Many are asking where the Cleveland Indian’s offense has gone lately.
Well, I am here to inform you that it hasn’t just been the 31 games this season, but the entire second half of the 2007 season and the 14 playoff games—this slump has been with us for 126 games.
I always thought slumps lasted three to five days and that it would only be two or three hitters—not 80 percent of the team.
Looking at some of the Tribe's offensive statistics from last year’s second half of the season, one should note a few things. (As a reference, there are 30 major league teams and remember that the National League still uses pitchers to hit.)
2007 Season, Second Half Stats
The Tribe finished 21st in batting average; 17th in OBP; 27th in slugging percentage; 25th in OPS; 22nd in home runs, RBI, and runs scored; 21st in hits; 25th in total bases; and 20th in at-bats.
The 2008 stats after 31 games
The Tribe is ranked 25th in batting average, 17th in OBP, 25th in slugging, 26th in OPS, 22nd in home runs, 18th in RBI, 21st in runs scored, 28th in hits, 29th in total bases, and 26th in at-bats.
These stats are actually slightly higher than they were back when I first started writing this article a couple of weeks ago.
Scoring 15 and 11 runs in two of the games elevated some of these stats, but unfortunately the extra runs can't be used in other games where we scored fewer than three runs. 16 of the 31 games this season, we have scored less than thee runs.
This, my friends, indicates that this is not a slump.
Slumps are supposed to last a week to ten days, at the most. This pathetic offense slump is not passing 126 games!
All winter, many posters and writers have stated that we needed to get more help offensively. For whatever the reason, General Manager Mark Shapiro and Manager Eric Wedge decided that what we have is good enough.
Now the David Dellucci and Jason Michaels platoon in left field did not work last season, even before Dellucci’s injury. Then they have a still untested, but promising, rookie in Franklin Gutierrez start in right field making both corner outfields positions questionable for the 2008 season.
With no trade occurring, many thought Ben Francisco and Shin-Soo Choo should have been given the opportunity for left field, once Choo was eligible to play. However, Shapiro and Wedge continued to publicly state that they were confident with our outfield.
All of that has been well documented so no reason to pursue that any further.
Then, include having Andy Marte becoming a utility player—even though he can realistically only play third base. Of course, the reason they kept him on the roster was because he was out of options and Shapiro was fearful that Marte might turn into another Brandon Phillips situation. They then decide to not give Marte any chance to prove himself on whether he could ever start for the Tribe on a steady basis.
Include the thought that Casey Blake, who is starting at third base, even though his statistics have started to degrade even further, will become a free agent at the end of he season.
So is all lost, offensively?
If changes are not made soon, we should expect the same type of offensive performance that make pitchers like Dushscherer, Gaudin, Eveland, Mosely, DiNardo, Lester, Galarraga, Blackburn, Baker, Bastista, and Hochevar look like Hall of Famers.
This is where Derek Shelton and the scouting system need to take some heat—actually, a lot of heat.
I know that our pitching staff would love to face our hitters. Starting with the second half of last season, the league has gotten a report on how to pitch to our hitters and be successful.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.
Depending on the hitter, throw soft and curves off the plate and for some, with two strikes high fastball.
I am not a scout but it is so obvious to figure out how to pitch to us.
Former Indian John Farrell just took it up another notch in his approach to our hitters in the American League Championship Series. The other teams have just copied that recipe on how to pitch to the Tribe hitters and so far have been very successful.
Why hasn’t the Tribe coaching staff adjusted the opposing team’s approach?
It appears that our coaches are saying "This worked for the last part of 2006 and early 2007 so why do we have to change?"
Well have hope, Tribe fans. here are a few relatively easy and inexpensive ways to fix what ails our offense.
Move # 1
Trade release Dellucci and Michaels. Dellucci has his batting average all the way up to .267 now and Michaels has reached .207.
Maybe they have shown enough for some team to be interested?
I doubt any team will take Dellucci with us still owing him around $7.75 million for this and next season.
Whatever it takes, these two needs to off the Tribe roster.
Move # 2
Call up Ben Francisco.
I don’t care what he is batting at Buffalo, call him up. Most players would be discouraged and not have their head in the game if they were sent back to Buffalo for the third time after outperforming all of his competition.
