Second Thoughts Game #43: Oakland 6, Cleveland 2
For the most part, clutch isn't repeatable. When one makes outs, on the large scale, doesn't matter nearly as much as how frequently one makes them - Miguel Cabrera, for instance, was one of the least-clutch players in the league in 2013, hitting far more effectively in low-leverage, early-inning situations than in high-leverage situations. This lack of clutch did not prevent him from being recognized as the AL's Most Valuable Player.
Cleveland's 6-2 loss to Oakland was defined by clutch - how the Indians entirely lacked it, and how Oakland had just enough of it. Three times, Cleveland grounded into a double play with two baserunners aboard to end an inning - under similar circumstances, Brandon Moss hit a two-run home run and Josh Donaldson tripled, plating four runs between two plate appearances. Nevermind the fact that Cleveland's 32 offensive double plays were 15th in the league - on Saturday, it was these that very likely cost the game.
As noted, clutch typically isn't repeatable. But its absence is always noticeable, and it always stings.
The Unseen Lonnie is the Deadliest
The leadoff batter in the seventh inning of a game in which one trails by four is not the highest-leverage situation imaginable - extremely far from. It would be understandable if a manager would abstain from pinch-hitting a sub-optimal platoon split under those circumstances. Yet, in the bottom of the seventh, Terry Francona pulled the right-handed Jesus Aguilar in favor of a pinch-hitter, switch-hitting Jose Ramirez.
The fact that a switch was made is entirely defensible - if one makes a switch under those circumstances, one clearly signals a desire to maximize chances of victory. If one is attempting to maximize victory, however, it is largely indefensible to insert Jose Ramirez, batting a robust .133 against right-handed pitchers on the season, over Lonnie Chisenhall, currently the hottest bat on the team without serious peer, batting a stirring .349 against right-handed hitters.
The particular case of the seventh inning, wherein Jose Ramirez struck out while Lonnie languished, appears to be part of a larger pattern to fully marginalize Chisenhall into a full platoon role. It's true that Chisenhall has had a grand total of two plate appearances against left-handed pitchers hitherto in 2014, and there's an argument to be made that inserting him into the line-up against left-handed pitchers would disrupt Chisenhall's extremely effective swing against righties.
Yet circumstances like this - wherein one is pinch-hitting a left-handed hitter but leaving Chisenhall on the bench - that are entirely mind-boggling. Chisenhall has his strikeout problems, certainly, and he has demonstrated his refusal to walk, characteristic of his entire body of work to date. Lonnie isn't a perfect hitter, but to both signal a willingness to pinch hit while nevertheless intentionally passing up Lonnie is baffling.
Would Cleveland have won Saturday's game even if Lonnie had batted? Almost certainly not.
Does it make any intuitive sense to not bat Lonnie if one is still trying full-steam to win the game? Again: almost certainly not.
While this was indeed a problem on Saturday, it will only grow more concerning in the week to come, when Jason Giambi, lefty pinch-hitter nonpareil is re-activated from the disabled lists. Given Giambi's apparent clout within the clubhouse, Lonnie should certainly be worried that his already scant plate appearances will be further subsumed by Giambi's veteran leadership.
At that point, Lonnie can kiss most of his yet-surviving pinch-hit opportunities a fond adieu.
Batted Balls and Counterintuition
If one were to present the following as a reason why Cleveland's bats have done poorly, little objection, likely, would arise: the extremely high rate of ground balls. Frequently, it seems as though a weak grounder to second is all the contact the offense can muster in any given game - a perception only confirmed by the three double plays induced in Saturday's loss.
Entirely surprising, then, was the fact that Cleveland's ground ball rate, on offense, is actually the third lowest in the league entering Saturday's game. Contrary to entrenched narratives, Cleveland's contact is not terrible. Despite the perception, stemming from both the complete lack of results and the occasional games like Saturdays with a tremendously high ground ball rate (50.7% of batted balls during the game), the Indians are hitting the ball hard, hitting line drives at the fifth-highest clip in the American League.
Is there ambiguity to Line Drive rates? Certainly; line drive rates are not a perfect correlate to offensive success. Yet as evidenced by the author's own examination of Nick Swisher's outs, the team appears to have collected a great deal of hard-hit outs - hitting a dramatic peak when Yan Gomes lined out to third base.
If the Indians continue to hit the ball hard, they will eventually fall for hits. That said, the fact that they haven't fallen thus far in 2014 is a substantial reason why the team is five games under five hundred heading into the series' conclusion, wherein Justin Masterson faces Oakland righty Jesse Chavez.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Giambi, shouldn't be activated, Swisher isn't a #2 hitter, Santana should be the full time DH, Carrasco should be in the rotation, Lee should be in the bullpen, Axford needs to show more in high leverage situations if he wants to stick around. The loyalty crap has gotten old because they aren't rewarding him with good play