Friday, May 27

Mount Tribemore (post-1985)

Why post-1985? Because Andy started watching baseball in 1986, that's why. Check out my previous post on the all-time Indians greats atop Mount Tribemore, then check out Figgs' and my picks below for which quartet best represents the Indians of this generation.

Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez

I went all 1990's here, which shouldn't be surprising considering how successful the Wahoos were in that decade. I really started getting serious about my sports watching in the mid-90's, when I wasn't quite the Buckeye fan I am now and the Browns blew, so I was a full-blown diehard Tribe supporter. They were just such a fun team to watch. I can tell you where I was at for so many of the memorable moments that these teams produced. I'll let Andy take care of providing you with all the stats (which may end up making my choices look stupid once he backs up his picks and I don't, but oh well Ed: I'm coming hard with the stats, but they very much vindicate Figgs' choices), I'm just going to briefly talk about what I remember from each of my selections.

Jim Thome is a no-brainer here. A mainstay in the middle of the Cleveland lineup for nearly a decade, Thome will go down as one of the greatest power hitters of all time. This is especially true when you consider that he is one of the very few players in the Juiced* Era that has never been linked to performance enhancing drugs (Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas are the only other two names I can think of). Although he eclipsed 40 homers in only three of the eight seasons he was playing full-time in Cleveland (including a career best 52 in '02, his last season wearing the Wahoo), his total dipped below 30 only once - when he blasted 25 in 1995. Although some people :cough:Nick:cough: will resent Thome forever for the way he left the Forest City, his production during his tenure cannot be ignored.

If Thome is considered 1A in this scenario, then Vizquel is 1B. Certainly, the first thing that stands out about Omar was his dazzling defense. He made tough plays look routine, and made the impossible ones possible while racking up nine consecutive Gold Gloves during his 11-year Indian career (he added two more for good measure with San Fran in '05 and '06). Another thing that made Omar special was that he was a genuinely good guy, always joking around with his teammates and just having fun playing the game.

Just like Omar, Lofton will be known for his defense more than anything, at least in my mind. Thinking back on all of the baseball I have watched in my life time, there are only five outfielders that I can say that I was truly excited about watching because it seemed they made you utter "holy shit!" (or something to that effect) on a daily basis. Kenny was one of those players on the short list (along with Junior Griffey, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Jim Edmonds, if you were wondering). Lofton got on base at a .375 clip during his decade-long stint with the Tribe, and when he got on he terrorized opponents, leading the league in stolen bases five straight years, including a stupid-good 75 swipes in '96. One image I will never forget is Lofton coming home and being mobbed at the plate after scoring the game-winner in the Impossible Return. He wasn't the greatest, but Kenny was my favorite Indian of all-time.

Let's just get this out of the way, Manny Ramirez was an idiot. He certainly wasn't all there, has failed more than one drug test, and was just an overall ass. With that all being said, dude could flat out rake. Similar to Thome's Indian career, ManRam came in to the league in the early 90's, hit in the heart of the order year after year for playoff teams, and left Cleveland on a sour note with the fans. Obviously the biggest difference between the two was that Thome was such a fan favorite while playing for the Tribe, whereas Manny was said ass. It was just too hard for me to over look Ramirez's numbers to leave him off the rock, however. His best year in Cleveland came in 1999 where he led the AL with 165 RBI and finished third in the MVP voting.

The players I had the most trouble leaving off were Albert Belle, C.C. Sabathia, Charles Nagy, and Grady Sizemore. I went back and forth between Manny and Albert, ultimately deciding to leave Belle off. Like Ramirez, Belle was a total head case, but an unbelievable masher. His 50/50 year in '95 was unforgettable, as was when he flattened Fernando Vina on his way to second base (pictured right), chased down hooligans who egged his house on Halloween on his 4-wheeler, and pointing to his flexed bicep mouthing "cork that" after homering in a game where the umpire previously checked his bat for cork. I ended up without a pitcher, although both Sabathia and Nagy deserve high consideration. Andy will tell you why CC should be on, and Nagy was the heart and soul of the rotation, possibly the team, throughout the entire 1990's. Grady is my favorite and most deserving current Indian, but doesn't compare to these guys.

Figgs may have been on to something by picking all '90s Tribesmen, because looking back on things, the Indians were really bad for much of my early (late '80's) fandom and have been only sporadically good in the '00's (and fantastic in 2011!) I mean, they actually made a movie about how bad we were, way back when. The weird thing was, as a kid, I didn't care about how lousy the Indians were. I loved baseball and I loved the Indians. I used to copy their (losing) box scores into a notebook every day. I used Indians beach towels. I watched entire games to see how phenom Mark Lewis (yes, THE Mark Lewis) would do. I know who Thomas Howard is. But despite my early foray into die-hardism, the fact remains: they sucked.

The best season the Tribe posted in the post-Francis, pre-Jacobs Field era (1986-1993) was 1986's 84-78, a .519 mark that somehow landed them in 5th (fifth!) out of seven in the old AL East. Man, things were hard before the Wild Card. The rest of that span saw them put up a Piratesque .439 win percentage, including a 61-101 campaign in '87 (the infamous SI "Indian Uprising" year and the occasion of my first game attended at Municipal, a 13-3 drubbing at the hands of the A's) and a 57-105 mark in 1991 (the year they moved back the fences to take advantage of Alex Cole's speed).

Why am I telling you this? Because, (1) there clearly aren't going to be any Wahoos from my youth on this list and (2) to foreshadow a future list including such luminaries as Joe Carter, Greg Swindell, Brett Butler, Jerry "The Governor" Browne, and Brook Jacoby. But for now, let's get to the top players of the past 25 years.

