Bryan Shaw – An Objective Concern

Bryan Shaw has been a lightning rod for controversy over many years. He somehow tears at the fabric of even the most ardent Cleveland Indians fan. Bryan’s outings are overall solid with many great and memorable performances. His overall statistics are good, which is the most common defense made on his behalf. Despite this he generates the highest level of anger and harsh commentary of any Indians player. This primarily comes from fans, rarely from the media, and never from the team.

With some help from other contributors to ClevelandWins, we will explore briefly why this might be happening. In contrast to many relievers who receive such disdain, he doesn’t walk a ton of batters as his 21 walks in 76 innings translates to only 2.5 per 9 innings. His ERA of 3.55 is solid but not great. None of this adds up to the raging, fire breathing vitriol piled on Shaw.

On a personal level this negativity seems unfair toward a loyal Indian player who has dynamic stuff and pitched successfully in some high leverage situations. It seems even more unfortunate knowing that Bryan is aware of all this negativity. Knowing how unfair this is on the surface made us want to dig further down and look for reasons. Generally, baseball fans and Indian’s fans in particular are highly supportive of their players.

Under that good pitcher facade lies some ominous stats that might explain the emotional reaction of fans. In spite of his dynamic stuff, in high leverage situations his ball often moves right over the heart of the plate, especially when he pitches inside to right handed hitters. This results in statistics that paint a scary picture for the post-season. We are all aware that Tito supports Shaw 100% and isn’t afraid to pitch him with the game on the line and/or in back to back games.

In those same high leverage situations Shaw has allowed 4 HRs and a .273 BA against in 106 plate appearances. In medium leverage situations he has allowed 0 HRs with a .213 BA against in 87 plate appearances. On only 1 day of rest, his ERA is a whopping 7.2 with a WHIP of 1.525 while allowing 17 runs in 20.1 innings. I suspect that these types of issues are what scare fans when Shaw enters the game.

I love Tito but I would strongly advise based on these facts to put Shaw on a short leash in high leverage situations and never pitch him in back to back nights in the playoffs. Will Tito listen to me … hardly. Should he … I think so.

Great Game !! Now #Indians Must Follow Through

It was certainly great to see the Indians club the Tigers last night !! It is a game we all have been waiting for. We know the Indians are not a juggernaut offensive team. That is OK. They only have to be a solid and above average offensive team to win games and have at least a fighting chance to draw fans. The potential is there in this team to become better than average with some pop in their lineup. However, I have not seen it yet and never saw it last year. Combine that with a distinctly awful defensive team and you get a boring team that over relies on it’s starting pitching and can’t win consistently without a solid bullpen.

I know this sounds distinctly negative to those who, like myself, want the Tribe to come alive and be a contender this year and beyond. But I think the reality is clear. As of now, none of that seems possible without a true transformation of this team’s emotional and talent make up.

The question that burns underneath all of this is whether or not the Indians have the ability from within to make this happen. I have not given up on that possibility and am hopeful.  But we need to understand that a grim reality might present going forward that forces a break-up and revamping of this team’s talent structure. Since we have invested so much money signing our young talent to longer term contracts, this would be a stark reality indeed and I hope it doesn’t come to that.

That brings us back to the game last night. If that game is a reflection of last year’s team and there is no follow through, we are looking at a pattern of huge numbers of games scoring three runs or less. That is the key to the 2015 Indians!!!! They must reduce dramatically the number or games they score three runs or less. So far, it is half our games over more than one year (or close to that). The Cleveland Indians must break that pattern.

Another pattern they must break is being the sorriest defensive team in the league. It is not just their number of errors. It is the number of balls Chisenhall, Ramirez, Kipnis, Santana, Murphy, Aviles and Moss don’t get to because of inferior quickness/range/speed. The best of that bunch range wise is probably Santana, what does that tell you?

Fangraphs recently had a nice article from Mike Pitriello, who outlined this “Different Kind of Problem” with the Indians defense. It is worth a read. Where we actually disagree quite a bit is on Ramirez’s SS defense. He might be our best defender, but there are many balls this year that he should have knocked down and/or made plays and he couldn’t.

