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Trend Spotting: Lineup depth, Chisenhall and ACab

Trend Spotting: Lineup depth, Chisenhall and ACab
July 13, 2013
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The Indians offense has been quietly impressive this season, being fifth in major league baseball in runs scored and just 29 runs or .36 RS/Game behind the Detroit Tigers, who are viewed as an offensive juggernaut.

While the per/game production gap is legitimate the Indians offense has been impressive without a prototypically strong middle of the order. Yes, Jason Kipnis was absolutely fantastic for a stretch and produced like a three hitter on a playoff team but both the four and five hitters are not particularly special, be it Swisher, Santana, Brantley or in small doses Mark Reynolds.

Each of these players have their warts and flaws, which is why instability in the lineup has existed even with Francona’s impressive ability to mix and match as well as move players around to get rest or opportunities against pitchers who have good career splits.

However, the instability that exists does not in any way validate the idea that the Indians are producing at an unsustainable level offensively. Baseball is a game where we fall in love with certain roles or expectations for how offense or pitching is assembled. Be it the type of player placed in certain spots in the lineup or establishing top of the rotation starters.

This love blinds us to the creation of lineup depth. As Indians fans, we have become obsessive to whether Santana can establish himself as a middle of the order anchor rather than how impressive it is that Mike Aviles, a two plus win player, can be started based on matchups, or that the leadoff hitter on a playoff team (as well as plus defender) is hitting ninth, or that despite his current struggles seventh is the right spot for Mark Reynolds.

The net for the Indians is this they are sixth in OBP in baseball, the top three teams in the category have the three highest BABIP’s, with the Tigers in particular looking unsustainable. The Tribe is third in walk rate.

The largest criticism of this offense is the strikeout rate, and while it can occasionally make watching the Indians offense torturous. Fans tend to overvalue or highlight the strikeout as something more depraved than an out on a ball in play.

The bottom line being that nearing the All Star Break the Tribe is a top five offense because they get on base which is the heart of run creation and will continue to be because they do it at a sustainable rate.

Lonnie Chisenhall

Chisenhall’s early struggles and the Tribe’s management of his early season were perhaps the most frustrating things I have witnessed so far this season with the Indians (Only competition probably being the currently struggling bullpen). which speaks to the quality of baseball the Tribe has played so far.

Digressing to Chisenhall, so far a couple of things were clear, at least to myself: Chisenhall’s recent success was to be expected. The Indians pulled the plug on the former #1 prospect far too soon, and hitting against left-handers is still his Achilles heel.

On the first note, pulling the plug too soon, we will look at Lonnie’s monthly production to consider whether the Indians overacted to a small sample:

 

Month Plate Appearances Walk Rate BABIP
April  75 2.70% 0.255
May 24 4.20% 0.222
June 38 2.60% 0.321
July 35 11.40% 0.296
Career 546 4.40% 0.292

Two things are worth noting as well, which are more drawn out in this article from the first week of May (http://www.indiansbaseballinsider.com/blog/trend-spotting-breaking-down-chisenhall-santanas-start-46329). The first is that Chisenhall’s line drive rate has indeed improved since by 1.7 % from 18.5% to 20.2 % (league average LD% 20.9%) which is a legitimate enough shift to have a very tangible BABIP effect.

The second is that as with earlier in this season Lonnie’s plate discipline has been improved. According to PITCHf/x data Chisenhall has decreased his swings at pitches outside the zone by six percent which is a major decrease.

Chisenhall has also increased his swings at pitches on the inside of the zone this season, as it appears that he continues to develop in managing the zone. Of course, this has not manifested itself out in terms of a walk rate increase yet, but it could in the long term.

Lonnie is never going to be particularly disciplined, as improvements come at the margins, but he has improved.

In terms of the demotion, while the line drive rate has elevated, it is clear that Chiz’s BABIP was deflated and due for a shift to the mean, which makes his recent success somewhat expected.

