Saturday, January 29, 2011

Matt LaPorta Breaks Through In 2011?

The Indians are about two week away from opening spring training 2011.  One of the biggest question marks heading into the 2011 season will be the performance of Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta.  LaPorta's development may of been slowed after he had hip surgery following the 2009 season.  I wanted to look back and research LaPorta's history from college through his time in Milwaukee and his handling by the Cleveland Indians.   What I found was a guy who has been oft injured, well travelled (crazy 2008 six week period), and never able to settle in for an extended period of time without injury creeping up.  The road to major league success has certainly been filled with obstacles.  As a Tribe fan, let's hope that 2011 is a season of calm tranquility for the now 26 year old first baseman. 

Many in the Tribe-centric blogosphere  have diagnosed Matt LaPorta and reported his flaws.  Most of the stories have affirmed what scouts have said about him since he was ranked as the Brewers #1 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2008 season and as the Cleveland Indians #2 prospect by Baseball America Prior to the 2009 season:

BASEBALL AMERICA 2007 (Pre-2008 Season)
Like most young hitters, LaPorta still has to learn how to handle breaking balls, both quality pitches for strikes and those off the plate. 

BASEBALL AMERICA 2008 (Pre-2009 Season)
Like a lot of power hitters, LaPorta still has some holes in his swing—in his case, high and inside, and against off speed pitches low and away.

Adam Vanarsdale (APV) of Let's Go Tribe illustrates the scouting reports perfectly in his article December 2010 article titled Pull LaPortaIn the article he states the following about pitches LaPorta sees and includes the below graphic from

It is probably not surprising that relative to his teammates, LaPorta sees relatively few fastballs. Across the past two seasons, he has only seen about 54% fastballs, well below league average and one of the lowest on the Indians team.  Instead of getting fastballs, LaPorta gets a relatively large number of sliders (~20%), curveballs (~10%) and changeups (~10%), and he struggles with them.

Jon Steiner of Waiting for Next Year (WFNY) and Paul Cousineau of the Diatribe had a back and forth regarding LaPorta in a column called Jon and Paul Baseball: What to do about Matt LaPorta. The article is from December 8, 2010 and includes many links to data provided by B-Reference and Fangraphs.  In my opinion the debate is a good primer for pre-Spring Training 2011.

Many are still hopeful that LaPorta can produce as the scouts from Baseball America wrote prior to the 2008 season:

LaPorta has game-changing power and doesn't have to pull the ball to get it out of the park. Area scouts who covered him said his approach improved in 2007, and he also kept his hands inside the ball better and made more consistent hard contact. Unlike many sluggers, he also has a good eye at the plate and will take a walk if he doesn't get a pitch to hammer.
LaPorta would be ranked #14 on the top 50 list following the 2008 season (video).

Matt LaPorta entered the University of Florida as a catcher, spent time in the OF, and eventually played a little 3b and 1b.  His stock rose dramatically after his sophomore season after he hit .328, and led all of College Baseball in Home Runs with 26, and led the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in slugging percentage (.698) and RBI (79).  He posted an  an impressive 1.136 OPS.  LaPorta's stock fell after an oblique injury his junior season limited him to only 43 games where he hit .259 with 15 home runs and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 14th round.  LaPorta returned to Gainesville for his senior season and put up another monster season.  He would hit .401 with 20 Home Runs and lead Division 1 with a .582 OBP and 1.399 OPS.  He would be named the first ever two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year.

LaPorta was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers with the 7th pick of the 2007 draft and signed quickly (June 25, 2007) for 2 million dollars.  His debut was delayed as he was fighting through an injured quadriceps muscle.  He  hit 12 home runs in 130 plate appearances between Rookie League Helena and Class A ball West Virginia.  Following the late start in the 2007 season, the Brewers sent LaPorta to the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League (AFL) where he hit .241 with a league leading 6 home runs.  His assignment as a first year player to the AFL was rare but the time spent there would lead to a spring training invite and gave the Brewers organization the confidence to move him to AA Huntsville to start the 2008 season.

