Monday, October 6

Cleveland Indians 2008 Season Recap

A 162-game season is a lot of games to play, watch/listen to, or try to condense down to a slightly readable recap. Before the season began, we at FCF made some predictions. I have preached in the past that people in the media are rarely held accountable, so let's see how I did on our view into the Tribe's future.

Will C.C. be an Indian at the end of the season? I said he would still be with the team just because I didn't see this team falling so far below .500. My thinking was this team may not see the postseason but it wouldn't be so bad that they'd admit defeat early. Boy was I wrong on that one. The Indians were in the middle of a 10-game losing steak and on their way to being 16 games below .500 when C.C. was traded.

Which Hafner will we get: the 2007 decent hitter, the 2005-06 monster, or something in between? Things I didn't say include "Travis will be struck down with a mysterious shoulder weakness that will hobble him for most of the season" so you can imagine how I came out on this one. I expected a better than 2007 season from Hafner: what we got was 57 games, a .197 batting average and an OPS+ of 65. Wedge did have this to say in a post-season interview "I'm confident we'll have a championship middle-of-order bat next year. Does that mean 2006? Not necessarily. Does that mean 2007? I think he's going to be better than that." But Wedge isn't the type of manager to be taken exactly at his word.

What minor league position player and pitcher do you expect to contribute in the way that so many did last season? Hey one I kinda got right. I saw Ben Francisco contributing and Marte falling flat. Take that.

What do you expect from Andy Marte? My answer still stands. I suspect he'll do an OK job as a utility infielder to be eventually traded or released and go on to having a mediocre career with 2 or 3 different teams, but I hope I'm wrong.

Will Cliff Lee stay in the rotation? I don't want to gloat over the rest of the FCF staff but while I didn't see the comeback player of the year honors, I was the only one to answer this one as yes.

What will be the order of finish in the AL Central? Baseball is obviously a hard season to predict because no professional (at least to my knowledge) predicted this - so how are a bunch of amateurs to?

How many games will this team win, will they qualify for the postseason, and how successful do you expect said postseason run to go? While I was easily the most wrong with my overly optimistic 99, no one predicted less than 90.

OK enough of that pain, let's move on.

The 2008 Indians finished the season a semi-respectable 81-81 (.500, boy that calculation was easy). By semi-respectable I mean when you consider the 16 games below they were at the beginning of July. The obvious feel-good story of this season is Cliff Lee who went from not being on the 2007 postseason roster to a 22-3 season posting a ERA of 2.54 and an ERA+ of 175. I've always liked the way Cliff can change speeds and I'm a sucker for a big curve. What Cliff did this season was command his fastball early and consistently get ahead in counts. While I could be writing a whole article on his season I want to point out that I don't care if he wins the AL Cy Young. For Cliff I'm sure he deserves it and that's great for him. Personally, seeing an Indians pitcher win 20+ games was something I was sure I would never see, and now I have. Too bad it came in a lost season.

The other good story was the production of the offense in the second half. Names like Kelly Shoppach and Shin-Soo Choo, yes Choo, are the standouts. It was comforting to anyone looking forward to next year to see this team climb to where they eventually finished.

Position Reviews


Thanks to a stretch on the DL by Victor Martinez, 2008 was the first season backup Kelly Shoppach had played in more than 60 games or got more than 200 at bats. Shoppach did not disappoint, eventually ending the season with an 123 OPS+. That is only bested on the team by Choo, yes Choo. What will the Tribe do with Shoppach with a healthy Martinez in 2009? The easy answer is to play Victor more at 1st and maybe DH Shoppach on occasion. The easy answer, however, isn't always the right one. Victor is not nearly as valuable at 1st as he is as a catcher, and the trade value of Shoppach has never been higher. Shoppach is not signed long-term, and the Indians front office likes to lock up players. How will this all work out? Well if you remember my previous section, you won't see me guessing, but if I had to it would be a huge deal for the Indians to trade Shoppach, and not just for future prospects.