Lastly, is the concern of platooning or at least semi platooning because of his left handed splits. This season, Chisenhall’s splits have been especially distressing against southpaws.

In only 34 at bats, Lonnie is hitting .091, with a .087 BABIP and a .118 OBP. The key is the amount of AB’s, Lonnie in his big league career against lefties hits .190, with a .205 BABIP, and a .216 OBP. Interestingly, in terms of career ISO he is better against left handers by a sizable amount.

The bottom line is while Chiz is below average against lefties; this season has been an outlier with our focus being on an inordinately small sample.

No doubt with more time and AB’s Lonnie will raise his production against lefties and with the marginal value he provides at third defensively over the incredibly inept Reynolds he deserves more and more starts at third for the time being.

Asdrubal Cabrera and Trade Rumors

The Indians have a seemingly unbreakable line of discussion with the Cardinals surrounding Asdrubal Cabrera and it is beginning to feel as a Cabrera deal is inevitability. I mention this possibility for the sake of a few thoughts surrounding Cabrera and concerns.

The first is that while Cabrera has a BABIP higher than the past two seasons, he is hitting around 25 points lower (major LD% increase to 25.4%), which is most directly tied to one thing; the K rate this season has gone through the roof.

Cabrera’s career strikeout rate is 17 %, this season Cabrera sits at 23.7% which is an absolutely massive increase.

This stems from a few things a 5% increase in swinging at pitches outside the zone. A decrease in swings inside the zone. As well as a 7% decrease in contact %, 5% inside on pitches inside the strike zone.

The rest of his profile including HR/FB have held steady but the vast increase in strikeout rate is very concerning and could affect his value before the deadline and most certainly afterwards.

The second is that defensively, while he turns in highlight plays on many an occasion, including Friday night, his range is a step below league average according to both evaluators and somewhat flawed defensive metrics.

I am not going to say that the Indians are in position to gain peak value from him because that was probably during the offseason, however, there is legitimate danger that with less control and decreasing field value his price as commodity could deflate quickly.

Lastly, is the idea of positive arbitrage, something for which the Tampa Bay Rays ownership is frequently praised. Arbitrage is the ability to take advantage of a price differentiation between two different markets.

If we consider the SP and SS markets as well as the two consumers (Indians and Cardinals) it is easy to see how Antonetti could see the possibility for advantage. First for how thin the starting pitching market is, the ss market specifically with solid offensive capability is limited right now featuring really just Cabrera.

Second, the Tribe is looking for a controllable mid-to-front of the rotation starter, an asset which the Cardinals control in excess. Lastly, is position the Cardinals are in immensely talented division with its most glaring hole being shortstop, and the success to this point to believe that acquiring an above average shortstop puts them in the driver’s seat.

On the other hand the Indians are in contention but also trying to create a long term window so they don’t have the pressure of dealing for short term assets. With the added bonus of having a legitimate starter in Aviles waiting in the wings to fill in until Lindor is ready to assume the role.

Therefore, I believe that this is the right time to deal Asdrubel Cabrera the match seems to be perfect in terms of asset depths and team needs. If the Tribe can acquire a plus starter with long term control to create a rotation of Masterson, (pick a young Cardinal pitcher), McAllister, Kluber, Salazar/Bauer/Kazmir/Carrasco. That would be a boon.

Lastly, a congratulation to IBI editor Steve Orbanek on his nuptials.

 

Interact with Michael by email at  michael.hattery@gmail.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

jwahoo
July 16, 2013 - 6:23 PM EDT
I would be happy to deal Chris Perez and Ascab to the cards for Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal.

But, unless we get a legit middle of the order rotation arm for years to come I would rather just hold on to Ascab. I think his switch hitting will be HUGE down the streach. It also allows us to continue to use Mike Aviles as the "10th man" instead of our starting short stop.


