Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Playoff Pitching Overkill

A few days ago, I got the bright idea of writing about the Tribe’s starting rotation going into the playoffs. Then I realized everyone and Yogi Berra had already discussed/blogged/published their thoughts on the subject. So, after a bad case of writer’s block (among other things) I followed through with the pitching slant anyway. So now I present to you, the esteemed reader, yet another playoff pitching preview.

I don’t know about you, but trying to figure out who would be pitching when in either ALDS series was a bit of a hassle. I sifted through the various combos, as they pertain to the Tribe, to try and remove any lingering confusion on the subject.

ALDS Schedule A

Game 1 Rest Day Game 2 Rest Day Game 3 Game 4 Rest Day Game 5
Pitcher Sabathia
Westbrook Sabathia
Park Home
Away Away

ALDS Schedule B

Game 1 Game 2 Rest Day Game 3 Game 4 Rest Day Game 5
Pitcher Sabathia Carmona
Westbrook Byrd
Park Away Away
Home Home

ALDS Series A gives the teams a third days rest, with the only consecutive games scheduled for games 3 and 4. This allows Wedge to start Sabathia and Carmona twice on regular rest (four days). The third starter, Westbrook, would be scheduled to pitch in Game 3. Schedule A is obviously the ideal situation for a short series, but only the AL team with the best overall record gets to choose which ALDS schedule to play.

The difference between Series A and B is that Series B allows only two days rest, forcing Wedge to go with a four-man rotation. With a four-man staff, Sabathia would be given two starts (in Games 1 and 5), while Carmona, Westbrook, and Byrd would receive one start each. Wedge could start Sabathia in Game 4 on just 3-days rest, allowing Carmona to pitch in a potential Game 5. Starting C.C. on short rest in Game 4 is a bad idea though, especially since he’d be scheduled to pitch the finale on regular rest anyway.

Working off my limited knowledge of sports medicine and pitching mechanics, Sabathia seems like a poor candidate for pitching on short rest because of how hard he pitches. Throwing 110+ pitches with as much zip as C.C. puts on the ball probably necessitates all four days of rest for him to be at 100% for his next start and deter possible injury or fatigue down the line. Sabathia has only started on 3 days rest once in his career and has a slightly better ERA (3.89 vs. 3.66) on extended rest for his career (in 77 less starts).

If C.C. were to start in Game 4 of the ALDS, his next start on regular rest would land on Game 3 of the ALCS, while Carmona wouldn’t pitch until Game 4. In the normal ALDS rotation, Byrd would pitch Game 4, leaving Carmona and Westbrook available (on regular rest) for Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS. So, not only is starting C.C. on short rest in Game 3 completely unnecessary, it also scrambles the rotation for the ALCS. The severity of a situation may override the fact that a starter hasn’t had four days off, but I think the above management ideas apply at least to the early projections going in.

Unless Wedge decides to play the splits, the ALDS rotation should be locked in as Sabathia, Carmona, Westbrook, and (possibly) Byrd, in that order. Surprise!

One possible issue is matching each pitcher’s style and historical stats with the stadium they’ll be pitching in. Initially, I wanted to look at how each of the Tribe’s starters fared in the four AL playoff stadiums, but realized Carmona and Westbrook spent a good part of their careers as relievers and Sabathia and Byrd are having career years. Just looking at the starts from 2007 per stadium is impractical due to a miniscule sample size. Career stadium splits probably wouldn’t be too helpful in this case either (think Fausto at Fenway). Instead, let’s take a look at the home and away splits for each pitcher in 2007:

Park Player IP ERA Opp. OPS
Home Sabathia 135.1 3.13 .648
98.2 3.28 .729

Home Carmona 105.2 3.32 .650
102.1 2.73 .669

Home Westbrook 82.10 3.94 .752
63.1 4.83 .695

Home Byrd 95 5.68 .869
91 3.36 .713

There are a few trends that Wedge may try and take advantage of here. The most glaring stat is Byrd’s 2.32 point difference between his home (5.68) and road ERA (3.36). This surprised me, but his career splits are right in line with this season; Byrd has a 4.84 career home ERA and a 3.87 road ERA. Kinda weird.

Carmona also shares the same preference for road games, with a 2.73 road and 3.32 home ERA; a .59 point difference. Westbrook sports a .89 differential, favoring home starts, while Sabathia has been consistent no matter where he plays. If you compare the splits to the ALDS travel schedule, the park each pitcher would pitch in doesn’t favor their season splits (except C.C.). There are many combinations you could use to even-out the home vs. road starts for the four-man rotation, but to be honest I’m not sure how Wedge may approach this. It’s very likely that Wedge will ignore the splits in favor of using his top 3 starters consecutively to open the ALDS.

