Team Profile – Cleveland Indians
For the past two years, the Indians were not even remotely predicted to compete in the A.L. Central. Yet in both seasons they had a very strong start, and took first place in the division at multiple points, proving that Cleveland isn’t necessarily the weak team that the “experts” thought. Of course, in both seasons they’ve faded quickly, before disappearing entirely down the stretch. So, if Cleveland wants to continue competing this season, the team will need to reassess its current strengths and make a move to improve its chances.
Cleveland has been a remarkable team when it’s come to the starting rotation. Whereas most baseball teams suffer some sort of injury from one of the guys expected to pitch 180-200 innings in a season, needing roughly seven to nine different starters throughout the season, Cleveland has only needed six so far. Despite that, however, most of the starting pitchers have losing records. While I’ve covered extensively the fact that win-loss record means next to nothing about the pitcher, and more about the offense, number of losses, coupled with ERA and WHIP give a pretty good indication of a pitcher’s strength. The poor records seem to be the starters’ faults, as most have ERAs well over four, and half are over five. Only Zach McAllister has anything remotely respectable, at 3.18. Additionally, the lowest WHIP is McAllister’s, at 1.24. Derek Lowe’s WHIP is 1.64, and if you’re giving up roughly two walks, hits, or some combination of the two each inning, eventually you’re going to get tapped for some runs. When it’s all said and done, the starting rotation just is not getting the job done this season.
It’s amazing how much money Grady Sizemore makes to be injured for like six years. I wish the rest of us could be that lucky. The biggest issue with the Indians’ offense is that there is no heavy hitter in the lineup. Yes, Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera both have 12 home runs each, but there’s no major offensive player that has power and/or average to be feared by opposing hitters. The highest average is Choo at .295. Yes, between Choo, Michael Brantley, Cabrera, and Jason Kipnis, the Indians can put together a few runs each game. But without that one guy who is essentially guaranteed to have a hit each and every game, there’s no one for opposing pitchers to worry about. So instead a pitcher can attack every single hitter in the lineup without fear of being hit around more than once in a very long while. It’s hard to believe that this has happened, too, considering it wasn’t long ago when C.C. Sabathia, Victor Martinez, and Cliff Lee were all part of the Indians’ organization.
Of course, where the starters have failed, the bullpen has picked up the slack. The easiest reason why the Indians are still in the heat of the division at this point is because of the stellar job the back end of the bullpen has done. Vinnie Pestano has an ERA of 1.47 after 45 appearances this season, and a WHIP under 1.00. The closer, Chris Perez, is 29/31 in save opportunities, with a 2.82 ERA. Those are fantastic numbers from an eighth and ninth inning duo. It’s almost guaranteed that the end of a game will be shut down. If the Indians have the lead, they’ll be able to hold tight and bring home the win. Having that kind of confidence in your late-inning relievers is what every manager dreams of, but few have. Manny Acta can consider himself lucky.
Other than those two, the rest of the bullpen has been pretty great as well. There are a number of relievers who have struggled during their limited time with the club (most notably Tony Sipp, with a 5.45 ERA in 41 games), but there have also been others with fantastic numbers, including Joe Smith. Smith sees a lot of time in games that are tied or losing (but close enough to come back). This is evident from the fact that he has a 7-2 record and 3.14 ERA. Where win-loss records aren’t a good indicator of success for starting pitchers, they are a good measure of success for relievers. If a reliever gets the win or loss in a game, it means that he came into the action with the score in a way that his performance determined the outcome. If his team was winning, and he gets the loss, then you know he pitched poorly. If the team is losing, and he gets the win, then he pitched admirably in a losing effort. If things are tied and he gets the win, he held the game admirably and was rewarded for it.
Keys for Success
If the Indians want to consider themselves competitors for the stretch run, they will need to be buyers with only three days left before the trade deadline. A starting pitcher with some sort of success this season, or a solid bat to add to the lineup would be exactly what they need. Barring either of those, then the offense needs to continue what it’s doing, to string together runs where possible. That means the key to winning and competing falls squarely on the starting rotation. Yes, Fausto Carmona is on the restricted list still, but Ubaldo Jimenez used to be successful, as was Derek Lowe. Either one of those two could finally step up and be a leader in the rotation. If even one more pitcher started doing better, then this team would have an entirely different complexion. But if that doesn’t happen, then the Indians are doomed to be in the middle of the pack, watching the playoffs from home.