Happy Pi Day

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In honor of Pi Day, I decided to see which Indians pitcher had an era closest to Pi.

ImageAnd the winner is… the legendary Jeremy Hernandez!

Hernandez was acquired from the Padres midway through the 1993 season and posted a 3.14224 ERA in 49 appearances out of the Tribe pen. He was traded to the Marlins in exchange for Matt Turner the following offseason, thus ending his Tribe career with an era of Pi.

Pestano broke 75-year-old rookie record

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In 2011, Vinnie Pestano set the Indians rookie record (min. 50 innings) for most strikeouts per nine innings. The previous record, held by Bob Feller, had stood 75 years.

Interestingly enough, Pestano’s performance came in the exact same number of innings pitcher (62) as Feller, who was used as both a starter a reliever, back in 1936. Feller recorded 76 strikeouts (and 47 walks), while Pestano struck out 84 (with just 24 walks).

How the Indians turned Jack Brohamer into Omar Vizquel

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How do you turn light-hitting second baseman second baseman Jack Brohamer into future Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel? Well, it took 25 years and eight trades, but the Tribe pulled it off…

Is there hope for Matt Laporta?

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Matt LaPorta is still only 27 years old, but he’s already had over 1,000 plate appearances in the big leagues. So at what point do past failures prove more meaningful than the promise of youth?

Through his first three seasons LaPorta’s stat line reads more like a weak-hitting middle infielder than a corner infielder: .238 BA, .304 OBP, .397 Slug pct. In fact, only two others players in Tribe history have posted such a meager stat line through three seasons – both middle infielders from the turn of the century.

Rk Player Year BA SLG OBP PA From To
1 Matt LaPorta 2011 .238 .397 .304 1008 2009 2011
2 Bill Wambsganss 1916 .223 .267 .292 1133 1914 1916
3 John Gochnaur 1903 .185 .239 .256 1018 1902 1903

So is there any reason to hope for a sudden turnaround by LaPorta? Or is has he already cemented himself as the next John Gochnaur?

To answer this, let’s look at how LaPorta stacks up against some similar prospects in recent years.

Among corner infielders and/or corner outfielders to debut in the last 25 years, six players (excluding LaPorta) have posted an OBP < .310 and a Slug Pct < .400 with a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances through their age-26 season.

Given such a modest stat line, in order to stay on the field these players needed to be top prospects (in most cases). Like the Indians with LaPorta, teams wanted to see what these guys could do at the major league level, and were willing to wait out their struggles – to a point.

Rk Player Year SLG OBP From PA From To Age
1 Matt LaPorta 2011 .397 .304 2009 1008 2009 2011 24-26
2 Andy LaRoche 2010 .338 .304 2007 1228 2007 2010 23-26
3 Jose Guillen 2002 .398 .305 1997 2202 1997 2002 21-26
4 Marc Newfield 1998 .375 .303 1993 1051 1993 1998 20-25
5 Eric Anthony 1994 .384 .296 1989 1789 1989 1994 21-26
6 Carlos Martinez 1992 .369 .294 1988 1233 1988 1992 22-26
7 Charlie Hayes 1991 .361 .276 1988 1408 1988 1991 23-26

The most recent guy on the list, Andy LaRoche, is now in the Tribe system and will complete with LaPorta for a roster spot this spring (won’t that be exciting to watch). And given the fact that he is just one year removed from this list, he offers little insight into LaPorta’s future. From 2005 through 2008, LaRoche was ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects, peaking at No. 19 in 2006 and 2007. But he has never been able to stick at the major league level, despite opportunities with three different franchises. Last season in Oakland, LaRoche appeared in 40 games, with a slightly improved OBP of .320, but failed to show the power necessary to play the corners at the major league level.

Prior to LaRoche there was Jose Guillen, who is perhaps the most encouraging name on this list. While Guillen struggled early in his career, his age-27 season was his breakout campaign. Splitting the year between the Reds and A’s, Guillen hit .311 with a career-high 31 home runs. Over the remaining years of his career, Guillen would post an OBP of .330 with a respectable .462 Slug pct.

But before Guillen came Marc Newfield, the worst-case scenario for LaPorta. Coming up in the Mariners system, Newfield was a top-50 prospect every season from 1991 through 1995. However, Newfield managed just a .201 average in his days in Seattle and was traded to San Diego in 1995. In 1998, still only 25 years old, Newfield would be given his last chance, this time with the Brewers. He would bounce around the minors with the A’s and Red Sox organizations, but never reached the majors again.

Eric Anthony is perhaps the best statistical comparison to LaPorta. Anthony began the 1990 season as the 8th-ranked prospect but struggled so mightily (10 HR, .192 BA, .297 OBP) that he was off the list all together in 1991. By 1992 the Astros were determined to play their former top prospect every day, and he struggled for two years before being traded to Seattle for Mike Hampton in 1994. While Anthony did show improvement – .344 OBP in remaining years of his career – his inconsistency was too much for teams to handle. After leaving Seattle at the end of his age-26 season he bounced from Cincinati to Colorado to Los Angeles and was out of the majors before the age of 30.

