The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Archive for July, 2006

Bizarro Indians, but not really

Posted by disappointmentzone on 31 July 2006

In the last four games prior to Monday the Indians’ starters have all gone at least seven innings, allowing four runs once (Sabathia), three runs once (Lee), two runs once (Westbrook), and no runs once (Sowers). During this stretch the Indians have scored six runs total, never scoring more than one run in any inning. Yesterday, with the game tied in the top of the ninth, Fuasto Carmona gave up four runs, and the in game before Brain Sikroski gave up a homer in his only inning of relief. So the offense has been very bad, the starting pitching very good, and the bullpen less than stellar.

So what happens in the first game of a three-game series against Boston Monday night? The Indians score eight runs in five innings, posting three runs in two innings (second, fifth) and two runs in one inning (third) to break the vicious one-run inning streak. Casey Blake hits two homers–in the traditional, hit-it-over-the-fences way–and Kelly Shoppach and Travis Hafner each hit RBI doubles. Each time the Indians score it is following an inning in which the Red Sox score, and each time the Indians come back to take the lead.

Paul Byrd, meanwhile, allows two runs in the bottom of the first, two in the second, one in the third, and one in the fourth, yielding three home runs (Ortiz, Manny, Wily Mo) and one triple (Wily Mo). He is relieved by Jason Davis, who promptly strikes out four batters in 2.2 innings. Davis is relieved by Rafael Betancourt, who goes 1.1 innings, preserving the 8-6 lead.

Which brings us to the ninth and Fausto Carmona, who comes on for his first career save opportunity, faces the 9-1-2 hitters of Boston’s lineup, and…records only one out, allowing two of the runners to reach base, one on a walk. The third hitter in Boston’s lineup is David Ortiz. With runners on first and second and the Indians carefully nursing a two-run lead, Ortiz, quite naturally for a man who’s hit 13 homers in July and one already in the game, drives a fastball to deep center field and…game over. Walk off home run. 14 for the month. A new club record.

So the Indians play just well enough not to win, the strengths of the team (hitting) being their previous weaknesses, the weaknesses (starting pitching) being their previous strengths. And the bullpen doing what it always does: almost, but not quite. The Indians lose another winnable game. As much as some things change, others remain the same.

The Indians lose. The Indians lose. ‘Twas ever thus. The Indians lose.

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Deadline passes

Posted by disappointmentzone on 31 July 2006

Full of bluster and innocuous fury the MLB non-waver trade deadline has passed. The Indians have been quite active this trading period. In case you got lost in the whirlwind, here is a quick guide to who’s new, who’s gone, and how we got here.

Gone are Bob Wickman, Ben Broussard, Eduardo Perez, Jason Johnson, and Ronnie Belliard.

New are PTBNL, Asdrubal Cabrera, Maxamiliano Remirez, Shin-Soo Choo, and Hector Luna.

How did we get here?

Johnson was the first to go. He was traded to Boston for a PTBNL. Even if Boston sends Ted Williams’s frozen head it will still hold more promise for future major-league success than Johnson.

Then Eduardo Perez was traded to Seattle for Asdrubal Cabrera and a phonetic guide to curious Latin names. Cabrera is only 20 years old and already playing in AAA Buffalo. He is a whiz in the field and can play both SS and 2B. Plus he’s one of the five youngest players in AAA. Cabrera probably won’t be playing in Cleveland for a couple of years–he has to learn to hit first–but given that he’s only 20 years old that isn’t a problem. Did I mention he’s young?

Following Perez out of town was Wickman, who went to Atlanta for Maxamiliano Ramirez. Ramirez is a single A catcher. Wickman is a veteran closer with only about 30 more innings in his right arm. There is a lot to say about this deal but those last two sentences pretty much sum up everything that can be said.

On Wickman’s heels went Broussard as part of a massive undertaking on Seattle’s behalf to reunite Benuardo for at least the remainder of the season, if not eternity. In return Seattle sent Shin-Soo Choo who, along with Asdrubal and Maxamiliano, complete the rare single-season trifeca of newly-acquired players with unusual names. In his first game as an Indians Choo hit a game-winning home run. He’s also fast and has a strong arm. Don’t listen to Roger Brown quote anonymous NL scouts about Choo being a singles hitter with an average arm. Brown was born unhappy.

