Saturday, April 23, 2011

The sinister lineup

This is a follow-up piece on my Matt LaPorta piece over at the Hardball Times.

A reader made an interesting comment that I want to explore. He/she suggested that LaPorta's significance to Cleveland comes not in being a player at a position with little system depth, but rather in being a right-handed bat in a predominately left-handed lineup.

There is no denying that Cleveland is a predominately left-handed lineup. Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Michael Brantley, and Jack Hannahan all bear the mark of Cain. Moreover, this imbalance is likely to increase with our two top prospects Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall batting from the sinister side. (Chisenhall would replace fellow lefty Hannahan, but Kipnis would replace righty OCab.)

I discussed the issue of our left-handed lineups in both the Baltimore and KC series reviews. The predominately left-handed lineup tempts Manny Acta to play several right-handed bench players against left-handed opposing starters. However, our lineup is not very good with several bench players in it.

So, is the commenter correct that LaPorta's significance comes in being a right-handed bat?

I don't think so. Critical mass has been achieved. We have four productive left-handed hitters in Sizemore, Choo, Hafner, and Brantley. If the lefties struggle against lefties, the lineup will struggle. Regardless of how our right-handed hitters perform, opposing managers are going to juggle their rotations to maximize left-handed starts.

We can't change who we are. Cleveland is going to be a predominately left-handed lineup. It is the left-handed hitters that must produce against left-handed pitching. With their personnel, they can no more field a balanced lineup than Steve Buscemi can play bubbly characters.

LaPorta's development or demise determines the productivity Cleveland will get at first base. It does not determine the balance of the lineup.

Update: Over at Cleveland Indians Chatter, you can find another discussion of our left leaning lineup.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Matt LaPorta

I have a piece on Matt LaPorta over at the Hardball Times. I explain opposing pitcher's strategies when facing LaPorta. I track LaPorta's progress and explain why he is a key piece in Cleveland's future.

Update: Dave Pinto over at Baseball Musings notes that pitchers are throwing less fastballs this year. This adds to the significance of LaPorta seeing the fewest fastball in the AL.

KC/Cleveland Series Review

We came into the series with a one game lead over KC for first place. We leave with a one game lead over KC for first place.

Kansas City is playing some great baseball right now. Alex Gordon made some fantastic plays with the glove. They have 3 hitters on 10+ game hitting streaks. Bruce Chen is pitching well.

Splitting a series with KC is completely acceptable at this point in the season. Much like Cleveland, it is unclear how KC will play over the course of the full season, but right now they are playing very good baseball.

Jose Mesa's eyes (warning signs) - Ttfc giveth, and ttfc taketh away. In my review of the Baltimore series, I wrote that our 5 - 1 recorded (at the time) against left handed starters was a sign of hope. I explained, "The risk of a left heavy lineup struggling against lefties is that it tempts the manager to play bench players against left handed starters." Against left handed Bruce Chen, Manny Acta started bench players Adam Everett, Shelley Duncan, Lou Marson, and Austin Kearns. It is this lineup that I hoped we could avoid. Sure, sure, the bench players did alright in the game, going 3 for 12 with 2 walks. I don't care. This is a bad lineup. All of these hitters are mediocre at best. Playing them all at once is setting up the opposing pitcher to succeed. I want to never see these names together on a lineup card again.

We are a predominately left handed hitting lineup. It can be tempting to use several right handed bench players against left handed opposing starters. This temptation must me resisted. I hope that Tuesday's game can stand as an aversion therapy.

John Hart's vision (signs of hope) - I have a piece on Matt LaPorta coming out on The Hardball Times website. Here is a teaser. Matt LaPorta has a hitting streak, of sorts, going. For the second game in a row, LaPorta hit a breaking pitch for a base hit.

Update: My Matt LaPorta piece is online.

Alex Cole's batting average (misleading stats) - If Josh Tomlin was a band, he would be Guided by Voices or Pavement. Tomlin is low-fi. He doesn't have a polished sound, but he brings it on every song.

That said. Tomlin's 2.33 ERA is the misleading stat of the series. Right now, Tomlin has the 4th best BAbip in the majors. Tomlin has a .182 BAbip. That means the hitter are hitting balls at defenders a vast majority of the time. This won't last.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Have you ever read the works of Shan Yu?

"Live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano's edge. And on that day you will finally meet the man." -Shan Yu (fictitious psychotic dictator for the TV series Firefly.)

We are entering a period where we will get to meet the real Cleveland Indians.

The starters won't always give us a quality start. The bullpen will give up some runs. The hitters won't always come through in the clutch. The defense won't always be spotless. Just like every relationship must move past the infatuation stage, every winning streak must end. Now, we get to see the blemishes.

The magical hot start of the season has come to its inevitable end. This can be a good thing. Let me remind you that Justin Masterson still pitched well even without his best stuff. Now we get to see our team face some adversity. The next few weeks will tell us, where we are as a team.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Carlos Santana

Carlos is in the lineup tonight and batting cleanup.

This is significant, because Santana struck out looking at three straight pitches last night with two outs, the bases loaded, and Cleveland trailing by one.

Manny Acta is giving Santana a huge vote of confidence.

This seems like a good move to me. I like the trust Acta is showing Santana. And I think we want Santana to learn to hit his way out of slumps.

If you are going to groom a player to be "the guy", you have to groom him to take the heat. Everyone is buzzing about the strike out last night. This move says, "We know that you will get them next time." Sitting Santana tonight sends a message that he might not be ready for the big time. It is a way of saying, "You are a little over-matched right now and we are going to dial things back for a bit."

