Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fish Fry

I know a win's a win, but this was an ugly game from start to finish. Cliff Lee got the mediocrity rolling by allowing the first four batters he faced to reach base safely. The Marlins took advantage of Lee's lack of control, plating three. In a cruel twist of fate (for Florida), Lee got his act together after that, keeping the Fish scoreless, striking out six and walking only two over his last 4 IP.

It was looking like yet another long night for the Tribe, with B.H. Kim striking out 8 over 5.1 innings and basically making one of the league's best lineups look foolish. The Marlins should have left the 6th inning with at least a 3-1 advantage, but managed to rack up 3 errors (there were a few in this game that didn't get scored, but they were definitely errors). Peralta mixed in a double among the chaos, while two more errors and a sharp Garko groundout tied it up.

Now, I almost feel sorry for what happened to the
Marlins next, but I'm in a rather spiteful mood tonight (blame the Cavs), so I think I'll just enjoy the moment. Tankersly had come in to relieve Kim and lost control of a 2-0 pitch, which plunked Grady on the back. Everyone watching knew it was just a wild pitch, but the young, hot-shot ump (who had issued a warning earlier in the game) decided to make a name for himself and tossed the pitcher and the manager and Aaron bleepin' Boone (yeah, he was definitely bleeping, but he was the only one who deserved to be tossed).

The very next at-bat, the replacement pitcher gives up a 3-run bomb to Dellucci to blow the game open and seal the win for the Tribe. Hey, I'll take it.

I was hoping the Tribe could get their bats going on their own tonight, but I will give them credit for taking full advantage of terrible defense from the Fish. In their last 10 (before tonight), Cleveland had gone 3-7, averaging only 3.7 runs per game. The team needs to carry over their aggression from tonight and string together a few good offensive performances to snap out of this "funk," as Wedgie likes to call it.

The Player of the Game tonight, was Victor Martinez, going 2-4 with an RBI and taking more abuse than a catcher should in one game. Poor Vic got trucked by the Marlins' catcher after blocking the plate, collecting a great relay throw from Rouse, and holding on to end the inning and the Marlins' last legit threat to take the lead back. You know when the head trainer spends an entire inning monitoring the catcher in the dugout, he got hit pretty hard.

On Cliff and Vic

In the midst of a near Cliff Lee meltdown, there was some serious animosity visible between Victor and Cliffy. After the second Marlins run scored, Carl Willis (the pitching coach) met with the battery on the mound. Victor wanted nothing to do with it, ignoring the meeting and staring off into the distance with a supremely pissed expression on his face. It was pretty apparent that the communication between the battery mates was poor that night, with Vic getting crossed up multiple times and Lee failing to hit his targets consistently.

While no where near as bad, I immediately thought of Zambrano and Barrett smacking each other around in the Cubs dugout last week. Victor is usually a model catcher in the way he communicates with and encourages his pitching staff; I'm guessing the tension of the team's losing streak was showing through a bit tonight. A good working relationship between a pitcher and catcher are crucial to the team's success, but neither seems to be of the personality that would lead to any grudges. Besides, I doubt Lee would be able to pitch again this season if Vic stuffed him in a water cooler.

On the Platoon

I know I'm not alone in my disappointment with the corner outfielders this year. Nixon started off the year on fire, but has since settled into a bad stretch. Dellucci has been next to useless in key at-bats and his defense has been nothing to write home about. I find myself cringing whenever these two guys come up to bat now, it's really been that ugly at times (as I type this, Dellucci hits a 3 run homer....awesome, but he still isn't off the hook). I really can't complain about Michaels, but he seems to get a lot fewer at bats compared to Dellucci. The table below shows the splits for all three platoon outfielders for the 2007 season, up to June 13.

Pitcher Bats Player AB BA OBP SLG OPS BA w/ RISP
Lefty Left Dellucci 23 0.174 0.208 0.261 0.469 0.163
Righty 140 0.250 0.308 0.407 0.715
Lefty Left Nixon 45 0.222 0.275 0.289 0.563 0.226
Righty 131 0.260 0.355 0.366 0.722
Lefty Right Michaels 59 0.288 0.377 0.492 0.868 0.346
Righty 52 0.250 0.264 0.385 0.649

As a platoon, each player's at-bats obviously correlate with the type of pitcher they've historically had the most success against. Dellucci and Nixon have seen about the same number of at-bats and neither has been much better than the other offensively. The only standout stat is Nixon's .226 BA with runners in scoring position compared to Dellucci's miserable .163.

Meanwhile, Michaels is sitting with a .868 OPS and a .346 BA with RISP. J-Mike also sports better range in left field, making several game altering catches this season.

It's unfortunate that both left-handed platoon bats have failed to make a significant impact so far, since there is no easy alternative for Wedge other than to give them playing time. First, Wedge is notoriously stubborn and will likely stick with the pure platoon all season, even though the two lefties lack of production arguably cancels out any benefits of matching up a righty bat in the lineup against a lefty pitcher. Second, benching Dellucci/Nixon for an extended period of time would likely create some dissent in the clubhouse. Taking scheduled at-bats from the team's veteran leadership is not the message Wedge wants to send to the rest of the team.

To add another layer to the issue, Casey Blake has been playing some of the best baseball of his career with solid defense in right and third (a 22 game hit streak doesn't hurt either). At the beginning of the year Michaels had to split time with three other players, but now that Blake has moved to third base full time and Dellucci and Nixon are struggling, you would think Michaels would see more time right? Nope, still a benchwarmer more often than not.

Given how upset Michaels gets with himself for so much as striking out, his confidence is probably suffering as he watches Dellucci misread flyballs in left and flail away at the plate. Dellucci has done nothing to deserve 32% more at-bats than Michaels this season. Dellucci (.208 OBP) batting second in the lineup instead of J-Mike (.377 OBP) only exacerbates the issue. The biggest strength of a platoon is its flexibility, whether that means matching up against a pitcher or playing the hot hand to maximize production.

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