Friday, May 1, 2009

Alvaro's Afterthoughts: Tribe In Desperate Need of 'Relief'

I'm pissed off. I should be basking in the glow of the Cleveland Cavaliers as they march towards their inevitable championship destiny. I should be drinking my annual Browns' delusional punch, convincing myself the team has any semblance of finishing above .500. I should be admiring Terrelle Pyror's new tattoo.

Instead, evening after painful, predictable evening, I am forced to endure the pathetic excuse for a team, currently masquerading as the Cleveland Indians.

In the past, this site has been accused of taking a somewhat cynical and critical view towards our Cleveland sports franchises. However, I refuse to be further subjected to and to blindly cheer for a Cleveland Indians team which is both boring to watch and mind-numbingly frustrating to follow. A wildly inconsistent offense, coupled with a gasoline and matchbox carrying bullpen, and a team devoid of leadership, has lead me down the fandom path of anger, despair and that oh to familiar Cleveland feeling of apathy (really a disguised mixture of anger and despair).

For the past few seasons, the Indians have been the media's sexy preseason sleeper pick, the team which all the pundits love to purchase a season upon the bandwagon. What these pundits fail to perceive, is that Tribe as currently constructed, is an inherently flawed baseball team. A bandwagon with three broken wheels and no horses isn't going anywhere.

1. The Bullpen

The hands-down, biggest culprit for the Indians' failures thus far this season is the bullpen. Look, no one expected the bullpen to be this bad. In fact, coming into the season, the bullpen appeared one of the strengths of the roster. Picking up Joe Smith and Kerry Wood only seemed to cement a relief corps which finished last season strongly. Instead, the team has the league's worse bullpen - a group who seemingly cannot retire a batter between them.

How many of you out there, when watching Indians' games feel that any lead is safe? Not me. I don't care if the Tribe is up 7 runs in the 9th inning with two outs, as this point in the season I have absolutely zero confidence in any of our relievers.

The Indians relievers with the lowest ERAs currently are Tony Sipp (3.60 - who gave up 2 runs in a .1 inning of work in his last appearance) and Aaron Laffey (3.60). The fact that the Indians had to move their most consistent starter to stabilize the bullpen indicates just how bad things have gotten. Not to mention that the supposed reliable members of our pen, Wood, Jensen Lewis and the Raffies have been giving up runs at an alarming clip (like every single game). Jensen Lewis especially has been serving up home runs like a pedophile handing out candy to tricker-treaters.

Perhaps the bullpen's struggles can be attributed to the off-season dismissal of Luis Issac. Perhaps moving Laffey to the pen, demoting Raffy Perez, calling up Matt Herges to replace Vinnie Chulk, and the potential pick up of Luis Vizcaino will turn things around. All I know is that's hard to win ballgames when you can't protect leads. And, as a starting pitcher, it has to be demoralizing to leave with a sizable lead, only to see the pen crap away the game. I'd rather the Indians get blown out of a game, rather than see the team continually give games away in the latter innings.

2. The Tribe has No Personality/ No Leadership

A second problem I have with this team is that has absolutely zero personality. Watching the Indians play this season, it's clear that they are one of the most vanilla teams in baseball - the team identity falling somewhere between Ben Stein's portrayal as Ferris Bueller's teacher and a pet rock. Gone are those carefree yesteryear days of pies in the face, ala Trot Nixon. In their stead, we find a team without an identifiable captain or even a viable mouthpiece.

The problem seemingly starts at the top with Eric Wedge. I've always been on the fence with Wedge as a manager of this team, which in of itself is a characterization of the overall identity problem with the team. Wedge has always been so bland in spouting off trite baseball sound bites after games, that it's nearly impossible to form an opinion of his either positively or negatively because he's so robotic. His players seem to respect him, if only because he protects from the media and his usual refusal to say anything negative about them.

On the other hand, Wedge spends most games staring off into the distance, with a look of utter disinterest and disdain plastered across his face. It's only been recently, with the Tribe's season circling the drain, along with Wedge's future employment, that we've begun to see any life and fight emerge from him. In fact, one of my favorite moments so far this season was when Wedge finally showed some emotion arguing that swinging strike and that foul ball in the Red Sox game, getting himself tossed. The Indians were so moved by their manager's unusual display of emotion that they rallied themselves into another losing effort.

While I'm not a huge Ozzie Guillen fan, I can't help but think that an underachieving team like the Indians might be better served by having a fiery manager like Ozzie at its helm. I'm thinking along the lines of perhaps a Tony Pena - he has managing experience and he's even smacked one of relief pitchers in the head with a glove before.

