Tribe Talk: Summing Up What Went So Colossally Wrong For The Indians This Season
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Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Cleveland Indians fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.
With the Tribe's disappointing 2010 season finally winding down, it's time to take a look at each facet of the Indians' play and take our best guesses as to what went so terribly wrong in each area specifically, and more importantly, why.
I would like to thank this week's participants, Lewie Pollis, The Coop, and Nino Colla, for their contributions. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. What went so wrong with the defense?
Samantha Bunten: It boils down to two things: horrible, horrible errors at extremely critical points in games, and the three-headed monster known as "Nimartuena" wreaking havoc at third base.
Throw in the fact that the team's two best defenders (Sizemore and Cabrera) were both seriously injured, and it's not surprising the defense leads the league in errors.
Nino Colla: Asdrubal Cabrera got hurt, Grady Sizemore got hurt, and the Indians were playing Jhonny Peralta and "Nimartuena" at third. Seriously, that's what happened.
Cabrera is the anchor of the infield, he makes everyone better. Sizemore is the anchor in the outfield and even when he was playing, he was hurt.
For my money, those are your two best defensive players and they missed time, one more than the other, but they still missed time.
Then you try and make someone like Jayson Nix a third baseman and he undergoes what you should have expected, a period of adjustment.
Then you try and shuffle in Marte in random spots and how can you expect someone to play consistent defense when they aren't playing consistently?
Then you have Valbuena, and I won't even bother disclosing why that is a bad idea.
For the most part, the defense was good early, then it just fell off the track. Making big errors in big spots was the biggest thing, then they just started coming in bunches as the two guys mentioned above started to drop off.
Lewie Pollis: FanGraphs' Bryan Smith wrote a great article before the season about the Tribe's "bold strategy" of having three natural shortstops (Cabrera, Peralta, and Valbuena) around the infield. The problem was, all three are poor defenders.
For all his flash, Cabrera really needs to improve his range. I don't want to relive the horrors of Peralta's miserable glove, but it seemed somehow fitting when Jayson Nix made an error at third base the night after he was traded.
The outfield is a mess, too. Aside from Choo (the only player on the team with a UZR over 4.0), Sizemore, Brown, Brantley, and Kearns have all left something to be desired. Then there's Trevor Crowe's -34.2 UZR/150 in center field.
The Coop: There’s an old adage that says good defenses are built up the middle, and if you believe that, then look no further.
The revolving door that is the Indians’ infield is not very talented with the leather, and this is the biggest culprit for the Indians lackluster defense.
They’re not the worst I’ve ever seen, but when you grow up watching Carlos Baerga and Omar Vizquel, you have an understanding about what a good defense can do for a team.
Stability has obviously been a problem, and that starts with the double play duo. At short, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Donald have been awful. At second, Luis Valbuena is good with the glove, but he is disastrous at the plate, and this has kept him out of the lineup.
Meanwhile, Donald is better than he is at short, but that’s not saying much. Even tossing in third base, Jayson Nix makes Jhonny Peralta look like Brooks Robinson.
And of course, another major reason for the poor defense is the absence of Grady Sizemore. It certainly doesn’t help to have a Gold Glover out of the lineup, personal feelings aside.
2. What went so wrong with the offense?
Samantha Bunten: An exceptionally slow start killed momentum early to such a degree that I'm not sure the Indians ever really came back from it.
Injuries and a revolving door of slumping players resulted in large number of roster members not seeing consistent plate appearances, which made it difficult for many of them to settle in and find their stroke.
As a group, their pitch selection regressed from last season, as most of the lineup waffled back and forth between not being aggressive enough and waiting on walks and flailing at anything within three feet of the plate.
Also, there was a glaring lack of power hitting from the middle of the order.
Nino Colla: Early it was bad and I don't think anyone knows why.
Okay, so Sizemore was gone and hurt, Branyan took awhile to get going after he even got back, Peralta was up to his usual early tricks, and Cabrera was sub-par early.
It just didn't click from the start and then you started replacing the pieces you were counting on to be reliable and that is when your offense goes to hell in a hand-basket. Simple as that.
Lewie Pollis: Every single position player the we've had has either plain-old played poorly, gotten injured, or both. I have nothing more to say.
The Coop: No power hitting. You can keep your small-ball if you want. I’ll take doubles, homers, and runs batted in.
Sure, base stealing, moving runners, and taking extra bases is important. But for as much effort as it takes for a small-ball offense to manufacturer one run, a team with some power hitters can change an entire game with one swing of the bat.
Hey, you might not necessarily guarantee yourself a playoff spot with good power numbers, but you will definitely guarantee yourself mediocrity or worse without them.
Of the teams that rank in the bottom 10 of the majors in home runs and slugging percentage, only one (San Diego) is in a pennant chase right now. The Indians have absolutely no one who strikes fear in an opposing pitcher.
They have three guys with double-digits in home runs and probably no one that will finish with more than 100 runs batted in, and no one with a slugging percentage over .500. That’s just not going to cut it.
3. What went so wrong with the starting pitching?
Samantha Bunten: Let's begin with the fact that the Tribe spent way too much of the season with two guys in the rotation who didn't belong there.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, Masterson belonged in the bullpen. At the risk of beating a dead mule, Huff should probably never have been in the majors in the first place.
That said, starting pitching wasn't the team's biggest problem. The starters for the most part did a fair job, except maybe for the lack of ability to go deep into games in terms of innings.
