Wednesday, June 30

The Glass is Half-Full at FCF

Well, the entirely thinkable finally happened: Rusty Branyan has been traded. Regular readers of this site, of which there are roughly six, know that it's been something of a mission of mine to defend and promote Rusty this season, because I find the relentless invective heaped upon him to be incredibly personal in nature as well as reflective of a lack of baseball acumen on the part of the writers. But now that Rusty's gone back to Seattle, I'll have to find a new quest for my fandom of the 2010 Tribe, other than, you know, following them actively and wanting to win games.

But first, one last pitch for Rusty. People HATE this guy, and I think it's largely unfounded. Allow me to, for the final time, offer a few rebuttals on his behalf.

His deal was a terrible free-agent signing
A $2-million, risk-free, 1-year deal with a mutual 1-year option was a terrible signing? By way of comparison, have you seen Kerry Wood's contract? We ended up paying Rusty for half a season of rather productive batting (we'll get to that), then flipped him for a couple of prospects and got Seattle to take on the second half of his salary. That's not a bad deal.

But he was blocking Matt LaPorta from getting every day at-bats
Indeed, but LaPorta was, according to management, still something of a question mark after off-season surgery, and was a black hole at the plate (OPS+ at 67 after last night's game-winner) when he did appear in the lineup. Rusty was an insurance policy, and one that paid nice dividends. And now Rusty is gone, LaPorta is back in the lineup and evidently feeling better, and all is well.

Branyan strikes out too much
A favorite criticism leveled by those who still haven't grasped the fact that a strikeout is, for the most part (I recognize the exceptions), no different than any other out. Consider the line he put up over 190 plate appearances in 2010: .263/.328/.491. That's good for an OPS+ of 124. Perhaps you be interested to learn the complete list of players who have exceeded that figure for the Indians this year so far:

Shin-Soo Choo (136)
Carlos Santana (216) (!!!)

That's it. He's productive! Bashing Rusty for his propensity to strike out is shortsighted and, in many cases, willfully ignorant. Yes, he strikes out, but the upside of that is that he collects a high percentage of extra-base hits. Most people can readily understand this, but Branyan's critics either can not or will not.

He's a slow baserunner and a poor infielder
Agreed. He's never been a complete player, and no one's pretending that he is. Somehow, though, a lot of people think this reflects poorly on his character, which is a classic mistake made by some fans: conflating performance with personality. Some guys really aren't good citizens off the field, and it's fair to criticize them for that, but attacking a fellow personally for shortcomings on the field never appealed to me much. I've never met the guy, and I don't recall him having been arrested or getting in dugout fights, so what reason would I have to lob personal attacks against him?

So, to summarize: goodbye for now, Rusty. You made the first half of the Indians' 2010 season more enjoyable, and FCF, at least, recognizes the value you brought to the plate.

Brian McPeek, writer of The Weekend Wrap, however, decidedly does not, evidenced by some parting (cheap) shots he took at Rusty in his latest column. Let's line-by-line it:

P.S. Good bye (for the third freaking time) to The King of Swing (and a miss) Russell Branyan.
Ha! Strikeout jokes. I think I covered that above. Also, third time? I'm looking at his career numbers on, and it seems he was an Indian 1998-2002, but it doesn't appear that he was in Cleveland between then and now. I count two.

I can't say I hardly knew you, because you kept coming back like untreated genital warts.

But I can say I hardly liked you.
Double zing!

Take your big timing, big swinging, little production out to Seattle again.
This one needs broken down even further.

Take your big timing
?????? Either this is alleging arrogance or making fun of the timing required by Branyan's swing, probably the former. Big timing?

big swinging
If there is one bad quality a baseball player can have, it's a big swing, especially one that has deposited 174 big-league home runs. Better he shortened that up and slapped singles, regardless of whether or not that fits his skill set.

little production
This is factually and intellectually dishonest. It's wrong, it's unfair, and I will not let it be used to buttress the "point" being made. If you think Branyan's work this year was "little production," then you should take more time to try to understand how baseball works.

And when it's all said and done and you look back on your career, take a second to consider why it was always really rotten baseball teams that had a spot for you.
He was never an elite player, and I'm sure he'd admit as much, but in large part, it was bad luck. Cal Ripken and Barry Bonds each only went to one World Series.

I'll give you this Russell, your big swings and occasional contact
Rusty Branyan career OBP: .331
Rusty Branyan career OPS+: 113

earned you a living and a pension most of us can only dream of. So congrats on that anyway.