But despite Wedge's unwavering demeanor for the most part, no player has stepped up into the leadership role on the field - gaps left by the departures of Casey Blake and C.C. Sabathia. Usually, a team's most talented players will find themselves in the leadership role, if only because their abilities on the field seemingly earn them the respect of their peers. On the Indians, two players who would appear to be in leadership type positions are Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez. And honestly, neither of them strikes me as a vocal leader of this group.

Sizemore especially would seem to possess all the qualities necessary to be a dynamic clubhouse voice for the Tribe - -he plays the game hard, he seems to enjoy himself and his teammates seem to respect him. Unfortunately, he seems to have no interest in filling that role. It's typically unusual for a younger player to be the mouthpiece of a team. Having someone like Lebron James in our backyards (who is such an impressive team general) can blind us to the fact that it's typically the older veterans who set the tone for how a team approaches the game or responds from hardships. Grady just doesn't seem to have the type of personality who is going to rally teammates in the dugout or pat someone on the back after a hard game. Maybe as he matures, Grady will fall into to such a role, but presently it might not be fair to expect him to do so.

On the other hand, Martinez seems to have both the talent and the desire to be the leader of the Indians. As a catcher, Victor would seem to demand respect of the pitching staff and as the team's most polished hitter, it would be natural for him to set the tone in the lockerroom to the other hitters (hopefully preaching patience). I do think Martinez is probably the silent leader of this ballclub. I think Victor's personality appears that he's not so much an outspoken leader, as much as he leads by example.

The problem with Victor serving as the leader of this ball club is that he also currently the team's most tradable asset. As Biff discussed in one of his earlier posts, with the organizational glut of catching prospects coupled with Victor's inevitably move from behind the plate to first-base, if the Indians continue to tank, their apparent leader of the Tribe may be out of here by July.

Interestingly, Ryan Garko was recently asked on the radio who he thought was the emotional leader of the Tribe. His response - David Dellucci. Hmmm - the leader of the Tribe is someone who's been absent from the team for the majority of the season? Perhaps Wedge knew something about the makeup of the Indians when he essentially assured Dellucci a roster spot in Spring Training. If Dellucci truly is a team leader, maybe his value to the team is greater than most Indians' fans realize.

3. The Indians Offense Strikes Out Way Too Much

Finally, the Indians' offense, as constructed, essentially has to get lucky to succeed. As a team, the Tribe has marignal speed and and for the most part is forced to mainly play station-to-station baseball. We're not going to see the Indians manufacturing a load of runs. The problem with this philosphy, is that the Indians have to rely on clutch hitting to score runs. And the Indians strike out. A lot.

Take for example, Jhonny Peralta. In 101 ABs this season, he's struck out a whooping 32 times. Grady Sizemore has struck out 1 out of every 4 ABs. DeRosa and Choo - 1 out of every 5 times. Kelly Shoppach? 48 ABs and 20 Ks.

The point is - when a team, which doesn't have a lot of speed isn't even putting the ball into play 20% of the time, hits aren't getting strung together and runs aren't getting scored. Furthermore, it's hard to ever string together any kind of big inning or rally - it's inevitable someone's going to come along and strike out in a big moment. (And I know that the Indians' have had some huge innings this year, like against the Yankees).

With the Tribe's lack of plate discipline, the Tribe has a knack for letting opposing pitchers off the hook, prolonging their appearance in the game and avoiding getting to another team's bullpen. Our hitters make the other team's job easier. And my job as a fan much harder.

So - what we have is an organization with no leadership, a team with no plate discipline and a bullpen which can't get anyone out? How would I fix these problems? I think the roster moves (bringing up LaPorta and Valbuena) are a start - placing those underachievers on the roster on notice. I think it might be time to bring in a new coach - as I said above, perhaps someone with a little bit more fire in the likes of Tony Pena. I think it might be time to take the next relief pitcher who gives up a lead out back and shoot them. Same for the next player who strikes out with runners in scoring position. Other than that, I see but one solution. GO CAVS.


Art Brosef said...

Ive never been an anti-Wedge guy, and obviously hes not the one taking a gas tank to the mound late in games. That being said, I think its time for him to go. This is his 7th year, and the Indians still are struggling with the problems mentioned above - a lack of leadership, zero plate discipline, etc.

Would a different manager have produced a different result with the same roster? Very likely no. But like I said, its just time.

lenny k said...

Good article about the current state of the tribe here...good read

I'm with you...still dont know how Wedge has a job if it was anywhere else in Cleveland and he manages the way he has for the past 7 years he would have been gone after blowing 3-1 lead in the alcs...dont understand why he gets a free pass for managing the most inconsistent team in baseball. He doesnt play small ball by any means..which is fine when your big hitters in the lineup actually are good at getting clutch hits- not being good at striking out every time at bat.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

the thing is - I don't dislike wedge as much as I did Romeo for example. I think in part that Wedge is a victim of the circumstances, a team unwilling to spend any money in most situations. That being said, managers tend to lose their effectiveness after a period - fans and players tire of their approach, and I do think Wedge ends up being a fall guy this season.

lenny k said...

