Thursday, July 31

Tribe and Tigers Split Series (which is a horrible post title)

The Tigers came into this series 6.5 games back of the White Sox. You have to imagine a team like the Tigers were hoping to make up some ground during a four-game series against the cellar-dwelling Indians. Well, they did. As I write this, the Tigers are now only 6.0 games back of the White Sox, but I can’t imagine they’re happy with only half a game. The Indians at home this season are 29-26 and on the road are 18-34, tied with five NL teams for the least number of road wins. So maybe the Tigers aren’t happy, but splitting with the Indians in Cleveland might be all the Tigers should have expected, and watching this series this is one the Indians probably should have won.

Now at this point in a season, following a team with a 47-60 record means losses shouldn’t hurt as much as if the team was even near contention. This of course is true if you are not my father, who would complain as much about the Indians 100th defeat as he would their 5th. But of course, all of this is only true if it didn’t feel like the Indians gave the game away. This is often the case with an underperforming bullpen and an offense that occasionally hiccups. Anyway you look at it this was an interesting series.

Monday’s opener saw The Cobra take the mound. Facing Kenny Rogers, who actually sports a winning record, this looked like an interesting matchup given Byrd’s 4-10 record coming in. However of late Byrd has pitched well and tonight was no exception to that. Byrd left the game having gone 7.2 innings and allowing four hits while striking out four. Byrd only allowed threebase runners into scoring position all night. The offense was nice enough to help out too to the tune of five runs. The triumvirate of Cabrera, Peralta, and Shoppach provided the power. Shoppach had a home run, his ninth, and Cabrera hit only his second of the year. Mujica pitched a scoreless 1.1 innings and the Tribe won the first game of the series 5-0.

Tuesday’s tilt was a little different. Ginter pitched a little more like you would have expected him to, going only four innings and leaving with four earned runs. This, unfortunately, means the bullpen has to pick up five innings, which isn’t what this bullpen does well. What it does do well is frustrate me but there isn’t a stat for that (yet). Needless to say, the Tribe dropped this one 5-8. You hate to see a game where the Tribe scores five runs and still don’t get the win. Just to point out how horrible a game this was the Tigers managed to leave 20 on base, but not to be outdone the Tribe posted 21 LOB. Truly amazing and disappointing but we have worse things to discuss.

Wednesday, if you follow the Tribe at all, you already know was long and didn’t end pleasantly. Kind of like Dr. Zhivago for me - oh wait, no one under 60 watches that Patriot that was long, right? Anyway, the Tribe lost 12-14 in 13 innings and I wish I could leave it at that, but there are more things in this game than just the final score. Unfortunately most of them will make you mad. The starter for the Tribe was Cliff Lee, a man I cannot in print refer to as just Lee. Cliff posted a five inning start with six runs earned. Yes, a very 2007-like Cliff Lee performance. This led to the bullpen to be called on for four innings. However while Lewis and Perez held down the fort on a lead, Mujica, who has pitched almost lights-out of late came crashing back to this plane of reality, giving up four runs in 0.2 innings. Unfortunately that was followed by Kobayashi who gave up a run to stretch the game into extra innings. Oh wait, the Indians' offense scored a run to do that - Kobayashi was trying to get home at a decent hour. The game finally ended with the loss going to Rincon who pitched one scoreless inning but once you see Rincon out there for a second inning you have to know you’re going home soon. But it doesn’t end there. The Tribe committed no less than four errors. I’ll repeat that: four errors! And the Tribe posted an amazing 30 left on base, thir-ty. I won’t even get into the wasted offense, except for Kelly Shoppach’s five for six night. While nice enough as is, Shoppach’s five hits were all extra base hits, like the anti-Ichiro. Three doubles and two round trippers resulted in a shockingly low 3 RBI. This is a rare feat in sport and I’m told that’s more extra base hits than Victor Martinez had in his final 34 at bats before heading for the DL. Should the Indians have won this game? Yes, but with a bad starting pitching effort, so many errors, so many left on base, and such a rough bullpen outing I don’t think they deserved to.

Today’s game was the second start for Carmona since he was sidelined for almost a month with a sore hip. In his first outing he was dreadful. Today he did not disappoint, going 6.1 innings and giving up two runs. The Indians were at it again, scoring nine runs. It’s amazing how nice it is to see another team’s weaknesses exploited. Justin Verlander was dealing today for about 5 innings until the wheels came off. First he hit Sal Fasano, then he issued a walk to Cabrera, and then he threw a ball low and inside that Grady promptly deposited into the Tigers bullpen cracking this one open for the Tribe to take a 4-1 lead. Offensively you should be surprised by Fasano going two for three with 2 RBI and he is now hitting .320. Cleveland committed another three errors and should have been called on one more. The Indians only lost two balls into the sun today so that didn’t help either. I’m wondering if the fact that the first pitch of this game and the last pitch of Wednesday’s game were less than 12 hours apart had anything to do with it.

So the Tribe really should have taken three. The Tigers were less than impressive unless you consider what their offense has done to Tribe pitching for most of this year.

The phrase “best backup catcher in the majors traded for a guy named Coco” gets tossed around a lot these days, but I feel safe saying it about Kelly Shoppach. Except for the zero hits he put up Tuesday he has been hot, to say the least. Don’t expect to see Victor play back to back days a lot on his return and don’t expect him to play even more than half of those game at catcher. Kelly Shoppach is shown he has what it takes to be this team’s everyday catcher and I’m at least excited about that.

The Indians headed north today and are probably already in the land of 10,000 lakes as I type this. The Twins are 1.5 games back of the White Sox and are playing them right now 9:32 PM, with the ChiSox up 2-0.

Game 1: Jeremy Sowers, LHP (1-5, 5.86) vs. Nick Blackburn, RHP (7-6, 3.69)
Game 2: Paul Byrd, RHP (5-10, 4.93) vs. Kevin Slowey, RHP (7-7, 4.00)
Game 3: Matt Ginter, RHP (1-2, 4.20) vs. Glen Perkins, LHP (8-3, 4.20)

This isn't what I would call the heart of the Indians rotatation. However both Sowers and Byrd have improved over their last few starts but Ginter over Perkins is a tough sell. However if this team can continue to find some form of an offensive groove maybe they can start working on that horrible road record. By the way Ben made that catch at the top of this post today - amazing.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Wednesday, July 30

JHH is forcing me to write about the Tribe

Not really, but he made a friendly suggestion and I'm happy to contribute to our Tribe coverage with more than one-sentence posts. Since our beat writer covers most of the game action, I'm going to spend some time looking at some numbers for a few of our Tribesmen and interpreting what they have meant to our season and how they shape up for next year. My jumping-off point is the Baseball Reference page for this year's club. B-R is an invaluable tool for stats and such, so I'll open that up and just sort of freelance on numbers that jump out at me.

- The Tribe sits at 45-58 as I write this, yet have scored the same number as runs as they have allowed, meaning at first glance they should be 52-52. Ah, to be .500. (By the time I finish this, they've knocked off Detroit to improve to 53-52).

Update: They just lost 8-5 to the Tigers as I edit, falling back down to 53-53.

- Progressive Field has Park Factors of 106 (batting) and 105 (pitching), meaning it's quite a good hitter's park. For reference, Coors Field is 109/109; Petco Park is a dead-ball 89/88. I always thought Progressive Field was a bit of a pitcher's park, but apparently not. Incidentally, The Ballpark at Arlington does rate as a slight pitcher's park. Wrap your brain around that.

- The Indians currently sport a team 93 OPS+ at the plate and a 97 ERA+ on the mound. With 100 being league average, neither is particularly good (hence our occupancy of the AL Central's basement), though it seems you could reasonably put more of the blame for the poor season on the batters than the pitchers. Sure, there's more to the club's performance than these all-inclusive metrics, but they are good single-number indications.

- The pitching numbers aren't divided into relievers and starters, but it's clear that the latter group has enjoyed more success on the year. I'll be using ERA+ values for the rest of this section to summarize pitchers' campaigns. The staff is anchored by CC Sabathia's 111 (it's like 200 in Milwaukee so far), Jake Westbrook's all-too-brief 137, and Cliff Lee's mind-boggling, league-destroying #1 ERA+ of 186. Matt Ginter has been quite effective in his brief stay with the club, with a solid 102 mark (it was 173 prior to his outing against the Tigers - the perils of small sample size). Jeremy Sowers' (75) and Paul Byrd's (81) below-average performances are brought into fairly clear light by this metric as well (I say this as Byrd cuts down Tiger after Tiger).

Not surprisingly, Rafael Perez (124) and Masa Kobayashi (115) have been our two most effective relievers, adjusted-ERA-wise, other than, get this: Craig Breslow. Edward Mujica sports a reasonably good 103 mark with his surprising string of strong recent performances and is even being used in high leverage situations, preserving Byrd's shutout in real time as I type. This is exciting!