No one knows how Santana will respond. But I like erring on the side of overconfidence.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Justin Masterson review of game 3

Entering the season the question was what would Masterson do to get lefties out. Would he introduce another pitch? Would he change his approach? Would he continue to get pounded by lefties?

After 3 games, lefties are hitting .267/.283/.333. This is an improvement over Masterson's career numbers against lefties, .293/.383/.435. Chicago lefties hit .455 against Masterson. Seattle lefties hit .211. And Baltimore lefties hit 214.

How is Masterson getting the lefties out? A new pitch? A new approach? Magic? Luck?

No new pitch. No new approach. He is doing what he has always done.

Isn't the mark of insanity to do the same thing over and over and expect different results?

Yes, it is. But Masterson isn't just doing the same thing. He is doing the same thing but better. Masterson is attacking the strike zone this year. He has thrown the ball in the strike zone 52.4% of the time. That is up from his career 47.8% mark. Chicago is the outlier of the three. Against Chicago, Masterson featured the fastball against the lefties. Against Seattle and Baltimore, Masterson used all 3 of his pitches.

Masterson's strike out numbers have fluctuated. What explains that?

Seattle struck out 9 times. Baltimore whiffed 3 times. And Chicago had no strike outs against Masterson. There are two reasons for this. One, Chicago and Baltimore were more aggressive. Seattle averaged over 1 pitch per at bat more than Chicago and Baltimore. Second, Masterson had a great slider against Seattle, and the slider is his strike out pitch. In fact, Masterson threw twice as many slider against Seattle than he did against Chicago and Baltimore.

So, is Masterson for real?

If he keeps doing what he is doing, then yeah, he is for real. Masterson is pitching on a Cliff Lee model. Keep the walks and homers way down. Get some strike outs and lots of ground balls. On days when he has a good slider, Masterson will get big strike out numbers. On days when he doesn't, he will rely on his sinker to get ground outs.

This has the makings of a breakout year for Masterson.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Baltimore/Cleveland series review

Expectations. They are coke bottle glasses to insight.

Sometimes you choose to see a movie before looking to see what was showing. Such was the case when I saw The Host (2006). It simply was the only movie that seemed watchable amongst a dreadful selection. I wasn't expecting much. However, it is a well done horror movie. It playfully engages the standard monster movie formula. There is old school monster movie camp, including a mad scientist that sets things in motion. But the characters also deal with serious emotional issues like overcoming failure. I walked away from seeing The Host in a good mood and feeling that I had got my money's worth.

Is The Host a good movie? I am not sure that I can judge anymore. I enjoyed it. But my enjoyment is, in part, a product of being pleasantly surprised.

I will only speak for myself here. I had relatively low expectations entering this season. They were higher than some. Baseball Prospectus had Cleveland finishing 4th in the AL Central with a 74 - 88 record. My prediction was Cleveland finishing 4th in the AL Central with a 78 - 84 record. I thought Baseball Prospectus' projections for Brantley, C. Perez, and Carmona were low, and Cleveland would get an extra four wins by those three players exceeding BP's projections.

Here we are. Cleveland is 11 - 4. They have swept Baltimore. This is the third sweep in five series. It is better than I was expecting.

Jose Mesa's eyes (warning signs) - Cleveland is 11 - 4. Grady Sizemore comes off the DL and hits a home run. He will replace the left field platoon that was hitting .175 with no home runs. The starters turned in another 3 quality starts. The bullpen was shut down again. What is not to like? Let's go with obvious here. Mitch Talbot's injury. It seems like Cleveland is deep here. But that can quickly evaporate. Jeanmar Gomez replaces Talbot's spot in the rotation. We will get to see him on Tuesday.

John Hart's vision (signs of encouragement) - Cleveland is 5 -1, when they face a left handed starter. In this series, they faced the red hot left handed rookie Zach Britton. Cleveland got 5 runs on the lefty. Britton had given up only 1 run in his two previous starts. The reason that Cleveland's record against left handed starters is so significant is that Cleveland features lefties at the 1, 3, and 5 spots in their lineup. The addition of Sizemore will further shift the balance of the lineup to the left. The risk of a left heavy lineup struggling against lefties is that it tempts the manager to play bench players against left handed starters. We don't want Choo, Hafner, Sizemore, and Brantley on the bench at the same time.

Alex Cole's batting average (misleading stat) - Joe Smith's 9.00 ERA. Smith threw 1 inning and gave up 3 hits and 1 earned run. Joe Smith's first outing does not look good. However, Smith threw 19 pitches and 15 were strikes. Of those 15 strikes, Smith got 5 swings and misses. Batters looked at 4 strikes looking and batters made contact on 6 pitches. On the 6 pitches that batters made contact, Smith gave up 3 hits, got 2 outs, and had 1 foul strike. Smith was simply unlucky in this outing. He had a .600 BAbip. Moreover, Smith was getting a swing and miss on 33.3% of his strikes. So, it was not the case that hitters were able to crush his every pitch.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Progress report: Michael Brantley

If you missed it, I did a detailed analysis of Brantley's game in April. I argued that if Brantley could walk as much as he strikes out (something he did in the minors) he would be a very good leadoff hitter.

The season is of course is still very early, but Brantley is hitting .333/.400/.417. Those are excellent numbers for a leadoff hitter.

How is Brantley generating those numbers?

The batting average should not surprise anyone. Brantley has a career .303 batting average in the minor leagues. In the majors, he hit .313 in 28 games in '09 and .292 after July 31 last year. Further, Brantley continues to make contact on 92% of his swings. This is an excellent percentage. The league average is 80%. Brantley does a great job of putting the ball in play. Considering all of these factors, we should expect Brantley to hit around .300 going forward into the season.

