Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Because David Eckstein on a Hamster Wheel is Not an Option

Several Major League Baseball teams have made a commitment to include alternative energy and more sustainable practices in their daily operations. San Francisco, Cleveland, Colorado, and Boston are among the teams with installed or proposed energy projects. MLB has been working in cooperation with the Natural Resources Defense Council to assist teams in lowering their carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint refers to all the direct and indirect sources of harmful emissions that an individual or group produces. Direct sources may include vehicle emissions, while an indirect source could be electricity purchased from a coal fired power plant. A carbon footprint can be applied to an individual, building, or company.

In Cleveland

The Tribe dedicated a new solar energy array at Jacobs Field on June 29 this season. The array is located on the upper concourse overlooking Carnegie Avenue on the firstbase side. The 86 by 15 foot array is mounted on a metal awning structure, allowing fans to pass under the structure. It consists of 42 solar panels with a peak output of 8,400 watts, enough to power the park's 400 television screens during a game.

The total cost of the project was $180,000, with the team contributing $100,000 followed by the Cleveland Foundation ($50,000) and the Ohio Department of Development ($29,400). A $10,000 state grant and a 30% tax credit significantly lowered the cost of the project. "In terms of reducing our electric bill, this is not a huge first step. But it's a first step - and it provides an opportunity for people to start talking about solar and advanced energy" says Jim Folk, vice president of ballpark operations.

GreenEnergy Ohio will be staffing an informational kiosk at the site to answer any questions fans may have about solar energy or the project.

Around the League

San Francisco became the first team to take advantage of the new program by installing 590 Sharp solar panels around SBC Park. The panels should produce 120,000 watts of electricity at peak production, enough to power the main scoreboard for the entire season. The solar energy will be fed back into the San Francisco grid, off-setting the ballpark's own energy use. Solar panels will be installed in three locations on rooftops and above walkways in SBC Park, with a pending installation for the main scoreboard. Pacific Gas and Electric Company is assisting the Giants with the project.

In addition to existing fluorescent lighting, motion sensors (to turn lights off when no one's there), and energy management systems, the Giants installed a Diamond Vision scoreboard this season. The scoreboard utilizes 78% less energy than the old scoreboard.

Colorado installed a 10,000 watt array in their stadium and are discussing wind energy and lighting projects with Xcel energy. "It will save us over $12,000 a year on our electric bill," according to Greg Feasel, senior vice president of operations for the Rockies. The Boston Red Sox are also researching ways to integrate renewables and a recycling program into their organization.

According to Jim McHale, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for administration, a major initiative will be announced later in the 2007 season. The plan will provide teams with the tools necessary to start their own green projects and will try to inform fans on the importance of renewable energy.

Personally, I'm very excited about MLB's renewable energy initiative. Despite the many benefits of renewable energy like solar and wind, the technologies often require a jump-start to be successful. Solar and wind energy have the potential to off-set a growing energy need and provide a clean alternative or supplement to fossil fuel generated electricity. Start-up costs and public perception are the most common limitations on renewable energy projects, so the endorsement of an organization as large and visible as Major League Baseball is a significant boost to renewable energy in the U.S.

The Jake's solar project is part of a larger drive to ultimately make Cleveland a greener city and bring new technology industries to the city to get the local economy up to speed. Hopefully, small projects like the solar panels at Jacobs Field and the 225 kilowatt turbine at the Great Lakes Science Center can act as a springboard for future renewable energy projects in Northeast Ohio.

Sources: GreenEnergy Ohio Press Release, 6/29/07
The Plain Dealer, 6/13/07
Renewable Energy Access, 3/29/07

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jacobs Field Magic

After a laughable series in Washington over the weekend, my faith in the Tribe was a bit shaky coming into a four game series against Oakland. I don't care who you are, but a matchup of Cliff Lee versus Dan Haren in Game 2 isn't going to inspire much confidence. Mr. Haren hasn't had much luck in Cleveland over his career though, so there was still a ray of hope going in. The suddenly resurgent Tribe offense maintained their consistent approach against the American League's best pitching staff, racking up 8 hits, 4 walks and 3 runs against Haren, he of the 1.78 era and .90 whip.