I see no reason to trade Ubaldo. At 6 million he is actually a steal. I wouldn't even mind having him around at the bottom of the rotation next year.
Homer
July 14, 2013 - 1:11 PM EDT
I agree with Tony. When ACab is dealt for a SP and maybe a prospect, however the deal goes down.... I expect the Tribe to flip Jimenez for a prospect bc he's gone at the end of the season and they can reallocate his salary elsewhere. Jimenez's value is about as high as it is going to be for the Tribe. Letting him walk is not an option, IMO and he's performing better than he has in yrs. The Tribe should be able to net at least one solid prospect for him.
Andy
July 14, 2013 - 10:12 AM EDT
Do you think Ubaldo for LH bullpen help? One of the big disappointments from the farm system this year is the inability of Barnes, Hagadone, or Soto to strengthen the ML bullpen. It's enough to almost make me miss Tony Sipp.
Jim
July 14, 2013 - 8:54 AM EDT
People forget how good a prospect that Lonnie Chisenhall was. The kid can flat out play baseball, and shame on me for forgetting that so soon after I pushed him to have an extended shot.
Tony
July 14, 2013 - 8:53 AM EDT
The Indians and Cardinals have been talking about a Cabrera deal for almost a year now. You have to believe something gets done eventually. Cabrera is gone no matter what after the 2014 season, and I would be fine with trading him so long as it is for a legit long term ML ready arm. Also, that the Indians backup the trade by picking up a bat, maybe someone like Michael Young? He'd replace most if not all and then some of the offense lost with a trade of Cabrera.

If they bump anyone from the rotation......look for Jimenez to be the one to go, and do so in a trade. I have a hunch the Indians are shopping him provided they get a proven upgrade they want in the rotation in a separate deal.
Rich
July 14, 2013 - 6:33 AM EDT
Chisenhall's improvement in plate discipline and pitch selection is really starting to pay off. That's always been his problem. He may have been overanxious to prove he belonged in the bigs and was chasing too many bad pitches. It looks like he is more relaxed and confident now and is working deeper into the count.

After last night's game he said that Guthrie got ahead of him with two curveballs in his first at-bat, then finished him off with a fastball. So in his second at-bat Chiz was looking for the curve on the first pitch, and hit it out for a grand slam. That shows an increased understanding of how the pitchers are trying to get him out and the ability to adjust from one at-bat to the next. Very encouraging.
Rich
July 14, 2013 - 6:23 AM EDT
So if they make the deal who gets bumped from the starting rotation?

Masterson? McAllister? Ubaldo? Kluber? Kazmir? Remember we also have Salazar in Columbus, although they are limiting his innings this year.

Which young Cardinal pitcher that we could get for Asdrubal would be a significant and immediate improvement over one of the five starters we have now? And how much would the team be weakened by replacing Asdrubal with Aviles?

The Tribe is only 1.5 games out of first. A deal involving Asdrubal for a young starter makes sense for the long term, but it could cost the Tribe a playoff appearance this year. Cabrera had a fairly serious leg injury that cost him a few weeks earlier this season. There's every possibility he'll get back to his normal performance level in the second half (although his recent history is to tank in the second half).

If the Indians were out of contention I'd make this trade in a heartbeat. But given their current circumstances and how well each of their starters has been pitching lately (except for McAllister), I can't see them making this deal unless they could make a separate trade for an excellent defensive shortstop.
Chengy
July 14, 2013 - 4:03 AM EDT
Rick, Chris Archer was traded to the Cubs in the Mark DeRosa deal in 2008. I can't really think of any dealings between rays and Indians besides that blockbuster Shopach for Talbot deal.
Rick
July 14, 2013 - 2:17 AM EDT
Two thoughts; I like the way the team is reacting to these rumors -very supportive of ACab staying. And while we do have real depth besides just Lindor - it will have to be a haul to make giving up as close to a franchise face as we have.

Which is why I don't believe it's gonna happen.

Plus next to Tampa Bay nobody develops pitching like St. Louis. Every year they produce break out talent - starters as well as bull pen.

