Saturday, August 25, 2007

Close Enough

Sorry to anyone who stopped by this week for an update; I kinda dropped the ball on the Detroit series and haven't had much time to write lately. I'll do better next week...

Speaking of Detroit, I was all ready lament my team's total lack of clutchiness following Game 1, but thought better of it. I had said earlier how important these five Detroit games could be to the team's confidence and was curious how they'd respond to getting beat down by the Tiger's pitching. Jair Jurrjens' appearance in Game 1 (2-1 loss) was only his second career start, both against Cleveland. I know the kid has exceptional stuff, but if you told me a AA pitcher would fool a lineup of experienced, professional hitters like that for the second time in a week, I would probably think you're crazy (unless you said the team was Cleveland, that I could believe).

After watching 11 Cleveland runners cross the plate in Game 2 (I applied to have Gutierrez canonized after that game), they went right back to their old habits and gave Westbrook absolutely no run support in the finale. Westbrook's opposition, Nate Robertson, came into the game with a 5.13 ERA, but managed to go 8.2 innings with 0 BB, 3 K, and 0 ER. They couldn't even muster any runners to strand against Robertson, which has been their specialty of late. Of course they tee off on Zumaya in the 10th, one of the most dominant bullpen guys in the league...yeah, that makes sense. It was an ugly way to win the series, but Detroit was just bad enough to let Cleveland steal that last game and take 2 of 3.

Support Group

I feel like I've talked the Slump to death at this point and I still haven't made much progress in figuring out why it's still happening. Then again, neither have the players, so I guess I shouldn't feel too bad.

The only people entitled to be more peeved at the offense than the fans is the pitching staff. I keep complaining about the lack of run support for our awesome starting pitching, but have yet to break down the stats. Let's see just how bad the starter's have gotten screwed lately:

Cleveland Starting Rotation: Last 8 Starts
Pitcher Team W-L IP ERA ER Against Runs For Avg. Run Support per Game Avg. Opponent ERA
Sabathia 2-6 50.9 3.18 18 23 2.87 3.92
Carmona 4-4 60 1.80 12 17 2.12 4.59
Westbrook 4-4 55 2.78 17 26 3.25 4.14
Byrd 6-2 45.4 5.15 26 49 6.12 4.95

The table shows a curious trend as far as who is getting the run support. The better the pitcher, the less run support they receive in an average start. The list of pitchers from lowest ERA to highest (Carmona, Westbrook, Sabathia, Byrd) is a near match to the run support each pitcher receives.

One variable in this pattern is the quality of the pitching each starter must compete with. Looking at the opposing pitchers' ERA, Sabathia contends with the best starting pitchers and Byrd faces the worst; that sounds about right. The only stat that doesn't follow the expected pattern is Carmona facing the third worst pitching, but still receiving the worst run support of the four.

Obviously there are some flaws in the stats I chose here. Lumping all the pitchers into an average ERA disregards past success, defense, game location, etc., but I think it works for a crude comparison like the one above. Managers tend to set their rotations so that pitchers of comparable skill will match up with each other and that seems to stand up to the compiled stats, for the most part.

One could argue that pitching matchups share at least some of the blame for the lopsided run support, but I've seen Cleveland blow enough scoring opportunities against a variety of pitchers to know it's only a small part of a larger problem.

The fact that the starting rotation has marched out there night after night and maintained their focus in the face of those kinds of odds is amazing. You would think there'd be some tension in the clubhouse over pitchers not getting any support for their work; it's almost like a slap in the face. Judging by the feeling of dread I get whenever the other team goes up 2-0, the pitchers must really have to labor to keep their thoughts off of strangling Casey Blake after he strikes out looking.

On the other hand, Cleveland does run a pretty tight clubhouse and has never been a team to wear it's emotions on its sleeve. For the most part, the players seem to genuinely like each other, which comes in handy when there's so much frustration to be had on the field. Many fans tend to forget just how valuable (and difficult) maintaining a good clubhouse vibe over the grueling season can be to a team's long term success. There must be some pretty good communication and understanding between the players and coaches in the Tribe lockerroom to not crack under the pressure placed on the team this season. Wedge might only hint at it in his bland, cliché ridden interviews, but there is a method to his lack of madness. I've also seen enough displays of leadership from Martinez, Sabathia, and others to know these guys are too professional to start sniping at each other over individual performances.

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