Clearly the best pitcher of the modern-era Indians, CC Sabathia is one of the few hurlers from my lifetime to make a dent in the Indians' all-time leaderboard, posting an Indians career WAR of 28.2 (10th), striking out 1265 batters (5th in total, 6th in rate), making three all-star teams, placing second in the 2001 RoY voting (behind only "league MVP" Ichiro Suzuki), and claiming the 2007 Cy Young Award. It's been said that it took CC a long time to develop from merely a "thrower" into a true "pitcher," and the numbers back that assertion, as the Hefty Lefty had an ERA+ of 107 in his first five years with the Erie Warriors and a sparkling 140 over his last two full seasons. Sabathia has remained among the league's elite starters since being traded, but: who cares. And since that's all the representation for the pitchers on Modern Mount Tribemore, how about some pitching Fun Facts?

Fun Fact #1: Dave Burba had a K/9 of 7.1 as an Indian.
Fun Fact #1: As I write, today (May 24) is Bartolo Colon's birthday!
Fun Fact #3: Bob Wickman is the club's all-time saves leader.
Fun Fact #4: Bob Feller had 36 complete games. In 1946.

OK, enough fun facts. No other Cleveland chucker had what it takes to crack this list, so we'll fill it out with three beloved (and of course highly valuable on the field) Erie Warriors from recent years.

Jim Thome was quite simply the easiest choice for this list. The modern Indians leader in WAR (46.5, 4th in club history behind only the three everyday members of my all-time Mount Tribemore and of the Hall of Fame), 3rd in OBP (.414), 3rd in slugging (.567 - Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez are 1-2), 3rd in OPS, 10th in doubles, 2nd in RBI, 1st in walks, and 1st in home runs by almost a hundred over Belle.

In fairness, Thome is also the club leader in K's by some 550 punchouts over 2nd-place Jhonny Peralta, but we sabermetrically-inclined fans see that as just another out by a guy who made outs at a low rate. And does anyone understand how he continues to absolutely mash, even at the age of 40? Clearly a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Thome will be the first to go in wearing a Chief Wahoo cap in a long time.

Plus on a less fact-focused note, Thome was one of the most likeable and classy guys on the team, winning a 2003 Plain Dealer poll as most popular Cleveland athlete ever, rollerblading comically in a McDonald's commercial, and winning the prestigious Roberto Clemente award in 2002 for his off-field heroics. I'm not going to go after Nick personally, since last time we talked he'd softened his anti-Thome stance, but after all Jim Thome did for the club on and off the field, I'm not going to kill the guy for taking an extra year and $20 million more to sign with Philly when the players' union wouldn't have let him do anything else anyway.

That having been said, and all of Thome's remarkable career recapped: "YOU DON'T BELONG HERE ANYMORE!!!"

You know who I figured I was going to cut when I initially thought through my list, but ended up including? Kenny Lofton, that's who. With a career WAR of 45.5, Lofton ended up just a tick below Thome for his career, and in just 9.5 seasons wearing the Chief (to 12 for Thome). Lofton's accomplishments are considerable - 2nd in Rookie of the Year (losing to Pat Listach in one of the stupidest votes ever conducted), six straight all-star teams, four Gold Gloves (which are stupid but Lofton was a fantastic outfielder, as Figgs notes), five straight years leading the AL in steals, and a career OPS+ of 109 as an Indian. Lofton ranks 3rd in club history in runs, 1st in steals (almost 150 more than 2nd-place Omar Vizquel), and 1st in "Power-Speed #", which I have no clue what that means.

Lofton could flat-out play - his tablesetting prowess (OBP .375 with the Tribe) and defensive skills (dWAR of 10.0, trailing only Lou Boudreau all-time) made him one of the most exciting Indians of the mid-90's baseball renaissance. I'll always have four memories of Kenny:

1) "Kenny Lofton disease," whenever he'd hit a home run and decide he was a home run hitter for like a week and then pop out until Lou Brown made him do pushups.
2) That year we swapped him wth Marquis Grissom to see if anyone would notice.
3) His stirring return to the Tribe during the '07 playoff run, including his HR in Game 4 of the ALCS.
4) Being lifted in the air by Ed Taubensee after Jolbert Cabrera's hit plated him with the winning run in the Impossible Return.

The last slot, as always, is the most challenging. My finalists were Albert Belle, Charles Nagy, Manny Ramirez, Grady Sizemore, Omar Vizquel, and Wayne Kirby. With the exception of Kirby, they're all defensible from a statistical standpoint. Check out their WAR as Indians:

Sizemore 29.0
Vizquel 28.6
Ramirez 28.2 (inlcuding a comical -4.6 as a defender)
Belle 25.8
Nagy 22.9
Kirby 2.3

Quick digression: it's tough for a pitcher going just on WAR - you saw where the legendary Feller ended up relative to the other guys on my all-time list - hence I give CC a bonus even though his is identical to Manny's.

It's easy enough to drop the last two - Nagy was a fan favorite and really gave it his all over a long career, but his career ERA+ as an Indian was 101. I can't take a barely league-average pitcher as one of my top 4. Can't. Belle was good, but he was also a cheater and kind of a cock. And Wayne, well Wayne, you'll always be my homey.

If it hadn't been for Sizemore's knee, there's absolutely no question he'd be on my Modern Mount Tribemore. Two more solid seasons by his standards would have put him over 40 WAR for his career and an easy pick, but we haven't had two more solid seasons, we've had three lost ones, and sorry, but losing those years in his prime hurts his candidacy despite a slight edge in player value. I know it's tough, Grady, but you still have a golden chance to crack this select list.