Move # 3
This is the big one.
Trade for Reggie Willits of the Angels. They have called him back up from AAA at Salt Lake City. It is obvious he is not in their plans this year, with an outfield of Hunter, Guerrero, Matthews, Jr., Anderson, Rivera, and even Figgins.
I don’t care if it takes a prospect like Trevor Crowe, we need to get a guy who can lead off and play left field—now!
No one knows how many years it will take Crowe to be ready to play for the Tribe and by that time, he could be out of options too.
I need to explain further why we need Willits. Yes, I would love to have Carl Crawford, Alex Rios, or Jason Bay, but Shapiro is not going to give up three or four of his precious prospects for them.
The price tag for Willits should be minimal compared to the other guys. But Willits is a switch hitter, great glove and good arm, great speed to play left field and can steal bases. He has a good eye at the plate with excellent on base average and is only 26 years old and is making $432,000 a year.
He has the makings of a core player for the Tribe.
Most importantly, he can lead off and will allow us to move Grady Sizemore to the No. 3 hitting position in the lineup and move Travis Hafner down to the No. 5 position.
To remind you of what Willits has done in his Major League career with the Angels:
In 476 total at-bats, 89 runs scored, 139 hits, .292 batting average, .394 on base average, 80 walks, and 31 stolen bases.
Imagine a lineup of WILLITS, CABRERA/CARROLL, SIZEMORE, MARTINES, HAFNER, GARKO, PERALTA, GUTIERREZ/FRANCISCO AND BLAKE/MARTE.
Certainly a lot better than what we are currently putting on the field.
If anyone has any concern about Sizemore not batting lead off and batting third instead, look at his stats last year and this season hitting with men on base versus no one on base.
Briefly, for this year Sizemore is hitting .226, .317 OBP, .358 slugging, and .675 OPS with no one on base. With runner(s) on base, he is hitting .350, .481 OBP, .350 slugging, and .831 OPS.
Last season he had the same type of improvement with runners on base. So that tells me that Sizemore is a much more focused and dangerous hitter with men on base.
Batting third would give him more opportunities to hit with runners on base. We have been told for years now that Sizemore needs to be batting lead off by Wedge and company. I don’t know if that ever was really true but if we get a lead off hitter, he can be put in the third position, which will make our entire offensive more productive.
Move # 4
Either play Andy Marte or trade-release him.
We need to find out what his status is before Choo is activated from the disabled list and rehab assignments. At least one of the two must be eliminated. Adding Andy Gonzalez could help this team as utility more than Marte has been able to.
Move # 5
Someone has to pay for the ineffective offense by the Tribe hitters. The first place to start here is the hitting coach, Derek Shelton.
We have too many good ballplayers that are slumping badly and have obviously the wrong hitting philosophy. The scouts around baseball have found out how to pitch to our hitters (change ups and curve ball off the strike zone mainly) and our coaching staff has not responded back adequately.
The man in charge of this offense needs to be held accountable and it should have been done last season, probably in 2006.
In summation, we have some very good offensive players with the Tribe but we have a couple of weak spots that need to be eliminated if we are to be serious contenders for the World Series this year.
Mr. Shapiro and Wedge may have to swallow some pride but they need to look at the larger picture of what is best for the team, not only this year but for years to come.
With the trade to obtain Willits, which would start a chain reaction of moves, we are not going to be robbing our farm system. That was the main fear of Shapiro and others when the names of Rios, Crawford and Bay were mentioned as trade possibilities.
In addition, the offense has been inconsistent for a number of seasons and Shelton needs replaced by bringing in someone with a different and better strategy. My first thoughts here are to pay someone like Tony Gwynn to come in and take over this area. I believe that hitting philosophy is most of the problem and Gwynn can certainly articulate what the Tribe hitters need to do to improve.
One final thought.
In the picture of Shapiro and Wedge celebrating the 2007 Central Division Championship, notice the crowd in the background. To get back to that point of attendance and excitement, something has to be done quickly, to really get the Jake, oops, sorry, Progressive Field rocking again.
We need to make these moves for the team and the fans.