Second Thoughts Game #49: Baltimore 8, Cleveland 4
Warning: Large .gif files
While not the most inspiring performance, there were reasons why one might step back from Friday's 8-4 loss to the Orioles without the same woe as defines the other losses by the Cleveland baseball club.
The club only used two relievers for a combined two innings, to begin. The team no longer looks like a club lost at the plate, to continue. The game didn't go five hours, to conclude.
Beloved by this site though he is, the start of T.J. House was far from ideal. Though House was regarded as a depth starter, his strikeout rates befit a depth pitcher more than a fearsome major leaguer at this point. From the outset, it was likely to be either an uphill battle or a fluky performance in which a raw southpaw dominates one of the better offenses in baseball.
Shockingly, the probable event happened. Romanticism loses again.
2014: A Double-to-Left Odyssey
Michael Brantley is Dr. Smooth, as the narrative goes.
On offense, 'Smooth' has manifested itself as the fifth-best offensive performance in the American League. Brantley doesn't have a hashtag like #TheSagaOfSmooth to combine forces with The Legend of Lonnie, but he's been extremely good on offense. The group he trails is impressive: Jose Bautista, Brandon Moss, Victor Martinez, andShin-Soo Choo. The group he leads is equally so: Nelson Cruz, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Melky Cabrera round out the top ten. The fact that he went 1-4 with 1 K and no walks or extra base hits changes this fact not a bit.
Yet what's often said about Brantley is that he defies the defensive metrics - metrics, the frequent chorus goes, that don't apply to Brantley, just as they didn't apply to Jhonny Peralta or anyone counter-intuitive. Brantley, after all, had a tremendous error-less streak of 248 games, and Brantley's frequently at the top of the leaderboards in outfield assists. The statistics of the last several decades, the ones that suggest that Brantley is a below-average left-fielder (a group not, admittedly, known for their own defense), contradict the statistics of the 19th century that suggest that Brantley is in a class of his own on defense.
What follows are the three doubles to left field hit by the Baltimore batters.
It's ambitious to expect Brantley even make one of these plays - as in, turn any of them into an out on the fly - and in the case of the first and second, they were grounders that were impossible to catch regardless. Yet with the first two plays, Brantley's speed in getting to the ball raises problems. In the case of the first double, cutting the ball off at the foul line would have at least resulted in the play at second being contested. In the case of the second double, Adam Jones is fifteen feet past second by the time Brantley throws the ball.
In the case of the third double, the ball is not completely unplayable. The play would be extremely difficult, butMichael Bourn, for instance, has made plays like that before. One shouldn't expect a non-elite defender to make that play, but one likely should expect a defender as purportedly good as Brantley to see less than a four-and-a-half second gap between touchdown of the ball in the outfield and the relay throw.
Making the routine plays is better than not making the routine plays, obviously, and it's quite nice that Brantley does so more reliably than Adam Dunn or Nelson Cruz. Yet the advanced statistics tell the story of a Michael Brantley who almost always makes routine plays but who very rarely makes plays on balls that aren't hit at him or nearly so.
From this writer's perspective, that's a proposition that completely passes the eye test.
House of Mysteries
T.J. House's assignment on Friday was fairly simple: give Cleveland as many innings as possible while still allowing the game well in hand. Given a bullpen that had pitched 18.1 innings over the past two days, he didn't need to throw quality innings - he just needed to throw lots of them. House fulfilled this request in remarkably literal fashion.
House's line was 6 IP, 5 ER/R, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HR. All told, this was not the most surprising line in the world - T.J. House had thrown exactly one inning of major league baseball prior to this game, a relief performance on May 17th comprising three batters and three groundouts. It should be noted, however, that despite striking out only one batter, his 9.9% Swinging Strike rate was substantially higher than the league average of 8.7% for starters.
While his performance may not have been surprising, however, the nature of his departure very much was. While this author wants no part of pitchers like Bronson Arroyo who would likely make Cleveland fans yearn for the relatively carefree days of 2012 Ubaldo Jimenez, an innings-eater, a pitcher who could give the regulars of the bullpen the night off was completely necessary. House being pulled after six innings, then, when he had thrown only 81 pitches on the night came as quite the surprise. While temporary reliever Mark Lowe and noted exile Carlos Carrasco finished out the night without the use of additional relievers, the removal of House after only 81 pitches remains notable.
Returning to his Minor League game logs, it is true that Friday's total batters faced, 28, matched House's season high, but House threw 106 pitches in that May 4th game. The impetus for removing the left-hander for an inning in which Chris Davis was batting third in lieu of the right-handed Lowe, particularly given House's pitch count and the depleted state of the bullpen, does elicit confusion. Further, House had not thrown any innings, major league or minor league, since his May 17th appearance against Oakland.
Nonetheless, given the ad hoc nature of extra innings' cruel demands, T.J. House did his job; Corey Kluber's job as an ace, however, is one that requires not only a desire to eat innings, but devour the will of the opposing line-up. When Kluber takes the mound today, one hopes not for length, but for the dominance of the pitcher that leads the majors in fWAR.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.