On Home-field

I’m all for resting the starters now that the division is wrapped up, but I think the Tribe could gain a legitimate edge from finishing with the best record in the league. The owner of the best overall record gets home-field advantage through the playoffs, in addition to choosing their own schedule for the ALDS. I just talked about how the Tribe would benefit from the extra rest day in Schedule A, but Cleveland has also shown a tendency to play better at home. Here are the team’s home and away splits for 2007:

Split W L RS RA WP
Home 51 29 425 366 .638
Road 42 34 358 318 .553

Cleveland has a .638 win percentage at home, compared to a .553 mark on the road, as of 10/27. The curious part is that the offense has outperformed the pitching at home. Cleveland has a run differential (runs scored – runs against) of 59 at home, but a differential of 40 on the road. According to Baseball Reference, Jacobs Field has a Park Factor of 97 batting to 98 pitching. Batting and pitching are calculated separately, with a score over 100 for either case showing favor to hitters. The Park Factor stat suggests pitchers have a slight advantage over hitters at the Jake, yet the actual stats suggest the opposite.

The apparent conflict may stem from the fact that the Tribe’s starters divide their preferences between home (Sabathia, Westbrook) and away (Byrd, Carmona). Westbrook may have lopsided splits, but his best and worst split (home-away) versus Byrd’s (away-home) are better overall. Also keep in mind, Carmona and Sabathia may not be as good in one case, but that still translates into great for them; making it almost a moot point to argue their splits. Before this gets any more convoluted, here’s the bottom line: the offense tends to perform much better at home, while the pitching is just short of a draw. Advantage: Home

Random Notes

Victor Martinez suffered a knee contusion from a foul ball late in Tuesday’s game against Seattle. Victor had to leave that game in the 8th, but was healthy enough to start behind the plate in Game 1 of Wednesday’s double-header. Said Wedge in an Anthony Castrovince interview: "We wanted to take precautions with it just to make sure, but he's all right." Hopefully, Victor can get a few days off when he’s not injured, given the extra wear and tear catchers endure over a season. Not to mention Garko and Shoppach are perfectly capable of taking over for a few games while he rests.

The Plain Dealer ran a cool article on the team’s cadre of Venezuelan’s and the Tribe’s presence in the South American country. I’m especially interested in Latin American baseball, but it’s a good read just the same. Check it out here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007




Thursday, September 20, 2007

Next Year is Now

It’s a strange feeling watching your team in a playoff race when you already know the outcome. Sure there were some frustrating stretches, but did anyone really, truly doubt Cleveland was going to miss the playoffs this season? I’ve expressed doubts in this forum before, but I always knew in the back of my mind I was watching a great baseball team. Maybe it was just a fan’s blind faith.

As the Tribe closed out a sweep of the Tigers though, I can’t say I really had any sense of shock or surprise; it was more like a contained joy or excitement. Maybe I should have been more amped up for the Detroit series (which I didn’t miss a minute of), but it’s hard to be on the edge of your seat if you already know the ending. I really couldn’t be prouder of my (i.e. your) team right now knowing where they’ve come from and where they’re going; that in itself is extremely satisfying. So what went down to put Cleveland in this position?

August 1: Cleveland was in the midst of a horrible offensive slump and had an active 4-game losing streak. Detroit was struggling to tread water as well, clinging to a one game advantage in the Central.

September 1: Cleveland’s offense caught fire, the pitching staff gobbled up wins like Pacman, and a rookie infielder from Venezuela was showing everyone why he deserves to wear the number on his back. Detroit was still stuck in neutral as the Tribe built a 5.5 game lead and churned out 8 straight wins.

September 17: Detroit has managed to right the ship just in time for the series finale against Cleveland. The Tigers are bringing a renewed confidence and a 5-game winning streak to the Jake. Cleveland’s lead has held steady at 5.5 games, but faces one last obstacle before they can put the division in a stranglehold.

September 20: Cleveland completes its sweep of Detroit, standing atop a 7.5 game lead after knocking 6 games off their magic ticket to the postseason.

According to the Baseball Prospectus postseason odds, Cleveland has a 99.95680 percent chance of winning their division. Feel free to round up to the nearest tenth, Tribe fans.

Cleveland has compiled a .667 win percentage against teams within their division; the best intra-division record in the majors (Boston comes in second with a .579 WP). The Tribe also went 12-6 against Detroit, scoring more runs (99) against them than any of Detroit’s opponents this season.

I’m not sure what the Tigers were expecting against a team that had gone 30-16 since August 1, but getting tossed to the curb in a three game sweep was probably not what they had in mind. Detroit actually led in all three games, but failed to hold a lead in any of them. To be fair, it’s difficult to hold a lead when your pitchers can’t even keep the ball in the yard. The Tribe’s offense smashed 8 homeruns in three games against the best of the Detroit pitching staff (or what’s left of it, at least). Detroit’s ERA over the series was 5.67, including spectacular failures by Guitar Hero Joel Zumaya (1 IP, 3 ER, BS) and ace-by-default Justin Verlander (5.2 IP, 7 ER).

It’s difficult to single out any one Indian in the field, as each player made a key contribution at some point in the series; it was a true team effort. While the offense and defense were top notch, the bullpen was even better.

