Monday, June 25

Downtown Report, Rehabbin' Again

Well, here I am, sitting on my couch, recovering from an arthroscopic knee surgery.


The first one didn't quite take, despite a once-promising rehab, so I had to get some more "work" done on the old knee. Non-invasive as they've gotten this game to be over the years, I still have to park it for a few days, so here I am with some time to bang out some commentary about our favorite clubs.

I've spent more time on the DL this summer than Travis Hafner!

No good? How about: I've spent more time on the DL this summer than Grady Sizemore!

Enough injury jokes - even without the services of their two one-time stars for most (if not all) of the campaign so far, the Tribe has managed to claw its way to a 37-32 mark and first place in the AL Central, with more than 40% of the season in the books. This, despite some team numbers suggesting that the Indians are really, really fortunate to be where they are:

- Run differential of -27 (13th of the 14 AL teams, only bettering abysmal Minnesota)
- SRS of -0.3 (again, 13th/14 clubs - Minnesota is awful)
- Pythagorean W-L of 32-37 (an actual mark which would drop them to 12th in the AL in W-L)

Fun fact on the run differential stat: every AL East team is in the positive, three of four AL West teams are >0 ... and then only one AL Central club (the White Socks) have scored more than they've allowed. The Indians owe a good of part of their first-place status to the underperforming white socks (only 2 games up on .500 despite a +33 differential) and the surprisingly mediocre Detroit Tigers. This division is there to be run away with...and no one has bothered to do so thus far.

A fair question to ask is just how the Tribe has managed this feat. As a team, the Wahoos haven't been too bad at the plate. Their team OPS+ is 101, and they've scored 4.38 runs a game, 6th in the American League and just under the league average of 4.44. They've been paced by Asdrubal Cabrera, the team's MVP so far in my view (and who just now hit a HR as I typed this) who owns an OPS+ value of 145 from the shortstop position. His infield partner Jason Kipnis has shined as well, posting a 114 OPS+ number. Even Shin-Soo Choo has had a resurgence, upping his on-base (.365 from .344) and power (slugging at .444 from .390) numbers from a year ago and giving the Tribe good production from the leadoff spot.

The Captain Jack/Chisenhall tandem has been decent at 3B (OPS+ 0f 105), while Carlos Santana (100) and Michael Brantley (100) have been good as well, though in the backstop's case I think we all expect more. Santana's OBP has held steady at .350, where it was a year ago, but his power has fallen considerably, with his SLG dropping from .457 last year to .354 this year. This confirms what I think we all see when we see Santana approach the plate: a guy who doesn't really seem like a threat to crush one anymore. Let's hope this shift reverses itself.

Brantley, on the other hand, has recovered from a slow start, boosting his on-base to .320 (and posting a SLG of .392 that trails only Cabrera, Hafner, Kipnis, and Choo) and continuing to play a solid CF. You'd like to see him walk more, but his progress this year has been notable. On the topic of those walks, here are the walk percentages for Indians hitters this year:

Santana: 16.1%
Hafner: 15.7%
Lopez: 14.8%
Left fielders Duncan + Damon: 12.0%
Cabrera: 11.1%
Choo: 10.2%
Hannahan: 9:8%
Kipnis: 7.3%
Kotchman: 6.7%
Brantley: 5.3%
Chisenhall (just for fun): 1.6%

My point is that, to really join the ranks of the Indians' top players, Brantley needs to "put the ball in play" a little less and be a tad more selective. In that department, unlike the others, we're not yet seeing upward movement from past years.

Oh, and I don't feel like talking too much about our "production" from LF or 1B. So let's get to the pitching.

