Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Can The Indians Keep Their Current Pace?

After defeating Boston at home last night, the Cleveland Indians owned the exact mirror opposite record of the Twins (30-15 versus 15-30) before Minnesota finished its game. There is no doubt that in saying that tidbit there has to be the biggest shocker of the season thus far. However, will Cleveland be able to maintain what is now a 15.5 game lead on the Twins (after their loss) and 7 game over the Tigers for the AL Central division race? Only the numbers can help us tell - mainly because no one watches Indians games.

Enjoy it while it lasts, Cleveland.

In looking at BABIP, the Indians overall haven't been terribly lucky or unlucky. The team's overall BABIP on the offensive side is an even .300, which ranks sixth in the majors now and is slightly lucky, but isn't considered extreme. Plus, when you consider that the team has a relatively higher percentage of groundball and line drive hitters (Choo and Cabrera are the best examples), the BABIP will stay a little on the high side.

However, they have been relatively lucky on the pitching side, where Cleveland currently sports a .269 BABIP, good for fourth in the majors. Not to mention that the Indians currently have the third lowest HR per FB rate in the majors - something which can be chalked up partially to the fact that the average temperature in Northwest Ohio so far this year has probably been about 27 degrees. Overall, the Indians have the seventh most favorable ERA-FIP in the majors. All of these signs are major indicators that things will swing the other way for them in the near future, especially considering the warmer weather will aid the White Sox power bats and the Twins have been the unluckiest team in the Majors thus far (third worse ERA-FIP at 0.38 and league worse BABIP at .266).

But with the head start Cleveland has opened up for itself, the club can maintain its lead if they are willing to make a few tweaks and add pieces; otherwise, they will likely meet the same fate as last year's Padres, who didn't make the right additions and wound up finding themselves outside the playoffs when their luck ran out. Here's what the Indians can do:

1. Fix Shin-Soo Choo.
Although Shin-Soo has apparently been playing hungover all season, that does not seem to be his biggest problem. When looking at his numbers, they suggest that something is wrong with his swing. He has always been Ichiro-like in that he puts up crazy BABIP numbers (career .349) because of his line drive swing and great bat control. His current .296 BABIP does not come close to his normal rates. Plus, he is putting up the lowest isolated power number of his career (.140 this year versus career mid-.180's). Meanwhile, his line drive percentage is down while his fly ball percentage is up. All of these figures suggest something is wrong with his swing as opposed to luck pushing him to his worst season so far. If they can figure out what's wrong with Choo's swing can get him back to normal, they will be able to add a little more offensive firepower to help counteract when Asdrubal Cabrera cools off and the pitching luck evens out.

2. Acquire A Power Bat
Somehow, this squad has been able to manage its way through the season without much of a power presence in the line-up (unless you count Cabrera's explosion). Hafner and Sizemore, the usual source for power, have been doing their normal love affair with the disabled list. Plus, their numbers suggest a lot of luck that can't be counted on if/when they return (Hafner sports a .415 BABIP figure, while Sizmore has put up an unsustainable .359 ISO aided by a 19.4 HR/FB%). The trade deadline should prove to be pretty thin this year, but I think they should gamble on a veteran with a relatively cheap deal on a non-contender. Do they pursue Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, or Jim Thome if they don't fully trust Hafner's health? I think even approaching the Astros and helping take Carlos Lee off their hands wouldn't be a terrible idea; although he is certainly less affordable. Something will definitely have to be done to bolster the line-up, and I think these routes make sense.

3. Acquire A Starting Pitcher
Yes, the Indians will need a pitcher too if they don't want to collapse. The rotation they have patched together so far is not going to continue its current pace. Josh Tomlin is second in the league with a -1.83 ERA-FIP, suggesting that the out-of-nowhere ace is in need for some serious correction as the summer carries on. Fausto Carmona and Chris Perez, number one starter and closer, respectively, are some of the most wildly unreliable pitchers currently around. But just like with the bats, there will be few to no high impact pitchers on the block come late July. If I'm the Indians, I make a serious run at Francisco Liriano. I think the Twins have had enough of his inconsistency and are probably going to let him walk in arbitration this winter anyway. If they can get a few prospects for him, I'm sure they would be happy. Those prospects would have to be mighty good though since trading a quality arm to a division rival will take some heavy convincing.

4. Get Rid Of Chief Wahoo
Seriously, is there any more racist logo in sports today (and it used to be so much worse)? The red face, the grinning buck teeth, the blatant disregard for Native American culture. The Washington Redskins may have the most racist name, but Chief Wahoo takes the cake in terms of logos. How the hell is he still around?

Monday, May 23, 2011

2011 Rays = 2006 Cardinals?

There is nothing in the world cooler than a math equation headline that takes about four seconds to dream up. I'm sure that your interest is piqued and now you can't wait to continue on. Or maybe you are completely offended by the fact that I have just compared one of this year's best contenders with what is widely regarded as the worst World Series winning team of all time (although, they still won it all, suckers!).

