David Huff’s remarkably improbable performace

Last season David Huff became the 14th pitcher in Indians history to make at least 15 starts with an ERA over 6.00. In fact, he entered his start on Monday with the 3rd worst ERA in franchise history (min. 200 innings).

So what he did in Minnesota – seven shutout innings – was nothing short of remarkable. And yet, it’s becoming common in Cleveland.

Prior to Huff, the two Tribe pitchers with with an ERA over 6.00 were Cliff Lee (2007) and Fausto Carmona (2009). The following year each pitcher became the Indians’ ace, with Lee winning the Cy Young.

Carmona, of course, has regressed back into his 2009 version, but the fact remains that the Indians coach staff (mostly the minor league staff I would assume) has done a remarkable job rebuilding these pitchers.

It’s hard to know who to give credit to because the staff has changed so much in recent years, but someone is clearly doing something right. Let’s hope Huff can keep up the good work.

Trade options for the Indians

If the Indians are going to win the AL Central, it’s safe to say they’ll need to upgrade the offense, most likely with an outfield bat.

What the Indians really need here is someone to replace Grady Sizemore. He may be the worst everyday player not named Yuniesky Betancourt. [Not willing to admit how bad Sizemore’s been? Then consider this depressing stat: when he gets two strikes on him with runners in scoring position, he’s 0-25.]

But we know the Tribe front office is too stubborn to sit Sizemore down, so realistically all we’ll get in the outfield is someone to replace Austin Kearns.

Here are some options (ordered from most to least realistic):

Laynce Nix, Nationals
Nix is a similar player to Morse and is also one of the Nationals’ expiring contracts.  He can play all three outfield positions, but is really more of a corner outfielder at this point in his career. His OBP (.314) is nothing special, but he could provide some pop off the bench (12 HR, 25 XBH).

Jeff Francoeur, Royals
After an impressive start to his career, Francoeur has fallen flat in recent years. He’s only 27, but his .303 OBP over the last four seasons has limited his playing time in Atlanta, New York, Texas and now Kansas City. He plays good defense though and has some pop (12 HR) which makes him a decent candidate for the Tribe.

Mike Morse, Nationals
Since the Indians aren’t looking for an everyday player, Morse makes a lot of sense. He can play both corner outfield positions as well as first base and even could even play third base in a pinch. This season he’s batting .302 with a .351 OBP and 15 home runs. He’s a free agent at the end of the season, meaning he could be a reasonably cheap option.

Josh Willingham, A’s
Willingham would be another two-month rental who could provide some pop off the bench (12 HR this year). The downside is he’s a liability on defense and has limited experience playing anywhere but left field.

Casey Blake, Dodgers
It’s been five years since Blake played the outfield consistently, but he’s worth mentioning in the discussion. He could be had for a relatively cheap price, and would provide the Indians with depth at third and first as well as right field. He definitely isn’t he most exciting option on the market, but could be a nice veteran addition who could platoon at a few positions. Blake has  a team option for next season, which likely would not be picked up.

Marlon Byrd, Cubs
Byrd is one of the more expensive options out there (he’s still owed $6.5M in 2012), but may be worth it if the Indians have any doubts about Sizemore’s ability to stay healthy (which they definitely should). Byrd can play all three outfield positions. He was somewhat of a late bloomer, but has blossomed into a consistent player. Over the past five seasons he’s batting .296 with a .350 OBP – and he’s right on target to match those numbers this season (.307/.349).

Reed Johnson, Cubs
Johnson is an ideal fourth outfielder who can play all three positions reasonably well.  In limited playing time in Chicago he’s batting . 325 with a .368 OBP. He may give you the most bang for buck, as the Cubs are paying him just $900,000 this season, the last year of his contract.

Coco Crisp, A’s
Crispy wouldn’t give the Tribe the power they’d ideally like to get, but his versatility and speed make him an ideal candidate to be the fourth outfielder. He’d be a two-month rental who could be valuable in pinch-running situations down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Ryan Ludwick, Padres
The former Indian will be a hot commodity and may be too expensive for the Indians to rent for two months.  He isn’t having a great season (.305 OBP) but there’s reason to believe his power will increase once he’s out of Petco Park. The Tribe could reasonably rely on him for 8-12 home runs down the stretch.

Hunter Pence, Astros
Pence is undoubtedly the best option if the Indians have questions about Sizemore or Choo’s health. He’s just 28 years-old and is still subject to arbitration through 2012. He’s a consistent 25 HR-per-year guy who would give the Indians offense a huge boost. However, they’ll need to part with Sizemore, Brantley or Choo sometime in the near future to make room for his bat.

Vinnie Pestano shuts down righties

Vinnie Pestano has been arguably the Tribe’s most dominant pitcher out of the bullpen this season. And a big reason why is his dominance vs right handers. Righties are batting just .132 against Pestano (lefties are at .245).

The key to Pestano’s success has been his ability to slam door once he gets two strikes on the hitter.

