Second Thoughts Game #28: Indians 1, Angels 7
Goodbye West Coast (Thanks for Nothing)
The Indians three hit performance against the Angels was a fitting end to their West Coast trip. The team finished the game just 1-for-22 from the plate, putting an exclamation point on a six game stretch of horrors. The Indians finish the month of April 11-17, and with more questions than when the season started. Let’s recap a few of the things that went wrong during this trip.
-Only one quality start (Danny Salazar)
-Four games where the offense recorded five hits or less
-Jason Kipnis: 3-for-17, left Tuesday’s game hurt
-Michael Brantley: 1-for-17
It’s safe to say that the team is happy to put this trip behind them. These types of stretches happen during the course of the year. We can’t forget how streaky the team was last year. Something feels different this time around, though. Last year it seemed that even when they were behind, they were in the game. This year when they get behind early the games seem to get out of their control. There are break downs defensively, the bullpen bleeds runs, and the offense is dormant. There are way too many games where the entire team just seems lifeless. It’s a stark contrast to last season, when optimism reigned above pessimism.
With that said, it’s important to remember that the team didn’t get off to a great start last year either. They finished April with an 11-13 mark before turning it on in May. We’ve seen flashes from Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, and Salazar. Flashes don’t win games, but it shows us that those guys can be the pitchers they were last season. Now they have to start putting it together. There’s a precedent for this; Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez didn’t have many fans at the end of April last year.
The same problems exist on offense. We’ve seen flashes from Nick Swisher, Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Bourn – but so far no consistency, no extended streaks, and very few big hits. The team has scored three runs or less 16 times in the season’s opening month. It’s hard to win games like that.
What to do about the defense?
In short, nothing. Not yet.
The Indians haven’t been close to putting the pieces together yet. If it’s not the offense failing to produce, it’s the starting pitching staff. While the bullpen hasn’t been too bad, it’s had its moments. There have been far too many baserunning blunders, or plays with failed execution. The most consistent part of the team this year has been the defense, and not in a good way.
With the exception of third base and right field, last year’s defense remains intact. The Indians weren’t a strong defensive team in 2013 by any means, but nothing close to as bad as what we’re seeing right now. Santana and Murphy at third base and right field aren’t the problem either. Infielders Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, and Asdrubal Cabrera have been plain bad. It’s not just their error totals; its plays that have to be made that aren’t being made. It’s mistakes that have extended innings and forced the Indians starters to try to work out of jams, or in many cases, not work out of jams.
Yan Gomes committed his seventh error in this game. He sailed a throw to second base on a steal attempt, and the runner came home to score after a sacrifice fly later in the inning. At the time the score was 2-1, and this was an important insurance run. Gomes received raves for his defense last year, but he’s regressed badly. He still has enormous value in calling games, pitch framing, etc. However, his mistakes have cost the team runs – and games. Indians catchers as a whole last year committed only eight errors. Gomes is going to top that in May. He only allowed four passed balls last year, and he’s already at three this year. Lastly, he’s only throwing out 30% of would be base stealers.
What can the Indians do about this problem? Swisher, Kipnis, and Cabrera are veterans that are huge parts of the Indians lineup. They’ve committed to Gomes as the everyday catcher for now, and years into the future. Not that they should be replaced after 28 games, but these are mostly core players that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. With the exception of possibly Elliot Johnson, there aren’t strong defensive players on the bench either. Lonnie Chisenhall is a below average third basemen, Ryan Raburn isn’t strong at any position, and Mike Aviles is only average at second base. Aviles plays mostly shortstop and third base, his worst defensive positions. When Carlos Santana slides behind the plate, the defense is hurt at catcher and third base (which is telling of how far Santana has come there).
The improvements have to come from within. The only player who’s a candidate to be replaced would be Asdrubal Cabrera, but that’s not going to be happening anytime soon, if ever (this season). The players need to take some ownership of their poor play in the field. They can’t keep asking a struggling pitching staff to pick up their slack, and with their performances at the plate, they can’t afford to spot teams extra runs.
-Carlos Carrasco made his first appearance in the bullpen. He looked the same as he was as a starter. Flashes of brilliance, but when he gets hit, he gets hit hard. I’m still optimistic that he’ll figure it out, no matter what role he’s pitching in. He hasn’t been as bad as most people think.