Now we're left with two Indians titans from the '90's juggernauts: Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez. Could we maybe think of two more different types of players to compare? Yet in the unique sport of baseball, they brought roughly the same value to the Tribe during their tenure.

I'm taking Omar Vizquel, for several reasons, and if you've read this far, you know I'm sparing no detail today.

1) WAR doesn't account for Omar's defensive value very well. While Lofton posted a dWAR of 10.0 for his Indians career, Omar's is just 4.0. Yes, apparently the greatest defensive player of our generation was only worth 4.0 wins above a replacement shortstop during his 11 years in Cleveland. For reference, Shin-Soo Choo (a right fielder) has earned a 3.4 during the past three seasons. There's some flawed accounting here - I don't think this number even comes close to reflecting what Vizquel did with the leather (see item #4). I know Gold Gloves are dumb, but it's impressive that he won nine in the AL even with sportswriters drooling over Jeter's leadership skills and lack of range.

2) 11 years in Cleveland to only 8 for Manny.

3) Omar was never busted for failing drug tests - Manny was nailed twice. Seriously, if anyone takes Ramirez over Thome because of Thome's awkwardly-handled free agency and lets Manny off the hook because Manny was too spacey to know to care about Cleveland and ignores him being a known cheater, then I have to wonder what sort of judge of character they are.

4) The part in that one Indians video where he wears that hilarious leather jacket when Tom Hamilton is trying to interview him.

So those are my four: CC Sabathia, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, and Omar Vizquel. All great players, all guys I'm proud to call Cleveland Indians.

Tuesday, May 24

Francis in the house

I was fortunate enough to attend the Indians' 3-2 win over the Red Socks last night at Progressive Field, and even got myself on Sportscenter's highlights from the game.. Check me out:

It's right at the beginning of the clip, when Carl Crawford hits a home run to put the Red Socks up 2-1. I'm standing in the front row in the right field seats, wearing a white shirt and Tribe hat, a few seats left (as you view it) from where the ball lands. I stand there unimpressed with my hands in my pockets - why should I care about Carl Crawford's stupid home run? I'm quite pleased by my performance here. Nice catch by the fan, though - I acknowledged that, if not Crawford's meaningless poke.

Speaking of people in my section, this Red Sock "fan" lady two seats to my left was really wearying. Just a total poser fan, no knowledge of the game whatsoever, annoying as all get-out. You really shouldn't bring that sort of fake game into an opposing stadium. She would chirp happily pretty much every time the Red Socks put one in play (or, on many occasions, foul out of play) and several times initially cheered a batted ball that turned into a couple of Red Sock outs. I moved seats by the end of the game to escape the rain - I wish I could have heard her initially cheer for Crawford's GEGIDP, then see its beautiful conclusion. I wish I could also have seen Red Sock fan @mushb0ne (who spent much of the game on Twitter directly and bitterly accusing Asdrubal Cabrera of using PED's without any evidence whatsoever) pout after the loss.

Last night was a great night for the Indians for several reasons. Not just because we improved to a mind-boggling 30-15 on the year (the Indians in 2010 lost 47 games before notching their 30th W) and 19-4 at Progressive Field (after an 0-2 start). But the way they did it, rallying once again, stunning a team who everyone still assumes is the favorite to emerge from the American League in October, was just spectacular. I didn't mind Manny Acta's inspiring antics either - not only was that a bad call at first base, but as Acta explained the confrontation, the umpire's explanation (that Masterson must have missed the base because he tried to go back and touch it again) was weak, a poor way to officiate. Manny denied that his tirade was an effort to inspire the club, but I think we all know better.

As usual, there were a bunch of Red Sock people milling around the ballpark, but unlike some past years, the Indians fans easily outnumbered them. Nothing is more annoying than those games where the Tribe draws 10K to a game and half are rooting for one of those "national teams" that I hate. Hopefully, those days are gone, at least this season. Right before Crawford's fateful ground ball, I looked behind me and saw a guy wandering around with a "Fenway Faithful" t-shirt, not even watching the game. Faithful indeed.


You've probably given some thought to the consequences of a long-term NFL lockout: fans losing a season, players and employees losing their paychecks, freer Sundays for you. But there's one you probably left out of your calculus: Ray Lewis' impending crime spree. Look out, Baltimore - the NFL's most notorious is going to be back on the loose if there's no football this year, and he's got crime on the brain. The above-linked article by James Walker, summarizing an interview Lewis granted ESPN's Sal Palantonio, really shows how crazy Lewis is, as if there was any doubt.

One of the consequences of a lost NFL season will be an increase in crime, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said in a wide-raging one-on-one interview with ESPN.
We're off to an outstanding start here, with Ray-Ray laying out an almost impossibly stupid thesis and Walker perhaps subconsciously describing the interview as "wide-raging."

Do this research if we don't have a season - watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up, if you take away our game," Lewis told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio.
Are you threatening me? This is an incredible statement on many fronts. First of all, evil and crime are not the same thing. I'll draw you a Venn Diagram some day. Second, Lewis clearly has a remarkably low opinion of his NFL mates and humanity in general, basically coming right out and saying that football is the only thing standing between them and a life of crime.

That's because, Lewis said, the NFL lockout affects "way more than us" - the owners and the players.
Yes, also fans and employees. Everyone knows this.

"There's too many people that live through us, people live through us," he said. "Yeah, walk in the streets, the way I walk the streets, and I'm not talking about the people you see all the time."
This makes no sense. What sort of special street-walking technique does Ray Lewis have?

