Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day, The American Pastime, and Field of Dreams

Nothing captures the spectrum of emotions like opening day.   To explain to a non-baseball fan the importance of  baseball is a difficult task, but James Earl Jones aptly describe its power in Field of Dreams.  After a long off-season of discussing the ins and outs of baseball, let's take a moment to reflect on pure baseball.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come. 

Full Text After the Video

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Manny Acta and Manager Metrics

Over the winter, I've used this blog to examine the Cleveland Indians including individual players, components of the offense, baserunning, defense, and pitching.  As we are now only one day away from Opening Day I wanted to present some information on the manager Manny Acta and share some of the metrics that Bill James tracks in his annual Bill James Handbook which are used to define a managers style more than to suggest a manager as "good" or "bad".  That will always be a subject of debate among fans.  

In baseball a manager often given too much credit for the success of his teams victories and takes on the brunt of the blame when his team loses.  Managing a winner is often about being in the right place at the right time, as much as it is about strategy.  Unfortunately, from a managerial perspective, Manny Acta has been in the wrong place at the wrong time twice in his managerial career.  In 2007, he took over a struggling Washington Nationals team that finished the 2006 season at 71-91, led them an improved 79-83 record in 2007, a disastrous 2008 record of 59-102, and was fired after a 26-61 start to the 2009 season.  Prior to the 2010 season, Acta interviewed with several clubs and received offers from both the Houston Astros and the Cleveland Indians.   In his first season as manager, Acta led the Indians to a record of 69-93 which dropped Acta's lifetime winning percentage to .385 ( 277-345).  

How much of the success or failure has been solely the responsibility of Manny Acta and how much is it the responsibility of the General Managers in Washington and Cleveland?  As of now, I believe its safe to say that Manny Acta has had insufficient talent at either city to effectively judge him as a manager. With that said, let's look into some of the statistics compiled by Bill James and how the numbers relate to managing style.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Are the 2011 Indians Improved Over 2010?

There are many components of  a winning baseball team.  The best teams will have a balanced blend between starting pitching, bullpen, and offense.  The 2010 Indians had one of the worst offenses and starting rotations in the AL and although the bullpen was a strong suit for the team in the second half of the season, it was less than average over the first half.  With 2/3 of the components being near the bottom of the league and the lone bright spot only being productive for the second half of the season, it should not be surprising that the team lost 90+ games.  Looking at each area of the team by the numbers:

The Offense
  • Held to 2 runs or less 57 times (4-53)
  • 12th in the AL in Runs Scored with 636
  • 12th in the AL with a batting average of .248
  • 10th in the AL with an OBP at .322
  • 13th in AL with a SLG% at .378
  • 13th in the AL with an OPS at .700
  • 7th in the AL with a net gain of +20 for baserunning (Improving the Indians Offense & Kenny Lofton)
  • 11th in the league in Manufactured Runs with 141
The Starting Rotation
  • 11th in the AL in wins with 51
  • 3rd most losses in the AL with 71
  • 11th in the AL with an ERA of 4.53
  • Lowest K/9 rate in the AL of 5.55
  • Highest BB/9 rater in the AL of 3.43
  • 13th in the AL with a WAR of 8.6
  • Batters had the 2nd highest average against in the AL at .274
For a pitching staff that needed all the help they could get, the Indians defense certainly appeared to be more of a hinderance than a crutch. 

The Defense
  • The Indians defense led the league in allowing manufactured runs with 205
  • The Indians defense had the 2nd worst UZR/150 in the AL at -6.4
    • First baseman ranked 2nd last in the AL with a UZR/150 of -4.2
    • Second baseman ranked 3rd worst in the AL with a UZR/150 of -6.2
    • Shortstops were the worst in the AL with a UZR/150 of -6.7
    • Third baseman ranked 4th worst in the AL with a UZR/150 of -6.7
    • Centerfielders were the worst in the AL with a UZR/150 of -24.3
The Bullpen
The 2010 Indians bullpen was the one area that seemed to get stronger as the year moved on.  During the first half of the year the bullpen posted a record of 7-15 with an ERA of 4.69, a K/9 rate of 6.6, a BB/9 rate of 4.7, and a WHiP of 1.59.  Additionally, the opposition put up a first half slash line against the Tribe bullpen of .276/.367/.436 an OPS of .803.  In the second half of the season, the bullpen posted a record or 11-7 with an ERA of 2.95, a K/9 rate of 7.6, a BB/9 rate of 3.1, and a WHiP of 1.16.  The opposition was limited to a slash line of .224/.297/.350.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Who is Jack Hannahan?