The rest of McPeek's article is similarly negative, whining about the Indians, Browns, Cavs, and even the US Soccer team. Consider this paragraph:

The Indians had lost ten of their last eleven games at press time, the full-blown LeBron-a-Palooza hasn’t even started and yet we all have agita over where a 25 year-old kid will dribble a ball next November and the Browns are still a month away from working out in shorts and shells twice a day.

I guess I don't understand why a sports fan would want to wallow in negativity to this extent, let alone take the time to write about it. If it ever came to the point for me where I was this negative, bitter, and resigned (to use McPeek's own term) about the sporting world, then I would stop contributing to this blog and quitfollowing the teams I follow. The whole point of the fan experience is for it to be fun - to support your teams, to make friends and have shared experiences, and to enjoy fully the triumphs of your clubs. Look at the Indians; would I rather focus on their 29-47 mark so far, or would I rather appreciate their three-game winning streak, get excited about Carlos Santana's next trip to the plate, and look forward to tonight's game, which I'll be attending live? Obviously the latter grouping.

I'm not a cockeyed optimist; I've experienced enough tough losses as a 20+ - year Cleveland fan that I know what it's like to lose, and it's not always easy. But you have to enjoy the whole package, and look to the future, and take whatever successes come your way. Now, to be fair, McPeek is far from the only Cleveland fan with a generally dour outlook, and I really wish our fan bases would remember why we got into this in the first place: because we love the games and love following our clubs. Go Tribe.

Sunday, June 27

Indians return to form by winning their customary one game against the Reds

Ryan over at Let's Go Tribe had a good point in his write-up yesterday: these losses by the Indians on this NL road trip are starting to run together. When every game is a loss, it's hard to remember what made one game different from any other. It isn't especially fun to watch, and writing about it isn't great either. The Indians could easily be on their way to a lost season here, where only the number of losses at the end of the year is the thing people will remember. Maybe the debut of Carlos Santana might hold some hope for our collective Tribe memories. "You remember the Indians' 2010 season? You mean the one where they lost 106 games? Yeah, that was the year Carlos Santana was brought up, right? Yes." End of conversation.

It has been said that one of the reasons for the success of ESPN's SportsCenter is that, unlike local news, they would show you the highlights before the final score. This added a sense of drama and anticipation. Well Friday's series opener was a 10-3 loss, and now you're free to scroll down to the next game recap. When the Indians sent down David Huff and recalled Aaron Laffey, you knew he probably wasn't going to be this rotation's savior. I personally was hoping for something better than the four innings and five earned runs we got. Joe Smith followed with two innings and four runs, only three earned. Frank Herrmann gave up a run in his inning and Tony Sipp pitched a scoreless eighth, probably because the Reds were tired and wanted to go home. Santana hitting a two-run home run in the fifth and subsequently being pulled from the game due to an injury was pretty much the sum of the Indians-related news from this game. Indians (26-46) lose 10-3.

Saturday's affair was the game that picking up Jayson Nix off waivers paid off. . . OK not really, but he did get a hit. During the game Nix had a double, scored a run, and walked, raising his batting average like 100 points to .260. Actually the Indians offense chased starter Sam LeCure after 3.1 innings of work. Sounds good so far, right? Unfortunately, Justin Masterson lasted just 5.0 innings and gave up six runs. Now what do you think? Actually that previously-mentioned effort by Nix led the team in WPA. So in the end the Indians (26-47) lost 6-4.

Sunday saw the Indians stopper Mitch Talbot take the mound and the offense decided to chip in too. And by offense I mean Shin-Soo Choo and Santana. And by offense I also meant home runs. Choo's two two-run home runs would have been enough for Talbot, but Santana chipped in a solo shot in the top of the eighth for good measure. Meanwhile, Talbot worked seven innings and only allowed one run on three hits, three walks, and five strikeouts. Chris Perez worked a rough eighth, walking the first batter before getting two outs only to give up a two-run home run to Joey Votto before hitting Scott Rolen and finally getting Jonny Gomes to strikeout. While no lead with this bullpen is safe, Kerry Wood was impressive striking out the side in order for the save. Tribe (27-47) finally get the win 5-3.

If you haven't heard yet, Russell Branyan was traded back to the Mariners, the team he played for last year. Paul Cousineau has, as usual, a thorough run down of the trade. Terry Pluto even mentions it following the much more interesting Browns mini-camp summary. Pluto mentions Branyan had to go to give Matt LaPorta a everyday place to play. Branyan's trade was inevitable, just thankfully we found someone willing to give us something of value (hopefully) in return, which isn't to say anything against Branyan. The upcoming home stand against the Toronto (G-20) Blue Jays might see yours truly in attendance for as many as two games. With this travel to the Cleveland area you should expect spotty Indians coverage, but it might be worth staying tuned to the FCF twitter account for updates.

