Monday, January 30, 2012

Veeck: Entertainment lives in the present but it also looks to the future.

Yesterday I posted a story (Dolan Family: Lessons From Bill Veeck on Building Attendance) which discussed how Bill Veeck described how a team should operate to draw fans. He described what should be done in terms of what a team should not do. This description of what a team should not do is the narrative, fair or not,  most often used to describe how Larry Dolan has gone about the marketing of the Indians under his ownership.

I had planned on elaborating more on the Veeck strategy but wanted to see the reaction from the original story. The reaction received was that there was not a gap between Larry Dolan and the fans and that winning will cure all ills. The attendance increase of 2011 was proof positive of that point of view. Another popular opinion was that Dolan needs to step up and spend money to get fans to believe he is serious about contending.

Moving forward it is impossible to agree that there is not a disconnect between Larry Dolan and the fan base. Tony Lastoria of Sports Time Ohio and Indians Prospect Insider detailed the gap between Dolan and the fans (even after the rise in attendance of 2011) this way:

It is no secret that there is a huge disconnect between Indians owner Larry Dolan and the fans. He is viewed by many fans as “cheap” and a “liar” and a lot of people simply refuse to get over his decisions to tear down the team not once, but twice during his tenure as owner. This town holds grudges and is not about handing out forgiveness so freely. Larry Dolan made his own bed, and once you make it in this town the way he has, it pretty much stays that way forever. (Indians need to give the fans reasons to support them)

The Cleveland Indians have 100 years of history and a beautiful stadium in a prime location. and I believe that  winning will ultimately get the fans to return to Progressive Field. But I am not so certain that with increased attendance and winning that the fans of Larry Dolan will change to the same degree.  I do not know if the fans will come to Progressive Field when they aren't winning--while they are in the process of building a winner. That is the area that Bill Veeck understood to be of paramount importance as we will see in his own words after the jump.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dolan Family: Lessons from Bill Veeck On Building Attendance

Bill Veeck was the colorful owner of the Cleveland Indians from 1946 - 1949. When he took over the club around mid-season of 1946 the Indians had drawn 289,000 fans but ended the year with an attendance of 1,052,289.  It was the first time the Indians had ever drawn over 1 million fans. The closest the team had ever come to drawing 1 million fans was 1920 when they drew 912,832 and in 1940 when they drew 902,576. Over the next 3 years of his ownership attendance increased in 1947 (1,512,978), 1948 (2,620,627), and 1949 (2,233,771).

Bill Veeck in his own words descibes how to draw fans (from the book Veeck as in Wreck):

The best way to tell you what we did to draw these crowds is to tell you what we did not do. We did not open the ticket window and expect the citizenry to come rushing  up with their money in their fists. We have never operated on the theory that a city owes anything to the owner of a baseball franchise, out of civic pride, patriotic fervor, or compelling national interest.

Baseball has sold itself as a civic monument for so long that it has come to believe its own propaganda. There is nothing owed to you. A baseball team is a commercial venture, operating for a profit. The idea that you don't have to package your product, and hustle your product the way General Motors hustles its product, is baseball's most pernicious enemy.

Despite having one of the most accessible, beautiful, and fan friendly baseball stadiums in all of major league baseball the Indians haven't finished higher than 5th in the American League in attendance since the 2002.  They have only finished ranked as high as 9th in any season since 2003.  Yes, there are arguments that point to a declining economy, there is a certain amount of dejection after living the high life of the late 90's and early 2000's, and the Indians have struggled to produce back-to-back above .500 seasons since 2000-2001. 

Could all the attendance problems be wiped away with consistent winning and a couple of playoff appearances? My guess is yes, but until that time the topic will be the gap between the fans of the Cleveland Indians and the Dolan family.

It struck me while reading Bill Veeck's biography Veeck as in Wreck that he seemed to be describing the Dolan Marketing Plan when suggesting what he didn't do to sell tickets. Maybe I'm wrong but is this the perception surrounding the Dolan's? If so, what could the family do to reverse this opinion?

Is the Indians 2012 Bullpen On Shaky Ground?