Not exciting: the numerical wreckage scattered around the rest of the Tribe bullpen: Joe Borowski (56), Tom Mastny (36), Jorge Julio (76), and the biggest disappointment on this year's relief corps(e), Rafael Betancourt with a 74. Yuck.

- A similar story is told by the numbers posted by the batsmen, here using OPS+ as an indicative single-number evaluation of hitting and reminding everyone that it's good, but not perfect.

Texas' team OPS+ is 116, a number eclipsed by just a single Tribe regular now that Casey Blake (119) has been shipped out west to the Dodgers. That Indian is, as you have no doubt guessed, Grady Sizemore, who ranks among the Top 10 AL hitters with a career-best 142 mark. Other pleasant news is found in the hitting of resurgent Tribe SS Jhonny Peralta (109), who continues to thrive in the #4 spot and is, oddly, a sort of calming veteran influence on me when he steps to the plate. Never thought I'd type that.

The play of Kelly Shoppach is encouraging as well, as he's shown himself capable of handling everyday catching duties. Shop has shown solid power (including a HR off of Kenny Rogers as I semi-live-blog here) and a very good 104 OPS+ mark (this stat is not position-adjusted; average catchers across the league and you'll end up well below 100). Ben Francisco (106) and Shin-Soo "Big League" Choo (112) have also put themselves in the mix for 2009 with solid work at the plate, though both have cooled off from fast starts. It will be interesting to revisit some of these numbers when the year concludes.

- We also have some comically high values resulting from small sample sizes: Andy Gonzalez' otherworldly 435 mark (1 AB), CC's 317, Aaron Laffey's 167, and Jorge Velandia's 151. Those are nothing more than numerical curiosities, but what the hell.

- Ready for the bad news? It's the rest of the lineup:
Ryan Garko 74
Jamey Carroll 87 (a dropoff from earlier production)
Franklin Gutierrez 59 (!)
Travis Hafner 80
Cut David Dellucci 77
Victor Martinez 78
Asdrubal Cabrera 42
Andy Marte 45

That's no kind of way to score runs, gentlemen. You take your top two producers and have them perform well below league average and then get injured (or the other way around), and you're not going to be a real offensive juggernaut. Combine that with some truly awful hitting from your Opening Day corner outfielders (Jason Michaels is essentially the same as the other two clowns) and first baseman, and it's remarkable they've plated as many as they have.

As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how some of these guys regroup, especially young guys like Cabrera (his batting can't go down, right? Wow, he just hit a home run like 500 feet off of Rogers), Garko, and Marte. Looking forward, it will also be crucial to the club's success that Martinez and Hafner get back on top, even if Pronk doesn't get near those ridiculous 160+ monster years.

I don't typically put much stock in defensive statistical metrics, as they often contradict one another and rival statkeepers haven't reached a consensus. Still, a glance at Range Factors will at least be intriguing. Garko is right around league average at first. Cabrera is above league average at 2B and WAY above average at SS. The much-maligned Peralta is slightly above league average, as well, though the Indians' proprietary numbers rank him lower. Blake's a bit low and Marte a bit high over at the hot corner.

In LF, we have Francisco good, Dellucci bad (no we're not talking about hitting, but I'll pardon your confusion), Sizemore a bit below average in CF (this is genrally acknowledged in Tribe communities, Gold Glove or not), and Guttierez and Choo both right at league average in RF.

Westbrook, in his limited 2008 action, continued to be the best-fielding pitcher in the AL, Kenny Rogers be damned (and enjoy that L the Tribe hung on you tonight). Hafner is exactly league-average in the field.

Interjection: Shoppach, dude, game's over, you can lose the catcher's gear for the interview. Nice game, though.

There are 35 offensive categories listed next to their leaders on the club's page here. Sizemore tops or is tied for the club lead in 27 (!) of them (almost all the good ones like OPS+, OBP, HR, but also bad ones Peralta has the doubles lead and Blake has RBI for now, though he's had far more opportunities than G-Size. The leaderboard reflects the fact that, not only is Sizemore the Indians' best player, he's also the guy who plays the most. This I have no qualms about.

Garko has a stranglehold on the team (and AL) HBP lead with 9. He also, apparently, is the hardest Indian to strike out, or else the easiest - I can't tell. Hardest, I think - highest # AB's per K (a not-overwhelming 5.8).

Lee, not surprisingly, dominates the pitcher leaderboard (Wins, ERA, Innings, ERA+, WHIP and both of its individual components, innings), though CC still has some tough-guy numbers (Ks, CG's). Byrd leads in several categories measuring ineptitude, like HR's and hits allowed. Despite all the time he's missed, Fausto Carmona still leads the club in surrendering BB's, while Laffey claims the top spot in both hit batsmen and wild pitches. Settle down, boys!

Before I go, I'd encourage you to click on some of your favorite individual Indians and check out where they've been on league leaderboards and which historical players they compare to the best. For example, Sizemore has been 4th, 3rd, then 2nd in the AL in K's the past three years. Go for the gold! I also like the "Similar Batters" features, which compare a player to similar historical players as well as historical players at that same age. Sizemore's closest peers (Alex Rios, Michael Cuddyer, Chad Tracy) don't exactly give me warm feelings. Nor does Bonds lurking at the 10 spot in G-Size's age comparison. Try it - you'll have fun.

Sunday, July 27

Cut David Dellucci

I've said what I needed to say.

Tribe Drop 2 of 3 to Twins

I'm not sure what to think at this point. Yeah, wins and losses are about the same for a team this far back. Almost every game in this series had either some good thing to be said about it or something good at least going into into it. OK, I don't know what that means either.

Friday's game was started by Cliff Lee, who ran his record to 14-2. For a team thirteen games below .500 to have a pitcher on their staff with a record of 14-2 is mind-boggling. Lee now accounts for 31% of our wins. I wonder what the single season record is for highest percentage of a team's wins by one pitcher? The Tribe won this contest 5-4 but it shouldn't have been that close. Lee pitched eight innings giving up two runs. Kobayashi was brought in to finish off the ninth and promptly gave up two runs and put a man on second without getting an out. Perez, whom some would say was the best reliever of late (just wait a paragraph or two), came in to get the three outs and the save, preserving Lee's win. The evening's offense was brought to you by our young outfielders with one RBI each and Shoppach with two.

Saturday saw the return of Fausto, making his first start since the end of May. This wasn't what anyone was hoping for. Carmona left after 2.1 innings having given up nine runs on seven hits and three walks. Not good. Mastny comes in and pitches a solid 2.2 scoreless innings. Lewis's appearance resulted in two runs on five hits in 2.1 innings pitched. Betancourt and Mujica round out the rest of the bullpen usage. I'm going to borrow a idea from a fellow blogger and point out that Lewis may rely on his adrenaline in situations. This was why he may have been so effective last year in the playoff race but has pitched less than satisfactory recently. The Indians offense did score four runs, but when facing a team putting up 11, it's tough. Peralta had two, Marte had a solo homerun, and Shoppach contributed again with an RBI.

Today's game was another surprise but with the usual result. Jeremy Sowers was perfect through five innings. Yes, our Jeremy Sowers who has struggled in the Majors of late was perfect early. Late being the last two years, but still, Sowers is important to the future of this team. Unfortunately, Jeremy's effort of 8.0 innings with two earned runs resulted in a no decision. As jinxed in a previous paragraph Perez came in the ninth to see if he could pickup back-to-back saves. The answer was no. Perez game up two runs in his inning of work. Offensively, when your two RBI's come from guys named Fasano and Dellucci you know you're in trouble. Hey I will give credit to those guys behind the plate contributing at least an RBI a game this series. Otherwise the Tribe left 15 on base compared to the Twins' 7.

So there you have it: a series loss at home at the hands of intradivison rivals the Minnesota Twins. Tough losses and even the win was a close one. Let's hope Fausto was trying a little to hard to either not hurt himself or pitch well. Sowers had an OK outing last time and this one was extremely encouraging.

In other news, the Indians traded Casey Blake for a truly amazing package of two minor leaguers from the Dodgers. Both are legitimate prospects and considering the only thing we lost was 200 Blake at bats I'm truly in favor of this trade. I can't believe the Dodgers were that desperate for Blake. While I've been down on Blake for the past few years he was a good clubhouse guy (I hear) and this year was playing above his career averages, and he is pretty much the only one doing that. I'm not one for trade analysis but Terry Pluto is, and it is his job and all. Supposedly the Indians wouldn't mind unloading Bryd and Dellucci before the deadline. However, don't expect these Blake-like deals to continue.

The Indians decided to move Laffey to AAA and keep Ginter around for an extended look. This was my prefered move but I can't really figure out exactly why. We'll chalk it up to Ginter being an underdog who has preformed as asked for this last place team and for that I would hate to throw him away so soon. Hafner and his 65% strength shoulder were moved to the 60 day DL which I've heard decribed as a paper move not a real move. Andy Gonzalez was brought up and room was needed on the 40 man roster hence the move, I think.