Pestano has forced a two-strike count on 58 right-handed batters this season. In those 58 plate appearances, 44 have resulted in strike outs (75.9%), nine have recorded an out in the field, four have walked and just one (Scott Rolen) recorded a hit.

For those keeping score at home, that’s a .019 BA for righties in two-strike counts.

Pitching efficiency rating – 1st half stats


A couple years ago I developed a stat called PER (pitching efficiency rating). The purpose of the stat is pretty self explanatory – to determine how efficient a pitcher is. I had posted the data on another site previously, but just uploaded some of it here where I’ll leave it for now (check out the new tab in the nav bar at the top for a full explanation.)

Updating the numbers is a tedious task, but I’ve used this time over the break to update the first half data.

Your first half PER leader is Justin Verlander, narrowly edging out Jered Weaver. Here’s the rest of the top ten:

First Half PER Leaders – Min. 12 Starts
Justin Verlander, DET
Jered Weaver, LAA
Roy Halladay, PHI
James Shields , TB
Cole Hamels, PHI
Johnny Cueto, CIN
Dan Haren, LAA
Cliff Lee, PHI
CC Sabathia, NYY
Felix Hernandez, SEA
As for the Tribe, the numbers are about what you would expect. Justin Masterson leads the way (.793), followed by Josh Tomlin (.784) and Carlos Carrasco (.743). In a distant 4th is Fausto Carmona (.719). And among pitchers with at least 10 starts, only two guys have posted a PER worse than Mitch Talbot‘s .682.
As a whole, the Tribe’s PER is just .745 – ranking the 23rd in all of baseball. In the AL, only the Blue Jays, Royals and Orioles have a worse team PER. That just goes to show you how dominant the bullpen has been. But if they’re going to remain in the playoff race, it’s safe to say they’ll need more consistency from the starters.
If you’re familiar with excel, feel free to download the data here and play around with the stats yourself. There’s a pivot table as well as all of the raw data in another tab.

Some All-Star break notes on the pitching staff

  • Justin Masterson is the 8th Indians pitcher (min 75 IP) since 1990 to post a pre-All-Star Break ERA under 3.00 and the first since Cliff Lee in 2008. The lowest in that time span belongs to Tom Candiotti (2.24 in 1991), who didn’t even make the All-Star team that year.
  • Josh Tomlin is the 10th Tribe pitcher since 1990 with double-digit wins before the All-Star break, but does so with the third-highest ERA of the group. The highest ERA in that span belongs to Charles Nagy, who went 11-4 with a 4.43 ERA in the first half in 1999.
  • Joe Smith has the lowest ERA (min 25 IP) of any Tribe pitcher since 1957 (as far back as the baseballmusings database goes). The previous low belonged to Derek Lilliquist (1.13) in 1993.
  • Amazingly, Mitch Talbot‘s 6.33 ERA is only the 4th highest by a Tribe pitcher (min 10 starts) before the break in the past five seasons. Fausto Carmona (7.42 in 2009), Jeremy Sowers (6.93 in 2007) and David Huff (6.71 in 2009) were all worse. Carmona’s dreadful 2007 first half is the Tribe’s worst since 1957. The only other pitcher above 7.00 in that span was Don Schulze (7.27) in 1985.

Eight shutout innings vs Yankees

Justin Masterson was brilliant on Wednesday night – hopefully locking up a spot on the All-Star team once the replacements are announced. His gem was just the 7th time a Tribe pitcher tossed eight shutout innings against the Yankees since 1990, and the first since Billy Traber‘s one-hitter in 2003.

Unfortunately his high pitch count – a recurring problem with Masterson – ruined any chance at a complete game.

Player Date Rslt App,Dec IP H R BB SO Pit
Justin Masterson 2011-07-06 W 5-3 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 2 6 112
Billy Traber 2003-07-08 W 4-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 1 0 0 5 102
Bartolo Colon 2000-09-18 W 2-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 1 0 1 13 114
Dave Burba 2000-09-15 W 11-1 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 3 7 102
Bartolo Colon 1998-06-21 W 11-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 5 10 139
Charles Nagy 1995-09-13 W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 3 0 2 5 115
Charles Nagy 1992-06-12 W 3-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 5 0 0 5 90

How unlikely was Kearns’ HR on Monday?

Monday’s game against the Yankees was the Tribe’s 83rd of the year and it was Austin Kearns‘ first appearance in the official second half of the season.

His first half will go down as one of the most miserable in Tribe history, and yet the second chapter is off to a brilliant start.

So just how unlikely was his home run off A.J. Burnett?

Since 1980, 366 Indians have had at least 100 plate appearances through the team’s first 81 games. Only three of them, however, posted a batting average under .200 and failed to hit a home run. Kearns (.196 in 115 PA), of course, is one of them. The other two: Chris Bando in 1985 (.065 in 107 PA) and Otis Nixon in 1984 (.154 in 103 PA).

