Sunday, June 6

Doubling down on the Tribe

Improbably, and perhaps a bit unexpectedly, I'm really into the 2010 Cleveland Indians. As I write this, I'm relaxing at home and watching the Tribe chase the elusive .400 mark, and like really genuinely wanting them to get there. Things are looking good early for a potential sweep of the White Socks, with the Tribe jumping on Chicago starter Mark Buehrle and his balky move for three in their half of the first. The White Socks are wearing black socks, btw.

But back to what I said at the outset - I'm enjoying following this club on a close basis. They're not especially good, and they aren't in any danger of contending in the AL Central, but that doens't mean Manny Acta's gang can't be fun to watch. I think a goal for this young club might be a third-place finish; if we gain some confidence and develop some of our young talent, there's no reason we can't end up in front of the Royals and White Socks in 2010.

On that semi-optimistic note, here are some things I'm liking about this year's club:

Discerning why they aren't 0-55
Statistically, the Indians as a team are pretty horrific. Regular readers of my work here, if they existed, would know that I typically use OPS+ and ERA+ as shorthand single-number metrics for team and player performance, and have done so this year to monitor the Tribe. I started to wonder the other day whether this was really as reasonable as I believed, so I plotted the sum of team OPS+ and ERA+ (the product works equally well) against AL team winning percentages for this season so far and the full 2009 season. The correlation is excellent, giving an R-squared value of about 0.85 (1.0 is perfectly correlated) for both years. Thus, my use of these numbers is quite justified.

Anyway, these metrics don't paint a pretty picture for the 2010 Tribe. We're dead last in pitching at 84 (next-to-last is 89!), and 4th-from-last in hitting at 91. According to, we're statistically likely to lose any given game we play by 0.9 runs. Yet we have victories! 21 of them! I don't quite understand how myself, but it must be some combination of: moxie, guts, heart, grinding, clutchiness, knowing how to win, and, of course, wanting it more. Talent is overrated.

I'm not going to lie - I get unironic, unmitigated joy out of watching the exploits of #33, Indians first baseman Mr. Russell Oles Branyan. There's something so comically absurd about him - that half-grin he always has, his undying devotion to the Three True Outcomes, his preposterously slow home run trots, and that silly mile-long swing that he refuses to shorten up. Comedic value aside, Branyan has also been one of the Indians' most productive batters this year, providing some of the muscle that their anemic lineup sorely needs. I love watching this guy.

Part of my interest in Rusty's play is that I am something of a self-appointed champion of Branyan's performance, defending him from asaults by writers like Gary Benz and Brian McPeek, and buddies like Milkey, who hold Rusty in contempt simply because they find strikeouts aesthetically displeasing. Yes, he goes down on strikes too often, but it's wrong to focus only on that and not recognize that he provides value in the middle of the order, with his 122 OPS+ trailing only Choo and Kearns among Tribe regulars. Check out his line so far: .248/.323/.487. He's only one off the team home run lead, trailing Choo by just one despite having played a third less games. RUSTY!

The Mitchman
This just in: rookie starter Mitch Talbot has a full third of the Indians' victories on the season, personally notching seven of the club's 21 triumphs. Impressive as Talbot has been, and he's certainly the star of the rotation so far, look at how his numbers compare through 11 starts to another Indian starter, whose identity we will mask by calling him "Wake Jestbrook"

Mitchman: 3.54
Wake: 3.53

Mitchman: 73.2
Wake: 71.1

Mitchman: 68
Wake: 67

Mitchman: 27
Wake: 26

Mitchman: 1.290
Wake: 1.304

Mitchman: 32
Wake: 36

Mitchman: 7-4
Wake: 4-4

Could you guess who the mystery starter was? It was Fausto Carmona! I couldn't resist messing around with you a little bit. As you see above, Carmona and Talbot have had virtually identical seasons; Talbot's campaign has just gotten more ink because he's a rookie and because the Tribe offense has backed him more strongly than they have Fausto and helped him collect a few more victories. For the millionth time: wins aren't a good way to measure pitching performance.

Wins or no wins, having two starters with ERAs around 3.50 mean you've got a fair chance to be in 40% of your games each time around. The rest of the starters have been inconsistent, to be charitable, but Masterson has been improving of late, Wake is regaining his form, and I can always go out drinking whenever Huff takes the hill.

The impending arrival of Carlos Santana
I almost don't even notice Lou Marson's mind-boggling out-making quest (.194/.266/.514) when I think about Chuck joining me Downtown to take a few hacks at AL pitching.

Editor's note: literally two minutes after I typed this, Marson crushed a three-run home run off of Buehrle. It doesn't make my point any less valid, but it doesn't help my writing groove either. It probably wasn't fair of me to overlook Marson's solid defensive work either, leading the AL in caught-stealing percentage.

The continued beer sales at Progressive Field
I'm 0-3 on the year, but I have me a fun time at the ballpark, and I'll crack that win column before you know it, and there will be fireworks, and people everywhere laughing and singing, and fresh garlands of herbs, and it will be beautiful. Matt LaPorta might even reach base successfully!

Chris Perez' hair
Our most effective reliever and our most badass. My idea of an Indians' Fantasy Camp would be watching Perez trying to throw fastballs past Branyan. People would get plunked, wind currents would be altered, and towering drives would ensue.

Al Pawlowski
He's basically the Russell Branyan of the broadcast booth: genuinely good, yet undeniably amusing.

Watching young guys play
Ya know, Trevor Crowe isn't necessarily good, and Jason Donald may or may not be either, but at least they run fast and try hard. Just because the talent level is low doesn't mean the excitement level has to be. Funny story: I was talkin' Tribe with some people at a party recently and said something about Donald's play and added "not a bad-lookin' guy either," both because my lady friend had told me this to be the case and because I thought it would be funny.

Dead silence. Crickets. I think I heard a record album screech to a halt in the background. I still laugh when I think of the stunned silence - you'd have thought I said something way over-the-top offensive. Gotta know your audience, I suppose. Go Tribe!

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