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Second Thoughts: The time is now for Indians to make a push

Second Thoughts: The time is now for Indians to make a push
(Photo: AP)
August 26, 2014
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Playoff Odds Slowly Falling

Despite going 4-2 on the week, the Indians odds of making the playoffs actually decreased. That number now stands at 9%.

I’m a big believer that you should always try to put your best foot forward when you’re contending, and with that as a guide I wouldn’t say I was entirely thrilled with the Indians activity at the trade deadline. I understand the moves that were made, and liked them, but I had hoped they would add another starter or bat along with getting what they could out of Masterson and Cabrera. Even though the rotation looks to have turned a corner, the bat could have been useful. Now things are getting dire on the playoff front.

It’s not that the team isn’t playing well. As mentioned, the starting pitching staff has given the team a chance to win nearly every game over the last couple of weeks. The lineup hasn’t been doing well, and a lot of the production we’re getting is from some of the younger players. Of course, there are several core players who have been underperforming all year so this isn’t exactly a new problem. The real problem is that as good as the Indians are playing, the other contenders are simply playing better. It doesn’t help that the Indians have continued to blow opportunities either.

We’re at the point in the season when games like Friday’s meltdown in the late innings shouldn’t happen. Two base-running blunders in the eighth and two errors in the ninth sealed a loss and wasted a great start fromCarlos Carrasco. The defensive meltdown is just one of many that have occurred this season, and I’ve discussed the defense is more depth below.

Still, it doesn’t help that the team managed only two hits off Brad Peacock. When you’re going to be facing pitchers like David PriceJames ShieldsMax ScherzerChris Sale, and Phil Hughes several times down the stretch you can’t afford to let a pitcher like Peacock carve you up.

After this next series against the White Sox the schedule is going to pick up quite a bit. The Indians will have seven straight games against Kansas City and Detroit, and truthfully it’s a stretch of games that could essentially knock them out of postseason contention. The next ten days are going to tell us a lot. Some key wins against our AL Central rivals could turn the tides on the Indians’ falling playoff chances or sink them once and for all.

Looking Ahead at the Defense

I’ve wanted to cover this for a little while. The one thing that really concerns me next year is the defense. Most of the players we see every day can be safely penciled into next year’s team. This group has been historically bad defensively, so where can improvement come from?

According to Fangraphs, only Yan Gomes rates as an above average defender of the Indians’ starting position players. Though, it should be noted that Jose Ramirez rates positively and he very well could be the team’s starting shortstop at the outset of the 2015 season.  We can expect some improvement at shortstop, whether that’s in the form of Jose Ramirez or Francisco Lindor. Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez will provide solid defense at catcher. That leaves question marks everywhere else.

UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) estimates each fielder’s contribution to runs above and below an average fielder at his position and UZR/150 calculates that same number over 150 games. At third base, Lonnie Chisenhall has a -24 UZR/150. Jason Kipnis’ UZR/150 at second base is -15.8. David Murphy in right field has a -11.5 UZR.Michael Brantley has a -14.4 UZR/150 and Michael Bourn’s is -20.1 in center field. For whatever you want to make of these numbers, one thing I do find interesting is that Brantley rates as a better center fielder than Bourn. That’s yet another indication of Bourn’s eroding skills as a defender and base runner.

The Indians may have already started the process of fixing some of these issues. Carlos Santana is the team’s permanent first baseman, a position in which he’s excelled defensively (5.3 UZR/150). Nick Swisher was a huge liability at first base and right field this year, and he’ll be resigned to DH duty full-time in 2015. I don’t necessarily think it’s a slam dunk that David Murphy is on the team next year either. I could see the Indians trying to move him this offseason, and the in-house candidates to replace him, Zach Walters and James Ramsey, profile as better defenders.

That leaves third base, second base and center field as problem spots. No matter what the defensive metrics say, it’s hard for me to believe that Michael Brantley is an issue in left field. I think that’s supported by his numbers in center field and the fact that he’s fourth in the American League with 11 assists. Kipnis and Bourn aren’t going anywhere, and I don’t think Chisenhall is on his way out either even with Giovanny Urshela waiting in the wings. All three have played better at their positions, and it’ll be expected that they put in the work to return to form.

There’s one more thing that could improve the defense - the starting pitchers. The Indians have a quartet of young starters with strikeout stuff that project to be in next year’s rotation. Corey KluberTrevor BauerDanny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco have the ability to take care of business themselves. They’ll still need the help of their defense, especially Kluber and Carrasco who are groundball pitchers, but their ability to rack up large strikeout totals can keep the ball out of the play and reduce the opportunities for the team’s defense will have to make mistakes.

Other Notes

-The Indians’ team ERA in the month of August is 2.42, good for second in MLB. Meanwhile, the team is 26th in the league in runs scored in August.