Neither Bando nor Nixon would go on to hit a home run that season, and the two would combine for just 38 in their careers.

Clarifying the Josh Tomlin record

I was at the Tribe game last night when they posted on the scoreboard that Josh Tomlin set a modern-era record by going “at least 5 innings in each of his first 29 career starts.”

That’s almost correct, but not quite.

Technically, there have been six other pitchers since 1919 (the baseball-reference era) to go at least five innings in each of their first 29 starts – including John Farrell who did so in 37 straight for the Tribe in 1987 and ’88. However, each of those pitchers made at least once relief appearance between starts (Farrell’s career started in relief).

Tomlin holds the record for most consecutive appearances of at least five innings.

It’s an impressive streak, but also sort of a fluky one. How many pitchers actually start each of their first 29 career games?

I don’t exactly know how to answer that question, but just look at some former long-time Indians as examples:

  • Charles Nagy started over 200 consecutive games for the Indians, a streak which began in his rookie year. However, he did make one relief appearance as a rookie in 1990.
  • Bartolo Colon started all but two games in his Indians career, but both his relief appearances came as a rookie.
  • CC Sabathia, like Tomlin, is a rare exception to the rule. Amazingly, Sabathia has never made a relief appearance in his 11 seasons in the big leagues.

2011 Wahoo’s Warriors AL All-Star Team

Starter: Alex Avila (DET)
Bench: Matt Wieters (BAL)

Believe it or not, Carlos Santana is almost in this discussion – that’s how bad the position has been this year. Aside from Avila no one is All-Star caliber, so Wieters gets the nod as the Orioles lone representative.

First Base
Starter:  Adrian Gonzalez (BOS)
Bench: Miguel Cabrera (DET), Paul Konerko (CHW), Casey Kotchman (TB)

It’s a toss up between Gonzalez and Cabrera, who both had an MVP-like first half. Kotchman was one of the last additions to the team. He’s only played 67 games, but is batting .333 and has been a huge reason for the Rays’ success.

Second Base
Starter: Robinson Cano (NYY)
Bench: Dustin Pedroia (BOS), Howie Kendrick (LAA)

All three have a legitimate case to start, but I went with Cano because he’s probably been the most valuable for his team.

Third Base
Starter:  Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
Bench:  Kevin Youkilis (BOS)

A-Rod is the only everyday third baseman batting over .300. It’s a weak year for the position, and even Youkilis is only a borderline All-Star candidate.

Starter: Jhonny Peralta (DET)
Bench:  Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE)

As good as Cabrera has been, it’s hard to argue that Peralta hasn’t been the best in the AL. Peralta has a higher BA, OBP and OPS. Cabrera may be more valuable to his team, but Perlta is simply having the better season.

Starters: Jose Bautista (TOR), Curtis Granderson (NYY), Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
Bench:  Matthew Joyce (TB), Carlos Quentin (CHW), Michael Cuddyer (MIN)

This is a surprisingly weak year for outfielders. Bautista and Granderson are obvious starters, but the rest of the spots are up for grabs. Michael Cuddyer doesn’t have typical All-Star stats, but there aren’t any other options to represent the Twins.

Designated Hitter
Bench: Billy Butler (KC), David Ortiz (BOS), Victor Martinez (DET), Michael Young (TEX)

Four DHs in a NL park? It’s unconventional, but I don’t see how you can deny anyone from this group. Fortunately Martinez and Young can play multiple positions in the field, while Butler and Ortiz can be used as pinch hitters.

Starters: Justin Verlander (DET), Jered Weaver (LAA), Josh Beckett (BOS), Gio Gonzalez (OAK), James Shields (TB), Michael Pineda (SEA), Alexi Ogando (TEX)
Relievers:  Mariano Rivera (NYY), Chris Perez (CLE), Kyle Farnsworth (TB), Jose Valverde (DET)

There are at least five very deserving candidates left off this list, including Justin Masterson, but 11 pitchers is already a large staff. Verlander is the obvious choice as the starter. As for the relievers, Rivera and Perez have their spots on the team wrapped up, but there are four or five others in contention. I went with Farnsworth and Valverde, but Brandon League, Sergio Santos, Jonathan Papelbon and others have strong cases.

The ups and downs of June

It was a strange month for the Tribe’s pitching staff, as we saw some brilliant and some dreadful performances.

On the positive side, Carlos Carrasco emerged as a potential top of the rotation pitcher. After allowing five runs in his first start of the month against the Rangers, he allowed just four in his next five starts – good for a 0.98 ERA. Overall, he posted a 1.90 ERA in June, among the best in recent memory.

On the flip side, Fausto Carmona was awful, proving once again that he simply doesn’t have the mental makeup to ever be an ace. In five June starts, Carmona posted a 7.62 ERA – the worst in the month since Dave Burba in 2000. Dating back to May 19, Carmona is 1-7 with an 8.58 ERA.