Barring a surprise trade (or the New York Yankees allow Eric Chavez to opt-out of his contract), 31-year old infielder Jack Hannahan will find himself as the starting third baseman for the Clevleand Indians.  There are few reasons to get excited and many  more to be disappointed.  As Jon at WFNY wrote about Hannahan: "He’s demonstrated the mediocrity you’d expect from a player who’s played with five different organizations in the past four years."

But, there is more to the Jack Hannahan's sotry than just struggling through his professional baseball career.  According to Jack Hannahan (in depth stories here & here) he had his first drink when he was in 8th grade and liked it, a lot.  
"I'd go out and I'd drink, I'd end up blacking out. Next thing I know, I'd wind up somewhere I wouldn't want to be. I wouldn't know how I got there, or what drugs I took while I was there. It led to many visits to jail. Many visits to detox. I'm just thankful I didn't kill anyone or kill myself."
Jack Hannahan may struggle to hit at the major league level but he's deealt with much more in overcoming the sturggles with drug and alcohol abuse.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rosterbating the Indians Opening Day Roster

Rosterbating the Cleveland Indians Opening Day Roster involves looking at the 40-man roster.  The last bullpen spot, the backup catcher, utility infielder, and the 5th outfielder spots remain up for grabs.  The Indians will have to make some roster moves to possibly add  Travis Buck, Jack Hannahan, Adam Everett, or Paul Phillips.   Keep in mind while figuring the opening day roster out that another move will be have to be made when Grady Sizemore returns, possibly as early as the first west coast trip in April.

At least one roster move will have to be made to accommodate Travis Buck and a second roster move may be made based on the injury status of Jason Donald.  If Donald is unable to go on opening day, the added player may be Jack Hannahan or Adam Everett. If  Donald is able to go on opening day the roster move may be adding Paul Phillips to the roster and sending Lou Marson to Columbus or keeping Marson on the roster and adding Adam Everett as the utility infielder. Or the Indians could still add Adam Everett and Paul Phillips and send Luis Valbuena and Lou Marson to Columbus.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chisenhall Decisions & Options

On March 15, 2010, to the chagrin of many Indians fans, 2008 first round pick and future third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was reassigned to their minor league camp.  Chishenhall was having a tremendous spring training, hitting .478, 11 hits in 28 at-bats with 5 extra base hits.  Many fans feel that Chisenhall could easily continue to develop at the major league level and point to many that have skipped AAA as evidence.  Some believe that Chisenhall could use some more  at AAA to refine his skill set.  Others vehemently despise the move because it is viewed as strictly a fiscally motivated move to keep Chisenhall's arbitration clock from starting. 

 Indians GM Chris Antonetti told the Akron Beacon Journal that:
''Lonnie has had a very good camp, but he has some development to do. He needs to be a little more consistent against left-handed pitchers and do a better job of knowing the strike zone. Defensively, he is still learning the nuances of third base after being a shortstop.''
Some who argue that Chisenhall needed more time to develop after only posting a .801 OPS in AA were reminded that he had a shoulder injury in May and got off to a slow start and really posted some great numbers to finish with the .801 OPS.  Below is the month by month look at Lonnie Chisenhall's season which reveals that Chisenhall got off to a nice start in April and did in fact tank in May (most likely due to the shoulder injury hampering his swing).  June and July were decent months, August was a monster month, and September (only 6 games) was a normal month.  


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Grady Sizemore: The Forgotten Superstar


UPDATE: Thanks to Jordan Bastian:

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Grady Sizemore could make his Spring Training game debut as early as this coming weekend. But the Indians are still not sure how long it might take before the center fielder will be able to handle a full workload.
"With Grady," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "we'll have to see how well he progresses, how well his body responds, and how quickly he's able to build up to that volume.
"I don't think it will be very long until he can go play one nine-inning game. It's a question of how long will it take for him to play five or six consecutive nine-inning games."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Improving the Indians Offense & Results

As discussed in the Improving the Indians Offense & Kenny Lofton post which focused on baserunning and the Improving the Indians Offense and Plate Discipline, the 2010 Indians offense was bad.  The team was held to 2 runs or less 57 times posting a 4-53 record,  had an additional 53 games with either 4 or 5 runs scored and posted a losing record of 21-32, and in the  55 games where they scored 5 or more runs and  posted a record of 44-11.   The team offense  ranked 12th in the league in runs scored with 636 (3.99 R/G), 12th in batting average at .248, 10th in OBP at .322, 13th in SLG% at .378, and 13th in OPS at .700.

Two of the more popular prediction model systems for MLB are the CAIRO projection system presented at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog and Baseball Prospectus Pecota System.  The CAIRO projection system has the Indians winning 71 games and the PECOTA system has the Indians winning 74 games.  Can the Indians do better than that in 2011?  If we start by assuming the pitching staff does not improve on its 2010 performance and allows the opposition to score 752 runs but the Indians improve the offense from 636 runs to a marginal 700 runs scored (as projected by PECOTA), the Indians could see a much improved record of 75-87 based on the Bill James Win Expectancy theory discussed in Improving the Indians Offense and Kenny Lofton.   

