Cleveland Indians Tribe Talk: Pitching Pitfalls and Baserunning Blunders

Samantha Bunten@@samanthabuntenAnalyst IAugust 12, 2011

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 15: Pitcher Chris Perez #54 of the Cleveland Indians and catcher Carlos Santana #41 confer on the mound against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 15, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

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.

This week we ponder whether closer Chris Perez is regressing, how the Ubaldo Jimenez acquisition looks after two starts with the team, who is to blame for recent baserunning mistakes, and how the Tribe's potential playoff lineup should shake out. 

I would like to thank this week's participants Dale Thomas and Jim Piascik for their contributions. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.

1. The Tribe bullpen has been the one part of the team that has posed consistently very little concern for the entire 2011 season. Whatever other problems the team was suffering, the Bullpen Mafia always seemed to be able to get its job done. 

That is, until the after the All-Star break, when all of a sudden, the leader of the Bullpen Mafia, closer Chris Perez, started to go downhill and hasn't been able to recover since. 

Perez has had some serious struggles since the Break—many of which have cost the Indians wins. 

What do you think is wrong with Perez? Is it a mechanical problem or a mental one? 

Do you think he'll be able to bounce back before any more damage is done? If Perez continues to struggle, would you put another pitcher in the closer's role instead?

Dale Thomas: This is a great question for which I have no answer. When I watch Perez, he appears to pitch exactly as he did before the break, but I must be missing something. His stuff has always looked like it got a lot of the plate...even in the first half.

Maybe other teams have just seen enough of him to know what's coming, or maybe it's the opposite and he just isn't getting enough save opportunities. I'd have to see a lot more disaster to pull him from the closer role. I don't really see anyone else on the team that could do it.

It's not just Chris Perez that's struggling. The entire bullpen has totally blown a bunch of games lately. The control has gone missing, putting the opposition in good hitter's counts and they are taking advantage of it. Poor defense hasn't helped the relievers either.

Jim Piascik: I think the issue is that Perez has always been bound for this type of regression. His ERA last year was 1.71, but his FIP was much higher (3.54). Most of that was from an unsustainable low BABIP (.222), but he was still effectively striking batters out (8.71 SO/9).

As I've been saying for most of the year, the sharp decrease in strikeouts from Perez (down to 5.83 per 9) has me very worried. His FIP is up to 4.47 and his walks have increased from 4.00 BB/9 to 4.32. He hasn't been a bad pitcher this year, but his peripherals certainly don't point toward an All-Star. I'd leave Perez in the closing role simply because it's all a crapshoot anyway.

He's racked up saves and seems to have the proper mentality for it. If you wanted to have the best overall pitcher in the role, though, there's no other choice than Vinnie Pestano. His 2.86 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 12.68 SO/9, 3.27 BB/9 and 3.88 SO:BB don't lie.

Samantha Bunten: Here's the thing about closers: they're pretty much all a bunch of loose cannons. They have to be to do their job. The downside of that is that it also means they're subject to periodic meltdowns and control problems. 

All of this is true of Chris Perez. It's ironic that the mentality he possesses that makes him so good at his job is also the same thing that sometimes leads to his undoing. This is true for most successful closers. The advantage Perez has, however, is that he has better stuff than many of his counterparts on other teams, and he also seems to be better at bouncing back. 

Obviously this bad stretch after the break has gone on long enough that I'm starting to get concerned that he's lost some of his trademark bounceback ability. And yet he's had some good outings in there too and has yet to suffer a truly epic blowup.

To me, you keep sending him out there until he blows back to back saves, maybe even three in a row. At that point, it might be time to hand the ball to someone else in the ninth, at least for a while. 

But until that happens, I'm going to continue to put my faith in Perez. Of course I don't want to endure Joe Borowski flashbacks any more than the next person when our closer is on the mound, but I just don't think we're quite at the point where we need to hit the panic button on Perez just yet. 

2. Blockbuster trade acquisition pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez made his first start for the Tribe last week (he made his second start Wednesday vs. Detroit after panelists submitted answers). 

