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Tribe Happenings: Team Streak has returned

Tribe Happenings: Team Streak has returned
June 23, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

The return of Team Streak

The Indians this season have been extremely streaky and been a rollercoaster ride all season.  They started the season 8-13 in their first 21 games, then went 18-4 over their next 22 games, then followed that up with a brutal 4-16 stretch. They have since followed up that stretch with an 8-2 record and have won four series’ in a row.

We’ve seen this before. I re-introduce you to the 2004 Cleveland Indians.

That team finished the 2004 season at 80-82, but how they got there was one wild rollercoaster ride. They had 10 losing streaks of three or more games which included a seven-game losing streak and nine-game losing streak. They also had 12 winning streaks of three or more games.

At one point that season the 2004 Indians went on a six game winning streak in August and were 63-55 and a game out of first behind the Twins, but then lost a tough extra innings game against the Twins they led late which would have completed a three-game home sweep of them and brought them into a tie for first in the division. They went on to lose nine in a row and tumble out of contention.

That team featured five All Stars that season as second baseman Ronnie Belliard, outfielder Matt Lawton, catcher Victor Martinez, left-handed pitcher C.C. Sabathia and right-handed pitcher Jake Westbrook were all selected to the mid-summer classic. It was a team that was just starting to find itself and grow together after the rebuild after the 2001 season and into the 2002 season.

After the 2004 season, the Indians eventually put together four good years from 2005-2008, including two seasons where they won 93 or more games and made one playoff appearance. The team should have fared much better during that stretch but thanks to some untimely injuries and subpar managing, the team underachieved. With that pitching staff and three studs in the lineup they should have won the World Series one of those seasons. But I digress.

The 2013 Indians remind me a lot of that 2004 team; a team searching for its identity and finding consistency. It is a team with a lot of new faces, and a team that I think has a chance to keep getting better this season so long as they remain relatively healthy. Once they get healthier, the team continues to gel, and the front office potentially supplements to the roster with a midseason trade or two, they could be on their way.

The current Indians lack the big anchors at the top of the rotation and studs in the lineup like the 2004 team did, but they are much deeper and well-rounded than those teams.  They may lack a true ace at the top of the rotation like C.C. Sabathia or Cliff Lee, but remember that Sabathia did not start pitching like a true ace until halfway through the 2006 season and Lee did not until 2008.

Whether or not the Indians make the playoffs this season, they appear to be on the verge of a run along the lines of the 2005-2008 Indians. They still need a few pieces to complete the puzzle, and they will no doubt look to acquire those pieces, but this team definitely compares favorably to the 2004 team.

Kluber has taken a step forward

Baseball works in mysterious ways. Right-hander Corey Kluber was an afterthought by many fans at the outset of the season as a depth starting option, but here we stand three months into the season and he is now arguably the Indians second best starting pitcher.

That is a pretty significant rise from a pitcher who was listed eighth or ninth on the starting pitching depth chart at the beginning of spring training.

Kluber, 27, found his way into the Indians starting rotation in late April because of a unique set of circumstances. Right-handerBrett Myers came up lame and went on the disabled list, and right-hander Carlos Carrasco was unavailable because he had an eight game suspension hanging over his head. The Indians also wanted to keep young phenom right-hander Trevor Bauerin Triple-A Columbus to get consistent work.

So Kluber got a chance to move into the rotation in what was first considered a temporary move. He made his first start on April 28th in Kansas City and had a remarkable outing going seven strong innings allowing just two runs on seven hits, no walks, and had six strikeouts.

That first start in Kansas City set the stage for Kluber’s emergence as he has since settled into the rotation nicely and in 13 total appearances this season is 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA. He is allowing about a hit an inning though is also averaging about a strikeout an inning, and most incredibly is averaging over five strikeouts for every walk he allows. Outside of one poor outing on May 10th at Detroit when he allowed eight runs on 11 hits in 4.2 innings, he has been consistently good night in and night out.

So what has led to Kluber’s surprise showing this season? And is it sustainable?

Time will tell, and remember, Carlos Carrasco had a similar stretch of good performance in June of 2011. To make a believer out of a majority of people Kluber will need to maintain these consistent outings over the rest of the season.  In fact, he has already made a believer out of a lot of people, including yours truly who has never been firmly on the Kluber bandwagon before this season.

