Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Tribe fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the Indians each week throughout the season.
This week, we rate Manny Acta's performance as an in-game strategist, debate the merits and drawbacks of chewing out individual players publicly for their mistakes, and wonder if Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner will ever again be, well, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner.
I would like to thank this week's participants Nino Colla, The Coop, and Lewie Pollis for their contributions. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch in your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. The pessimist in me is furious that the Tribe got hosed by Detroit over the weekend. But the optimist in me takes some solace in the fact that two of the three games were lost on what might be chalked up to some really bad breaks due to a mistake made by one individual player.
(Peralta making three errors on one play or Perez giving up three in the ninth and then sealing the deal with a wild pitch).
Still, baseball is a team sport, and the argument can always be made that if the team had scored more runs, these mistakes would not have mattered.
If you're Manny Acta, how much do you hold individual players responsible for losses like these? Is it EVER a good idea to chew out an individual in a post-game meeting for such mistakes, or is team morale better served by having players take every loss "as a team?"
Samantha Bunten: Jhonny Peralta is his own special case. He has had at least four performances so far this season for which a managerial tirade right there in the dugout would have been perfectly justified.
But we can't make the rules based on just one player, and generally speaking, it's never a good idea to lay all the heat on one guy. Baseball is a team sport. You win as a team, you lose as a team, and thus you get chewed out as a team when one or more members of the squad enrage the manager.
It doesn't mean everyone is to blame for every offense committed, but it does send a message that you, as a player, are responsible not just for yourself but for your teammates, and vice versa. That's the only way to truly cultivate a team atmosphere of loyalty and unity among the players, and that's something the Tribe desperately needs.
Nino Colla: I don't ever hold an individual responsible for a loss in a team sport, even if it really was Peralta's fault that they lost the game on Friday.
Yeah, Peralta needs to be blamed for making an error, but it isn't the only the reason the club lost the game. You can point the finger in any number of directions. Chris Perez shouldn't have even had to come in to save the game on Sunday, the fact that they gave up a 7-1 lead is bad enough.
It's a team sport so you have to look in different spots, even if there is one glaring reason as to why the game was lost. It is never a good idea to chew out an individual in the media, but if Acta sees fit, he better damn well do it behind closed doors. If he wants to do it in front of the team, that is his prerogative, but I don't want to see it in the media. If you want to drop hints to the media about a particular player to fire them up and you think they'll be responsive to it, then go ahead. But don't go around dropping names like nobody's business.
I'm all for taking a loss as a team. This club seems like they are really together and they fight hard as a collective unit. I wouldn't worry about it.
The Coop: As you alluded to, I have never believed that one solitary play wins or loses a game in any sport. Obviously, certain plays impact the outcome more than others, but the ebbs-and-flows of sports in general force us to assess results in a broader sense.
That being said, I do believe that players deserve a tongue-lashing (or worse) if their mistakes are due to a lack of focus, concentration, or preparation. Everyone has a bad day and makes a bad play. Physical mistakes are part of the game. But if the manager feels that a player’s inability to execute speaks to a larger issue, like the ones I mentioned, then I fully support a private and/or public “chewing-out” and/or benching. This is particularly useful to send a message that mental errors will not be tolerated.
Lewie Pollis: When I was eight, in my first season of kid-pitch Little League, I once stepped into the batter's box with the game tied in the last inning, bases loaded with two outs. I worked the count full, then froze up and let the next pitch go by for strike three. I felt terrible even before my coach started screaming at me. Hearing "WE COULD HAVE WON THE GAME!" wasn't particularly inspiring.
Given that these are professional athletes and fully grown adults, I assume they are not shaken as easily as I was, and I would hope that Acta has more tact than my coach did. But unless it's a persistent problem or the symptom of a bad attitude, singling a player out to take the blame probably hurts more than it helps. And even then, I would advise he first try to approach the situation with quiet encouragement rather than hostile fault-finding.
And even if you disagree with my soft-handed approach, chewing out a player or two every game would simply be impractical. There are 162 games in a baseball season, even before the playoffs; even the superstars are bound to have a few bad days. Matt Holliday is one of the best left fielders in the game—according to UZR, he's saved 29 runs with his glove since 2007. Yet his error in Game Two of the 2009 NLDS cost his Cardinals the game and ultimately the series. Should Tony LaRussa have held him accountable for ruining the season?
2. Prior to the start of the season, we Tribe Talk panelists spent a lot of time talking about how the rotation really might be better than anyone thought they were.
It's early to speak in absolute terms as to whether that is true, but do you still agree with that sentiment based on what you've seen so far?
Which pitcher in the rotation has been pleasantly surprising to you so far? Which pitcher has been disappointing to you in their first few starts?
Have any of the five convinced you that they'll be way better than you thought, and have any of them convinced you they're going to be a lost cause?