Finally we have Belliard, who was traded to the Cardinals in exchange for two-time Indian Hector Luna. Luna is only 26 (or 24…or Danny Almonte) and comes cheap for the next few seasons. Belliard, 31, is old and will command more money as a free agent this offseason than the Indians will be willing to pay him. Luna is entering (slowly? finally?) his prime and, depending on how he is used in combination with Joe Inglett, could contribute positively on offense over the next two months, although Luna’s prime might not be too bright and without the safety of a platoon partner his offensive weaknesses might become more glaring. Defensively he’s an upgrade over Belliard and as such could easily endear himself to fans by playing quality defense and hustling. The Indians already have more than their fair share of quality hitters, but have a poor defense. Luna could do a lot by doing just a little (play defense).

And so we have it. Aaron Boone is still an Indian and rumors of Jake Westbrook’s departure seem to have been greatly exaggerated.

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Players who won’t be Indians next season

Posted by disappointmentzone on 31 July 2006

Sooner or later the Indians front office is going to deal with the 1B situation. In the minors is Ryan Garko, in the majors are Blake and Martinez, who only a few weeks ago was a full time catcher. Garko may not be ready to start at 1B next season, Blake is most valuable to the team as a super utility man (RF, LF, 3B, 1B), and making Martinez a 1B is a risky move given his value as a catcher. This leaves the Indians with making a trade now (highly unlikely) or waiting until this offseason. It should be noted, then, that Sean Casey has been traded to the Tigers. Casey is an above-average fielder with a decent bat. He doesn’t hit for power, though, which is what teams usually want from a 1B. Casey is also old and headed for a lucrative contract this offseason from the first team to over-pay him.

Which won’t be the Indians, fortunately. If there is one good thing to come from Dolan’s tight pockets and Shapiro’s shrewed maneuvering it’s that the Indians don’t sign older, over-priced free agents. Casey just became a little less available. And that’s good for the Indians.

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Post-trade wrap-up

Posted by disappointmentzone on 31 July 2006

Hector Luna is an Indian (again) and Ronnie Belliard is a Cardinal. Judging by local message boards neither fan base is particularly ecstatic to be receiving the player they are. On the Indians side fans are perturbed that all the Indians got in return for Belliard was Hector Luna, a player not in Belliard’s tier, at least not yet, and who hasn’t shown signs that his game will ascend to such heights–even if those heights are only about average to slightly above. Some Indians fans see trading Belliard as a cost-cutting measure. This isn’t an entirely fair take on the trade, however. Belliard is a free agent next season and will command $3.5-$5 per year on the market. He’s 31 so I would expect teams to offer him three-year deals, and whoever offers the fourth year will win the Belliard sweepstakes (a la Kevin Millwood). Belliard, however, is not going to be worth that sort of money. The trajectory of his career is on the crest and will soon beginsd bending down. In three years Belliard won’t be worth the money he’s paid. The Indians won’t pony up to sign him this offseason, and this is reasonable. But not signing Belliard strikes a lot of people as the byproduct of Indians’ owner Larry Dollan’s thriftiness, even if it’s a financially responsible course of action. The true test of this trade becomes whether Luna is worth more than the draft pick compensation the Indians would have received for losing Belliard in the offseason.

People in St. Louis, meanwhile, are no more happy with the trade than people in Cleveland. This might be the most encouraging sign for both sides–that they are equally upset. Cardinals’ fans are upset about losing a cheap, potentially decent player, though, while Cleveland fans are upset that the Indians had to trade Belliard because the team is so bad. But in exchange for 2 months’ service from Belliard, the Indians got a cheap player for the next four years who could turn out to be Belliard-esque. In terms of financial flexibility the Indians made out in the deal, which is another reason for Cardinals’s fans to dislike the deal.

In any event, one St. Louis newspaper columnist didn’t like the trade much, either, although for reasons a tad more complex than “Belliard is a punk-ass.” He sites the similar batting numbers for Luna and Belliard, and that Luna has a higher zone rating (a defensive statistic). Belliard, however, is jumping over the National League, also known as Baseball Lite. He projects to see a bump in his offensive numbers. Luna is coming to the AL, where the pitchers are much tougher. He projects to see his numbers fall.

However, Luna will be teaming with Joe Inglett the rest of the season. Most Indians fans know this to be self-evident, but in case you don’t believe me here the same idea quoted from a MLB.com article:

Luna and fellow utilitymen Joe Inglett and Aaron Boone are all expected to get starts at second base in the season’s waning months.

I doubt Boone will be getting his share of starts at second base. He’ll likely get designated for assignment in August. Which means that Inglett and Luna will join together in the same way way Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard did when they formed the super-1B Benuardo.

If anything positive comes from this trade it’s the new nickname for the Indians super-2B: IgLoo.

UPDATE: One prominent baseball source, Baseball Prospectus, likes how the Indians made out in this trade.