Finally the St. Louis Cardinals gave up RHP Anthony Reyes for minor league RH reliever Luis Perdomo. Consider this a trade of pitchers both teams had maybe begun to overlook. Reyes has pitched in the majors and and has a 2-14 record with the Cardinals. Perdomo has pitched really well in Kinston but is 24 years old which is a little old to be pitching single A and could be partically blamed on the Indians not moving him up sooner. Either way, both pitchers have some work to do before either contributes successfully at the major league level, but the 26 year old Reyes is closer than Perdomo.

Enough trade and heartbreaking loss talk - onto the series ahead. The Tribe welcome the Tigers to Progessive for a four game mid-week series. The Tigers come in 6.5 games back of the White Sox and what can only be called a disappointing two games above .500. Of course they don't trail the Royals because that would be really disappointing, even if by only half a game.

Game 1: Kenny Rogers, LHP (8-6, 4.48) vs. Paul Byrd, RHP (4-10, 5.28)
Game 2: Armando Galarraga, RHP (8-4, 3.27) vs. Matt Ginter, RHP (1-1, 2.45)
Game 3: Nate Robertson, LHP (6-8, 5.63) vs. Cliff Lee, LHP (14-2, 2.29)
Game 4: Justin Verlander, RHP (8-10, 4.29) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (4-3, 4.33)

Game 1 is an all-old-crafty-pitcher affair. The previously-mentioned Ginter takes the hill Tuesday against rookie Galarraga who has done OK for himself this year. Cliff Lee starts Wednesday night against fellow lefty Robertson with a less than low 5.63 ERA. Thursday's game is a 12:05 PM day game if you're looking to take Thursday off. Expect to a see a different Carmona, or at least hope to.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Saturday, July 26

Previewing the '08 Browns: Running Backs

Starter: Jamal Lewis (9th season)

Jason Wright (2nd string -- 5th season), Jerome Harrison (3rd string -- 3rd season)

Prospective Practice Squaders: Austin Scott (UDFA, Penn State), Travis Thomas (UDFA, Notre Dame)

The Browns will enter the 2008 season as one of the NFL's media darlings, and rightfully so. When a team like the Browns has been down for so long, and they play in a city like Cleveland where no pro team has hoisted a championship trophy in over 40 years, they become an easy team for the national media and many fans outside of Cleveland to embrace.

The media have already begun to fawn over the Browns -- for better or worse -- and the biggest reason for the Browns' return to prominence is the club's resurgent offense. Drawing much of the attention is the passing attack. Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski's offense is headlined by two premier receivers in Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, both of whom are not only extremely talented, but have the colorful personalities to make great interviews. At quarterback the Browns will start out-of-nowhere Pro Bowl alternate (yes, there is a difference) Derek Anderson, whose powerful arm distributed 29 touchdown passes last season. If that wasn't enough, second year passer and fan favorite Brady Quinn nips at the heels of Anderson's clown shoes, chomping at the bit for a shot at the starting job. If Anderson falters, a full-fledged quarterback controversy may ensue.

Amidst all of that star power, you'd think the Browns never ran the football, or certainly that they never did so with an success.

2007 Running Back Stats

Jamal Lewis
Rushing: 298 carries, 1304 yards, 4.4 YPC, 11 TD
Receiving: 30 catches, 248 yards, 8.3 AVG, 2 TD

Jason Wright
Rushing: 60 carries, 277 yards, 4.6 YPC, 1 TD
Receiving: 24 catches, 233 yards, 9.7 AVG, 0 TD

Jerome Harrison
Rushing: 23 carries, 142 yards, 6.2 YPC, 0 TD
Receiving: 2 catches, 19 yards, 9.5 AVG, 0 TD

Glancing back...
Just as the emergence of Anderson, along with the maturation of Edwards and Winslow played a role in the offense's improvement last season, so did the revival of Lewis, a grizzled veteran cast asunder by the Ravens and counted out by the vast majority of the media. Lewis answered with one of the finest seasons in his career, recording over 1,500 total yards and 11 total touchdowns, as if slamming his critics with a vicious hay maker.

In spite of those gaudy numbers, Lewis couldn't find his groove consistently until the last seven games of the season. After the rough opening day loss to the Steelers, Lewis made The Nati's defense look more like Natty Light, busting off big runs on his way to a 216 yard afternoon. But after teasing fans with his performance against the Bengals, Lewis struggled against Oakland and Baltimore, rushing for just 120 yards with a 3.2 yards per carry in those two games. In week five against the New England Lewis left the game with a foot injury after just one carry, and would ultimately miss the Browns' week six win against Miami.

Even after getting two full weeks of rest (week 7 was the bye), Lewis still couldn't quite hit his stride, failing to average 4-plus YPC against St. Louis, Seattle, and Pittsburgh, respectively. It's worth noting that even when Lewis did struggle, he provided the Browns with the short yardage/goal line back they sorely lacked for so many years.

The Browns' second date with the Baltimore Ravens was when J-Lew really started to roll. After bashing his old mates for 92 yards and a score, Lewis gouged Houston for 134 yards on his way to a huge second half of the season. Over the season's final seven games Lewis averaged 113 yards per game with a 4.69 YPC average, including an unforgettable performance against the Bills in the Snow Game and a memorable 31-yard touchdown run against the Jets that probably drove Joe Namath back to the bottle. (Honestly though, Joe couldn't care less about the team strugg-ull-ing.)

Jason Wright was a steady backup, mostly playing on third down, when Lewis needed a respite, or when the big guy was injured. Wright ran for 277 yards on 60 carries, good for a healthy 4.6 YPC average, and also showed some receiving prowess by hauling in 24 catches.

Jerome Harrison will likely be the number three back again this season, and has there ever been a more popular scrub? Harrison only had 23 carries but he definitely made the most of them, racking up 142 yards (6.2 YPC) in his limited playing time. I poked fun at fans clamoring for more of Jerome Harrison earlier in the paragraph, but he is a fascinating prospect. You have to wonder how he looks in practice, and why Chudzinski didn't find more touches for him last season.

Between those three backs, the Browns pounded out a solid 1,800 yards on the ground. Those stats look even more impressive when you consider that 2006's leading rusher, Reuben Droughns, chugged his way to just 758 yards with a dismal 3.4 YPC. In fairness, much of the Browns' improved running game can be chalked up to the refurbished offensive line and the club's burgeoning aerial attack, but a healthy Jamal Lewis was a huge step up from Droughns. Lewis displayed a burst, power, and breakaway potential that Droughns never dreamed of, and the Eight Ball's arrival helped the Browns post their highest team rushing totals (1,895 yards) since 1985.

Looking forward...
The Browns made a point of re-signing Lewis to a three-year deal over the winter, letting him know that he'll be an important part of their new offensive juggernaut for the foreseeable future. A healthy and motivated Jamal Lewis should be a tremendous boon to the Browns' playoff hopes. You know what you're going to get from J-Lew: as long as he's healthy, he's going to give you 1200-plus yards and close to 10 touchdowns.

While some may be surprised to learn that Lewis is still just 28 years old, Indiana Jones may have said it best, "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage." Lewis' odometer has certainly had its work cut out for it; in seven seasons (Lewis didn't play in 2001 due to an ACL injury), Jamal has posted 300-plus touches six times, including the last three seasons. If you're a fantasy football buff, you know that backs with that kind of wear and tear tend to reach their breaking point sooner rather than later -- just ask Rudi Johnson.

That's not to suggest that Lewis is finished, or even that the tread on his tires is wearing thin. Lewis is in terrific shape, by all accounts completely healthy, and his outstanding conditioning is well-renowned. Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that the trends aren't in his favor. It would be most imprudent to simply assume that Lewis will cruise through the grueling NFL schedule unscathed. With the beating that featured running backs endure, it would be foolish to assume that any back is bulletproof.

That's where the subject of depth comes into play. Some think the depth behind the Browns' formidable starter is suspect, and it certainly is free of household names. Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison? It doesn't get much more anonymous than that, but just because some fans are made uncomfortable by that unfamiliarity doesn't justify that discomfort. Just because Skip Bayliss claims that Heath Ledger played a lousy Joker doesn't make it true. After all, how many teams are packing star power with their second and third running backs? Also: someone punch Skip Bayliss for me.

If Jamal Lewis does have to miss some action, I'm not going to lose any sleep over the Browns starting Jason Wright. Frankly, Wright often looked better than Lewis before J-Lew came on like gangbusters during the season's second half. Wright is a solid backup because he's fundamentally sound and he plays within himself. Wright doesn't have breakaway speed or bruising power, but he's a north-and-south runner who generates positive yardage because he hits seams instead of waiting for huge holes. In other words, Wright isn't William Green. Arguably Wright's biggest strength is his skill as a receiver, which makes him an excellent third down back.

Jerome Harrison is more of an unknown. I poked fun at fans clamoring for more of him earlier, but he is an intriguing prospect. The Browns are very high on the strikingly speedy Harrison (he'll make .5 past lightspeed), and will supposedly look to expand his role his season. We heard similar rhetoric last summer, so keep your expectations in check until we see how the Browns really intend to use him.