The Tribe led 3-1 in the 3rd inning, but Cliff "can't hold a" Lee coughed it right back up an inning later. Despite a couple frustrating innings tonight, Lee continued to show off the breaking pitches from his last few starts. The A's hitters were frustrated all night with his curveball, creating 11 flyball outs. If Lee stays on course with his pitch selection and approach he should continue to be an effective fifth starter this year. It's nice to see him avoid the big inning and give his team a chance to win lately. If he can't go 7 innings, the least he can do is keep the run totals to a minimum.

Oakland brought out former Indian, Alan Embree for the 9th inning to close it out. Grady drew a 1 out walk, but nearly got doubled off first after a near double by Blake was reeled in by Shannon Stewart in left field. Grady had to go into warp speed to get back around second and avoid making the final out at first.

Now, as lame as it may sound, Jacobs Field seems to have gotten its old aura back this season. Cleveland fans know what I'm talking about, the feeling you get with your team down late in the game: top of the lineup on deck, the closer looks rattled, the crowd gets to its feet, Jon Adams' booming rally cry floats down from the bleachers, rally caps on. That aura. Mojo, swagger, grit, call it what you want, but the Jake has a ton of the stuff floating around right now. Crazy stuff happens at Jacobs Field when the offense is capable of exploding at any moment.

So, Grady and Victor on base and Pronk steps off the path he's been wearing down between the dugout and the deck. Embree tosses a fastball inside, which Pronk smokes down the alley in right-center to plate the two runners and tie it at 5 all. Oakland intentionally walks Peralta to face either Rouse or a player off the bench (there's only one left). Wedge calls up the backup catcher Shoppach to pinch hit. Shoppach may as well be Pronk Lite at this point, batting .373 with a 1.074 OPS on the season. But Embree has no choice but to pitch to him now, since he wanted no part of Jhonny Peralta.

The second pitch from Embree flies waist high, down the middle and Shoppach doesn't miss. The Jake watches Shoppach shoot the moon over the mini-monster for a walk-off 3 run homer. Shoppach races across the diamond, fist pumping as the Indian's dugout gathers around homeplate. Shoppach heads home and gets absolutely mugged by his teammates; it's a good thing he's not catching tomorrow because he's going to be sore. As the mob migrates towards the mound, poor Paul Byrd gets knocked down along with several other players, but no one seems to mind.

I really can't remember the last time the team was so charged up. If this game doesn't spark the offense somehow, nothing will. With Carmona pitching tomorrow, this team has got to be confident as hell.

This is why I love baseball. Go Tribe.


Cleveland seems to have put a hit out on the game's best pitchers this year, beating Johan Santana twice and the red-hot Cole Hamels and Dan Haren. It's a long season, but Cleveland has continued to play some of its best baseball against the league's elite pitchers, which is quite a bold statement.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Escape from D.C.

The Indians must have been feeling charitable this weekend because they just gave away two games to the pathetic Nationals. The Tribe really deserved to get swept, but Victor Martinez decided to give Chad Cordero a new reason to lose sleep after Game 2. You can't get too down on the team though; they ran into Washington's two aces (/checks boxscores), Jason Simontacchi and Matt Chico. Wait, what?

The Tribe seems to have an uncanny ability to make crappy, National League, journeyman pitchers look like perrenial All-Stars. Whatever happened to Jamie Moyer? At least I knew what to expect when we faced him, but Simontacchi? My theory is the Indians ate at RFK before each game this series because I can say from experience the food there is not pleasant.

I was at Saturday's game and I was genuinely impressed with the number of Tribe fans in attendance. We were loud, at least on the few occasions there was something to cheer about. All I can say is I'm very grateful Victor went all Chuck Norris on Chad Cordero and that Nook Logan has a short attention span (he got thrown out rounding third to end the game); that would have been quite a long walk of shame after the ruckus we made during that game. Props to the guy in front of my row making old-school Indian war whoops, well played sir.

Seriously though, the Tribe has been struggling the entire month, so the Nats series was essentially more of the same. On one hand, the pitching was great. Carmona, Byrd, and Westbrook all provided quality starts, giving up no more than 3 runs in any game. The bullpen didn't blow any of the games, (not that there was ever a lead to be blown) and got the job done. Gutierrez continued his campaign for starting right fielder, collecting 5 hits in 9 ABs and flashing the leather on defense.