Two final notes: Jayson Nix went 0-4 today and hence lowered his average back down to .158, and in his return to the big leagues Matt LaPorta went 0-4 with two strikeouts.

Game 1: Ricky Romero, LHP (6-3, 2.85) vs. Jake Westbrook, RHP (4-4, 4.90)
Game 2: Brandon Morrow, RHP (5-5, 4.50) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (6-6, 3.64)
Game 3: Jesse Litsch, RHP (0-2, 8.78) vs. Aaron Laffey, LHP (0-2, 6.37)
Game 4: To be announced vs. Justin Masterson, RHP (2-7, 5.21)

Predictably, my visit to Ohio's North Coast appears to miss the Indians' best pitchers. Specifically I'm slated to attend Wednesday night's game as a guest of the Tribe Social Deck. At least Litsch is coming off of Tommy John Surgery so maybe we have a chance there.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Thursday, June 24

'Cause the Cuyahoga River Goes smokin' through my dreams

Sometimes I have to remind myself I'm not watching Major League. Well, at least that montage where everything is going wrong.

This last NL road trip has resulted in exactly one win. Being swept by the Mets, then taking only one from the lowly Pirates, and most recently another sweep at the hands of the Phillies.

The first game of this series was your typical 47-year old pitcher going eight innings and only giving up two hits against the anemic Indians offense. Sure Jamie Moyer isn't your run-of-the-mill 47-year old but come on. Mitch Talbot's seven innings of two-run baseball wasn't enough Tuesday night. As far as offense goes, Russell Branyan had a solo home run in the second and that's it. Tribe (26-43) lose 2-1.

Wednesday's game was just as frustrating but in a completely different way. At least the Indians are spicing up their losing not just going out there every night to get blown away; they have to make it interesting. Shin-Soo Choo's two two-run home runs weren't enough for the likes of Kerry Wood. Long story short after five relievers, Wood walks the Mets catcher Brian Schneider, gets our old friend Ben Francisco to ground out, but then serves up a two-run game-ending no-doubt home run to Jimmy Rollins. Wood now has a 7.98 ERA; while I know ERA isn't important, I think it is a little telling for a closer. Tribe (26-44) lose, 7-6.

Thursday was no different and at one point it looked like maybe Mother Nature was trying to wipe the Indians (and Phillies, probably, because that is a horrible team name) from the face of the Earth. When two innings on the box score have fives in them you know your team got beat good. Unfortunately this drubbing at the hands of the reigning NL champs was interrupted by a summer storm that shut down the game for over an hour and a half. Indians lose (26-45), again, 12-3.

The Indians have now dropped nine of the last 10 and are 4-11 during Interleague play. It's hard during stretches like this to feel like the Tribe is heading in the right direction, or any direction other than down. The Indians are currently on pace to lose 103 games this season. I can only hope the post All-Star break team works out some of these kinks. Manager Manny Acta's ability to keep this team playing will certainly be taxed.

In other Indians' news, they picked up Jayson Nix off waivers from the White Sox. Nix is hitting .163 with an OPS+ of 38 in 49 at bats, and to make room for Nix the Indians sent down Luis Valbuena who was hitting .169 with an OPS+ of 47 in 148 at bats. This isn't exactly exciting but Nix has the small sample size advantage. As for the upcoming Reds series:

Game 1: Aaron Laffey, LHP (0-1, 5.61) vs. Aaron Harang, RHP (5-7, 5.17)
Game 2: Justin Masterson, RHP (2-6, 4.87) vs. Sam LeCure, RHP (1-4, 4.50)
Game 3: Mitch Talbot, RHP (7-6, 4.08) vs. Bronson Arroyo, RHP (7-3, 4.35)

Despite a 40-33 record I think we can take a few from the Reds this weekend. One because I get to watch these games on the local Fox Sports (with MLB radio on the laptop) and two because the pitching match-ups aren't too bad either. Of course the way this team is playing right now I'd be happy with not getting swept.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Wednesday, June 23


Local fan makes good

Monday, June 21

The Invasion of Progressive Field

Ugh, that Mets series wasn't too fun. But on the other hand, it certainly wasn't as disastrous as a sweep could be. Look, the Indians aren't a good team right now - we all know that - but they're not a helpless team either. Consider their team run differential of -57. Through just 67 games, that's not pretty, but it's not the sort of startling numbers being put up by Houston (-120), Baltimore (-134), and Pittsburgh (a mind-boggling -153). Think about Pittburgh's number for a second, if you will: that means the Buccos are losing every game they play by an average of 2.25 runs. Unbelievable, and here's the weird thing: they're only two games behind us in the standings. The Tribe is two games short of their Pythagorean W-L, while Pittsburgh is an unsustainable five above theirs. Who would you rather watch in the second half?