Luna is trending upward, while Belliard seems to be treading water or sliding back. I’ve been advocating for Luna most of this year, and I won’t stop now; he’s going to outplay Belliard over the next two months, take hold of the second-base job in Cleveland and be one of the best 2Bs in the AL in 2007. If Jose Lopez and his .317 OBP can be an All-Star, Luna certainly can make next year’s team.

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Wisdom of crowds

Posted by disappointmentzone on 31 July 2006

James Surowiecki writes the Financial Page column for the New Yorker and is an economist by training. A couple of years ago he wrote a book called The Wisdom of Crowds, the premise of which is that crowds are, on average, quiet smart, oftentimes smarter than any individual or small group of highly intelligent people, and that we (citizens, businesses, governments, etc.) don’t tap into this enormous asset as often as we should. (There is a lot more to say about the book; it’s worth reading)

One of the best aggregators of knowledge is the market. A good example is the Iowa Electronic Market, which often outperforms polling data in national and local elections. (There is a lot to say about the IEM as well) If you want to know who will be President in 2008 you could do a lot worse than follow the IEM market.

But what about sports? There probably is not a deeper collective pool of knowledge in the United States than sports. Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow harness the collective intelligence of the legions of dedicated and knowledgeable sports fans across the country? Well, now there is PROTRADE, an online market for sports. From the About Us page:

PROTRADE uses live market buy/sell activity to establish a predictive market of athletes and has assembled a unique team of MIT statisticians, economists and leading sports figures to develop a patent-pending valuation engine to quantify on-field performance and assess an athlete’s contribution to winning.

I don’t know how long Protrade has been around nor do I know of any research on it. I’m certain there are smarter people than I hard at work figuring out just how accurate Protrade is as a predictive market. If you know of their work please let me know. In any event, SI.com has recently started to run a Protrade “Moneyball Runs” column in which certain MLB players and their respective moneyball salaries are listed. Moneyball salaries are what the player would be paid if salary were tied to current performance. Being linked from SI.com should certainly help funnel people to the site and, in turn, help the Protrade markets become increasingly more accurate. It’s the wisdom of crowds.

To tie this back to Cleveland sports, the most underpaid baseball player is Travis Hafner, whose moneyball salary is a round $20,057,733 against his actual salary of $2.7 million. If you want to pick up Travis Hafner for your portfolio his market price is $108.54 per share. His moneyball price is $120.90. Ronnie Belliard is trading at $16.09 and Hector Luna is trading at $9.87. Though Belliard is worth $6 more than Luna, Belliard’s moneyball price is only $2.10. Belliard is a strong sell, if you can find anyone interested in taking him off your hands. Luna’s moneyball price, meanwhile, is $20.11. He’s a strong buy. Kind of like Microsoft in the mid 1980s. Or so Cleveland Indians fans hope.

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Belliard for Hector Luna

Posted by disappointmentzone on 30 July 2006

Ronnie Belliard has been traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for former Indian Hector Luna. The trade won’t be official until after the Cardinals-Cubs game. According to Mike Catan, reporter for WKNR, Ronnie Belliard, after hearing he was traded, blurted out an unrepeatable profanity and seemed upset. He then said his goodbyes to everyone in the clubhouse.

Hector Luna has been the Cardinals’ Joe Inglett. He’s started 40 games at 2B, 14 at SS, and another 17 in LF. He Joe could very well mesh as an interesting platoon at 2B. Luna bats right-handed and Inglett bats left-handed. Against right-handed pitchers Luna is hitting .310/.355/.431. On the season he’s batting .291/.355/.417. Luna has actually been a Cleveland Indian twice before.

After this season Belliard is a free agent, which means that there is a chance he’ll be back in Cleveland, although the fact that he was traded doesn’t bode well for the prospects of this happening. Belliard projects to be worth about $12-15 million over three years, although he could very well make more than that with the weak corps of free agent 2B.

UPDATE: Here is the story from MLB.com.

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Belliard close to becoming a Cardinal?

Posted by disappointmentzone on 30 July 2006

As a follow up to yesterday’s post about the St. Louis Cardinals being very interested in 2B Ronnie Belliard, today ESPN.com is reporting that the Cardinals are close to acquiring Belliard. The full report is available only to ESPN Insiders, which I am not. UPDATE: Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is now reporting that if Belliard makes it through the game today without hurting himself he will be traded to St. Louis. Rosenthal also mentions that Mota could be involved in the trade as well. I have no idea who St. Louis might send in return for Belliard and Mota. Neither does Rosenthal.