Given the obstacles Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook ran into in Games 1 and 2, the bullpen’s dominance played a pivotal role in deciding the series. Here are the combined splits for the Tribe bullpen in the Detroit series:

9.2 4 1 12 0

Jensen Lewis was among the bullpen stalwarts, bailing out Westbrook in Game 2 with a brilliant 3 inning, 4 strikeout performance. Lewis was pitching in AA Akron at the start of the season and is now primed to make the playoff roster for an AL powerhouse. Raffy Betancourt continued to blow batters away and Joe Bo picked up two impressive, 1-2-3 saves. Borowski now leads the AL with 42 saves. Aaron Fultz also made an appearance in relief. Cleveland’s bullpen has been performing all along, to the tune of a 3.76 season ERA.

The Tribe didn’t just knock down the door to the Central Division; they blew it away with a bazooka.

I hadn’t even mentioned the captain of the pitching staff. If Sabathia doesn’t win the Cy Young this year, I will personally egg Jon Heyman’s house (I don’t actually know if he’s a voter, but I don’t really need a reason for this guy). I realize the Cy Young, like the MVP, has lost most of its credibility as a measure of performance, but I know how much these awards can mean to the players. Who wouldn’t be stoked to win the award for best pitcher in baseball? In that regard, I’d be really disappointed for Charles Carsten if he didn’t take the Cy this season; he’s earned it.

Chances are, if you’re reading this you already know the magnitude of Sabathia’s contributions to the Tribe, so I won’t spend much time explaining his leadership, maturity, toughness, and superb fashion sense. That’s a given. Just for fun though, let’s take a look at the season splits for the Crooked Cap:

234 18-7 205 36 3.19 1.14 5.69 4

It may be a slim margin, but C.C. has been the best pitcher in the American League this season (and arguably half of last season, but I digress) according to the stats above. If wins are your thing, just imagine how many Sabathia would have with the kind of run support Josh Beckett has gotten this season. Boston has averaged 6.45 runs per game with Beckett on the mound, while Sabathia has gotten 5.10 RPG on the season. Sabathia also went through a stretch where he gave up 2 runs or less in 10 straight starts (July 24-Sept. 3), but picked up just 3 wins due to poor run support. You would hope a stat like that would weigh heavily on the minds of voters, who tend to over emphasize a candidate's win-loss record in the first place.

Sabathia also has an edge over Beckett in win shares, 22-18; implying C.C. has been more valuable to his team than Beckett (obviously a rough metric here, but it’s good for a brief look like this one). Unfortunately, I’m not much of a sabermetrician, but I’m fairly confident that a more in depth analysis of Sabathia’s value as an individual player and to his team would exceed Beckett’s in most cases.

Fun Fact: According to Stats, Inc., the only other left-hander since 1901 to post a better K/BB ratio than Sabathia's mark this season was Randy Johnson, who had a 6.59 ratio in 2004.

C.C. would probably be the first to tell you that the Cy Young doesn’t mean jack compared to a playoff run though. I’m a believer in the old adage, good pitching beats good hitting, and Cleveland’s frontline starters are no exception. Any team with a 1-2 punch as formidable as C.C. and Fausto has more than a reasonable shot at going deep into the playoffs.

I’m extremely superstitious when it comes to baseball (calling the division race just now is about as bold as it gets for me), but Tribe fans have every right to be obscenely excited about their team right now. The Brownies can wait, it’s Tribe Time now.

Random Notes

The STO crew recognized Tribe strength and conditioning coach Tim Maxey as the recipient of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society’s Coach of the Year Award. Congrats Tim, it’s certainly well deserved.

There was an interesting article on the Hardball Times this week on soon-to-be retired ump Bruce Froemming. It featured some insightful anecdotes and a pretty amazing list of events Bruce has been linked to over his 37 year career. Check it out here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jobu Voodoo

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we’re gonna need more pies.

Casey Blake capped off an electrifying comeback with a signature walk-off homer into the left field bleachers Monday night. Blake crushed a 1-2 pitch from Zach Miner to the one place Magglio Ordonez couldn’t rob him of another hit: out of the park. I think it’s safe to say that the 11 inning, three and a half hour epic sits near the top of the list for greatest games of 2007.

With the win, Cleveland lowered its Magic Number to 7 games and extended its Central Division lead to 5.5 games. They also snapped Detroit’s five game winning streak, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and discovered the reason hot dog buns come in packs of eight (but hot dogs only come in packs of 6). Hey, I told you it was a great game.

Blake was not alone in his heroics, as several members of the team really stepped up their game tonight.

Asdrubal Cabrera set it off by hustling a double off the mini-monster into a triple. AstroCab kicked in the afterburners and careened into third, just ahead of the ball. He had to do a crazy Matrix-style roll away from the tag to get his hand in safely on the slide. Cabrera would come home on a passed ball to draw first blood, collecting 2 H, 1 BB, and 2 R on the night.

Victor Martinez had a quiet night, but contributed a crucial RBI in the 8th, plating Sizemore.

Yet, as awesome as Blake’s homerun was, it wasn’t even the best performance of the night. This was:

2 2 2 3 3 2

That’s impressive.

Simply put, Jhonny Peralta unleashed hell on the unsuspecting Tigers. Cleveland would have had a tough time keeping up with Detroit tonight if it weren’t for Peralta’s career game. Jhonny launched his second homerun of the game off Detroit’s bullpen ace, Zumaya, in the 8th inning. The tater came with a man on and tied the game at 5 all, forcing extra innings.