The notion that the Indians are bad but not terrible was supported, in my view, by the Mets series. We lost by 1, 4, and 2 runs, an average of 2 1/3 runs a game. Since the Mets' Simple Rating System (SRS) is 0.8 and Cleveland's is -0.7, one would expect a 1.5-run Met victory in any average game between the two clubs, so this result isn't particularly out of the ordinary. The Tribe could have won any one of those; they forgot to play defense in game 1 and couldn't buy a break all series, otherwise they would have. But they didn't look pathetic or hapless; they just weren't quite as good as New York, and the Mets edged them each time out. If this was soccer, we would have tied at least two of the three games. I'm not trying to be overly optimistic about the Tribe; they have much organizational work to do. But I expect them to at least remain competitive, and recognize that things could be a whole lot worse. Take a drive down I-79 if you don't believe me.

I had the pleasure of attending Thursday's game with my Pops as an early Father's Day outing, and was once again struck by what a lovely place Progressive Field can be on a pleasant late-Spring (today is the first day of Summer) evening. Sure, the Tribe fell behind early and couldn't quite catch up, eventually losing 6-4, but they competed and brought the tying run to the plate in the 9th. That's worth the price of admission right there. Remember what I said in the previous two paragraphs about expectations for Tribe-Metropolitans. Probably the most disappointing part of the evening for us was when Dad found a nice polo shirt he liked at the team shop (which I was going to parlay into free tix by tacking on a boss pair of Chief Wahoo athletic shorts) and couldn't find a size L. Seriously, no L?

The Mets game also made clear to me what might be the #1 worst thing about supporting the Indians right now: visiting fans.

Editor's note: this sort-of included the Yankee fans I saw in Wilbert's prior to Thursday's game. I know Yankee fans aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, but I always thought they could at least tell which New York baseball club they supported. I hope they enjoyed watching Game 1 of the 2007 ALDS on the Wilbert's big screen!

The Indians' poor record so far, coupled with lackluster attendance, means that there are a fairly high proportion of a visiting team's fans present at any game. OK, maybe not games against the Rays, but when a New York, Boston, or even Washington (I don't think I saw one fan who didn't have a Strasburg jersey shirt; lots of die-hard Natties fans, I'll tell ya) comes to town, there are a lot of enemy combatants in our house. And I don't like it. It's trying enough at times to have to watch the Tribe's growing pains, but having OTHER teams' fans in the stadium enjoying and cheering the Indians' losses just absolutely drives me nuts. The fact that Cleveland isn't drawing well, I think, encourages road fans to attend games, and the fact that we aren't very good ennobles them to cheer and taunt much more than they would otherwise. I hate this. Fine, I'm sure they're enjoying their team's play, but I wish I could just deal with the Indians' struggles without these morons gleefully rubbing it in. Boo.

Wednesday, June 16


During Sunday's Tribe game against the Natties, I got stuck next to a family that, well, didn't exactly add a whole lot of enjoyment to my Progressive Field experience. It was a man, woman, and their 8-year-old (guessing) son, and since one of the adults was frequently gone with the boy, I ended up in generally one-sided conversations with the other spouse.

Now, the lady had the seat next to mine. She was friendly, though her lack of baseball knowledge was startling and at times comical. I mean, not everyone who goes to games knows baseball intimately; I understand this. But she was actively misanalyzing the game in puzzling ways; criticizing Tribe pitchers for inducing foul balls, complaining about Indian batters drawing walks (?), and voicing her disapproval of Tribe hitters' inability to hit Stephen Strasburg's 156 MPH fastball. She knew enough about baseball to be dangerous, let's put it that way. Well-meaning, but misguided. But hey, at least she stood behind her Tribe, which is more than I can say about the other members of her family.

So when she leaves early in the game, the guy launches into this story about his kid and the Washington Nationals, and for those of you scoring at home, no, I did not inquire. He tells me how some relative of his lives in DC or something, and they go to games from time to time, and his kid has seen six victories in person in six games attended, five of the come-from-behind variety. Like I fucking care about the Washington Nationals. I have on an Indians jersey and a Chief Wahoo hat - what is it about me that makes you think I want to hear about your kid's luck with the Natties? I tried to be polite but certainly wasn't encouraging the discussion. Ignoring him in favor of the game wasn't in any way dissuasive, nor was me offering needling comments like "that's correlation, not causation" and "I sincerely hope that streak comes to an end today." He just kept plowing ahead and then tells me that HE'S rooting for the DC'ers so his son's streak stays intact.