When asked why he thought crime would increase if the NFL doesn't play games this year, Lewis said: "There's nothing else to do Sal."
Frankly, I can't understand what Lewis is trying to say here, though I'm fairly certain it's stupid. Are we suggesting that, without their careers in football, that the 1500-odd players in the NFL will immediately start committing crimes? Granted, Lewis himself is no stranger to the criminal world, but there are plenty of NFLers without a rap sheet.

Or are we saying that, without their Sunday diversion, people will have no entertainment options other than performing illegal acts. What do these people do in the offseason? What do they do Monday-Saturday? I know I wake up ever NFL Sunday and face a difficult decision between watching the Browns and committing armed robbery, but I usually put on my jersey and check out the game. I wear a straitjacket during the bye week.

Or maybe, Ray Lewis is just trying to say the stupidest possible thing. Maybe he bet a teammate that he could say something this dumb and have people take him seriously, or something.

Sunday is Day 68 of the lockout, which is now the longest work stoppage in NFL history.
Really? 68 doesn't seem so long. Also, shouldn't it not really count because it's the offseason and nothing is happening anyway?

Lewis said the current dispute boils down to a matter of ego.
He's close - it's actually money, not ego. The boiling down part was spot-on, though.

"It's simple, we really got to remove pride. Seriously. There's no other reason the issue is going on. That's why I don't get into words and all that other stuff, because it takes away from life ... itself. There's people who are really struggling for real. There's real struggles out there.
Again, the issue is about money, not pride. Also, did you notice the part here where the guy who thinks that watching him tackle other men is the only thing restraining people from doing illegal things is decrying egos? Priceless. As for the rest of it: I'm pretty sure Lewis is "get[ting] into words" here, and the last part has nothing to do with anything.

A 2-1 decision last week by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals kept the lockout in place pending a full appeal. A hearing is scheduled for June 3 in St. Louis.
Both judges ruling in favor of the owners were Bush appointees. Imagine that, a Republican judge siding with the greedy rich guys.

Lewis hasn't attended any of the mediation sessions between the owners and players and hasn't gone to court for any of the legal proceedings - but that might change.

"I'm not opposed to it," he said.

That's definitely what we need - the cool, levelheaded, reasonable Ray Lewis participating in high-stakes negotiations. This deal will be done in no time, with Lewis' brilliant people skills and financial acumen.

He also said he has texted NFL Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith.

"Tell me when you're ready for me to come speak," Lewis said when asked to explain the nature of the texts to Smith. "Because I'm not speaking about all, oh I want this, I want that."

When does Smith want Lewis to speak?

"Oh ... the time coming," Lewis said and then smiled for emphasis.

Stay tuned, America.

Monday, May 23

Ohio Cup

So nice to see the place packed again. And nice to pick up yet another sweep to kick off a run of two weeks plus against tough competition (five straight teams above .500).

Friday, May 20

Mount Tribemore

Sports fans, especially those who go to the lengths of operating blogs about said sports, love making lists of their favorite players, the best teams, the greatest games, and so on. They're fun to construct and even more entertaining to debate. Thus, I thought it'd be fun for FCF to extend a concept I initially encountered for honoring the all-time greatest rappers, and recently saw applied to sports: Mount Rushmore. It's a simple concept: you construct a version of Mount Rushmore (which honors four great presidents) for any given field by listing the four greatest that fit the bill, then change the name of Mount Rushmore in a clever way.

For example, my Mount Rapmore is Chuck D, Jay-Z, Q-Tip, and Eminem. Forest City Fanatics is going to roll out a bunch of these for our favorite teams, historical and recent, and maybe some special ones (Mount Brownsquarterbacksincethereturnmore). With the Tribe still flying high in first place, this seems like an appropriate time for Mount Tribemore - the four most legendary players in Indians history. I'm handling this on myself; next week we'll do a team effort for modern-day Tribesmen (post-1985).

Bob Feller, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Lou Boudreau
OK, let's get this out of the way first: Blogger crashed bigtime last week, and in the process wiped out an analysis I'd written here that I spent quite a bit of time on and really liked. Plus, I got up at 5 this morning, ran the Cleveland Marathon, tried to attend the Indians' rained-out game, drove all the way to West Virginia for work, have had a headache since about noon, and had to listen to Bill Wennington, the single worst broadcaster in the history of the world, call the Bulls-Heat game when the station(s) with Hubie Brown faded out of range. So, my apologies if this part isn't fantastic.

Bob Feller was the first and easiest choice to put on this list. Unquestionably the greatest pitcher in Indians history (and a November 3 birthday like me and Ivan Drago), Rapid Robert piled up a career WAR of 66, by far the best among Tribe chuckers, easily eclipsing Stan Covaleski's 46.1, despite the fact that Feller missed the 1942-44 seasons to fight in World War II (when he was 23-25 years old and coming off of three straight Top-3 MVP campaigns). Feller is also the all-time Indians leader in strikeouts, wins, innings pitched, and why the hell am I still trying to convince you that Bob Feller was one of the four greatest Cleveland Indians ever? Let's move on.

I learned a couple of things while researching this post, and one of them was: Tris Speaker was an absolute monster of a player. After a string of MVP-caliber seasons in Boston, Speaker joined the Tribe in 1916 and just kept on dominating, to the tune of 73.3 WAR in 11 seasons as an Indian, just a shade below the all-time leader (whom we will meet shortly). Speaker was the club's leader in WAR a record seven seasons (our next entrant notched six such campaigns and Feller and "Sudden" Sam McDowell each had five), posted an OPS+ of 157 with the Wahoos, on-based an absurd .444 for his Tribe career (Speaker holds the five best OBP seasons in club history), is second in hits, second in total bases, first in doubles, second in triples, second in walks, blah blah blah this guy was unbelievably good.