Another encouraging sign is that the on base percentage is up as well. He seems to be doing this by walking as much as he strikes out. Brantley has 6 walks and 6 strike outs. The one aspect of his minor league career that he has yet to mirror in the majors was a 1:1 walk to strike out rate. If that part of his minor league game is now translating to his major league game, then we should expect roughly this OBP to continue as well.

To my amateur eyes, Brantley looks comfortable hitting with two strikes. If he is comfortable hitting with two strikes with his contact rate, he should be able to consistently work into deep counts. Presently, he is still only seeing 3.76 pitches per plate appearance. That is pretty much the league average. Ideally, you would like your leadoff hitter to see more pitches.

Brantley's power numbers have stayed on par with his career numbers. Brantley has .a 082 ISO mark at both the majors and minors. Thus far, he has a .083. Those isolated power numbers tell us that Brantley is primarily a singles hitter.

What we are seeing so far this season is the real Michael Brantley. He is going to hit a ton of singles. He is going to walk some. He won't hit for power. This is very encouraging. That makes him a good leadoff hitter.

Oh, and did I mention that Brantley is only 23 years old? (He turns 24 next month.) So, there is potential for improvement. If you aren't excited about Brantley's game, you should be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Angels/Cleveland Series Review

Baseball seasons are like movies.

I view a single game as like a single frame in a movie. It is there and gone before anyone can really notice. A series is like a movie shot. Get one shot of a character saying a line. Then you cut to a shot of another character replying. Then you cut to the characters together. End scene. Each series in the baseball season is a like a movie shot. A movie shot will give you a glimpse at a character from one point of view. Much like a series will show a team from a particular perspective. Another shot gives you a different perspective as does another series. Put a few movie shots together, and you have a scene. Put a few scenes together, and you have a plot. Put a few baseball series together, and you have a sense of the momentum of the team. Track the team's momentum over a few months, and you have a sense of the team's season. Just like in the movies, there is the occasional plot twist. But in general, baseball seasons are directed by Steven Speilberg and not M. Night Shyamalan.

With that in mind, let us look at the shot that was Cleveland vs. Angels.

Jose Mesa's eyes (warning signs) - My goal with these reviews are to do something interesting. I will try to not state the obvious. Yep. We had some problems with our fundamentals. Yep. Chad Durbin is struggling. However, I think the warning sign worth mentioning is Shin-Soo Choo's play. Yes, he is struggling at the plate. Choo is hitting .200/.275.267. However, I am not worried about Choo at the plate. He will hit. He is a career .295 hitter, and we should expect numbers like that by the end of the year. However, I think that Choo is letting his struggles at the plate effect his overall game. He got picked off third base on Wednesday. He over slide a base earlier in the weak. And he has .792 RZR (measure for range) in right field, a career low. I don't know what to do to fix the problem, but it needs to be addressed.

John Hart's vision (signs of hope) - Okay. I am going with the obvious here. Starting pitching. There will be some regression to the mean. However, it is worth noting that we got three quality starts in this series. Every starter in our rotation has had two consecutive good outings. Everyone is pitching like you hoped they would pitch. No deep analysis here. Just simple recognition and admiration.

Alex Cole's batting average (misleading stats) - Thus far, Mitch Talbot is averaging almost 3 more strikeout per 9 innings than his career average. He is averaging 8.03 KOs per 9 innings. Over his career Talbot avearages 5.16 KOs per 9. However, Talbot is not getting anymore swings and misses than he normally does. Opposing hitters are making contact on 86.8% of their swings at Talbot's pitches. This is actually a higher contact rate than his career average (85.9%). What is happening is that Talbot is throwing more strikes and hitters are taking less swings at Talbot's pitches. Talbot is throwing 48.3% of his pitches in the strike zone. That is up from his career percentage of 43.9%. Further, hitters are only swinging at 40.1% of his pitches. That is down from his career percentage of 42.9%. Of course, hitters will adjust and start being more aggressive. We should expect those strikeout numbers to drop. However, it is still a positive sign that Talbot is throwing more strikes.

Loving to Hate

I used an Ozzie Guillen post-game conference to make a point about Chad Durbin. This made me realize that there are certain coaches/managers that I love having a job but never want them to have a job with my team.

Football was better with Ditka, Wyche, Buddy Ryan, and Glanville having jobs. But I would never want them to coach the Browns.

I am slowly building my list for baseball.

I love having Ozzie Guillen in the league. He is clearly smart but a complete loose cannon. If you are unfamiliar with the Oz, he will listen to morning sports radio shows. If he disagrees with them, he will call in and go on long rants about being treated unfairly. That is a sports radio stations wet dream and a GMs nightmare.

Another candidate has to be Buck Showalter. I love that Buck called out Theo Epstein. Was that a wise choice? No. I mean why lose the "they didn't see us coming" advantage?

But it makes for good baseball drama. I hope that Buck has enough success that he feels uninhibited about stating his every thought.

However, crazy is not a sufficient condition for this category. I don't think that Terry Collins' "we must go 9 - 2" qualifies, because I want smart plus crazy. Terry Collins only gets the crazy part right.

Right now, I can't think of more managers to add to my list. If you think of any, let me know. The criteria are smart, crazy, and ultimately doomed. Let me know what you think.

Justin Masterson preview for game 3

So, what are your expectations for Masterson this year? Masterson had a 3.81 ERA with a .302 BAbip (a luck neutral number) in the second half of last year. I think a reasonable goal is for Masterson to match his second half numbers from last year over 200 innings this year.