Cleveland has been averaging 4.6 runs per game over the 22 games played in June so far. They were held to 3 runs or less in 10 of those games. With 6 games remaining in June, the Tribe has gone 10-12 and finished 9-9 in interleague play. As of Sunday, Cleveland is sitting 2 games behind Detroit, who are currently on a 7 game winning streak. Oh, and here's a fun stat: Kansas City and Minnesota went 10-8 and 11-7 in interleague play, respectively. The White Sox still sucked (4-14), but you already knew that.

Time to panic? For the second time this season, no. Looking at Cleveland's schedule this year, they have played 25 total series, including the two Seattle make-ups, and 74 games. The Tribe has only lost three series to sub-.500 teams (KC, Cincy, and DC). I intentionally left out the Yankees series, since I don't think it would be fair to the Tribe to classify them with those other three teams. Cleveland has only been swept once so far this year, at Yankee Stadium in April. Despite Detroit's recent 7-game win streak and Cleveland's mediocre play, they are only 2 games back.

It's pretty fair to say Wedge's teams tend to catch fire in the second half, so if they can at least keep Detroit close, I'm not going to be too worried at this point. The next homestand is crucial though, as the offense needs to get back on track and play strong leading up to the All-Star break. Interleague is done and two very winnable series with Oakland and Tampa Bay start Monday, so try to get it together guys.

Welcome Back Jake

The key performance from this weekend was Westbrook's return from the DL, giving up only 3 runs over 7 IP with a 13-6 groundball-flyball ratio. Jake looked very comfortable in his first start back, consistently finding the strikezone (60-28 strike-ball ratio) and making several clean plays off the mound. Even though he was facing a very weak lineup, his technique and pitch movement looked solid and I think he will be even sharper in his next start.

Jason Stanford is still with the team, but it will be interesting to see what Shapiro does with him. He could be a nice piece in a trade package for a veteran reliever, but Shap has given no indication of any serious trade activity, as usual. There are so many trade scenarios (involving Stanford, Lee, prospects, etc.) and such a small sample size for Stanford this year, that it would be difficult to even speculate on the situation right now. I'm not sure the team needs a trade, but the bullpen could use another veteran pitcher to share the load with Betancourt. Hernandez was supposed to be that guy, but he obviously didn't have enough left in the tank to be of any use.

I think the outfield is set unless a team ends up having a firesale and Shapiro deems it appropriate to deal some spare parts from the minors. Unless Gutierrez's numbers fall off a cliff in a couple weeks, he should be here to stay. Even though Nixon doesn't deserve much playing time at this point, he can still provide a pure platoon with Michaels to keep Wedge happy.

Wedge has shown no signs of deviating from the platoon tactics either, with an especially egregious substitution in a tight game. Michaels had gone 2-2 on the night, accounting for half the team's hits so far. The Nats brought out a righty to pitch with a man on first, so of course Nixon got to face him instead of J-Mike. Nixon grounds out into a double play to end the inning. Whatever happened to going with your gut sometimes? Aren't managers allowed to go against the numbers on occasion? Apparently Wedge didn't trust Nixon's defense that day though, substituting him for AAA call-up Ben Francisco after one inning. Good grief.


Random Trivia: The 1989 classic Major League was nominated for Best Foreign Film by the Japanese Film Academy. See, someone beside Cleveland fans like that movie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fun with Rosters

David Dellucci injured his knee running to first on a groundball in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Phillies Tuesday. A little more than halfway to the bag, Dellucci’s knee gave out, forcing him to slide head-first to reach base. While Dellucci’s hustle on the play was commendable, the damage was done; he had to be helped off the field by two trainers.

As bad as Dellucci has been this season, you never want to see a player get hurt and I hope the injury is not as serious as it looked. However, the injury did appear to be quite serious, which likely means a trip to the DL for Dellucci and a call up from Buffalo to take his place. Wedge has options at several positions, but it will be interesting to see how he adapts to losing an outfield platoon member with 173 at-bats this season. Here are the positions affected by Dellucci’s injury, with the available players:

LF: Michaels / Blake
RF: Nixon / Blake / Gutierrez
3B: Blake / Rouse

Michaels is a near lock to collect the majority of starts formerly assigned to Dellucci, given his success this season. Blake has never started in LF, but plays a solid outfield and can handle the occasional appearance in left.

