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 wonder if being on the road is a legitimate excuse for losing, compare our fantasy baseball teams, and answer a question about Justin Masterson that has inspired no less than two Tribe Talk panelists to begin writing a manifesto on the topic.
I would like to thank this week's participants Nino Colla, Lewie Pollis, and The Coop 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. It is no great mystery that road trips are tough for a baseball team, and every player would prefer to play every game in his home ballpark where the field and the clubhouse are familiar, the crowd is on his side, and at the end of the day he can go home to see his family and sleep in his own bed.
Road trips are tough for every squad, no matter their overall record, especially late in the season or on the opposite coast from their home. Even so, the Tribe has struggled notably on the road, losing 23 of their last 27 dating back to last season.
What do you think is the cause of this? Is this simply indicative of their overall struggles, regardless of what ballpark they're in, or is it truly the product of being on the road?
Is there anything specific the team can do to improve their out-of-town record, or is it just a matter of needing to play better baseball across the board?
Samantha Bunten: Without exception, road trips are tough on every team. Everyone struggles less at home, regardless of their overall record. Mostly I think it just looks worse for the Indians because they're having so much trouble winning ballgames in general. If everyone loses a greater percentage of games played when they're on the road, and the Tribe is struggling at home too, then the number of road losses will look far worse, even if it isn't any larger percentage of the overall losses than for any other team.
Opposite coast trips are tough, as are games on getaway days, but that holds true for a team over .500 as much as it does for one woefully under .500. At the risk of stating the obvious, it really isn't about being on the road. We just lose too many games.
Nino Colla: I really don't know if I have a guess or an answer to this. Baseball probably has the biggest "home park" advantage because no two fields are the same. Sure, the diamond is the same, but dimensions are different.
I really think it is too early on to judge this season in particular because of one big reason: They've played way more games on the road thus far compared to just six at home.
Sure, it looks bad dating back to last season, but this is a whole new year and a different month entirely. Coldness? They've played three games in Oakland, three in Chicago, three in Detroit, and three in Minnesota. The weather was kind of bad for two of those Chicago games, but I didn't see much wrong with Detroit or Minnesota and obviously Oakland is nice. So I'm not ready to pinpoint the weather.
This has always been one of the biggest mysteries to me in baseball. I know things are different and especially watching this team in the past, there is a sort of magic that can go with playing in your home ballpark. Some parks can be hitters parks and some can pitchers parks, some can be like Progressive Field and be in-between.
But to me, your road and home record shouldn't be THAT much skewed in either direction, whether you are a good team, a bad team, or a mediocre team. A little bit of a difference, yes, but not a big swing in one direction or the other.
The Coop: Well, now that the Tribe is consistently playing home games in front of some of the smallest crowds in Jacobs / Progressive Field history, I’m starting to wonder if there are any advantages to team playing in Cleveland, but I digress…
I can’t really put the Indians’ road woes on anything other than the fact that the team is just not that good. And if you count the meaningless games played with September call-ups at the end of 2009 in this recent trend of struggles away from home, then I think you’re just drawing focus away from the main problem, which is a general lack of talent.
In other words, does anyone believe that the Indians would be in the pennant chase if they played all 162 games in Cleveland? And in reality, I don’t think the Indians have been that bad on the road this year. Sure, they’ve had some real stinkers, but that’s going to happen over the course of a long season. I think that most teams try to go .500 on the road, and if the Indians would have just taken two of three from Detroit early in the year, or win a rubber match here or there, they’d be right at that mark.
Lewie Pollis: Wow...I didn't know the streak was that bad. That's just terrible. At the risk of sounding unhelpful, my only advice is to stop sucking. But on the way home, the team bus definitely shouldn't wait for Jhonny Peralta.
2. Our opinions on many players on the Indians roster are very clear-cut: we all wish Shin-Soo Choo could bat every inning and we all keep hoping Jhonny Peralta will get lost on his way to the ballpark.