That is why we need to consider a quicker call up for Francisco Lindor! Not because he will hit so much better than Ramirez. Current averages seem to indicate neither player is hitting. But he has superior range and hands. Plus, when he does hit it, he has superior pop in his bat. That will help with the less than stellar range around him. Ramirez is a superior second baseman to Kipnis as well but that is another discussion for another day. I am still rooting for Kipnis. I know all about the service time argument and I say that is irrelevant if we let this year’s team slip away from inaction. Another thing to consider, one great defensive player (and Lindor may or may not be that guy) makes the other players around him better. Just ask anyone who played with Omar.

The reason all of this seemingly negative talk is so critically important is that our starting pitching is developing into a potentially generational group. By that I mean these guys can become 4 ACES in a staff!! How often does that happen?? Almost never in the history of baseball. And, when it happens, it is generationally great. Plus, two are locked up longer term and the others will still be around for many years. Maybe they will lock them up as well going forward.

That is the vision Antonetti and Shapiro had going into all this. That is why they signed Gavin Floyd even though they knew it was a risk. That is why they signed Kluber and Carrasco. They optimistically looked at Floyd as a top notch fifth starter and a glue for these young guys. That gamble failed. But the game is not over. Veteran starters can be acquired at times without mortgaging the farm system. We will see. Clearly though, at least for now, House has been a disappointment.

Our bullpen is shaky right now but I think it can improve as the season progresses. I have finally seen progression for Nick Hagadone. I think Shaw will come around. I am almost certain Allen will be OK. Atchison has been amazing. Others have been inconsistent thus far but I think the group will come together going forward.

So, with the base of starting pitching the Indians have and the potential for another solid bullpen, they MUST find a way to get consistent offense and defense on the field night in and night out. Painful losses from costly errors and repeated failed hitting opportunities drains the starters and the bullpen. These guys are, on balance, very young. To drain them with such shoddy performances around them will eventually allow the crack in the dam to break open and it all falls apart.

Even though I don’t necessarily know how to achieve it, I know what the Indians must do. Dramatically reduce the games where they score three runs or less and pick the darn ball and throw people out!! If this can happen and there is follow through on last night’s game both offensively and defensively, the Indians can go on a monster roll and get right back into this race in a hurry. If they revert to last year, the final result will be worse than 2014. Remember, don’t be fooled by total runs scored!! Look for a reduction of games with 3 runs or less.

GO TRIBE !!!!!

An open letter to Cleveland Indians Fans

An Open Letter to Tribe Fans

May 20, 2013

Dear Indians Fan,

Hey our team is in first place! I know what you are thinking, “We’ve done this the past two years and have fallen flat on our faces. It is just going to happen again. I’ll wait until August and September to see if they can keep it up.” Well, what if I could convince you that this isn’t a mirage and that the team will stay this competitive for the rest of the year. Would you catch the Indian Fever now and get down to the ballpark for this series with the Motor City Kitties? I’ll do my best!

The biggest strength of this club is the offense. “What?!? I thought our bullpen was our best asset!” I love our bullpen, but after watching 40 games I’m on board with this offense. Yes, they strike out a lot, but they also walk a ton. They are top ten in both categories. (10th in Ks and 8th in walks). They are #1 in OPS, 7th in AVG, and 2nd in HR. Why the offensive explosion? The lineup is full of guys who have been there and done that. In the past we were always hoping that guys would live up to their potential. This group has a track record, we know what to expect from them and they have expectations for themselves. Instead of the pressure of trying to make a name for themselves, they just go out and play the game. Also, the lineup is versatile. It has more interchangeable parts than this guy. Michael Brantley has hit just about everywhere in the lineup. Aviles has played all over the diamond. While Giambi is hitting .188 he has 12 RBI in 48 AB. Swisher was brought in to play first and filled in out in right field when Bourn went down. They have dealt with injuries beautifully and have continued to build continuity.