Over the course of a season, all pitchers have bad outings. The key is to have enough good starts to absorb the numbers from the bad starts. Some teams are particularly tough for Masterson. The best hitters in Minnesota, for example, are lefties. Some teams like Texas have incredible lineups. Some bad outings against teams like these are almost inevitable. Masterson needs to pitch well against the teams that he should pitch well.

Enter Baltimore.

Baltimore has a decent lineup. It is improved with the additions of Vlad, Reynolds, and DLee. But they are all righties. Brian Roberts, Luke Scott, and Nick Markakis are quality hitters and will bat left handed against Masterson. However, this is the type of lineup that Masterson needs to dominate.

Look for Baltimore to come with six batters hitting left handed Roberts, Markakis, Scott, Weiters, Pie, and Izturis. This will be a tougher challenge than Seattle. So, it is another important step for Masterson. I think that the measure of success should be a quality start (at least 6 innings and no more than 3 runs).

As I have shown before, Masterson changed his approach to facing lefties from game 1 to game 2. In game 1, he challenged lefties primarily with his 4-seam fastball. In game 2, he came at lefties with a sinker/slider mix with the occasional 4-seamer. So, this warrants attention.

Expect a detailed post-start analysis as I see Masterson as a key player. So, stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chad Durbin

Before you consider calling for Durbin head. Consider the following.

Listen to what Ozzie says about his relievers (listen to the comment after he talks about bring Bobby Thigpen back).

Now notice how Chad Durbin isn't hiding from the press or responsibility. A good reliever should take responsibility for bad outings but also not linger on them. That is exactly was Durbin does.

Before everyone starts calling for Cleveland to cut Durbin, remember everyone of our relievers are going to have bad games. Ask Ozzie Guillen if there is any value in having a reliever willing to take the heat after blowing a game. Durbin is our only reliever over 28 yrs. old. His value is more than just how he handles himself on the mound. It is also about showing our young relievers how to handle bad outings.

Durbin's pitching has earned him a diminished role. Until he starts pitching better, he shouldn't go into close games. But with a bullpen as young and inexperienced as ours, his example of the field earns him a spot on the team.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Random thoughts

-I have started doing some research on my next Matt LaPorta update. I have learned some things. LaPorta is looking for a first pitch fastball. Pitchers are still not throwing Matt many strikes. I am wondering a few things. What would count as minimally acceptable production? What would count as a reasonably optimistic projection?

-Josh Tomlin reminds me of this children's story. A little boy plants a seed. As he waters daily, various adult tell him the seed won't grow. Of course, the plant grows. Tomlin should be pitching in the majors. He was supposed to stall in his development. He doesn't have the stuff to be an effective major leaguer. But here he is.
So, I am trying to get some fresh eyes to re-examine Tomlin.

-I have read people saying this is the best bullpen since the 90s. But maybe it is better. Our best closer in that era was Jose Mesa. I won't reopen that wound, but Chris Perez does not remind me of Joe Table. Chris Perez's demeanor reminds me of another closer on the wrong side of World Series dramatics, Mitch Williams. That is strangely reassuring to me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The case for starting Jason Donald at third

Cleveland is off to a fast start. They are 7 -2 and in sole possession of first place in the AL Central. Hurray! But with every acknowledgment of this fact comes the immediate warning that the season is too young to make any real judgments. They could easily go on a five game losing streak, and we are back to square one. The quick start still doesn't guarantee a winning record in the month of April.

I have read several articles about Boston's slow start. The most reasonable pessimism that I read was the idea of Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs. The idea was to take the winning percentage you thought the team would have before the season started and assume that they play at that percentage from this point forward. I think that idea would also work as an application of reasonable optimism for Cleveland. Take your prediction for Cleveland's winning percentage and assume they play at the percentage starting today.

There is reason that I am writing about Cleveland's hot start in a post that promises to be about Jason Donald. Just like it is too early to make judgments about Cleveland after 9 games. No one should change their views of Jack Hannahan based on 9 games. After 9 games, Jack Hannahan is hitting .286/.355/.536 with 2 home runs. This far exceeds anyone's expectations. He has been playing very solid defense. That is not surprising. We have been getting the defense we expected.

If you want to be reasonably optimistic about Hannahan's year, I suggest taking your predictions for his year and assume he plays at those numbers from this point forward.

Before we get to the argument for Jason Donald at third, let me offer responses to a couple of arguments for keeping Jack as the starter.

Argument #1 for Hannahan: (Paul Hoynes is one person that has made this argument.) Maybe Jack Hannahan is the next Casey Blake. Casey bounced around before getting a chance to start and turned into a solid major leaguer. This is a version of the lightning in a bottle argument.

The response to this is two-fold. One, Casey was 27, when Cleveland made him their starter. Hannahan is 31. Players typically peak at age 27. Even if Hannahan is a bit of a late bloomer, it is very unlikely that his game is going to improve from this point forward.

Two, Blake had never been giving the opportunity to get consistent major league at bats before Cleveland made him a starter. Hannahan has over 1K major league plate appearances and a career .226 BA. Moreover, Oakland gave Hannahan a full year as a starter at third in '08. He did bat .305/.352/.451 in the month of July in '08, but Jack hit only .218/.305/.342 over the full year.

The idea behind this argument is that maybe we get lucky, you know, catch lightning in a bottle. I think that is exactly what has happened. However, I think the bottle is really, really tiny.

Argument #2 for Hannahan: (This argument comes from Nino Collo over at the Tribe Daily.) The argument here is that Jack Hannahan has earned the starting job. He has done everything we could ask both on offense and defense. In light of his play, he deserves the job. (Collo doesn't explicitly mention spring training, but Hannahan played well all spring as well. So, Hannahan has play well in 9 regular season games and all spring.) This is a version of the argument from merit.

