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?

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