2012 Cleveland Indians: First half awards
At the season’s unofficial halfway point, the All-Star break offers fans a chance to look over stats and formulate impressions about the key players of the season’s first half. The Indians are a mere three games behind the front-running Chicago White Sox, so there are obviously some cornerstone players that have forged the team’s position in the division standings, in spite of injuries and periodic ineffectiveness.
Many observers have outlined holes in the team, but in the spirit of appreciating the team’s all-around solid first half, which has given them a fighting chance at competing for a division crown, there are some awards to give out to instrumental pieces of the ballclub. This isn’t tee ball, so not everyone gets a trophy, but that’s not to say that the players mentioned below are the five to six best on the team. Before we dish out the shiny plastic hardware, congratulations are in order to Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez for their second consecutive All-Star berths. Well done, guys; you’re two huge components in this team’s chance for success this season.
MVP: Jason Kipnis — Although his hitting line (.277, .345, .419) is only third on the team, Kipnis leads or is tied for the lead in five offensive categories: triples (3), home runs (11), RBI (49), stolen bases (20), hitting with RISP (.381). Simply put, Kip has been the Tribe’s all-around everything guy. He hits, plays defense well (.992 fielding percentage), and gives the team every ounce of effort with his 5’11”, 185 pound frame. Kipnis excels in running the bases, not just with his gaudy steals total (20 in 21 attempts), but with his anticipation on balls in the air and an acute ability to go first-to-third.
A huge component of what makes him the MVP is what he does with runners on base. With runners in scoring position, the Tribe second baseman has a whopping 1.058 OPS. In one of the team’s most maligned statistical areas, hitting with the bases loaded, Kipnis is clipping along with a stellar .375 batting average. These numbers justify his placement in the lineup at the three-hole, the most important spot in the order, one that’s reserved for a team’s best all-around hitter. His dazzling penchant for swiping bags without getting caught has given the Tribe a much-needed threat on the base paths.
Kipnis also seems to be developing a knack for being a team leader, as his style of play endears himself to teammates and fans. Factor in all the stats and his total effort style and it’s easy to see why he’s been the most valuable piece over the first half of the season.
Runner-Up: Asdrubal Cabrera — Still a vastly relevant part to the success of this offense, Cabrera has put together a formidable, All-Star caliber first half. His .286, .364, .467 hitting line has been a huge piece to the offense, as well as his stout average with RISP (.310). The Indians shortstop has an edge over Kipnis with respect to hitting lines, but once you factor in Cabrera’s defense (10 errors, .973 fielding percentage), stolen bases (2 in 5 attempts), and hitting with the bases loaded (0-for-6), the scales tip toward Kipnis. However, both must rely on one another for reciprocal success, as they have a mutualistic relationship, regarding protecting each other in the lineup.
Breakout Player: Michael Brantley — With hits in 41 of his last 44 starts, Brantley has emerged as a key third piece to bolster the offensive duo of Kipnis and Cabrera. He won’t put up the power numbers that the heavy-hitting middle infielders do, but his .288 batting average is an encouraging next step after posting averages of .266 and .246, in 2011 and 2010, respectively. His 24 doubles are good enough for 2nd on the team, as well as his ten stolen bags. Brantley has done a great job taking the next step, exemplified by his league-leading 22-game hit streak earlier this season.
An underrated part of the center fielder’s game is his ability to hit in multiple spots in the lineup, while maintaining a consistent plate approach. Injuries and ineffectiveness have necessitated an ever-shuffling lineup and Brantley has delivered in a variety of spots in the order. In a perfect world, he makes for an ideal fifth hitter, but his flexibility deserves recognition.
Brantley has also excelled in hitting with RISP (.298) and with the bases loaded (.375). On defense, he’s been scrutinized for a lack of range, but a .995 fielding percentage and a couple of homerun-stealing highlight plays, namely the robbery he pulled on Alex Rios, should satisfy critics to a certain extent. Add in his solid arm (average strength, plus accuracy) and he’s a very sound defensive player. Brantley’s rise to being a key cog in the lineup has been a huge part in keeping the Tribe afloat in the division race.
Comeback Player: Shin-Soo Choo — After an ineffective and injury-riddled 2011 campaign, which he only played in 85 games and hit .259, Choo has rebounded nicely, leading the team in nearly every average-based category (batting average, on-base, OPS, etc.). Some wondered if he would be capable of matching his sterling 2010 season that saw the right fielder hit .300, with a .401 on-base percentage, while racking up 81 runs, 22 homers, 90 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.
Luckily, he’s responded brilliantly in the leadoff spot, which has made his manager, Manny Acta, look like a genius. Choo has a very 2010-esque stat sheet thus far: hitting .299, with an .876 OPS, 57 runs, 26 doubles, ten home runs, 34 RBI, and nine stolen bases. He leads the team in extra-base hits, with 38 and has a steady .274 batting average with RISP. On defense, Choo only has one error —tied for the fewest among every day, position players— and a .994 fielding percentage. He’ll have his occasional bad route to a ball, but makes up for it with his cannon of a left arm.
