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Tribe Happenings: So many lefties do not make a right

Tribe Happenings: So many lefties do not make a right
June 24, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Serious miscalculation

The Indians decided to go with a very heavy left-handed dominant lineup in the offseason. Their reasoning was that over 70% of the pitching in the league is right-handed, so it was something that they felt they could maximize with a ballpark that favors left-handed hitters and to also have a lineup that can really excel against right-handed pitching.

Currently they are 5-14 against left-handed starters and when facing lefties they are last (14th) in the American League in batting average (.217), OPS (.634), BAIBP (.252), wOBA (.283), and 13th in isolated power (.113). In contrast, they are 32-19 against right-handed starters and when facing a righty they are 5th in batting average (.267), 4th in OPS (.750) and wOBA (.328), 5th in BABIP (.300), and 10th in isolated power (.146).

They have indeed maximized their performance against right-handed pitching, but they very susceptible to left-handed pitching. It doesn’t matter if it is C.C. Sabathia out there or a young minor leaguer making his Major League debut, the Indians struggle against lefties of all size, shape, form and experience.

But the problem with their lineup setup in the offseason is the human element was left out of their reasoning. While the numbers do show that – in general - teams will mostly throw right-handed pitching against a team over a season, it did not take into consideration how teams would adjust and matchup to a team that is so left-handed heavy and lacking any real right-handed threats off the bench.

If you have been watching the games this season, you notice that the Indians are seeing more left-handed pitching than they would normally see. They have actually seen right around that expected 70% of right-handed pitching as expected, but that is deceiving as without their left-handed heavy lineup that may actually be seeing close to 80% of right-handed pitching to date.

The reason for this is because of their lineup construction teams have been throwing lots of lefties against them both in spot starts and also in long relief out of the bullpen. With a more conventional lineup that is balanced, they may have faced a considerable less amount of lefties up to this point.

While the problem is glaring now, it is really going to show itself in crucial games and potentially in a playoff series when teams construct their rotation and bullpen to include more left-handers than they normally would. When crunch time comes, what kind of pitching do you think the Indians will face?  If the Indians ever make the playoffs, their opponent likely will have some pitching depth and will setup their staff against them for the series with a lot of left-handed pitchers.

The all dominant left-handed hitting lineup would not be so bad if the Indians had suitable right-handed hitting replacement options off the bench, whether to start against left-handed pitching or to pinch hit late in games to counter a team bringing in a left-handed pitcher. At the moment the likes of Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham are not cutting it on the bench, and I would not be surprised to see both players replaced by the end of July when the Indians maybe pick up a few right-handed bats in a trade.

Right now the Indians have a seriously flawed lineup that when they face right-handed pitching plays well, but is nonexistent against lefties. The fault lies with them for constructing it that way in the offseason, but they have a chance to make things right by getting a couple of right-handed bats between now and the end of July to better complement and balance the lineup. If they do this, then they may finally find some consistency as an offense and the team may begin to take off.

Walk this way

Indians hitters are still drawing a good amount of walks as they are 2nd in the American League with 252 walks, only three behind league leading Tampa Bay who has 255. The walks have helped offset their poor team batting average which is .251 and 9th in the American League, and with the walks their team .327 on-base percentage is good for 5th in the American League. The key to the Indians success as an offensive unit is predicated on their ability to put up consistent, patient at bats.

On the flip side of things the Indians pitching staff has the 3rd most walks allowed in the American League with 245 walks. This is a problem because they do not have a pitching staff that racks up strikeouts as they are 12th in the American League with 452 strikeouts, and they also give up a lot of hits as their .258 batting average against is 10th best in the American League.

The major culprit in all of this is the Indians’ starting rotation as their 162 walks as a unit are 2nd most in the American League, their .270 batting average against is the 4th highest in the American League, and their 254 strikeouts are the 13th best in the league.

The backend of the Indians bullpen has certainly saved the Indians. While the bullpen as a whole has allowed the 4th most walks in the AL (83), they have the ability to miss bats as they are 6th in the AL in strikeouts (198), and they do a better job of inducing weak contact as they are 6th in the AL with a .232 batting average against.

It may seem academic, but for the Indians to maintain success all season and have a chance of winning the division they need their starting rotation to get much better at limiting the free passes. If they do that then there could be a sudden improvement in the overall quality of their starts as a whole, something we have seen of late with the improvement of Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, two guys that up until recently were plagued by high walk totals and having trouble commanding the zone.