It’s difficult to describe the crowd’s reaction once the ball came off Peralta’s bat, but I think sonic boom would be appropriate. I don’t think STO’s microphones could even pick up on the decibel levels because the sound just all blended together into a raucous haze after that. Chants of Lets Go, Tribe could be heard throughout the rest of the game as the modest crowd of 28, 825 cheered their team to the finish line.

Hopefully fans don’t forget about Jhonny when they reminisce about the game.

The Tribe has owned Zumaya since he returned from the DL this season, with 6 H, 3 BB, and 6 ER in his 3 appearances against Cleveland. It’s a small sample size, but still fun to read.

I really have to give some dap to Paul Byrd tonight. He may have given up 4 earned runs, but he did go 7.1 innings and left the game with the Tribe in striking distance (down by 3). Paul had stated the importance of this start coming in and pitched with a visible intensity, calling out great plays by the defense and beating the crap out of his glove when things got rocky.

Most of his pitches seemed to have an extra bite to them tonight, resulting in a variety of outs (10-11 groundball-flyball outs) from off-balance batters. A few of the hits he gave up were just over or around the infielders gloves, but he did give up a few hard hits on flat, elevated pitches. He also had to work around errors by Peralta and Michaels that gave Detroit an extra out and a couple undeserved bases in the fourth.

Despite giving up 10 hits to Detroit, the Cobra needed just 101 pitches to go 7.1 innings. Byrd didn’t fool everybody, but he gave the Tribe a shot to win, which is all you can really ask from your fourth starter.

The offense may get all the glory in the box score, but the Tribe’s defense and pitching were outstanding from the fifth inning on. Byrd, Fultz, Borowski and Betancourt combined on 7 shutout innings after a dicey fourth to give the offense a shot at redemption. The quartet allowed just three Tigers to reach base over the last 7 innings of the game.

Byrd showed off his Cobra reflexes by snagging a potential RBI hit as soon as it came off the bat of Rodriguez. The infield combined on two double plays and picked off two baserunners. Shopvac showed off his cannon of an arm all night, converting a poor bunt into a double play ball by nailing the runner advancing to third.

The Tribe dropped an Iron Curtain behind Joe Bo tonight, making up for the defensive miscues that had nearly cost them the game earlier. Cabrera took an elbow to the face from a basestealer after receiving a perfect throw from Shoppach. Peralta followed with a heads-up play to nail the rookie Maybin trying to go 2nd to 3rd on a grounder.

Cleveland may have struggled a bit early on, but produced one of their finest games of the season before it was all over. Tonight was a great showcase of the Tribe’s skills and games like this impact more than just the loss column for an opposing team.

Fasten Your Seatbelts, Kids

Cleveland's Magic Number: 7


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Joe Bo Knows Baseball

Apparently, Joe Borowski is a horrible closer, or so I’ve been told. I wasn’t aware of this, but it must be true; sportswriters and disgruntled fans have been saying it all year. I’ve heard people complain about and generally abuse Cleveland’s closer all season, but does he really deserve it? Sure he’s blown some saves and has an ERA bigger than Kansas City’s entire payroll, but just how bad is he compared to the competition?

The following table compares closers from the four playoff contenders in the American League (CLE, ANA, NY, BOS). All statistics were taken from Baseball Reference and the Hardball Times and are current as of 9/12/07.

Note: ERA+ is a comparison of a pitcher’s traditional ERA against the league average (ERA / lgERA), adjusted for ballpark factors. An ERA+ over 100 is better than average, while an ERA+ less than 100 is below average. For example, Sabathia’s traditional ERA of 3.15 translates into a 141 ERA+.

LOB% is the percentage of baserunners allowed that didn't score a run. LOB% is one way to measure how good a pitcher is at getting out of jams or, how lucky he is. It does not take team defense into account.

2007 Season Stats for Select AL Closers

J. Borowski 56.7 5.40 82 1.46 65.2 3.4 40 6 87
F. Rodriguez 59.3 3.03 143 1.26 76.6 2.68 34 6 85
M. Rivera 62.7 3.02 144 1.06 76.5 8.12 25 3 89.3
J. Papelbon 52.3 1.55 295 .764 91.1 5.26 35 2 94.6

If you look at Borowski’s overall stats, they don't stand up too well. Rodriguez, Rivera, and Papelbon have him seriously beat in ERA and WHIP. Borowski also allows more of his baserunners to score by at least an 11% margin. Borowski’s K/BB rate is actually pretty good, so comparing it to a 27 year-old flamethrower (5.26) and one of the greatest closers ever (8.12) is somewhat misleading. If you ignore Joe’s pure pitching peripherals for the moment (more on those later) and focus on his save-oriented stats, it’s a different story. Borowski actually leads all AL closers with 40 saves and his 87% save conversion rate is better than or comparable to the majority of closers (the exceptions would be freaks like Papelbon and Putz, who sport rates of 94%+).

According to the save stats, Borowski is a top 5 closer this season. How can a guy who does his job so well still face such harsh criticism and doubt over the course of a season? Well, part of the problem is perception. 87% of the time, Borowski gets the job done, but when Borowski does blow a save, it’s often so spectacular and catastrophic that it becomes ingrained in his ERA and the fans’ minds for quite a while.