Oh yeah: Speaker was also player-manager for 7 1/2 seasons in Cleveland, piloting the Tribe to their first World Series title in 1920 and, I like to imagine, playing a key role in choosing the comically boastful "Worlds Champions" jerseys they brandished around the league the following season like they were WWE championship belts. Awesome.

I could probably make the case for Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie's inclusion based solely on the fact that, during his 13-year tenure with Cleveland (1902-1914), the team was called the Cleveland Naps (better than "Bronchos," at least). To emphasize: This guy was so good that they named the team after him. This did not happen when, for instance, Wayne Kirby played in the Forest City.

But Lajoie was totally worth it, logging a Hall of Fame career eerily similar to Speaker's. (All four players on this list are, obviously, enshrined in Cooperstown, though Lajoie and Speaker haven't had their numbers retired by the Indians because...they didn't wear numbers). Stop me if you've heard this career arc before, but Lajoie came to Cleveland after a successful stay in Philly, posted a WAR of 74.7 in 13 seasons with the Indians/Naps (narrowly edging Speaker but needing more seasons), notched a career OPS+ of 150, is the all-time Cleveland hits leader, topped the club in WAR six times, and player-managed for parts of five seasons. If I had to take one, I think I'd go with Speaker, but Lajoie is without a doubt worth of inclusion on my Mount Tribemore.

The fourth slot was the most difficult to fill - it came down to Jim Thome, "Sudden" Sam McDowell, and Lou Boudreau. Had "Shoeless" Joe Jackson spent more of his career in Cleveland, he might have cracked this shortlist, in addition to not tarnishing his career forever with his connection to the Black Sox scandal, although if he'd done that, then what would Field of Dreams be about?

I wanted to include Thome to annoy Nick (and more crucially because he's 4th all-time among Cleveland position players in WAR - more on him in a future post), and was surprised at how dominant McDowell was in his prime (leading the squad in WAR for five seasons), but in the end Lou Boudreau was the clear choice. Third all-time in WAR among position players at 54.6 (yes, I ended up taking the Indians' four all-time WAR leaders) behind only Lajoie and Speaker, Boudreau compiled a 121 OPS+ while manning the shortstop position (and setting the club standard for career defensive WAR), player-managed the Tribe to their last World Series win in 1948 (this organization loves it some player-managers), and somehow earned himself the nicknames "Old Shufflefoot" and "Handsome Lou," both of which are terrific. For the record, Speaker was named "The Grey Eagle," also pretty cool.

Thursday, May 19

Everything you know is wrong

At least if you look at the current MLB Standings and then contrast them with Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds Report. I realize that B-P's tool uses their initial projections for 2011 pretty heavily, but I wonder at what point they will start actually factoring 2011 performance into expectations for the rest of the season. Their predictions for each team's chances are, to borrow a phrase, at odds with the clubs' current positions on the divisional leaderboards.

AL East
The Yankees and Red Socks are both currently floundering at or right around .500 for the year, with Boston residing in 4th place. Naturally the HoSocks are a postseason lock on B-P at 83% (higher than any other team in either league) and the Spanks sit at 66%. Meanwhile, the division-leading Rays are given just a 30% chance to qualify. Still, it's hard to argue with BP's contention that the Blue Jays and Orioles aren't going anywhere.

AL Central
As you may have heard, the CLEVELAND INDIANS have the best record in baseball, flying high 4.5 games atop the mediocrity that is the AL Central (and kicking the Royals around again as I type this). This stellar start translates into just a 34% chance of making the playoffs, however, while second-place Detroit is a 52% bet. WTF? The poor KC Royals, as if a 19-1 drubbing at the hands of the Wahoos early this week wasn't enough, are afforded only a 0.5% chance of taking the division (the Wild Card is right out). BP must have predicted a 0-162 campaign for KC or something.

AL West
One of the projections that matches the current standings the best; first-place Texas has the best shot (60%) and last-place Seattle, well, um, one in 200 times you can expect a Mariner postseason bid. BP doesn't much care for the California Angels much though - even though they're tied with Oakland, BP gives the A's almost a 4X better chance for postseason qualification (38 to 10).

NL East
It's interesting how every division basically has 2-3 teams with a solid shot and a couple who simply aren't going anywhere. Here it's the Phillies (70%), Braves (55%), and Marlins (35%) favored to move along, while the Mets and Nationals not so much. Here BP's selections match up almost exactly with the current division standings.

NL Central
So what if Cincinnati is the defending division winner and holds a 1.5-game lead over St Louis? BP says the Reds are only 34% likely to advance in October while the Cardinals are a 60% bet. Makes sense to me. The ,500 Brewers still have a 21% chance, while the Pirates are listed as 0.2% likely to win the division, about 0.2% higher than I would have put them.

NL West
First-place Colorado: 27%
Second-place San Francisco: 80%
Well, alright then.

I found these number very interesting - what they mean is that BP has largely decided to double down on their preseason projections for each team, independent of how the league has played out thus far in 2011 through the first quarter of the season. Thsi may be the correct approach - I wonder if BP has decided that its track record of early projections is good enough to warrant doing so, and it'll be interesting to see if the divisions eventually sort themselves out more in favor of the teams BP favors, or if some of the surprise leaders will maintain their high level of play.

As an Indians fan, I'm hoping for the latter.