LaPorta began the 2008 season ranked as the 23rd prospect on Baseball America's Top 100 List.   The Brewers started him in Huntsville and through the first 88 games he hit .288 with 20 home runs, an on-base percentage of .402, and a slugging percentage of .576.  On June 30th he was named to the U.S. squad for the All-Star Futures Game to be held at Yankee Stadium on July 13th.  On July 7th LaPorta, right handed reliever Rob Bryson, outfielder Michael Brantley, and left handed pitcher Zach Jackson were traded to Cleveland for Tribe Ace C.C. Sabathia.  LaPorta reported to Akron where he was informed on July 16th that he was named to the Olympic Baseball Team playing that August in Beijing.  The day after finding out that he had made the Olympic Team, LaPorta found out his grandfather had passed away and was dismissed from the Aeros to attend the funeral.  On July 28th, LaPorta reported to Team USA in California only to fly back to North Carolina for one last tune up game before heading to Beijing.  LaPorta struggled in Beijing going 1-15 with a HR and 3 RBI before being hit in the head by a pitch on August 18th.  He went to the hospital, had a CAT scan, and was diagnosed with a mild concussion.  He returned for the bronze medal game and hit a solo home run.  The Indians sent LaPorta to the Dominican League for a brief stint where he struggled hitting .165 with 2 home runs and struck out 22 time in 67 at-bats over 17 games. 

LaPorta started the 2009 season ranked #27 on Baseball America's Top 100 List.  He began the season playing for the Columbus Clippers.  In a very odd move, the Indians called LaPorta up from Columbus on May 3rd and sent him back to Columbus on May 25th.  He only appeared in 13 games which covered a total of 49 plate appearance during which time LaPorta hit .190 with 1 HR and 4 RBI with a dismal OPS of .571.    LaPorta received his recall from Columbus on August  20th and hit .273 with 6 HR and 17 RBI, a OBP of .315, and a SLG% of .489.  Overall in Columbus, LaPorta settled in and hit .299 with 17 HR and 60 RBI, a .388 OBP and a .530 slugging percentage.  Between LaPorta's positive finish with the Indians and his impressive numbers with the Clippers, there was reason to believe that Matt LaPorta was ready to have his breakthrough season in 2010.

After returning from Columbus, LaPorta played 21 of his first 23 games in LF.  The Indians wanted to see if he could play 1b and transitioned him over there in mid-September.  This may of caused some aggravation to his hip as Eric Wedge commented:

"I'll tell you what happened. I guarantee you it's from him moving from the outfield to the infield. It's happened before. You're using different muscles at first base. You're doing a lot more squatting, a lot more bending. I'm sure that had something to do with it."
LaPorta was trying to score and seemed to tweak the hip coming around third (video here) against the Tigers on September 22, 2009.   As if the hip injury wasn't enough to occupy LaPorta over the winter, he slammed his left toe into the monster at Fenway on the last day of the season.  The Indians had said that the off-season of rest would heal LaPorta's hip, so it came as somewhat of a surprise that the Indians announced that LaPorta had left arthroscopic hip surgery"debridement of a bony impingement in the joint." performed by Dr. Marc Philippon and also had a surgical procedure performed by Dr. Thomas Clanton to address his left big toe in Vail, Colorado.  The rehab time for the hip was 4-6 months, which would put LaPorta behind to begin spring training 2010.

LaPorta broke camp with the Indians and appear in 35 games prior to getting sent down to AAA Columbus on June 7, 2010.  He hit .217 with 1 HR, 7 RBI, and an OPS of .567.   Nino Colla at The Tribe Daily wrote an article titled The Problem Matt LaPorta Against Everyone detailing his early 2010 season struggles. Manager Manny Acta said that he wanted LaPorta to get consistent at-bats and find his swing.  LaPorta's time in AAA was short and productive.  He played in 18 games and hit .362 with 5 Home Runs, 16 RBI, a OBP of .457, and a SLG% of .638.  LaPorta was recalled by the Indians on June 27, 2010 and  continued to hit upon his recall.   In his first seven games back from Columbus he would hit .360 with 3 home runs and 7 RBI before finally cooling off.  John Sickels at Minor League Ball would write a story titled Matt LaPorta: Not A Rookie with a look at LaPorta's future after his recall.   LaPorta did getting knocked out by Elvis Andrus (VIDEO) but that didn't seem to affect LaPorta as he continued to hit over the next ten games after  his the incident.   After his second recall LaPorta would appear in 75 games and hit .222 with 11 home runs,  34 RBI, an OBP of .313, and a SLG% of .401. 