I respectfully disagree, and let me use Lonnie Chisenhall to explain why.

I don't think Chisenhall could have earned the starting position this spring. Even if Chisenhall hit 1.000 and played spotless defense, he would not have earned the starting job at third. To have earned the starting job out of spring training, Lonnie needed to play better last year. He needed to tear up AA pitching and earn a trip during the year to Columbus. Chisenhall had a good but not great year at Canton. To deserve the starting third base job, Lonnie needed a great '10 and a good spring. He had one but not the other.

My response to the argument that Hannahan has earned the job at third is the same to my thoughts on Chisenhall. Jack hit .237 in AAA last year. If Hannahan wanted to earn the starting job at third, he needed to play better last year.

That doesn't mean that I don't think that he can't earn the starting spot. But I think he will need to continue to play well in whatever opportunities he gets for the next couple of months, and Donald will have to be struggling. Also, I do agree that Hannahan's play has earned him something. I think that deserves to be on the team, and he deserves at bats of the bench against righties.

The argument for Jason Donald

This is not a merit argument. I don't think Donald deserves the starting spot based on past performance.

My argument is that Donald is age 26. He has hit .253/.312/.378 in 325 PAs. He could put up better numbers than this. How much better? I don't know. But I think Cleveland should try to find out what they have in Donald. Call this the Matt LaPorta argument.

By giving Donald a full year at third, we will have a pretty good idea what type of player he is. If he can't hit, you make sure that he focuses on his defense. The result would be a younger Hannahan. But what if he can put up a .275/.350/.400 line? Those numbers are all lower than his career minor league numbers. That modest optimism might make Donald the best choice for third or second next year.

Ideally, Chisenhall and Kipnis continue to develop and earn the starting jobs at third and second, respectively. But if one or both struggle and aren't major league ready next year, Cord Phelps and Jason Donald would be leading candidates to replace them.

We will learn nothing about Donald by sending him to the minors. Jason has almost 1.7k minor league PAs. We have a good idea what he can do against minor league pitchers.

I think that we should give a full year to LaPorta and Donald to see what we have. This would be their make or break years. If they fail, then we look at players to replace them over the winter. But if they play well, we see how they fit into the 2012 team.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Are you a plate half covered person or plate half exposed person?

As we move to a series with the Angels, I thought I would mention a very interesting piece on the Angel's Brandon Wood. Dave Pinto of Baseball Musings and Baseball Analytics has a done a great analysis of Brandon Wood's swing. Pinto shows that Wood is not swinging at pitches on the outside of the plate. Note to Cleveland pitchers, throw the ball there.

Seattle/Cleveland Series Review

Cleveland continues its winning streak. They sweep Seattle.

Jose Mesa's eyes (warning signs) - Against Seattle relief pitchers, Cleveland got 10 hits and 5 runs in 12 2/3 innings. However, all 5 of those runs were against Tom Wilhelmsen in his only appearance. Cleveland also struck out 14 times against Seattle relief. This suggests that Cleveland might struggle to come back we trailing late in a game.

Cleveland has yet to trail by less than 3 runs late in a game. The bullpen has been good enough to one confidence in their ability to hold leads. Moreover, there have been several positive signs with their lineup. It seems that Cleveland will score runs. However, in their victories by less than 3 runs, Cleveland has scored 1 run against the 12 innings pitched by the opponent's relievers. (This is a little misleading because it doesn't count the pounding that they put on Boston's relievers in game 2 of that series.) Nevertheless, it appears that the lineup will press a bit in close games.

John Hart's vision (signs of encouragement) - Tony Sipp had a huge series as the setup man. Leading by one run, he faces Figgins in game 2 of the series and gives up a lead off double. However, he bore down and retired Bradley, Cust, and Smoak. The following day he comes in the eighth inning with a two run lead to face Figgins, Kennedy, and Cust. There are three things to really like about these outings. 1) They were both pressure situations, especially the first outing. Giving up a lead off double, while trying to hold a one run lead, is deep sea pressure. 2) This was a back-to-back performance against the same team. The more a team gets to see a pitcher the better they do. Seattle not only got to see Sipp twice, but he faced Figgins and Cust in both appearances. 3) He shut down Seattle's momentum in the final game. Seattle had come back from 6 - 0 to make it a 6 - 4 game. They had the heart of their order up. The crowd was into the game for the first time in the series. Sipp set them down 1 - 2 - 3.

Alex Cole's batting average (misleading stats) - Asdrubal Cabrera hit 2 HRs in this series. Meet your home run leader, Asdrubal. Don't look for big home run number from ACab. Cabrera's previous home run high in a season was 6. In the minors, Cabrera once hit 8 homers in a season. Let's say that he exceeds his previous season high by 2 homers starting now. That puts the over/under on Cabrera's home run total at 13. In my spring season analysis, I explained how Cabrera has gap power rather than home run power.

Justin Masterson review of game 2

I have been carefully watching Masterson and LaPorta early this year. Their development, or lack there of, will greatly impact the next few years for Cleveland. LaPorta's significance is the result of prospect scarcity at first base. There is a relative wealth of starting pitching prospects in the Cleveland system right now. Masterson's importance comes in the need for experienced starting pitchers. Right now, Cleveland's only veteran pitcher is the 27 year old Fausto Carmona. Carmona is the only starter with more than one year's experience as a starter. Mitch Talbot and Masterson are the only other starters with a single full season's experience.

If Cleveland is going to develop into a playoff caliber team, they are going to need veteran pitchers. Ideally, Carmona and Masterson can develop into those pitchers.

