Cabrera had the mobility of, say, a palm tree, and Billy Butler was a mere average hitter, that’s a shutout inning.  With the Royals doing a good job at the plate, that’s two runs, as many as Masterson allowed in his last start, or in the two starts before that COMBINED.

Frankly, although he gave up a season-high THREE runs, this start was in many ways significantly better than the one before, when he couldn’t locate well and walked five guys for 11 baserunners overall.  He pitched in seven innings, and only gave up a hit in two of them.  Yes, he allowed three extra-base hits, including the first homer off Masterson on the year, but for the most part the Royals got a steady diet of nothing.  Once Masterson got to two strikes on a hitter, he was finished: seven of the nine hitters with a two-strike count struck out, and the other two were retired.  If there is a concern, it is that the Royals seemed a little too willing to help Masterson out by swinging at pitches out of the zone: while this may indicate that his stuff was excellent at moving out of the zone with late movement, it remains to be seen how this would play against a more patient lineup.  (Four of the KC hitters have an OBP-AVG under 45 points.)  On the other hand, there’s no sense throwing a more-hittable pitch just for aesthetics.  Masterson’s job is to get ‘em out, and he got ‘em out.

For the record, Masterson’s 9:4 GO:FO ratio yielded a GO+K of 16.

2) A Series of Fortunate Events

I’ve been trying to impress upon my sons how age has blunted my sensitivity to “coolness.”  Back in the day, I might have told people I didn’t care what they thought, but this is profoundly untrue.  I would work very hard to display the “quirky” albums near my stereo, or wear only the “clever” or “ironic” T-shirts to the public functions, or avoid signing up for classes that “everyone” took.  I missed out on a bunch of stuff that way: I have no idea how Economics works, there are Christmas photos of me with some very bad hair, and I somehow still own multiple Gary Numan albums.  (“Surely this one will have more than one song I like on it!”)

I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, but one thing I’m certainly willing to do is buy a book from the “intermediate” or “young adult” section that looks interesting.  I bought “Holes” by Louis Sachar for myself, and the fact that my children eventually warmed to it was a happy development.  But I bought it for me.  Hey, such books don’t take a lot of time and effort to read, and I enjoy them.

One of the books I bought in this manner was “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”  I very much liked the cover art.  I was amused by the author’s pseudonym, “Lemony Snicket.”  The tone seemed bracingly dark while humorous.  It worked for me, and I ended up reading the whole series.

One of the recurring themes in the series is a secret organization known only by its initials, “V.F.D.”  It’s reasonably obvious to an adult what this is going to mean, as the same abbreviation is used for volunteer fire departments in real life.  It’s approriately sinister that this organization volunteers to SET the fires.  But a great amount of the time, the protagonists spend their efforts tracking down Very Fancy Doilies, or a Villiage of Fowl Devotees, or Vernacularly Fastened Doors.

Anyway, when Vinnie Pestano came into the game in the 8th inning with the bases loaded and nobody out, I was hoping that he’d be able to get out of the jam with no more than 1 run scoring.  I mean, even a double play scores a run.  It’s certainly possible to score no runs with the bases loaded and no outs: Lord knows I’ve seen the Indians do this any number of times.  It’s pretty difficult, though.

Pestano came in after Tony Sipp turned into Blunderbuss P. Jones and faced righty Billy Butler.  After a foul ball, Butler popped out and didn’t advance any runners.

Jeff Francoeur swung and missed at two of the four pitches he saw: since the first was a strike looking, he was finished and no runners advanced.

Finally, Kila Ka’aihue popped out on his third pitch.

In all, Pestano threw 7 strikes in 9 pitches and retired all three hitters without allowing a ball to be hit out of the infield.

And from now on, I will always think of him as “V.F.P.”

3) A contrast in styles

Why would I go out of my way to mention that the V.F.P. threw 7 strikes in 9 pitches?  Well, first off, because I always do.  I like strikes.  From my relievers, I especially like strikes. A starter can work around hitters and set guys up for future plate appearances: relievers (generally) face a guy once and often need to priioritize not letting guys have easy bases.  I liked Raffy Betancourt for this reason.  It’s why I fell for Tom Mastny and Eddie Moo.  Strikes are good.  I like strikes.

So when I watched Tony Sipp and Chris Perez last night, I would have wept, except that it is very difficult to cry when you are throwing up.  Sipp walked two of the four batters he faced, and was disinterested enough to allow another double-steal while walking the second, Alex Gordon, who he’d essentially been brought in for in the first place.  Yes, he was summoned the previous inning to face Chris Getz, but really now, Getz hits .234 and slugs .273 and is in danger of losing his job because he isn’t actually a good hitter.  No, Sipp was brought in as the lefty because then he could stick around for Gordon the next inning.  Sipp had Gordon down 1-2.  He walked him.

As for C-Pez, I assume he was brought in to erase the sour taste of his loss last Thursday.  That taste was not erased.  The man gave up a hit to Matt Treanor, who is Jeff Mathis with less bat, and walked Chris Getz on four pitches, which is plainly inconceivable.  Yes, he struck out Mike Aviles, but this offsets neither thing.  Compounding this with a run-scoring double just adds injury to the insult that already topped the first injury.  He fell behind 2-0 to each of the last two hitters with a five-run lead.  That doesn’t seem “strategic” as much as “oafy.”