I'm sorry, but: no. You're a native Clevelander wearing a Chief Wahoo hat. Unless your son is playing for the Nationals, you cheer for the Tribe, and even then maybe root for your son to pitch a no-hitter and take a no-decision or something. Inbetween annoying cheers for Nationals runs, he told me "I wanted the Indians to go 161-1 this season," like I was supposed to be impressed by his quasi-loyalty or something. Boo!

Tuesday, June 15

Downtown report

Three games in three days last weekend - too bad they weren't all at Progressive Field.

Nick, Figgs, Dave and I headed down to the ballpark for some Tribe action on Friday night, as Jake Westbrook squared off against some guy from the Nationals. We pre-gamed at Wilbert's, which is a pretty solid destination: $2 beers, good food (I really enjoyed the spicy bean soup), and rebroadcasts of classic Tribe games on the TV's, plus you're about a block from Progressive Field. What's not to like?

The game itself was good - Tribe won handily thanks to a solid start from Jake and a power demonstration from Austin Kearns. I kept score during the contest, and you'd better believe I awarded Rusty a single for his grounder towards 1st that Adam Kennedy couldn't come up with. I also noted in my book that Onion won the Hot Dog Race.

Prior to the game, I told the crew that I'd buy a round of beers if newly-called-up Carlos Santana reached base safely in his first plate appearance. I was going to say "got a hit," but as someone who recognizes the value of OBP, I broadened it in case Mr. Santana worked a walk. He ended up grounding into a Fielder's Choice; he ended up on first base, but this is not reaching first base safely in any reasonable baseball sense of the word. He went to 0-1 for the game and his OBP remained at .000 after the at-bat, case closed. Nick stubbornly and intentionally misinterpreted my offer, insisting on the (highly debatable) semantic letter of the law rather than the (quite clear) spirit of my offer. Now, I wasn't sitting with them when the AB happened - when I joined them, I assumed they'd jokingly say I had to buy the round, but Nick was actually serious, which I found utterly unreasonable. I wonder if he would have twisted "got a hit" into "hit the ball" as well? Were I in the same situation, I would have made a joke about it, but not actually suggested that Santana had met the terms of the offer. Even had he reached by error (it should have been a double play, btw), I would have bought, but not for an out-making plate appearance like this, no way. Too bad we didn't go on Saturday too, as Santana busted loose for a double, home run, and 3 RBI.

After the Tribe's easy win, we were treated to a fireworks show, which made me forget for a second that we were in America's Most Miserable City. Wow, if not for Forbes magazine, I might have thought I was having an enjoyable evening.

World Cup Fever!

I'm kidding - that game was poke-your-eyeballs-out boring. England scored within 4 minutes, and given the unwritten rules of international soccer, that meant the best we could hope for was a 1-1 tie. That's actually what we got, thanks to a comical misplay by England's goalie late in the first half. Hey, at least we got to chant "USA! USA!" once. There were also a few loud cheers when England scored, but I didn't see anyone in the Winking Lizard sporting any Tory gear. Wankers.

The second half saw a switch from me watching the game and glancing frequently up at the clock to me mostly focusing on the clock and periodically checking in on the game. You can only make fun of soccer terminology and fake shin injuries for so long until the game grows tedious once again. That thing couldn't end soon enough. 13 World Cup games so far in 2010; every single one has ended in a shutout or a 1-1 tie. Brilliant.

Much like the almost-perfect game from a couple of weeks ago, I had a different agenda than most sports fans across the nation when it came to Sunday's contest against the Nationals. While most observers were interested primarily in the 2nd Major League start of Stephen Strasburg (or, in the case of two weeks ago, Galarraga's pursuit of perfection), I just wanted to see the Tribe win. Didn't happen, thanks to a dominating performance by SS and a considerably less dominating outing from the Tribe's bullpen. Hey, at least it was nice outside.

Speaking of the Galarraga game, a coworker told me that had he been Cleveland batter Jason Donald and hit that ball that led to the much-disputed call at first, he would have just let the Tigers get him for the 27th out.

Hell no.

You're only down 3-0; you can still WIN this game. That's the point of baseball, right, to win games? Isn't this America? I thought this was America! You do whatever you can (within the rules, of course) to get on base and help your team win games - anything else is unacceptable to your fans, teammates, and the competitive spirit of the game.

This brings to mind a game a few years ago where Curt Schilling and manager Bob Brenly got their panties in a bunch because Padres catcher Ben Davis bunted to break up a perfect game that Schilling had carried into the 8th. I found the Dbacks' reaction to this utterly appalling; Brenly childishly and incorrectly decried Davis' hit as "uncalled for." Are you people serious? Do you know ANYTHING about baseball? Davis reached base and brought the tying run to the plate in a 2-0 game. That is success, not disrespect. It's not his job to give Schilling an unfettered chance to throw a perfect game; it's his job to get on base and try to score a run. Anyone who criticized Davis at all for his successful at-bat is a straight-up moron, and anyone who thinks Donald should have done anything but hustle down that line is no better.