With a starting staff that pitches to contact and gives up a higher than normal percentage of hits, when you throw a high walk rate into the mix it is like adding gasoline to a fire. It is just a bad combination that leads to a bad outcome more times than not.  The Indians like to get hitters to put the ball in play and pound it into the ground, but they can ill afford to continually help opposing teams out by giving them free passes to a base without having them put the ball in play.

Considering their high walk rate to go along with a poor strikeout rate and high hit rate, it is amazing the Indians have done as well as they have so far in the win column because inconsistent pitching like this typically leads to a lot of losing, especially when you do not have an offense that can cover up those issues. Hopefully they can turn it around before the problem rears its ugly head.

Infirmary report

The Indians have several key pieces on the disabled list and working to get out of the trainers’ room and back onto the field.

Designated hitter Travis Hafner is probably the closest of all the injured Indians to returning to game action. He started jogging and doing agility exercises this week and has been taking batting practice for a while now.  The initial prognosis when he had surgery on his right knee on May 31st was that he would be out for four to six weeks, but if he responds well to the running program he could soon be sent out for a rehab outing. He would probably only need two or three games before he is deemed ready, and there is a chance he could go on that rehab assignment and be back in the Indians lineup within the next two weeks.

Left-handed pitcher Rafael Perez is still on a throwing program that he just recently resumed after a minor setback. He is currently working on rebuilding his arm strength via a long toss program.  Considering he has to progress through flat grounds, bullpens sessions, and potentially a sim-game or two, he does not appear to be anywhere close to a return.

Right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco is currently in the early stages of throwing off of a mound in his return to throw program from Tommy John surgery.  This week he will accompany the team when they travel to New York so he can get a checkup on his right elbow with Dr. David Altcheck, the doctor that performed the surgery.  He is also scheduled to throw a bullpen this week, though that is not a signal he is close to a return as he is still not expected to pitch for the Indians this season. There is an outside chance he could get a few innings in during September when rosters expand, but if he pitches any innings this year I am willing to bet they come at an Indians minor league affiliate or in an offseason league.

Outfielder Grady Sizemore is still only taking batting practice and throwing. He has yet to dive into a running program to test out his back. There is no timetable on his return, but he appears to be a long way away from a minor league rehab assignment. Considering the Indians will likely give him all or close to the full 20 days of a minor league rehab assignment to get him back into game shape, he probably is not an option until at least the end of July, if even then.

A tale of two cities

The Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds recently completed their home and home series over the last week and a half and split the series at three games apiece with the home team sweeping each three game series.

The Reds are 38-31 and in first place in the NL Central and have a good team; however, they have made the playoffs just one time since 1995 (2010) and have finished with a winning record just three times since 1995 (1999, 2000, 2010).

By the same token, the Indians are 37-32 and in first place in the AL Central. They have made the playoffs six times since 1995 (1996-1999, 2001, 2007) and had a winning record in eight seasons (1996-2001, 2005, 2007). Even if you exclude the Indians’ winning playoff seasons from 1996-2001, the Indians still have one recent playoff appearance in 2007 to match the Reds over that time period.

The point is the Indians have had much more success over the past 18 seasons than the Reds, and just as much success recently. Yet the Reds are drawing about 9,000 more fans a game than the Indians.

In the recent series in Cincinnati between the Indians, the Reds drew 24,758 on Tuesday June 12th, drew 27,428 on Wednesday June 13th, and drew 34,194 on Thursday June 14th. Just a few days later, and on almost the same days of the week, the Indians hosted the Reds in Cleveland this past week and drew 19,948 on Monday June 18th, drew 17,213 on Tuesday June 19th, and drew 23,544 on Wednesday June 20th.

They are almost the same teams with the same records and same recent success, yet one team is getting a much stronger following than the other. While I will agree that it helps to have name stars on your team like Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, this disparity looks to be based mostly on a poor economy as Cincinnati’s is much better than Cleveland’s, and probably most importantly, apathy toward ownership as the fans do not trust nor like Indians ownership while from I gather the Reds fans have confidence in their ownership.

If the Indians could somehow drum up the support the Reds get then their financial situation would be so much better, but the problem is getting that support.

All Star consideration

We are about two weeks away from the announcement of which players are named the starters for the All Star game and also the reserves selected by the manager. At the moment the Indians have a few worthy All Stars.

Right-handed closer Chris Perez should be a lock to make the team. Entering play on Saturday he was 0-1 with a 2.54 ERA and his 23 saves lead all of baseball. After blowing a three-run lead in the season opener, he has since converted 23-of-23 save opportunities and been one of the biggest keys to the Indians’ success up to this point in the season.

Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera should also be a lock to make the team. Among American League shortstops he ranks 2nd in batting average (.300), 2nd in home runs (9), 2nd in RBI (33), 1st in on-base percentage (.385), 1st in slugging percentage (.492), and 1st in OPS (.877). His .877 OPS is 96 points better than the second ranked shortstop Derek Jeter who has a .781 OPS, which shows how good Cabrera has been offensively this season, and why he should be a lock to make the team.

The Indians have two other players worthy of consideration in second baseman Jason Kipnis and right-handed setup man Vinnie Pestano.

I think Pestano should make the team, but I have no say in the matter. It is tough for setup men to get to an All Star game since most of the bullpen is made up of closers, but he might just get consideration as he has become one of the best setup men in the game. In 31 appearances this season he is 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA, and has racked up 35 strikeouts in 29.0 innings.

Kipnis has the toughest odds as he plays at a position loaded with stars in the American League with the likes of Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia. But Kipnis has outperformed most of those stars (sans Cano) as among American League second basemen he ranks 2nd in batting average (.280), 2nd in home runs (11), 1st in RBI (41), 1st in stolen bases (17), and 2nd in OPS (.775).  It depends on how the voting shakes out and if a third second baseman is taken as Cano will likely be the starter and Rangers manager Ron Washington will surely take his guy Ian Kinsler.

Parting shots

There are several reports out that the Indians are still interested in acquiring first baseman Kevin Youkilis from the Red Sox. Youkilis is available, but the hang up for any trade is how much the Red Sox are willing to pay of his remaining pro-rated $12 million salary for this season and what the Indians (or any team) would have to give up to acquire him. … On Thursday the Indians parted ways with former 2007 first round pick first baseman Beau Mills when they traded him to the Reds for cash. He had been relegated to the bench with Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler sharing first base duties at Triple-A Columbus, so the Indians did him a favor to find him a team where he could get a chance to play. … Major League Baseball announced their Futures Game roster this week, which is a collection of the best up and coming talent in the minors that plays in an exhibition game over the All Star break. Two Indians prospects were named to the World team: shortstop Francisco Lindor and first baseman Jesus Aguilar.

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

shy
June 25, 2012 - 4:32 PM EDT
I am not upset that the Indians didn't sign Youkilis. I really don't think his addition alone would enable the Indians to win the division. But I do think he is a great fit w the White Sox and he could make that difference w them. The Sox are a gritty veteran team that smells the bacon now. Konerko, Pierzynski and Youkilis are 3 guys you don't want to face in late innings in a close ball game in September, I don't care who you are. The White Sox have 2 stud lefty pitchers in Sale and Quintana, a good bullpen and some young and getting better all the time guys in the field. They are now officially the team to beat. Even more of an uphill battle for the Indians now. Glad to see Barnes come up. His 92's are harder to square up than Hagadone's 96's. Hagadone reminds me of a left handed Eric Plunk. Fast but laser straight. The Indians need to find a young righty slugger- a Josh Reddick maybe. Can you trade Sipp, Gomez, Hagadone for Reddick?
Tony
June 25, 2012 - 12:40 PM EDT
Thanks Joe. No question about it the Indians need some help offensively. They have been actively trying to acquire guys, Youkilis being one, but I am actually happy they did not pick him up. Sure, he has a very good career, but his numbers last season started to dip and he has not been healthy the last two years. He's a guy in decline and not playing well this year. I fail to see how anyone can be positive he will hit better than a .670 OPS for the White Sox this year. He could....but the scouting reports on him were not kind. He may turn it around and be a solid player for the White Sox, but outside of that, would be wishful thinking. I'd rather save any trade ammo on something else that actually impacts the team. Youkilis could very well put it all together, but I just do not believe he will (I hope I am right on that).
Rich
June 25, 2012 - 10:04 AM EDT
I don't think the Indians "planned" to have this unbalanced a lineup. They acquired two young 3rd baseman; Marte and Chiz. Marte flopped, Chiz is coming on. They got two outfielders for CC; LaPorta and Brantley. Again, the right-hander flopped, the lefty is turning out to be a productive big leaguer.

They tried to get Lee or Beltran in the off-season but couldn't get it done.

They kind of got stuck with a left-handed lineup. I don't think it was the plan.