And now for our hometown example, the late Carlos Martinez (also known as the guy who hit a home run of Jose Canseco‘s head). Prior to joining the Tribe, Martinez was a promising young third baseman in the White Sox organization. In just over 100 games in 1989 he hit .300. And when Robin Venteura reached the majors in 1990, they shifted Martinez to first base, where he started until a young rookie by the name of Frank Thomas took over in mid July. While it was hard to ignore Thomas’ promise, it was equally tough for the White Sox to ignore Martinez’s .252 OBP. The Indians signed him that offseason, and in the following two seasons he would post a dismal .298 OBP, while hitting just 10 home runs in 141 games. He remained in Cleveland for his age-27 season, but showed no improvement with a .295 OBP in 80 games. He was out of baseball before the age of 30.

The final name on our list is Charlie Hayes, who began his career with San Francisco in 1988 but was traded to Philadelphia the following season. In his age-25 and 26 seasons, Hayes was the Phillies every-day third basemen and, for inexplicable reasons, played in 294 games during that span, in which his .277 OBP made LaPorta look like a young Jim Thome. But as bad as Hayes was early in his career, he turned it around, with some help from the thin Colorado air. At age 28 in 1993, Hayes belted 25 home runs in Colorado, with a .355 OBP. But he wasn’t purely a product of the Rockies ballpark. Hayes also posted three non-Colorado seasons with an OPS over .725.

So… what’s does all this tell us about LaPorta?

While the results vary dramatically, on average, these players did show some improvement. Their collective OBP rose to .318 in their age-27 season, and then spiked above .340 in both their age-28 and age-29 season. However, it should be noted that while some short-term improvement was apparent, only Guillen and Hayes sustained their careers into their 30s.

So while LaPorta may have a long career left ahead, if he doesn’t turn it around quickly, the clock is ticking.

Garland on both sides of Indians-White Sox rivalry

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You don’t often see players of Jon Garland‘s caliber swapping jerseys within a division, especially not between long time rivals such as the Indians and White Sox. As a result, Garland will be the winningest pitcher in White Sox history to ever join the good guys, eclipsing Jack McDowell by one victory.

We can only hope the Garland era goes a little more smoothly than McDowell’s, who went just 16-12 in 12 in 36 starts in two years with the Tribe and spend the majority of the ’97 season on the DL.

Why the Tribe likes Jon Garland

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It’s easy to dismiss the Indians signing of Jon Garland to a minor league deal. He’s coming off a shoulder injury which limited him to nine starts in 2011, and he’ll be competing against a large group including Kevin Slowey and Jeanmar Gomes. However, it’s a low-risk, potentially high-reward signing for the Tribe, who would love to have Garland establish himself as an innings-eater at the back end of the rotation.

Since 2004, Garland has thrown at least 200 innings in six of his eight healthy seasons (and 196 in another). That type of stability at the back end of the rotation could do wonders for already strong Tribe bullpen.

And let’s be honest, this contract can’t possibly go as wrong as the last Garland the Indians signed.

 Pitcher Yrs From To Seasons
Mark Buehrle 8 2004 2011 Ind. Seasons
Dan Haren 7 2005 2011 Ind. Seasons
Roy Halladay 6 2006 2011 Ind. Seasons
Cliff Lee 6 2005 2011 Ind. Seasons
Bronson Arroyo 6 2005 2010 Ind. Seasons
Roy Oswalt 6 2004 2010 Ind. Seasons
Jon Garland 6 2004 2010 Ind. Seasons

Should pitchers be in MVP discussion?

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I’m intrigued by the Justin Verlander-for-MVP debate.

It’s a debate that I’ve been interested in for awhile but have never fully formed an opinion on the matter, primarily because there hasn’t been a pitcher seriously in the discussion in quite some time. But Justin Verlander has captured the attention of the baseball world and appears to have a realistic shot this season.

Most MVP voters these days either stick to their guns and argue that batting average and RBI are the stats to consider. Those trying to join the new era of stats tend to lean toward WAR (without having any real concept of what WAR is in most cases).

For the purpose of this discussion, however, I’m going to analyze pitchers and hitters using win probability added (WPA). Without going too deep into the explanation of the stat (check out the link for Fan Graph’s definition), I will say this: I like WPA because it evaluates each plate appearance and puts it into perspective, something which WAR and other raw stats fail to do. In other words, all 20 home run seasons are not created equal, and WPA recognizes that.

The argument against pitchers being involved in the MVP discussion is that they only appear in roughly 30-35 games per season. As a result, they have zero impact on roughly 1/5th of their team’s season. Based on this it should come as no surprise that the WPA leaders are typically hitters.

Looking at cumulative numbers, however, probably isn’t the best way to compare hitters and pitchers. In theory, a player could increase his team’s chances of winning by three percent in all 162 games and post a WPA of 4.86 – good enough to warrant MVP consideration. However, he would have done so without ever impacting his team in any real meaningful way. For a more realistic example consider this: there have been 55 games this season in which Jose Bautista impacted the Blue Jays WPA by 1 percent or less.

So to determine an MVP shouldn’t we look at the games in which the candidates – hitters or pitchers – actually made the difference?

Let’s look at games in which players increased their team’s chances of winning by at least 20%.

The names on the list are similar, but the margin is considerably smaller. Jose Bautista, despite playing everyday, has only had one more 20%-impact game than Verlander and James Shields (who probably deserves more Cy Young consideration than he’s getting).

So is Verlander the MVP?

Well, the debate shouldn’t end here but clearly he deserves to be considered. Bautista may appear in more games, but he and Verlander truly impact the outcome at roughly the same rate. I’m not willing to weigh on who should win just yet, but after looking closer at these numbers I am comfortable putting pitchers into the MVP conversation.