-First Base

Ryan Garko played 141 games this season which was a career high, but his OPS+ regressed from 2007's 117 to 97, which was propably due to Ryan having a horrible start to the season (he wasn't the only one though). Garko's production of 90 RBI (tied with Sizemore) and 15 HBP lead the team. Is Garko a long term solution at first? He could be, but not a great one. Unfortunately for this team there are bigger gaps to fill, so Garko doesn't have to worry much about. Maybe.

-Second Base

Speaking of rough starts. Asdrubal Cabrera posted a first half batting average of .184 and a second half of .320, which is quite a turn around for Droobs. Ignoring the first half, Cabrera had the season we all hoped for. His 1st half - 2nd half OPS+ split is 49/142. The pretty well-laid-out plan right now is for Cabrera to move to shortstop and shift Peralta is third. I like this plan on paper because of the absence of a viable third option is the farm system. While this is far from a done deal this leaves a few holes in the infield. Can Jhonny make the transition to third? Is the FA market any better for second then it is for third?


I know third base comes next in the official scorer's book, but we were already discussing Jhonny. I get the feeling Jhonny isn't appreciated enough on this team by the fans. Jhonny's performance this year, while not amazing, was a stabilizing force on this team. Peralta had one of the few good first halves on this team. Jhonny posted 48 RBI in the first half and 41 in the second with an OPS+ split of 94/107. And yes, Jhonny led all shortstops in the majors in RBI.

-Third Base

With Casey Blake traded I will finally say he was a pretty good player, and boy did we get a good deal from the Dodgers for him. With the news of Peralta's move I won't even go into Marte's season except to say his season OPS+ was 53. Thank goodness we got Shoppach in that trade too.

Before moving on to the outfield, I do want to cover the play of Jamey Carroll. Carroll spent about 74% of his innings filling in at second base while Asdrubal found himself in AAA. The rest of his time was at third with a short three inning stint coming in left field where he recorded no stats. While he finished with a less than spectacular 85 OPS+ I thought he did a fine job as the utility infielder. With that and the way he stepped into the second base situation and hitting in the two hole, Carroll showed how valuable he was to this team. Expect to see Carroll's option picked up for 2009 and his role on this team to be about the same utility infielder and fantasy football comissioner.

-Right Field

Did you know Gutierrez led all right fielders by saving 29 bases above average? Neither did I until yesterday, when did a post on Bobby Abreu and his stats. Did you know Abreu cost the Yankees 24 bases (16 plays) compared to the average right fielder this year? Anyway, Gutierrez finished the season with an OPS+ of 80 and was another youngster bit by the first half - second half split, 57/114. Gutierrez's defense is noteworthy and he may not be a great long-term solution but if he can produce an entire season like his second half he will be a valuable part of this team.

Oh wait, Choo played the majority of his games in Right Field. Well, sorry Franklin, Choo's second half and being named September's player of the month are just something to be amazed at. And Choo isn't so much to blame for his poor first half as he was coming back from Tommy John surgery. But just for fun, Choo played 36 games in the first half and got 107 at bats, compared with 48 and 210 in the second. His OPS split? 107/170. Choo, yes Choo, posted a second half batting average of .343. I could go on and on about Choo but that is probably a winter post. At this point you have to say maybe Gutierrez is a fourth outfielder, but first let's cover the other outfielders.

-Center Field

Yes, Grady Sizemore is very, very good. The only real argument still left on Sizemore is should he be moved down the lineup to take advantage of his power. Unfortunately there really isn't another lead-off option in this lineup, at least not an obvious one. Maybe that mystery second baseman would fill that role.

-Left Field

Ben Francisco saw 121 games and over 400 at bats, with 83 of those games coming in left. Ben actually finished with a OPS+ of 100 (which is the league average if you remember) and was one of the few young players who showed a regression in the second half. I'm not totally sold on Francisco, but the outfield is not a major Indians concern this offseason. Unfortunately Gutierrez and Francisco both are right-handed with neither really showing a huge righty/lefty split, so is the left-handed David Dellucci part of the Indians future? Well, let's ask Eric Wedge: "As of right now, he'll be back."

Well as the Tribe Time Report states:

Discouraging Part of that Quote: He'll Be Back...
Encouraging Part of that Quote: As of right now...
WOOHOO there's a hope.