But now they need to do something. Youkilis would not be an upgrade. The guy they need to get is Carlos Quentin, but I don't think that's possible.
Seth
June 25, 2012 - 12:54 AM EDT
He could turn it around, but it would be taking another risk on someone, no different than signing Sizemore and hoping he stays healthy or signing Damon and hoping he was as good as last year. The Indians need to make a bigger move than signing Youkilis and hoping he's not toast. If that's all they are going to do, then might as well do nothing, or just bring Laporta up and release Kotchman and hope that's an improvement. It's hoping for improved performance with either player, and Laporta doesn't cost them any players--the White Sox traded a young pitcher without a ton of upside and an outfielder who weren't performing well- would seem to be pretty equivalent to the Indians trading Gomez and Trevor Crowe.
Rob
June 24, 2012 - 11:40 PM EDT
With no moves made this team will flounder the rest of June and July, which will turn the Indians into sellers at trade deadline. Heavy dose of AL east with the Angels thrown in, teams will align to make sure their lefty starters get to lower their ERA against the Tribe. Indians go 8-20 in this tough 28 game stretch, including 2-13 against lefty starters. 8 games each with Rays and Orioles, Maddon and Showalter will make sure all lefties get at least 2 starts, Orioles might even use Eveland and Maddon may use a lefty out of the pen to start just to make sure 3 lefties start each series. Big bullseye out there now at 4-16 aginst lefties. For those wondering why stands aren't full, Indians run differential is now the same as the Astros and Royals, smoke and mirrors so far, exciting at times and extremely painful as well. 3 good pen guys, 3-4 good bats and 2-3 good but inconsistent starters gets you a third place finish at 75-87.
shy
June 24, 2012 - 10:42 PM EDT
33 is still considered prime- albeit at the back end of it. Damon is what 38 or 39- that's a different story for an athlete, trust me. And he's a left handed hitting outfielder- we don't need another one- and he throws like a girl. The Indians do need a third baseman and they do need a tough right handed batter. He is not playing this year because Middlebrooks is a rookie of the year type player and because there is an intractable rift w Valentine. The only issue w Youkilis is his back. Kenny Williams had him examined and he passed- whether they did Xray, MRI or strength tests I don't know. Look, you have Hannahan who can't play without cortisone shots. You have Eric Chavez who can't play without cortisone shots. My point is if Youkilis has to take cortisone shots- and gets an opportunity with a team that's playing meaningful games in the second half, he is still capable of being a big impact player. Let's watch and see.
Seth
June 24, 2012 - 9:03 PM EDT
Shy, what bearing do his career numbers have on his actual performance THIS year? When you're talking about a player who's dealing with age and injuries, why would you even talk about career numbers? Since the All Star break last year, Youkilis has been hitting about .200. Johnny Damon's career numbers are .285/.353/.454; how'd that work out?