Not Again! 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Huff Gets Beaned but Tribe Offense Responds for Victory

The Indians offense didn't erupt for too many large innings, but on this day in New York they would fall behind to CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees 9-3 and 10-4 and come back to win 13-10.  The game is most remembered for the line drive that ricochet off David Huff's head and ended up in short right field.  Huff was taken to the hospital for x-rays and a CT Scan and was back in the Indians clubhouse after the game. 

Click Photo for Game Recap Video
The Indians were spending a Saturday afternon on Memorial Day Weekend playing the Yankees in New York.  David Huff was looking for a reversal of fortune as he was off to a rough start in 2010 as he sported a record of 2-6 with an ERA of 5.25.  Huff would be opposed by CC Sabathia who was off to a shaky start himself at 4-3 with a 3.95 ERA.  Alex Rodriguez would put the Yankees up 1-0 in the bottom of the first with a sacrifice fly.  The top of the third would be marked by one of the many head scratching umpire calls.  With Lou Marson at 2b, Jason Donald hit a ball in the dirt in front of home plate and began to hobble as if the ball hit him in the foot.  The home plate umpire didn't call it a foul ball and neither did the third base umpire, Alex Rodriguez fielded the ball and threw wildly at first base and the ball went into the stands which allowed Donald to reach first safely and Marson to score the tying run.  It was only after the ball went into the stands that the home plate umpire called the "foul ball" and Donald would eventually ground out to short and the Yankees would maintain the 1-0 lead.

The Yankees would hold a 1-0 lead in the third inning and have runners at first and second with 1-out when Alex Rodriguez would step to the plate.  Rodriguez would hit a line drive back up the middle that would hit Huff right above his left ear.  The ball would ricochet off Huff's noggin and go to right field while 1-run would score to put the Yankees up 2-0.  They Yankees would add one more run off Aaron Laffey to hold a 3-0 lead before the inning would end.

The Indians would score three runs in the top of the fourth to get David Huff off the hook.  The key blow was a 2-run double by Matt LaPorta (video).  The Yanks would regain the lead by scoring 6 times in the bottom of the fourth.  Aaron Laffey, as he so often does, seemed to let an error get the better of him and lost control. He would strike out Francisco Cervelli for the first out of the inning before giving up a single to Kevin Russo who advanced to second on an error by left fielder Austin Kearns.  Laffey would then walk the next three hitters (Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and  Nick Swisher) the last walk to Swisher forced in a run.  Laffey would then hit Mark Teixeira with a pitch to force in another run before striking out Alex Rodriguez for the second out of the inning.  Laffey was unable to escape further damange as Robinson Cano would hit a 2-run double chasing Laffey from the game.  Hector Ambriz would enter the game and walk Marcus Thames to load the bases and then give up a 2-run double to Francisco Cervelli.  Finally, Ambriz would retire Kevin Russo to end the inning.  The Yankees were now comfortably ahead 9-3 with their ace on the mound.

The Indians would get a run back in the fifth on an RBI single from Austin Kearns only to see Alex Rodriguez get an RBI single in the Yankee half of the fifth to keep it a 6 run game at 10-4.  The Indians would add a solo tally off CC Sabathia in the sixth inning thanks to a Lou Marson double (video).  To many Indians fans, chasing CC from the game after 6 innings and putting up 5 runs on him was a moral victory, but the Indians were only getting warmed up.

