The Cleveland Indians' starting pitching must improve in order for the team to attain any kind of success this season. The starting staff must throw a higher percentage of strikes and cut down on their walks, decrease their home runs allowed and get some consistency behind staff ace Justin Masterson.
All three weaknesses were on sickening display on Tuesday night as the Indians got bludgeoned by the New York Yankees 14-1. All three areas must get shored up. Let's examine the three areas more closely.
Inability to Throw Strikes
The Tribe's starting staff is second in MLB in walks allowed with 23.
The staff only allowed two walks on Tuesday evening, but Carlos Carrasco's inability to throw strikes with any consistency led to his ugly line of 3.2 innings pitched, seven hits, seven runs (all earned), two walks and two home runs allowed. A closer look at some of the starts so far on the season reveals this issue that needs improving.
Top starting pitchers attain a strike percentage in the high 60s. Sixty percent and below is a substandard percentage.
Game 1 4-1 W @ Toronto: Justin Masterson (6 IP, 4 BB, 103 pitches, 61 strikes, 59 percent strikes)
Game 2 3-2 W @ Toronto: Ubaldo Jimenez (6 IP, 2 BB, 103 pitches, 64 strikes, 62 percent)
Game 3 10-8 L @ Toronto: Brett Myers (5 IP, 2 BB, 68 pitches, 39 strikes, 57 percent)
Game 5 6-0 L @ Tampa Bay: Trevor Bauer (5 IP, 7 BB, 105 pitches, 59 strikes, 56 percent)
Game 7 11-6 L vs. New York: Jimenez (4.1 3 BB, 91 pitches, 52 strikes, 57 percent)
Game 8 14-1 L vs. New York: Carrasco (3.2 IP, 2 BB, 67 pitches, 39 strikes, 58 percent)
So, even in the quality starts of the first two games, the strike percentage is lower than desired, and in Games 3, 5, 7 and 8 the percentage was well below desirable.
And of course, lower strike percentages will tend to lead to higher walk totals.
The walk totals don't always tell the whole story. It's when the walks occur sometimes. The two walks Carrasco gave up came back to bite him in a big way. Case in point: Tuesday night against the Yankees. In the top of the second with two outs, Carrasco allowed a two-out walk to No. 9 hitter Francisco Cervelli to load the bases.
Cervelli is a guy who you want to attack to avoid getting back to the the top of the Yankees order with runners on base. Brett Gardner followed with a two-run single, and Robinson Cano doubled to score two more to make it 4-0.
The one walk essentially opened the gates for a four-run inning.
In the fourth, Carrasco got the first two hitters out but walked Gardner to bring up Cano, who homered to make the score 7-0. Another costly free pass.
The starters' inability to consistently throw strikes has undoubtedly led to the high number of home runs allowed.
Inability to Keep the Ball in the Park
The Indians starters lead the MLB in most home runs allowed by their starting pitchers in MLB with 10. The relievers have allowed six more, with current starter Brett Myers giving up two of those in a mop-up role on Tuesday night.
Myers allowed four home runs in a 10-8 loss to the Blue Jays. Jimenez gave up two against the Yankees in a 11-6 loss, and on Tuesday, Carrasco gave up two more, and Myers allowed three more to bring his home runs allowed to a staggering and disturbing seven in two appearances.
The starters' inability to throw consistent strikes and their tendency to fall behind in the count have been huge factors in the high home run totals allowed.
The penchant for giving up home runs has led to high run totals allowed by the starters. This is a weakness that needs to improve for the Tribe. How can they do this? If they start throwing more strikes and decrease their walk totals, the home run totals allowed should decrease.
In addition to the staff needing to throw more strikes and decrease their home run totals, the starters behind Justin Masterson must deliver more consistent and effective starts.
Myers, Jimenez and Carrasco's Inconsistency
Aside from Masterson and Zach McAllister, the starters have been abysmal. The starters' stats have been as follows:
Masterson: 2-0, 0.69 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 0 HR
McAllister: 0-1, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 0 HR
Myers: 0-1, 12.19 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, 7 HR
Bauer: 0-1, 5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 1 HR
Jimenez: 0-1, 6.97 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 3 HR
Carrasco: 0-1, 17.18 ERA, 2.45 WHIP, 2 HR
Carrasco has the ability to deliver dominating stuff. Although he lacked command on Tuesday, he was hitting the mid-90s with his fastball.
This was his first start in a regular-season game since August 2011. He has been sidelined since September 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery that month, so he deserves some patience.
Myers and Jimenez are different stories altogether.
As mentioned above, Myers has given up seven home runs in two appearances, one as a starter, one in relief. Myers throughout his career as a starter has given up high home run totals as a starter. Five times Myers has given up close to 30 home runs; four times with the Phillies and one as an Astro.
To compare, 30 home runs allowed would have put Myers in the top 10 in homers allowed last season. If Myers continues to start, the high home run totals allowed might be something Tribe fans might have to put up with.
In the above-mentioned seasons, Myers was able to compile 13-8 (2005) and 12-7 (2006) seasons with the Phillies and a 14-8 year with the Astros in 2010.
It will still be possible for Myers to be effective even with his weakness of giving up the long ball. Seven taters allowed in two appearances is alarming, however.
Just when we thought Jimenez might be turning a corner by delivering a quality start in his first effort against the Jays (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR) in a no-decision, he turns in a stinker of a performance (4.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 2 HR) like he delivered in his second start in the loss vs. the Yankees.
This is what is maddening about Jimenez. He hasn't been able to back up one quality start with another. If he has one good inning, he blows up the next. From one start to the next, one inning to the next and one batter to the next, you never know what you are going to get with him.
He seems to be very fragile with his confidence. In the start against the Yankees, Jimenez was unable to locate with his fastball and almost completely abandoned that pitch and went to almost exclusively breaking pitches.
The veteran Yankee lineup definitely picked up on this and feasted on his breaking pitches. Cano was probably sitting on a changeup (which Jimenez was using predominantly) in the fifth inning and got a bad one that was left up in the zone. Cano deposited the offering in the left-center field seats.
Who is most likely booted from the starting rotation?
I understand if one pitch isn't working, you have to try something else, but Jimenez was throwing the breaking ball so much that he might as well have been saying "OK, I'm going to throw you a changeup. Get ready." He had to keep the Yankees honest by throwing the fastball more often. He didn't, and he paid for it.
Jimenez is a key to the Indians attaining success this season. He must start commanding the strike zone better and has to deliver more consistent starts.
Is it too early to panic? Maybe. But if these three weaknesses displayed early on this season aren't improved, this season will be a long one, regardless of how good the lineup improvements look.
Starters not named Masterson and McAllister have to get better.
Improved strike rates will lower the walk totals and will definitely help lower the high home run totals. All three areas are interconnected.
Thanks for reading and any comments are welcome.