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Second Thoughts: Game #36 - Indians 5, Twins 0

Second Thoughts: Game #36 - Indians 5, Twins 0
May 16, 2012
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  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
CLE 0 1 1 0 3 0 0 0 0 5 10 0
MIN 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 0
W: D. Lowe (6-1) L: J. Marquis (2-3)

Starting Pitching

The Line: 9 IP, 6H, 0/0 R/ER. 4BB, 0K. 4GIDP

The Results: 127 pitches, 60% strikes, 22GB, 3FB, 4LD

The Write-up: At this point it is getting hard to think of new, good things to say about Derek Lowe. Sitting at 6-1 with a 2.01 ERA, he clearly has been delivering fantastic results and his insanely high groundball rates are to thank for it. He induced 22 groundballs out of 33 batters faced. Of the 27 outs, 22 of them came from groundballs due to four timely double plays.

Has he been getting a little lucky? Of course, anyone with this good of a stat line is getting, at least, a little good fortune. So, rather than sitting on the rooftop screaming about regression, and how his 13:17 K:BB ratio will lead to bad things when the groundballs start finding holes (whoops) instead of infielders gloves; I want to talk about how insanely good of an acquisition Derek Lowe already is.

Depending what metrics you want to swear by, Derek Lowe has already been worth somewhere between 1 and 2 wins this season (compared to a replacement player, i.e. a Zach McAllister type); and it is only mid-May. Looking at what the free-agent market for players’ offers on a year to year basis, he has already justified the $5 million the Indians are paying him this season. Chris Antonetti can pat himself on the back for making a great acquisition if Derek Lowe, literally, doesn’t throw another pitch this season.

Given his durability and the fact that he has thrown at least 180 innings and averaged 203 innings over the past decade, we can probably go to bed tonight knowing that Derek Lowe will be there every fifth day and that is a pretty great feeling for a team and their fans to have.

The Bullpen

The Line:

The Results:

The Write-up: Obviously, nothing going on here, but you have still got to be thankful for a day off; especially given the high-usage rates earlier in the season.

The Starting Lineup

The Line: 10/36, 2 2B, 3B, 3HR, 3BB, SB

The Results: 5R, 23TB, 16LOB, AVG/OBP/SLG 278/333/639

The Write-up: If Derek Lowe throwing a shut-out surprised you, then the offensive production should put you back in familiar territory or at least where you would have expected it to come from before the season began. The charge was led by Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana accounting for three solo HR’s in the 5th and taking part in both of the earlier runs plated. Choo seems to be settling into the leadoff spot and I would like to take credit for shouting loud enough to get Choo hitting #1, but I think Manny Acta was simply looking to get Choo going anyway he could. The fact is, apart from Travis Hafner and Carlos Santana, nobody gets on base like Choo can and he has the speed to steal 20 bases as well. Leadoff men have one job and that is to be in a position to score once the big boys come up. Now that Kipnis has emerged, Cabrera is raking, Carlos is Carlos and Hafner is having a solid year, the Indians suddenly have a patient and long top of the order.

Much has been made of the Indians penchant for taking the free-pass this year, and it is really starting to settle in just how good they are:

Player BB% MLB Rank
Travis Hafner 17.6 5
Carlos Santana 17.6 6
Asdrubal Cabrera 12.8 23
Shin-Soo Choo 12.6 24
Jack Hannahan 11.2 41
Casey Kotchman 8.3 94
Jason Kipnis 8.3 96

The Indians have almost half of their lineup in the top-25 and 7 out of 9 of their starting lineup in the top-100. Realizing that there are 288 “starters” at any given time in the MLB, we can conclude that the Indians have seven players who draw walks in the top 1/3 of the league. Wow.

Back to the game, it was good to see Brantley (batting 5th!) get a couple more solid base-hits and steal a base. He could be incredibly valuable in the bottom 3rd of the order if he can be a high-contact/high-average guy that helps to roll the line-up over more consistently. Regardless of where he hits, it is good to see him being rewarded for his patience and continual hard contact. There was a two week stretch where it just seemed like he couldn’t find a hole to save his life. This isn’t all sunshine though as Marson looks completely bewildered and if you can’t hit Jason Marquis, you can’t hit righties at all. He should start against lefties exclusively.  Johnny Damon is still searching for “it” and he does not  look good. If you require a defensive replacement, then you should hit. Aaron Cunningham replaced him in the 7th, and despite getting no official plate appearances, he finished with exactly as many hits as Johnny Damon.

