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Tribe Happenings: Indians lackluster offense has hurt them

Tribe Happenings: Indians lackluster offense has hurt them
April 21, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook….

Offensive woes

It should be noted that while writing this the Indians were in the midst of an offensive explosion against the Astros on Saturday night scoring 19 runs on 22 hits.

It should also be noted that prior to Saturday’s game the Indians offense was in fact offensive to watch. Aside from Saturday night’s game, the performance has not been pretty.

Yes, the Indians shaky starting rotation has been a big problem in the early going, but the offense has been just as much to blame.  Going into Saturday night’s game the Indians scored three runs or less in five straight games, seven of their last eight games, and in 10 of their 15 games overall.

Through 15 games here is how they ranked in the American League: 13th in runs (56), 3rd in doubles (30), 6th in home runs (18), 12th in total bases (202), 15th in RBI (53), 12th in batting average (.230), 10th in on-base percentage (.307), 7th in slugging percentage (.400), 8th in OPS (.707), 5th in strikeouts (129), 5th in walks (53), and 12th in stolen bases (5).

Going a step further, for the advanced metric honks out there, the Indians are 5th in isolated power (.170), 11th in BABIP (.271), and 9th in wOBA (.310).

There are some positive signs through 15 games, such as the very high doubles count and the good standing in the home run and walk department. The Indians have shown some power and patience, but they have really struggled to consistently make hard contact and have been unable to get on base to create runs. As a result, they haven’t been able to take advantage of their good speed, leading to a lowly five stolen bases through 15 games.

Obviously, after the Indians exploded for 19 runs and 22 hits on Saturday night, these numbers all improved, but they also in a way skew their overall numbers and do not give a true representation of how poorly they have performed offensively in the early going.  Really, aside from four games where the Indians have exploded for eight or more runs, they have scored four runs or less in 11 of their 15 games.

Anyone that has been watching on a daily basis knows that the Indians have struggled to put up good, consistent at bats, and have really struggled hitting with runners in scoring position. Their .207 batting average with runners in scoring position going into play on Saturday ranked 12th in the American League, which was somewhat of a surprise considering how poor they have hit in the clutch.

The Indians made a lot of upgrade to the offense in the offseason adding four new players in Nick Swisher,Michael BournMark Reynolds, and Drew Stubbs, and giving another regular spot in the lineup to highly touted prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. Yet to date – from a production standpoint - the offense has not looked much different from last season’s unit.

So what is the problem?

Their biggest problem at the moment with the offense may just be a lack of consistency, which is the result of a lack of good overall health to the lineup. Since the first week of the season the Indians have not had their optimum lineup out on the field as Carlos Santana had a hot start put on ice for a week because of a thumb, Bourn has been out the past week and will miss another week with a finger injury, and Jason Kipnis has missed a few games and not been himself because of a bothersome elbow.

Mix in Asdrubal Cabrera getting off to a historically slow start, Drew Stubbs lacking consistency, and Chisenhall have a subpar showing in the early going, those struggles combined with the injuries to the other parts of the lineup have plagued the lineup and kept it from performing as it was expected to this season.

It is still very early, and at least in the early going the Indians look liked they nailed their free agent signings of Swisher, Bourn and Reynolds as all have had big impacts on the lineup to date and are arguably the three best performers in the lineup right now outside of Santana.

Hopefully the Indians can avoid the injury bug and get healthy so that their lineup can begin to develop a rhythm and some consistency. Let’s not forget too that with so many new faces in the starting lineup and on the bench, it takes time for the lineup to come together and settle in. The injuries have only delayed that somewhat, and hopefully with some health they will be on their way to performing as a unit how everyone expected them to this year.

Ubaldo’s big day

Today is a big day for Ubaldo Jimenez.

After en encouraging showing in spring training when he went 2-2 with a 4.80 ERA in seven appearances, and most importantly he pitched better with each start and limited the walks with seven in 30.0 innings, many were hopeful that even with a lack of velocity that he had turned a corner and would rebound this season.

So far that has not been the case as Jimenez has reverted back to 2012 form and in three starts this season he is 0-2 with a 11.25 ERA. In 12.0 innings he has allowed 12 hits, 15 runs (all earned), 3 home runs, 10 walks, and has 11 strikeouts.