Kluber is proving to be a workhorse starting pitcher that can haul innings, maintains his composure in the toughest of situations, and has extraordinary stuff. Since acquiring him in July of 2010 in a trade for Jake Westbrook, the Indians have always been very high on his stuff and have maintained a belief that it is the best in their system.

Kluber is proving that with a good two-seam fastball that sits at 90-94 MPH and has touched 96 MPH. The fastball has top notch movement which makes it hard for hitters to square it up, and he has three good secondary offerings with a plus slider, changeup and cutter that he can attack hitters with.  His slider has good, hard break has been devastating on hitters this season as he gets a ton of swing and miss with it. The cutter he added late in 2011 is also proving to be an effective major league offering as well.

What is so impressive about Kluber is how he commands the zone so well but also has swing and miss stuff. That is a rare combination as strikeout pitchers will often walk their fair share of hitters and command-control guys typically pitch to contact and get little swing and miss.

What has come along so well this season with Kluber is his fastball command, which was something that gave him some trouble the prior two seasons and led to inconsistency with his performance.  Because of the fastball command issues of the past he had trouble finding his rhythm, throwing consistent strikes, and keeping the ball down in the zone, which in turn led to him pitching from behind way too much. He’s overcome that limitation, and his performance has spiked as a result.

Armed with a sinking fastball with more velocity and movement than in years past, a slider which went from very good to top shelf, two other solid secondary offerings, and good command to boot, you have a pitcher putting forth a breakthrough performance this season.

At this point, Kluber can remove the interim label from his spot in the starting rotation because he has earned a more permanent spot in it and may have solidified himself as a foundational piece to the Indians rotation for the next several years.

Draft signings and shenanigans

The Indians inked two more draft picks on Saturday as 4th round pick left-handed pitcher Kyle Crockett and 15th round pick shortstop James Roberts signed on the dotted line. Roberts is expected to join Mahoning Valley right away and Crockett will probably need a few days to be built back up to throw in games and probably will go to Mahoning Valley.

If you have been following the IBI signing updates, the Roberts and Crockett signings were noted late Thursday night along with the signing of Dace Kime. The Indians have now signed all of their picks in the first nine rounds and have signed 21 of their 39 picks overall.

At this point the Indians have done all of their heavy lifting in the signing process as they have signed eight of their nine bonus pool picks in the first ten rounds. The only bonus round pick they have not signed is 10th round pick second baseman Ross Kivett (more on him in a minute). There are some intriguing later round picks that they would like to sign but will not be able to, so outside of 11th round pick right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko, I do not see the Indians making any big splashes with any other unsigned picks.

Now, as for Kivett, he wrote a longwinded message that he posted on Twitter. I’m not going to re-post what he wrote here, but he put it up in four parts hereherehere and here. In a nutshell, he has decided not to sign with the Indians and will go back to Kansas State for his senior year because he believes his team has unfinished business and should compete for a College World Series berth next season.  That is admirable that he wants to go back to school his final year and wants to give it one last crack at a national championship, but his decision is bad on so many levels.

From a financial perspective, Kivett can forget about any leverage next season. He could go out and be conference player of the year and have another great season, but in the end, he will be lucky to get anything more than $10,000 to $20,000 next year when he signs with a team. Ask Indians 2012 6th round pick Joe Wendle (a second baseman himself) who was a senior and got $10,000 and ask this year’s 8th round pick right-handed pitcher Trevor Frank who got $10,000. Seniors just have zero leverage.

From a career perspective, Kivett will be a year older and loses an entire year of time in the minors developing. Anyone who follows the minors knows that the younger you are, the better off you are. When you have age on your side, there is always a belief that there is some upside. But when a player comes into the minors at 22-23 years old, they are already behind the eight-ball because they are jumping into a system already filled with like 22-23 years but also tons of much younger kids taken out of high school or those signed out of Latin America. Those older players, unless deemed exceptional prospects coming out of the draft, end up as organizational filler at the outset and have to really be extraordinary to change that status.