The question mark is and always has been starting pitching. It seems to me that this coaching staff has done outstanding work building this group up and working out some of the kinks. Ubaldo has been very good for the past 3 weeks. He has stayed in control of his mechanics and is PITCHING instead of throwing. (The rose must be in the front.) Masterson looks, sounds and has been pitching like a true ace. McAllister is developing a pitch (split/change) at the Major League level and has looked darn good doing it. Kluber struggled against the Tigers but so do most fifth starters. Kazmir other than his hiccup today is doing the job we want him to do. Now the biggest question is “Will this hold up?” I say it does. The bullpen has struggled lately but I will still take it against anyone.  Best part is, it hasn’t cost us a game yet.

“Thanks for the info but you still haven’t sold me on why I should believe.” Ok I’ve been holding this card until the end but it looks like you are forcing my hand.  Terry Francona. That’s it. He is a World Series champion manager. He has been there, done that and know how to get it done.  He does a lot of little things behind the scenes that make the difference in this ball club. He refuses to look ahead. He won’t even throw the media a quote to put in their paper about the upcoming stretch of baseball. He gets his staff to the ballpark early on a getaway day in Philly to set the tone. He never panicked early on when Kipnis and Cabrera were struggling. He hasn’t overreacted to big days from the bench guys and rode their hot streak into the ground. He hasn’t run the same reliever out there no matter what the situation. He has shown trust in his players and I think after this stretch it is time to trust our team!

There are a ton of reasons to stay home. This, cheaper food and also this are great reasons. But come on, for one night get down to the park, stand and cheer for your team and be a part of the ride. Enjoy the good times while there here and get ready for an Indian Summer!




The Weird World of Cleveland Sports


From my many years of following Cleveland professional sports I could probably write a book about the strangeness of being a fan. Well this is a blog and not a publishing site so I have no intention of writing that book. But with the Browns owner Jimmy Haslam currently scrambling for cover, I found my mind wandering to some of the stranger things. Don’t worry. This is not going to be a replay of the “Drive” or “Fumble” or any other tale of woe for championships lost.

Let’s go back to the earliest days of free agency in baseball. The Indians made one of the biggest splashes, if not the biggest splash, as they signed the young 26 year old Ace pitcher of the Baltimore Orioles, Wayne Garland. In 1976 he was 20-7 with a brilliant 2.67 ERA. The Indians signed him and he pitched all year in 1977 ending up with a 13-19 record and a respectable 3.60 ERA. But he didn’t look right and he wasn’t. The Indians signed him to the richest contract in the history of baseball and he was injured from that point forward. Pitching until 1981 for the Tribe, he never won more than 6 games and never had an ERA under 4.61. Most ERAs were way over 5 and in the year he was diagnosed with the injury it was 7.89. He NEVER had a winning record for the Indians. That contract stifled the finances of the team for years and probably stopped the team from signing any other worthy top free agents from then on for fear of history repeating itself. I remember how excited I was when the team announced the signing. I remember how mad I was for the next 5 years. Question: Would that have ever happened to the Yankees?

The Cavaliers had the tremendous luck of winning the lottery when LeBron James came out. Sounds great right? Well it was in a way. We had winning teams and went once to the NBA finals. But we still never won a championship. That is not what I find odd. I do find it odd that we hired a coach, Byron Scott, to finally give LeBron the direction he needed. Make no mistake about it, the team never really planned for what happened. From the very start they were convinced James would be back. Scott, like a good soldier, said all the right things. He told all of us he wanted to be here and he did not take the job because of the prospect of coaching James. After the decision, it was clear that the team would have to cave to the bottom in order to have a chance to rise back to the top. And it was clear that they would have to lose for multiple seasons. Well, they accomplished that masterfully and then Scott is fired because of the pathetic team play and poor defense. So he is gone and now the team has to hire another coach. So who is the current top candidate to replace Scott? The very coach they fired to hire Scott and who was fired by another team in between. Wow. Who could have written that story? Now this is not to argue the merits of Mike Brown as a “return” coach. I will do that later. But it is just so strange to contemplate and I doubt there is any similar precedent in the history of the NBA. Question: Do you think the Celtics would follow a similar path?

