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Second Thoughts Game #53: Reds 1, Indians 7

Indians rough up Bailey in fourth, Kazmir cruises

Second Thoughts Game #53: Reds 1, Indians 7
May 31, 2013
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There’s certainly nothing wrong with removing any drama from a ballgame and simply battering your opponent into submission in the span of roughly ten minutes. Like a high-pressure system rolling along the radar screen, the Tribe bats cracked six consecutive two-out hits off Reds pitchers Homer Bailey and Alfredo Simon in the fourth inning, then left an eerie calm in their wake for the rest of the night.

The comeback kid Scott Kazmir (coming back in this case from three straight bad starts as much as three straight bad seasons) took it from there, spinning seven solid innings in a cakewalk 7-1 Indians win, moving them to 29-24 and a half-game out of first place.

As has been well documented all season, Cleveland hitters are doing some special things in the always-popular “two outs and runners in scoring position” category. After last night’s two-out ambush, the club’s overall batting average in that particular scenario stands at .314—tops in the AL and second only to St. Louis (.324) in all of baseball. The team’s slugging percentage with two down and RISP is all the more impressive at .544—best in baseball by a wide margin over second ranked Baltimore (.469).

Now the definition of “clutch hitting” has been hotly debated for ages, but let’s try assessing this 2013 Indians team from a different, even more abstract angle—“drama.”

Even though there have been a fair number of moments this season that have sent Tom Hamilton into screeching hysterics (including way too many routine flyouts to the warning track), it doesn’t really seem like the level of “dramatic” hits quite jives with the clutch batting statistics referenced earlier. To put it another way, while the Indians are scraping together two-out rallies like nobody’s business, they’re generally doing so (a) early in games, and (b) when they already have a lead.

In the grand scheme, this shouldn’t really matter at all. Winning is winning, and the Indians are actually excelling in tightly contested ballgames, boasting a league best 11-4 record in one-run games this year and a 5-0 mark in extra innings affairs. When it comes to Fairweather Johnson deciding to jump on the bandwagon, however, it’s those hazier “drama” categories—particularly late-inning hitting, hitting when facing a deficit, and come-from-behind wins—in which the Indians are sort of mystifyingly falling short.

When they have a lead, the Indians are tops in MLB with a team average of .289. When they’re trailing, though, they plummet all the way to .233—ranking them 25th in baseball and above only Oakland in the AL. By comparison, the ever-scrappy Orioles are hitting .285 when the scoreboard isn’t in their favor.

Similarly, the Tribe hits a solid .277 as a team from innings 1-through-6 (7th in MLB), then bottoms out at .233 from the 7th inning on, putting them at #21. Once again, it’s Baltimore at the top of this “drama” category, hitting .271 in the late innings.

By no coincidence, Cleveland sits near the bottom of baseball in come-from-behind wins, as well, with 8—bettering only Houston (7), the Cubs (7), the Dodgers (7), Seattle (7), and Miami (5).

Plenty of comfort should be taken in the fact that the Indians also have a whole lot more wins than any of those other comeback-deficient ballclubs. But for a city that can’t get over its infatuation with 1995 (Albert Belle bobbleheads, anyone?), it probably wouldn’t hurt the current Tribe to raise their performance in that key, primetime 9pm-10pm portion of the game. Also, if you were wondering, the ’95 Tribe hit .303 when facing a deficit.

! of the Game: Yan Gomes

As his cult status continues to grow after another impressive 3-for-4 showing last night, Yan Gomes is quieting doubters and raising some serious speculation. Is he an excellent backup catcher whose offensive limitations would become more apparent with increased playing time, or is he emerging as the heir apparent to the starting catcher spot, with Carlos Santana’s sometimes-erratic defense pushing him increasingly to DH or 1B?

The demotion of Lonnie Chisenhall has opened up more room for Santana to plug in other spots, but Terry Francona will likely wait a good, long time before making a move as dramatic as installing Gomes as the regular catcher on a 5-day a week basis.

? of the Game: Scott Kazmir

You have to respect the resiliency of Kazmir, who is going through the ups and downs one might expect of a pitcher who hadn’t won an MLB game in three years. Is he going to truly own this comeback story and ride it into September? Or do we need to realistically be thankful if he can eat 100 innings before giving way to a Carrasco or Bauer? For now, having a veteran lefty capable of controlling a game as he did last night should be enough to appease the faithful.

User Comments

May 31, 2013 - 2:53 PM EDT
I had made the same suggestion Seth in another piece. Just thought that since he's limited in terms of innings he can pitch, he just might be able to help the team as a lefty reliever since we are struggling at that position with the guys there and we can extend he's service life for the team this season by moving him to the pen. Pluses and minuses to it but might be a consideration at some point down the road. Your stats seem to support the idea as well.
May 31, 2013 - 11:05 AM EDT
Kazmir, when he pitches a game like yesterday, you think "keep him in the rotation." I have to wonder though whether Kazmir isn't a solution to their LHP bullpen woes. Some stats that make him look like he'd be a good/great reliever: right-handers have hit him to a .951 OPS, but lefties have only managed .685. Kazmir's crazy split continues with runners on versus bases empty: with no one on, 1.074 OPS. With runners on base: .678. RISP: .575. Has no pitching coach ever talked to Kazmir about ditching, or changing, his windup? He is massively better with guys on base/out of the stretch and has been through his whole career. Either he's pitching differently in a bad way or he's less effective with the windup. In any case, pitching well with men on base and shutting down lefties are some traits the Indians could use in the bullpen.

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