Fangraphs has Youkilis at -0.1 WAR this year, baseball reference +0.1, I think you can safely say his performance has been replacement level, but only because he's been primarily playing the 3b, at 1b his value would be even lower. Youk's got a .670 OPS this year, again, Laporta signficantly outperformed that last year.
Joe
June 24, 2012 - 9:01 PM EDT
By the way Tony, GREAT article. Love the feedback, and it does show the Indians have a passionate following. Keep up the great work !!!!!
shy
June 24, 2012 - 8:35 PM EDT
Seth says Youkilis is below replacement level. Really? The man has a .286 lifetime BA and .388 lifetime OBP, Which of the Indians position players now or in the last 10 years has better? The guy is a decent defender and an absolute grinder at the plate. He has never struck out on 3 pitches in his life. I've seen Chisenhall and Hannahan do it lots of times this season and last. This puts the White Sox over the top, IMO. The Indians will finish 10 games under .500 -at a minimum. This is the time when the real teams start to pull away and the crap teams can no longer outrun their stink. Even w Brantley, Kipnis and Cabrera having great years, the team has one of the worst offenses in baseball. Not only can you not win when you can't score, but you're better relievers- Smith, Pestano, Perez lose their focus and their relevance.
Joe
June 24, 2012 - 8:15 PM EDT
I was thinking of Youkilis at 1B, with Chisenhall at 3rd. The guy has a good history. Batted cleanup for a World Series winner. At the right price, he would have helped. He is a downgrade only because of injuries this year. That deal might have shown the fans the Indians want to win. And you forget Seth, that he is a right handed hitter. Our biggest need !!!!
Seth
June 24, 2012 - 7:38 PM EDT
While the Indians have a lot of problems, I don't see how Youkilis, another below-replacement-level player so far this year, would be a fit. If he continues his current production, he'd be a downgrade. They certainly don't need him at 3b--I'd rather have Chisenhall or Hannahan--and between him and Kotchman, I'd actually rather stick with Kotchman. They've both been garbage with the bat, but at least Kotchman's a plus fielder. Perhaps he'll see an uptick in performance with a new team, but the Indians need to make a much bigger move than another Johnny Damon-style non-upgrade
shy
June 24, 2012 - 7:13 PM EDT
mark this day on your calendar. the indians fell out of first place. they will not see first again this season - they're done. it's a loser culture in cleveland ownership and management. Youkilis would have been a good pick up. He's got skills, he's a gamer, a winner- not to mention he plays third and hits right-handed. Antonetti and Dolan are afraid of people like that- outside their comfort zone.
Joe
June 24, 2012 - 7:04 PM EDT
Youkilis gone to White Sox. Didn't pay much. We missed out again. Shapiro, Antonetti, only God has Sundays off. You don't. Wake up and smell the opportunities.
Joe
June 24, 2012 - 5:08 PM EDT
J.A.Happ. 5+ ERA, and we manage 1 run on 4 hits, one by Lowe. Totally unacceptable. I'm not liking what I am seeing here. Real bad. Isn't Happ a lefty as well ? My God, he is. Get some RH bats. Come on Shapiro/Antonetti, make a move.
shy
June 24, 2012 - 4:46 PM EDT
What the Indians scored 4 runs in a 3 game series against Houston? Yeah those Houston pitchers have electric stuff. Absolutely unhittable. Choo looked like a minor leaguer- he is not an everyday player on a contender. Santana looks like a brain dead hacker. He's not a kid anymore, what's his lifetime batting average? Everyday catcher? Maybe in the Mexican League. I give Manny credit. He had the team in first place on June 22- longer than last year. But the result will be the same. The Indians will finish behind Detroit, Chicago and probably Kansas City as well. No left handed pitching and no right handed hitting. That's strictly on Antonetti and Dolan.
Joe
June 24, 2012 - 3:01 PM EDT
I think Gomez now has to be replaced. The Indians do not have the luxury of coming back from large early deficits, as they simply do not have the weapons. The hitting, aside from a couple of guys, is simply bad. I cannot believe the front office played this hand of all lefties. Especially as time goes on, and they show ineptness at mounting any kind of offence against them. They need some RH bats now, otherwise they will fall out of contention quickly.
I also think the fans have lost confidence in the front office, with this LH issue being another contributor. They are slow to act, (or re-act) to these types of situations, and pay for them dearly. They need some big changes, and they need them NOW !!!!
Jim
June 24, 2012 - 1:29 PM EDT
I don't think...for a minute...that the Indians planned to have a team with all lefties...

I know that's what's coming down from the front office...but I think it's poor "planning" and not addressing needs through the draft and through free agency.

This is what we're left with, and I attune it to going into a grocery store hungry. You come out with a bunch of junk, and none of it fits together the right way.

So, you sell it as percentage based...

Just another strike against a front office...
Seth
June 24, 2012 - 12:51 PM EDT
Before this year I never thought I'd say this: Where would the Indians be without Chris Perez? The bullpen has been something of a mess, but without him or Pestano, it would be really frightening.

I would like to see McAllister called up to replace Gomez immediately. In his short time up earlier, McAllister pitched better than pretty much everyone on the staff. His ERA was good, his peripherals were better, and he really limited the walks. I also think he simply has more talent than Gomez.
anonymous
June 24, 2012 - 11:41 AM EDT
also has to help that cincy is a two sport town, they don't really have to compete for the sports dollar
IronMike
June 24, 2012 - 9:25 AM EDT
Tony, excellent point regarding the miscalculation. One of the reasons it may have backfired is guys, as you stated, like Duncan and Cunningham have been unable to contribute. Plus they haven't been able to develop an impact RH hitter since the late 90's. Going after Youklis isn't the type of player the Indians needs. Now to correct the inbalance it is going to cost the Indians dearly. Great article. Not fixing this offense soon will cost them a chance for the playoffs.
Eric
June 24, 2012 - 9:02 AM EDT
I have attended the Indians-Reds series the past two years down in Cincinnati, and to see first-hand how many more seats are filled in GABP, well, it made me very jealous and envious. While I agree with all of your points in your column, I now understand what it means to be a "baseball town", and, sadly, Cleveland just isn't one. One glance at who's filling the seats in GAPB, and it's quite obvious how their success in the 1970's has translated into generational support. The Tribe, until mid 1990's, were a doormat, and it's clear when I go to Progressive Field, it is a more young crowd than what I see in GAPB, which bodes well for us Tribe fans, provided the team continues to avoid the decades-long futility of the team from the 1960's to early 1990's. GO TRIBE!!!
Jim
June 24, 2012 - 8:24 AM EDT
Well, Mills goes to a team with no DH, and Joey Votto with a ten-year contract.....OUCH.....Good luck Beau...

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