The Indians would be trailing 10-5 as the 7th inning began.  Trevor Crowe would get on base via the hit by pitch to lead off the inning, steal second, and come around to score on a one-out single by Austin Kearns. Yankee pitcher David Robertson would leave the game due to an injury and be replaced by Sergio Mitre.  Sergio Mitre would walk Johnny Peratla and be replaced by Damaso Marte who would retire pinch hitter Russell Branyan on a flyball for the second out of the inning.  Marte was replaced by Joba Chamberlain who came into face Mark Grudzielanke who would deliver a run scoring single to tighten the score to 10-7.  Chamberlain would then walk Matt LaPorta to bring Lou Marson to the plate with the bases loaded.  Marson would deliver a two run double to make the score 10-9.  Jason Donald would follow Lou Marson with a 2-run double of his own to give the Indians an 11-10 lead.  Trevor Crowe would single to score Jason Donald to give the Indians a 12-10 lead.  Joba Chamberlain would strike out Shin-Soo Choo out to end the inning.

The Indians would add one more run in the top of the 8th when Russell Branyan would hit his 6th home run of the year (video) off Chad Gaudin.  The Yankees would rally to put up a run in the ninth off Indian closer Kerry Wood who would eventually strike out Nick Swisher to end the game. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

David Huff - 2011 Rotation Member?


The Cleveland Indians do not have a left-handed starter in their rotation as we head toward the 2011 season.  David Huff had a very promising start to his career but the promise he showed in the minors in 2008 was diminished in 2009 and completely extinguished in 2010.  David Huff, who will turn 27 in 2011,  is hoping to follow Cliff Lee who had a horrible year in 2007 and Fausto Carmona who fell apart in 2009 and have a bounce back year in 2011.  Will he be given the first shot at the #5 starter this April?  What improvements does David Huff have to make to have success at the Major League Level?

In 2006, David Huff would lead the UCLA Bruins with 100 strikeouts in 129.2 innings and would be the Indians first round pick in the 2006 amateur draft #39 overall.  Huff was the supplemental draft pick awarded to the Tribe for the loss of free agent Bobby Howry who signed with the Chicago Cubs following the 2005 season.

On July 21, 2006, he would sign with the Indians for $900K and finish the season by pitching 7.2 innings in Class A Mahoning Valley.  In 2007, he would got off to a good start at High A Kinston going 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA before being shut down after experiencing elbow soreness.  

Huff would begin the 2008 season at AA Akron and would make 10 starts going 5-1 with a 1.92 ERA.  He would have a K/9 rate of 8.3, a BB/9 rate of 1.9, and he'd keep the ball in the park having a HR/9 rate of 0.7.  He pitched with a little luck revealed by a BABIP of .228, a LOB% of 80.8% but had a respectable FIP of 2.99 (a E-F gap of 1.07 suggests regression). 

The Indians would promote him to AAA Buffalo to finish the season.  He would regress at Buffalo as he made16 starts, pitch 80.2 innings, post a 6-4 record with an ERA of 3.01.  His K/9 rate would increase to 9.0 and his BB/9 would decrease to 1.7, but his HR/9 increased to 0.9.  His BABIP jumped to .278 and his LOB% dropped to 73.5% and his FIP of 3.15 nearly matched his ERA of 3.01 (E-F gap of 0.14).  At the end of the 2008 season, Tony Lastoria of Indians Propsect Insider ranked David Huff as the #5 prospect in the organization.

Huff would start 2009 in Columbus where he would make 7 starts before being recalled to Cleveland.  At Columbus, he would  pitch 39.1 innings, going 5-1 with an ERA of 4.35.  There were some warning signs at Columbus which could of been a red flag, his K/9 rate had dropped to 7.3, his BB/9 had increased to 3.7, and his HR/9 increased to 1.1.   His BABIP was .273 and his LOB% was 72.7%.  His FIP was 4.45 (an E-F gap of 0.10). 