Let's look at Masterson's second start of the season. These examinations come with their standard warning about small samples. However, a comparison between Masterson's first and second starts offers us very interesting results.

For the causal fan, I will mention here that Masterson has one of the most dramatic lefty/righty splits in the major leagues. His near side arm delivery makes him extremely difficult for right handed hitters. However, left handed hitters get a good view of his pitches. In his career, righties hit .226/.303/.319 against Masterson, and lefties hit .293/.383/.435.

Let's look at Masterson's approach to left handed hitters in game 1 against Chicago. (Thank you, fangraghs.)

It is worth noting two sliders that Masterson was identified as throwing were most likely fastballs (based on velocity and movement). I don't know, if those two sliders were among the three sliders thrown to the lefties.

What we see from Masterson's approach to lefties is that he primarily attacking them with his 4-seam fastball. In the game, lefties had 5 of the 7 hits Masterson surrendered, and they hit .455/.500/.500 against him.

Now let's look at Masterson's approach to left handed hitters in game 2 against Seattle. (Again, thanks, fangraghs.)

This is a very different approach to the lefties in game 2. Here Masterson comes at them primarily with a sinker/slider combo. This difference in approach is mirrored in the results. In game 2, lefties hit .211/.211/.316 against Masterson.

There seem to be three explanations for the changes between game 1 and 2.

1) He had better command and comfort with his fastball in game 1. Where as in game 2, he was commanding his sinker and slider. There is some evidence supporting this option. Manny Acta said that Masterson had a very good slider in game 2. Also, I count 30 sliders in 111 pitches against the Mariners, and 12 sliders in 98 pitches against Chicago.

2) The scouting and game plan for the individual batters dictated the different approach. I have no access to such things. So, I have no idea how much this played a role in different approach to left handed hitters.

3) Masterson is changing his approach to left handed hitters. The sample is too small to make judgments here. However, this bears further study.

The lefty/right split is an essential element to Masterson's development. His struggles against left handed hitters is no secret. Teams are going to continue stacking their lineups with lefties. If Masterson cannot consistently get lefties out, he will be bound for the bullpen as a ROOGY. There is a vast difference between the value of a 200 inning starting pitcher and a ROOGY setup man.

Here at ttfc, I will be keep a close eye on how this plays out.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Justin Masterson preview for game 2

If you could pick the first two teams for Justin Masterson to face this season, Chicago followed by Seattle would be good choices. The both pose good challenges for Masterson, but you would not be feeding him to the wolves with either choice.

Chicago has a very good lineup, but many of their best hitters are right handed. This is a strength verse strength kind of test. Pitch around Dunn. Go after Konerko, Quentin, and Beckham. (You have to say that he passed this first test.)

Seattle is a poor hitting lineup, but their best hitters are left handed or switch hitters. Masterson will face at least six left handed hitters and possibly up to eight lefties. This will test how much Masterson has made improvements on the weakest part of his game.

Key stat: Masterson's career line against righties .226/.303/.319 and against lefties .293/.383/.435.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cleveland/Boston series review

Wow. We swept the Boston Red Sox.

You are never as good as you look during a winning streak, and you are never as bad as you look during a losing streak. So, we should take this series with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, let's take a look.

Warning signs - In Thursdays game, Shelley Duncan doubles to lead off the seventh inning. Austin Kearns follows by popping out on an attempted bunt. Michael LaPorta follows by swinging at a first pitch sinker outside the strike zone that results in a weak ground ball. Travis Buck follows by swing at a first pitch fastball that results in a weak ground ball.

I am not concerned with the failed bunt. That is a lack of execution. Baseball is a tough game and fails of execution will happen.

However, the games was tied at 0 and the Red Sox have their ace on the mound. The pitch to LaPorta was Jon Lester's 108th pitch of the day. Swinging at the first pitch in that situation demonstrates a failure to understand the situation. Yes, a single would put Cleveland in the lead. But a walk could force Lester from the game. A walk would have put Lester's pitch count at 111 (at the very least), and Lester would still need two more outs. LaPorta should be coming to the plate looking to work the count deep and looking to put good wood on the ball. This was a very poor at bat for LaPorta. And Buck follows making the same mistake.

Signs of hope - This is the youngest team in baseball, but Manny has them making smart veteran plays. LaPorta had a delayed steal. Adam Everett got a key stole base. And of course, you have the suicide squeeze. In all three of these plays, Boston was caught napping. What is so encouraging is that Manny recognizes Boston's sloppy play and takes advantage of it. This is different than scoring a run do to fielding errors. Benefiting from errors is largely a matter of luck (and perhaps hustle). Having Everett steal second instead of bunting him over is good baseball.

Misleading stat - Mitch Talbot has a 2.68 FIP (fielding independent pitching on the ERA scale). Talbot did not pitch well in his first start. This fact is hidden by the stellar FIP. This stat is the result of Talbot's 7 KOs in 4 1/3 innings. However, Boston hitters only had 6 swinging strikes. They made contact on 85% of their swings. So, Talbot's high strikeout rate is a product of Boston hitter's looking at too many strikes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Is Cleveland pitching this good, or are the Sox that bad?

Matt LaPorta after 57 pitches

Last night, LaPorta chases a curve out of the strike zone. He pulls back and winces in disgust. Right now pitchers are trying to get LaPorta to chase breaking pitches out of the strike zone. They are only throwing him strikes 40% of the time (league average is 48%). LaPorta knows that this is what pitchers are doing, but he hasn't been able to layoff those pitches. He is swinging at 33% of the pitches out of the strike zone (league average is 27.4%).