Nixon and Gutierrez will likely continue to platoon, but I would still like to see Gutz get the majority of starts as the team heads into the All-Star break. I’m a big Nixon fan and while I was frustrated with his epic slump at the plate, I figured he would have at least stabilized by now. Instead, his OPS has continued to sink, due in part to an ugly .332 SLG. Trot has a career .470 SLG and slugged .394 in 2006 and .446 in 2007. The last time he hit more than 10 homeruns in a season was 2005 (13).

As far as I know, Nixon is healthy in 2007, so his stats are in all likelihood the best we will see out of him. What’s worse, Nixon’s range in right field has deteriorated to the point of being a liability on defense. As I’ve said before, Nixon is arguably canceling out the benefit of his batting against rightys with his all-around poor play. The lineup would also get a major speed boost with Nixon and Dellucci benched. I don’t know how much longer Wedge can justify starting Nixon with Gutierrez and Blake available.

Gutz has only seen 20 major league at-bats in 2007, so a sub-par offensive line is difficult to project (he was hitting .341 with an .872 OPS in AAA, so his bat is more likely to come around than Nixon’s), but he has shown great range in the outfield. Under the current platoon regimen, the Tribe’s best defensive outfield of Michaels, Sizemore, and Gutierrez only appears against left-handed pitching. Dellucci’s injury may allow the superior corner defenders to solidify a regular presence in the lineup.

In the event Gutz is not ready for a full time gig, Blake would have to take the majority of starts in right, with Andy Marte getting called up from Buffalo to start at 3b (Rouse is strictly a utility fielder). This is the least likely scenario in my opinion, given the team’s handling of Marte this season. Marte has turned up his offense in June (.302 AVG, .970 OPS), but is in Buffalo because of his offensive struggles in Cleveland. He will need to show a consistent improvement at the plate and Gutz will need to struggle for Marte to get the call.

More Roster Madness

I was simultaneously shocked and thrilled to see Josh Barfield bat second in the lineup against the Phillies on Monday and Tuesday. Barfield has been knocking on the door for a promotion, batting .355/.354/.387 in June so far. His power may not have caught up yet, but it's nice to see him hitting consistently right now.

Batting Sizemore and Barfield at the top of the lineup is wicked smart and a huge departure from Wedgie's usual lineup (Dellucci in the two-hole!?!). Once J-Barf's bat locks in for good (I'm extremely confident it will), can you imagine the chaos that much speed would do at the top of the lineup? Pitchers are going to have a hard time focusing on Victor or Pronk at the plate with that much speed on the basepaths. (ed. note: Casey Blake resumed batting second today, so it looks like Barfield was just getting a cup of coffee while Blake and Hafner rested those two days. I know I got a little carried away about Barfield batting second, but Blake is definitely the better choice, at least this season.)

Finally, Kelly Shoppach is now batting .391/.458/.656 in 64 ABs this season. His batting line is even more impressive, given his irregular appearances.

Did anyone else wonder if Shoppach catching Lee on Monday was for more than just lineup purposes? Lee and Victor were definitely unhappy with each other during Lee's last outing and he looked much more comfortable on the mound in his most recent start. Probably nothing, but something to keep an eye on.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Congratulations, Cavaliers

First, I'd just like to congratulate the 2007 Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the best season in franchise history and bringing the excitement of the playoffs to Cleveland for the second straight year.

Now, not to take anything away from the team's performance, but I've been almost as aggravated with the lack of respect Cleveland received during the playoffs as I was with the team's shooting troubles.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are a flawed basketball team. While the defense was rock-solid, their struggle to score points in the NBA Finals has become a showcase for what the team lacks and what it still needs to perform better in the future.

The operative term here is future.

At this stage in LeBron James and Mike Brown’s basketball careers, I think it is fair to say that winning a championship would still be considered a rather lofty goal. What they have accomplished (along with the rest of the Cavs players and coaches), is go from a 35-47 team to the Eastern Conference Champions in four years, after taking LeBron James with the first overall pick in 2003. LeBron James has been in the league four years and is still only 23 years old. Coach Mike Brown has only been with Cleveland since the 2005-2006 season, his first ever as an NBA head coach. The average age of the team in 2007 was only 27.8, which takes a noticeable dip when 32 year old veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas is removed from the equation. These are the statistics people should look at before they start heaping on the criticism of the ’07 Cavaliers.

My point is, as well as the Cavs played this season, they are still inexperienced and have a long way to go. Just how far did people expect them to go?

