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2009 Cleveland Indians: Still Clinging to the Hope of Five Years Ago

BaseballEvolution.com 2009 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 11, 2009



Serious baseball fans see things nobody else sees. Serious baseball fans think things nobody else thinks. Serious baseball fans find something to like about a team and, no matter what anyone tells them,
Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Kerry Wood RP
Matt Herges RP
Joe Smith RP
Mark DeRosa 3B
Carl Pavano SP
Departed Pos.
C.C. Sabathia SP
Franklin Gutierrez RF
Brendan Donnelly RP
Juan Rincon RP
Sal Fasano C
Scott Elarton SP
they becomes convinced that they see greatness in certain teams at certain times.

The Cleveland Indians have been one of those teams for me for the last five years.

Unfortunately, I am no longer capable of seeing in the Cleveland Indians the same magic that I have seen in them time and time again. Why? Who knows. Maybe it is because Travis Hafner is no longer, and may never have been. Perhaps it is because Jhonny Peralta is too many seasons removed from greatness to still be “My Dawg.” Maybe I am no longer enamored with the Cleveland Indians simply because they left Winter Haven, Florida, one of the most magical places in which I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking in a ballgame, for Arizona this spring. I can say with a certain level of certainty, however, that the Indians seem plagued by two specific factors that threaten to undermine them in 2009. First, for whatever reason, the Cleveland Indians pitching staff seems incapable of maintaining a respectable strikeout to walk ratio. Indians pitchers grant too many free passes and don't do nearly enough to get guys out on their own.

Second, the Indians seem set to make two or three illogical personnel decisions, each based on faulty conventional wisdom, that figure to adversely impact the team in 2009. The decisions to play Ben Francisco over Matt LaPorta, to let Ryan Garko play first base over Victor Martinez, and to put Scott Lewis behind the likes of Carl Pavano, Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers and Anthony Reyes are all bad ones, and seriously hurt the Indians chances this season.

Whatever the reason, excitement for this year’s Indians squad is hard to come by.

2008 Standings - AL Central
Central W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Chicago White Sox 89 74 .546 0 54-28 35-46 811 729 .549 58-54 31-20
Minnesota Twins 88 75 .540 1 53-28 35-47 829 745 .549 59-51 29-24
Cleveland Indians 81 81 .500 7.5 45-36 36-45 805 761 .526 60-58 21-23
Kansas City Royals 75 87 .463 13.5 38-43 37-44 691 781 .444 39-63 36-24
Detroit Tigers 74 88 .457 14.5 40-41 34-47 821 857 .480 48-66 26-22


Nothing is more confusing to me about the Indians than the Catcher and First Base positions. To fill two positions, the Indians have Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, and Ryan Garko. Martinez is coming off an injury year, and is good enough with the bat to justify shifting to first base. Shoppach is coming off his Rod Barajas year, and would seem unlikely to replicate the numbers he put up (21 homeruns, 27 doubles, 123 OPS+ in 110 games) over the course of a full season. And Garko is well on his way to officially falling short of expectations.
Projected Catcher
Victor Martinez
Kelly Shoppach

Last year:
Kelly Shoppach
Victor Martinez



What to do, what to do.

At the end of the day, the decision needs to not be about Shoppach or Martinez but about Garko. If he doesn’t light it up this spring, and I mean big time, the Indians to need to break camp with Martinez at first, Shoppach behind the plate, and Garko learning how to play outfield so he can be of use off the bench.

Projected First Base
Ryan Garko
Victor Martinez

Last year:
Ryan Garko

Okay, time for me to say something nice about Ryan Garko – he really had a very strong second half in 2008. He went .319/.387/.480/.868 after really sucking for the first half. Unfortunately for Garko, the Indians cannot afford to waste the lineup spot at first base for 90 games in 2009.