Ya this team has been the same for the past few years, wedge isnt evolving as a manager at all either, it is time to break from the monotonous approach of wedge, this team needs a shakeup...wouldnt be surprised if he is canned by late june.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

lenny k, art? how would you guys go about fixing this team? is there any way to fix it?

lenny k said...

Well there is no easy answer but i have a few suggestions that would help in the short run i think

1)Move Asdrubal to short and get Peralta out of the lineup. he is not that good of a hitter to make up for his shortcomings in the field.

2)batting lineup i would use Choo, Asdrubal, Grady, Vic, Hafner, Derosa, Shoppach, Laporta, any 2nd baseman on this team (none of them can hit anyways) barring injuries (Hafner) this is a solid lineup, no platoons in the outfield-let them play...

3) the bullpen is obviously a low point to this team, but would go Sipp, Joe Smith, Wood for 7-8-9...not that great from what i've seen this year but cant stand watching lewis serve up meatballs so they can hit it 400 feet.

Its kind of hard to make any overhauls to this team in the upcoming years with an owner who wont spend which is why Im affraid we will have the same .265-.280 hitters flooding this lineup

Alvaro Espinoza said...

I think Peralta has a role on this team - I blame Wedge for moving him out of the cleanup spot after he excelled there last season. Don't forget Jhonny lead AL SS with home runs last season. If we run out a middle infield of Asdrubal and Valbuena, we may have solid defense, but zero pop. Maybe we should have moved Jhonny when the Dodgers were interested last year.

lenny k said...

It is still early, maybe he will get his bat back this year- he did well when he was 4th-good point. Im just down on him bc of his defensive skills i guess, then when i see him strikeout 30 times this year already it doesnt help at all either. with hafner out, maybe DH him? not sure what to do with him at this point, I will admit that when his swing is on he is as good as anyone at driving the ball.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

This is a bit off topic in terms of the major league team but Andy Marte is batting .341 at AAA. I'm not saying he deserves to be called back up or anything - but it's nice that he's come back and turned things around thus far this season.

As for the Tribe - they have a lot of pieces/parts but not a lot of complete players.

I'd play the hot hands and ignore the splits at the moment. Sit Peralta for the time being - play Garko more since he's been carrying over his success from the end of last year. I think DeRosa at 3B, Garko at first and Victor behind the plate, with Valbuena at 2nd, and LaPorta getting his shot over Ben Fransisco in LF might be the strongest team at the moment - but with the Tribe crapping the bed, it doesn't hurt to tinker

lenny k said...

If I were wedge Id be studying his bullpen right now, his job relies on their success this year. If they keep failing he will be gone for sure.

good call re the pieces they have. That is the reason why the Indians "platoon" exists, cause we dont have good enough person to play the position every day we have to rotate players every day in and out of the lineup to make up for their weaknesses- another downfall of the front office not spending on a complete player. Platooning players is something i simply cant stand.

Alright i am out of here...meeting awaits.

Biff said...

You hit the nail on the head Alvaro. The bullpen is obvious, the strikeouts slightly less obvious, and the lack of personality perhaps the most subtle, but yet most important point you make. This team is a bunch of mistake-making robots. I'll exempt Victor from that statement but everybody else just seems like a complete dud on a personal level. Then, you have Wedge, who has yet to say something interesting in 7 years in this town.

The whole this is just . . . boring. And you know what, they Indians better stop being so damn boring because they aren't producing the wins required to get a pass on it. Moreover, the city is starting to go from frustrated to disinterested. As bad as things are right now, think of how bad they'll be in September when the Indians are 20 games out and drawing 3,000 a game.

I honestly don't know how to fix them from a baseball standpoint. I know that they have these young players that all seem poised to be solid players at the major league level and then they NEVER develop. Who was the last young Indians player that you could honestly say made "the leap." Grady? That was years ago, and truthfully, beyond some better power numbers, Grady is still the same strikeout prone undisciplined hitter he was when he came up. Nobody ever gets any better. We have a team chock full of utility infielders and 4th outfielders and our good players rarely seem to make the leap to that "great" level.

As far as I'm concerned, the coaching staff has to take the fall for it. It's their job to make these guys improve and they're not doing it. So, for me, step 1 (and it's the only step I have for now) is to can the entire coaching staff, especially Wedge and Shelton. Then, I think after you've brought in some new blood, you reasses you personnel.