Tuesday, June 10

Tribe/Tigers recap

First off, before we talk about the Indians and Tigers splitting four games at Comerica Park this past weekend, let's acknowledge that losing Jake Westbrook for the entire season (and likely much of next year) is a tough blow to an already-struggling team and organization. Yeah, they have a lot of starting depth (less so once CC and Byrd leave), but Westbrook was a solid, established guy who averaged an ERA+ of 108 over the past 5 seasons and logged over 210 innings in 3 of the past 4. He was also off to an excellent start this season (ERA+ of 137) before going down with elbow trouble. Let's hope Jeremy Sowers can revert to his 2006 form and that the Tribe bullpen stops reverting to their 2006 form.

The first game of the series, a 4-2 Tribe win, was, I think, the sort of Indians games we expected this year: a solid starting pitching effort (7 IP, 2 ER from Paul Byrd), scoring some runs, not necessarily a lot, and getting a strong finish from the bullpen. That was the formula they used last year to great success and it was nice to see again. Too bad we didn't see it the next few days.

Edgar Renteria, haven't you done enough to us already? The game-winning hit in the World Series wasn't enough, now you have to go to Detroit and hit a Grand Slam to beat us? Enough, man. I even forewent the usual photo of Indians congratulating one another after scoring in favor of that anti-Renteria graphic. Boo.

I saw examples in this series of two very common managerial decisions that continue to make me wonder how the ostensibly qualified men who pilot these very valuable franchises on the field can keep making them. They are:

1) Defensive indifference. I wrote about this on my other blog last year, but I haven't gained any understanding of it in the interim. This is a situation that happens where a team has a multi-run lead and is trying to close the game out in the final inning. The trailing team gets a baserunner aboard, and the leading team basically lets him go to 2nd base without trying to get him out. The other day, with Joe Borowski on and the Tribe holding a 4-2 lead, they let a Tiger waltz from first to second without even pretending to care. Rather than a stolen base, this is properly scored as "defensive indifference." I think this is a dumb thing for a team to allow to happen. Yes, I understand that the lead run is not important in this case, since the batter will eventually need to score, and yes, I understand that you want to focus the pitcher's attention on the hitter.

But would it really hurt to at least try to throw him out? I mean, you've got the tying run at the plate here - throw out the runner and that's no longer the case, plus you've recorded another out and decreased the other team's chance at a comeback (decreased it to 0, if there were already two down). Isn't it worth a shot to try to get that out? Additionally, if you can hold the runner to first rather than offering discount tickets to the keystone sack, you keep force plays in order. One can imagine a ground ball being hit where a middle infielder can get the lead guy at second but would never get the batter-runner at first. DI takes this option away, and if this was Friday's game, the Tigers now have the tying run on and one less out than they might otherwise. It's weird that teams keep practicing defensive indifference. Maybe I'm missing something.

2) Only using closers in "save" situations. The rulebook defines conventional saves as a pitcher finishing out a game where he enters with a 3-run lead or less (more if he enters with baserunners, but you see my point). Managers, for some bizarre reason, use this arbitrary piece of stat-keeping as their main decision point in when to use their closer. Up 3 runs in the 9th? Bring out the Big Guy. Up 4 runs in the 9th? Bring out Some Other Guy. This is just bizarre to me. When the Indians cut the Tigers' lead to 4 in the 9th in Saturday's game and had a man on, thus making it an official save situation, Jim Leyland naturally went to closer Todd Jones, with Rick Manning saying that he "has to." No he doesn't. He can, but there's no rule saying that your closer must be present for any instance where a save is available. Look, I'm all for using stats in baseball analysis, but not where the arbitrary definition of a certain metric affects decision making. If baseball's record-keeping braintrust had declared a save situation as a lead of 2 runs or less, do you think managers would act the same way, only using 2 and 3 as their decision point? I do.

Speaking of Manning, his overuse of the word "aggressive" is really starting to bother me. Not everything that's good is necessarily aggressive, Rick. Also: say "passive" just once to balance it out. Please.

As if to highlight my point, behold the Indians lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of eight runs in the first two innings with the help of...four hits. See, Rick, it's not about being aggressive, it's about being productive. First inning: walk, walk, Garko hits a 3-run shot. Second inning: walk, Shoppach hits a 2-run homer, single, walk, walk, hit by pitch, single, sac fly. 8-0. Four hits. There's a reason that those who understand baseball statistics have such an interest in walking and high on-base percentage, and Monday's game was a perfect illustration of it.

One last note: the white socks have been winning way too many games, and a feature I saw on SportsCenter this morning tried to link their winning ways to an Ozzie Guillen drunken rant from about a week ago. Please. Ozzie's latest idiotic plea to have himself committed has nothing to do with their recent success. Maybe SportsCenter should have tried to correlate their win streak with, I don't know, scoring nine runs per game? It's like, all Eric Wedge has to do is give a press conference where half his words are beeped out and boom! the Indians go on a week-long tear. Let's be clear: manager tirades do not make teams hit and pitch better.

The Indians (29-35) return to Cleveland for six games starting tonight: three against the Twins (31-33) and three against the Padres (28-37).

Tuesday: Baker vs. Sabathia
Wednesday: Blackburn vs Byrd
Thursday: Hernandez vs Laffey

Go Tribe!

1 comment:

JHH said...

I'm back. Is Andy a better writer than me? Sure, but the Twins series will be highlighted by your's truly.

Maybe by then I will have officially nailed down that this season is over for the Tribe and finally realized how miserable Jake's injury is. Or maybe not.

Thanks for covering for me Andy.