I honestly don’t know anyone outside of Cleveland who picked them to make it to the Finals. So if very few basketball experts thought the Cavs were worthy of playing in the Finals in the first place, why is there such a strong backlash against the team? I’ve heard just about every adjective under the sun used to describe this series, especially “worst ever.” Is it really fair to call the Cavs the worst Finals team of all-time? Has anyone bothered asking how any of the other Eastern Conference teams may have fared against a powerhouse Spurs team? Detroit may have taken a game, but it’s pretty safe to say any Eastern Conference challenger would have gotten their tails kicked. Is the real issue with the Cavs or with the terrible television ratings and lack of competition between the two conferences in general?

The Cleveland Cavaliers should have taken at least two games against the Spurs, but they lost four straight. Do LeBron James and Mike Brown deserve to be crucified for this by the media? No, because James can not make his teammates hit wide-open shots, or absorb playoff experience from the Spurs through osmosis, or shelter his teammates from the expectations of a championship starved city (most of which already rests on his shoulders).

It’s a flawed team, but that does not change the fact that they are the Eastern Conference Champions. Rather than look at what they haven't done, how about looking at what they have done.

The team's defense (only the second full year the players have been running under such a game plan) was excellent for most of the playoffs, but the team's offensive short-comings were exposed time and again in the playoffs this year. The defense won games, but the offense usually lost them. The Spurs were more than ready for the Cavs; Popovich knew exactly what he was doing against his old protégé and had plenty of time to prepare his team ahead of time. It doesn't take an expert to see that the Cavs had been struggling with their shooting most of the postseason and the Spurs knew how to exploit this to their advantage.

The Cavaliers were obviously in over their head. While the Cavs proved they were fully capable of handling Detroit, the Spurs are arguably the best defensive team, have several premier offensive players, and possess a colossal (but often overlooked) advantage in experience over the Cavs. Matched up against that, the Cavs are now the "worst finals team of all time." How does that work?

Analysts are quick to confuse being overmatched and inexperienced with being just flat out bad.

As I’ve said before, experience is a crucial element to any championship team. This Cavs team had only been to the playoffs once before making the franchise’s first ever NBA Finals appearance. Each year the team’s young players have matured and each year they have advanced a step farther in the playoffs. This year’s experience should help the team address several issues such as isolating the team’s major weaknesses, finding a balance between offense and defense, and learning how to handle key situations late in a playoff game.

GM Danny Ferry and owner Dan Gilbert are going to face some tough decisions in trying to retain part of the team’s young core (Varejeo and Pavlovic are restricted free agents this off-season), while addressing needs for now (a true wingman for LeBron) and the future (replacing an aging Ilgauskas). The Cavaliers are already facing salary cap issues, making things that much more challenging. There have been rumors that Ferry is going to try and acquire a first round draft pick to bring in some help.


The audacity of the media during the Finals was amazing. If you don't believe me about the media hyping everything up to add drama to a "boring" series, just look at the opening sequence for Game 3. It’s the first game with championship implications to be played in Cleveland in 10 years and they go right to the city's history of losing in the playoffs. Why? It's not enough that two of the top teams in the league, with two of the best players in the world today (James and Duncan) are playing for a championship?

Apparently not.

First, we have to throw the crowd a hook, like Cleveland’s championship drought (oh, well I'll just have to root for them and watch to see if they break it!). I'm tired of my city being used as a doormat by the rest of the American sports scene, enough already. It's like kicking a kid in a wheelchair at this point, what are Cleveland fans going to do but sit there and suffer through.

It's the middle of the finals, an Akron native is making history with the hometown team, and all everyone else wants to do is bring Cleveland fans down by dredging up the painful past. At this point it's cruel, they weren't even talking about basketball for most of the time, just failures in general.

Criticism of the team’s inability to hit the open shot or make any kind of stand on offense are certainly valid, but I’ve heard almost as many complaints about the quality of the games and the television ratings as I have about the teams themselves.

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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's Only June....

The Tribe played a heart breaker on Monday at the Jake when the Mariners did everything but hand them the win. Despite racking up a monster 16 hits and 7 runs, Cleveland still fell short by a run. The game appeared to be lost after Paul Byrd decided to challenge the offense, giving up 7 ER on 11 hits over just 4 innings. Tonight marked the first time this season the Cobra has failed to go at least 6 innings in a start. Byrd had no trouble finding the strikezone, but made an uncharacteristic number of mistakes, often elevating pitches for a scorching Mariners offense to knock all over the yard. Three of those poor pitches ended up as souvenirs, plating 6 of the Mariners' 8 runs. Raul Ibañez (posing as a poor-man's Magglio Ordoñez) was responsible for two of those homers.