Still, Harrison is intriguing. He showed some flashes last season in limited playing time, and the guy can flat out gallop. Who cares if he only had 23 carries? Averaging 6.2 YPC is nothing to scoff at. What we've seen from Harrison certainly merits a closer look. Hopefully the Browns are correct, and this is the year he breaks through.

Still not convinced? Well, in addition to their talent in the backfield, let's not forget that the Browns are now the proud owners of one of the league's best offensive lines. In terms of the running game, the presence of that line is at least as important as who's toting the rock, and probably more so. There's a reason that the Broncos were able to part with Clinton Portis and still churn out 1,000-yard backs faster than rabbits can make little rabbits. It's called blocking. As long as you can open holes you can run the football, regardless of who's racking up the stats.

So should we be worried about the Browns' depth at running back? Not really. And fans calling for the Browns to sign a broken-down (and probably overpriced) has-been like Shaun Alexander are out of their gourds. Wright and Harrison may not be as glamorous a backup as, say, Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall, but they could get the job done if Jamal Lewis were on the shelf for a few games. If Lewis is hit with an early season-ending injury, then I'll concede there's reason for concern (although not too much, as long as that line is intact), but a Wright-Harrison tandem should be more than capable of shouldering the load for awhile.

The Browns need to take a good, hard look at both Wright and Harrison this season to determine whether or not the heir apparent to Jamal Lewis is currently on the roster, or will have to be added via free agency or the draft. Giving four or five carries each to Wright and Harrison could also serve the dual purpose of keeping Lewis fresh. Not only could this make Lewis more effective, but it would drastically reduce the chances of his suffering a catastrophic injury if the Browns could limit his carries to 15-20 per game, as opposed to 25-30.

For the first time in a long time, the Browns are capable of putting some big numbers on the scoreboard. Not only can they score, but they can control the clock and close out games. If the defense is able to make strides this season you can bet that the Browns will lean even more heavily on their running game, leading to fewer turnovers, shorter games, and (hopefully) plenty of victories.

Friday, July 25

Two Cavs links

Delonte West headed for Europe?

People like to rag on West for lacking the ball skills of a true point man, and I'd agree that ideally he's your sixth or seventh man. Still, the guy can score and he can shoot the three. The Cavs will always need shooters as long as they have LeBron. West and Daniel Gibson give the Cavs some young quality depth in the back court. Hopefully this doesn't happen.

Post-publishing note: This now seems to be more of a bargaining ploy than anything else (not that it wasn't viewed as a power play in the first place, at least to some degree), as there have been conflicting reports as to whether or not West was actually offered a contract overseas.

Why Branson Wright was canned.

Like the guy says in the story, it's funny that Wright was sacked for essentially freelancing, and not for his total lack of reporting/writing savvy.

The bestest games in the whole world

A while back I opined on the historical sporting events that, had I the capability to travel back in time and attend, I would most like to see in person.

The post was partly inspired by an ongoing series in the pages of Sports Ilustrated and online at, where the magazine's top writers write about the "best game they ever saw" (live or on TV). (A link to all the articles is underneath the Miracle on Ice photo). I like some of the choices. I dislike many of them. I intend to make fun of the latter category.

Now to the writing staff's credit, there were a few who actually took this task seriously and really tried to answer the question accurately, as I did with my own choices. Even if I can usually think of a better example within the same sport, these writers deserve some credit for taking an honest approach to the matter. My Top 5 from their choices (noting that none of these clowns picked any of my Top 3):

1) Alex Wulff, Duke over Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA's. The greatest college basketball game I've ever seen - this would make a Top Ten list if I extended it that far. Awesome, awesome game. I watched it in my basement and was enchanted.

2) Michael Silver, Cal-Stanford, 1982. I kinda wish this was on my list. "The Play" is simply the most giddily fun moment in sports history. Watch out, trombone player!

3) Frank Deford, 1958 NFL Championship, Colts vs Giants. Someone elswehere derided Deford's choice as too obvious, but isn't there at least soms sound logic behind picking a contest forever known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played" as the best game you ever saw? This isn't rocket science.

4) Ian Thomsen, BC over Miami in 1984. Yep, the Doug Flutie Hail Mary game. I could see the end of that game 2000 times and never get tired of it - a truly iconic moment in sports history.

5) Arash Markazi, The Boise State Fiesta Bowl Win Now we're talking! That was wild, wild entertainment, the kind of thing these guys should pick. Who doesn't like a good Statue of Liberty play and/or underdog story?

OK, not a bad group of picks. Now I gleefully deride some choices I think are silly.

- Jack McCallum, some stupid game with the Bulls where they beat the Cavs Screw you, Jack McCallum. This is infuriating.

- Richard O'Brien, some horse race in Italy He actually opens with this line: "It actually wasn't a game, it was a race, and I can't even tell you who won." Dude, you seriously still can't tell that this isn't a good choice? The best game you ever saw and you don't even know who won? You're trying too hard to be edgy, my friend.

- Tom Verducci, a Little League game he coached his son in Pure, straight vanity pick. Lame.

- Cory McCartney, the last (meaningless) game in Tiger Stadium Again, not providing the score of the greatest game you've ever seen is, as Ron Burgundy would say, "not a good start." Nor is admitting that the two teams involved were a combined 63.5 games out of first. You've seen better games, Cory, and we both know it.

- Michael Bamberger Given any number of no-hitters and perfect games to pick from, he goes for a 1-hitter pitched by Tom Seaver. Hell, Billy Traber once pitched a 1-hitter. Who, you ask? Exactly.

Kelli Anderson, 1993 Women's NCAA basketball championship Kel, I know you're the only girl here in this group, but no one's going to think any less of you if you pick an NFL game. Honest!

- Bob Broderick, 2001 NFC Championship If a 41-0 rout is the not just the best football game you've ever seen, but the best game across all sports, you may not be qualified to be a professional sportswriter.

Thursday, July 24

Thank You, Day Off

As a person with little motivation to write on a regular basis, I truly relish knowing that the Tribe have an off day, meaning I can postpone the series review post. Yesterday was no exception, obviously. Even though the Tribe played a get-the-hell-out-of-here-and-back-to-the-east-coast-before-tomorrow day game, after seeing the score I thought to myself, “this can wait for tomorrow” and wait it did.

Monday’s series opener saw the Indians coming in hot off a series win (2-1) against Seattle, a team even worse than the Tribe. The Angels came in after sweeping the Red Sox, what some people would consider a good team. That, and given the pitching matchups, you might have wanted to shut your eyes and maybe not open them for a week hoping good things would happen between now and then. Well, this night good things did happen. After this game was done Paul Byrd had raised his record to 4-10 and Ervin Santana had lowered his to 11-4. Yes this matchup was horrible on paper for the Tribe but worked out well. I think Santana is now 0-4 lifetime against the Indians, but some people don’t like lifetime against a certain team stats. Anyway with the effective pitching of Byrd, Perez and Kobayashi the Tribe stretched their winning streak to three road games (amazing, really). The Tribe offense supplied 5 runs via home runs by Blake, Peralta, and Marte, and Dellucci had an RBI single. How is Dellucci doing anything on this team? With his 79 OPS+ on a team rebuilding what is his contribution? I say we drop Dellucci and trade a bag of balls to the Giants for Omar. As I hear they won’t release him to save face. Why not do it just so Omar ends his career with a really tall Wahoo on his head? OK back to the regularly scheduled post.

Tuesday’s game saw a return to normal Indians baseball circa 2008. Ginter pitched well with 6 innings and 3 runs allowed, which isn’t bad considering the Angels' offense. Of course, the Indians offense, which had done a fine job in the three preceding games, regressed back to the Tribe offense we all know and hate. 2 runs in the first two innings and that’s all she wrote, 3-2 Angels win.

Now upon seeing Wednesday’s results I was shocked! Shocked, I say! The final was 14 -11 Angels. How in the hell does a team score eleven - eleven! - runs without winning? Well the answer is simple, really: give up a week’s worth of runs. I’d rather not go over the offense since it is a lot of runs that didn’t matter but I want to touch on the starter Aaron “I was once good” Laffey. Mr. Laffey gave up 8 earned runs in 4 innings of work. At least he made it to 4 innings this time. His last start was only 3.2. Of course, Mastny is brought in on 10 days rest to promptly earn himself 4 runs in 1.1 and just to complete the cycle of frustration Jensen “slow pitch” Lewis earned 2 in 1.2.

This series brought a few things to the surface. What do you do with Ginter and Laffey? Do you let Laffey work his problems out in the majors? Do you release Ginter when Carmona returns? The other major question is: what the hell do you do with this bullpen? Perez has done a nice job of late but who here isn’t scared of almost everyone else in the bullpen right now? Wedge has gone on record saying he thinks the organization is going to have to go outside the farm system to help this situation out next year. Here’s my two cents. Send Laffey down. Ginter isn’t the answer of the future but I hate to think Laffey may become frustrated at the major league level trying to work this out. As far as the bullpen goes I agree that a closer is not visible anywhere in the Tribe’s system, but a FA answer is too big for a hack like me to answer, especially at this time.

