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Second Thoughts Game #149: Indians 1, Astros 3

Second Thoughts Game #149: Indians 1, Astros 3
Photo: AP
September 16, 2014
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McAllister a Bright Spot

The last thing the Indians could have afforded was going 2-5 last week. For all intents and purposes, the Indians playoff hopes are over. Still, a four game stretch against the Astros seemed promising for the team to get back to their winning ways. As has been a constant and frustrating theme, the Indians offense didn’t do enough to support Zach McAllister. Making a spot start because of the doubleheader last week, McAllister looked good but the Indians managed just one unearned run and took a 3-1 loss.

McAllister is one of the players on the team that still has a lot to play for. It’s been a disappointing season for him, but he’s looked better since returning from the minors. He’s no longer throwing his slider and has been working on splitter that will help him keep the ball down Long-term, if McAllister is going to be a successful starting pitcher he has to get more consistent with his curveball. Right now it’s a non-factor. Hitters are sitting on his fastball, which gets him into trouble at times.

There is some good news. McAllister has touched as high as 98 MPH on that fastball during his last two outings. Long gone are the days when his fastball averaged in the low 90’s. His control of the fastball was excellent in this outing. He didn’t allow a walk and for the most part was able to keep the ball down in the zone. If he can round out his repertoire with a quality off-speed pitch, he could turn into yet another successful turnaround by Mickey Callaway and the Indians coaching staff.

McAllister is still an important pitcher for the Indians. He’s depth for a staff that consists of several pitchers who, while talented, haven’t necessarily established themselves. For all their promise, Salazar and Bauer struggle with consistency. As dominant as Carlos Carrasco has been, it’s tough to take seven starts and translate that to 30 next season. T.J. House has been impressive in the second half, but he doesn’t have the prospect profile of the others, and at this point it’s impossible to know what to expect from him moving forward.

All of these pitchers come with the normal risks of young starters; inconsistency, subpar performance, and injury. It’d be extremely optimistic to not assume at least one of those starters is going to struggle or get injured. That’s where McAllister comes in. Like Bauer and House this year, and Kluber and Salazar the year before, the team is going to need someone ready to step up. After watching this start, and seeing the success the Indians have had ‘fixing’ other pitchers, I think McAllister could surprise some people next season.  

Michael Brantley vs. Grady Sizemore

It’s hard to believe it was eight years ago. In his second full season with the Indians, Grady Sizemore put together possibly the best all-around offensive season by a Cleveland Indian in recent memory. Sizemore’s 7.8 WAR (Fangraphs) in 2006 rates higher than any Indians player in the last 20 years. However, a good portion of that value was from his excellence defensively. If you focus solely on offensive production, Michael Brantley’s 2014 season and Grady Sizemore’s 2006 season are comparable to one another.

Let’s start with the basics. Sizemore’s line in 2006 was .290/.375/.533/.908. Brantley’s line is .322/.381/.500/.881 currently. The first thing that you’ll notice is the difference in power numbers. Sizemore’s ISO in 2006 season was the highest of his career, and that gives him a higher OPS of the two. The other big difference is the 30 point separation in batting average. Brantley is as good of a pure hitter as the team has had in a long time. He has nearly as many strikeouts as walks on the season, and is striking out at a clip just over 8%. Those are both impressive and rare feats for a player who should finish with 20+ home runs and 40+ doubles. While it doesn’t inherently make him the better player, it should be noted that Brantley’s production is coming from the middle of the lineup, which combined with his .369 batting average with runners in scoring position has allowed him to become an exceptional run producer.

Right now Brantley’s WAR sits at 6.2, but that’s a number being brought down by his defensive metrics. Offensively his WAR is comparable to Sizemore’s from 2006, and his wOBA and wRC+ are superior. It should be noted that the average runs scored per team per game in 2006 was 4.86. In 2014 that number has fallen all the way to 4.09, meaning Brantley’s production is greater than Sizemore’s relative to his peers.

In a season where the large majority of the offense has disappointed, Brantley has vaulted himself into an elite offensive player. It’s still easy to underappreciate his production, but when you hold it up to the likes of Sizemore in 2006 and Roberto Alomar in 1999, his closest Indians’ comparisons for complete offensive seasons, it becomes clear that this he’s not just having a great year, or a breakout year. He’s having a historic season. 

Other Notes

-The Indians are six games back in the Wild Card race, with thirteen games remaining. The good news is that Kansas City is the second Wild Card team right now, and the Indians still have four chances against the Royals. Still, the odds of the team reaching the playoffs are now just a miniscule 0.1%. We’ve had seasons end much earlier than mid-September in years past, so it was fun to still be playing for something this late. Once the disappointment clears, I think we’ll all be quite satisfied that the team stayed in the race as long as they did considering the large numbers of things that went wrong.

-With the odds what they are, I would hope the team would make the transition to playing some of the lesser used players on the roster. Jesus AguilarZach Walters, and Tyler Holt should see considerable action. It might also be in the team’s best interest to get Austin Adams some more work, especially considering the struggles of C.C. Leeof late. It wouldn’t bother me if they tried to fit in another start for McAllister either.

-Corey Kluber is back on the mound Tuesday, in the second game of a four game set with the Houston Astros. He’ll face off against Nick Tropeano, making the second start of his career. In his major league debut Tropeano went five innings giving up two runs in a win against the Seattle Mariners.

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