Friday, June 11


And also, this.


When the game is on the line, and your closer with a 9.58 ERA has just poured gasoline on and set fire to a hard-earned five-run comeback, you don't want just any hitter at the plate.

You want a gamer. A grinder.

You want a guy who makes contact and puts the ball in play.

You want a guy who has never once, not ever, not even in a rec league softball game, hit a ball to left field.

You want a guy who people who don't understand baseball don't like, yet whose one-year, $2 million deal is looking like a smarter move every day.

You want Rusty Branyan.

8-7 Tribe. Bring on the Natties and Strasburg; Forest City Fanatics is ready.

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Sunday, June 6

Doubling down on the Tribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitchman: 3.54
Wake: 3.53

Mitchman: 73.2
Wake: 71.1

Mitchman: 68
Wake: 67

Mitchman: 27
Wake: 26

Mitchman: 1.290
Wake: 1.304

Mitchman: 32
Wake: 36

Mitchman: 7-4
Wake: 4-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 5

Ten Reasons Why Soccer Sucks

I know what you're thinking: only ten?

Before long, the World Cup will begin, and we'll hear all about the "beautiful game" and how it's the world's most popular sport and how Americans are so dumb for not liking it and blah blah blah. I'll watch the games, in part because I enjoy and appreciate athletic competition at its highest levels (additionally, I like the Indians) and also because I like cheering for the USA, but my participation in the World Cup should not be construed as a tacit endorsement of the game of Association Football nor, even worse, the culture surrounding the game.

Thus, I give you: ten reasons why soccer sucks. I apologize for not allowing room for that weird thing where you can't substitute freely or the nauseating "Olé" song.

10) "The Beautiful Game"
This is, to me, roughly as inapt as "sweet science" is for boxing. Just calling it this does not make it so, and I completely fail to see how there's any more beauty or elegance in soccer than in, for example, basketball or baseball.

In fact, I'd go the other way with it. I'll get to the stultifyingly-low scoring problem later, but I think the difficulty with notching a goal significantly reduces the elegance of the game. So much good teamwork and skill typically go all for naught because of one defender making a play, meaning that outstanding teamwork and skill almost always goes unrewarded and fluke goals and shootouts take on greater importance. That, to me, is not the mark of a well-designed game. Nor is the extensive midfield play so brilliantly lampooned by The Simpsons some years ago.

9) Injury time
I remember in 2002 when someone first explained this concept to me, and eight years later it makes no more sense. The gist of it is as such: a half in soccer is 45 minutes of running clock, but only the official on the field really knows how much time remains in the half/game. The time you see displayed on the scoreboard is an approximation; the real time is that plus some amount of "injury time" that the official adds solely at his discretion.

This time is, of course, added to account for the time players spend on the ground faking shin injuries, regarding which I have to wonder: why not just stop the clock if someone's hurt? Does it really make more sense to add semi-arbitrary time to the game instead of just stopping the clock and resuming? No, it does not.

8) Yellow cards and red cards
If you do something bad on the field, the referee comes out and holds up a yellow card. If you do a second bad thing, or one really bad thing, he comes out with a red card. I'm fascinated by the fact that they haven't instituted any better in-game discipline system than this. Surely FIFA is aware of the NHL's penalty box concept. The only way I would like this is if the player had to carry the card around all game.

7) Soccer player guys are jerks
You know it, they know it, we all know it. If you're a soccer player or former soccer player, and you are not a jerk, then I apologize to you personally for this statement because I recognize that it is a generalization and that there are always exceptions to highly subjective rules such as this. But most of you are, sorry.

6) The smugness of soccer fans
I know, you all think your game is the best, and you all think some day Americans will come around and love The Beautiful Game, just like we all did in 1994. You are firmly convinced of this. And you are wrong.

There's a misconception among supporters of Association Football that Americans' indifference to their favorite sport is due to a lack of exposure or familiarity; that if they'd just give it a chance, they'd see how great it is. Yet this is not consistent with the reality of the situation. In fact, soccer-playing is incredibly widespread in America; pretty much every kid starts playing soccer at a young age, when they're rather impressionable and could reasonably be expected to develop an attachment to the game. I myself played from the ages of 6-11. Part of the reason why so many youngsters play soccer is this: it can be played with virtually no athletic skill.

