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Second Thoughts Game #142: Angels 12, Indians 3

Second Thoughts Game #142: Angels 12, Indians 3
Bryan Price watches as Albert Pujols rounds third after hitting a three-run homer in the ninth inning. (Photo: AP)
September 9, 2014
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Makeup Monday isn’t Kind to Salazar, Indians

For four innings it looked like the Indians were in store for yet another nail-biter. Danny Salazar was cruising, and the Indians offense wasn’t generating much against Jered Weaver. Then it all unraveled. Salazar was hit hard in the fifth inning, giving up two home runs and six runs before being replaced by Zach McAllister– an offensive explosion from the Angels that essentially put this game out of reach.

We’ve almost gotten to the point with this rotation where we’re expecting great outings every day. However, this is a reminder that pitchers like Trevor Bauer and Salazar are still young, still learning, and still inconsistent. That’s a worry I have for the duration of this year, as well as next year. It’s hard to really predict what to expect from Salazar or Bauer in the immediate future, and certainly Carlos Carrasco isn’t THIS good. When Bauer has had his bad starts, I’ve always been interested to see how he’s rebounded. The same can be said for Salazar. Every pitcher is going to get beaten up here and there, but it’s important for a guy like Salazar to learn from his mistakes in this game, and continue refining the adjustments he’s made over the last couple of months.

There’s another item that I felt was an important takeaway from this game.

Going into the seventh inning the game was 6-3 in favor of the Angels. Lonnie Chisenhall had accounted for all three Indians’ RBI’s, a two-run homer and a two-out RBI single in the sixth. After a deep funk through the middle of the summer, Chisenhall has hit well since mid-August. Overall, he’s been one of the team’s best hitters this season. The ‘core four’ offensively has been Michael BrantleyCarlos SantanaYan Gomes, and Lonnie Chisenhall. Santana and Chisenhall have gone through some slumps, but for the most part that group has been mainstays in the lineup and have performed well. For an offense that isn’t scoring many runs right now, that group’s performance shouldn’t be discounted.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Chisenhall you can’t just leave it at that. In the seventh Zach McAllister allowed a leadoff walk. That was followed by a groundball to third base, a play that should have been made by Lonnie Chisenhall to be a double play. Instead, the ball ate Chisenhall up and ended in left field. It’s a play that wasn’t ruled as an error, but it’s a play that a third basemen needs to make. Instead of having two outs in the inning and nobody on base, McAllister had runners on first and second with no outs. The Indians ended up giving up two runs in the inning.

This is something that won’t be talked about afterward, but if this was a close game it’s the type of play that costs a team wins. This game was a microcosm of the pros and cons of Chisenhall, something that I know has been covered a lot recently. He’s simply not a capable third basemen. Taking into account for the topic I’m going to cover below, I think it’s clearer than ever that the team needs to make a change at the hot corner.

Indians Pitchers and the Groundball Out

I’ve noticed a trend this season. It’s seems to me that anytime an Indians pitcher has struggled, soon after you hear that the team wants the pitcher to learn to throw a two-seamer or splitter, or mix their offerings to throw those pitches more frequently, and other changes designed to help keep the ball down and generate groundball outs.

It’s been written before that the two-seam fastball was the pitch that really transformed Corey Kluber into the pitcher he is today. He started throwing the two-seamer in 2012 at the suggestion of Mickey Callaway, and it now accounts for 50% of his total pitches. Kluber always had good secondary pitches, which is the reason why his strikeout rate was always respectable in the minor leagues. However, the two-seamer has allowed him to reduce his home run rate and generate high groundball totals, which combined with his impressive secondary offerings, and improved control, have turned him into one of the best pitchers in the majors.

One of the lesser items discussed in Carlos Carrasco’s resurgence is a change in pitch usage. Carrasco is throwing his four-seamer and curveball less, and his two-seamer and slider more. Carrasco has always generated above average groundball rates with his pitches, but the slider and two-seamer are especially effective in getting groundball outs.  It’s time for his slider to get the recognition it deserves, as its one of the best pitches in the league. Carrasco’s slider generates a 25.8% swinging strike percentage and a 58.8% groundball rate. Using the slider more, in combination with the two-seamer, has helped him keep the ball on the ground even more than usual, and limit line drives. The higher slider usage has also allowed him to bump up his strikeout rate.

Danny Salazar is another pitcher who’s seen great strides in his groundball rate. His adjustments haven’t come from throwing a two-seamer or splitter, however. In fact, the Indians have told him to throw the splitter less because it’s a pitch he struggles to control. In its place he’s been throwing his slider more often, and with good results. Still, they worked on mechanical changes to help him keep his four-seam fastball down in the zone, which has resulted in a higher groundball rate and lower line drive percentage. Monday’s game was a step in the wrong direction on those items, but overall Salazar’s improvements have shown promise.

The same ‘fixes’ have been tasked to Zach McAllister. He’s been told to drop the slider from his arsenal and to rely on his two-seam fastball more often. It’s a pitch that has shown promise, and if he’s able to feature it more effectively it’ll help him raise a groundball rate that hovers around 40%. When McAllister throws his four-seam fastball, his line drive rate is a staggering 32% and his groundball rate is just 32%. When he throws the two-seamer, the line drive rate falls to 26% and his groundball rate jumps to 47%. There’s still work to be done there, and obviously these adjustments are a work in progress for McAllister. He’s trying to travel down the same road as Kluber before him, and as I imagine other Indians pitchers will be doing after him.

Of course, the real issue here is that this team doesn’t have the defense to support this groundball emphasis. That’s just another topic to add to the ongoing debate of how to fix the team’s defense going into next season.

Other Notes

- The major leagues have not been kind to Bryan Price. This is now three straight outings where Price has been rocked. If he had any designs on making the opening day roster next season, I think they’ve gone out the window. On the other hand, Austin Adams looked much better in his appearance on Monday than he had in previous outings. The bullpen has been a strength all season, but right now depth is something that worries me going into next season.

- With their makeup game against the Angels out of the way, the Indians will begin a three game set against the Minnesota Twins. Up first is Trevor Bauer, who will look to put his first inning woes behind him as he matches up against the Twins’ Trevor May. May will be making his sixth career start, and first against the Indians.

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