Opinions differed wildly on how his performance went in his first outing and what it indicated about the success of the trade. Some people seemed to think he looked fine and any hangups were just the result of nerves about pitching for a new team for the first time, while others cited everything from the appearance of a possible injury to a major mechanical flaw as an indicator that he pitched poorly and thus the deal was a mistake.

Tell us, whose side are you on? Did Jimenez's first outing make you feel better or worse than you initially did about the trade? How do your feelings about the move after seeing him make a start differ from your initial reaction to the trade, if at all?

Dale Thomas: I didn't like the trade from the get-go. His ERA and win/loss record did not scream "winner".

I guess I did feel a little better after his first outing with the Tribe since he didn't totally blow up or anything...but they chipped away at him pretty well, he gave every indication that he couldn't go deep into games as he threw a ton of pitches early, and the hits going deep were scary. To me we picked up another so-so starter with issues. I hope I'm wrong.

Jim Piascik: Considering he was facing Texas in Arlington, I think we're lucky he only gave up five runs. Many pitchers have fared much worse there this year.

My opinion of the trade won't change based on a few starts. I think that it was a calculated gamble on a young ace under team control. Top pitching prospects flame out about half the time, so the Tribe made a good gamble. We won't know for sure, though, until a few years down the road. It's impossible to judge this trade until we see how Jimenez fares here and Pomeranz/White/McBride/Gardner fare in Colorado.

Samantha Bunten: Before I get into Jimenez's performance thus far, I think it's important to talk about how the trade looks in general. The issue there is that we really can't know whether we came out on the right end of the deal until Alex White and Drew Pomeranz have a chance to prove themselves. As long as Jimenez pitches well enough, his value holds up on our end, but that still won't tell us whether the trade is a win. We have to wait to see how the other end of the deal plays out to make that call. 

And that, unfortunately, could take years to determine. Maybe we've given them a pitcher on par with the young Cliff Lee who was once virtually gifted to the Indians by the Expos. Then we're the losers in the deal.

But then again, maybe we've given them a pitcher on par with Jason Knapp who the Indians got in exchange for virtually gifting Cliff Lee to the Phillies. Then we're the winners in the deal. At the moment though, all that we can tell with any certainty is whether Jimenez is able to improve our playoff chances. 

His first start made me nervous, since he didn't exactly shut down hitters and his delivery looked a bit, let's say, off. However, it wasn't a total train wreck. He was facing an excellent offense in Texas and he didn't get shelled, and he was facing a pretty good lineup in Detroit in his second start and he pretty much shut them down. 

So the jury is still out and I'm still skeptical, but in all fairness, I'm not quite as horrified by this trade as I was when it went down. But that's really not saying much.

3. Over the last week or two, we've seen an unfortunately high number of mental errors on the part of the Tribe. Mostly these were baserunning errors (on the part of either the runner or the coaching staff), and then there was LaPorta's disastrous mental lapse at first in Texas that cost the Indians a win in extra innings. 

What do you think of the sudden spike in mental errors the team has had recently? Are they the result of getting tired and worn down? Is this just sloppiness or laziness? Or perhaps just purely an unfortunate coincidence that so many of these have occurred in a short span of time? 

How much do you blame the manager for these kinds of mistakes? Does he share a large part of the responsibility for such slip-ups, or is the onus mostly on the players?

Dale Thomas: I've seen a lot of sloppy stuff out there. Sloppy defense, sloppy batting, base running, coaching, sloppy pitching...slop everywhere, and it does seem to come in bunches.

I don't see it as worn down or lazy...last year I saw a lot of lazy. Not so much this year.

I guess when players play badly I blame the player. When the base coaches make bad decisions, I blame the base coach. When the manager makes bad choices on when to pull a starter, or who to match up in relief, I blame him. I also blame Manny for some crazy hit and run choices. This is especially ponderous when he calls a hit and run for a batter that can't hit, hasn't hit, and probably never will hit.

Jim Piascik: I think that Manny Acta is one of the better managers out there. He does a good job with what he's given and seems to know how to run a bullpen and get the most out of his players. I'm glad to have him.

