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]).

The 2006 season kicked off with the trade of Brandon Phillips to the Reds for Jeff Stevens but there were a number of other trades during the 2006 season which helped 2007 squad and beyond. Bob Wickman was dealt to the Braves for Max Ramirez who was used to bolster the 2007 OF in a trade for Kenny Lofton,  Eduardo Perez was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Asdrubal Cabrera who came up and took over for Josh Barfield over the last month and a half of the 2007 season, and Ben Broussard was dealt to the Mariners for Shin-Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham. One move the Indians also probably regret making is selecting Mike Adams off waivers from the New York Mets and trading him to San Diego for Brian Sikorski. (On a side note the 2006 draft also produced David Huff, Josh Tomlin, and Vinnie Pestano.)

The Indians front office knew that the bullpen short-circuited the 2006 season and they also knew that they had most of the remaining starting pitching and offense returning. The plan in the offseason was to improve the bullpen while shoring up the 3b, 2b, and corner OF positions. The plan was to move Casey Blake out of RF and back to 3b and this was accomplished by signing Trot Nixon to play RF.  After trading away Ronnie Belliard to the St. Louis Cardinals for Hector Luna the Indians needed to fill a hole at 2b and traded minor league 3b Kevin Kouzmanoff to the San Diego Padres for Josh Barfield. Jason Micheals was the 2006 LF but struggled against right handed pitching so the Indians signed David Dellucci to platoon in LF.  In order to fix the bullpen the Indians signed Aaron Fultz, Roberto Hernandez, Keith Foulke, and Joe Borowski.

The 2007 season did see its fair share of remarkable performances. Fausto Carmona transformed himself from hard luck reliever part time insecure starting pitcher to Cy Young candidate and the Tribe received a lot of help from the teams minor league system (Franklin Gutierrez, Aaron Laffey, & Asdrubal Cabrera).

To balance the ledger several players  performances suffered in 2007. Travis Hafner saw his OPS drop of .260 points, Cliff Lee ended up back in the minor leagues and finished the year with a record of 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA, Jeremy Sowers finished the year with a record of 1-6 with an ERA of 6.42, Tort Nixon saw his career numbers plummet to career lows, and David Dellucci spent much of the year on the disabled list.

The turnaround of the Indians bullpen from 2006 to 2007 was astonishing. The 2007 bullpen finished the year with the 4th best ERA in the league at 3.75 and first in FIP at 3.77. The starting rotation led the league in ERA at 4.19 and was 2nd in FIP at 4.21. The offense finished 6th in runs scored with 811. The Indians Pythagorean Record for 2007 was 91-71 and the team finished with a final record of 96-66 and defeated the New York Yankees in the ALDS before suffering a heart wrenching defeat to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.

The design of the 2007 Indians began mid-season of 2006 which by all accounts was a lost season. Players were acquired either helped the Indians directly in 2007 or were used as trade chips to acquire more talent during the 2007 season. The front office identified its weaknesses in the bullpen and held on to the productive pieces from the 2006 bullpen (Raffy Perez/Rafael Bettancourt) and added Aaron Fultz and Joe Borowski. The minor league system played a big role in the 2007 season as Ryan Garko picked up where he finished the 2006 season and had the best year of his career and Aaron Laffey, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Franklin Gutierrez all contributed down the stretch for the Indians. Like many other season in baseball history the key to success can not be attributed to one player or component of the team.

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