The Defense

The story of the day for the defense was the infield. Fielding 18 ground ball outs (which accounted for 22 outs thanks to the GIDP’s) keep you busy and position players like nothing better than staying busy. Few spectacular plays were required of the defense due to the fact that the Twins aren’t very good hitters and didn’t hit the ball very hard all day, but the routine plays still needed to be, and were, made. Kipnis and Asdrubal are starting to jell up the middle and make some more “pretty” turns. I especially like when Kipnis shovels the ball to Asdrubal on plays close to the bag because Asdrubal just has so much flare when he has time to turn it. Jose Lopez is a solid replacement for a slightly ailing Hannahan and, much to my chagrin, is the better option than Jason Donald right now.

The Takeaways

In order to make the postseason, even the expanded one, teams have to beat up on the little-guys. Right now, the Twins might be the littlest guys in all of the MLB. The Indians took care of business and swept the shortened series. Derek Lowe has been a revelation and has justified his bargain-bin contract 7 starts into the season. The offense is patient and improving with key players starting to emerge and a new identity starting to form. The lineup seems to be finding its identity with Asdrubal, Carlos and Kipnis now at the heart and superb complementary players in Hafner, Choo and Hannahan. Complete game shutouts are always a team’s best friend (particularly when a new series kicks up today) and the  Indians go into a series against the Mariners tonight back in Cleveland.

User Comments

May 17, 2012 - 8:19 AM EDT
Charlie, I would respond by saying that the object of baseball is to score runs, and before last night's game Hafner has been on base 53 times on base hits, walks, and HBP, but scored only 7 runs. (I'm not counting the four HR's). IOW, he gets on base a lot and I love the on-base percentage, but if it rarely translates into a run then it doesn't help all that much.

You could argue that a Hafner walk or a single sometimes pushes a runner into scoring position and contributes to a run, which is true, and you could argue that Hafner scoring so few runs is the fault of the hitters behind him like Kotchman not coming through.

But my point is that if you're hitting 5th your main job is to drive in runs and Hafner went 25 straight at-bats where he made an out with RISP. He hasn't been driving in runs when he has the chance and he hasn't been scoring when he gets on base. I don't know how that can be described as having a "solid year".

Last night he homered, doubled (breaking that 25 at-bat streak), and lined out twice, so maybe he's getting into a groove.
May 16, 2012 - 11:08 AM EDT
Rich, the only thing that I will say is that baseball is played according to outs; it is the proverbial clock by which the game is decided. Travis Hafner is really good at avoiding making outs. This is a good thing.
May 16, 2012 - 10:01 AM EDT
Hey now, fangraphs credits McAllister with 0.5 WAR in his first 2 starts. They have Lowe pegged at 0.7 WAR. Of course, McAllister has a massive 13 K/BB rate, compared to Lowe's 0.76. Think he'll keep it up?

I'll be pleased if Lowe ends the year with an ERA around his current FIP: 3.98. That's solid.
May 16, 2012 - 9:17 AM EDT
He's suffering from David Ortiz syndrome. Ortiz has been battling that shift like a champion this year tho. In fact, he laid a bunt down the other day. RISP is not a stat to look at and judge a player with come on. Really? It's a luck stat. Hannahan is hitting 500+ last time I checked with RISP, is he a superstar? Pronk is having a solid year, he is getting ON BASE.
May 16, 2012 - 8:41 AM EDT
Lowe is doing exactly what this team quality starts and pitching deep into games and giving the team a chance to win every time he goes out. He's going to have his days like yesterday where all the balls get hit right to the defense.....and he is going to have those days when he leaves the ball up and gets hammered like he did against Seattle.....but he is proving to be a very good acquisition and a guy that just knows how to pitch. Kudos to the front office for seeing a guy that was undervalued and also that there were some correctable things with him. Without him right now they'd be in a world of hurt with Jimenez/Masterson struggling so much.
May 16, 2012 - 8:11 AM EDT
Nothing like having somebody else pay two-thirds of the salary of your All-Star starting pitcher.

I wasn't too crazy about seeing a 39-year-old throw 127 pitches when he could have come out after 7 innings and 100 pitches with a 5-0 lead against a very weak offensive team. But he threw practically nothing but fastballs, and those are easier on the arm than sliders and breaking balls, so maybe it's not a concern.

Johnny Damon is embarassing himself. That check-swing tapper back to the mound with the bases loaded on ball four was pathetic. Once again he failed to get the ball out of the infield the entire game. Not even a sharply hit ground ball. How long can Manny keep putting his name on the lineup card? At least he's not leading off anymore.

I'll take a little issue with the statement that Hafner is having a "solid year". He's hitting .125 with RISP and that doesn't cut it from your #5 hitter. The walks are nice, except that he's so slow on the basepaths it takes at least two hits to score him from first, or a home run, and the home runs have been few and far between from the bottom of the order this year.

Pronk's problem is he has not been elevating the ball for home runs and doubles off the wall and in the gaps. With the shift on his line drives and hard ground balls are almost always outs. He hits a lot of balls hard that are outs because he drives them into the shift. He needs to start going to left field on outside pitches and elevating the inside ones.

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