As for the mental errors, I think that it's mostly just coincidence. These things happen and sometimes they happen all together. The most we can do is endure it.

Samantha Bunten: As a manager, Manny Acta does a lot of things right, so i always hate to pick at the occasional thing he does wrong. However, this baserunning and other mental blunders problem warrants a bit more consideration because it happened repeatedly over the last couple of weeks. 

Could it be coincidence, rather than mismanaged strategy? Sure. Or perhaps it was mental lapses on the part of the players. That's certainly true in the case of Matt LaPorta's huge game losing goof at first in Texas. You can't blame Manny Acta for the fact that LaPorta apparently hit the off switch on his brain when the game went into extra innings. 

Still, mental mistake and poor judgment calls are always infinitely frustrating, particularly when your team is in a pennant race and every single game counts. Ultimately, if the team makes too many such mistakes and it knocks them out of the race, then the blame lies with the manager, as it always does when the team as a whole fails to produce.

Overall though, I'm less concerned with who to blame for these errors and more focused on the fact that they need to stop making them. If the Indians can break this habit and play focused, blunder-free baseball for the next month and a half, no one will remember that week in August when half the members of the organization appeared to have taken a mental holiday.

4. The playoffs are still a long way off, and obviously we don't know whether the Tribe is going to make it to the postseason or not, but sometimes a fan just needs to dream a little to keep their hopes up. 

So in honor of optimists everywhere, let's say the Tribe wins the Central and makes it into the playoffs. Give us the lineup you would use for the Tribe in the playoffs, should they actually make it there. (If you so choose, you may use both Choo and Sizemore in your lineup, as both are expected to be back by the end of the regular season).

Dale Thomas: I don't see Sizemore and/or Choo coming back and tearing the place up, but I also wouldn't hesitate to use Sizemore off the bench if the starters aren't showing patience at the plate or if he matches up well with a pitcher. I'll go totally on hope with Choo. We need his bat and we need it in good working order.

Here's my lineup: Brantley, Kipnis, Cabrera, Hafner, Choo, Santana, Fukudome, Chisenhall, LaPorta

Jim Piascik: LF Brantley 2B Kipnis SS Cabrera DH Hafner C Santana RF Choo CF Fukudome (Not sure where else to play him; he has played CF before) 3B Chisenhall 1B LaPorta

Despite the optimism, I don't buy that Sizemore will be back this year. I'd love to see him be back, but I'd rather him be all healthy for 2012. I think that lineup doesn't look all that bad. If we can get to the playoffs, the Jimenez/Masterson one-two punch combined with that lineup could make some noise. I truly do believe that.

Samantha Bunten: Brantley, Kipnis, Cabrera, Hafner, Choo, Santana, LaPorta, Chisenhall, Fukudome.

As for Sizemore, I'll go with using him off the bench based on how things currently stand. If he comes back healthy and effective, I'm more than happy to boot somebody from a starting outfield job (Fukudome) and tweak the batting order to get Sizemore in at the six-hole.

5. Fun Question of the Week: Before we head into the final stretch of the 2011 season, let's take one last crack at predicting the division winner and wild cards across Major League Baseball. 

Please list your winners for each division (and each league's wild card spot) below.

Dale Thomas: 

AL East: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Cleveland Indians (will require help from midges and other bugs)

AL West: Texas Rangers

AL Wildcard: New York Yankees

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central:  Milwaukee Brewers

NL West: San Francisco Giants

NL Wildcard: Atlanta Braves

Jim Piascik: 

AL East: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Cleveland Indians (got to have faith)

AL West: Texas Rangers

AL Wildcard: New York Yankees

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals (I've been on them all year; can't jump ship now)

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks (The Giants aren't nearly as good as they look)

NL Wildcard: Atlanta Braves

Samantha Bunten:

AL East: New York Yankees

AL Central: Cleveland Indians

AL West: Texas Rangers

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers

NL West: San Francisco Giants

NL Wildcard: Atlanta Braves


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