So it’s time to look forward and welcome the Minnesota Twins to Progressive Field. The Twins come in 55-46 and 2.5 games back of the division-leading White Sox.

Game 1: Livan Hernandez, RHP (10-6, 5.29) vs. Cliff Lee, LHP (13-2, 2.29)
Game 2: Scott Baker, RHP (6-3, 3.26) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (4-2, 3.10)
Game 3: Nick Blackburn, RHP (7-6, 3.83) vs. Jeremy Sowers, LHP (1-5, 7.33)

Without really looking into it (that's what real writers do, not me) I have to imagine Livan had a couple bad games to be sporting an era that high but still be carrying around 10 wins. Saturday marks the return of Fausto who was injured in that one game I attended. While Sunday's matchup will hopefully result in Jeremy's second win to keep his streak alive. I'm going out on a limb here and say the Tribe take two, at least.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Tuesday, July 22

1 batter and I've already got 4 comments

1) Announcing a team as having the league's nth ranked defense based solely on the number of errors they have made is insanity. Pure, straight insanity.

2) Grady Sizemore is good. Extra good.

3) Rick Manning needs to stop saying "aggressive," immediately.

3) Matt Underwood doesn't understand probabilities. He just relayed to us viewers that this is only the fourth time that the Angels have had MLB's best record this late in the season. He's like, shocked, by this. The Angels have had an MLB team for 48 seasons now; given roughly 25 teams participating in the game over that time, you'd expect, on average, that they would have had approximately two such seasons. Underwood, for his part, is stunned that California has accomplished this feat a scant 4 times.

Monday, July 21

FCF baseball roundtable

Since the Tribe isn't exactly the most fun thing to write about this season, FCF has decided to take the midpoint of the 2008 season to share their opinions on a few facets of today's Major League Baseball. JHH, Andy, and Nick will be taking a look at some of the best watercooler questions for baseball fans, ones that passionate fans and casual observers alike enjoy debating. Onto the writers:

Do you thing Interleague Play is good for baseball?
JHH: Define good. I think it doesn't hurt. Sure it isn't the draw it once was but getting to see NL teams that I wouldn't see in a million years in Cleveland is nice.

Andy: It certainly spikes fan interest and increases revenue, which means that it's not going anywhere, that's for sure. Baseball would be insane to leave that kind of money on the table. I don't feel very strongly about it, but I would prefer to keep the leagues separate, save for the World Series.

Nick: No, no, and no. This is the Wild Card era and these teams aren't playing the other teams in their respective leagues enough. Considering that the unbalanced schedule (emphasizing divisional play) means that teams already aren't playing the teams outside of their divisions very often, interleague play only exacerbates the problem. In my view, interleague play decreases the Wild Card winner's legitimacy. Unfortunately, like the guys have stated above, it makes money and appears to be going nowhere.

Because interleague play is here to stay, baseball's brain trust needs to do a better job exploiting regional match ups. There's no good reason that the Tribe doesn't have a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Pirates every year. Due to geography and the Browns-Steelers rivalry, a Tribe-Buccos rivalry seems like a no-brainer.

What do you think about the Designated Hitter rule?
JHH: I'm torn. They shouldn't have the DH at any level of play except the majors or should they?

Andy: The DH is in every level of professional baseball, except for the National League. Time to get with the program, boys. Have you watched a MLB pitcher (other than CC Sabathia or Micah Owings) bat lately? It's excruciating. Watching a pitcher walk some turkey hitting #8 intentionally to strike out the pitcher and get out of a jam cheapens the game for me. I used to say that I liked the variety of separate rules for the two major leagues, but no longer.

However, if they are going to insist on keeping the pitcher batting in the NL and continue to have Interleague play, they should use the visiting team's rules so the home team's fans could see the other league's version of baseball. NL fans might like to see all nine spots actually know how to bat for once.

Nick: I used to be all for pitchers hitting, labeling myself a "purist," but I've watched more NL ball this year than I ever have before. Guess what? It's boring. Yes, there's more strategy involved, but there's also a free out every ninth batter, and like Andy said, you often see the number eight hitter (or the last position player before the pitcher) intentionally walked. That's no fun. I want to watch professional hitters, and the DH should be universally adopted.

Should baseball institute Instant Reply for home run calls, as it plans to do before the end of this season?
JHH: Yes, making the right call is the most important thing. Tradition while important is no excuse for stupidity.

Andy: Definitely. I'll fight anyone who says otherwise, and maybe fight Nick even if he agrees, just because. Like JHH says, the most important thing is to make the proper call. A number of home runs have been ruled incorrectly this season (including Ben Francisco's job off the railing during Tribe Weekend) and it would be so simple and painless to correct those errors. Please, ignore the naysayers who say it will lengthen the games (because the current system of umpires discussing HR calls when none of them actually saw it are so efficient) and that replay will make its way virus-like into all aspects of the game (absolutely not true). When was the last time you heard a hockey fan complain about hockey refs calling Toronto and getting their goal calls right?

Nick: I agree with the responses of my colleagues; instant replay has been a long time comin'. The most important thing is getting the call right, not how quickly the call is made.

I do, however, believe that we should limit replays to home runs and fair/foul calls, because they are clearly discernible with replay. It's a home run or it isn't. It's fair or it's foul. If you start allowing replay on all calls, things are going to get messy because there are at least one or two close calls on the base paths in almost every game. All of the sudden you're on a slippery slope. Homers and fair/foul calls lend themselves to replay because they are so easy to call.

I've heard the argument that replay will break up the "flow of the game." it won't. At least it won't break up the game's "flow" any more than the umpire's huddling for five minutes to decide whether or not a fly ball was a homer slows things down already. Hell, these guys fudge the call more often than not because nobody gets into position to see the ball clearly.

Is the Wild Card good for the game?
JHH: Define good. It doesn't hurt. Actually since Wild Card teams have gone to win the WS and allows good teams playing in a tough division to advance I'm all for the Wild Card.

Andy: I love the Wild Card. It is beautiful. Bud Selig's term as commissioner has featured a number of questionable moves, but this was brilliant. I remember during realignment when self-styled purists (notably, Bob Costas) were up in arms about the playoff expansion, but as of now it's an unquestioned success. Plus, it's not like the playoff floodgates were opened - baseball's postseason remains the most difficult one to qualify for. Football, the next-most-exclusive, allows 50% more teams in than MLB. Most importantly, the WC keeps the excitement of baseball alive for fans of lots of teams (I'd say at least 10 every year) who would otherwise be tuned into NFL training camps by August.

Nick: Like Andy said, this is the best move Bud Selig has made during his tenure. The importance of baseball's regular season was maintained because they still allow a smaller percentage of teams to qualify for the post season than any other sport. The Wild Card adds a ton of drama down the stretch, and an eight team playoff format makes far more sense than six teams.

Fun fact: When the Wild Card was passed in 1993, only one owner voted against it. Who was it? Current President George W Bush of the Texas Rangers. Bush stated, "I made my arguments and went down in flames...history will prove me right." The fact that W passionately lobbied against this concept allows me to give it my most ringing endorsement.

Should the first round series be 5 games or 7?
JHH: 5 games is enough. No one wants a sport's playoffs to continue longer than it needs to. I always love to see the NHL finals wrap up and say to myself "holy crap they were still playing?"

Andy: I didn't like the NBA's decision to lengthen the first-round series from 5 to 7 games. It was a transparent effort to avoid losing high seeds early, which didn't help the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in 2007. Baseball's playoffs are more random than basketball's, however, and considering how difficult it is to even qualify, I feel like teams should get a 7-game first-round shot. This would add three days, tops, to the postseason. I'm not adamant about this one, just a preference.

Nick: Given the 162-game regular season, baseball's playoffs really can't be long enough. The playoffs are too short, and too much of a crap shoot. The problem is that if we start lengthening the playoffs, all of the sudden we're into November and the weather in the northern cities starts to get quite chilly. As much as I'd like to see longer series all around for fairness' sake, there isn't much that can be realistically done aside from altering the first round format and going to seven games, which I would endorse.

Should the All-Star game count for home field?
JHH: No it's stupid. I know we'll all agree that the team with the best record should have home field advantage. Making the All-Star Game count was a stupid over-correction for it once ending in a tie.

Andy: Fuck no.

However, I do not think that the team with the best record necessarily deserves the home field advantage. This is not like hockey or basketball; despite the presence of Interleague play, a wide majority of each team's games are still Intraleague. Consider how dominant the AL has been in recent years; if the World Series came down to a 96-win AL club vs a 97-win NL team, the AL team would have undoubtedly played a superior campaign yet the NL team would get home field. I say go back to alternating years.

Nick: The All-Star game should not count for home field. Have the mascots of the World Series team fight to the death. Have a contest to see which team has the most attractive female fans. Flip a coin. Anything but this. This is another case of Selig doing something simply for the sake of doing something. "Look at me, I'm the Commissioner of Major League Baseball!"

