Second Thoughts: Previewing the second half of the season
The Indians went into their four-day vacation during the All-Star break with a fine record of 51-44, putting them a game and a half back in the division and three out of a wild card spot. In this edition of Second Thoughts, I will look towards the second half by analyzing the remaining schedule and wondering about ways that they can play even better than they have.
What lies ahead
67 games remain for the Indians in the regular season. Here is how they break down:
- 48 come against teams that currently have losing records (including every one of their final 23)
- In the other 19, they face the Rangers (for three), Tigers (seven), Athletics (three), Braves (three) and Orioles (three)
- 36 take place inside the Central division
- 35 are on the road; 32 are at home
Obviously, this feels pretty favorable because of the overwhelming majority of subpar opponents. But, they will have to continue to win in the division, which is something that has plagued them in recent years (2007 was the last year that they played above .500 against Central foes). They are 22-18 in such games up to this point in 2013, and 19-9 against teams that aren't the Tigers. Luckily, 29 of those 36 remaining division games come against the Royals, Twins and White Sox.
Also, they will have to improve away from Progressive Field. They are 21-25 so far, and play more away than home the rest of the way. Mid-August will likely present the most difficult stretch left, as they play 15 of 18 games in various other cities, including nine against the rare strong opponent (Athletics, Braves and Tigers).
Expanding on those 18 games, August 5th to September 4th will also feature home games against the Tigers and Orioles, and six games against an underachieving-but-talented Angels team. If they can hold course over the near-month, they will be left with that 23-game sprint to the finish line, which features the Mets, Royals, White Sox, Astros and Twins.
It is worth noting that the Tigers play a fairly similar schedule, however. Of their 68 remaining games, 46 are against teams with below-.500 records at the moment (including every one of their final 23). The other 22 are against the Phillies (three), Nationals (two), Indians (seven), Yankees (three), Athletics (four) and Red Sox (three). 33 will take place at Comerica; 35 on the road.
Who can beat the teams that they hypothetically should beat more often? How will those final seven head-to-head matchups play out, and will they ultimately determine the division? That'll paint the big picture. Interestingly, the Indians and Tigers will be done with each other on September 1st, leaving 26 games for both teams to not have to worry about one another.
What can get better?
As it stands, the Indians have:
- a great offense (fifth in baseball in runs scored, seventh in on-base plus slugging, sixth in weighted on-base average, fourth in weighted runs created plus).
- an average to below-average pitching staff (26th in earned run average, 25th in fielding independent pitching, 15th in expected fielding independent pitching) ...but 20th, 19th and 14th over the last month.
- a below-average to poor defense (25th in ultimate zone rating, 20th in ultimate zone rating per 150 games, 20th in defensive runs saved).
Improving the offense: Make Mark Reynolds and Lonnie Chisenhall a true left/right platoon; find more at-bats forRyan Raburn
Everyone expected regression from Reynolds eventually, but he has essentially fallen off the edge of the Earth. Reynolds hits left-handers better than Chisenhall; Chisenhall hits right-handers better than Reynolds. Pretty simple.
Raburn has had success, regardless of the handedness of the pitcher. While I like having Drew Stubbs in the lineup as much as possible because of his speed and defense, I am fine with giving Raburn some of his at-bats against left-handers and starting him against right-handers. Raburn can also take many of Jason Giambi's at-bats at designated hitter against right-handers.
Improving the pitching: Put Vinnie Pestano on the disabled list; increase Cody Allen's usage; decrease Joe Smith's usage; keep Chen Lee up; give Danny Salazar a more extended look; consider Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco as bullpen options down the stretch
As you can see, this is a whole lot of bullpen shakeup.
Personally, I think Pestano is still hurt. He has to be. His strikeouts are down, his velocity is down, his walks are up and his home runs are up. Relief pitchers are volatile, but I have a hard time believing that he just magically went from elite to replaceable for no real reason.