-Combined, Josh Outman and Marc Rzepczynski have faced more right-handed batters than left-handed. Francona has had to use them to eat innings far too often. Outman and Rzepczynski are pitchers who should have a very defined role. They struggle (especially Outman) against righties. The problem is the team’s middle relief staff is weak and those two have been working outside of their comfort zone by necessity. Of all the problems on the team this is probably the smallest, but my hope is that this is something that Carlos Carrasco’s presence in the bullpen can help. By taking over the middle relief work, it should allow for Outman and Rzepczynski to be used more effectively.
-After an off day on Thursday the Indians will begin a seven game homestand against the Chicago White Sox. Danny Salazar is slated to start against John Danks. Danks went six innings, giving up three runs, when he faced the Indians earlier in the season.
I'm not sure it's fair to call the middle relief "weak" though. I think Francona is just still working on how to best use his relievers. Take Atchison for example. Atchison has been damn good to this point. 10 games, 11.2 IP, and insane 0.77 WHIP. What's amazing is that in those 10 games...he's never come in when the game was tied or the Tribe had a lead. In fact, the Indians have lost all 10 games Atchison has pitched in. Not only that, but 6 of the 10 games he has entered when the Tribe was down by 4 or more runs.
Everyone keeps saying Atichson is a good guy to have in the pen cause he can be abused and used as a mopup/throwaway guy....but really he's a solid 6th/7th inning guy that you can turn to when you have a lead. In 6 of his 10 outings he hasn't allowed a baserunner...and he went minimum one full inning each of those outings. Plus....this is not the first time he's been a solid middle reliever...Guy was one arguably one of the best relievers in baseball in 2012...
Atchison could be the bullpen version of Raburn this year. Guy who had a good track record, then one bad year before coming to Cleveland....think people forget how good he was in 2012 when he threw 51.1 innings in 42 games with a 1.58 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 0.99 WHIP, 1.8 rWAR, 0.9 fWAR...
Again...Atchison not a guy that needs to be pitching when the team is down 4 runs. Leave that to Lee or Carrasco. All this talk of riding the hot hand and getting Carrasco out of the rotation...well ride Atchison while he's pitching well.
I wouldn't be opposed to some shakeups but just doesn't seem like Francona's style. He's gonna go with his vets. Took him forever to move Swisher to the 2-hole and Santana to the 4-spot. Took til nearly September before Gomes started catching full-time and Santana moved to DH....Bourn hit leadoff the whole year...
Not saying I would be opposed to some shakeups. Need something to get these guys going.
If you watched him at all when he was starting for the BoSox in 2012, you most likely would have come away very impressed. Was one of the 4 or 5 best defensive SS's in baseball that year. SS is definitely hit best position on the infield...it's also the one that he himself has said he's most comfortable at (makes sense as it's his natural position going back to high school).
I stand by what I said yesterday...the Indians infield would be better with Aviles at SS right now and Cabrera at 2B (given Kip's injury). Tribe moved Peralta to 3B around this time a few years ago....differnece is Aviles is better than Cabrera (guy who bumped Peralta)...and a (good) case could be made Peralta was better than Cabrera at short...
Something I have found interesting with Aviles....he's been the primary SS for his team twice in his career (2008 and 2012)....his fWAR those two years are the best of his career (4.3 and 1.5). Sure the samples still aren't that big with Aviles but stand by what I said last year....I don't think the Indians lose much (if any) by starting Aviles everyday at SS vs Cabrera.
Don't see a shakeup happening though....Francona is way too set in his ways and loves catering to his vets.
SS is Aviles's best defensive position...by FAR. In fact, calling him average at 2B may be a stretch (though fair I guess). Aviles has over 2500 innings at SS (more than 2B and 3B combined) and has saved 27 runs defensively with a +18 total zone rating. I know some don't like those numbers but when they are that good and with over 300 games....they do mean something. Plus the eye test is still there and Aviles passes it at SS. Was very solid in Boston as an everyday SS a couple years ago.
Agree with most of what you're saying on Gomes too....however, I don't think it's fair to say he's "only" throwing out 30% of base stealers. Right now the league is only throwing out 24.8% of would be base stealers. So 30% is actually well above average.