Now, settle, soccer fans. I'm not saying that soccer players are unathletic. Far from it. I think their skill and physical stamina is remarkable, regardless of how I feel about the game they play. I'm a marathon-level runner and just watching soccer makes me tired. I hate boxing more than anyone I know, but it doesn't mean I don't appreciate pugilists' athleticism.

My point is that, more than other popular sports, soccer can be played with no talent whatsoever as a youngster. You can wander around the field, kick the ball in the general direction of the opponents' goal, and consider yourself to have a reasonably successful game. There is no baseline of skill needed to participate in soccer. This is in contrast to baseball or basketball, where any deficiency in ability is quickly manifested by a swing of the bat or a dribble of the ball. In those games, at least some measure of talent is needed to participate, unlike soccer.

Yet though we all play the game in our youth, most Americans do not stick with soccer, and there's a simple explanation why: we discover other, better sports. Once we get to 6th grade or so and acquire the coordination that allows us to start playing baseball, football, and basketball, we pretty much all leave soccer behind and devote our time and interest to other, more fun games. Sorry to break it to you this way, but it's true. Pretty much every other country in the world does not, for various cultural and financial reasons, have these options, and so their best athletes stick with soccer, but we're lucky here in the States to have a multitude of great sports.

5) 0-0
That being the approximate average score of every international soccer game I've ever seen. Teams simply don't score enough for me to be interested in the game, and when they do it's so frequently of a fluke nature that it annoys me that the club gets to advance on such a silly play. It also enhances the value of the penalty kicks, which seems like undue punishment for an in-zone infraction, since a penalty kick is comically easy to score on compared to normal play. I remember the US' 1-1 tie against Italy, reading about what a classic game that was. Two goals were scored all game and one was an own goal. Riveting. I know there are low-scoring games in other sports - I just watched the Indians' near-perfect-game-against the other night - but the problem is when that becomes the standard.

Those scarves that supporters of soccer teams wear? Super lame. Can I interest you in a hat?

3) Jersey advertisements
Soccer jerseys make me want to puke when I see the logos of corporations festooned across the front, where there should be either the player's number or the team's logo or a crest. Yes, there's advertising all over American sports, on outfield walls, the boards of a hockey rink, and basketball scorer's tables, but not on the jerseys themselves. Some things are off-limits. And it's not even a little patch: it dominates the front of the jersey. Look at Manchester United (England's answer to the Yankees): their unis have a giant AIG logo on the front, which is appalling on several different levels. I will never be OK with this.

It's weird to me to see a fan walking around with an international soccer jersey with a big corporate logo. Do you want to be a fan, or a billboard? The day you see me wearing an Indians, Browns, or Cavs jersey with Progressive, Visa, or Quicken Loans across the chest in front of the team logo, just come up to me and punch me right there.

2) Two-game series
During a recent business trip to Europe, it came to my attention that the Champions' League tournament was being held. This pits the winners of the various national top leagues against one another for a sort of Intercontinental Championship even more prestigious than the one that the WWE offers. The format is a tournament-style draw, like the NBA and NHL, only the multi-game series that teams play are, yep, two games in length. Two. Not an odd number. An even one.

Are you wondering yet what happens if the teams split these contests? Glad you asked! Ties are broken by goal differential. So if you claim a 2-0 victory and lose 1-0, you advance. I would hope that any American sports fan finds that as hideous as I do. A win is a win. What if the World Series was six games, and the club with the better run differential won? Imagine: you could have a team up 3-2 with a +10 run differential via some blowouts, as the two teams head into the decisive Game 6. The team who led loses by 8 runs, then takes the field in celebration of their championship. Would that make any sense to anybody?

Astute readers must now wonder: what if the net goals are zero for both sides? Glad you asked! The advantage then goes to the squad who netted the most away goals. I'm not even making this up. If you win a 1-0 decision on your home field and lose to your opponent 2-1 in their stadium, you advance because you scored one more road goal than them. I'm absolutely speechless at this point.

Have you gotten to the next question yet? What if both teams mirror each other's performance - you win 1-0 at home and lose 1-0 on the road? Frankly, I don't know. And I don't even care at this point. As arbitrary as they've made the process up to this point, nothing would really surprise me: Rock, paper, scissors; inka dinka; cornhole tournament; coin flip; reading entrails; Astrology. Nothing.

1) Penalty Kicks
Without a doubt the most indefensible aspect of Association Football is the practice of deciding even the most important games via penalty kicks in cases where the game's normal 90-minute length, arbitrary injury time, and overtime cannot produce a winner. I don't see how even the most ardent backer of soccer can defend this lunacy.