Thursday, May 12

NFL Draft Strawman

I have no idea why ESPN chooses to employ Colin Cowherd to host a radio program for them, nor why people would choose to listen to his show, but I hear promos for him in the morning, and one in particular bothers me.

The topic of the minute long promo, sort of a teaser-like piece to show potential Herd members the riches awaiting their listenership, is the NFL Draft. Cowherd starts off with a defiant "to all of you who think the draft isn't important..." then explains how quarterbacks are important (wow, didn't know that) and so is having cost-controlled players (really?) He then cites some five-year study demonstrating that teams who "draft well" tend to win more games (careful out on that limb!) and ends with something along the lines of "you don't think the NFL draft is important? It's huge."

Let's address first this study he cites, where the unnamed authors list the teams who "drafted best" in the league. Self-evidently, near the top we find all good teams like Green Bay, Atlanta, and New Orleans. This study is utterly pointless. All of the metrics one could use to quantify how "good" a team drafts, such as starters, pro bowl appearances, and offensive and defensive statistics, all impact favorably how successful a team is at winning games. Any way you choose to define "drafting well" is going to correlate positively with winning football games, so we have learned from this study: nothing. Unless you didn't already know that teams with good players are better than teams with bad players.

Also, Cowherd spends the entire minute attacking all of those people who don't think the NFL Draft is particularly important for a team's success on the field, which is exactly: zero people. OK, maybe Daniel Snyder, but that's it. Granted, I think the Draft is unspeakbly boring to watch, but clearly the Browns' work on draft day impacts strongly their chances of winning football games. Seriously, who is he even addressing? Why bother to invent this straw man of the individual who regards the NFL Draft as unimportant to winning in the league? What purpose does this serve? This doesn't stop Cowherd, though, who keeps berating and belittling this non-existent individual and quoting self-fulfilling "studies" at him. So lame. This is like me arguing for the existence of gravity by criticizing people who think the Earth is flat or arguing for the importance of cash flow by lambasting all those investors who don't think a company should try to be profitable.

And the thing is, there might be information to be gleaned from this draft analysis he cites - just because Cowherd can't make a point doesn't mean there isn't one to be made. For instance, how does the number of a team's starters that they drafted correlate with winning percentage? Or how does a team's percentage of draft picks that remain on an NFL roster five years after their selection bear on their success? By comparison, how important is the MLB Draft, which is less heralded and involves a less direct and immediate path to the top levels? Eh, that all sounds like work - let's just go after a strawman and rehash the universally accepted fact that drafting good is good.

Wednesday, May 11

Tuesday, May 10


Good riddance to the LA Lakers.

In the waning moments of getting absolutely clobbered in the final game of a four-game sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers decided they'd like to go ahead and lose their dignity in addition to the series. (To his credit, team leader Kobe Bryant didn't take place in the shenanigans.) Lamar Odom took a totally unecessary shot at the Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki and got tossed, then Andrew Bynum took maybe the cheapest shot I've ever seen someone issue on a basketball court at diminutive Dallas guard JJ Barea. Watch the video here and wait until near the end for Bynum's preposterous hit on a man who weighs 110 pounds less than him and who was already airborne and off-balance. Bynum doesn't even go for the ball, just throws the elbow and levels Barea. I found myself consciously struggling not to use football terminology to describe the hit, sort of wondering in my head how Roger Goodell would view the hit. Bynum should be suspended for the start of next year, no question, though he'll probably be hurt anyway so it won't really matter. Apparently not smart enough to realize his mistake, Bynum offered a defiant, "So I fouled the guy." What a punk.

(Digressing parenthetically on the topic of NBA punks: Dwyane Wade. This guy's entire offensive game is based on flying recklessly at the basket and whoever is in his way and hoping the refs will give him a bailout call, and then still has the nerve to glare at anyone who fouls him, no matter how legit or clean the foul. What, exactly, do you want?)

On ESPN's SportsNation this afternoon (it was on at the gym), they had a poll question on which was worse: Bynum's gutless assault, or him taking off his jersey on his way out of the arena post-ejection.

Seriously, SportsNation? We're wondering whether the dirtiest foul in recent memory, one that could easily have injured the opposing player and which served no basketball purpose whatsoever is worse than a guy taking off his shirt? It reminded me of the South Park where the boys get a ninja star stuck in Butters' eye but all anyone cares about is Cartman going on stage naked because he thought he was invisible. I'd be very curious to hear the reasoning of anyone who thought Bynum tossing his jersey was worse than his thuggery.

Now, about eliminating those pesky Miami Heats...

Monday, May 9

In my experience, there's no such thing as luck

I like Manny Acta, really, I do. He seems like a friendly guy and a smart baseball man, and he's piloted my team to the top of the division (not that I really think managers impact a team much either way). But his comments regarding the Indians' unlucky breaks during yesterday's tough 6-5 loss to the Angels suggest a pretty serious disconnect from reality.

"Luck is not in my vocabulary," the Indians manager said.
We're not off to a good start here. Anyone who has a serious appreciation of baseball knows that luck plays a major role in the outcome of many games, particularly close ones. To deny so is to deny reality and the very essence of the game. There's a reason they play 162 games - it's so the lucky plays for and against each club will mostly even out and the teams that played best will end up on top. I certainly wouldn't attribute a team mounting a successful 90-win campaign to that team having gotten lucky, but a team scratching out 11 infield hits in a three-game series? Lucky.

"Baseball is when preparation meets opportunity."
Are we managing a baseball team here, or running a motivational seminar?