Besides, Kivett was an overdraft by the Indians. He had no business being in the Top 10 rounds of the draft as he was not a Top 500 player in any scouting service and was drafted much the same reason Frank and Wendle were, which was to get him to a well underslot deal so they could bank some draft bonus pool money for other picks. How is it unfair that the Indians maybe only offered him $50,000 or $60,000 - which some might say is a lowball offer – when they did him a favor by even drafting him in the Top 10 rounds to begin with?

Some could even say Kivett is just posturing to try and get a better deal from the Indians. I hope this is the case because the best outcome for all parties would be he signs, but if it is a bluff, it is a pretty bad one. Last year’s 11th round pick Logan Vickkind of did this as he really postured prior to signing near the deadline. But for Kivett you have to wonder if he has some cold feet about leaving the comfort of college where he is the man, and when someone goes to the lengths to write what he wrote, you wonder if it indeed is the case.

Bottom line, whoever Kivett’s advisor is has done him a disservice. There is absolutely no benefit to going back to college another year as he is not going to get more money next season and he only hurts his stock as a prospect going into the pro ranks. College second basemen have limited value in the industry, and he will be a senior to boot next season so he will actually lose money.

None of this is meant to slam Kivett in anyway. Quite the contrary.  I don’t know him at all, but I have heard nothing but good things about him as a person. I’m just pointing out the flaws in his decision making process and being objective about it, something that the people closest to him are not doing. This is something that happens when those involved in the decision-making process have no idea how minor league baseball works.

The hope here is Kivett has a change or heart and he ultimately signs with the Indians, which I still think may happen, albeit a long shot at this point.

Infirmary report

Right-handed closer Chris Perez threw a bullpen on Friday and reportedly felt good. He had a forgettable rehab appearance for Double-A Akron on Tuesday night as he allowed five runs on five hits and three home runs in one inning. The velocity was not there and the Indians just think it is more mechanical than health related at this point. He is expected to throw a 15-20 pitch simulation game in Akron today (Sunday) and make another appearance in a game for Akron on Tuesday or Wednesday. From there the Indians will reassess his rehab assignment.

First baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher continues to nurse a sore left shoulder. He took batting practice on Saturday and is expected to be back in the lineup today (Sunday) or Monday.

Right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister is wearing a protective brace on his right middle finger and playing catch out to 105 feet. He is not close to pitching off a mound and is still a few weeks away from returning.

Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is taking groundballs in the field and is close to a return. Barring any setbacks he could return from his quad injury before the end of the month.

Parting shots

All Star selections will be announced soon, and the Indians probably have three players who will garner most of the attention of Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland to fill out the roster: right-hander Justin Masterson, second baseman Jason Kipnis and catcherCarlos Santana. Masterson appears to be a lock while Santana has a very good chance to be the top reserve after Joe Mauer is voted in. Kipnis has a tough fight on his hands with the likes of Robinson CanoDustin Pedroia, and Howie Kendrick all having good seasons too. … The Indians are playing very well at Progressive Field as they are 22-8 in their last 30 games at home. … On Saturday the Indians officially inducted former GM John Hart and second baseman Carlos Baerga into the Indians’ Hall of Fame.

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

June 23, 2013 - 11:07 PM EDT
It is not about being hard on anyone or ripping on anyone. I am not ripping on Kivett at all. I'm simply saying that it was a very poor baseball decision to return to school. If his ultimate goal is to be a legend at Kansas State and finish his four years there and jump into the work force, then great for him. All I am saying, if his ultimate goal truly is to try and make it as a professional ballplayer, then it was an awful decision on so many levels, as illustrated. He pretty much laid it out there plain as day for all 30 teams to see when he wrote that long Twitter note. Again, it's just an explanation as to why the decision was poor and to help answer some questions from fans asking why he'd go back to school and if he has a chance to truly increase his stock going back another year. It's just a realistic breakdown of the decision.
June 23, 2013 - 9:10 PM EDT
Nice job covering the draft. However, I am disappointed in your harsh assessment of Ross Kivett. I think you need to better understand his side of the story for a more balanced assessment. In addition, what about nepotism as part of the baseball draft? That is where there appears to be real shenanigans.
June 23, 2013 - 5:07 PM EDT
More like the pen management has become a disaster. When you leave your shaky left-handed reliever in for a 3rd inning of work, and leave your matchup lefty in for a second inning, it's not surprising that runs are scored. The Indians have had legitimate struggles from Pestano, Perez and the lefties, but there's no reason why Albers, who's been really good since struggling in early April, pitches once every 7 days. And why Hagadone's left in to throw 30 pitches when Albers hasn't pitched in a week and Joe Smith hasn't pitched in 2 days. The runs Hagadone and Hill gave up today are on Francona, because those guys should not have been in the game when they gave up those runs.
June 23, 2013 - 5:01 PM EDT
this is as good of a place as anywhere to note 2 major points of poor execuation of fundimentals from 2 reliefers. Couple of days ago Albers threw a wild pitch and when he went to cover the plate he was in the left hand batters box and the runner was coming from 3rd i always taught pitchers to cover home plate on the side where the runner was coming from to at least semi block the plate and had he done that the runner would have been out. Today on the missed plate by doumet allen should have been aware of his missing the plate he lost concentration and it may have cost us the ballgame the other incident was the winning room.
June 23, 2013 - 4:38 PM EDT
The pen has become a disaster.
June 23, 2013 - 3:10 PM EDT
It is now obvious why balt. let Reynolds go. Painful to watch.