One last All-Star question: how would you handle the election of the players to the AL and NL stars?
JHH: The system in place now is OK. It's results are no better than, say, the Golden Glove awards. I once thought a system that gave the ballots from fans at actual games as more weight was one way of fixing the problem but given the sellouts at place like Fenway and Wrigley I don't think that would actually change much. The players voting in Varitek is equally as stupid as some of the fans selections this year. So the only way to do this is to remove people completely and set up a system that takes the best players based on statistics. Of course eliminating the people voting would remove fan participation, which probable is never a good thing.

Andy: I'm tired of the fans having any say whatsoever in this, and have been ever since the year Nomar Garciaparra was elected to start despite not having appeared in a game that year. Fans simply are not qualified. I know it's not the most important thing in the world, but if you're going to do it, do it right. I think a panel of managers and coaches could be set up to assemble the best squads, or maybe have the writers of FIRE JOE MORGAN do it. Or, as I recently discussed with a friend (Nick?) with respect to the Hall of Fame, just have Peter Gammons do it himself. I'm only sort of kidding.

Proponents of fan voting fall back on the tired cliche that the game is "for the fans." Well, I'm a fan, and I want to see the best players make it, not the ones that uninformed people vote for, like a certain Yankee infielder with a .729 OPS consistently ranked as one of the poorest defenders at his position.

Nick: All-Star starters should not be chosen by the fans. The fans voted in Shaq O'Neal (Miami version) when he played something like three games during the first half of an NBA season. I'd be all for a panel of writers like the Hall of Fame elections, or a managers/coaches panel like Andy suggested. I'd even be happier if the All-Star teams' respective managers picked the starters. The current system is pretty senseless. Fortunately for me, the only thing I care about less than the All-Star game is Miley Cyrus' latest hit.

Sunday, July 20

A Series Win, I'll Take It

Ah, the lowly Mariners. Yes, another one of the teams usually thought of at this point as a disappointment. Well we showed them! Strange - among the three starters Laffey, Sowers, and Lee if I would have had to pick the one who would lose I definitely would have went with Sowers. No doubt, having not pitched an Indians win since May 2007 Sowers while occasionally a hard-luck pitcher hasn't shown anything exceptional this year. However, this series was not to be the case. Laffey, my dear readers, was the only starter to give up a loss to the Mariners and watch out, because Sowers is on a roll, picking up his first victory of the year.

Laffey (5-6, 3.61) went only 3.2 innings, giving up 3 earned runs. But one costly mistake by Peralta means Laffey's box score line says he had given up 8 runs. Now I don't want to get into how you give up 8 runs while only 3 are earned, just believe me when I say it usually isn't pretty. The Tribe offense only mustered two runs off of Felix Hernandez who with a 7-6 record must be the shining light in what is a mostly dismal rotation (you'll see here soon). The rest of the game was pitched by Lewis (2.1) and Rincon (2.0) who both left without alowing an earned run.

Saturday's game saw the previously-mentioned Sowers toeing the rubber against Miguel Batista who came into the game with a 4-10 record and left with one more loss. Sowers , on the other hand, now sports a shiny new 1-5 record after going six innings and giving up 4 runs. Not a great performance, but against Batista it was all the Indians needed. Choo had an almost career night against his former team with three RBI on as many hits. The gang of Blake, Peralta, Guiterrez, and Carroll each had two RBI a piece. Toss in a RBI from Francisco and you have the Tribe's 9 runs which was just enough to win 9-6 after Masa gave up two more in the ninth. Who cares? - Tribe wins and so does Sowers! You could argue Sowers' win was because of those awesome retro jerseys.

Today's rubber match between these two teams saw the Mariners draw Cliff Lee four days removed from two scoreless All-Star Game innings while the Tribe's offense would be facing Carlos Silva, he of the 4-11 record coming in to the game. Needless to say Lee pitched a complete game giving up 2 runs, while Silva left after four innings having given up 4. Silva left after giving up a three run shot to Kelly Shoppach who ended the day with four RBI. Dellucci and Blake tacked on a few more runs and 6 was easy enough for the ace of the staff.

The left coast fun continues with a three game series in LA angainst the Angels before the Tribe head home to take on the Twins next weekend.

Game 1: Paul Byrd, RHP (3-10, 5.47) vs. Ervin Santana, RHP (11-3, 3.34)
Game 2: Matt Ginter, RHP (1-0, 0.00) vs. Jered Weaver, RHP (8-8, 4.03)
Game 3: Aaron Laffey, LHP (5-6, 3.61) vs. John Lackey, RHP (7-2, 2.58)

Game 1 will certainly be a test with the Indians facing All-Star Santana while wheeling out 3-10 Byrd. Let's hope a car crash that I can't look away from does not ensue. Game 2 will be interesting just to see Ginter pitch again. And finally let's hope Laffey's previous outing was just a case of too much downtime. This series definitely isn't against the best part of our rotation. Who am I kidding - our rotation is Lee at this point. So to take a few from the Angels would be nice. For those of you hard-working fellows, Wednesday's game is a scheduled day game so if you want to catch it on the East coast tune in at 3:30.

Fausto Carmona will join the team Monday to throw a little Monday and be evaluated, much like a horse would I suppose except he may be asked "how do you feel?" which a horse could never answer, to see when he can be placed back in the rotation. The obvious answer would be "as soon as possible please" but that is easier said then done. A healthy Fausto is the Tribe's number one priority.

Let's hope this road trip ends on a happier note than the last one. Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Tuesday, July 15

Previewing the '08 Browns: Offensive Line

A year ago the Cavaliers were coming off the most successful season in franchise history, while the Indians were on the way to their first postseason appearance since 2001. What a difference a year makes.

As we sit here in mid-July, the Tribe occupies the Central Division's cellar, and the Cavs are haunted by their inability to (thus far) find LeBron James a suitable running mate. For the first time in a long time, the Browns serve as the light at the end of the tunnel, and a fan base yearning for a winner hope that the Browns can use their surprisingly strong 2007 campaign as a stepping stone to even bigger things in 2008.

Over the next several weeks leading up to the season's kickoff, we'll be dissecting the Browns and projecting the strengths and weaknesses of the team's various positions. Considering that the offensive line was unquestionably the team's strongest position last season, it seems as logical a place as any to begin.

Author's note: Feel free to crank this jam while reading this. I played it on a loop while writing this.

Projected Starters
Left Tackle:
Joe Thomas
Left Guard: Eric Steinbach
Center: Hank Fraley
Right Guard: Ryan Tucker / Rex Hadnot
Right Tackle: Kevin Shaffer

Key Reserves: Lennie "Don't Call Me Milton" Friedman, Seth McKinney, Ryan Tucker/Rex Hadnot

Glancing back...
The transformation of the offensive line between the 2006 and 2007 seasons was nothing short of remarkable. In eight seasons since they returned to the NFL, the Browns had difficulty fielding even an average blocking unit in spite of signing several big ticket free agents. For only the second time in the team's last 12 drafts, GM Phil Savage invested a first round pick in an offensive lineman when he selected Wisconsin's Joe Thomas third overall. Savage augmented the addition of Thomas with a premier free agent, Eric Steinbach.

Thomas' addition moved Kevin Shaffer -- coming off of a disappointing 2006 -- to right tackle, where he flourished. Seth McKinney was signed to play right guard, and center Hank Fraley was re-signed to round out the group as the only true hold over from 2006. Even while being routed 34-7 by Pittsburgh in the season opener, the line's improvement was palpable.

Although the Steelers collected six sacks in that contest, we noted here that the line was not the true culprit. Charlie Frye and his sticky fingers were behind five of those six sacks, and although it was an ugly loss, the line had given us a glimpse (even if we had to look extra hard) of the potential that they would realize during the remaining 15 games.

Behind the stellar left side tandem of Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach the line performed at a high level much sooner than anyone anticipated. When Ryan Tucker returned from his four-game suspension for taking that stuff Jose Canseco used, he began to phase out Seth McKinney as the starting right guard, and that's when the blocking unit really gelled. Jamal Lewis averaged 112.7 yards on the ground over the last final 7 games; a good indicator of how the line's performance really spiked during the season's second half.

The performance of a team's skill players is often a fairly direct correlation of the quality of their offensive line, so let's inspect the performances of the Browns' key skill players in 2007. Quarterback Derek Anderson threw for 3787 yards and 29 touchdowns, good for 9th and 5th in the league, respectively. Featured back Jamal Lewis bulldozed for 1304 yards and 9 touchdowns, placing him 5th and 7th (tie), respectively. And star pass catcher Braylon Edwards accumulated 1289 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, finishing 7th and 2nd, respectively.

My intent is not to spark a chicken/egg debate here, but it's usually fair to say that when a team's offensive line thrives, success tends to follow. Consider how the Browns' offensive output exploded in 2007, following a poor showing in 2006.