Speaking of delightful second halves, Asdrubal Cabrera went .320/.398/.464/.862 at Second Base after starting the season in Angel Berroa territory. Cabrera is still painfully young – 23 years old – and it would be shocking to see this guy turn in a full season of high-level hitting.
Projected Second Base
Asdrubal Cabrera
Jamey Carroll

Last year:
Asdrubal Cabrera
Jamey Carroll

However, that isn’t what the Indians need. What the Indians really need from Cabrera is for him to keep his on-base percentage over .300 and continue to field his position at or above a league average performance so that the dreadful Josh Barfield does not return to the lineup. Barfield is a void on both sides of the ball, and cannot be allowed onto the field.

Dear Andy Marte,

For the last four years, Major League Baseball teams have been attempting to give you a job somewhere at the major league level playing third base. However, you have failed to make the most of the opportunity. No one expected you to supplant Chipper Jones when you were 21 years old, but being held back by Casey
Projected Third Base
Mark DeRosa

Last year:
Casey Blake
Andy Marte

Blake for the last three years in Cleveland has been embarrassing. Now, at the age of 25, the only obstacle standing in your way is Mark DeRosa, an aging and overrated hitter who will be a buster in Cleveland. This was your chance.

It is inconceivable that you couldn't get your on-base percentage in the neighborhood of .300 so that the Indians could pencil you into the eighth spot in the lineup everyday. Do you think you could hire someone to teach you to hit before your next stop?

Thanks a bunch.

Sincerely,

The Baseball World.

Indians Team Capsule

04/08/10: Fausto or Famine - Last night, Fausto Carmona pitched six innings, giving up one hit and getting the win. That one hit, however, was a homerun, and he also gave up three earned runs by walking six batters and striking out only one.

True or False: If Fausto Carmona continues to walk a batter per inning and give up a homerun every six innings, he will continue to win games. --ABC

Its Now or Never
Travis Hafner
Speak now or become part of Cleveland lore.
I Dare You To Do It Again
Cliff Lee


Projected Shortstop
Jhonny Peralta

Last year:
Jhonny Peralta

I wish that I had written more about Jhonny “Jah-Honny” Peralta over the last few years. For a long time I considered creating a “That’s My Dawg!” Award based on his 2005 season. The impetus behind the award was going to be this phenomenon which occurred every time I looked at his stats for that year – I would involuntarily smile widely and shout “That’s My Dawg!” In his first full season, Peralta was really incredible that year – 24 homeruns, 137 OPS+, .292/.366/.520. The problem is, he hasn’t come anywhere near that level of performance since, which saddens me.

Peralta has now settled into the type of guy that is a good hitter for his position, but an overrated hitter, and good fielder for his position, but not elite. He isn’t Jeter with the bat or Vizquel with the glove, but several teams in baseball wish they had a guy like him at Shortstop.

What would it take for Grady Sizemore to become this era’s Rickey Henderson?

Sizemore is the lynchpin of Cleveland’s Outfield; an excellent defensive centerfielder who makes the job easier for his corner guys, he is nevertheless at best the fifth best in the game (Adam Jones, Carlos Gomez, Chris Young, Aaron Rowand).
Projected Outfield
Grady Sizemore
Ben Francisco
Shin-Soo Choo

Last year:
Grady Sizemore
Franklin Gutierrez
Ben Francisco
Shin-Soo Choo
Dave Dellucci

However, of the top five defenders, he is easily the best offensive player on the list. He is also one of the top leadoff hitters in the game, and his 30/30 season and 40/40 potential, his defense, his extra-base power, and his run scoring ability are all things to be envied.

However, here is the key for Grady Sizemore: in 2008, he went .268/.374/.502/.876. If he could get his batting average up 20 points, he could potentially see his on-base percentage hit .400, his slugging percentage could approach .550, and he would become one of the most lethal offensive players in baseball.

