The Indians early success is sustainable with a few tweaks.
On the morning of May 18th, the Cleveland Indians were 26-13, owned the best record in baseball and seemed invincible. In those two short weeks since then, the Tribe have gone 7-10 and come crashing down to earth. This just seems like the same old song and dance for Cleveland fans.
However, in my opinion, the sky is still bright for the 2011 Indians. They are still in first place in the AL Central by 2.5 games and are tied with the Yankees for the best record in the American League. Every team goes through dry spells; how you react to them defines your season.
The following list is 10 ways that the Cleveland Indians can improve in the short- and long-term. The list is a mix of roster moves and things that certain players need to fix in order to help themselves and the team.
2011 isn't lost yet for the Tribe. With some shrewd moves and improvements, we can take baseball by storm again in June.
Players like Asdrubal Cabrera have put the Indians in contention.
These players are doing just fine and I don't have any major complaints about them:
C Carlos Santana and Lou Marson
1B Matt LaPorta
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
OF Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo
SP Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin
RP Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez and Joe Smith
It's time to see Lonnie Chisenhall man third base for the Tribe.
Jack Hannahan started the year hot for the Tribe, but it wasn't destined to last. His slash line is all the way down to .231/.317/.356, and his OPS is just .673 (92 OPS+). His defense has only been slightly above average this year, so that isn't enough reason to keep him starting every day.
Hannahan was always meant to just keep the seat warm for Lonnie Chisenhall and it's high time that we see him take his rightful place at third base. His .273 batting average is right where it's always been, but he's improved his on-base percentage by 24 points (.367 OBP). His fielding isn't the best, but Chisenhall is ready to produce at the big league level. It can't be much worse than Hannahan has been recently.
In order to call up Chisenhall, the Indians should demote Shelley Duncan and his destructive .269 OBP/20:2 SO:BB combination.
Jason Kipnis could replace Orlando Cabrera's on-field production easily.
Orlando Cabrera's clubhouse presence is great, but his on-field production has been slipping. If any other player had a .249/.275/.315 slash line, .590 OPS (68 OPS+), 26 strikeouts to just six walks and average defense, you'd want to get him out of the lineup. Why should Cabrera be any different?
Luckily for the Indians, they have two major league-ready second basemen in Columbus. Either one would be an improvement at second over Orlando Cabrera. Jason Kipnis is the better overall player (5 HR, 31 RBI, 9 SB, .284/.363/.467, .830 OPS) but Cord Phelps has been hotter this year (7 HR, 40 RBI, 1 SB, .303/394/.502, .897 OPS). I prefer Kipnis, but either is a good choice.
In order to call up either one of these second basemen, the Indians would demote Adam Everett, whose WAR is now negative (minus-0.2).
Grady Sizemore really needs to strikeout less.
Grady Sizemore took us all by storm when he returned from the DL, but after his second DL stint he's started to deal with reality. His slugging percentage is still .560, but his average on-base percentage (.316) is problematic. Twenty of his 29 hits have gone for extra bases—the kind of ratio bound to fall over time. As those extra base hits stop coming, Grady's slugging percentage will fall, as will his .876 OPS (144 OPS+).
In order to counteract this regression, Grady needs to stop striking out so much and walk more. He's always had trouble with strikeouts, but this is the highest rate he's ever posted (33 in just 26 games). In addition to that, he's only drawn five walks this year (the lowest rate of his career). This lack of walks is what is keeping Grady's OBP down.
If Grady can start limiting his strikeouts and draw more walks, he'll become a more well-rounded hitter and help the Indians more this year. The Indians need Grady to be the Sizemore of old to continue competing this year, and to do that, they'll need his 33:5 SO:BB ratio to even out soon.
Austin Kearns defense makes him valuable to the Tribe.
Between Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo, the Tribe are very well set in the outfield. The Indians really only need one backup outfielder to spell these three. This means that the Tribe need to pick between Travis Buck and Austin Kearns.
Luckily for us, they won't need to make this decision until they need a roster spot for Travis Hafner in 2-4 weeks. Until then, hopefully one of these outfielders will make the decision easy. Right now, they're neck and neck.