It’s very encouraging that he hasn’t shown any lingering effects from the broken thumb and back issues that he battled last season. In addition to the aforementioned players, Choo makes up the fourth vital piece of the offense, as the rest of the lineup has been largely complementary to these four.
Mettle Man: Ubaldo Jimenez — Likely the most criticized player on the 25-man roster, Jimenez has shown a tremendous amount of pluck by battling through a mediocre April and a downright brutal May. Fans, including myself, questioned how long Jimenez would or should remain in the rotation after posting a 6.75 ERA, .279 opponents’ batting average, and 2.00 WHIP in the month of May. Management always confirmed their steadfast plan to let the righty work his issues out, and over the last month it has paid dividends. Although his season line (4.50 ERA, .247 OBA, 1.51 WHIP) doesn’t show it, the starter has recently made huge strides in the month of June (2.78 ERA, 2.10 OBA, 1.11 WHIP), which seems to have carried over to his two July starts, in which he’s registered a 3.29 ERA.
The pressure put on Jimenez makes sense, given the pieces exchanged to acquire the top of the rotation starting pitcher, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been easy for Ubaldo. His resiliency deserves praise, as well as his improved command. He’s improved the last several starts at keeping runners off base and pitching deeper into the game.
An interesting stat: Jimenez leads Cleveland starters with a .233 opponents’ batting average with RISP. The ability to escape jams is imperative for a pitcher, who struggles with yielding walks. He’s done an admirable job at handling the pressure, when critics’ vociferous cries were at a fever pitch. For that, he deserves a pat on the back.
Runner-Up: Johnny Damon — Another player who has been dealt his share of justified censure, Damon, regardless of performance, has earned high marks in my book for accepting fault and taking the tough questions like a man.
Working Man: Jose Lopez — The underappreciated role of bench player is an unglamorous one. Showing his own share of resolve, Lopez has responded brilliantly since being recalled on May 12th. In true working class fashion, he was DFA’ed (or “laid off”, for the sake of this metaphorical award) on May 1st, but dug in and responded, when given a second chance. On the season, he has a very respectable batting average of .267. His .333 average and .938 OPS with RISP is 2nd best on the team. The utility man is also tied for fourth on the team with 13 doubles.
The elastic infielder has the ability to play first, second, and third base, which has given him more of an opportunity to contribute with the injuries to the infield and designated hitter spots. His flexibility in the utility role is especially important, as he’s one of the very few true right-handed hitters the Indians have. Lopez would also be a good nominee for comeback player, after bouncing around with Florida and Colorado last season. He’s played like a man with something to prove, which has bolstered the Tribe’s offensive attack.
As far as other awards go, I wholly concur and wanted to include more about pitchers, but couldn't comfortable settle on a POY. Perez is certainly the 1 or 1a guy for that award depending on whether you believe Pestano or Perez have the more difficult job, as both pitchers have been impressive. As far as ROY, again, couldn't settle on one, but Zach-Mac has done well.
Finally, to address the Perez issue, it seems as if I've been pegged as the anti-Perez guy. I'd like to go on record as saying I have nothing against the man. He's a fierce competitor and in an increasingly politically correct world he is one fiery breath of fresh air. He is and has been an excellent pitcher and the Indians would be hurting without him. To clarify, the initial beef I had with his public comments is the timing, and on an ancillary level, the lack of professionalism. The truth of his comments has never been the issue; I whole-heartedly agree that Cleveland fans are perplexing, and at times, misguided in where they direct their ire. I respectfully disagree with the way he went about it, but he's an adult American, who has the right to voice his opinions if he so chooses. So, while I can't speak for anyone else's take on him, I'm very happy that he's the closer of this team.
I would like to have seen another two categories. POY is clearly Chris Perez IMO but I understand that IPI has taken umbrage at the temerity of Perez in availing himself of constitutionally protected free speech to vent his feelings(truth) about Cleveland and its fans. So you can give it to Pestano who is a great runnerup.
How about ROY? I don't know that we have any serious option at this time other than Zach McAllister, the gracious gift from the Yankees.
Hafner at six, Kotchman at 7, Lopez or Hanny at 8, and Brantley at 9...
Without that extra bat...yeah...you can make a case that Brantley is as good as any at #5...that's the flaw of this team...
So to answer your question Andrew, in our wonderful world, Brantley becomes an ideal #5 hitter...;)
I know the 5-hole guy should typically have more home run pop than Brantley does, but then again Choo shouldn't strike out as much as he does in the leadoff spot. Point being, few hitters actually fully embody the archetype of batting order makeup. Brantley has the OBP that the team needs out of that spot in the heart of the order.
Without a mass rearrangement of the lineup, where would you put Brantley? He struggled in the leadoff spot and if Acta loads up the first four spots in the order with his four best hitters, then what are the chances of the 5-9 hitters sustaining a rally? Brantley's 24 doubles, numbers w/ RISP and the bases loaded justify him hitting in the five spot.