I said yesterday that if Belliard were to go to St. Louis I would expect the Indians to be players in other trades since they would need to acquire a 2B. But Joe Inglett keeps playing and now I think there is a fair chance that the Indians might sit tight and not make any other trades and instead wait until the offseason to sign a free agent 2B, starting Inglett at 2B for the remainder of the season. But waiting until the offseason free agent shakes itself out seems like a potentially risky move with such a lack of quality 2B on the market. If the Indians trade Belliard it means that Shapiro doesn’t think Belliard will sign with the Indians in the offseason and that Shapiro wants to get value for Belliard while he is still under contract. If the Indians trade Belliard it is still possible for them to sign him this offseason. Trading him now could turn out to be more like renting him to St. Louis, assuming Belliard choses to (re)sign with the Indians once the season is over. If Belliard is traded the ideal scenario is that he’s somehow replaced by a young, MLB-ready 2B. The Cardinals have no such player in their organization.

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Interesting fact

Posted by disappointmentzone on 30 July 2006

The Indians have given up 559 runs through the fourth inning of today’s game against Seattle. 203 of those runs have been scored in innings immediately following innings in which the Indians have scored, or just over 36% of the runs the Indians have allowed. Talk about killing momentum. Now, I don’t have the incidence figures–how many times the opposing teams have answered Indians runs with runs of their own–but I think it’s probably reasonable to assume that this happens a fair amount. If anything, it’s happened at least twice: Today the Indians scored one run in the bottom of the third to go ahead 2-1. Then in the top of the fourth the Mariners scored two runs to take a 3-2 lead.

And while I was typing this the Indians scored one run to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth. I wonder what will happen when Seattle comes to bat in the top of the fifth.

UPDATE: The Mariners didn’t score.

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Texas wants Westbook, so do Indians

Posted by disappointmentzone on 30 July 2006

According to the Dallas Morning News Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook has been at the top the Rangers’ want-list in this round of trading, which officially ends in just over 24 hours. The Indians equally covet Westbrook, however, and now it looks as though he will remain with Cleveland, at least for this season.

The Rangers had found no indication that Cleveland was willing to trade Jake Westbrook, who had been at the top of the Rangers’ list.

UPDATE: The Diamondbacks were also interested in Westbrook and had scouts at last night’s game. But the East Valley Tribune is reporting that the Indians don’t seem keen on trading Westbrook.

The D-Backs scouted Jake Westbrook’s start in Cleveland on Saturday but feel certain the Indians will not trade him after what general manager Josh Byrnes called “an uneventful day, all things considered,’’ as the 1 p.m. Monday nonwaiver trade deadline approaches.

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A little funk

Posted by disappointmentzone on 29 July 2006

Another game, another run, another loss. For the third consecutive game the Indians managed to score only one run. Jason Michael’s RBI double in the third ended a team 0-19 hitless streak with runners in scoring position, but the Indians still stranded five runners on base, bringing their three game total to 22 stranded baserunners. Travis Hafner is now batting around .200 since being moved into the three hole and in the last ll games has witnessed his batting average drop from .320 to .297. The team is in an offensive slump, needless to say.

The silver lining tonight was the great defensive plays made by Grady Sizemore and Jason Michaels and the pitching of Jake Westbrook, who went eight innings and only allowed two runs. In the ninth innings Broussard had a little revenge when he hit a homer off of Sikorski. It was Sikorski’s second run allowed in relief this season as an Indian.

Now it’s time for a little fun with numbers.

40 times this season–tonight included–the Indians have allowed three or fewer runs. In those 40 games the Indians have scored an average of 6.025 runs per game, or 241 runs. In 10 of those 40 games the Indians have scored at least 10 runs. Twice they have scored 14 runs; twice 15 runs; thrice 11 runs; twice 10 runs; and once 19 runs. If you remove those 10 games from the sample the Indians average only 3.7 runs per game.

In nine of those 40 games the Indians have failed to score more than two runs. Three of those times the Indians have been shut out.

The Indians have scored a lot of runs this season–555. But a lot of those runs–130–have been in blowout victories. The close games are another story. I’m sure you remember how often the Indians lost one-run games last season, and how the front office spent all offseason figuring out how to avoid losing so many close games. Well, few weeks ago I did a quick analysis of the Indians’ wins and loses and margins of defeat and victory this season. What I found was that this season the Indians were still 1) playing in a lot of one-run games and 2) losing a lot of one-run games. The 1-0 victory over Seattle was the rare game in which the Indians pitching staff did well, the offense did poorly, and the Indians won.

And you thought the game was noteworthy because Sowers pitched his second consecutive complete game shutout and Shin-Soo Choo hit his first MLB home run.

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