I like to present my opposition to penalty kicks via any number of analogies. What if tie baseball games were decided by a Home Run Derby? What if NBA ties were broken by playing HORSE? What if a field-goal kicking contest decided NFL overtime contests (OK, you got me - it sort-of already does, but that rule bugs me too). I know the NHL has shootouts, but those are used only for regular-season tilts; come playoff time, no one goes home until a goal is scored, and that's how it should be. Playoff hockey OT winners are such incredibly special moments in sports that I can't believe soccer wouldn't want to capture that on its biggest stages. Yet even soccer's World Cup final can be decided by penalty kicks.

So what am I suggesting to remedy the penalty kick situation? Well, I'm under no pressure to do so, since I don't really care, but why not: just keep playing until someone scores? Crazy, I know.

Wednesday, June 2

Good teams, bad teams

As I start this piece, the Indians are working on blowing a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 9th to the Detroit Tigers; Alex Avila has fouled off about 37 pitches in a row after Russell Branyan's careless error extended the game and Kerry Woodwalked the tying run on base. Avila just got a hit, and now the Tigers have the tying run at third base with two outs. I've seen this movie more than a few times already in the Indians' 2010 season, and it usually ends really, really badly. Fortunately, the alternate director's cut ending tonight was a Ramon Santiago flyout that bailed out Kerry and Rusty and preserved a 3-2 Tribe win.

You know who didn't have a whole lot of games end badly for them this past season? The Cleveland Cavaliers. That club didn't blow a whole lot of saves on their way to 61-21, it's fair to say. By all reasonable measures, the past two seasons of Cavaliers basketball have been far more successful than the past two summers of Tribe baseball. That point, I believe, is unassailable.

But which one is more fun as a fan?

Bear with me here. I know that any good fan wants his or her team to win, and I'm certainly no exception. I enjoy each and every win, up to and including the Indians pulling to within 12 games of .500 with this evening's victory. But overall, is it more or less enjoyable overall for a sports fan's enjoyment and health to root for a bad team or a good team? I think I can make a case for the bad team, with one proviso: the good team isn't a championship team. Inasmuch as this is a Cleveland sports blog, that shouldn't take a whole lot of imagination on the reader's part.

First, we have the regular season. The more I think about it, the more I can enjoy a crummy season like the Tribe's having than a hugely successful one like the Cavs' '09-10 campaign, because of the expectations I have for the two clubs. The Indians lose a lot, and it's annoying, but their victories are that much more fun. How much did you enjoy that 13-11 slugfest over the Spanks last weekend, or the 9th-inning explosion against the Orioles a few weeks back? When bad teams win games, it's an absolute treasure; take a minute if you will to reflect on the Browns' triumphs this year, unexpected and rewarding as they were. Don't think about the Buffalo win, though, especially if you've eaten recently.

On the other hand, the Cavs' regular season wasn't nearly as thrilling. This can't be generalized to all winning clubs, but you just kind of expected the Caballeros to pull out victory after victory; when they did, you put it in your back pocket and moved on. There wasn't really much celebrating to be done because it wasn't any great surprise. When they lost, however, it really sucked because: how could they possibly lose? I do not wonder about that for the 2010 Indians. Again, I'm not saying that I'd rather support losing clubs than winning ones - I'm just saying that pulling for a bad team can be every bit as rewarding as a good one.

Then there is the postseason. Yes, Browns fans, there do exist playoffs. I had to look it up too. Part of being a bad team is that, of course, you don't get to participate in the tournament. On one hand, it's bad as a fan because you're not playing for a title, but on the other hand, postseasons are a sucker's bet. Fans of 15/16 NHL and NBA, 11/12 NFL, and 7/8 MLB clubs end their season on an all-encompassing down note. Cavs fans know this all too well. (A hidden benefit of College's Bowl system is that lots of good teams and their fans can end a successful campaign on a high note.) Non-playoff teams: not so much! It's much easier on the constitution to root for non-qualifiers; again, this presupposes that your team isn't the eventual winner, and Cleveland teams deliver on this year after year. Instead, we're free to enjoy the postseason simply as the highest level of competition for the games we love, rather than being devastated by the exit of our favorite club. I watched all the NFL Playoffs I could get my eyes on this year, but haven't seen more than a few minutes in passing of the NBA draw since the Cavs' elimination. In one sport, my team made the postseason, and in the others it did not; I know which ones had a more positive impact on my psyche.

Again, I'm not suggesting that I'd prefer to back losing teams every season. I want the Indians, Browns, Cavs, and Buckeyes to win every single game they play, every time I watch. My point is simply that, with respect to the joy derived from rarer victories, the lowered pressure of a non-contender, the freedom to enjoy championship competition free of rooting interest, and avoidance of the devastating feeling of loss that acompanies most postseason exits, it's possible to be a happy fan of a crappy team. Go Tribe!