Points per game
2007: 25.13

Passing yards per game / yards per attempt
181.13 / 5.66
232.88 / 6.84

Passing TDs / INTs
15 / 25
2007: 29 / 20

Rushing yards / yards per carry
1335 / 3.59
2007: 1895 / 4.31

Rushing TDs
2007: 13

Obviously, the offensive line wasn't the only variable in play. For instance, the hiring of Rob Chudzinski as the OC, the acquisition of Jamal Lewis, the installation and development of Derek Anderson as the starter, and the continued evolution of receivers Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow; these were all critical factors in the growth of the offense. That said, it's a pretty safe bet that without the offensive line's unexpected quantum leap, many of the skill players wouldn't have posted such gaudy numbers, and the offense itself would have been no better than average.

Looking forward...
Aside from trotting out two true studs in Steinbach and Thomas, what I love about the state of the line is its depth. Of course, losing LeCharles Bentley was unfortunate. The Browns probably could have made LeChuck feel more welcome, but the bottom line was that Bentley wanted to get paid, and you can't blame him for that. (Insert obligatory "it's a business" cliche here.)

But even without the local boy, the Browns still have excellent depth up front. The Rex Hadnot signing didn't get loads of attention because of the trades for Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers, the Donte Stallworth deal, and the re-signing of Derek Anderson. However, the addition of Hadnot gives the Browns a young (age 26) interior player who can play either guard or center.

Ryan Tucker had hip surgery in May and it is probably unrealistic to expect him to be ready to roll when training camp begins, which would presumably leave Hadnot as the starting right guard. Assuming Tucker makes a full recovery from his surgery, he'll provide excellent depth on the right side of the line if he's unable to crack the starting five. And if Tucker reclaims his starting role, then Hadnot will serve as the number one backup.

Seth McKinney, who, like Hadnot, has experience at guard and center, is also a very capable reserve. Fans won't lose any sleep if injuries force McKinney back into a starting role. Lennie Friedman could start in a pinch at center or guard (preferably guard), but he would definitely be the line's weakest link. Cliff Louis, a 2007 undrafted free agent from Morgan State, is being chatted up as a possible backup tackle, but if the Browns get down to their fourth lineman off the bench then they'll be in serious trouble.

That's one thing that we can't forget: the Browns were lucky to avoid a cataclysmic loss on the line last season (e.g. LeCharles Bentley, Ross Verba, Bob Hallen going AWOL). While the team does now have the depth to absorb a major injury, it would still be awfully difficult to weather the loss of either Joe Thomas or Eric Steinbach, around whom the line has been constructed.

Barring such an unforeseen disaster, there's little reason to believe that the line can't perform as well or better than they did last season, when they elevated their play to become one of the premier blocking units in the league. It's a luxury that the Browns have not had coon's age, but they presently sport not merely a good offensive line, but a great one.

Such a sturdy foundation gives the Browns some serious insurance on offense. If Derek Anderson were to suffer a serious injury, Brady Quinn, even if markedly worse than Anderson, would probably still be successful because he would have such good protection. If Jamal Lewis were sidelined, then Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison could run through the gaping holes that the line was previously opening for J-Lew. That isn't to say that the skill players aren't extremely important, but if quality blocking still exists, even the backups can be successful.

Joe Thomas was not the trendy draft pick in 2007. When Phil Savage inked Rex Hadnot, few fans batted an eye. Hank Fraley isn't dating Jessica Simpson. And for Hank's sake, thank God. She might be hot, but wouldn't you have to talk to that blathering idiot eventually? No thanks. These guys are not on Dancing with the Stars. The closest you'll see to that is Emmy contender Josh's Cribbs, season two. But come September 7th, these guys will be plowing the roads for Jamal Lewis and nullifying the pass rush for Derek Anderson, and they're the biggest reason why the Browns are primed to make a run at the AFC North title this season.

Monday, July 14

I did some baseball research!

I'm a fan of baseball statistics, frequently eschewing traditional measures like batting average and RBI in favor of new-guard numbers like OPS+ and OBP, because I have read smart-sounding fellows describe how these metrics better capture players' value. Just for fun, I ran some numbers myself to reach my own conclusions.

I looked at the MLB team batting stats, and graphed each team's runs per game against: OPS+, OBP, and BA. I did this for 2008 (so far) and 2007 in total, for AL, NL, and all MLB. For each, I plotted correlation as an R2 value, a measure of correlation between data sets. 1 is perfect (e.g., plotting runs/game against runs/per game), and 0 means random. First, the 2007 numbers (click to enlarge). Red is OBP, blue is OPS+, and green is BA.

OPS+ is the clear winner from the AL at 0.86, followed by OBP (0.64) and, bringing up the rear as it will continue to do, batting average (0.53). The NL is a bit more random - numbers are down across the board, but OPS+ is by far the winner (0.63) over the other two metrics. Maybe this is a result of the NL's different style, with pitchers hitting? When we include both leagues, naturally, the same order remains. Now let's have a look at last year, a larger sample size by about a factor of two:

Check out how OPS+ is still a winner for predicting AL run-scoring (0.83) and how the others have caught up somewhat, especially OBP at 0.78. Get on base, young hitters! Batting average is of some value, we see (0.65), but not nearly as instructive as these other numbers.

Last year's NL numbers are fascinating - OBP is on top! Its 0.73 r-squared value makes it a slightly better predictor than the ever-reliable OPS+ (0.71). I bet someone from SABR knows why this is, but I do not. Yet I do not fear it. Batting average, as usual, lags well behind at 0.45. Adding the two leagues together keeps OBP on top by a small amount - people aren't kidding when they say the most important thing in baseball hitting is not making outs. Some analysts think that, as a component of OPS, it is up to four times more valuable than SLG% (I forget where I read that). Getting on base is important. Walking is important. Extra-base hits are important. A high batting average is not important.

I looked at the numbers for pitching as well, but ERA is obviously a self-fulfilling number when it comes to pitching runs yielded and I lacked a solid angle for analysis. Also: this article is long. I'll defer to the fellows who have discovered Runs Created and the value of WHIP - as correct as they are on batting metrics, I'm willing to trust them when they say these are better indicators of pitching prowess than ERA or, heaven forbid, W-L record.

So there you have it: OPS+ is a very good predictor of runs, which we know is a predictor of wins (though some really anti-stat guys might say something cliched like "all that matters is wins" without understanding how wins happen). OBP is nearly as good, occasionally even better. Batting average: not very good. Weird that me, a professional scientist, did this in some spare time, while I've yet to see a professional sportswriter even do it on an off-day. Get with the program!

Oh, and Go Tribe!

Sunday, July 13

We’re going streaking!

After taking in these last four games I wondered: a) where did this come from? and b) are the Rays done? They had a good run but now losing seven in a row I think the All-Star break came at a good time for the Rays.

Game 1 of the series saw the Indians offense explode for 13 runs. Again, let me remind you of my “where did this come from?” reaction. Leading the hit parade was Francisco with four RBI and Dellucci and Blake with three each. The first reaction out of most was that at least Blake was showing his worth to the Rays. Casey has done a solid job of hitting these last few months and now sits on a .282 average and 52 RBI at the break. Laffey was the recipient of that run production and went six giving up two runs and evened his record at five and five.

Game 2 saw Cliff Lee taking the mound and leading the team with the help of Perez and Mujica to their MLB-leading (tied with Boston) 10th shutout. Lee’s win gave him twelve and at that point he had 34% of our wins. Yeah, he is important to the fact that the Indians don’t have an even worse record. Peralta chipped in three RBI in the 5-0 victory. Jhonny has actually come around a little over the last few weeks.

Game 3 was all Matt Ginter. Well, he did do a fine job of going five innings and striking out five without giving up a run or a walk. Nothing more could be asked from a guy whose last win was in 2005. It’s also the first callup since Francisco, and to a lesser existent Mujica, that turned out well. I can’t foresee this kind of effort from Ginter in the future but for now I’ll savor this game. Oh, and speaking of callups, Rincon came in for 0.2 innings to toss BP to the Rays to the tune of 4 runs. On the other side of the plate the return of a guy named Garko with 5 RBI is probably newsworthy inasmuch as our first baseman was hitting 8th.

Game 4 had Sowers on the mound for the Tribe and resulted in a win. Of course Sowers didn’t get credit so he still sports a 0-5 record. Scott Kazmir gave up 5 runs to the Tribe in six innings and Mastny got his first win of the season for going two scoreless innings. Mujica followed with 1.1 and Perez with 0.2 and finally Kobayashi earned his fifth save with a scoreless ninth. If you add that up or just watched the game you’ll see Sowers only went four innings in giving up 2 runs. Luckily for the bullpen the All-Star Break brings a reprise. Jhonny had another three RBI game. Have I mentioned his mini-turnaround yet?