Regardless of the red flags, Huff would get recalled on May 17, 2009 to start against the Tampa Bay Rays as  Jeremy Sowers who was starting in place of Aaron Laffey  had been moved to the bullpen was ineffective going 0-2 with a 12.00 ERA.   Huff would take a loss in his major league debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 17, 2010 in Tampa in what would be a wild game which included the Rays losing their DH due to a lineup card error and a 8th inning brawl from a weekend of heated play between the two teams.
Huff would finish the 2009 season with the Indians leading the team in victories with an 11-8 record with an ERA of 5.61.  He would  make 23 starts and pitching 128.1 innings on the year.  Despite the victory total, the red flags which surfaced in his brief time in AAA were exposed at the major league level  His K/9 had dropped to 4.6 and his BB/9 was 2.9 (a K/BB ratio of 1.59 is very poor), his WHIP of 1.558 was above the leage average range of 1.2 to 1.3, his HR/9 was a 1.12 (league average around 1.0).  His BABIP was .317 (.290-.300 is average) and his LOB% was 66.6% (league average should be around 72%) suggest that he did pitch into some bad luck, but his FIP was 4.69 (E-F gap of 0.92).  Another luck factor is the HR/FB% which is usually at 10.6%.  Huff maintained a 8.3%.  The HR/FB% component can be seen in the slightly higher xFIP for Huff of 5.11.  One other component to look at is the breakdown of ground ball, fly ball, and line drive (GB%, FB%, LD%) where the league average is 45/36/19.  In 2009, Huff was 37.8/41.9/20.3.
Even though Huff led the team in victories in 2009, his spot in the rotation was not secure as he came to spring training in 2010.  Whether or not his job was in jeopardy, manager Manny Acta announced that Mitch Talbot was his fourth starter and the final spot would come down to Carlos Carrasco and Huff.  Huff would win the job by going 2-1 with a 4.18 ERA during an inconsistent spring which manager Manny Acta summarized below:
"But we felt there was no losing situation for us, we're keeping a guy who won 11 games in the big leagues last year. He's got some room for improvement and had some ups and downs this spring, but at the end of the day, he knows what he's up against."
The improvements that Huff had to make were nowhere to be found as he would go 2-9 with a 6.04 over his first 13 starts and be sent to AAA Columbus on July 21, 2010.   His most memorable moment in the 2010 season may of been getting hit by a line drive off the bat in Alex Rodriguez (video).  In July, the Indians needed a spot starter and someone impersonating David Huff tweeted that he'd be back.  This became the story around Cleveland as David Huff was not recalled and the question was asked by the media if a tweet cost Huff the start?  Huff would be recalled on August 3, 2010 after posting a 6-0 record with an ERA of 3.80 at AAA Columbus.  He'd make two more starts going 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA and would be sent back to Columbus on August 11, 2010.  Manny Acta would have the following comments:
“He needs to command his fastball,” said manager Manny Acta. “We’ve said it over and over and over. This is a guy we need to be good for us to move forward as a ballclub. He’s proven in the past that he has the stuff to have some success up here. He needs to command his fastball. It’s as simple as that.”
David Huff would go 2-11 with an ERA of 6.24 for the Indians in 2010.  He'd have a K/9 of 4.2 and a BB/9 of 3.8 (a K/BB ration of 1.09).  He'd have a WHIP of 1.695, a BABIP of .310, and a LOB% of 65%.  His LD/FB/GB was 20.6/36.4/43 which probably contributed to his HR/9 rate which increased to 1.58,  his   HR/FB% increased to 11.2%, and  his FIP was 5.83(E-F gap of 0.41).  

David Huff would go 8-2 with an ERA of 4.36 at Columbus.  He'd have a K/9 of 7.32 and a BB/9 of 3.66 (a K/BB ratio of 2). He's have a WHIP of 1.410, a BABIP of .322, a LOB% of 73.1%.  His FIP was 4.13 for an E-F gap of 0.23. 