Why is hagadone on the team?
Not Mrs. Kivett
June 23, 2013 - 2:47 PM EDT
On second thought, screw Kivett. He's a crappy prospect and the Indians said they'd take him if he signed for an underslot deal and and probably said he'd do it. Now he changes his mind and Indians get screwed.

Have fun in Manhattan, Kansas next year...probably the worst college town in the USA. Let him have it, Tony!
MT88 in WI
June 23, 2013 - 1:32 PM EDT
Dear mr realistic,
Perhaps you are unaware that many contracts have provisions built in for the student athlete to return to/ go to school at the expense of the club. The one thing, one thing he would miss out on is another shot at the CWS as a player in 2014. Weighed against what he is delaying, he is losing out on a lot more than $$ this year.
Not Kivett's Mom
June 23, 2013 - 1:20 PM EDT
Take that, Ross Kivett! The Indians probably low balled him.

I think the Indians deserve more trash talk than Kivett. These top 10 round picks are valuable and the Indians seem to have really botched this pick. The Indians could have really made better use of this draft pick.
June 23, 2013 - 12:54 PM EDT
Tony I am guessing most of your thoughts on Kluber's emergence had been fleshed out before yesterday's performance. He looked like the old Kluber, the bad Kluber. Velocity was down 2 MPH and he was missing his spots: he ended up centering a lot of pitches and the Twins didn't miss them. Let's hope it was just a one off day and his previous 4-5 starts are the standard going forward. When I see a dramatic improvement in performance- whether a pitcher or a hitter/ position player my first thought is to look at the wide eyes and the side profile for the neandrathal forehead extension at the top of the eye sockets. Chris Davis has it, there are guys that have it on every team. I am going to say categorically, PED use is rampant and there are as many guys using some form of them as ever. Ironic with the Biogenesis blow up and the phony outrage "MLB will get to the bottom of this" crap issued from Bud Selig's PR people. Selig has always talked out of both sides of his mouth, it's why I can't stand him. He needs to get real about testing and punishment so this crap is out of the game OR he needs to say he's ok with it, it's a personal matter with each player, and MLB is not going to get involved. He plays both ends against the middle, and as long as fans keep buying more tickets, merchandise and broadcast advertising, he will never come clean, he will never do the right thing.
Mr. Realistic
June 23, 2013 - 11:58 AM EDT
Tony, you are WAY too hard on Kivett. I don't know him and no little about him, but your own argument leads me to believe he did the right thing. In terms of dollars and cents, what do you think another year of education and graduation at K State is worth? Realistically, if he signed with the Indians, what are chances he'd make it to the majors and make big money? Most of these guys will never sniff the major leagues. Maybe competing in the college ranks and doing something for his school and his teammates is more important than starting his professional career, which is not a slam dunk by your own admission. He'll get a chance next year to go pro if he wants and the money difference is so small it shouldn't impact his choice of what he really wants to do.

Give the kid a break. Let's face it, the Indians drafted him higher than expected in order get him to sign with his hometown team with a low ball offer to provide some organizational inventory. It didn't work. Again, I don't know him but I'd say he's got character and can see the big picture.

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