Samantha Bunten: It's early to speculate on this, but with the exception of perhaps Mitch Talbot, I really do think the rotation has been a pleasant surprise, and even Talbot can absolutely still straighten it out.
Above anyone else, you have to like how Fausto Carmona has dragged himself back from the dead. Even Westbrook, also left for dead two years ago, has been solid so far and has even—gasp—managed not to re-injure himself.
Masterson has the tools to be the best pitcher in this rotation, provided he can get his command down. He has unbelievable movement on his fastball—Barry Zito-like, hitter-baffling movement in fact. The question will be whether he can harness enough control over that (as well as his off-speed pitches) to keep opposing hitters from teeing off on him during any at-bat where they aren't striking out.
And of course there's my personal favorite—the underrated David Huff, quietly and efficiently soldiering on and getting the job done.
Nino Colla: Yes I still think they are better than anyone thought, but they are right where I thought they would be.
I can sit here and tell you I didn't know what to make of the rotation, and in a way I didn't. But I knew it wasn't going to be horrible. I guess I just didn't know what to make of certain parts of the rotation.
I knew we'd get some bright spots, but I just didn't know where. So far I think it is a given that Fausto Carmona, David Huff, and Justin Masterson have looked the best of the bunch and these are the three that I thought were most likely to do so. Huff because he started to get it at the end of last year and Masterson and Carmona because they just have the raw stuff.
Mitch Talbot was rocky and it was a little disappointing seeing him struggle the way he did after a good spring, but to his credit he managed to control what was looking like a horrible situation. I haven't given up on him though because it is only on one start and I will be cautious about cashing in my checks from Masterson, Huff, and Carmona as well.
But I will say that in a way, I'm pretty confident we are seeing a new Fausto Carmona. Not the old Fausto of 2007 or the bad Fausto after that, but a brand new one that has a new lease on baseball life. He's just a kid that likes to have fun and play the game when you get down to it. On days he pitches though, he has to be focused and on task. After watching him against Chicago, I think I'm confident in saying that he's made serious leaps towards doing that.
I would also like to point out that I'm writing this an hour before the home opener on Monday, so if things turn for the worse with all three pitching between the time I submit this and the time people actually read it, you can go ahead and laugh in my face.
The Coop: Fausto Carmona has impressed me to be sure. Obviously, I am not happy about the number of walks, but his ability to battle through long innings and issues with control is a good sign. The last few years, Carmona was just as likely to completely collapse. I think he’s taken the first step on the long road to regaining his 2007 form.
I can’t really say I’ve been disappointed by Jake Westbrook, because I didn’t expect anything from him this season. The sooner the Indians get him out of the rotation, the better. Move him to long relief, cut him, I don’t care. But he’s not going to help the Indians as a number one starter.
Other than that, I think the jury is still out on Huff, Masterson, and Talbot.
Lewie Pollis: I haven't been as high as some of the rest of you are on the Indians' rotation (besides Masterson, of course), but I've seen reason to be hopeful so far.
Masterson pitched a beauty and kept his walks in check. I'm not impressed with Westbrook, but I'm definitely intrigued by what we saw in his second outing—normally a contact pitcher, he struck out seven batters (a mark he's matched only 12 times in 162 career starts, and hasn't reached since 2007) in less than six innings.
Huff got opposing batters to swing at bad pitches a whopping 32.1 percent of the time in his first outing; one start is way too small a sample size to start drawing conclusions, but if this becomes a trend, he might start to remember how to strike batters out (8.1 career minor league K/9 rate, compared to 4.5 in the majors).
On the other hand, I feel vindicated in my preseason pessimism about Carmona; after walking six and whiffing one, I'm not sure where the idea that his control has improved is coming from. And I don't think I'm going to shock anyone when I say that I wasn't impressed by Talbot.
3.After an incredibly rough 2009 season, Grady Sizemore appears to be returning to form and looks like the player the Tribe once wanted to stake their future on.
Do you believe Sizemore is back and as good as ever? Will he be able to match his impressive 2008 performance? Do you think that might be a double-edged sword, in that if Sizemore's stock is up, he may be traded this season?
Also, the same might be said for Hafner, who looks better than he has in years. Does Hafner's performance so far, like Sizemore, indicate that he might get back to being the outstanding player he once was?
Samantha Bunten: Until the recent back injury, it certainly looked that way, and if he can get that under control, I have every faith in Sizemore's ability to forge the comeback we've all been waiting for.
Watching Sizemore now, you see the same intensity, effort, and determined play as always. His bat speed, pitch selection, judgment in the field, and work ethic don't seem to have suffered. Those things can make up for a lot of rust, nagging injuries, and slight deterioration of skill.
As far as whether he'll be traded, that may be too complicated of a question to get into here, but I will say this: Unfortunately, the better his performance, the better the odds he'll be moved earlier than fans originally anticipated.