"To me, high choppers have nothing to do with luck. It has to do with hard ground in front of plate and your pitcher jamming a guy."
And that guy still reaching base safely with an infield hit, and the guy next to him doing the same thing. These are poor at-bats rewarded with successful outcomes mostly because of luck. This is not preparation meeting opportunity - this is batters failing at their objective but being fortunate and reaching base anyway.

"It worked for them. It could have gone our way."
Honestly, I can't think of a better way to describe the concept of luck than this sentence. This is exactly equivalent to saying "they got lucky." I don't think the Angels would disagree with that statement, either.

Now, I realize that managers have to say nonsense like this after a tough loss to avoid the appearance of making excuses or not accepting responsibility for how their club played. I just hope Acta is just talking in hard-nosed make-no-excuses manager-speak, and doesn't sincerely think that baseball has nothing to do with luck.

Sunday, May 8

This is the baseball

Wanted to highlight an excellent piece by Let's Go Tribe's Scott Bricker (h/t to the DiaTribe) that perfectly encapsulates the promise of this 2011 Indians club.

Can we convince Alex White to go back to trying to look exactly like Chris Perez? That was probably my favorite photo of the bunch.

Thursday, May 5

Yet another reason to hate the steelers

I know, there's a lot of dumb athletes in the world saying dumb things, especially since Twitter got big, but Rashard Mendenhall is on the steelers, who I do not like, and he is extra-dumb, hence this quick article.

Mendenhall has come under some fire, even from his own club, for a couple of twitters he sent apparently defending the now-deceased Osama bin Laden. (Mendenhall's timeline also features a retweet from the hilariously-named "IslamicThinking" and this gem: "Going down on your man IS optional. It's either gonna be you, OR some other chick. #choosewisely")

Anyway, Mendenhall decided to send this missive regarding American celebration of OBL's killing:

What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...

In his defense, I thought the degree of pride and celebration that surrounded the news of OBL's death here in the US was over the top. But criticizing American response to the news is a far different animal than defending OBL's indefensible legacy. Ironically, a very good answer to the question opening this post is...Osama bin Laden, an individual who celebrated thousands of deaths, ones that he was directly responsible for. And the idea that we haven't heard bin Laden's "side" is absurd - his rambling videos and the murderous organization he founded don't tell that story?

Mendenhall also Twittered some genius-level thoughts about 9/11:

We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.

Great points, other than we know exactly what happened, and it's on video.

Mendenhall's been at this game for a while - back in March he supported Adrian Peterson's preopsterous claim that pro athletics are "modern-day slavery," offering that:

Anyone with knowledge of the slave trade and the NFL could say that these two parallel eachother

This statement is so stupid that I'm not going to even grace it with a counterpoint. Know that I want to, though. I know athletes live in a bubble removed from the real world, but even by those insulated standards this is pretty dumb.

Possibly realizing what a fool he might appear to be, Mendenhall quickly got on the defensive after his initial missives with:

I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge.


Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves.

This is pure cowardice. Hiding behind God and the day of judgement is a defiantly pathetic way to take your ball and go home from an discussion. People for some reason think that rubbish like this insulates them from criticism, like I'm going to hesitate to "judge" Mendenhall's stupid remarks because I'm afraid of somebody or something "judging" me as a consequence. People are judged all the time, at work, at home, and of course in public forums if they choose to use them. If you're confident that you've made a legitimate point, there's no need to injoin your critics with vague threats of future "judgment."

I suppose I'd better check Twitter to see if any Browns said anything dumb...

Wednesday, May 4

The Indians, 1/6 of the way done

I was listening to the radio broadcast of the Indians' 5-4 win over the Tigres on Sunday, completing a three-game sweep consisting entirely of come-from-behind wins and extending their home win streak to 13 games, when Mike Hegan mentioned that the Indians are nearing that 40-game mark in the season where you can really gauge how the rest of the season might be expected to proceed. I have no idea what Hegan was talking about - the fact of the matter is that the 27 contests they've played is really in no way close to 40 games, and in fact only 2/3 of the way there, but they are 1/6 of the way through the season holding the best record in baseball and having notched a franchise record for wins in April. As such, I thought I'd take a look inside the numbers and see what has made the 2011 Tribe so successful thus far.

First of all, know that Cleveland's 19-8 start isn't happening by accident. The Tribe's pythagorean W-L is 18-9, the club ranks 1st in SRS according to (1.5, where the yankees and Phillies are tied for 2nd at 1.1), and the Indians own baseball's best run differential at +47. They've scored the most runs of any AL Central club and allowed the fewest. Any way you slice the numbers, other than home attendance, the Cleveland Indians look really good so far. Baseball Prospectus now gives us a 39% chance of qualifying for the postseason, which is still less than half of what it grants the 13-15 Boston Red Sox (whom the Indians took down in one of their FIVE three-game sweeps this month) but represents a marked improvement from a couple of weeks ago.

Anyone who's followed the club will tell you that it's the pitching that's propelled the Indians to such a hot start, with the starters giving the club a chance to win every night and the bullpen locking things down at the end. While the chuckers have done these things, it's the offense that has been the team's top strength. The team's OPS+ is 127 while its ERA+ sits at 109 - very good, but not on par with how the Indians have swung the bats. The Indians staff is 3rd in the AL in ERA at 3.48, which is great - the Tribe batsmen are FIRST in the AL in runs, which is greater.

All nine Tribe regulars have an OPS+ above 100, led by Travis Hafner's improbable 176 and Matt LaPorta possibly pointing towards a breakout campaign and an increase in the amount I pay to sponsor his Baseball Reference page at a solid 144. Jack "The Zookeeper" Hannahan is next at 134, with Michael Brantley in 4th at 129. Brantley, incidentally, leads the team in OBP at .394 (and this team leads the AL) - if he can just keep doing that for the next five years in Cleveland, I'll be really happy. What would you have thought if I'd told you these four cats would be leading the Tribe in batting production at this point? Amazing. Our middle infielding Cabreras have also hit well above average for their positions, with OC at 104 and Asdrubal at 126 (including a club-leading five home runs).