My original inspiration for this happened last Wednesday afternoon when I noticed that Joe Maddon turned in a line-up card for a game against the Blue Jays thusly:

1. Sam Fuld, LF
2. Ben Zobrist, 2B
3. Johnny Damon, DH
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. Matt Joyce, RF
6. B.J. Upton, CF
7. Casey Kotchman, 1B
8. Elliot Johnson, SS
9. John Jaso, C

A line-up that rivals some of those put forth by the late 90's Devil Rays, who were battling the woes of being a new expansion team formed with the rejects of others. There is only one hitter (Longoria) there that strikes any fear into opposing pitchers. In fact, one could argue whether or not five of them, more than half, (Fuld, Joyce, Kotchman, Johnson, and Jaso) even deserve spots on a Major League roster.

Maddon has been putting this heap of crap on the baseball field all season long and somehow managed a 26-21 record, good for a tie with the Yankees atop the AL East. Yes, there has been a very large degree of luck in putting together that record (a .410 BABIP from Matt Joyce is a good starter), but can this roster pull off the impossible and topple the Yankees/Sox and rest of the American League this year? I think so.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but if the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals were able to pull of what they did, I think this Rays team can too because they are built similarly. Essentially, you take one crafty manager (La Russa/Maddon), give him one slugger (Pujols/Longoria), a solid rotation, and about fourteen utility men that alternate hot streaks. And boom, winning team is assembled.

Let's also not forget that the tiny Sam Fuld, currently leading off with his .278 OBP, is likely to be replaced with Desmond Jennings within the next few weeks as the Rays avoid Super Two status for their number one prospect. Although, his addition may push the Rays out of the cellar of association with the '06 Cardinals, since he's a slight upgrade over So Taguchi.

It's a formula that can surprisingly work in the AL East this year. Much to Zach's chagrin, a scrappy and grindy (and internet meme knowledgeable) team is what will work best in the long haul against the Yankees and Red Sox.

The Yankees have no pitching staff and have reverted to using gimmicky space age operations to fix the pudgy Bartolo Colon (although, that is unlikely to last, as Dave Cameron points out). Their lack of bullpen will catch up to them in the long run and postseason especially, when each pitcher is used to get one specific out. The average age of the Red Sox is 42, I think. They will probably win the division with the likes of Crawford and Gonzalez to carry them through the season, but in the postseason, the pitching matchups will not work in their favor like prior years and anyone outside of Crawford/Gonzalez will be likely worn down and unreliable. A team like the Rays that keeps battling late into ballgames and the season will wear out these two powerhouses, and eventually overtake them in the playoffs.

Although the Rays are currently on pace for a 90 win season, I think that might be enough to pull out the wild card in the American League, where no one seems to want to distinguish themselves. Outside of the  Cleveland Indians (wait, what?), everyone looks to be sporting a 500-ish ballclub. The matchups against the Red Sox and Yankees down the stretch will allow the Rays to keep even with those teams, and it's hard to see any of the other teams (Tigers, White Sox, Rangers) considered to be contenders at this point being able to hit 90 wins with the fatal flaws they have.

And if this Rays teams squeaks into the playoffs, they will do damage with a playoff-tested rotation outside of Hellickson. One has to assume that a solid veteran reliever will be scourged around the deadline, and then they will be set. If anything has been proven since the Cardinals 2006 run (and actually the entire decade since the Angels 2002 victory really), it is that solid, smart baseball playoffs will overcome raw talent every time. This isn't the 1990's, where teams can rely on the likes of roided out Chuck Knoblauchs to blast through the playoffs.

That's why my money is still on the Rays to come out of the American League in October, despite their current roster shortcomings.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beat the Streak

Everyone has their list of websites that they go to on a daily basis. Email, ESPN, MLB Trade Rumors, Fantasy Baseball, Twitter, Facebook, etc. One of mine is MLB Beat the Streak, I suggest you add it to your routine. You will not get anything out of it, except being insanely frustrated. I may be becoming a masochist like ZTP because I do not make it easy on myself either (not that it would help) I have strict rules that I follow because alternating between Ichiro, Pedroia, and Castro takes the excitement out of it. Now the rules I live by:

1. Never pick the same player twice in one week
It is too easy and mindless to pick Tulowitzki against the Pirates and Padres at home. Challenge yourself.
2. Never pick a player from the White Sox or Cardinals
They both suck and have bad players (I hate myself every time I really want to pick Pujols and can’t).
3. Only choose the pick of the day if you thought of it first
See the response to #1.
4. Limit yourself to the stats displayed on the site only and personal knowledge of the pitcher/hitter
When you already spend way too much time on fantasy baseball during the day over analyzing everything and coming up with stupid trades you have to set limits. Unless you are unemployed, then go for it.
5. Get angry
How does Vlad go 0-4 against Jason Vargas? Why shouldn’t Granderson get at least one hit off R.A. Dickey? He has allowed 64 hits this year and opponents are hitting .311, and Curtis is hitting .300 off him, not to mention carrying the Yankees right now. How do you not play B.J. Upton against the Orioles’ Jeremy Guthrie in Tampa Bay?

So is how it goes for MLB Beat the Streak. A true love/hate relationship. I think I have learned what fatherly pride is like from it too because you don’t know how happy I was when Denard Span got a hit off of Wade Davis. After writing those out I realized I sound like Vince Vaughn from Wedding Crashers with these but who cares. Rule #76 No excuses. Play like a champion!

Also just like Josh Hartnett there is no way you are going to make it, be happy with a streak of 15.