Tribe Happenings: An up and down week from the rotation
Wild rollercoaster ride with rotation begins with first turn through rotation
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
The Indians have now played five games and each pitcher in their starting rotation has made their first start of the season.
Not that a lot was going to be taken from one turn through the rotation, but through five games the rotation has been as advertised as a volatile unit that is a complete wildcard for the Indians this season. Some good things were seen from the likes of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Zach McAllister, but on the flip side there was not much to like from the outings that Brett Myers and Trevor Bauer had.
On the positive side, the Indians top two starters Masterson and Jimenez got their seasons off on a good note and even McAllister chipped in with a solid outing.
On Tuesday night in the season opener, Masterson had some early struggles with his command and threw a lot of pitches the first three innings, but from there he really settled in and was very sharp in his final three innings of work. Overall, he had a quality start going six innings and allowed only one run on three hits, four walks, and had five strikeouts.
Masterson’s ball had so much movement that he really struggled locating his slider and sinker the first few innings, but he made an adjustment and started locating them better in the fourth inning. When he is able to command and locate the stuff that he has, he is one of the toughest pitchers in the league to hit. Of course, that consistency to command and locate from start to start is often the difference between a pitcher being a true ace and one that is a middle to back end starter. He has to develop that in order to become a true frontline pitcher and his first outing was a step in the right direction. Where he goes from here will be interesting to see, and we will get a glimpse in his follow up performance today (Sunday) against the Rays.
Jimenez was very good in his six innings of work on Wednesday putting up a quality start by allowing just one run on three hits, two walks, and six strikeouts. That is the kind of line you want to see from him as he limited the walks, racked up some strikeouts, and probably most importantly he located better which resulted in less hits.
Some of Jimenez’s success with limiting hits was the result of his velocity being stronger as he was up to 95 MPH with his fastball, but it all comes down to making better pitches and inducing weaker contact. His strikeout and walk rates since joining the Indians are about the same as they were when he was pitching at his best with the Rockies, but it is the sharp rise in the amount of hits and home runs he has given up the past few years which has really hurt him. At least for one start he was in his old form, and if he continues to limit hits we very well might see a completely pitcher this year, which would be a huge shot in the arm for the Indians’ rotation.
McAllister did not dominate in his start, but he also put up a quality start going six innings and allowed four runs (two earned) on six hits, no walks, and had three strikeouts. It was a typical McAllister outing from the past few seasons where he pitched to contact, threw strikes, gave up some unearned runs, and just competed and kept the Indians in the game. I still think he may be the most reliable and consistent starter in the rotation, and by season’s end could establish himself as the team’s Jake Westbrook as a reliable middle of the rotation workhorse starter.
On the negative side, the starts from Myers and Bauer were tough to watch, but for different reasons.
Myers was just bad. There is no nice way to put it. Some pitchers just have bad games, such as Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle who pitched the same night as Myers and was rocked for six runs in five innings. But Myers had one of the worst starts by a Tribe pitcher in some time going five innings and allowed seven hits, seven runs and two walks. He fooled no one all night as he did not strike out a single batter and gave up four home runs, three of which were crushed to the second deck.
Myers had an up and down spring (mostly down) and the first start did not help quiet some of the fears that he could be another Derek Lowe type pickup that is at the end of his career. The Indians remain confident that he can eat innings and will turn things around, and he very well could do so with the opportunity to make another 30 or so starts this season; however, he needs to turn things around quickly because if the struggles continues for another five or six starts the Indians will probably have a quick leash and remove him from the rotation. Yes, he is making $7 million this season which is the main reason he even made the opening day rotation to begin with, but he is only signed for one year and the Indians want to win, so if the problems continue over several more starts he could move to the bullpen or be flat out released.
Bauer really struggled in his start on Saturday night and looked like a pitcher that was not ready for prime time. He just had no feel for his fastball command whatsoever as he walked seven and gave up three runs and two hits in five innings of work. He walked the first four batters he faced and over his five innings was saved by a few outs at home plate otherwise he would have given up a lot more, so it was easily a forgettable outing for him from a performance perspective.
That said, Bauer showed exactly why the Indians were correct in starting him in the minors this season. He clearly has some work to do to be more consistent with his fastball command, and he also has others areas he needs to improve like controlling the running game. It is also a benefit to have a young player open up the season in the minors so they can get over the excitement of the first week of the season and just play rather than also have to worry about playing in the big leagues where the emotions are heightened a hundred fold.
There is no doubt Bauer was over-amped for his start, which in turn affected his command. It will be interesting to see how he fares later in the season when he is called up to Cleveland again when a need arises or he is a September callup. I think it is safe to say he will look much better next time around, and even though he struggled in his outing a lot more was gleaned from his start with his mental toughness and the way he battles. Sometimes more can be learned and taken from that than had he gone out and dominated and had quick success in his first outing.
It is hard to take anything away from one start from each starter in the rotation, but the only thing we do know is that the Indians rotation will certainly be a roller coaster ride all season.