By now, Tribe fans are familiar with the peculiar situations manager Eric Wedge has called on his closer. For whatever reason, Borowski just can’t find success in non-save situations. He can even come in with more than 3 runs and still blow the lead; it’s utterly amazing. You would think the manager would stop putting Borowski in such volatile situations after a while right? Nah, where’s the fun in that? I knew Joe’s stats were inflated in large part to his forays into non-save territory, but had yet to look at the actual splits. Below are Borowski’s splits for 2007 in non-save situations:

13 19 3 16 11.07 1.69

The above numbers were actually a lot worse than I thought they would be, but you can see right away how those 13 innings would really mess up Joe’s other stats. 13 innings is kind of a small sample size, but considering they make up 22.9% of his total IP, I’d say that’s a significant sample.

I realize Wedge has no choice but to go to Borowski in certain late inning situations (like extra innings or to stay sharp during long save droughts), but he seems to go out of his way to use Borowski in certain situations. I agree that a manager should put his best pitcher out there with the game on the line, but Cleveland’s bullpen is rare in that the closer is not the best pitcher available. He’s not even the second best. I feel like I may not be giving Wedge’s use of Borowski in non-save situations proper context, but the stats make it clear that Joe is not able to perform in these situations. His lack of success outside of save situations has to be a mental issue; I really can’t think of any other way to explain the outcome of those innings as a whole.

Let’s go deeper into the splits. What’s the worst Borowski implosion that comes to mind? A lot of Tribe fans would probably point to the April 19 game at New York, where Borowski gave up 5 H, 1 BB, and 6 ER in .2 innings with a 6 run lead. Remove that one April game from Borowski’s non-save splits and you see a dramatic improvement in all categories:

12.1 14 2 10 7.43 1.32

That’s still a pretty bad stat line, but that one blow-up in New York is just another example of how a 40 save closer can end up with a 5.40 season ERA. Speaking of saves, how has Borowski done in save situations this season? I'll probably be accused of cherry-picking here, but Joe's performance in save opportunities are by far the most important, in my opinion. The stats below are derived strictly from Borowski’s save opportunities this season:

43.2 49 12 18 3.75 1.41 40 6 87

A 3.75 ERA and 40 saves still don’t seem to match up, but it’s not anywhere near as unusual as his raw ERA of 5.40. The fact that his WHIP overall and in saves is separated by just .05 points is curious. A high WHIP like that would imply Joe is either really good at holding baserunners once they’re on or just really lucky. The LOB% of 65 from earlier would imply he isn’t much of either, but no one’s been able to figure out how Wickman earns his saves either, so go figure.

My main point is that Borowski might not be a great pitcher (trust me, he knows), but he is still very, very good at what he does. Joe’s got decent stuff, but it’s his intelligence and closer mentality that allow him to walk the tightrope with as much success as he’s had. He may work the ugliest saves since, well…our last closer, but Borowski does his job and probably doesn’t care what you or I think anyway. Forty saves and counting: how much more can you ask from a closer?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tribe Hits, Then Splits

Aaron Laffey overcame a shaky start on Sunday to hold off Anaheim and improve to 3-1 on the season. Laffey did his part by keeping any crooked numbers off the board, going 5 innings with 1 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, and 3 K. The Tribe offense provided plenty of aerial support, smacking Jered Weaver around the park before chasing him in the fifth. Jensen Lewis, Raffy Perez, and the Big Borowski combined for 4 scoreless innings to seal the win.

Aaron found himself in a few ugly jams tonight, but was able to keep his head straight and get the job done. After giving up a couple groundball singles in the first, Laffey nearly got out of the inning unscathed until Peralta drew Garko off the bag with a high throw. The play would have ended the inning, but instead a run scored.

Laffey faced runners in scoring position a couple more times, but induced a double play in the fourth and got an outstanding defensive play from Cabrera (is there any other kind with this kid?) in the fifth to neutralize the threat.

Laffey had some difficulty finding the strike zone early on. He kept trying to hit the outer edge of the plate, but failed to throw many of these pitches for strikes. It looked like he was afraid to go inside on the batters for some reason. Fortunately, Laffey was able to make the proper adjustments and looked solid in his last three innings.

The outside pitch he was missing the first two innings started to make some nasty cuts back into the plate, rendering it much more effective. When he was facing a right-handed batter, Laffey would throw with almost a sidearm action, causing the ball to streak in at a more horizontal angle. This made the pitch really hard to hit, since it would either run into the hands of the batter or curve just enough to hit the outer edge of the plate. Laffey was able to catch a few Angels staring at strike three with his funky fastball.

Joe Morgan (reviled as his comments are) said that the action on some of Laffey’s pitches reminded him of Randy Johnson. I normally either laugh or cringe at whatever Morgan has to say during a game, but this was an intriguing comparison. If Laffey could find a way put a little more zip on his fastball and (more importantly) master pitching inside to a batter, he would have an extremely nasty strikeout pitch. Obviously a bit of a stretch, but I can see at least some potential in regard to the two pitchers’ styles.