Tampa Bay has cleaned our clock when we dealt with them - just look at Chris Archer now for them - similar to what we took from the Yankees with McAllister - even if Archer was never a 1st round pick. But then they do the same with anyone.

We certainly did much better with Chris Perez in the De La Rosa deal.

Even so, I can't think of any recent deals where any team has pried loose excellent pitching from St. Louis. For years the belief was that it was Dave Duncan and Tony LaRousa that accounted for this magic - but it clearly goes beyond them now that they are gone and the arms just keep coming.

St. Louis doesn't fit the profile of organizations that the Indians F/O thrives at pilfering. Because when they have - McAllister, Kluber, and before that Choo, ACab...ect - they were small deals with high upside prospects - which is another way of saying if they went dud it was a bump in the night so what.

Now you are talking about an established all-star who has been extended contractually BECAUSE he was a breakout player at a key position - SS.

Very risky at this point - by the way there was less than 30k at the ball park to see a second place club win an excellent game to pull within 1.5 of 1st place Detroit.

Unless it is a blockbuster it makes no sense to take that kind of risk during an exciting season - but - not yet exciting enough to bring back the fans to sell out.

And it does make a difference that players like Kipnis make a point of voicing displeasure about the prospect during interviews.
Joe Chengery
July 14, 2013 - 2:09 AM EDT
I also agree with you and James, now may be the perfect time to do it, especially with a contending team who is weak at SS and abundant in pitching prospects (plus the fact that Chris Carpenter is expected to begin rehabbing at Springfield this week).

Some of Cabrera's at-bats this year have been maddening with what he has been chasing. That's one of the main reasons he has disappeared for much of the first half of the season. Outside of the very beginning of the season and one small burst around early to mid-June, he's been almost non-existent. Heck, Aviles has outhit Cabrera vs RHP - granted, BA is not everything, but it's still an amazing stat.

Aviles can hold his own for a year or so, especially if the Indians get a decent back-up for him. Some have even mentioned that the Cardinals might throw Descalso in the deal, which could help. I don't know if the Cardinals would be interested in getting Perez back with the way Mujica has thrown this year or how much value Perez would, but I would listen to see if you could potentially add a second of those arms or 1-2 of the level right below those top pitching prospects.

Let's face it: It's more likely that Perez won't be here next year, and it's just as likely that Cabrera won't be here after next year. Add in what you said about Cabrera- his value probably won't be higher the longer we wait (and probably was higher this past offseason, but still may be pretty high, especially since the Cardinals are in dire need of an everyday SS and are in contention with two other strong teams in the NL Central, plus are the defending WS champions). Add in the fact that there are other bullpen options for closing (albeit unproven) and the offense doing a lot of its damage without Cabrera (due to injury and, largely, inconsistency), I'd be open to a trade involving Cabrera or Cabrera & Perez if the Cardinals are willing to meet or come very close to our asking price.

It's not just about 2013 for the Indians; it's really 2013 through the rest of the decade (at the very least 2016-2017). Cabrera and Perez aren't going to be part of that- if an impactful trade comes along for one or both, I would definitely consider it.
Norm
July 13, 2013 - 10:53 PM EDT
Sorry Michael! I don't buy any of it. Sabermetrics may be nice but it does not do much if you do not include an understanding of baseball. Aviles is not Cabrera on offense or defense. But he is a great replacement at several positions. The Indians do not have anyone else ready for the majors who can play SS. If Aviles goes down, the team is severely weakened, moreso than the benefit of an extra SP helps the Tribe since their SP has not been terrible recently. If Mac is healthy, think I would stick with what got us here. If not, I would not risk cratering the team for a short term gain. Might be great Sabermetrics but not sound baseball!
James
July 13, 2013 - 2:47 PM EDT
Completely agree with your thoughts on the ACab deal with the Cards (if possible). Cord Phelps can fill in as an OK utility player, and with Lindor now in AA, it's not inconceivable we see him in 2014.

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