Kazmir injury opens door for others
Lefty Scott Kazmir has to be shaking his head right now. He went out and had a very good showing this spring, was one of the great feel good stories of the spring with his comeback attempt, and ended up making the Indians opening day roster only to fall victim to a minor right rib cage injury just before the start of the season. His injury opened the door for the Indians to get a quicker than expected look at some of their depth starting options.
While Kazmir’s injury is not considered to be serious, it allows the Indians to slide Carlos Carrasco into the rotation for a few starts and get a brief look at him. Bauer came up for a spot start on Saturday because Carrasco was still serving his suspension and is expected to be sent right back to Columbus today (Sunday). Carrasco will get the starting nod on Tuesday against the Yankees and should at least get one more start before Kazmir returns.
There was some thought that had Bauer been lights out in his spot start that he may stick with the team longer, but as he showed in his outing on Saturday night he needs more polish in the minors. But if Carrasco goes out and has a very good showing in his two starts it could make things a little more difficult for the Indians in their decision making process once Kazmir is ready to return. It is hard to see Kazmir losing his spot in the rotation because of injury – a minor one at that – and the Indians really want to see him through to see if he is close to his former form.
Of course, by then Myers will have made two or three more starts, and if he is struggling and Carrasco is performing, perhaps they consider a change there. It would be bold and very early for such a change, but you never know.
The Kazmir injury has allowed the Indians to get a look at their top two rotation replacements. It is one thing for them to pitch and perform in the minors, but there is no better way to properly evaluate a player than what they do in the big leagues. Brining Kazmir back should allow the Indians to bring along both Bauer and Carrasco at their own pace and even manage Carrasco’s service time a little. If Carrasco spends about 80 days in the minors (roughly three months) then the Indians will gain an extra year of control and have him through 2017 rather than 2016. Given the state of the Indians rotation and with an injury always one pitch away it seems unlikely that Carrasco would spend at least half the season in the minors, but it is something that is possible.
In any case, assuming Kazmir is ready when he is eligible to come off the disabled list on April 17th, he should be reinserted into the rotation and Carrasco optioned to Columbus. The injury may have thrown a monkey wrench into things in the early going for the Indians because they had to work around the Carrasco suspension, but at least they were able to get a quick look at some of their starting pitching depth.
Controlling and developing Bauer
Bauer was obviously amped up and may have had some first start jitters on Saturday night. If given another start he may have been more relaxed and pitched better, but he made it clear that he is not ready to assume a full time role in a Major League rotation. He is close and could learn on the job if need be, but with six starters ahead of him on the totem pole the Indians have the luxury of keeping him in the minors where he can hone in on his fastball command and consistency in a lower pressure environment.
At some point this season or next season Bauer is going to be back up, and when that time comes it could be for good. But it definitely looks like the Indians are going to gain an extra year of control on him this year.
Going into the season Bauer had 21 days of service time. If he pitched in the big leagues almost all of this season and for the next five years after that, he would be eligible for free agency after the 2018 season. But with such limited service time, if Bauer were to spend about 30-40 days in the minors this season, the Indians would end up controlling him through the 2019 season.
For a quick explanation on service time since so many people misunderstand it, each day on the 25-man roster or Major League disabled list a player earns one day of service time. While the season runs about 180 days, a full year of service time is considered 172 days. Once a player reaches 172 days, the count starts over with a year attached to it. For example, once a player has 173 days of service, it is listed as one year and one day (or 1.001 days). Once a player accrues at least six years of service time, they are eligible for free agency after that season provided they do not have a contract that carries them beyond that.
In Bauer’s case, since he was called up and activated on Saturday and likely is sent out on Sunday, he earned just one day of service time. He did not earn time before his callup, and just by pitching in one game it does not mean it counts as a year on his clock. It is all based on when a player is added to the 25-man roster and when they are optioned/outrighted off of it. So, assuming he is sent out on Sunday, Bauer will have gained one day of service and will now have 22 days of service time (or .022 days).
There are other considerations such as Super 2, but that is something that is much harder to manage and also something teams do not worry as much about. If the Indians truly wanted to manage Bauer’s Super 2 status, then they would have to keep him in the minors until somewhere around the All Star break. That is possible, but injuries and performance with the current rotation as well as Bauer’s development could dictate a much earlier call up.
One final note on controlling Bauer has to do with options. Bauer started the season with two options remaining, and used one of them once he was optioned to Triple-A Columbus to start the season.
An option is used when a player is not on the 25-man roster but is on the 40-man roster and on what is called “optional assignment” in the minor leagues. A player has three option years that a team could use whenever they want and they do not have to be in succession. A player can be optioned out two years in a row, play the entire third season in the majors, and then the fourth season be optioned out a third and final time.