The offense did a great job of adjusting to Angels phenom Jered Weaver, tagging him for 6 ER on 9 hits over 5 innings. Weaver was looking pretty filthy over his first three innings, holding the Tribe to just one hit. The fourth inning started out with a beautiful sequence:

  • Sizemore bunts for a single.
  • Sizemore steals secondbase.
  • AstroCab smacks a groundball to the secondbaseman, who boots the ball out of his reach.
  • Sizemore scores from second standing up.

I lost track of how many times I’ve thought “Holy Crap, Grady can run fast” this season, but that was definitely one of those moments.

Cleveland had six base runners reach safely by the time the onslaught was over, including a majestic 3-run homer by Ryan Garko. Tribe batters camped out on Weaver’s off-speed pitches, collecting all their fourth inning hits on balls less than 90 mph. Wedge and Skinner’s aggression on the base paths helped add fuel to the Tribe’s big inning. They had Gutz (should have been safe, but over-slid the bag) and Grady steal second, then AstroCab go first to third on a single by Victor. Grady and AstroCab eventually came around to score.

Cleveland is 12-3 in their last 15 games and is 5-2 on their current 10 game road trip. The final stop of the road trip is Chicago before the Jake opens up a nice 9-game homestand, featuring the season finale with Detroit.

On C.C.

We haven't won the World Series in more than 50 years. I want a ring.
-Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia, replying to a question about his Cy Young candidacy

Everybody knows how good Sabathia has been this season. Just in case you forgot though, he’s 17-7 with 185 Ks, a 3.15 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP, and 4 complete games. The way that C.C. has truly embraced his ace designation and matured into the team’s most vocal leader is every bit as impressive. It’s kind of weird talking about how a guy who’s several years my senior has matured, but I remember when Sabathia would still get visibly rattled on the mound if the game wasn’t going so smoothly. Sabathia seemed to have gotten the better of his temper (and the control problems sometimes associated with it) last season. In 2007, Sabathia’s evolution as a team leader is complete. You can tell by the way he carries himself, the way he addresses the media, and the way other players put their faith in him every time he takes the field.

The quote above was yet another bold statement by C.C. in support of his team. Rather than just stopping at, “I want a ring,” C.C. showed he truly understands the significance of the Indians to its fans. He understands the pain and expectations that go along with a 50 year championship drought. Some may think I’m reading too much into one sound bite, but something about the quote really struck a chord with me.

It’s not the first time a player has made such a claim about his team. That's why I’m not just looking at a single quote, but at the body of work backing it up. If Sabathia feels a strong enough connection to Cleveland to realize he’d be winning a ring not just for himself, but for an entire city and beyond, maybe he will choose to stay. Sabathia’s attitude seems to indicate he is dedicated to this team for the long term (at least in spiritual, if not monetary terms) and a playoff berth will likely move him a big step forward in coming to terms on a contract extension.

Fun Fact:

Victor Martinez is 3rd in the American League with a 30% caught stealing percentage in 2007. This is more than just a minor improvement over his 15% caught stealing in 2006, it’s a complete overhaul. While Victor was supposedly battling a sore shoulder and injured toe in 2006, it’s been well advertised that Vic has been working overtime to fix his defensive mechanics. It looks like Victor’s efforts on his footwork and throwing have finally paid off.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Speed Bump

Cleveland couldn't keep up with Anaheim's bats tonight, losing 10-3 to Cali's version of Carmona. Escobar continued his breakout season against the Tribe on Thursday, holding them to 3 runs and getting plenty of support from his offense.

Tribe batters had mixed success against Escobar, but fell short of posting a break-out inning. Escobar needed 109 pitches to go just 5.2 innings, but managed to strike out 8 Indians along the way.

Tonight was the first time I've seen Escobar pitch live this year, but I can see why he's been so successful. The dude didn't blink all night; he just kept getting out of jams. In the 3rd inning, he gave up two straight doubles and a run, but turned around to K Grady swinging. Then he walked Gutz and Hafner to load the bases, but got Victor swinging to finally end the inning.

The Tribe was kept off balance most of the night as Escobar made good use of his changeup to fool batters. I hardly ever provide glowing commentary for the opposing pitcher, but I was genuinely impressed with Escobar tonight; he's a pitcher to be reckoned with down the road.

After tossing a complete game shut-out in Chicago in his last start, Byrd just didn't have it tonight. The wheels came off pretty abruptly for the Cobra in the 5th. Byrd gave up 4 runs on 4 hits, a walk, and a beanball as Anaheim took the lead for good. In a nutshell, Paul hung a lot of balls, struggled with his control, and definitely looked a little gassed (despite being at only 82 pitches).

This normally doesn't happen until the 6th or 7th inning for him, but it's very possible his complete game last week caught up to him tonight. Hopefully this was just a rare off-night for the Cobra.

I'm always excited when the Tribe is playing, but I don't think I've been this pumped for a series since the last time we played the Motor City Kitties in mid-August. Anaheim is the first series against a playoff contender the Tribe has played since then. It will be interesting to see how Cleveland's hot streak translates against an elite team. Personally, I'd be satisfied with a split, given the lopsided pitching match ups of the first two games (Byrd vs. Escobar, Westbrook vs. Lackey).