As for Hafner, the good news is that he really does seem to be faring much better than he has in the recent past. The bad news is that in terms of, let's call it "comeback-ability," Hafner is no Grady Sizemore. Part of this is merely because he had less to offer to begin with and just wasn't designed to absorb wear and tear like Sizemore is. The other part is that while I would never call Hafner a slacker or a lazy, unenthusiastic player, he just doesn't ever appear to want it as badly as Sizemore, and that counts for a lot.
At the end of the day though, just as is the case with Sizemore, I think we'll see more good things coming from Hafner. His dinger to right in Detroit last weekend was reminiscent of the Pronk of old. And until he lands on the DL again (which unfortunately, he will), I think there's more where that came from.
Nino Colla: Okay, whereas I was cautious about the pitchers, I'm going to come out and say it here: Grady Sizemore is back.
Latest back-tightness aside, Sizemore looks like a monster up at the plate. The two-hole role suits him well as he has now become an RBI machine. He is swinging the bat well and it has everything to do with his health. I've never doubted the guy one bit. Everything we saw last year was because he was hurt, he's as good as they come when healthy.
I'm also going to go bold with saying Travis Hafner is also back. The 40 HR/120 RBI Pronk is probably not coming back, but the feared slugger that can be a piece in the middle of the lineup has returned.
Now he could strain his shoulder, rip it up or do something else mortifying to it in the next week and he'll be back to the struggling Pronk of the past few years. But right now he is healthy and more importantly, he doesn't look like a lost puppy up at the plate. He's swinging with authority and being more selective about what he swings at than he did last season.
Hafner's numbers are whatever, he's knocked in three runs, has some hits from the Detroit series. What I've noticed is the rips he's been taking. He's gotten a few good pitches to hit and one of them he put over the right field wall in Comerica. He missed a few against Chicago and I simply chalk that up to not being up to game speed. He got up to game speed in Detroit and you can tell he's all sorts of locked in now. He's going the other way with a pitch for singles through the left side, he's driving pitches deep, even if it's just for a sac-fly. He looks really good up there and it is encouraging to see that the injury didn't claim his best talents and he can still earn the contract the Indians gave him.
The Coop: I hold out a lot more hope for Grady than I do Travis. However, I was disappointed to see that Sizemore needed the day off for the home opener. He missed two games in the first week of the season, so I am not convinced that he’s “back and as good as ever.” Still, when he’s been out there, he’s looked good.
Unfortunately, I think it’s only a matter of time before Hafner ends up on the DL. You say I’m a pessimist; I say I’m a realist. Obviously, I hope he stays healthy because he has hit the ball hard and has had good at bats thus far. Any contributions he makes to the success of the Indians should be considered gravy.
I don’t see either guy being traded this year. The PR hits that the Indians took for trading Sabathia, Lee, and Martinez will shy them away from making moves like that. In addition, I think each guy’s recent injury history will scare suitors away, and the demand for outfielders and DHs at the trade deadline is not nearly as strong as it is for pitching. But I wouldn’t rule out these guys being traded in the offseason or in 2011.
Lewie Pollis: First of all, beware small sample sizes. Beware, beware, beware. Don't read too much into them. Except for you, Nino, since you're in one of my fantasy leagues.
But as long as we're talking about them, I'll ask: What about Sizemore warrants optimism so far? He's on pace to set career lows in just about every offensive category, and what little success he's had is fueled by a ridiculous .429 BABIP (compared to a .294 xBABIP). He's struck out more than a third of the time, and hasn't walked once. Even his range is down (1.8 RF/G, compared to 2.6 for his career). And, on top of that, his back is troubling him so much that he's missing the home opener, so the whole idea that he's finally healthy now could be a complete fabrication.
I won't go into another big spiel for Hafner, but I would like to point out that he wasn't that bad in 2009. Sure, he was injured, and he wasn't nearly as good as he was in '06, but he still managed an .826 OPS. Frankly, it might be good for the team long-term if he has trouble staying healthy this year, because that would mean more at-bats for the youngsters.
4.Everyone is Cleveland agreed on one thing last season: Eric Wedge's game-management skills were on par with those of an eight-year-old.
What do you think of Manny Acta's game management so far? Taking into account everything from pitching changes to base running strategy to keeping the squad motivated, how would you rate Acta's performance as an in-game strategist so far?
Has he made any specific moves which you found either impressive or disappointing?
Samantha Bunten: To say Acta is doing a better job at game management than Wedge is like saying my dogs could do a better job at game management than Wedge. In other words, while it's certainly true in both cases, it's not exactly something to write home about.
Still, that doesn't mean Acta won't prove that he is not only a better in-game strategist than Wedge, but that he's actually quite good at it. For now, the jury is still out.
