No matter what happens the rest of this baseball season, the Cleveland Indians should and probably will do an evaluation of the organization and what works and more specifically, what doesn’t work.
Certainly, a lot has gone right for the Tribe, who is surprisingly still in contention as we head to the beginning of September. No one thought that would be the case at the start of this season.
That’s not an excuse for not making the post-season. The team was 15 games over .500 at one point in time, and since then has struggled mightily.
The organization needs to focus on why the ballclub went through a difficult time over the last 100 games.
The Indian organization has embraced the “statistic oriented” analysis of the sport over the past several years, and there is a lot of good stuff involved with doing that.
The importance of on base percentage and slugging percentage is a good thing. Understanding that a hitter with a low batting average can be a good offensive player by drawing walks (Carlos Santana) is invaluable.
One thing that is de-emphasized by the so-called “seamheads” is the strikeout. They will say that a whiff is just another out, the same as a fly ball or ground ball, and better than a double play.
However, the Cleveland Indians strikeout way too much, particularly when you factor in that they are not a real power hitting bunch.
Old baseball experts will say you can live with players who strikeout 140 times if they hit 35 home runs. The Tribe doesn’t have players like that.
The Indians top two home run hitters (Asdrubal Cabrera and Santana) lead the team in striking out, but the hitters who rank 3-4-5 in fanning have hit a total of 26 round trippers (La Porta: 11, Choo: 8, Brantley: 7).
Overall, the Tribe ranks 10th in the league in home runs and slugging, but lead the league in striking out.
Last year, Arizona lead the National League in whiffs and finished eighth in the NL in runs scored. This year, they ranks 4th and have improved in scoring as well.
They made a conscious effort to get rid of some guys who strike out a lot, such as Mark Reynolds, now with Baltimore.
That’s one reason that Tampa Bay OF B.J. Upton isn’t a good fit here, even though he’s a right-handed bat. He ranks 5th in the AL in striking out and is hitting .224 with a 701 OPS.
A player we do like is Oakland OF Josh Willingham, who is 6th in the junior circuit in striking out. However, Willingham has hit 23 HR’s and has an OPS of 809.
That’s a good trade-off for the lack of contact.
The other thing that needs to be looked at is the conditioning program. There have been too many pulled muscle, especially obliques, this season.
Travis Hafner, Choo, and Jason Kipnis have all missed time with this injury, and those three players are critical to the offense.
The front office also needs to make tough decisions on the players who seem to be chronically injured.
An injury here and there isn’t a concern, but guys who are hurt all the time are not reliable.
The Tribe has two such players, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, who fall into this category, and who are making a boatload of money.
Also, their injuries are different from those of Choo, who broke his thumb as a result of getting hit by a pitch.
Even with a middle of the road payroll, you can’t have two of your highest paid players unable to get into games on a regular basis.
If the Indians are going to make a run the next two or three years, these things need to be addressed. Hopefully, the executives at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario are thinking the same way.