It's no surprise to people who have followed the Indians thus far this season that the pitching staff, especially the starters, has been the team's weak point. With a club ERA of 4.44, the Indians rank next-to-last in the AL (surprise! the Twins are dead last) and have put up a dismal ERA+ of 86. A lot of the "credit" goes to the Indians' woeful starting staff:

Masterson 96
Lowe 89
Jimenez 83
Gomez 77
Tomlin 75

With not one starting pitcher even above league average in ERA, it really is a miracle that the Indians still find themselves atop the division. This is remarkable, and I would have to say unsustainable through a full year. Someone - and Masterson and Jimenez have shown flashes recently - needs to step up and start giving Cleveland quality starts, or this first-place adventure will start to crash and burn.

The reason why the Indians have won so many games with so-so hitting and poor starting pitching? Mr Vinnie Pestano and Mr Chris Perez. Pestano has been absolutely lights-out, dominating the 8th inning with an ERA+ of 208 and striking out almost 11 men per 9 innings. Perez has been almost as good, posting 23 consecutive saves since blowing one on Opening Day and striking out almost exactly one batter an inning, a rate improved by 50% from last year.

Simply put, the Indians have been able to score enough to get leads through 7 innings despite weak starting pitching...and just haven't lost those games, ever. Eventually they'll drop a few close ones, and will need their starters to come through (and to get some production from 1B and LF) to balance things out. Go Tribe!

I'll defer to my colleague Doug on the CaVs, as he's promised some basketball comments in the upcoming days. I will offer a few thoughts on the NBA Finals, though.

Someone asked me prior to the series who I thought was a better player: James or Kevin Durant. I just sort-of laughed. James is a better player than everybody right now, and by a lot. He's historically good. There is no stopping him. Durant can fill it up, and Derrick Rose does tremendous things in Chicago, but no one has the all-around game and complete package like #6 does at this moment.

And with his first NBA title, he's achieved, at 27, everything significant in the basketball universe. Rookie of the Year. Six-time first-team All-NBA. Four-time first-team All-NBA Defensive Team. Scoring champion. Three-time NBA MVP. Finals MVP. NBA Champion. There isn't anything left to check off. Oh, and he'll be the best player in the world for a few more years, at least - his incredible run in these playoffs hinted at that.

And I've softened a bit on #6, because I really think he developed as a person and player this year. He doesn't appear outwardly to be nearly as much of a douche, seems to genuinely feel remorse about the way he stiffed Cleveland, and has a renewed focus and approach to team play. He simply isn't as villainous anymore.

All that having been said, it's not like I have any intention of rooting for the guy. The fact remains that he quit on and then sold out the Cavaliers (both in the '10 playoffs and in taking so long before The Decision), and then constructed the awful-to-watch Heat so he could play in front of a bunch of non-fans in Miami. And then he won everything, the latest chapter in Cleveland's unfortunate sports history. It's a tough hand for Cavaliers fans to be dealt, but at this point what can you do? I still don't want him to win - I want the Cavs to win - and I still hope this remains his only title because there are far worthier players who haven't crippled my favorite franchise who I can root for in the NBA.

But I have a sinking feeling he isn't done yet.

I gotta tell you, football is pretty far off my radar at the moment.

I know a lot of sports fans like to follow the Buckeyes' spring practices and the Browns' OTAs...but I can't feign a lot of excitement for those warmup practices. The lack of meaningful football activities in the spring and summer means we're treated to non-stories like the Jim Brown/Trent Richardson press sniping (Brown, apparently, felt that he hadn't been a douche in pubilc recently), and that's as uninteresting to me as the Jerry Sandusky, car racing, and golf headlines I see on ESPN each day. This lull between the end of the winter sports and the start of the fall ones is a slow time of year.

There seems to be an undercurrent of optimism around the Browns this year...and I'm still worried about them. They had a serious shortage of talent the past four years, posting a pair of 4-12 marks and two 5-11 campaigns, and they're starting 2012 with a rookie quarterback at the helm. Sigh.

The Renegade Buckeyes could be something interesting, though. Hoepfully we'll hear more about them from Figgs as the season approaches. It's been a year and a half since we beat michigan, and I'm ready to get back in that win column.

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