A team with starters who can't go more than five or six innings requires a far stronger bullpen than the one we had. The fact that the bullpen couldn't back up them up was probably the biggest overall problem for the starters, aside from issuing too many walks.
Nino Colla: I don't think anything went wrong here. It went as well you could have expected things to go if you ask me.
This was the doom and gloom part of the team and they ended up being one of the most stable units on the club from start to finish.
They had rough patches, but they were the only thing worth watching early in the season and right now, they are showing some promise with young guys like Jeanmar Gomez and Carlos Carrasco pitching very well.
The one thing that I think did go wrong overall was David Huff. The way his season played out was not ideal and definitely opposite of what I expected.
I thought he was going to play a major part in this rotation and establish himself as one of the guys for this team now and in the future. Now his status is in serious doubt after he's put himself in Acta's dog house and consistently denied doing things the organization's way.
I'm worried about his future because I think he has the potential to be a part of this rotation, but he may be damaging the relationship beyond repair.
Lewie Pollis: The rotation's collective 5.3 K/9 rate was the lowest in baseball, and our 3.5 BB/9 rate was the worst in the AL. The solution is simple: throw some strikes.
The Coop: More than anything else, I believe that pitching (and getting good at pitching) takes time, patience, and experience. So at the risk of breaking your rule about not blaming youth and inexperience anymore, I believe that this is the only thing that held the Indians back.
Other than that, I would say the starting pitching was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal year. They are definitely talented, so I think the future is very bright for the Indians’ rotation in years to come.
If I had to place blame on anything, I would say that David Huff was a major disappointment, and that the team has wasted time on having Justin Masterson in the rotation and not the bullpen (c’mon, you knew it was coming).
4. What went so wrong with the relief pitching?
Samantha Bunten: First of all, "Kerry Wood" and "Good Bullpen" are two mutually exclusive entities. The Indians rode the sinking ship that is Kerry Wood far too long, and they ended up drowning.
Generally speaking, the biggest problem was the ungodly number of walks issued late in games. With an offense largely unable to overcome any sort of deficit in the late innings, the last thing the bullpen should be doing is issuing free passes.
Throw strikes. Force your opponent to swing and put the bat on the ball well enough to earn their way to first base. The Indians' bullpen doesn't post nearly enough strikeouts to cede as many walks as they have.
Nino Colla: Early on I think they had no stable chain of command. Even though Perez was a semi-stable option early, the lead-up to him was weakened by him moving to that closer's role.
Believe it or not, whether you like him or hate him, Wood returning to the role sort of stabilized everything because Perez moved back and made the chain stronger.
Now Perez is back in the role and the options leading up to him are much stronger, which is why I think the bullpen has been very successful since that point Wood was traded.
Particularly, Jensen Lewis and Jess Todd's outcomes were not pleasing. I think the club mistreated Lewis and I think that situation isn't going to end ideally. Todd's progression in Columbus was disappointing, and I expected more from him in the major leagues.
Lewie Pollis: When a team's closer posts a 6.30 ERA and the bullpen combines to walk almost a batter every two innings, what do you expect?
Really, though, for a rebuilding team with no hope of contending, this shouldn't have been where we put our resources anyway.
The Coop: Geez, it should be easier to be critical with a team this bad, but I’d say the relief pitching wasn’t too bad this year either.
The biggest problem was that the Indians held onto Kerry Wood too long (obviously in an attempt to get some trade value for him, which now remains to be seen). However, this year’s bullpen was definitely an upgrade over the past few years.
Depth might be the biggest “problem” with this unit. I said at the beginning of the season that I wanted Chris Perez to be the closer, and he has done a very good job with the opportunity.
I think he’s the closer of the immediate future, until a certain current starter is moved to the bullpen and groomed for the job.
As for the other guys, Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez are certainly capable major league relievers. This is another group that I think has potential for the long-run.
5. What went so wrong with the base running?
Samantha Bunten: This is by far the least concerning area of the Indians' game. The base running wasn't that bad, and it was also sort of hog-tied by the lack of hitting in that if our players can't get themselves a single or a walk in the first place, then they won't be getting a good jump off the bag or stealing second. Duh.
I look at it like this: I'm all for small ball and manufacturing runs, but in order to do that successfully, you need to have the kind of lineup that boasts hitters top to bottom who consistently get themselves on base.
And let's face it: if anyone could actually hit the ball out of the infield with any sort of regularity, then runs would cross the plate whether the base running was exceptionally good or not.
At the end of the day though, we can always blame Trevor.
Nino Colla: I would say this was a stronger part of the team. It is an overlooked aspect, but this club was good in this department.
It was good to see Acta employ some tactics like hit and run and moving base runners and it was good to see some execution on the club's part.
Of course, a lot of that had to do with the type of talent on the club vs. the talent that used to be on the club, but Acta seems like the one to do this stuff regardless.
Choo's aggressiveness got him into some boneheaded situations, but overall, nothing to complain about. Steve Smith seems like a solid guy at third. I would like to see Brantley run more, but he has to get on base, which is the biggest issue for him not running as much as you would like.
Lewie Pollis: I don't think the baserunning has been that bad. Sure, Lou Marson and Matt LaPorta look like they have refrigerators on their backs while they sprint, but this is far from my biggest area of concern.
The Coop: Nothing. Jhonny Peralta had an inside-the-park home run. That trumps anything negative that you could possibly say!
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