There were some positive things from Game 1:

Barfield started at 2b, going 1-3 at the plate. Josh did a good job of moving a runner over to third to set up a possible sac-fly in the 3rd inning; no small task since he has struggled to even make contact at times.

Gutz continued to be awesome, hitting his 11th tater of the season (the Pope wrote back by the way, apparently Frankie isn't eligible for sainthood yet).

Peralta's play in the 4th inning was very Omar-esque. He took a couple steps to his left, dove towards the streaking ball, gloved it, and finished the play from his stomach with a toss toBarfield. Not the most significant play of the game, but probably the coolest.

And the Tribe is still 6 games up on Detroit.

Pronk Lives

It's been a strange year for Travis Hafner. After posting an epic 1.050 OPS over the last two seasons, Hafner has managed only a .829 OPS on the season thus far. Not too bad, but well below his usual standards. He's certainly been productive with 85 RBI and 89 BB (tied for 7th in MLB), but the intimidation factor hasn't quite been there in 2007. Yeah...I don't think that's going to be a problem anymore.

Check out the stat line from Pronk's last 15 games:

























The Tribe went 13-2 in those games, averaging 5.73 runs per game in that span.

I've been curious all year as to whether Hafner was simply putting too much pressure on himself, (contract negotiations, a pennant race, and a team-wide slump will do that to a guy used to carrying an offense), but I think he's also had some nagging injuries that just came to the forefront. Hafner had injured his hamstring and knee sliding into a base on August 2, but may have also had other injuries during the season that the fans never heard about.

Whatever the cause, Hafner seems as healthy and focused as he was when he posted a 1.021 OPS over 22 games in April.

Many analysts are saying a boost in production from Hafner is vital to the Tribe doing well in October this season. I wouldn't go so far as to say Cleveland may be sunk without Hafner circa 2006 (far from it, actually), but anything that can take the pressure off of Victor to carry the offense in September (and beyond) is a good thing. Another positive to the timing of Hafner's rebound is Garko's recent slump. Garko has resembled Hafner Lite at times this season, but has posted just a .645 OPS in his last 30 games. Judging by how the offense scuffled for a large part of the year when Hafner was at his worst, it seems kind of pointless to dispute the value of his renewed production.

Cleveland with a mediocre Hafner (by Pronk standards) is a darn good team. Cleveland with a healthy, happy, WWF Heavyweight Champion Hafner is just scary. Welcome back, Pronk.


Shoppach's Fu Manchu is nothing short of awe inspiring. It's like he's channeling the spirit of Jason Varitek or something. I've been campaigning to get the entire team to sport Fu Manchu's this season because facial hair is obviously at the top of the list when it comes to playing gritty baseball. Grit Manchu.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Jobu Says: Only You Can Prevent EABs

Major League Baseball may have a serious parasite to deal with in the next few years. No, not Jeffrey Loria, this one's more serious. The baseball bats produced from Pennsylvania's ash trees have long been the weapon of choice for major leaguers, but are in danger of being wiped out by an invasive species.

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) beetles have been wreaking havoc in the Great Lakes region since 2002 and are gradually closing in on Pennsylvania's baseball bat industry. The beetles focus exclusively on ash trees, which are not only an attractive food source and nesting site, but have no natural defenses against EABs.

The beetles are native to Asia and are thought to have been introduced to North America in wooden shipping crates from overseas. EABs are most heavily concentrated in Southeastern Michigan, but have spread to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The beetles have killed more than 20 million ash trees and have cost municipalities, nurseries, and the forest products industry tens of millions of dollars.

Baseball bat companies are stockpiling supplies of ash and harvesting some trees earlier than normal in anticipation of a severe ash tree shortage. Ash has long been viewed as the prime material for making bats, with an ideal balance of hardness and flexibility. There has been a recent shift to maple and other species, but about half of modern major leaguers still choose ash bats.

Authorities in Michigan have already begun collecting seeds in the event the species is totally wiped out in the region. Rising climate trends will only exacerbate the problem. A warmer climate will lengthen the ash trees' growing season, compromising the structural integrity of the tree and making it more vulnerable to infestation.

Large-scale efforts to eradicate the pest are underway, with state wood quarantines, artificial buffer zones, and the release of a wasp that preys on EABs. Universities are currently researching the beetle to better understand its life cycle and how to kill it. Some serious government funding is coming down the pipeline as well.

The best way to prevent the spread of EABs in your area is to not transport firewood from your home to other locations. Firewood is a common way for the beetles to hitch a ride and infest new forests. Also, if you think an ash tree may be infected, call it in. Below are some links with more info:

Interesting article on the beetle's impact on baseball and what's being done.

More information on EABs, where they're found, and how to identify them.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Locked In

Javier Vazquez became the latest pitcher left in Cleveland's wake, as his team lost 7-0 on Saturday. The Tribe pushed their winning streak to 8 in a row behind one of Paul Byrd's finest starts of the season. Byrd held the Pale Hose to 4 hits over 9 innings for the 16th complete game and 6th shutout of his career. Byrd has built a 15-5 record this year behind a consistent approach, very few walks (23), and generous run support. Casey Blake continued his recent hot streak with a pair of hits and RBI. Blake has had two hits in 5 of his last 7 games. Shoppach and Pronk contributed two more RBI, with Gutz rounding out the score with his 10th homerun of the season.