I will say this: So far, on the downside, I think he's been slightly amiss in the way he positions fielders for certain specific batters. On the upside, he has done a pretty good job of effectively using the bullpen, and I think his use of Tony Sipp has been particularly good.
Overall, no matter what the situation, this guy has the enthusiasm and the ability to ignite the team that is necessary to success in baseball. That kind of a leader can make a difference down the stretch or when things get rough.
Nino Colla: I will point out one thing to you that stood out to me above anything else and it came out in Sunday's loss. When Perez was in the horrific ninth inning, I think it was after the play Cabrera made and Perez was getting ready to face Ramon Santiago. Somewhere along those lines, the camera panned to Acta and he was stepping up on the dugout steps and starting to get real into it. The guy is a motivator, point blank. He's a good motivator. He isn't this big time fired-up individual people wanted Wedge to be or the calm-cool collected stoic looking guy that Eric Wedge actually was.
He's just himself, but that attitude is refreshing. You won't get me to say Acta's way of going about things is better than Wedge's. There are good managers and then there are bad managers. There are ways to run the team that are the same and ones that are different. Good managers may run the team the same way a bad manager does, but it is the good manager that gets the result.
I love the way Acta goes about motivation and running his clubhouse. Will it work? Time will tell, but it probably isn't going to be the reason he succeeds or fails.
As for on the field business, like pitching changes and strategy. I love the aggressive approach with the players at the top of the lineup. Acta knows the capabilities he has in guys like Cabrera, Choo, Sizemore, and even Brantley. So he's going to use them. I feel Acta knows what he wants to do and does a good job in executing his plan when he wants to.
The pitching moves, I really have no qualms with right now. I was kind of judgmental about leaving Talbot in as long as he did, but Talbot rewarded him with two scoreless and he saved the pen. Right now with the bullpen and the pitching staff, it is a learning curve. He has to develop a trust with certain relievers and he has to define some roles there. For awhile, I really can't establish a reason to get on him too bad for a move he may make, unless it really is dumb and makes no sense at all.
The Coop: Nothing Manny Acta has done (or hasn’t done) has really stuck out to me so far, which is probably a good thing. I’m one of those people who doesn’t really think managers have a significant impact on the outcomes of games, unless they’re really, really bad (like Wedge). I like the fact that Acta has tried to keep the day-to-day lineup as consistent as possible, because I think this stability will eventually translate into wins.
Lewie Pollis: As someone who spent most of his free time playing baseball simulations when he was eight, I resent the comparison to Eric Wedge.
I know this sounds like a cop-out, but it's too early to tell. I admit that I haven't watched as much of the action so far as I would have liked to, but I haven't seen any in-game strategies thus far that I strongly supported or that made me mad. This is old news, but I loved the decision to move Sizemore down in the order.
5. Fun Question Of The Week
Each season, we at Tribe Talk weigh in with our best ideas for promotional giveaways that will get more fans out to the ballpark.
It's time again to share your thoughts on what might make for great new promo items for the 2010 season.
Feel free to share as many as you want, from practical giveaways that the team could actually use to spoof merchandise like, say, a "Jhonny Peralta Mitt-with-a-hole-in-the-middle-of-it Giveaway."
Samantha Bunten: Since we aren't exactly packing 'em in at Progressive Field this season, I think it may be time to take a cue from the minors and institute "Take your dog to the park day." Get enough great danes or saint bernards in the house, and the stands won't look so sad and empty to TV viewers.
Nino Colla: I want a Matt LaPorta talking bobblehead. One that is completely loaded with Matt's fame-gaining "LaPortaisms." That would be radical. Remember Joe Mauer side-burn day? How about when the Cavaliers do Anderson Varejao wig day? Someone better tell the Indians that Chris Perez hair day is the way to go. Give out a cap that has a mock wig of Perez's flowing hair attached to the back and I'll be there with several tickets to claim several of them.
I've barely even looked at the promotional schedule and it mainly has to do with the lack of pictures on the website. Every year prior to this one there would be pictures of some of their bigger giveaway items. This year that isn't present and that has me a little bummed.
The Coop: The Indians host Washington June 11-13. By this time, the Indians will probably be 10 games out of first, and the Nationals will probably be 15-20 games back. This is the perfect time to give away free t-shirts (who doesn’t love a free t-shirt?) with the exclamation, “At least we’re not the Nationals!!” Hey, misery loves company.
Lewie Pollis: An "Operation" game, with Russell Branyan as the patient (also available in Kerry Wood). South Korean draft cards and Shin-Soo Choo autographed lighters. "What Might Have Been" Tim Lincecum bobbleheads. A novelty cup with a picture of Travis Hafner, who gets bigger when you put juice in it. A Grady Sizemore pin-up calendar, featuring the infamous cell phone pictures. And, finally, postcards addressed to Jhonny Peralta, depicting other teams' stadiums and saying "Wish You Were Here."