Second Thoughts Game #68: Cleveland 3, Boston 10
Lonnie Chisenhall did not get a hit on Friday.
While the above sentence appears merely a diagnostic to answer why the Indians lost 10-3 to the Red Sox in Fenway on Friday, or perhaps merely trivia, notable in juxtaposition to Chisenhall's excellent batsmanship in 2014, it in fact indicates that Friday heralded the beginning of the end times. That said, Cleveland was promised a championship as Babylon the Great burns, so the virtues and vices of the trade-off should be dutifully weighed.
Masterson recorded a grand total of two outs in Friday's affair, Carlos Santana homered, and; in fact, the Indians were out-hit only 11-7 - a gap, one that perhaps should have been larger given that Cleveland struck out five more times than Boston, but not one that easily explains the seven-run deficit. The remainder of the explanation is that Cleveland pitchers allowed 7 walks to Boston's 1 walk. It seems that not making outs has its virtues.
Asdrubal Cabrera's Altogether Fine Season
Asdrubal Cabrera came into 2014 with a $10 million option for the season. At typical free agent market rates per WAR - and in 2014, Cabrera was indeed slated to become a free agent - $10 million would have purchased a player worth approximately 1.6 WAR - for context, an average player has two wins above replacement. $10 million, in the abstract, would have purchased a below-average player for shortstop. In very real, concrete terms, $10 million did purchase two thirds of a season from Stephen Drew.
Instead, Cleveland got a full season of Asdrubal Cabrera, currently hitting .255/.322/.403 - which already in the season is worth approximately that same 1.6 WAR. Prudence of leaving Francisco Lindor in the minors aside (and there have been national arguments made in favor of Lindor), the money spent on Asdrubal Cabrera was not simply money wantonly lit ablaze. If one wished to argue that the money should have been spent on Scott Kazmir, one can make that argument; a direct consequence would have almost certainly implied a full year of some combination of Mike Aviles and Elliot Johnson up the middle. Perhaps one could envision a scenario within which Asdrubal's option was not the most advantageous scenario; at the very least, however, Cabrera's contract extension provided the Indians with perhaps the best, least-limiting free agent contract available for 2014.
Defense aside, Asdrubal Cabrera's offense kept the Indians in the game until late in the game. Each of his balls in play was hit well, his first double was the tying run in the third inning, and his second brought a possible tying run (Brantley) into the game in the seventh: or, in other words, 2-4, 2 2B, 1 R, each of those hits being clutch hits. While 'clutch' is rarely a repeatable phenomenon, it's rarely worth noting, but given Asdrubal Cabrera's reputation for folding under pressure, doubtless from his abysmal 2013 campaign, it's time to put old myths to lie: Asdrubal Cabrera didn't hit well in the clutch in 2013 because Asdrubal Cabrera didn't hit well in 2013. The entirety decreased, so it makes sense that the most visible subset of his offense - clutch situations - would not have escaped the decline.
Many of the warning signs after 2013 going forward involved his contact stats - in 2013, per FanGraphs (both by means of Baseball Info Solutions and PITCHf/x), Cabrera swung at more bad pitches, made contact with fewer pitches, either in-zone or out-of-zone, and whiffed at more pitches than he had at any point in his career. The decline was substantial and quite worrisome, yet in 2014, every warning sign has simply disappeared; Cabrera in 2014 has simply returned to his career's average plate discipline levels - as if 2013 never occurred. All signs, at this point, indicate that 2013 Cabrera was simply a good batter batting poorly rather than a slippery slope to irreversible decline. Asdrubal Cabrera's plate discipline skills cratered for exactly one season - no more and no less - and then returned to established career norms. These sorts of plate discipline valleys aren't typically so temporary.
On the other hand, being completely unpredictable was Asdrubal Cabrera's strong point, so this inexplicable change, in that light, makes all the sense in the world.
Masterson's Release Point
There was - with good reason - a great deal of fear that Masterson incurred an injury in Friday's game. Masterson's line on the game was 2+ IP, 3 H, 5 R/ER, 4 BB, 0 K, 59 P, 28 Strikes, 1 Swinging Strike, and there were suspicions, both with his velocity and the above box score that suggest that this is no typical bad day for Masterson. Both Francona and Masterson denied any injury - and those two, one assumes, would be in some position to know - but Masterson was undoubtedly off. Consider the following two charts, the former showing his release point in his June 8th start at Texas, the latter his release point in his Boston start.
In Boston, Masterson's release point was both higher on the whole and had a substantially wider variation than his Texas start. An inability to consistently find his arm slot - which the above charts suggest - would certainly explain the control issues. Cursory searches of previous Masterson starts suggest that the arm slot he had in Texas is more or less representative of Masterson's successful starts in 2014; on the aggregate, it would appear he settles around an exactly 5' vertical release point. On Friday, it was closer to 5'6", and with what can visualize as a fairly substantial change in arm slot. This would be the highest release point of the season by a substantial margin, and likely also the most volatile.
2014 has been an unusual season for Masterson. Barring Friday, Masterson had consistently averaged his lowest release point since 2011, but it had been consistent. His 4.66 ERA heading into the game was bad, but that it's an ERA worse than average is almost entirely the result of an equally bad defense rather than any sort of skill issue within Masterson's control.
Injury or not, Masterson had something go wrong physically on Friday. It prevented Masterson from pitching like his typical, poor-but-not-horrible control, high-strikeout self. It's not entirely clear what caused the problem - rain, possibly - but Masterson's release point and arm slot are worth looking at in his next start - assuming, of course, that Masterson isn't injured. The health of one of the two original rotation members would be welcomed.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
No matter how poor the defense is, and it's probably the worse defense I've seen, the infield especially, that doesn't explain or excuse Masterson's lack of command and poor walk rate throughout most of his starts this year. Even if you think he had an injury last night that explained his poor 1+/1 BB/K ratio last night, many of his K/BB rates this year were barely 1.5/1- not good for any starter, and especially for a guy who is supposed to be a frontline starter or even an ace. The poor defense doesn't explain that; that's on Masterson's lack of execution and lack of command, something that has been prevalent throughout much of this year, which explains the poor outings, the poor BB/K ratio, and even much of his poor win-loss record.
After seeing Asdrubal nuke Corey Kluber's last start in the 3rd inning, I am just about done with that guy. It would be one thing if he had great range to make up for the easy plays he blows or if he was hitting like it was the first half of 2011.
The 2013 AL average was 16 points higher w/RISP.
This year the difference is even more pronounced. 561 OPS w/RISP and 851 with nobody on base.
He is 0 for 14 with 2 outs and RISP with 7 Ks.