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BP and the Tribe

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Baseball Prospectus says “Hello Cleveland” today, and I’m just here to evaluate their evaluation.

John Perrotto first notes that “the pundits” picked Cleveland to finish no higher than fourth in the division in 2011. After all, though they took the Red Sox to 7 in the ALCS in 2007, they lost 97 games in 2009 and 93 in 2010.

I shouldn’t sound superior at all, for I figured it would be a three-way race as usual–Twins, White Sox, and Tigers–with Detroit the weakest of the three, and then Cleveland and finally Kansas City. I opined to a friend that Cleveland might–just might–have a shot to overtake Detroit, but no more than that. I thought the Twins were really good, despite some questions.

That was, you know, “on paper.”

Ah, reality! Or, “that’s why they play the games,” or some such springtime nonsense.

As Perrotto notes, the Indians have the best record in the Bigs, hold a 4 1/2-game lead in the division (and are leaving the Twins and White Sox in the dust, holding 10 (ten–yes, ten!) games leads over both of them. And Cleveland leads the Majors in (a) Run Differential (+47), (b) Pythagorean Winning Percentage (.671), (c) are second in the Bigs in runs per game, and (d) fourth fifth in runs allowed per game. Doing it in all phases.

Hey, the Indians have the lowest attendance in the Majors (yes, lower than Pittsburgh’s), they’ve lowered ticked prices both of the last two seasons, and they have $10 bleacher seat tickets for every game. Oh, to be a baseball fan in Cleveland this spring!

Perrotto tells us we should have been paying attention: The Tribe’s pitchers had a 3.89 ERA after the 2010 All Star Break, fourth best in the American League, and their bullpen ERA after September 1 was 2.11, best in the majors.

At this point, as a baseball fan, I’ve got to say they’ve been exciting. I saw the end of Friday night’s game (Santana’s walk-off slam), so I made it a point to watch both Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, and they are fun to watch.

Perrotto notes the exciting factor and brings up the numbers:

The Indians have been not only exciting but resilient, as two starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot, have been forced to the disabled list, and their two top hitters, catcher Carlos Santana (.191/.324/.382) and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (.250/.322/.394) have not hit their strides. However, the Indians have gotten a lift from a number of unlikely sources, including journeyman third baseman Jack Hannahan, who was signed as a minor-league free agent in the offseason to improve the defense. Hannahan is hitting .273/.349/.481 with four home runs in 86 plate appearances.

“He came to big-league camp this spring and changed his approach,” Acta said. “Basically, people have been telling him to play third base in the major leagues that he’d have to hit home runs. He changed his mind this year. He’s staying inside the ball and hitting it where it’s pitched. We didn’t ask him to hit home runs. All we asked was to play good defense, which he’s done. Any hitting from him is a bonus.”

Right-hander Justin Masterson has turned into the ace of the pitching staff so far, as he is 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 1.15WHIP in six starts and 40 innings. Masterson’s 3.83 SIERA last season was an indicator he could be due for a turnaround this year, as it was nearly a full run lower than his 4.70 ERA in 180 innings.

“His sinker can eat up right-handed hitters,” Acta said. “He’s got the right mentality. He takes things in stride. His struggles last year got him down at times, but he kept working until things clicked. He’s an easygoing guy. He’s got a pretty good idea now of how to fix things when he gets out of sync and he gets back to throwing strikes. He has done a tremendous job of staying consistent in the strike zone so far, which he did in last six weeks of last season.”

Right-hander Josh Tomlin has also been a revelation, going 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in his first five starts. That followed a pedestrian rookie season in 2011 when he had a 4.56 ERA and contributed just 0.4 WARP in 12 starts and 73 innings.

“He doesn’t overpower you but he mixes things up, changes speeds and puts his pitches where you can’t get good swings,” Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said of Tomlin.

The best news of all for the Indians, though, has been the strong return of center fielder Grady Sizemore, who was limited to 140 mostly ineffective plate appearances last season before succumbing to microfracture knee surgery. Since being activated from the disabled list on April 17, Sizemore has put up a slash line of .340/.389/.740 with four homers in 54 trips to the plate.

“It’s huge having him back and producing,” Acta said. “Just his presence alone means a lot and we were just hoping to have him back because we feed off him a lot as a franchise player. The way he has stepped into the lineup, it’s like it was two years ago when he was injury-free. He brings so much to the table offensively. Even with all the home runs he has hit in the past, I never realized how strong he is. As a leadoff hitter, he’s a threat to get an extra-base hit every time up and put himself in scoring position. He’s been great.”

As Perez said, “What Grady has done, besides being very productive, is give us even more confidence that we can win. We have our franchise player back and that’s a big boost.”

Despite the Indians’ hot start, Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds Reports give them just a 34.1 percent chance of reaching the postseason. Second baseman Orlando Cabrera, though, says numbers cannot measure the Indians’ confidence.

“This team has a real good feeling,” said Cabrera, a 15-year veteran who has played in the postseason in six of the last seven years. “We believe we’re going to win every day and that belief gets stronger with every game we win. I don’t know what everyone else thinks of us, but we’re a confident team that believes in itself.”

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Written by jjvedamuthu

May 2, 2011 at 15:14

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