There are plenty of other players on whom the jury is still out, but what about the players who do evoke a specific opinion but just never get talked about? Which player(s) on the Indians roster do you feel are underrated and do not get enough credit for their contributions to the team?
Is there anyone on the roster who you feel is significantly overrated?
Samantha Bunten: Choo excepted, right now it's tough to say anyone on this team is underrated, but still, I can't for the life of me figure out why no one pays any attention to Tony Sipp. He has a .154 average against in 10 games this season, and has been masterful at bailing other pitchers out of jams going back to last season. I've already watched him get out from under a scenario where he came in to relieve another pitcher who left the bases loaded twice with less than two outs this season. Both times he wriggled out of it without giving up a run.
You also have to give a shout to Austin Kearns, who at this point is not only exceeding expectations greatly, but could make a bid for comeback player of the year if he keeps it up.
Overrated is a little tougher to define. I suppose it depends on how closely you correlate overrated with overpaid (ahem, Travis Hafner).
I also may have personally overrated Michael Brantley at the beginning of the season, but I almost hate to include him here because it really isn't his fault that I was definitely trying to turn him into the second coming of Kenny Lofton.
Nino Colla: I think in the early going here there is a little bit of overlooking going on of the job Jensen Lewis has done. I've been a staunch supporter of him for awhile and he's really been a bright spot in that bullpen and a reason they've been decent this year. I think he's quickly becoming a favorite for Manny Acta, mostly because he throws strikes and actually gets people out. I can see him thriving under this new regime.
I also think we're overlooking the value of Travis Hafner. I know he isn't hitting as well as someone like Choo, but he isn't hitting as bad as someone like Sizemore. But more importantly he's actually getting on base. I think he's been on base every game this season, which is very valuable. He's starting to regain that universal fear again that teams used to have of him, especially when you look at all the hits he's been robbed of because of that damn shift they put on him.
I think I'd be smacked by Acta if I didn't bring up the job Austin Kearns has done so far and all the veterans in general. Kearns has actually been hitting and despite my disdain for the idea of him hitting cleanup against left-handed hitters, it is far better than the job Jhonny Peralta would do based off what he's done so far.
I also think Mike Redmond's leadership with both Fausto Carmona and David Huff need to be pointed out. He's doing a good job with both of them in the early going and I'd like to see him catch not just Carmona (he will) but Huff (he might but not all the time).
Overrated? Well that means they'd have to be given more praise than they deserve and I don't see that right now. I will say that I think we are being a little too rough on Peralta. I'm a little irritated myself but we should have the guy down to a science by now. He's a slow starter. The errors have been bad, that I'll give you, but I'm going to remain at a standstill with his hitting because I know it is coming.
I will say as good as a job as Cabrera has done in the lead-off spot, he's been a little inconsistent for my liking. I'm not worried about the average so much as the on-base percentage. He's been a streaky hitter, which is fine, but his on-base percentage is right under .300, which isn't good enough for me. Yes, he's done a good job and he is still adjusting to the role, but he needs to get on base a little bit more for me.
The Coop: Like you alluded to, there is no doubt that Shin-Soo Choo is one of the most underrated players in the majors. He’s a legitimate five-tool player and he’s on pace to have his best season yet. If there’s something he doesn’t do well, I haven’t seen it. I’m sure that even most casual fans know how good Choo is, but he never gets the props he deserves, and I can only attribute that to him being buried by a bad team around him. I cringe at the thought of where the Indians would be without him.
In terms of overrated, I’ve got to go with Travis Hafner. Maybe the fans realize he’s a bum, but when you think about what the Indians are paying him ($36 million over the next three years), it’s clear that he’s been totally overrated by Mark Shapiro. The guy is flat-out stealing from the organization.
Lewie Pollis: I think Jhonny Peralta is underra—that's odd, some supernatural force is preventing me from finishing that sentence. Kidding aside, I think the only person on the roster who deserves more love than he's getting is Jensen Lewis. He's our new Rafael Betancourt.
