One of the early season surprises for the Cleveland Indians is their propensity for taking walks.
In fact, Tribe hitters have taken 21 more walks than any other team in the American League, a key reason they are 3rd in the league in on base percentage, despite ranking 9th in batting average.
The base on balls has definitely been a key component of their offense so far in 2012.
Unfortunately, it has worked both way for the Indians, as their pitching staff has allowed the second most free passes in the AL.
What makes it worse is that Cleveland pitchers also rank 12th in the junior circuit in striking out hitters, which gives them the worst strikeout to walk ratio in the league.
And the main culprits in dishing out bases on balls are the starting pitchers. The relievers are generally doing a good job.
The most obvious bad thing about the walks is that it puts a runner on base. Of course, there are times that it is a strategic move, but mostly it allows a hitter to reach base without having to swing the bat.
The hidden problem with the walks is that it requires hurlers to throw more pitches, which runs up pitch counts, and doesn’t allow them to get deeper into games.
This puts more of a burden on the bullpen, which has thrown the 4th most innings in the league. The Tribe relief corps has been very good, perhaps even the strength of the team, but history tells us than putting a burden on relievers early in the year sometimes comes back to bite a team in the behind.
Check out the strikeout to walk ratio of the Cleveland starters:
Justin Masterson 29K’s/25 BBs
Ubaldo Jimenez 20K’s/25 BBs
Derek Lowe 10K’s/12 BBs
Josh Tomlin 27K’s/ 7 BBs
Jeanmar Gomez 15K’s/ 4 BBs
As you can see, it is the veteran pitchers who right now are having problems finding the strike zone.
The only bullpen pitcher having issues with walking hitters is the much maligned Dan Wheeler, who has walked five against just two strikeouts.
Granted, the Indians don’t have a lot of strikeout pitchers in the starting rotation. Masterson and Lowe are sinkerballers, and Tomlin usually gets the job done by getting ahead in the count and expanding the strike zone.
He doesn’t have typical swing and miss stuff despite ranking second among the starters in strikeouts.
Jimenez is most definitely a power pitcher, and Gomez’ new found slider is developing into a swing and miss offering.
Acta and pitching coach Scott Radinsky both stress the importance in getting ahead in the count. Other baseball experts will tell you the best pitch in the game is strike one. Right now, some of the Tribe starters are having a problem throwing that pitch.
There is no doubt that Acta is concerned about the wear and tear on his bullpen. He kept Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano out of Monday’s doubleheader, and he said Pestano wasn’t available last night.
Those two and sidearmer Joe Smith have been in too large of a percentage of the Indians’ games.
A lot of that is because the Tribe plays a lot of close games, and those three are the skipper’s most reliable guys, although rookie Nick Hagadone is starting to earn Acta’s trust.
However, any success the Indians will have this season is predicated on the starters giving the team innings, and they can stay in games longer if they throw strikes.
As much as taking walks helps the Cleveland Indians, giving up too many has to be a concern.