Allen has been the best option out of the bullpen by a lot for the season as a whole, and it is time to start trusting him more. I do think Smith's demise has been exaggerated by Indians fans, but he has been trending downward recently. Terry Francona seems to be going with experience over results right now by depending on Smith more than Allen, but perhaps flipping the two would help.
Lee has pitched to five Major League batters, but there was a reason why he has been a top prospect for a long time. By all indications, he is the same pitcher that he was before his injury, and he could be just the kind of "addition" that the bullpen needs. The same could essentially be said for Salazar, but adjusted to reflect a starter.
Speaking of additions, I am still not ready to trust Rich Hill, and would love to see another left-handed option emerge from outside the organization. My choice for a shrewd relief acquisition similar to Esmil Rogers in 2012 would be the Rockies' (coincidental) Josh Outman. His peripherals and advanced numbers are incredible, he kills left-handed hitters and Colorado probably needs to view themselves as non-contenders soon.
Lastly, if you're not sure that you can trust Bauer and/or Carrasco in the rotation while you're chasing a pennant, and you're having bullpen issues, why not weigh converting them for a few months? And of course, I strictly mean for a few months. By no means am I suggesting that either of them are future relievers; I just feel like it could make sense and pay dividends for the present.
Improving the defense: Start Yan Gomes at catcher more often
Carlos Santana's offensive skills and presence should never, ever be out of the lineup, but that doesn't mean he has to catch. Gomes has thrown out 52.6% of would-be base stealers to Santana's 11.4%, and his catcher earned run average comes in at 4.22 to Santana's 4.37. Statistically, visually, any -ally you can come up with... Gomes is better back there.
Also, the aforementioned decision to allow for more Chisenhall and less Reynolds would doubly improve the team, as it is a defensive upgrade, too.
Of course, there is the distinct possibility of the Indians making a trade or trades. For the sake of likely upcoming articles dedicated to just that subject, I will not delve into such a world here. But, as you can probably assume from the above, I would fancy at least a left-handed reliever, and possibly a right-handed one, too. The offense is fine, and the rotation has so many options that I don't think you need to chase the Matt Garza's of the world. However, if the Indians were to decide that they felt comfortable moving Asdrubal Cabrera for a long-term answer in the rotation right now (and I think they should), that would be a different story.
Let the second half begin. Like, soon. Four days off is unbearable.
Up next: The All-Star Game tonight. Of course, the Indians will be represented by Jason Kipnis and Justin Masterson.
However, Outman might still be available, but probably not as easy to acquire as you seem to believe, and I agree that he could be a big help.
Personally, I think that Myers should be moved to the bullpen upon his return, agree that Pestano needs to be back on the DL, the Indians will need to trade or find an internal option to start in the rotation (Bud Norris isn't a terrible option, his FIP and ERA are in line with each other and he ranks 26th among all pitchers in WAR with 2.1).
They definitely do NOT need to play Reynolds at 3B any more. What I'd like to see is Raburn and Reynolds platooned at DH (with Raburn getting some time in the OF and I'm not opposed to Reynolds seeing time at 1B). For his career, Rayburn has been decent vs RHP (90 wRC+, .718 OPS) but this year he's carrying a 146 wRC+ vs RHP and an .877 OPS. Reynolds meanwhile has been well below his career averages against RHP and shouldn't even be facing them right now with his 84 wRC+ against them.
How I'd work the lineup would be the following vs RHP:
But even beyond that the lineup should reflect who is pitching for the Tribe on a given day, when pitchers like Masterson take the mound, guys like Stubbs could be swapped for some one like Raburn, Santana shouldn't be catching (poor pitch framing can exasperate pitcher control issues) and for guys like Mcallister and Kazmir, you'll need the extra OF defense that Stubbs can provide.
I kind of wish that the Indians had a better corner IF other than Swisher. Having a RHH that can play a decent 3B and hit lefties could be a huge boost. Polanco can play a decent 3B, has a high average vs LHP, and can probably play around the field a bit. Utilizing role players like this can help the Indians overcome the Tigers and take the Central division.