Oh yeah, and Grady Sizemore has come back from knee surgery on a video game-like tear, crushing a home run his first game back (he has four already in just 54 PA) and notching an extra-base hit for every four AB's so far. His OPS+ is 218 and in just two short weeks he's reestablished himself as the face of the franchise and arguably its most valuable player. Glad I didn't toss out that jersey.

One of the oft-repeated storylines of the Indians lineup is how it's remarkable that they're producing even without elite production from their nominal top two hitters, Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana. This, like the view that pitching has carried the Tribe so far, isn't exactly true. Sure, Santana's OPS+ of 104 doesn't quite match his vast potential, and Choo (106) hasn't reached the standards set by his monstrous three-year run from 2008-10 (156, 136, 148). But Choo leads the Indians in WAR (thanks in large part to his outstanding work in RF), edging out Brantley, Cabrera, and, somehow in just 12 games, Sizemore. Santana's WAR is a pedestrian 0.4 thus far, but consider how a few notable Tribesmen fared in 2010 WAR:

Brantley: -0.5
LaPorta: -0.2
Sizemore: -0.9

The point is, the Indians are getting contributions from their whole lineup and scoring a ton of runs as a result. Yes, certain players will cool off, but others will get hot - the important thing is that we have some key guys who seem to have turned the corner on injuries (Sizemore, Hafner, Asdrubal) and guys who really look like they might be figuring it out (Brantley, LaPorta). We also have Choo, who is a straight baller.

Defensive statistics are tricky, and I refuse to cite the Indians' defensive "rank" in the league just by the number of errors they've made. But I will say that BR has our defensive WAR at 2.0, where for all of 2010 it was only 1.9. The Tribe defense also passes what some call "the eye test" but what I prefer to call the "can't remember them losing games this year because the defense fucked up, which happened all the time in 2008-2010 test." Let's talk pitching.

As I mentioned before, we have a staff ERA of 3.48, good for an ERA+ of 109 and 3rd in the AL. The bad news: the two teams we trail (Oakland and California) happen to be the two clubs we're out West visiting this week. We'll see who gives.

The biggest stories among the Indians staff are obviously starters Justin Masterson (5-0, 2.25 ERA, 165 ERA+) and Josh Tomlin (4-0, 2.45, 152). I wrote at the start of the year that I expected two guys from the bottom 80% of the Indians' rotation to have a breakout campaign, but no way did I expect them to do so this fast and to this degree (also I guessed Carrasco and Tomlin, half right). It will be interesting to see to what extent this duo regresses to the mean, and to discover where that mean might be. Masterson, in particular, looks like he might have a pretty damn good mean.

Fausto Carmona has been a mixture of brilliant and brutal. His season ERA sits at 5.15, but 16 of the 21 earned runs he's yielded so far have come in just two of his starts, including his 10 ER, 3 IP Opening Day debacle. Take out Opening Day, and Fausto has an ERA of 2.98 for the season (editor's note: he went out and tossed 8 IP and yielded just one ER right after I posted this). Keep that up and we'll forget all about Opening Day, assisted by having killed a lot of brain cells that day anyway despite Progressive Field's egregious lack of PBR or Blatz.

The bullpen was expected by many to be a team strength, and certainly hasn't disappointed. In Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, and Chris Perez, we have a foursome every bit as fearsome as Eric Wedge's vaunted Circle of Trust from 2007, with the exception that Chris Perez can probably run faster than Joe Borowski could throw. The foursome that makes up the Circle of Trust (v2.0) currently sports an ERA of 1.58 (R. Perez hasn't given up a run yet), in addition to one comically Italian name that I love saying whenever he makes an appearance. Hey! Its'a Vinnie Pestano!

Hell, may as well add Joe Smith (1.59) to the CoTv2.0 - won't change my ERA calculation much.

The remainder of the rotation is in a bit of flux, with injuries to Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco serving as the only blemishes on Cleveland's 2011 campaign thus far. But I liked what I saw from Alex White on Saturday (as I attended his MLB debut) and the other two looked good before going down.

The other five sixths of the season aren't likely to be as memorable as this 19-8 stretch, but they don't have to be - if the Tribe can assemble solid 14-15 win months from here on out, we take the AL Central.

Did I mention that we're TEN games up on Minnesota and Chicago? Go Tribe.

Tuesday, May 3


Two quick points on Shin-Soo Choo's DUI charge, both pointing out overreactions:

1) Some radio talker on WKNR was going on and on in that high-pitched whining voice that radio and TV yakkers always use when they're being overly strident, about how Choo "didn't deserve" to play tonight. Disagree. The courts and the league will punish him once the case is decided, and until then we wait. I wouldn't stop working because I had a DUI charge against me, nor would I suspend someone who worked for me. I realize baseball player is a different kind of job in many ways, but not in this way.

2) Teams usually provide beer for players post-game, but there were whispers that maybe the Tribe would end this. Absurd overreaction if they do. The Tribe has probably been doing this for decades, and now one guy mnakes a mistake and everyone's cut off? Classic knee-jerk overreaction to solve a non-existent problem, and too late. If anything, it's safer now than ever to provide a couple of PBR's to the Indians players (I assume that's what they drink), as they're likely to be extra, extra careful in light of Choo's mishap.