It is important to note that options are year based and not occurrence based. Once a player is optioned off the 25-man roster the first time, it applies to all future occurrences that season. This means a team is free to call up and send down a player an infinite number of times in a season and in the end it all counts as one option. Sending a player up and down three times in a season does not blow through his three options. It takes three years of optioning a player to the minors to do that.
After this season the Indians will have one final option year left on Bauer. I think it is safe to say that if he is not pitching well and struggling by the end of 2014 and is out of options that he is not the long term solution in the rotation that everyone thought he would be. This is why there should not be too much worry about “wasting an option” this season. It was clear as day Saturday night he needs to be in the minors, so the option for this season has hardly been wasted. If an option was wasted, it was last year when the Diamondbacks forced him up in July and then optioned him out in August.
The service time and options aspect with Bauer are yet another interesting facet of baseball and why it is so interesting to follow what happens beyond the field. Barring him being a major disappointment or suffering a significant injury, Bauer should be in the Indians rotation a long time. They just have the luxury of managing how long he is in that rotation.
White has Tommy John surgery
It was announced earlier this week that former Indians first round pick and top prospect right-handed pitcher Alex White will undergo Tommy John surgery. As many recall, he along with lefty Drew Pomeranz were the two major pieces the Indians dealt to the Rockies in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez.
The injury to White is unfortunate, and another example of why there is no such thing as a pitching prospect because so many end up getting hurt. Back when the Indians included him in the deal for Jimenez I always felt the Indians knew something about his health, and while that was more finger related at the time, the Rockies obviously knew a little something as well when they dealt him to the Astros in the offseason.
It is important to note that just because White is set to undergo Tommy John surgery and has not lived up to his hype as a good starting pitching prospect as well as Pomeranz underwhelming with the Rockies so far, it does not make the Jimenez trade look any better. Sure, you can breathe a sigh of relief because the players the Indians lost did not amount to much and probably would not have fared much better with the Indians, but the fact of the matter is that prospects are like currency and have real-time value at the time of a trade.
At the time the Indians made the Jimenez deal, the Indians had two big trade chips in White and Pomeranz to get almost any player they wanted. That’s the key. They settled on Jimenez as that guy, and in the end it turned out to be a lose-lose deal for both the Indians and Rockies, although there is still a chance Pomeranz could still make good on the trade for the Rockies.
For a team like the Indians that needs young players from within to become core pieces to their big league roster, they can ill afford to trade any major prospect and not get much value in return. Would it be okay if the Indians dealt shortstop Francisco Lindor for a frontline starting pitcher to help them now, only to have Lindor underwhelm in the future and have the Indians pitching acquisition struggle? The point is, Lindor has exceptional value right now – as did White and Pomeranz at the time – so if you were to trade him you have to get back a player in return that can anchor the lineup or rotation for a few years and perform.
That’s why even in light of White’s injury and Pomeranz’s struggles that the Jimenez trade was a bust. He may bounce back and perform at a good rate this season, but no matter what he is gone after this season. I don’t think one good year from him is what the Indians had in mind when they made that deal.
The Indians have been talking about a contract extension with second baseman Jason Kipnis and outfielder Michael Brantley, but talks with Kipnis have been put on hold until the offseason so as to keep it from being a distraction. … Catcher Lou Marson was removed from the game on Saturday night after a nasty collision at home plate, and was diagnosed with a cervical/neck strain. He is day to day, but with the Indians short-handed you have to wonder if they will put him on the 15-day disabled list and bring up catcher Yan Gomes from Columbus. … Designated hitter/first baseman Jason Giambi is expected to be activated before Tuesday’s game with the Yankees. … Earlier in the week the Indians claimed right-handed pitcher Robert Whitenack off waivers from the Cubs. In four minor league seasons he has compiled a 19-18 record with a 4.13 ERA. In 69 games (65 starts) he has pitched 309.1 innings and allowed 313 hits, 101 walks and has 202 strikeouts. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and the Indians believe he can be a starting pitching option for them in the future.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Got to think Cody Allen is not long for this team. After his bad spring, I didn't get why they sent Hagadone down instead of him when Kazmir came up. The one guy who pitched worse than both Myers and Bauer, and had worse fastball command, has been Cody Allen. Albers remains a mystery, as he throws hard, seems to have decent command and sink on his fastball, but also doesn't seem to really fool anyone either. You would think a 94-95 mph sinker would be tough to put in play or lay off of when it's a close pitch.
One interesting thing about this first week, is the Indians catchers have in reality thrown out 100% of would-be basestealers, except the umpires are 0-2 on the calls on nearly identical plays. Also, for those that didn't stick around to watch the end of yesterday's horrorshow, they missed an all-time bad call by CB Bucknor. Guy was trying to stretch a single into a double and was out by a good twenty feet, took a few steps after Kipnis caught the ball and slid and almost knocked Kipnis's glove off with his foot (which is in front of second base) and Bucknor inexplicably calls him safe. How does that guy have a job? I'm pretty sure a blind person standing nearby would've called it correctly just from the sound.