As for the overrateds, I'd say the entire rest of the pitching staff, with one notable exception (see below). The problem is that Tribe pitchers don't strike anyone out. I'm not a hard-line sabermetrician who believes you have to miss bats to be successful (I thought Chris Carpenter should have beaten Lincecum for the Cy Young last year), but I'm not convinced that our pitchers have the polish and poise to be Tim Hudson.
3. Let's just cut right to the chase on this one: What on earth is wrong with Justin Masterson?
We have all agreed that Masterson has wicked stuff and huge potential, but right now he just can't seem to control it. At 0-3 with a 5.68 ERA, Masterson isn't a total disaster, but he sure isn't getting the job done either.
What do you think Masterson specifically needs to do to turn this thing around? Do you think it's just a matter of working some kinks out, or we were perhaps wrong about what he had to offer? (Lewie, I expect an earful from you on this one).
Samantha Bunten: The easy answer is "wow, this guy sucks. He has massive control problems". When you really look at it though, the answer to what is wrong with Justin Masterson is probably "nothing".
He's young, he's inexperienced, and he's getting lit up just like every other newbie pitcher who is still adjusting to pitching to major league hitters.
Lewie also brought it to my attention that he's had a tremendous amount of bad luck, evident when you examine his BABIP this season. He has a terrible defense behind him, and while that same abysmal defense also backs up our other pitchers who don't struggle so much, it seems that balls are finding holes in mitts more often when Masterson is on the mound.
Finally, while this is a bit off-topic, I feel the need to say that overall, Masterson isn't the problem. We all expected growing pains for this team, and now we're criticizing this guy for having them. The real problem isn't with the youngsters like Masterson—it's the older guys who should know how to keep it together but don't who should be hearing it from us.
Nino Colla: Here's the issue with Masterson. It boils down to his effectiveness against left-handed hitting. He's down right atrocious and there is really no other way to put it. The issue with him in terms of being a starter doesn't boil down to his stuff translating or his ability to go deep into ball games. Well it sort of does, but those two reasons are impacted by the one big reason he can't be an effective starter if he doesn't straighten things out: left-handed hitting.
This year against right-handers he has been stellar. Just a .186 average in 43 at-bats and he's striking out nearly five hitters for every one he walks. When a left-hander steps up to the plate, you might as well flip a coin as to whether or not they'll get on base or get a hit, because that's what the numbers look like. A .486 batting average and a .578 on-base percentage against the lefties in just three fewer plate appearances. Seven extra-base hits to lefties compared to two to righties and more walks than strikeouts. You aren't going to be successful that way because now teams will just load up on left-handers.
Oakland's lineup on Sunday had just three right-handed hitters in the lineup: Kevin Kouzmanoff, Adam Rosales, and Jake Fox. So is it any wonder he had his worst outing of the season? Bob Geren put every single lefty he had in the lineup on Sunday. That gives you everything you need to know.
Can he turn it around? I'm starting to doubt him as a starter for the simple fact that if he can't get left-handers out, he isn't going to have success. He is nothing more than a far nastier Joe Smith. He may not even be able to be a set-up guy which we all thought was his worst case scenario. The issues of him not being able to get through a lineup more than once are not valid in my opinion. It all comes down to left-handed hitters and he hasn't done it.
He needs to develop that change-up or do something to make an adjustment because right now he can't get lefties out. Oh and if you are wondering if he's always been this bad against the lefties, no he hasn't. He was actually quite good against them in 2008.
In 2008, he held them to a .238 average compared to a .196 average against righties. In 2009 it got worse as he saw more left-handed hitting than he did right-handed hitting. His average against grew to .323 and he gave up...get this...23 extra base hits compared to 10 against right-handers.
Now he did see more time as a reliever in 2008 compared to 2009, so perhaps he is just better against the lefties out of the bullpen. It may be one of those weird anomalies. But right now as a starter, he simply isn't doing it because he can't get left-handed pitching out.
On a final note, I think I set a record for the use of "left-handed" and all the other variations of it in that response.