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports wrote a piece about the 2012 Indians titled: Cleveland's fate lies with Sizemore's gimpy knees. Of course, every man is entitled to his own opinion, and although I don't share Brown's opinion of the Indians reliance on Sizemore it was something else that caught my attention in the article. Brown was detailing the Indians collapse and wrote:
Damaged by a pitching staff whose starting rotation’s ERA climbed by a half-run in the second half and whose bullpen’s rose by more than a run.
Since one of my slogans for the 2012 Indians is "Hit Their Way to the Bullpen" with the premise being to score more runs, get enough innings from the starter, and turn the game over to the bullpen to carry home the victories the increased ERA by the Indians bullpen in the 2nd half of the season would certainly give me some pause to that strategy. More importantly, examining the 2011 bullpen may give justification for the number of arms the Indians have signed to minor league contracts (Ray, Wheeler, Seddon, Accardo, and Tejada).

The 2011 bullpen was one area that Tribe fans could point to as a strong suit of the team and an area that the injury bug stayed away from. The Bullpen Mafia, as they were known, held a 27-21 record with a 3.71 ERA which ranked 5th in the AL and a FIP of 3.90 which ranked 6th.

The 2012 Bullpen Mafia will include Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, and Tony Sipp. At least one of the two non-performing members of the mafia have been snuffed out as Chad Durbin was not re-signed over the winter. Frank Herrmann has options and he may be on the shuttle between Columbus and Cleveland in 2012. All things considered the Indians bullpen certainly appears to be one of the clubs strengths of the club heading into 2012.

Below is the basic splits on how the bullpen performed the first and second half of 2011. They were 9% better than league average in OPS against in the first half and 12% worse in the second half, but my first thought after reading Browns comments was that he must not be factoring the performances of several relievers that ended up pitching for the Indians in the second half of the season.

I felt it was irresponsible as well as lazy for Mr. Brown to point to the Indians second half ERA as an indication of poor performance.  More than anything the numbers had to be watered down due to September callups and I planned on quickly demonstrating that the main components of the bullpen were just as strong the second half as they were the first half.

I thought this was going to be an easy task -- especially when I looked at the individual numbers compiled by  Josh Judy, Nick Hagadone, Zach Putnam, and Corey Kluber.  Overall the quartet went 2-1 with a 6.13 (25 earned runs in 36.2 innings pitched).

So, Mr. Brown, maybe a little more research on your part....oh wait...even AFTER scrubbing these 4 relievers from the record books results a team ERA in the 2nd half of 4.11, still 0.93 points higher than the first half.  My apologies to Mr. Brown! Now comes the task of looking at what happened to the bullpen in the second half of 2011?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Flashback: Indians Fans Do Not Want or Need a Prince Encore

Prince Fielder will return to Progressive Field for the first time since 2009 and he'll spend a lot more time on the shores of Lake Erie.  Even though it was only a 3-game series the Indians pitchers had no answer for him as he had 6 hits in 11 at-bats, drew 5 walks, drove in 8 runs, and hit a mammoth grand slam. Indians fans certainly do not want an encore from Prince in 2012 and beyond.

On June 15, 2009, the Cleveland Indians were sitting in last place in the AL Central 6.5 games out first place with a record of 29-37.  There was still hope that the Indians could turn their season around, one winning streak and the Tribe would be right back in the thick of  pennant race, right?  A crowd of 25,415 were at the park to watch the Indians take on the Milwaukee Brewers and there was extra energy in the air as the Indians were celebrating "Major League" night.

Fans were given a "Wild Thing" bobblehead, Bob Ueker threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Additionally, he was in the Indians booth as a guest announcer.  The fans were treated to four hours of baseball, the Indians scored 12 runs, hit four home runs, and held leads of 8-3 lead and 12-6.

Unfortunately, for the Indians fans in attendance that night they'd have to watch the Brewers continue to come back and finally pass the Tribe on the strength of an 8-run Brewer outburst, highlighted by Prince Fielders Grand Slam, to defeat the Indians 14-12.

Fielder's slam was the beginning of the end for Tribe skipper Eric Wedge was unable to summon the magic of Lou Brown and lead the Indians to a rousing magical finish to the season.  Wedge was fired as manager of the Indians at the end of the 2009 season. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Indians Improvement are Independent of Tigers & Prince Fielder: A Dozen Examples

The Focus should remain on Progressive Field

Kudos to the Detroit Tigers for signing Prince Fielder but the emphasis on improving the 2012 Cleveland Indians isn't found on the transactions page for the Detroit Tigers or any other team. The focus is on how well the Cleveland Indians cleanup their own deficiencies.