Fernando Cabrera was tagged to take one for the team, down by 7 after 4 innings played, but threw 3 innings of filth at the Mariners, allowing the Tribe to start an exciting rally. In an entertaining twist, the Tribe's bats really started to heat up after a flock of seagulls started parading around the outfield. Cleveland's 16 inning scoreless drought ended with the appearance of the Rally Gulls, go figure. It was a lot of fun watching the Mariners' outfielders have to navigate through the avian obstacle to make plays on the ball. I was worried Hargrove was going to flag down an umpire and complain about poor visibility for his players (yes, I'm still bitter about that series). The Jake's grounds crew must have taken some snowblowers to the birds or something, because they were mostly gone when the Indian's took the field next inning.

I honestly wasn't phased with a 7 run deficit, that's how good the offense has been this year. Plus, there's been something nostalgic about the Jake this year, at least as a fan (judging by the Tribe's record at home, they can relate). The best way to describe it is a giddy sense of confidence that the home team is always in the game, even if they're down by 7 in the 5th. The offense hasn't really exuded that kind of aura at home since before the rebuilding era when the team would just club the opposition into submission. Mike Hargrove looked nervous as hell watching Cleveland chip away at his starter (and half the bullpen) before the bleeding finally stopped; Grover's seen this show before.

Some positive things to take away were Barfield and Shoppach combining for 5 hits and 3 runs, Martinez coming off the bench to deliver two clutch hits late in the game, and Casey "MVP" Blake going 3-5 to extend his league high hitting streak to 20 games. Hafner even had a nice game, despite one of his two hits falling in as a bloop pop-up. As I've said before, Hafner is too good a hitter to perform so poorly all season. He does not seem to striking out on those ugly breaking pitches as much anymore and is still making strong contact with the ball. Looking at his stats from 2005, Hafner went through several mini-slumps before exploding in July and finishing the season with a .305 BA, 33 HR, and a 1.003 OPS. Did Hafner set the bar too high with his ridiculous 2006 season (.308, 42, 1.097)? I wouldn't go so far as to say that, but he was certainly the most consistent he's been his entire career, in addition to posting a career year. If July rolls around and Hafner hasn't emerged from his slump, there may be a serious cause for concern.

The only player in a worse slump than Hafner right now is Garko, who probably feels like crap after tonight (deservedly so). Garko has now left the bases loaded thrice in the last two games, twice tonight. A single in any one of those three at bats would likely have resulted in an Indians win. Fortunately, Garko is not expected to be one of the keystones of the offense (like Hafner) and has the luxury (or punishment, in this case) of getting extra days off to straighten himself out. Garko's slump really isn't that bad, his timing has just been horrible; i.e. it's cost the team a couple wins. Look for him to return to form soon as well.

Tonight really was a weird game, but you can't really blame any one player for the loss. If you were to blame Garko for leaving so many runners in scoring position, you might as well blame Byrd for giving up one too many homers, or Wedge for using the closer in a non-save situation, yet again. Actually, I'm going to go ahead and blame Wedge for that anyway because it's stupid and never works out. Idiot.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Back to School

After spending most of last week in Los Angeles without easy access to a computer, I'm back. Miss me? Fine, go read Bill Plaschke for all I care. Fortunately, I was able to catch Game 1 of the NBA Finals from my hotel.

While I was impressed with the Cavs' first half efforts, the Spurs picked them apart in the second half. The fact that Cleveland was only down by five at halftime made it pretty clear that they were capable of hanging with a veteran Spurs team, or were at least good enough to make it a close game. In a nutshell, the Spurs made the necessary adjustments, and the Cavs didn't. Popovich and company went about their business by speeding up the offense and locking down the paint on defense. The Cavs could not keep up with the Spurs speed and precise passing schemes, resulting in a game changing run early in the second half. Throw in another mid-30% shooting performance by Cleveland to close it out and that's your ballgame.