The Coop: I am not giving up on Masterson yet. His biggest problem, like most Tribe pitchers, is his control. He’s not getting ahead in the count, he’s giving up too many walks, and so when he grooves one, opposing hitters make him pay. I think it’s just a matter of him developing consistency and growing within his role with the Indians, which is still yet to be determined, if you ask me.
I know you guys are going to kill me for this, so I’m ready for it. But it wasn’t all that long ago that the Indians had another big, strapping, cannon-for-an-arm pitcher with wicked stuff. But this particular guy could never get it together as a starter, and people wondered if he’d ever develop into a solid major league pitcher. So as a last-ditch effort, the Indians moved him to the bullpen, where he flourished and developed into one of the best closers in the game. His name? Jose Mesa. I’m just saying….
Lewie Pollis: I took your challenge to heart and ended up writing a manifesto about why the premise of your question is wrong.
For a full explanation of why Masterson's numbers are skewed and he is, in fact, the best pitcher on the staff: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/385032-trust-in-justin-cleveland-indians-justin-masterson-is-ace-in-disguise?
But to answer your sub-question, he should throw his slider more. It's been his best pitch in his short career, and he's thrown it just 14 percent of the time so far this year (down from 24 percent in 2009).
4. When Carlos Santana makes his major league debut, it will be the biggest call-up of the season. But that won't happen until June at the earliest, and there will be a number of also-important roster moves made before then.
Which players do you see getting the call soon? Are there any players other than Jordan Brown (I think we've made our point on that one) who you feel are a long shot for a promotion, but would like to see called up anyway?
Samantha Bunten: The frustrated part of me wants to suggest we just call up everyone in AAA and see if they can do a better job than the sad sacks we're watching now.
Baseball is a war of attrition, the very structure of which should provide motivation to the major league incumbents based on the very real fear that if you don't perform, there is always someone waiting in the wings to take your job. But I digress...
I'm not sure there is any one individual who should absolutely be called up right now. Santana and Brantley are both where they should be based on arbitration clock strategy. If we're going to call up anyone, it should be pitchers. I wouldn't mind seeing Carlos Carrasco as a spot starter or in long relief, and as a long shot, I also wonder if we could benefit from calling up Hector Rondon, who is better than his numbers would indicate right now.
Nino Colla: I think I'm pretty content with how things are going right now. Kerry Wood is due back shortly and within the next two weeks I think it is becoming more and more likely, as he throws shutout after shutout inning, that Hector Ambriz gets his shot in the bullpen. He's on that "rehab" assignment and has not allowed a run to score yet. That and Wood's arrival will probably force someone like Tony Sipp to get sent down.
Saul Rivera's clause will kick in on May 15th, but that doesn't mean he will go looking for a new team on that date. I'm not at all that concerned about seeing him anyway right now. Rafael Perez needs to work through things and the only other name that I think could be in jeopardy is Joe Smith, but I don't see them sending him down at this point.
If Masterson continues to struggle and they have to move him into the bullpen, then you'll probably see Aaron Laffey get his shot, but other than that the rotation is holding up.
Offensively, we all know Marson is struggling, but we have to know by now they'll keep Santana down as long as possible to avoid Super Two eligibility. Basically I can't see a reason for a call-up right now nor do I want a call-up. Brantley has to work out his issues in Triple-A until the time is right. Matt LaPorta is struggling in the worst possible way but he has to figure it out in the major leagues, as there is nothing left for him to prove in Triple-A.
One name that has been growing on me since spring has been Jason Donald, who I fully expect to see on this club at some point. Valbuena is going to get his shot, but eventually we'll see Donald up here competing for at-bats. That probably won't be until after Santana gets up here though, or maybe even at the same time.
The Coop: Honestly, I don’t see any call-ups taking place unless it’s due to injury. And other than Santana, I don’t know that anyone can come up and contribute more than the guy who they’ll be replacing.
I was hoping to see Hector Rondon up in the Show at some point this year, but he’s had some rocky outings this year, and now I’m starting to wonder if he’s got what it takes to succeed at the major league level.
I was also hoping to see Wes Hodges replace Jhonny Peralta at some point, but now that Hodges has been moved to first base, I wonder what his path to the majors will be.
Lewie Pollis: Other than my hope that Lonnie Chisenhall will get the call straight from Double-A and unseat Jhonny Peralta (stranger things have happened), I want to see some new pitchers.
Carlos Carrasco (2.59 ERA, 23:10 K:BB ratio) is looking terrific in Triple-A, as is Yohan Pino (3.00, 18:4). I've never even heard of Scott Lewis, but he's got fantastic numbers (2.12, 18:4) through 17 innings. Even Hector Rondon (17:7) is looking sharp if you ignore the more luck-based numbers.
5. Fun Question of the Week:
Going into the fourth week of the season, we're now at the point where we can begin to see how things are going to shape up for our teams— the real ones and the imaginary ones.
So tell us, how is your fantasy baseball team doing? Which Tribe players do you have on your roster, and who is your favorite non-Tribe player on your fantasy team this season?
Samantha Bunten: I've got two teams this season, one in an AL only league I've been in for 15 years and the other in a league that's new to me this year with a friend who is a former Bleacher Report Padres writer.
My team in my new league is undefeated so far, which is kind-of cool since having never played seriously in a mixed league before, I pretty much have no idea what I'm doing.
My regular team is in second and is getting beat handily so far by my mom's team. You heard right: my mom is a fantasy baseball genius.
As far as Indians, I have Choo and I had Brantley on my bench before he was sent down. My favorite on either team is Billy Butler—an "emotional pick" I made in my draft because I adore him who has actually delivered results far better than I anticipated.
Nino Colla: I'm doing awesome. I lead the divisions in the two head-to-head leagues I'm in, one with other Bleacher Report writers and the other one with some friends. I'm in the middle of the pack in my third league, a roto league with 10 other baseball blogs from the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. That's a long season there, so I have time.
I made it a point to get Shin-Soo Choo any chance I got and actually have him in all three leagues. He's the one guy I went to bat for without hesitation. Other than that my rosters are pretty lacking in Indians. I do have Kerry Wood in one on the DL, just because I got him late. Chris Perez is also on two of my rosters temporarily. I actually just made the move in one league to pick up Fausto Carmona and the only reason I did that is because Carlos Zambrano serves me no purpose in the bullpen. I might have picked him up in another league if he was available.
Non-Tribe player on my team? I've got a few...I have Jorge Cantu in several leagues; I get that guy as a steal every year. On one team I have Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez and I must say the early returns on that pair are awesome.
Like with Choo, I also went in heavy for Franklin Gutierrez, as I always do in both real life and fantasy, and I'll say that's worked out pretty good. But no doubt, Francisco Liriano has been my best pick-up. I have him in the league that was an auction draft and I believe I got him for a cheap price. He's going to smash whatever price I got him for. Score.
The Coop: Sorry gang, no fantasy team for me. Watching the Indians is painful enough; I don’t have the stomach for dealing with other teams’ crappy players and my crappy “owner” skills.
Lewie Pollis: I started my primary private league four years ago (head-to-head points), and every season I start off 0-3. It's like clockwork. I've still won the league two of the last three years, mind you, but just once it would be nice to be in the black before May.
I don't have any Indians on my team at the moment (64 percent of my current roster is from the NL), but Masterson is on my list of pitchers to grab for match-up plays. I have Sizemore, Choo, and Cabrera in leagues that I don't pay as much attention to.
I've had great success with my sleepers so far. Geovany Soto has been phenomenal, and I have an offer for him on the table that includes Pablo Sandoval. Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez were off to slow starts, but are starting to crank up the heat. Juan Pierre's going through a cold snap, yet he still has provided nine stolen bases in three weeks. Finally, Justin Duchscherer (who I got with the 283rd overall pick) and Francisco Liriano (294th) have helped make my pitching staff look like the best in the league.