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Indians Offense & Walks

The 2010 Indians were 6th in the American League in drawing walks with 545.  To answer this question, I've taken the Indians record in games where they drew 0 to 7+ walks and compared the frequency of these events as well as their corresponding win percentage in these games to the AL League Average.  The table indicates that the Indians overall had less games than league average drawing 1,2, or 3 walks and a greater than league average in frequency of drawing 0, 4, 5, 6, or 7 or more walks in a game.   The Indians win percentage exceeded the league average only for games where the team drew 6 walks.

As shown in the tables below, drawing walks is a big part of winning baseball games.  Having a healthy Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana back in the lineup should help increase the Indians walk total in 2011, help increase the frequency of games where the Indians draw 4 or more walks, and hopefully provide the power to provide the payoff for the walks into runs.   If the Indians can continue their trend of having their winning percentage increase when they draw 4 or more walks a game, the Indians should be able to increase their win total in 2011. 

Win %
AL Win %
AL Freq
±AL Win%
±AL Freq

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Who Is Travis Buck?

The only thing I knew of Travis Buck when the Indians signed him to a minor league contract (December 20, 2010) is that he was once a top 50 prospect by Baseball America (#50 pre-2007), had a good rookie season with Oakland in 2007, and  had injury problems ever since.  With Grady Sizemore not expected to be ready by opening day and Trevor Crowe unable to participate in drills and certainly not etched in stone on the major league roster regardless of health there seems to be an opening for Travis Buck.  Buck isn't hurting his cause as he is not only hitting well but receiving accolades from the managers and the media surrounding the Indians.  Buck seems happy to be in Cleveland, he describes his arrival to Cleveland to Jordan Bastian of : "Right when I walked in here," Buck said, "I dropped all that baggage at the door. It's a new, fresh beginning."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Improving the Offense & Plate Discipline

Jason Donald Impatient vs Carlos Santana's Patience by the numbers

As discussed in the Improving the Indians Offense & Kenny Lofton post which focused on baserunning, the 2010 Indians offense was bad.  The team was held to 2 runs or less 57 times posting a 4-53 record,  had an additional 53 games with either 4 or 5 runs scored and posted a losing record of 21-32, and in the  55 games where they scored 5 or more runs and  posted a record of 44-11.   The team offense  ranked 12th in the league in runs scored with 636 (3.99 R/G), 12th in batting average at .248, 10th in OBP at .322, 13th in SLG% at .378, and 13th in OPS at .700.    

By the numbers the Indians were a patient team as they saw more pitches per plate appearaance than league average and finished 6th in the American League in walks, but along with drawing walks the Indians were also second in the league in striking out.  It should be noted that this combination has little relation with winning or losing as the Tampa Bay Rays led the American League in both walks and strikeouts in 2010.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Some of the 2011 Indians & Future Tribe Players

Here is a link to all the profiles I've completed during the winter months leading up to the 2011 season.  The Carlos Carrasco link includes an interesting slide show of homer runs given up in his brief major league career.  The Adam Miller story includes all the information on his surgeries and where he was at the end of his season in the fall instructional league.  The only update is that he is in minor league camp with no restrictions and we may see him get some action this spring if things go well.  He is slated to start the year in the minors, most likely in Columbus, but he may finally make his debut (still a long shot) in 2011.



3b/Utility - JASON DONALD


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Improving the Indians Offense & Kenny Lofton

How bad was the Indians offense in 2010 and  how much did the offense contribute to the very poor record?  A quick look at a runs scored vs record breakdown reveals the following.  The Indians were shutout a league leading 15 times (0-15), scored only 1 run an additional 14 times (0-14), and scored only two runs an additional 25 times (4-21).  The Tribe's record in games where the offense scored two runs or less was an overall 4-53.  The Indians were a combined 21-32 when scoring 3 or 4 runs and had a record of 44-11 when they scored 5 or more runs.

The Indians offense was offensive in 2010 as the team finished with a dismal record of 69-93.  The team ranked 12th in the league in runs scored with 636 (3.99 R/G), 12th in batting average at .248, 10th in OBP at .322, 13th in SLG% at .378, and 13th in OPS at .700.   The Indians did manage to finish 6th in walks with 545.  It would stand to reason that an improved offense would lead to an improved win total in 2011.  To that end, we'll look at the Bill James Pythagorean Expectancy Theory as detailed below.

Bill James developed the Pythagorean Expectation for Winning Baseball, called that for its similarity to the Pythagorean Theory.  It is a formula that uses Runs Scored and Runs Allowed to predict the number of victories theoretically should of had and its result can be used to compare a team's actual winning percentage to the predicted winning percentage to evaluate how lucky that team was.  In 2011, the Indians Pythagorean winning expectancy matched their record of 69-93.