Both men have pitched very well for significant stretches of the season.  Neither has an ERA over 3, and they’re both fine bullpen members.  But … look, let’s keep this simple.  THROW STRIKES!  AAAH!  AAAH!  AAAAAAAAAAAH!

4) Boom goes the dynamite

Of the Indians’ 9 runs last night, 8 of them were driven in by home runs.  The only run that did not score on a home run was the first, which was scored by Grady Sizemore after he led off the inning with a double.  More than half of Cleveland’s hits were for extra bases (Travis Hafner contributed a double to the cause).

Three of the home runs were not just important run-scoring plays, but potentially encouraging for the remainder of the season.  Matt LaPorta raised his SLG to .469, which represents an ISO of .219 on the young season, but smoking a ball onto the home run porch in right.  This is his 3rd homer on the season, and if he can establish himself as the legitimate power threat we all hoped he’d be when he was the centerpiece of the Sabathia deal, it would be great to move him up in the order to 6th (for now) or even 4th (at some point down the road).  One of only two pure right-handed hitters in the “default” lineup, LaPorta could be a crucial piece of future high-scoring lineups.

Shin-Soo Choo’s three-run greeting blast off Louis Coleman was simply a massive shot.  It was good to see him act decisively despite getting off to such a slow start on the season.  A lot of times, “plate discipline” is misinterpreted as “taking a lot of pitches.”  This is the tail wagging the dog: “plate discipline” is all about attempting to swing as often as possible at pitches you can hit really well.  This generally LEADS to taking pitches because they AREN’T pitches you can hit really well.  Choo hit that pitch really well.  (Note: it was very odd to see Coleman as the pitcher of choice there.  I will address this later.)

Grady Sizemore continued his ridiculous Welcome Back Tour with two more extra-base hits.  Apparently, Sizemore is the first Cleveland Indian EVER to collect 200 doubles, 100 homers, and 100 stolen bases in a Cleveland uniform.  This blows my mind, not because Sizemore’s numbers are so high, but because those thresholds seem so LOW for a CAREER.  Still, it’s awfully good stuff.  And let’s face it: while Sizemore is not going to hit .406 or slug .875 on the season, the fact is that he looks so different from last season that Barrack Obama has asked to see Sizemore’s birth certificate.  Would having a healthy Grady Sizemore for 150 games be beneficial for the Tribe?  I believe I will let the noted philosopher Charlie Sheen answer this one: “Duh.”

Not only did Jack Hannahan hit TWO homers last night, but one travelled over 400 feet.  I am pretty sure this means that there’s some parallel universe out there where President Charlie Sheen, a huge Mariners fan, is launching an investigation into how their version of Jack Hannahan could have fallen so steeply off a cliff with a .500 OPS.

5) Quick aside

If I’d told you in my off-season ranting about third base that I could find a guy who played good defense and hit .286/.348/.524, you’d pretty much have called me a deluded nut.  Which is kind of what I’d be if I thought these are the numbers with which Hannahan would end the season.  But it sure beats last season.

6) A word on lineup construction

At this point, the Charm Factor of Orly Cabrera has pretty much worn off.  He’s an undisciplined hacker at the plate and is playing second base because his lack of range matters less there.  Nice guy.  Good influence.  Probably should be slotted in the “diminishing skills” category.

So why is he hitting 6th behind Travis Hafner?  Well, he’s right-handed.  He was hitting early.  And Matt LaPorta could use all the positive development environment he can get.  Right now the lineup against righties is a perfect L-R-L-R alternating sequence with the switch-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana in the 2 and 4 slots.  I expect that as the season wears on, it’s more likely that LaPorta will move up and Orly down.

However, the question needs to be asked: can Asdrubal Cabrera actually HIT?  Sure, he popped some early homers, and he has the mythical “bat control” of Omars Vizquel past, and switch-hits credibly, yah yah yah.  After that hot start, he’s STILL only got a .320 OBP in the two hole.  Yes, I understand that Choo has only a .274, but I truly believe Choo can hit.  Why?  Because Shin-Soo Choo has the track record.  I have *seen* Choo hit.  There is a level of confidence there.

To a lesser extent, I believe Santana will hit.  His track record is more of the minor-league variety, but few dispute that he should hit at the major-league level as well despite his lousy start.  Should he hit 4th?  Well …

But all this is likely angels-on-pins territory: as long as the lineup is generating runs (and it is, among the league leaders), why mess with the so-called “chemistry?”  In the long term, I think it will make sense for Orly to move down while LaPorta moves up, but the question of whether you might get more mileage against a right-handed starter with, say, Mike Brantley in the 2 slot is worth keeping in mind.

While I’m here, though, can someone tell me why Mike Aviles leads off for the Royals?  Mike Aviles has a .266 OBP.  I know it is early, but the next four hitters in the KC lineup hit .301, .351, .313, and .322 so far.  Chris Getz, bless his Nerf™ bat, posts a .337 OBP.  Oy vey.

Note: Melky Cabrera hits .301, which is above-average.  His OBP of .324 is below-average.  This likely does not have a good ending for the Royals.

7) Managerial Head-Scratchers

With two men on base, the next three hitters are:

Shin-Soo Choo
Carlos Santana
Travis Hafner

Your choices:

Left-handed Tiny Tim Collins
Right-handed slider specialist Louis Coleman

I mean, that’s not “hindsight.”  That’s “wtfsight.”

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