So what to make of this series? It comes after a disastrous ten-game losing streak on the road against intradivision rivals and basically sealed the fate of this team this season. However, the Rays now head into the All Star break after being swept in New York and Cleveland. During the highlights for Saturday’s game I saw a guy with a Crawford jersey in the stands when Garko hit his homerun. I wonder how many excited Rays fans went home sad this weekend. To answer my own earlier question I think on the offensive side the Indians are showing a little life. Unfortunately this team has in the past depended on small contributions from everyone and a healthy Victor and Hafner doing their part. With those two guys sidelined those people making small contributions were in a collective slump making it hard for this team to win those close games they did all last season. Not to be left out, the bullpen did a fine this series job outside of Rincon’s blowup. It may be obvious but again those losses in the final innings by the bullpen are a momentum killer. If you didn’t notice Betancourt only made one appearance and pitched 2 shutout innings in Saturday’s Ginter game. The Circle of Trust is dead and I’m glad guys like Mastny and Mujica are getting some time on the mound.

In other news, CC got traded. Prospect Matt LaPorta, who the Indians got back from the Brewers in the deal, had one of three hits by team U.S. in the futures game today, which saw the World win 3-0. I imagine that’s a good thing. If you care, CC won today on a nine-inning 3-2 over the Reds and he also hit a solo homerun.

Coming up we have the All-Star break and game. Sizemore is participating in the derby tomorrow. Lee is probably starting the game Tuesday, or at least he should. After that, the Tribe doesn’t play until Friday in Seattle. This is where I usually go over the pitching matchups for the upcoming series. However I got nothing with the long break. So enjoy the first picture I’ve ever taken that has been posted on the FCF. It’s the Indians-decorated Statue of Liberty on 58th St in New York.

Go Tribe!

Sizemore & Gutierrez Photo REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

Friday, July 11

Not cool

In the never-ending battle sportswriters are waging to see who can craft the worst article possible, I think SI's Phil Taylor might have struck a decisive blow.

The article's title, "The Day Cool Died," is a pretty big tip-off that this is going to be a poor piece, and it doesn't disappoint. Taylor's central thesis is that players celebrate more on the field than they used to (because of money and fans, of course), and thus, nothing is cool anymore. It's kind of similar to an article he wrote six years ago that he has either forgotten about or never stopped thinking about. It's misguided, yet ridiculous, with a nice veneer of inaccuracy. In fact, browsing Taylor's archives, I find few things I agree with him on, but let's focus.

Taylor's first example of "cool"'s "death" is recent NBA champion Kevin Garnett, whose victory yelp of "Anything is possible!" after winning the NBA Finals apparently represented the death of coolness in Taylor's eyes. It did not represent the giddy exuberance of a player who plays as hard and intense as any other, one of the sport's all-time greats, a fellow who toiled on subpar teams for years, finally achieving a dream he's worked basically all his life for. Nope, it's just: not cool.

Taylor then criticizes easy targets like Joba Chamberlain, Vince Carter, and Chad Johnson for their antics. Here I'll give him some credit - there are definitely guys who do more showing off than is warranted, and I certainly respect players who handle victory with grace. But you can easily go to any era of sport and find guys whose on-field demeanors you didn't care for. Man-o-War, for one, was a total showboat. I refuse to be one of those fuddy-duddies picking on guys for getting excited during sports. You know why? Because I play sports, and not even at a high level, and sometimes I get pretty fucking excited. Am I "not cool" because I pumped my fist when I threw a game-winner in dodgeball last week? No. I am not cool for various other reasons, but not because I get a kick out of winning and sometimes express that. Why else would I play? And why do we expect these ultra-competitive guys to be such robots? I'll never understand this.

Where Taylor really loses me is some of the counterexamples he cites: Michael Jordan and Walt "Clyde" (or is it Clyde "Walt"? Or are they separate individuals?) Frazier, to name two. I'm not knocking Jordan as a player or leader, but if you're writing an article narrowly defining the word "cool" as "not celebrating athletic accomplishments," you can't have Jordan on your side. Consider his wild fist-pumping after that dumb shot he made against the Cavs, or his defiantly standing and yelling over two fallen Knicks in a playoff game. I'm not ripping on those displays - those were damn exciting moments and I would have been jacked up as well - I'm ripping on Taylor for just kinda glossing over well-known examples of this paragon of cool acting, what should be in Taylor's eyes, very uncool.

As for Frazier, have you seen that "Just for Men" ad he does with Keith Hernandez and Emmitt Smith? That's probably the least cool thing I've ever seen on television. In fact, drop the last two words from that previous sentence.

Later, he cites Magic Johnson's bear hug of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1980 as the beginning of the end for his weird definition of cool. OK, Phil, if you're using Kareem, owner of the dorkiest Rec-Specs in league history and, as Bill Simmons is fond of saying, a total "ninny," you've lost. You're done (though I enjoyed his work in Airplane). And you claim that of late "Cool became confused with Bland and Uninterested"? Please.

Taylor continues his quickly fading metaphor for a few more paragraphs (Ichiro is cool?), including an exaggeration about players who "feel the need to punctuate every accomplishment with an over-the-top celebration." Ugh.

It's also weird how sports is the only realm in which cool is allowed to exist. Aren't the Beastie Boys cool? Doesn't The Dark Knight look kinda cool? I hear Batman spikes the ball every time he scores a touchdown. Sorry, Phil Taylor, I'm just making fun now. But really, buddy, things are still cool. Sports are still cool, players are still cool, you and me are still cool. Let the boys have some fun.

Bonus SI feature! Responding to an article about soccer, some dude writes in and says that the reason the US doesn't care about soccer is that we're not very good internationally at it. Thus:

The US is not good at soccer
US people do not like soccer

I would encourage this gentleman to look up "causation" and "correlation" in the dictionary or perhaps Wikipedia. In fact, we're not good precisely because we don't care! Ergo:

US people do not like soccer
Not a lot of us play it
The US is not good at soccer

(Wait, didn't we have some good World Cup showings? Didn't we topple Portugal and Mexico and make the quarters? Damn, if only I cared.)

The reason we don't care is that we have four way-better games (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) that all our youth gravitiate to once they turn like eight, siphoning away all the soccer talent. Trust me, dude, if we cared, we'd be right up there.

Wanna know something weird? I cancelled my SI subscription like two months ago but it keeps coming, perhaps solely for blog fodder.

Wednesday, July 9

Givin' up

The headline of the recap of tonight's Tribe game: "Lead disappears."

Basically, "Fuck it, no one's reading about these guys anymore."

Monday, July 7

All-stars past and present

I just wanted to congratulate Cleveland Indians Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee for their election to the American League All-Star team. Taking into account both Cleveland's bottom-dwelling status in the standings, as well as fans' insatiable desire for electing red socks and yankees to the starting lineup, this is quite an achievement for Grady and Clifton. Go Tribe!

I'd also like to take a minute to appreciate the fine Cleveland career of CC Sabathia, who will be pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers for the remainder of 2008 and who-knows-where in 2009 and beyond. Sabathia was arguably the best Indians starting pitcher of my lifetime, giving the club a ton of high-quality innings during each of his eight seasons in a Tribe uniform. CC holds the team record for K/BB rate and has a career ERA+ of 115, including stellar back-to-back seasons of 140 and 143, the second of which netted him the 2007 AL Cy Young Award.

CC was also one of our guys, and even though production and value are the bottom line, you always tend to feel a little more strongly about players who were on your team for a long while. Along with a little-used bullpen extra man named Jake Westbrook, CC was the only Indian to appear on both the 2001 and 2007 playoff squads (Victor Martinez made his debut in 2002), posting an inflated 17-5 mark during his rookie season (with an ERA+ of just 102 - now that's run support!) and notching what would prove to be the Tribe's final postseason win until 2007 when...CC Sabathia earned another one against the NY Yankees.

It's true that Sabathia took longer than expected to fully develop into an ace - 2002 saw him post similar pitching numbers but the W-L naturally regressed to the mean as the Tribe embarked on a rebuilding campaign, while 2003 was a breakout season for C-Bath on a subpar club. The 2004-2005 seasons saw the big guy with the great stuff produce good-not-great numbers and a sometimes frustrating inability to string together consistent starts. He was very good, but Tribe fans knew he could be better.

And, in 2006 and 2007, he was indeed better, posting the aforementioned 140 and 143 ERA+ numbers and establishing himself as one of the AL's truly dominant pitchers. More than that, he produced an astounding number of puns and nicknames stemming from his generous build (The Hefty Lefty), punctuated first name (aCCe, CCy), and penchant for wearing his Chief Wahoo hat tilted to the side (the Crooked Cap).

So, FCF says goodbye to CC Sabathia and wishes him the best of luck in Milwaukee. The good news for Mr. Sabathia, in addition to gaining a real shot at this year's postseason: CC will now get to bat each time he takes the mound. Sabathia is well-known as a good-hitting pitcher and relishes his few opportunities in NL parks during Interleague each year; now he'll get to take his hacks every 5th day. Watch out, NL pitchers.

CC Sabathia career stats:
8 seasons
W-L 106-71
ERA+ 115
ERA 3.83
1.265 WHIP
19 complete games
7 shutouts
1527 2/3 innings
1265 strikeouts

(Batting stats, just for fun):
OPS+ 107
2 very long home runs