-Pitching Staff

I can't possibly sit here and write about the Indians' pitching starters and relief the same way I just stepped through the position players. So how about this: I've already discussed the season of a lifetime by Cliff Lee, and anything I say about the bullpen can be chalked up to the generally volatile nature of baseball relief corps. What I will do is write a upcoming post on the Indians pitching staff and what 2009 might look like.

I do have to mention the firing of bullpen coach Luis Isaac, who had been bullpen coach since 1993 and who had been with the organization for 44 years. Yes, 44 years which is often pointed out is four years then Eric Wedge has been on this earth. Justice B. Hill summarized Wedge's comments as: Calling Isaac a loyal soldier and praising his contribution to the organization, Wedge said the decision was less about Isaac and more about what the bullpen needed to thrive, which was a different "dynamic" than what Isaac brought to the coach's role.

The two reactions I've seen are;

From Tribe Time Report:

I mean.. Why isn't Shelton the one being fired.. it was HIS OFFENSE that was so poor, even WITH Hafner and Martinez healthy.. Why isn't HE the one being fired for the regressions of players Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera..

Point is.. I don't think I would have fired Shelton.. Which means I CERTAINLY wouldn't have fired Luis Isaac.


From Anthony Castrovince's CastroTurf Blog:

Anyway, the point of this posting is not necessarily to rip what I believe to be a ridiculous move. It's to send a salute to Isaac, a truly enjoyable "baseball guy" to be around. And boy, was he around. He had been with the Indians' organization for 44 years -- four more years than Wedge has been alive.

I haven't seen anyone write a bad thing about Isaac and I can't say I have a very good insight into this situation. Maybe this wasn't handled in the best manner but how often have you heard the bullpen coach ever singled out like the hitting coach? And if we've come to accept that a team's bullpen seems like a total crap shoot every year can you ever blame the bullpen coach or praise him for that matter? Will this make the Indians a better team? Maybe, but obviously the Indians lost something with the firing of Isaac that isn't easy to find. Still, if the bullpen is better for the firing then sometimes tough decisions like these need to be made. One final note Isaac was offered a job with the Indians just not a coaching one. Isaac turned it down saying he thought he had more to offer another team somewhere.

Offseason Outlook - Payroll runs a series covering team's outlook concerning their payroll for the next season. Their coverage of the Indians payroll can be found here. Their bottom line analysis being:

It will be a challenging offseason for Mark Shapiro, as the Indians have many needs. A payroll increase could go a long way, though attendance doesn't seem to support one.

My two cents are that the second base or possibly third base situation is probably top priority with the bullpen always being a concern. As mentioned before, trading Shoppach would have to result in a sizable return and would put Martinez behind home plate for the next few years. I see Garko, Shoppach, and Martinez working through cather, first base, and DH duties with Shoppach just being a catcher DH. This is of course assuming Hafner continues he's melt down which is what I have to bet on at this point.

Questions Left to Answer

Think of this as my offseason post to-do-list.

Who from the farm teams will make contributions in 2009?
Who's on second or third for that matter?
What will become of our DH, Travis Hafner?
What will the Indians 2009 rotation and bullpen look like?

Closing the book on the Tribe 2008

Another season of high expectations has come and gone leaving the familiar other teams in the postseason. Hey we had a good run last year, and baseball is a really tough game to figure out. Just look at those teams from New York, with all their money sitting at home too. While that doesn't make me feel completely happy, it doesn't hurt. What is probably most disappointing is how weak the AL Central was this year and how little the Indians took advantage of that. A horrible first half offense, injuries to Carmona, Westbrook, Hafner, and Martinez didn't help either, nor did a bullpen that imploded. It's interesting to look in hindsight at how many things went the Tribe's way in 2007. Fausto Carmona coming out of nowhere to win 19, C.C. having a Cy Young year, and the bullpen hanging on to almost every lead. The only real bright side of 2008 is Cliff Lee and hope for 2009. There were stretches in 2008 that would have tested anyone's patience, especially on a team a lot of people expected great things from. However the Indians better second half helped. While it is important to start well, and boy did this team not do that, ending well will at least get this writer through the winter, daydreaming of Choo, Peralta, Cabrera and the rest redeeming this team in 2009.

Go Tribe!

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