The Indians currently have Ben Francisco slated to play left field, which strikes me an odd overrating of Francisco’s talent given that it means Matt LaPorta would start the season in Triple-A. LaPorta’s minor league numbers (.285/.382/.577/.959) stomp Francisco’s (.291/.355/.459/.814), and it would appear the two are in different leagues. Unfortunately for the Indians, that might mean major leagues versus minor leagues come April.

Indians Fun Fact
The last time the Indians traded away their ace for prospects, they got Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips in exchange for Bartolo Colon.
Shin-Soo Choo is an interesting player. He had an outstanding 94 games with the Tribe in 2008, but his numbers were far better (14 homeruns, 28 doubles, .309/.397/.549, 146 OPS+) than any he's ever put up in the minor leagues. In just 94 games, he had almost as many adjusted batting runs (22.7) as Sizemore did in 157 games (26.8). If he can do in 2009 what he did in 2008, he will be an All-Star and amongst the best players in the league. The problem is, that isn't who Choo is.


Travis Hafner
The Indians currently have Ben Francisco slated to play left field, which strikes me an odd overrating of Francisco’s talent given that it means Matt LaPorta would start the season in Triple-A. LaPorta’s minor league numbers (.285/.382/.577/.959) stomp Francisco’s (.291/.355/.459/.814), and it would appear the two are in different leagues. Unfortunately for the Indians, that might mean major leagues versus minor leagues come April.

How bad must Travis Hafner be at playing defense? I don't know, but this is a guy who gets benched in inter-league games because his bat - amongst the best in baseball - is not worth having if you have to suffer him in the field. If he can't play Designated Hitter, he apparently can't play at all.
Projected DH
Travis Hafner

Last year:
Travis Hafner
Dave Dellucci
Ryan Garko



Hafner is an odd player, because his personal success does not always seem to equate to Cleveland's overall success. He was excellent in 2005, when the Indians nearly won the AL Central, but he was way better in 2006, when the Indians laid an egg. In 2007, he had an awful year and the Indians won the division. You'd rather have Hafner healthy and on his A-game than hurt, but I am not convinced that he is as vital to the team's fortunes as Martinez or Sizemore may be.

And that hurts me to say, because I love me some Travis Hafner.

Projected Rotation
Cliff Lee
Fausto Carmona
Carl Pavano
Anthony Reyes
Aaron Laffey
David Huff
Jeremy Sowers
Zach Jackson

Last year:
Cliff Lee
Fausto Carmona
Carl Pavano
Anthony Reyes
Aaron Laffey
C.C. Sabathia
Jeremy Sowers
Zach Jackson

Has there been a more enigmatic Starting Pitching staff than the Cleveland Indians of the last few years? The performances that this staff continue to turn in baffle the mind. In 2006, C.C. Sabathia was a very good pitcher, Cliff Lee was barely average, and Fausto Carmona when 1-10 with a 5.42 ERA and could barely strike out more than he walked. Then, in 2007 and 2008, these three guys turn in four of the most dominant seasons we seen in baseball during that span.

Before discussing Sabathia and Lee, I would like to provide the following collection of things I've said about Carmona in the last 24 months:

In my 2008 Indians preview, Carmona was my "Disappointment Candidate," and I said: "Beat guys up with crafty but not dominant stuff. 19 wins could be an illusion."

In that same preview, I said "I am not yet a Carmona believer. His low walk/homerun/strikeout style is worrisome, and makes me wonder how long it will take American League hitters to figure him out."

In my 2008 Season Predictions, Carmona was my American League Disappointment Candidate.

On July 30, 2007, I said "I went on the record a while ago on two topics: a) Fausto Carmona is not the real deal . . . "

On May 14, 2007, I said "You heard it here first - Carmona is not the real deal."

How cool am I, right? Let's play a game called "what to believe?" In the last three years (2006-2007-2008), Carmona's ERA has gone (5.42-3.06-5.44); his ERA+ (83-151-82); his K/BB ratio (1.87-2.25-0.83); and his H/IP (1.19-0.92-1.05). I am not sure why the stars aligned for Carmona in 2007, but that pitcher is not who he is. While he probably won't walk 12 more guys than he strikes out again like he did in 2008, he is, at best, a Jon Garland type pitcher and, at worst, a Zack Duke replica.