Austin Kearns has been atrocious on offense with a .200/.302/.280 slash line and a .582 OPS (68 OPS+ and minus-0.2 oWAR), but his 0.7 dWAR is tied for seventh best among all outfielders. Plus, he's a rare right-handed batter for the Tribe (Sizemore, Brantley and Choo are all lefties).
Travis Buck has been pretty good on offense (.269/.313/.410, .724 OPS, 105 OPS+, 0.3 oWAR), but his defense isn't anything special (0.1 dWAR) and he's left-handed. Buck isn't a bad player, but his below-average OBP and 14:4 SO:BB ratio aren't good signs.
Honestly, I'd try to trade Buck to a team in need of a decent outfielder and keep Kearns on the condition that he rarely plays, but either choice will probably be all right. Soon enough, though, the Tribe will need to get rid of one.
The Indians and Fausto Carmona need to see other people.
Many of us have been saying all year that Fausto Carmona isn't an ace. Now, we're saying that he doesn't even deserve a spot on the Indians roster.
Considering his 3-7 record and 5.33 ERA (71 ERA+), it's no surprise that most of us are ready to move on from Fausto. His 1.258 WHIP, 5.7 SO/9 and 2.5 BB/9 (2.26 SO:BB) aren't bad (though I wish there were more strikeouts), but the death stroke is his BABIP. Currently standing at .272, Fausto Carmona's been lucky this year and still owns a 5.33 ERA.
Before the year, I averaged Fausto's previous three WAR and got minus-0.1. I thought that there's no way that he would end up with a negative WAR; he's the best pitcher we have. Now that he's currently at minus-1.0, I think it's time to move on. There is plenty of trade speculation swirling around Francisco Liriano and his 5.73 ERA; someone should take a chance on Fausto.
Ideally, I'd like the Tribe to get an ace, so if the Indians can convince the Angels to move Dan Haren in a deal involving Carmona, I'd go for it. The Angels will pay bad players lots of money for former glory (see Wells, Vernon), so maybe they'll bite on Fausto if they fall far enough out. Regardless, I think that Fausto Carmona's ship has sailed in Cleveland. We need some new blood in the rotation.
Carlos Carrasco needs to step up his game or lose his spot.
Much like Fausto Carmona, it's do-or-die time for Carlos Carrasco. His 5.18 ERA (74 ERA+), 1.430 WHIP, 5.0 SO/9 and 2.8 BB/9 (1.78 SO:BB) just aren't going to cut it anymore.
The Indians are competing right now, but their rotation will bring them down if changes aren't made. Between Carmona, Carrasco and Talbot (we'll get to him in the next slide), three-fifths of the rotation is set to blow at any time.
In the minors, Carrasco struck out 8.0 batters per nine innings—there's no reason that number should be at five this year. He's a strikeout pitcher that's not striking batters out. I don't want him out of the rotation yet, but the leash should be short.
The pitcher I'd replace him with if he continues struggling is Jeanmar Gomez. His major league numbers this year haven't been great (4.91 ERA, 79 ERA+, 1.800 WHIP, 4.4 SO/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 1.80 SO:BB in four games), but he's been tearing it up in AAA. His Columbus numbers, however, (2.53 ERA, 1.187 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 2.25 SO:BB) show he deserves another chance.
Right now, Gomez's WAR of 0.0 is better than Carrasco's minus-0.2. Carrasco's got two or three more starts to prove himself. If he doesn't get better, the contending Indians need to make a change.
Zach McAllister's earned a spot in the big league rotation.
Unfortunately for the Indians, it's beginning to look like Mitch Talbot just doesn't have what it takes to be a consistent major league starter. His 4.18 ERA on the year is below average and his 1.75 WHIP is horrible. Add in the fact that he has a low SO/9 (6.1) and a high BB/9 (4.2) and you get a replaceable starting pitcher.
Even Talbot's outing Sunday was fundamentally flawed. At first glance, only giving up two earned runs in six innings looks great. Checking out the 1.83 WHIP and 4:3 SO:BB, however, means the Indians were lucky the Rangers only got two runs. The truth is, Mitch Talbot just isn't going to get the job done.