-Up next the Indians will travel to Chicago to take on the White Sox. While they’ll face their share of left-handers in the coming week, they are lucky to avoid Chris Sale in this series. T.J. House will take the mound for the Indians on Tuesday against Jose Quintana to kick off the three game series.

User Comments

Joe Chengery
August 27, 2014 - 11:46 PM EDT
C L Who,

Thank you!

I agree with you on Kip, and I'd prefer trading him to Ramirez or even Chisenhall, but I suspect the Indians won't do that because he just signed that contract and the fact that Kipnis wouldn't fetch as much as some people might think (they can see what Tony stated- Kipnis has been mostly erratic offensively, and largely, hasn't been that difference maker he was thought to be- thus, even with the long contract, his inconsistent play wouldn't make him THAT valuable- 2-3 decent prospects at best, but in terms of frontline pitching prospects or young power hitters who can control the strike zone and hit for a solid or better average, not likely).

Certainly, though, if the Indians could trade Kipnis and get a decent to solid return for him, I'd do it. If it doesn't happen this offseason, I would keep that option on the table, hope Kipnis can boost his value up to some extent, then trade him.

Homer, I agree with your moves, and I agree on trading or releasing Raburn- he had a nice 2013, but the inconsistencies of his offense are emerging, and he really can't be more than a part-time platoon player off of the bench- we have younger players who can fill those roles and then some (Walters and Holt come to mind with guys like Moncrief and Ramsey not far away).
August 27, 2014 - 2:19 PM EDT
I met Nina Turner out here in April at a fundraiser in Tiburon. She and I were the only natural born Clevelanders in the room. When I told her I had not been back to Cleveland since a funeral and a Bar Mitzvah 11 years ago she asked what it would take to get me back. I looked her in the eye ( she's awesome in person} squeezed her hand and told her a World Series. Let's see what happens.
C L Who
August 27, 2014 - 1:17 AM EDT
Joe Chengery said:

I've said before- if you have an INF of Urshela-Lindor-Ramirez-Santana-Gomes/Perez, that INF defense would be vastly improved. Combine that with Brantley in CF, Walters/Holt/FA signing/trade acquisition in RF (I don't see Raburn or Murphy being here next year, but they aren't long-term pieces in any case, so you could put their names in for FA/trade if you think one or both will be here in '15) and Kipnis(/Chisenhall) in LF, and the defense should not only be improved, but even be potentially a strength for the Indians in 2015.

Well said Joe!

Now, that said, just trade Kip. I like him and he was a 75th percentile 2B in 2013, but he is a defensive disaster. In the OF, there are other players who will be ready (Naquin, Frazier, Ramsey) to duplicate his offense.
Matt underwood
August 27, 2014 - 12:24 AM EDT
I do whatever I can to get gattis out of Atlanta - right handed young power hitter
August 26, 2014 - 9:53 PM EDT
Joe C.,

I think they will try to trade Bourn or Murphy. I doubt they will eat salary on Bourn, but that is what it would take to get a deal done - I would do it, but I seriously doubt they will. I would be willing to go up to half of the salary for a serviceable return or decent prospect. I think clearing the money and gaining the financial flexibility is worth eating part of it. As for Murphy, I'd move him too. Probably for next to nothing in return.

I hope the Tribe holds unto JRam and shifts Kipnis back out to either LF / RF with Brantley in CF, Walters and Holt in opp. corner OF spot. Chisenhall could be a corner UTL guy w/ Swisher getting his at bats as the primary DH. That would put Aviles serving as a caddy for Lindor and Urshela. Santana would be the first baseman w/ Aguilar seeing some time at first and DH.

Btw, I'd like to see them try to move Raburn this offseason too (I'd be fine w/ dumping him).
Joe Chengery
August 26, 2014 - 7:05 PM EDT
I agree with you, Tony. I, too, think that many people, including the Indians, are going to try to say that the oblique injury is the reason for Kipnis' offensive struggles when I have profiled repeatedly that Kipnis hasn't been good since last June's 1218 OPS. Defensively, Kipnis was never more than average at best, and really below average. As I said before, move him back to the outfield and let Ramirez be your future second baseman. Even if Ramirez starts at SS next year while Lindor finishes adapting and doing well at AAA, I want to see Kipnis off 2B next year and back in the outfield- I truthfully have a bigger problem with Kipnis' defense at 2B than I do Chisenhall's defense at 3B because 2B is part of the center of the diamond where your defense especially has to be strong.