Jimenez had what may have been his worst outing as an Indian on Tuesday night against the Red Sox when he imploded in the second inning and walked five batters and allowed seven runs on just two hits before being removed from the game. As an Indian, he is now 13-23 with a 5.60 ERA in 45 starts, and has a 1.58 WHIP, 9.6 H/9, 1.2 HR/9, 4.7 BB/9, and 7.7 K/9. That’s nowhere close to what the Indians thought they were buying when they sent their top two pitching prospects to the Rockies for him near the end of July in 2011.

Publicly the Indians keep saying it is early, but you have to believe that privately there is deep concern throughout the organization on how much longer they can keep sending Jimenez out there.

The other problem is that Myers is another question mark in the rotation and he may have a health issue which sends him to the disabled list. If tests on Myers’ arm (more on that below) are not favorable and he has to go on the disabled list for a long time, the Indians do not have the luxury of replacing both Myers and Jimenez in the rotation at this time.

The way things are going, at some point this season Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco should get extended time in the Indians’ rotation, but it is a little too early for either of them to be an option unless in emergency. That leavesCorey Kluber as the main option right now, and he probably would be the guy to slide into the rotation for Myers if he goes on the disabled list. Diasuke Matsuzaka is still not 100% and not considered a big league option at the moment.

Regardless of the limited options to choose from, if Jimenez has another very poor outing today then the Indians may have no choice but to accelerate their replacement plans for him.

I don’t care what anyone says, the lack of velocity on Jimenez’s fastball is a big issue. He has been 89-95 MPH with his fastball this season and averaged 92.1 MPH, which is a far cry from the 91-100 MPH and 95.8 MPH he averaged with his fastball three years ago in 2010.  If a pitcher locates and has good stuff, then velocity is not the be-all-end-all, but for a pitcher like Jimenez who does not excel in location but has good stuff, that velocity is the key to getting hitters to expand the zone and having less time to react.

The excuse given his second to last time out when he was throwing 87-90 MPH against the Yankees in the home opener was that he got caught up in the poor velocity readings on the scoreboard so he started overthrowing and rushing on the mound, and as a result his performance suffered (4.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R/ER, 3 BB, 4 K). But there were no excuses to be made after his last outing against the Red Sox (1.2 IP, 2 H, 7 R/ER, 5 BB, 1 K).

It has been a non-stop tweaking process with Jimenez’s mechanics since the day the Indians acquired him. They have worked on things in bullpen sessions, in video sessions, and have really exhausted every possible alternative to get him righted. They now have him throwing two bullpen sessions in between starts so as to keep him throwing and in turn hope (pray?) that it will help keep his mechanics in line. We will see how that turns out.

A good start by Jimenez today won’t answer any questions that people have about him, but it should at least buy him and the Indians more time to consider other alternatives and get closer to June when the trade market should begin to heat up and the Indians can start to focus in on potential trade options to replace him or others in the rotation to help stabilize their rotation.

Myers banged up

Right-handed pitcher Brett Myers has really struggled this season. In four appearances he is 0-3 with an 8.02 ERA, and in 21.1 innings he has only allowed 5 walks but has allowed a whopping 29 hits and 10 home runs.

Apparently, by Myers’ own admission, he has been dealing with tendonitis in his right flexor tendon since spring training. It is a minor issue that he has supposedly battled through at the outset of other seasons in the past, but this time it looks like it may be affecting him and his health might be deteriorating. Not only is he getting touched up pretty well, but on Friday against the Astros his velocity was down a good five MPH.  Anytime a pitcher suddenly “loses it” and gets banged around easily and their velocity drops, there is cause for concern about the pitchers’ health.

That is exactly how the Indians are looking at it as the significant drop in velocity and performance was enough for the Indians to take some precautionary measures and send Myers to Cleveland for an MRI on his forearm and elbow.

Myers has been better with his performance over his last two outings, but some of that may be luck as he has not had good location and has been fortunate on many occasions where hitters missed pitches that he left up in the zone.  To his credit, he has battled even though the stuff and velocity have not been there, and ultimately he might be pitching hurt.

If it is discovered that Myers has something going on with his right arm, then it could open the door for someone to replace him in the rotation. At this point, right-hander Corey Kluber clearly would get the first crack at the rotation if Myers is sidelined.