Instead of continuing to pitch Talbot, let's see what Zach McAllister can do. In Columbus this year, McAllister has posted a 7-1 record, a 2.42 ERA and a 0.985 WHIP. His 6.7 SO/9 aren't ideal, but when your BB/9 is only 1.7 and your SO:BB is 3.85, you can get away with fewer strikeouts.
McAllister was ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the Yankees farm system before struggling in 2010. Those struggles allowed us to get him as the player-to-be-named-later in the Austin Kearns deal. He's rounded back into form this year though and deserves a chance in the majors as soon as possible.
Chris Perez has been very lucky this year.
Sure, Chris Perez owns a 2.49 ERA and 14 saves in 15 chances, but take a closer look. His WHIP is fairly high at 1.34, but even more troubling are his 5.0 SO/9 and 5.0 BB/9. He only has 12 strikeouts (and 12 walks) in 21.2 IP this year!
Just so we're clear, a third of the way into the season, Chris Perez has more saves (14) than strikeouts (12).
Perez has been very lucky this year that he's not going down the same path as Joe Nathan and Matt Thornton. If he doesn't improve the quality of his pitching soon, Perez is going to start blowing saves and hurting the Tribe's chances.
The Indians could use some new blood (like Joe Martinez) in the bullpen.
I love Frank Herrmann and his Ivy League status, but his lack of results is starting to hurt. His 9.0 SO/9 and 2.6 BB/9 (3.50 SO:BB) are elite, but a 7.71 ERA (51 ERA+)? A 1.786 WHIP? Even his AAA stats this year tell the same story (5.91 ERA, 1.594 WHIP, 10.1 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 3.00 SO:BB). I still believe Herrmann can help the Tribe, but for now he needs to go back to Columbus and work on his craft.
To replace Herrmann's bullpen spot, the Indians should call up Joe Martinez. The 28-year-old has problems similar to Frank Herrmann so far this year, but to a lesser degree. His 4.79 ERA and 1.427 WHIP aren't pretty, but his 8.3 SO/9 and 2.6 BB/9 (3.17 SO:BB) are great.
Since we're dealing with the bottom of the bullpen, the Tribe just need to experiment until someone sticks. Maybe Joe Martinez can be that guy.
Zach Putnam has been very impressive in Columbus this year.
My disdain for Chad Durbin's pitching this year is no secret. His 5.68 ERA (68 ERA+) and 1.579 WHIP are only better than Frank Herrmann this year. He's gotten his strikeouts up and his walks down recently (7.5 SO/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 2.33 SO:BB), but Durbin leaves a lot to be desired.
I'd like to see the Indians give Zach Putnam a shot in the long-relief role. He's pitched exclusively out of the bullpen this year, but he has started in the past. Putnam's AAA numbers this year (2.59 ERA, 1.021 WHIP, 7.2 SO/9, 1.7 BB/9 and 4.17 SO:BB) are begging for a chance in the Big Show. With Durbin underperforming, Putnam's chance should come soon.
With a little luck (and some shaking up of the roster), the Tribe can keep celebrating in 2011.
If the Tribe went through with my moves, this would be the new 25-man roster.
LF Michael Brantley
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
RF Shin-Soo Choo
C Carlos Santana
1B Matt LaPorta
CF Grady Sizemore
DH Travis Buck (Travis Hafner when he returns)
3B Lonnie Chisenhall
2B Jason Kipnis/Cord Phelps
C Lou Marson, OF Austin Kearns, 1B/3B Jack Hannahan (or Nick Johnson when he's back from injury), 2B/SS Orlando Cabrera
Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona (or whoever we can trade for), Carlos Carrasco/Jeanmar Gomez, Zach McAllister
Closer: Chris Perez
Setup Men: Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano
Middle Relief: Rafael Perez, Joe Smith
Long Relief: Joe Martinez, Zach Putnam
Hopefully by shaking things up a bit, the Tribe can rediscover the early-season magic that got them to the top of the baseball world. One thing's for sure; if they keep going with the team they've got right now, the boys of summer will continue wilting.