Let's see, if LaPorta can make the adjustment. He is a key piece in the rebuilding process. Cleveland doesn't have any first base prospects waiting in the wings. Getting league average production from first base would be a huge step for the club.

Update: Interesting night for LaPorta. He swings at one curve out of the strike zone, but it was with 2 strikes. He gets a single on his first AB. He gets plunked by Reyes, and he hits a HR on Wakefield. I am guessing that LaPorta sits tomorrow. But I would like to see what he could do in day 2.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

There is no 'Sizemore' in word 'team'

I enjoy reading Paul Cousineau's posts over at DiaTribe. This week he has a post explaining the importance of Grady Sizemore. In the article, the claim is made that Grady returning to form is enough to make this a winning team.

However, I don't think that the numbers support this. Baseball Prospectus predicts Cleveland will win 74 games. It also predicts Sizemore to have a 2.1 WARP. Sizemore's best WARP was in '07 and was 6.3. So, Sizemore returning to his best performance still only gains the team 4.2 wins. This still leaves us 4 games short of winning season.

According to BP, our problems are at 1B, 2B, 3B, and LF. WARPs at those positions are -0.7, -0.1, 0.0 and 0.0. Our starting rotation has a high WARP of 1.4 (Masterson) and a low of .4 (Carrasco).

My point is that for us to be an above .500 team. We will need Sizemore to return to the player he was and get a breakout from a couple of our young players. I don't think that is beyond the real of possibility. But I do think we are more than one player away right now.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why is Cleveland so down?

What is up with all the negativity? The beat writers need grief counseling. Attendance keeps hitting record lows.

And this is Cleveland. We aren't new to rebuilding seasons. This is a team that didn't make the playoffs from 1955-1994. Pete Rose ended the career of our young catcher in an All-Star game. These are fans that have had their hopes dashed by "Trader" Lane, Joe Charboneau, and Alex Cole.

Why are Cleveland fans so down? Here is a list possibilities.

1. No one likes us anymore. Last year, people picked us as a dark horse, and we were terrible. This year, no one is predicting us to be good. By the law of correlation between prediction and finish, we should do worse this year.

2. We have LeBron hang over. He pushed us over our sports disappointment limit. The tank is empty in Cleveland. (Art Modell and Lebron need matching tattoos. "Loyalty but not to you.")

3. It is just best to rip the bandage off fast, and we pulled it off slow. We traded away Cy Young winners in consecutive seasons. We did that in '08 and '09. But we were still trading away players from that '07 playoff team last year. Three years of selling is hard for any fan base to take.

4. Our best everyday doesn't hit 40 homeruns per year. Shin-Soo Choo is a great player, but he doesn't hit tons of homers. He lead the league in outfield assists. It is hard to generate high expectations based on the arm of your right fielder.

5. Our ace has a 30.00 ERA. This is our worst fears confirmed (even if it isn't).

6. We need more Carlos Santana. He looked good last year, but he was injured in a terrible looking play at the plate (see memories of Ray Fosse above).

My suggestion to boost attendance? How about a 10 cent beer night? I bet people would go to a game for 10 cent beers. What could go wrong?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cleveland/Chicago series in review

Let's look at warning signs, signs of encouragement, and misleading stats.

Warning signs:

Justin Masterson was able to pitch 7 innings and only give up one run. However, Masterson didn't strike out a batter. His BAbip was .250. Lefties had 5 of the 7 hits he surrendered, and they hit .455/.500/.500 against Masterson. The White Sox only had 4 lefties in the game.

Signs of encouragement:

Carlos Santana
looks like a veteran. It is hard to believe that this kid still hasn't had a full year in the majors. He hit .462/.500/.692. He played first without flaw. In fact, he seemed to be the only one that knew what to do on the triple play. We already have one under appreciated player (Choo). It is worth pointing out how good Santana is playing.

Misleading Stats:

Fausto Carmona
has a 30.00 ERA. Let's look at this. Carmona was out of gas in the fourth and got no help from the pen. That accounted for four of ten runs he surrendered. He had 59 strikes in 88 pitches and had 5 strike outs. His only walk was in the fourth. His BAbip was .733.

Game 3

This is a matchup that I have been looking forward to all spring. How is Masterson going to approach lefties? We get a hint with the first batter, Pierre. Although I expect mostly 4-seamers against Pierre.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Off the ledge

Maybe it was too much PD, but here are some reasons to be hopeful after an o-2 start.

1. A year with Carlos Santana. I really like this kid's game. I think a year with him at catcher makes our team so much better.

2. Better infield defense. No errors so far. You want to know how bad the defense was last year. Peralta was our best defensive third baseman.

There is much more. But I am going to stop. You can and many teams do lose 2 games in worse ways. I won't get sucked into the PD's small world.

Sick of the Plain Dealer

I had an attack piece in mind. But the PD isn't worth it. They never bring anything interesting to the table. Hello, how about a piece on Masterson's plan against lefties? How is LaPorta dealing with pressure and breaking balls? Okay, I am stopping myself.

But yeah. Ttfc is PD free from here on out.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Preview: Game 2

Let's see if Carrasco can not over throw early. It will also be interesting to see, if he establishes his fastball and pitches from there. Also, we want to keep a close eye on LaPorta. We need more ABs like that one in the ninth last night.

Game 2: Pitcher vs. Hitters

Bold predictions:

The combined score will be less than 25 runs.
Shin-Soo Choo won't make another base runner blunder.
Jack Hannahan won't hit another homer.
Matt LaPorta won't have pitches hit his bat on two fully checked swings. (LaPorta twice had a pitch hit his bat after checking his swing at a point where his bat was nearly perpendicular to the pitcher.)

Thoughts on the Opener

Yep. We lost 15-10.