If Tim Belcher can find a way to unlock the secret to how Huff can increase his GB%, increase his K/9, and decrease his BB/9 then he may be able to find success at the major league level. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Carlos Carrasco & The Home Run Ball

In 2003, Carlos Carrasco was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as a 16 year old amatuer free agent.     By 2005, he would make it to A ball (Lakeland) where he would  struggle, putting up a 1-7 record with a 7.04 ERA.  2006 would be a breakout season where he'd post a 12-6 record with an ERA of 2.26.  According to data acquired at, Carrasco would see his K% jump from 15.9% to 24.7%, his BB rate would increase slightly, but his groundball % would increase from 42% to 50% which helped lower his HR rate from 1.58 to 0.34.  Carrasco would finish 2007 in AA Reading and finish the 2008 season in AAA Lehigh Valley where he'd finish the season with a 2-2 record and 1.72 ERA.  Carrasco would struggle in his first full season in AAA.  He would make 20 starts for Lehigh Valley and posted a 6-9 record with a very unflattering ERA of 5.18.  He would also have a problem catching too much of the plate as he gave up 14 HR in 114.2 innings pitched (1.0 HR/9).  I highly recommend checking out the baseball-intellect link.

On July 29, 2009, Carlos Carrasco was part of a six player deal that saw the Philadelphia Phillies aquire Tribe Ace Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco in exchange for himself and right handed pitcher Jason Knapp, shortstop Jason Donald, and catcher Lou Marson.  Carrasco would report to AAA Columbus and where he'd find more success than he did in Lehigh Valley going 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA and was successful in lowering his HR/9 to a more reasonable 0.6.  Carrasco would receive a September callup by the Indians and major league hitters weren't kind to him.  Carrasco would get battered by major league hitters and finished the year 0-4 with a 8.87 ERA giving up 6 HR in 22.1 innings (2.4 HR/9!!!).    Carrasco would spend the majority of 2010 in AAA Columbus where he'd make 25 starts, pitch 150.1 innings, with a record of 10-6 and an ERA of 3.65.  Carrasco's big problem was again the HR ball as he'd give up 16 HR in 150.1 IP (1 HR/9).  Carassco would receive a callup to the Indians on September 1st and finish the year 2-2 with an ERA of 3.83.  He'd give up 6 HR in 44.2 IP (1.2 HR/9).

Carlos Carrasco will be 24 years old come opening day 2011 and barring an injury will be a member of the rotation.  He has made 57 starts at the AAA level going 23-18 with a 3.90 ERA  over a total of 344 innings.  What Cleveland fans are going to have to get used to is Carrasco's tendency to give up the HR ball.  Through his three AAA minor league seasons his HR/9 rate was a 0.9 and in his brief stints in the majors it was 2.4 in 2009 and 1.2 in 2010.  Carrasco is going to have to limit the walks which he had a 2.7 BB/9 through his three AAA seasons and a 4.4 in the majors in 2009 and a 2.8 in 2010.  Carassco will have to improve his K/9 rates which over his three AAA seasons was 8.6 but slipped to 4.4 in 2009 and 7.7 in 2010.  It should be noted that the 2009 and 2010 ML data is a very small sample size.    Since the HR is Carrasco's primary challenge, I put together a look at all of Carrasco's gopher balls.  From the slide show below you can see who hit the home run, what park it was in, what the count was, whether the batter was lefty/right, what type of pitch it was, etc.  Additionally, if you click on the Game Recap picture you shoulld be able to see video of each home run.

2005183 Teams3 LgsA-A--RkPHI1107.921.7352.
2007202 Teams2 LgsAA-A+PHI1263.861.3001.
2008212 Teams2 LgsAA-AAAPHI993.691.3480.
200821Lehigh ValleyILAAAPHI221.721.3640.
2009222 Teams1 LgAAAPHI,CLE11104.641.2361.
200922Lehigh ValleyILAAAPHI695.181.3601.
7 Seasons60514.011.2880.
AAA (3 seasons)23183.901.2470.
A (2 seasons)13133.611.2340.
AA (2 seasons)13114.521.4321.
Rk (2 seasons)543.401.3580.
A- (1 season)0313.502.2174.
A+ (1 season)622.841.0191.
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/23/2011.