In truth, I don't see much difference between Kipnis and Chisenhall, and I'd probably would take Chisenhall's bat before I'd take Kipnis', mostly because Chisenhall had a better offensive explosion more recently, has less experience than Kipnis, and is younger than Kipnis. After Kipnis had that 1218 OPS last June, to my knowledge, he hasn't had an OPS at or above 800 since, and some of those months were under 700, and that was BEFORE the lat injury that occurred in late April. He didn't have good offensive months in July, August, or September 2013, nor in April 2014 when he was largely injury-free, so I don't think the lat injury is the real reason why he is struggling- he just isn't the offensive player some thought he would be. Some thought he would be similar to Chase Utley with the bat- he's not Carlos Baerga, let alone Chase Utley.

Kipnis was originally an OFer, so I would opt to get him some reps this offseason and in Spring Training. I would have Brantley in CF (I think they can trade Bourn, though they'll need to eat salary to do it, but do think it can be done, unlike Swisher, who is probably here next year).

Originally, I had said put Kipnis in RF and Chisenhall in LF next year, but Walters or Holt would be better in RF, thus relegating Kipnis to LF. Chisenhall could split time with him out there if he's still here, but Chisenhall could fit backing up Urshela at 3B (and allowing him to get acclimated to the Majors), backing up Santana at 1B, and being the primary DH (Swisher should only be playing 1-3 times a week, both because of his age/injury issues and because of the falloff in his performance- if his performance improves next year, you can adjust accordingly).

I've said before- if you have an INF of Urshela-Lindor-Ramirez-Santana-Gomes/Perez, that INF defense would be vastly improved. Combine that with Brantley in CF, Walters/Holt/FA signing/trade acquisition in RF (I don't see Raburn or Murphy being here next year, but they aren't long-term pieces in any case, so you could put their names in for FA/trade if you think one or both will be here in '15) and Kipnis(/Chisenhall) in LF, and the defense should not only be improved, but even be potentially a strength for the Indians in 2015.

I just hope the Indians are willing to realize and admit they likely made a mistake by giving Kipnis that long-term contract and don't compound that mistake by keeping Kipnis at 2B, or even worse, trading Ramirez because of it. Ramirez fits better at 2B than Kipnis ever will defensively, and he profiles as much or even more as a top-of-the order hitter than Kipnis does. Let's just hope that the Indians realize that Kipnis can still fit on this team (since I doubt the Indians will trade him after signing him last offseason) by moving him back to the OF. Just like Seattle's Dustin Ackley, Kipnis isn't really a second baseman and would fit better in LF.
matt underwood
August 26, 2014 - 5:26 PM EDT
time for the team to pull their heads out of their asses and start playing solid, consistent baseball which they are capable but if i am the front office i am not making any moves at all. i dont trust this team
August 26, 2014 - 4:02 PM EDT
The silver lining in the dark storm cloud of the team's offensive woes, the odds of them performing better against the upcoming "ace" pitchers are better than the team performing worse!
August 26, 2014 - 2:56 PM EDT
This team looks like they have no chance in making it but some how some way they will find a way. It all starts tonight.
August 26, 2014 - 2:15 PM EDT
Well, I doubt he's going anywhere (and I admit I'm not the GM so what do I know), so we will all get a chance to find out next season!
August 26, 2014 - 2:11 PM EDT
I fear that a lot of people, including the Indians, are going to use the oblique issue with Kipnis as an excuse for his poor play all season. I can definitely see how it can have an effect on his play....but he's also been wildly inconsistent his first three years in the league. He has been terrible in 2012 and 2013 in the second half and really has had just one big first half in 2013.....and other flashes of good play. His defense even before the injury was a concern.
August 26, 2014 - 2:07 PM EDT
I disagree on Kipnis. His season stated off with an oblique and the team announced in the very early going, and said it again in July, that the injury was going to impact his play this year. We've seen it before-- this is one of the toughest injuries for an everyday player to overcome.

On Santana I agree-- he's been good to very good at times and I'm very happy to have him at first. Looking forward to next season I have no idea if Aviles or Ramirez will start at short but (and I'd prefer Ramirez) I'd be fine with either. In right I'm hoping the FO takes a long look at Murphy over the winter and compares him to our in house options. At third I just don't see Chiz improving as a defender and while his bat may become less streaky, and therefore more important, his defense is so bad I just hate seeing him take the field. He's a DH at best for us next season.
C L Who
August 26, 2014 - 1:43 PM EDT
Offensively, the Tribe has had only 2 consistently above average players all year (Gomes and Brantley) and 1 since June (Santana when the Expirement ended). Only the rotation and the pen have kept the club in remote contention.

Seems to me that a better defense, infield and outfield, needs to be top priority, as one run prevented is usually two that need not be scored to win. That would imply close scrutiny of Chis vs. Urshela and Kipnis vs. Ramirez / Walters as to what the best total mix of offense and defense would be. It may imply as well the promotion of Lindor so that he starts in 2015.

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