Now, the optimistic fan (not me, but play along here) would expect the Cavs to use Game 1 as a learning experience and come back with a refined plan of attack over their two off days. I honestly wasn't as concerned with losing Game 1 in such an ugly manner because

- The team showed it can take it to the Spurs in the first half.
- LeBron needed a couple games to warm up the engine in the last series, as well.
- Game 1 was on the road.

On Game 2

Oddly enough, Game 2 ended up a lot like Game 1, only in reverse. San Antonio gradually built up an imposing 11 point lead to end the first quarter. LeBron picked up two quick fouls in the first, forcing Coach Brown to bench his best player three minutes into the game. James did not return to the floor until the start of the second quarter. Everything fell apart after that. The Cavs looked lost on both ends of the floor: the passing was sloppy and the offense often looked like it didn't have a plan (or at least didn't execute). Cleveland just looked out-classed trying to guard the Spurs. Whenever they would double-team Duncan or another big man inside, they'd get stung by the three-pointer. It was brutal to watch the Spurs rack up the points, even when a defensive play seemed to be working; the Spurs were just too good.

Lebron's early foul trouble was very visible on the floor and set the tempo on offense for the Cavs in the first half. In the first two possessions of the second quarter for Cleveland, LeBron took two perimeter jump shots, missing both. He looked rushed and was obviously hesitant to rush inside the paint in case he had to go to the bench again with foul trouble. LeBron's aggressive play was crucial to the Cavs' previous wins and was absent for much of Game 2.

The majority of the game can basically be summed up by two series of possessions. On the Cavs end, with his team down by over 20 points, James drove hard to the hoop three straight times, but was forced to attempt a very difficult layup to avoid a wall of Spurs. James did not score in these three possessions. On the Spurs end, they out-hustled the Cavs to get three straight offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive before hitting the perimeter shot. The Cavs looked ragged just trying to keep up.

On the Comeback

To be honest, I was only casually watching the late third and early fourth quarters. I looked up one minute (I had muted the announcers' Robert Horry love fest) to find the Cavs are only down by 12. Qué? Somehow, the Cavs managed to kick it into overdrive, going on a 25-6 run in the fourth quarter. That's a 29 point deficit erased in roughly 12 minutes, boys and girls. That's fairly encouraging after watching one's team get demolished for 3/4 of the game. The Cavs near comeback was done with San Antonio's starting five on the floor and essentially came down to who wanted it more for a stretch. Cleveland was just out-hustling the Spurs during their run, gaining confidence with each shot. The good news is, Cleveland avoided an embarrassing loss, showing a strong pulse and possibly regaining some of their former swagger. The bad news is, they got San Antonio's attention in a big way. Popovich and Duncan are too professional to let their team forget something like a 25-6 run in the final quarter of a game.

The key to Game 3 will be how each team reacts to the events of that fourth quarter.

Even when they were down by over 20, the Cavs bench could be seen smiling and giving high-fives after a good shot. Eric Snow continued his quasi-assistant coaching duties, taking players aside and revving up the team. Even though the game was all but lost at that point, positive attitudes prevailed, preventing unneeded tension. The Cavs may be inexperienced, but they showed their maturity and determination in Game 2.

On LeBron's Pressure

Michael Wilbon described LeBron's playoff run as an "apprenticeship," given the fact LeBron is still learning things that he would have otherwise picked up playing in big games in college. I would certainly agree with the statement that James has faced a steep learning curve as he leads his Cavaliers deeper into the playoffs this year. It took the first two games of the Detroit series for James to figure out how to approach Detroit's stifling D. Like the Conference Finals, it seems that James has hit a learning curve against the Spurs. And, like the last series, it is unreasonable to place the burden of an entire city on a 23 year old playing in his first NBA Finals (and only second playoff appearance).

Fans and the media are quick to forget just how inexperienced James truly is. While he exudes maturity and leadership and is arguably the most talented player on the floor, there is no substitute for experience, perhaps the most valuable asset of all in this series.

The Cavs have proven they can beat San Antonio (2-0 in the regular season), but San Antonio is as professional as they come and is a proven playoff team. The Spurs will not panic in the face of a late, 25-6 run or implode before a charging LeBron (like Detroit).

It is absolutely ridiculous to place the blame solely on James, as his teammates have absolutely failed to rise to the occasion in this series thus far. One could make the point that James needs to pass more, or be more aggressive, but the bottom line is, the rest of the Cavs have been struggling just as much as James and he can not be expected to deal with the expectations and burden of winning a championship by himself.