So this is the part where I completely ignore the fact that Cliff Lee has had the same type of career roller coaster as Carmona, but argue that Lee is for real. Kind of. Obviously - and I mean obviously, as in there is no doubt -

Cliff Lee
Cliff Lee's ERA in 2009 will be a lot closer to his career average of 4.15 than to the 2.54 he put up last season. And I would expect him to give up closer to the 20-30 homeruns that he has in each of his full seasons than the 12 he gave up last year. But Lee also has done things consistently well the throughout his career - his K/BB ratio has consistently been over 2:1, even not counting his 170/34 masterpiece last year; he's now pitched over 200 innings three times in four years; and he keeps his walks down.

Okay, how about a Cliff Lee/Fausto Carmona prediction:
Cliff Lee: 17-10, 201 IP, 21 homeruns, 49 BB, 165 K, 3.78 ERA.
Fausto Carmona: 8-11, 145 IP, 12 homeruns, 58 BB, 73 K, 4.95 ERA.

Were the Indians right to get rid of C.C. Sabathia? I think the answer to that is yes. Sabathia is currently 38th on the active list in innings pitched with 1659.0, but he is just 28 years old. Of active pitchers with over 1200 innings pitched, only Jake Peavy, Carlos Zambrano, and C.C. Sabathia are still in their twenties. In my opinion, when you are a middle-of-the-market team, you don't want to be bidding against the New York Yankees to keep a potentially overworked pitcher. Plus, by trading him away the Indians got some return as well.

Would it be nice to still have C.C. Sabathia? Oh yes.

After Lee and Carmona, the Indians have a veritable "Where Are They Now? of this decade's highly touted prospects and potential All-Stars. The interesting thing about this crew is that they have nearly unanimously failed to meet expectations set for them, but with the Indians, you never know when one of them is going to be the next Lee or Carmona. But despite having Carl Pavano, Anthony Reyes, Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, and Zach Jackson, the best of the bunch may be the guy who will be in Columbus to start the season, Scott Lewis. Lewis looks like the one bona fide player out of all of these guys - K/BB in the minors well over 4:1; K/IP almost 1:1; ERA in the twos; very low hits allowed. In his four-game debut in 2008, he rocked a 169 ERA+ and a 4-0 record.
Projected Bullpen
Kerry Wood
Jensen Lewis
Masahide Kobayashi
Joe Smith
Adam Miller
Rich Rundles

Last year:
Jensen Lewis
Rafael Betancourt
Rafael Perez

Plus, of the seven earned runs against him, four came on homers, which is out of character for a guy who gave up 22 homeruns in 366.2 minor league innings. He also gets guys out with stuff - his fastball tops out at 91 MPH but he has a nasty curve and changeup.

If the Indians break camp with Pavano and Sowers in their rotation and Lewis in the minors, I don't know what to tell them.

In theory, Lewis could be part of the Indians' Bullpen to start the season, which would benefit this crew that had the second worst bullpen ERA in the majors last season. The Indians have revamped their relievers, bringing in Kerry Wood, Joe Smith, and Adam Miller to add some, well, talent to the group. Bounce-back seasons from Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez would take this crew from horrible to potentially lethal overnight.

Outlook for the Season

The Cleveland Indians have been one of baseball's most inconsistent teams under manager Eric Wedge. Since 2003, the Tribe has won 68, 80, 93, 78, 96, and 81 games each year with largely the same lineup. If every player on this team were healthy and matched their career-best numbers, the Indians would probably win 120 games. Conversely, if player on the team went worst-case-scenerio, they could fall into last place with a bullet.

I am trying to say that there are no givens on this very talented team, except perhaps save one: if Wedge's crew can get it done this year, many of these guys may not be back.


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