But let's look at some positives. And there are positives.

-Matt LaPorta had a great AB in the ninth. Facing Jesse Crain in the ninth with runners at first and second and two outs, LaPorta feel behind 1-2. But he able to work the count full fouling off some good breaking pitches. On the 8th pitch in the AB, he sends a hard grounder into left for a single and scoring Hafner from second. LaPorta had another single in the eighth. So, he finishes the day 2 for 5. He is a very important player for ttfc. If he has a breakout year, Cleveland will exceed all expectation for their offense.

-Carlos Santana 3 for 5 with a HR. Nuff said.

-Frank Herrmann - 2 innings, 2 hits, 1 ER, and 5 KOs. In the 7th, Hermann struck out the side on 10 pitches. 5 strikes were swings and misses. 3 called strikes, 1 foul, and 1 ball.

-Vinnie Pestano - 1 inning, 1 hit, and 3 KOs. Pestano got 8 swinging strikes in his 3 KOs. 14 pitches and 11 strikes in the inning.

It is great to see the young relievers come in and throw their fastballs by hitters. Again, if they can continue to do this, it bodes well for Cleveland year.

-We kept fighting after falling behind 14 - 0.

-Fausto wasn't that bad. No one hit the ball hard in the first. Adam Dunn hit a decent pitch in the second. The Quentin homer was on a bad pitch, and Fausto was out of gas in the fourth. He had 59 strikes in 88 pitches and had 5 strike outs. His only walk was in the fourth, and he was toast by then. His BAbip was .733. And Carmona had a good slider.

We will see what this does to his confidence. But I going into the season, I wanted Carmona to throw more strikes. If a couple of the grounders roll to someone rather than in the hole, and this is a very different game.

Opening Day!!!

Hurray, it is here.

I will be blogging as the game goes. You can join me here.

Here is a look at the pitcher vs. hitter matchups.

Here is the weather today. We have seen worse.

I feature various Ohio bands on this site. Why? 'Cause I like reading to music. Here is the choice for today. (If you want to listen and read, open the link in a new tab or scroll down and hit play there.)

Today's game 4/1/11

White Sox 15, Cleveland 10

First Inning.
Okay, first pitch. Fausto Carmon fastball strike to Juan Pierre. Pierre singles to center. Fausto needs to settle down. His pitches are up. Beckham doubles. Nice at bat for him. Big strike out of Dunn. Fausto fell behind but fought back for the K. Konerko singles and Pierre scores. Rios strikes out. Lots of swings and misses. Quentin singles Beckham scores. Pierzynski is out. 2 bloop singles and 2 grounders that find holes. .800 BAbip.

Brantley get a single on 5 pitches. Nice AB and a bloop single. Cabrera flies out to center. Hit to the warning track. Choo grounds to Buerhle for the double play.

Second Inning.
Carmona needs a quick inning here. Carmona strikes out Ramirez. Morel grounds out to third. Diving stop to the bag side. Pierre strikes out. Nice inning. Just what Carmona needed. BAbip .667

Santana singles on a grounder to left. Hafner grounds out. Santana t0 second. OCab grounds out to third. Kearns walks. LaPorta in a clutch situation. Had the ball hit his bat on check swing. LaPorta flies out. But a good AB

Third Inning.
Beckham singles up the middle. Dunn homers. Konerko singles. Rios Ks. Quentin homers. That was a mistake pitch. Pierzynski flies out. Ramirez grounds out.

Hannahan flies out. Brantley pops out. ACab grounds out.

Fourth Inning.
Morel singles. Pierre walks. Beckham singles. Dunn doubles 2 runs score. Fausto had nothing this inning. Here comes Justin Germano. Germano plunks Konerko. Rios flies out. Quentin doubles scoring 2 more. Pierzynski singles. Morel doubles. Pierre lines out. Beckham fouls out.

Hehe. This is a little disappointing. Choo grounds out. Santana grounds out. Hafner lines out.

Fifth Inning.
Dunn flies out. Konerko grounds out. Rios walks. Quentin strikes out.

OCab flies out. Kearns grounds out. LaPorta flies out. 5 pitch inning.

Sixth Inning.
Pierzyski flies out. Ramirez pops out. Morel flies out.

Teahen comes in to play right field, Milledge is in left. Hannahan singles. Brantley flies out to left. Cabrera singles. Choo singles to load the bases. Santana singles and Hannahan scores. Hafner singles and ACab scores. Bad base running by Choo that should have been a double. OCab singles Choo and Santana score. Kearns flies out to center. LaPorta flies out to left. Second check swing foul for LaPorta.

Seventh Inning.
Hermann comes into pitch. Srikes out Teahen. Strikes out Lillibridge. Strikes out Castro.

Will Ohman in to pitch. Hannahan homers. Brantley grounds out. ACab doubles. Choo flies out to left. Santana homers. Tony Pena in to pitch. Hafner grounds out.

Eighth Inning.
Konerko flies out. Rios strikes out. Milledge doubles into the left center gap. Pierzynski singles and Milledge scores. Ramirez strikes out.

OCab grounds out. Kearns grounds out. LaPorta singles. Hannahan singles. Chris Sale to come in and pitch. Brantley doubles and LaPorta and Hannahan scores. ACab singles. Brantley to third. Choo strikes out.

Ninth Inning.
Pestano strikes out Morel. Teahen singles on a pop up to short. Lillibridge strikes out. Castro strikes out swinging.

Santana flies out. Hafner singles. OCab flies out. Kearns walks. LaPorta has a 8 pitch AB and was down 1-2. LaPorta singles Hafner scores. Hannahan strikes out.