The Tribe has scored at least 5 runs in 7 of its last 8 games and is sporting a .476 batting average with 2 outs and RISP six games into their current homestand. The last time Cleveland won 8 games in a row was June 2005.

Looking ahead, Cleveland has 27 games remaining after Saturday's ChiSox game. The majority of those games will be on the road (17) and 14 will be against teams with a winning record. The combined win percentage of their September opposition is .505. Key series against Anaheim (4 games), Detroit (3 games), and Seattle (4 games) make up 40% of their remaining schedule, so this is arguably one of the most difficult stretches the Tribe has faced so far. Fortunately for Cleveland, they've gotten hot at the perfect time. With a 5.5 game buffer over Detroit and a renewed confidence and focus, Cleveland won't be backing down this time around. Lets go, Tribe.

On Opportunities

Gutierrez is averaging a homerun every 19 at-bats with a solid .838 OPS. The rookie outfielder seems to have shaken his former platoon role, with Nixon relegated to the bench for most of August. Nixon has only started in 2 of the teams last 12 games, despite an .813 OPS in June (his best month by far). It's possible Wedge is resting Nixon to parlay any late-season fatigue, but it's more likely Wedge was waiting on Gutz to prove he deserved more than just a platoon role. While he may struggle against righties (.743 OPS), he mashes lefties (.920 OPS) and features outstanding range and a cannon for an arm. Judging by the way he's stuck around in a crowded outfield this season and the recent surge in playing time, the starting right field job is Frankie's to lose.

Another rookie who has gotten an extended starting gig this month is shortstop turned secondbaseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera was initially promoted as a possible utility infielder, but with Chris Gomez holding his own in that role, Cabrera was given a few starts at second in place of the offensively challenged Barfield....and never left. I was all ready to break down Cabrera's stats so far, but hadn't realized until now just how small his sample size really is. Anybody else feel like AstroCab has had more than 66 ABs and 15 starts? When a player's batting average drops 30 points in the span of two games, it might be a bit early to pass judgement on him just yet.

It's interesting that both of the Tribe's young secondbasemen have a strong tendency to not earn walks. Cabrera only has a .329 OBP and just 2 BB. Whether or not the rookie can maintain a respectable OBP through a high number of hits remains to be seen, but he has shown decent power for a middle infielder with a .485 SLG and 2 HR.

It's been a pretty crazy season so far, but watching AstroCab play has probably been one of the highlights. He's the most exciting defender outside of Sizemore and Barfield and it's always fun to see the type of flat-out effort the younger guys bring each game.

Barfield has had approximately 3 starts since August 11, with Cabrera pinch-hitting for him in two of those games. I could see the reduction in playing time to work on his offense, but the fact that he isn't even allowed 4 plate appearances in those games indicates he still has a long way to go before he regains the manager's trust. It's encouraging to see him in the starting lineup again though, if only in a minor role. J-Barf's future with the team is still bright, but his role this season is a little fuzzy.

On Perspective

Baseball has a tendency to make it's fans look foolish. Raise your hand if you were seriously wondering if the Tribe's offense was ever going to get back on track this season. If this were an actual demonstration and not just a column cliché, there would probably be quite a few hands in the air. Amid cries of doom and "we don't deserve first place" and inquiries about football season, the team slowly, but surely, dragged itself out of the mud. First a few series wins, then a winning record on the month, the second half, and suddenly, with 8 straight wins and a 5.5 game division lead in hand, all is forgiven. Baseball is weird like that.

Random Musings

I was watching Twinkie Scott Baker go for a perfect game in the 9th inning the other night against Kansas City. Unfortunately, he lost the perfect game with a leadoff walk and then gave up a single to pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney with two outs to go. Before each of the above events transpired, the Minnesota announcer had the audacity to utter the words "perfect" and "no-hitter" at least five times. I found myself shouting at the game feed over just how idiotic it is to speak these words during a perfect game, especially if the pitcher's on your own team. If I were in that booth with them and heard them say that, I probably would have ripped off my headset and hit him with a flying tackle. Isn't that what the interns are for, to prevent blasphemous and jinxing remarks by moron announcers? What is wrong with people, seriously.

A fan at the Jake had a sign that read "Datz Awesome" (after bench coach Jeff Datz) the other night. Good stuff.

As if Shoppach couldn't get any grittier, he is now the proud owner of a Jason Varitek goatee.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on the performance of his bullpen this season:

It's the same thing every day. It's like your kid is 2 years old and he likes Barney. And you put that little [expletive] down there for three hours watching that [expletive] back and forth, back and forth, the same song for six hours. That's what I've been doing since April. Same [expletive] thing. Rewind it. 'You OK? Yeah, OK, here's your bottle, keep watching Barney'.

A few games after that quote came out, that same little [expletive] coughed up 6 runs to Cleveland in the 8th inning for the loss.

This one's for you Ozzie.