The Indians will look to improve on their offense in 2011. They hope to have a healthy Carlos Santana behind the plate come opening day and a fully healthy Grady Sizemore in CF by mid to late April.  The Indians were without Asdrubal Cabrera for a large part of the 2010 campaign after he broke his arm on May 18th (appeared in 97 games) and 1b Matt LaPorta was not ready come opening day as he had off-season hip and toe surgery.   

One area of the game that often isn't measured along with the traditional HR/AVG/SLG%/OPS which does have an effect on the ability for an offense to score runs is in the baserunning department.  Again, Bill James has presented some data in his annual handbook that provides a measuring stick for baserunning.  The individuals ability to move on the basepaths is judged by three main categories which are:
  • The ability to move from first to third on a single.
    • ML Average is 28%, Very Good is 38%, Very Slow is 18%
  • The ability to move from second to home on a single.
    • ML Average is 58%, Very Good is 70%, and Very Slow is 41%.
  • The ability to move from first to home on a double.
    • ML Average is 44%, Very Good is 62%, and Very Slow is 27
  • Each player is credited with a base taken for advancing on a passed ball, wild pitch, balk, sac fly, or defensive indifference and can also be a negative if out.
  • Getting doubled off base also is a negative value (Shin-Soo Choo was tied for league lead in getting doubled off with 5).
Each player and team is scored on an overall Bases Reached (BR) gain which could be positive or negative and SB Gain which could be positive or negative and the Net Gain which again could be positive or negative.  (SB - 2*CS = SB gain).  The Indians as a team were a Net +20 (a total of 5 runs) which was near the middle of the league and ranked 8th in the American League.  For comparison sake, the best team in the majors was the Tampa Bay Rays at a +196 (or 49 additional runs).  Of the 2010 playoff teams, five were above league average and three were below league average but, Cincinnati and Minnesota were just below league average.   The Indians overall best baserunner in 2010 was Jason Donald at a Net +21 and the team was overall below average in each of the baserunning metrics of 1st to 3rd, 2nd to Home, and 1st to Home which could be a main reason that Kenny Lofton is in camp to help the Indians with their baserunning.  The Indians projected roster is presented below along with their 2010 baserunning metrics. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jason Donald - More than Adequate for Third Base?

Jason Donald came up to the Cleveland Indians on May 19, 2010 after a freak collision between shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and Johnny Peralta resulted in a Cabrera having a broken arm (video link here).  Donald would spend the remainder of the year in Cleveland and play 47 games at shortstop and 41 games at second base.  Although, not over matched, Donald struggled with the bat in 2010 putting up a mediocre .251 average, a .310 on-base percentage, and a SLG% of .378.  Donald was very impatient at the plate, which was reflected by a walk rate of 6.8%, a 3.6 pitches seen per plate appearance which was below the league average of 3.8, and his swing rate was 50.8% which is above the major league average of 45%. 

Jason Donald will always be part of history as he was the base runner that Jim Joyce called safe, which cost Detroit Tigers Armando Gallaraga a perfect game (video link here).  Great post-game video with Donald here (video link).

Donald is attempting to become the Indians starting 3b in 2011 (see his video interview here), which shouldn't come as a surprise as Baseball America had this to say about Donald prior to the 2009 season:
Weaknesses: A mechanical fielder, Donald grades out as a below-average shortstop and likely won't be a regular at the position in the majors. He should be average at second base and has enough arm for third, though he needs more work there. At times he can be too hard on himself, taking bad at-bats into the field and vice versa
Donald will not provide the power that a traditional 3b would bring, but he does have enough gap power in his bat to hopefully provide an above league average in ISO from the 3b position.  Here is a look at some of  Donald's career statistics:


Friday, March 4, 2011

Playoffs, Choo Talking Playoffs?

Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo had this to say to Cleveland Indians Beat Writer Paul Hoynes:

"Playoffs," said Choo. "That's it. Nothing else. . . .That's my goal." "Oh, yeah," said Choo. "We have a good offense, good pitching, too. Most people say we'll be in last place this season. But in baseball you never know. No one thought San Francisco would win the World Series last year."
The quote from Choo reminds me of a quote delivered by Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times during spring training of 2008:

"What's possible? Play in October, that's possible," ace Scott Kazmir said. "That is possible. That's what I got out of Joe Maddon talking to us, and talking to all of my teammates, it's not something that's impossible. We have what it takes to win here."
The Rays were coming off a 96 loss season in 2007 and went  on to win 97 games on their way to representing the American League in the 2008 World Series.  The Indians are coming of a 93 loss 2010 season....could their 2011 season end with: