I didn’t have high hopes for the Cleveland Indians this season.
I understood that this year was about seasoning our young core of prospects and sorting out our jumbled rotation. I even opposed the few veteran signings we made out of fear that their presence would jeopardize our rookies’ playing time.
I accepted that we would be losers in 2010 because I know that we can be winners by the end of the Mayan Calendar. It’s not as fun as rooting for the Yankees or Red Sox, but we’re better off than most other small-market teams.
And yet, the Indians’ complete ineptitude this season (10-17) has made me want to pull my hair out.
It’s not the growing pains that bother me.
I know that Michael Brantley isn’t really a .156 hitter; Baseball America called him the best contact hitter in the organization, and besides, he hit .313 in a brief big-league stint last year. He’ll find his groove soon enough.
I don’t mind that Matt LaPorta has yet to homer. This is the man with the .256 career minor-league ISO. No one doubts that he’ll develop into a prodigious power hitter.
Nor am I particularly bothered by Chris Perez’ relative failure as the Tribe’s closer. You can’t just throw a 24-year-old into a high-pressure role and expect things to instantly click.
If these young whippersnappers were the only ones struggling, I wouldn’t think twice about it.
What burns me is that the team’s established veterans are playing just as poorly—if not more so.
Let’s start with Russell Branyan, the only winter signee to be earning a seven-digit salary and the reason Brantley has been banished to Triple-A. Branyan is what’s known as a “three true outcomes” hitter because, over the course of his career, 57 percent of his plate appearances have ended with either a walk, a strikeout, or a home run.
Here’s a riddle: what do you call it when a hitter like that loses his plate discipline and power?
Don’t waste your time trying to come up with a witty response—the answer is, “Russell Branyan in 2010.”
His walk rate (8.3 percent) is the lowest it’s been since his 11-game stint as a rookie in 1999, and he has exactly as many home runs as my grandma (zero).
To be fair, a back injury kept him out for the first couple weeks, but even 10 games is too long for someone like Branyan to go without a long ball.
To compensate for slacking in those two categories, Branyan has increased his whiff rate to almost 40 percent, which would be the worst in the league if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
He’s started hacking away at garbage (36.4 percent O-Swing rate, compared to 23.8 percent for his career) while actually swinging at fewer good ones (73.5 percent, normally 77.3 percent). That’s not much of a silver lining.
Branyan isn’t the only slugger to have plate discipline and power problems. Supposedly healthy after missing a third of the 2009 season, Grady Sizemore has looked terrible in 2010. A former five-tool stud, Sizemore has no homers and just two stolen bases to compliment a .220/.282/.320 slashline.
His collapse isn’t surprising given that he’s seemingly lost his eye (6.4 percent walk rate, the worst he’s ever had) and patience (27.0 percent, also a career worst).
If you think Branyan’s pitch selection has been screwy, Sizemore’s is even worse: he’s swinging at 32.1 percent of what would be balls (compared to 17.9 percent in 2009) while taking 41 percent of pitches in the strike zone.
Then there’s Jhonny Peralta. Never a particularly popular player to begin with, Peralta has been driving Cleveland fans up a wall in 2010. He’s batting just .216 with a miserable .699 OPS (believe it or not, that’s actually better than last year).
Yet Indians fans would rather see him holding a bat than a glove. According to UZR, Peralta (-5.0) is the second-worst third baseman in baseball and the third-worst in the league. He has the worst range (-6.7) of any third baseman, and the second-worst in all of baseball .
I won’t exhaustively eviscerate every flounderer on the team, but I would like to offer shout-outs to Travis Hafner for his .213 batting average, Jake Westbrook for his 5.74 ERA, and Fausto Carmona, David Huff, and Mitch Talbot for their collective 0.93 K/BB ratio.
I’d also like to express my thanks to Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Austin Kearns for being the only players on the team hitting better than .250 .
This isn’t Sparta. This is just madness.