Another hot start for Hafner

I have to chuckle at some of the attention designated hitter Travis Hafner is getting from the national media because of his hot start with the Yankees. OF COURSE this is the case; it is the Yankees after all.

What these national pundits fail to understand is that Hafner’s hot start this April is not uncommon. He actually got off to good April starts his last two seasons with the Indians:

2011: .342 AVG, .393 OBP, .566 SLG, .959 OPS, 76 AB, 13 R, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 7 BB, 19 K
2012: .295 AVG, .450 OBP, .459 SLG, .909 OPS, 61 AB, 7 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 17 BB, 9 K
2013: .349 AVG, .440 OBP, .767 SLG, 1.207 OPS, 43 AB, 10 R, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 6 BB, 11 K

In fairness, Hafner is certainly showing some more pop in the early going. But his production should not be a surprise as when he played in his last four seasons with the Indians, he performed as he had a .825 OPS in 2009, a .823 OPS in 2010, a .810 OPS in 2011, and .784 OPS in 2012.

It will be interesting to see how Hafner maintains his performance as the season wears on. If he sustains how he is currently performing, then he would be in line to have a year along the lines of his great years from 2004-2006. The likelihood of that happening appears remote as shoulder fatigue often becomes an issue for him and he has had a hard time staying healthy over his career. It should only be a matter of time before a hamstring or foot injury crops up, or his shoulder is tired, which forces him to miss a big chunk of the season and hinders him when he returns to the lineup.

Transaction rundown

It was a busy week of transactions for the Indians, so here is a quick recap of all the movement up, down and around:

  • April 15: RHP Matt Albers transferred from Paternity List to Family Medical Emergency List.
  • April 15: LHP Eric Berger traded to Houston Astros for CA Chris Wallace.
  • April 16: CA Omir Santos optioned to Columbus Clippers, INF Cord Phelps recalled from Columbus Clippers, RHP Robert Whitenack outrighted to Akron Aeros.
  • April 17: OF Michael Bourn placed on 15-day DL retroactive to April 15 (Lacerated Right Index Finger) and RHP Corey Kluber recalled from Columbus Clippers.
  • April 19: RHP Matt Albers transferred to Restricted List.
  • April 20: LHP Scott Kazmir activated from minor league rehab assignment and INF Cord Phelps optioned to Columbus Clippers. 

Parting shots

After an impressive showing in spring training, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall is off to a slow start the first few weeks of the season hitting just .224 with 2 HR, 8 RBI, and .663 OPS in 13 games, and most notably 1 walks and 15 strikeouts in 49 at bats. The Indians are working with him to stay more left-center with his approach and to open his stance a little as they found he has been closing himself off a lot which has lengthened his swing. … Right-handed pitcher Mitch Albers is expected to return to the active roster sometime this week, probably on Monday. The Indians have allowed him to be away from the team while he handles a serious family issue. … Triple-A Columbus’ game on June 11th at 12pm versus the Gwinnett Braces will be aired live on MLB Network. … Last year through 16 games the Indians were 9-7.

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.