Moving on. 

Here are a dozen items from the 2011 season that the Indians need to improve on in 2012. The Indians organization is in control of these changes regardless of what impact bat any other organization brings in. 

1. The Indians were shut out 13 times (3rd most in the AL). 

2. The Indians were held to 1 run 19 times (4th most in the AL)  and went 3-16 in those games. 

3. The Indians were held to 2 runs an additional 18 times (T-7th in the AL in 2011) and went 4-14 in those games. .

4. Overall, the Indians were held to 2 runs or less 50 times (T-7th in AL) and posted a record of 7-43 (7th worst record in the AL). 

5. The Indians averaged 4.35 R/G in 2011 (9th in AL).

Monday, January 23, 2012

The 2007 Indians Were No Accident.

Some may suggest the perfect storm hit the 2007 Indians and ownership is following that "hope for lightning in a bottle" plan once again. Looking back at the 2006-2007 transformation of the Indians it's pretty clear that the front office went in to the off-season with a direct approach to improve the 2007 season. Are they following the same approach this offseason and we are blinded by the lack of moves or name brand name acquisitions? I'll try and answer that question later this winter but for now let's examine how the 2007 team came togetehr.

The 2006 Indians finished the year in 4th place with a record of 78-84 a whopping 18 games behind the Minnesota Twins. The Indians performed well below their Pythagorean Record which was 89-73. The 2006 Indians were second in the league in runs scored with 870 runs (NYY first at 930) and the starting rotation was 3rd in the league with an ERA of 4.31 and 2nd in the AL in FIP.  The achilles heel of the 2006 Indians was their bullpen which ranked 10th in the AL in ERA at 4.73 and 9th in FIP at 4.38.

The 2006 bullpen from hell included Fernando Cabrera (3-3 5.19 ERA), Guillermo Mota (1-3 6.21 ERA), Scott Sauerbeck (0-1 6.23 ERA), Tom Mastny (0-1 5.51 ERA), Danny Graves (2-1 5.79 ERA), Brian Slocum (0-0 5.60 ERA), and Bob Wickman (1-4 4.18 ERA). And of course who could ever forget the performance Fausto Carmona delivered as closer in 2006 (0-3 6.75 ERA in save situations [0-6 4.78 as reliever]).

Why Do the Indians Continue to Sign Minor League Free Agents?

The Indians, outside of re-signing center fielder Grady Sizemore and trading for starting pitchers Derek Lowe and Kevin Slowey have not done much in the way of free agency. The bulk of their off-season has been spent signing minor league free agents.
Their are several reasons that the Indians may be signing the amount of players:

1. The team was ravaged by injuries during the 2011 season and had to use the disable list a total of 22 times (second most in MLB). The injuries affected nearly every position at one point or another as only one player was able to make 90+ starts at one position (Asdrubal Cabrera).  

2. Through promotion, trades, and injuries their will be plenty of openings at the AAA level should the players signed be asked to or choose to report (not all of the players signed will be required or asked to report to AAA.) The Indians will hope to stay healthy at the major league level while the minor league signings fill out the roster in AAA until the natural progression of AA players can be advanced.

3. The Indians want competition to be present for some of their younger players come Spring Training. It seems that every season the Indians have a young player full of promise who takes a major step backward leaving the club in a lurch. In 2006 it was Fernando Cabrera, in 2007 it was Jeremy Sowers, Josh Barfield, and Cliff Lee, in 2008 it was Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera in 2009 it was Fausto Carmona, and in 2010 it was Luis Valbuena, and 2011 it was Matt LaPorta. Compound this list of failed young players with a few targeted injuries and you'll find a team fighting to climb above .500 on a consistent basis. 

4. On December 29th, Asdrubal Cabrera played his final game in the Venezuelan Winter League. He was caught in a rundown and removed from the game. No further updates were given and the possibility remains that he suffered an injury. If Cabrera was to be slowed by an injury of some kind their would be a competition for the utility infielder spot as Jason Donald would most likely take the role of starting shortstop.

*It should be noted that there is absolutely no proof or rumor circulating that Asdrubal Cabrera suffered an injury, just that he was removed from a game and I have not been able to determine why.