User Comments

April 21, 2013 - 5:20 PM EDT
Going to btm of 9 up 1. Still no hitting with risp. That has to change.
April 21, 2013 - 3:46 PM EDT
Ubaldo, such a tease. He gets you thinking, "maybe he got some confidence and this can carry it over and get on a roll." Only to crush your dreams 5 days later.
MT88 in WI
April 21, 2013 - 3:43 PM EDT
After that first inning Ubaldo has settled in. I am starting to wonder if throwing in Progressive Field is part of the issue, putting more pressure on himself. His next start vs KC there will be intriguing to watch in that regard...
April 21, 2013 - 3:35 PM EDT
That's chisenhall doesn't impress me. Little typo below.
April 21, 2013 - 3:34 PM EDT
Nice article.
Chosen all does not impress me.
Ubaldo seems better with a fast tempo.
And Santana is locked in.
April 21, 2013 - 3:23 PM EDT
And so it continues. Man on 3d no outs and 2ks and weak out by kipnis who stinks right now.
April 21, 2013 - 2:30 PM EDT
oh my, walk, home run, hit, almost HR that somehow results in a double play, line drive into the shift. If Ubaldo starts another game, I think they have lost their minds. They either need to discuss with him some way to get him to the minors or part ways.
MT88 in WI
April 21, 2013 - 1:15 PM EDT
I see the Mets DFA'd Aaron Laffey this morning. He will not be a savior by any stretch but considering the lack of starting options in depth right now he might be worth kicking the tires..
April 21, 2013 - 1:02 PM EDT
Jim, the reason it might be a bad thing, is that if there's any team the Indians might be able to beat even if Ubaldo gets rocked, it's the Astros. If Ubaldo is instead successful, again, it's the Astros, Corey Kluber dazzled them for 4 innings yesterday. Even if Ubaldo shuts them down in Myers-esque fashion, he's just as likely to go out and give up 7 runs in 3 innings to KC next time out. Someone else, anyone else, might do better. E.g. the Mets released Aaron Laffey, his 4.62 FIP is superior to Ubaldo's 6.94, or last year's 5.06. We need to accept the fact that Ubaldo < Aaron Laffey, and then we can move on and not have to discuss Ubaldo Jimenez anymore, and maybe have a pitcherin the rotation who gives the Indians something better than a 0% chance of winning every other game he pitches.
League Park
April 21, 2013 - 12:56 PM EDT
I've given up on Ubaldo. It;s insanity to think he can turn it around. He will be out of MLB soon.
April 21, 2013 - 12:37 PM EDT
If he gets beat up today, they have to drop him. What's the hope, that he gets back to pitching like he did in 2011 and 2012, when his ERA was about 6? Is Carrasco appealing his suspension? If he's appealing it, I would think you could call him up anytime, and then have him just drop the appeal when you have an off day lined up. Or they could just call up on the 28th when Masterson pitches, then Carrasco's next start, and the first time you'd need the 5th starter, would be 5/7.
April 21, 2013 - 12:24 PM EDT
Nieve Promoted
April 21, 2013 - 12:15 PM EDT
Yeah Seth...I agree...if he's a fifth guy...I'm sure there will be a schedule opportunity where he could miss eight days, and not really factor into the rotation at all...

and there's always a spot start by Kluber...or a last start by Ubaldo...or whatever...
April 21, 2013 - 12:14 PM EDT
If Ubaldo pitches a good game today...that's a bad thing?

If the team keeps him around simply because of today's game, that's on them...but winning or losing one game shouldn't make that decision.

The facts are simple...he's sucked, and the rotation is horrid.

He could stay around, but hopefully, that's simply based on the fact that they need to buy time for suspensions and readiness for the youngsters.

I agree that the rotation is so bad, that they CAN afford to dump him now, and I'm all for it...

...but one win or one loss shouldn't be the precursor for that.
April 21, 2013 - 11:35 AM EDT
If Ubaldo struggles today....and in a bad way....I really wonder what the Indians end up doing. Obviously, the rotation is in shambles, so they probably are not at the point of just releasing him yet....but I think another poor start could put Bauer in line as a replacement. His service time issues should be worked out in the next 5-10 days, so the Indians would be free to call him up and use him the rest of the year if need be and have him another 6 years after this season.

The pitching options are scarce right now. With Carrasco suspended, Dice K nowhere close to a ML option, and Kluber already up in Cleveland and likely to replace Myers if he struggles.....the Indians may soon be relying on the likes of Fernando Neive or even David Huff again to fill the rotation if the injuries and poor performance issues keep piling up.
April 21, 2013 - 10:23 AM EDT
I think Ubaldo pitches a decent game today, but I also think that may be a bad thing. Delaying the inevitable. Ubaldo is pretty much Scott Kazmir circa 2011 ... the Angels were wise enough to only let him start one game.

The Indians CAN afford to replace Myers and Ubaldo. For this team to be successful, it pretty much requires replacing them and having some of their younger internal options step up, i.e. Carrasco, Bauer and Kluber. Right now they have Masterson and a bunch of number 5 starters. The current crop, that's pretty much the ceiling, but Carrasco and Bauer have the ability to pitch like middle-of-rotation starters. Bauer, definitely would be good to keep him in the minors, but Kluber, he was pitching in a blowout against the Astros, but he certainly looked better, with better stuff than Myers, Ubaldo or Kazmir. They can still work around Carrasco's suspension with off days, by going to a 4 man rotation and skipping the 5th starter once. I keep hearing "you can't go to a 24-man roster for 8 days", but if he's essentially the 5th starter, that's not actually a big deal.

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