No one can question the historic importance of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL. They are one of the most iconic franchises and have one of the most widespread and largest fan bases in the league. And yet, they were wrenched from Cleveland with disregard by an owner who couldn’t handle his finances and a league that was happy to oblige in their quest to extort cities into building new stadiums. Cleveland became the example that any team can leave if the city does not comply with the NFL’s need to modernize their stadiums. So we get a new team and the league makes the franchise suffer through a poor franchise deal because some previous new teams had “too much success” early in their existence. They get a new owner who wanted, in some sense, to make amends for his part in the departure of the Browns. He had the means and the determination to bring the Browns back to prominence. Then he died. Then his son inherits the team and doesn’t really want the team and goes through multiple management “groups”, none of which work. He hires a respected football man who was known for his ability to find and develop quarterbacks. He never found a quarterback (not even close) and was fired because the owner decided to sell the team without him having a clue it was happening. The new owner had a squeaky clean history with a successful family business over 50 years old. He comes in. Says all the right things (except for candidly). He is enthusiastic, energetic, and promises to do things the right way. He hires a curmudgeon (check the dictionary) and rehires one of the most distasteful front office types from our past. He leaves the Browns. Goes back to the parent company because he “forgot how much he loved it”. We find out later that the real reason might have been the hint of the coming Armageddon from the FBI. We suspected all along that the reasons were kind of weird when he returned abruptly. And now, instead of focusing as we should on the upcoming draft, we are hearing a Jimmy Haslam press conference every other day. He discusses the trials and tribulations of Pilot Flying J, a company we all could have cared less about 10 months ago and never mentions the Browns. WOW WOW !! Who could have written that script? Oh, and I almost forgot, the team who he LEFT as a part owner was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Question: Would this story have even a ghost of a chance of happening in Pittsburgh?

So, maybe Cleveland isn’t jinxed. Maybe Cleveland isn’t unlucky. But it sure is STRANGE how things happen in Cleveland Sports. As all of you know, there are many more stories I could have covered tonight. At times like this I kind of feel like I am in the Twilight Zone and hope the show will eventually end. It never does. Maybe Cleveland Sports is a combination of Groundhog Day in the Twilight Zone? Can I change the channel?

The Indians Are Worthy Of Our Support

Face It Fans.. Indians ARE better
Face It Fans.. Indians ARE better

Last year at this time the Tribe’s record was better and we all knew our team was poor. That lasted for a long time as the Indians hung on to a lead in the division while our team never was improved by management. This prompted players like Chris Perez to lash out at the fans for not “supporting” the team. What he didn’t realize at the time, but the fans already knew, was that the team was destined to fall. You can’t blame Pure Rage. On the surface, he was 100% correct. The fans were nowhere to be found and the team was in first place. By the end of the season, Perez was as critical of management as he was earlier of the fans. What changed his tune? The simple realization that the Indians front office was hiding in the sand hoping their band aids would work AND the ownership was hiding behind the false assumption that their “pay behind” rather than “pay ahead” strategy would work. Well, we all know the result. The worst August in Cleveland Indians history!

Everyone ripped the ownership and management of the Indians (except those hiding in their warm Tribe blankets hoping the team would magically appear). Scott Boras, one of the most outspoken critics among those willing to speak, made it very clear that the Indians were showing no signs that they wanted to compete. Even after the Terry Francona hire, Bobby D (who I personally think VERY highly of) was still hiding behind the company line that the fans were unfair by criticizing the team so harshly for “one bad month”.

Luckily, Paul and Larry Dolan did not exactly see it that way. Neither did Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti after they really thought about it. They decided that “business as usual” would get them exactly what they got last season, a disaster!! So they set out to change all that. Now we know that they did not plan out each move in advance. Some things just fell to them (Michael Bourn). But, to their credit, they pounced on each opportunity and really helped the team for 2013 and beyond. Every move was intended to plug holes and provide a path forward for the team.

Their first trade was brilliant and I noted so on Twitter at the time. To get Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes for a journeyman reliever that had a good couple of months for us was nothing short of spectacular. Both players will help now and in the future. They got the best manager available. And they addressed EACH weakness of the 2012 team as they went. They also addressed the farm system by strengthening our outfield for many years to come without depending on a farm system void of outfield talent. They added right handed hitters, right handed power, one previously proven starter, a couple of very good relievers, and an aging veteran with power remaining and a coaching future. They strengthened the bench and our depth at AAA. This effort needs to be rewarded!!!! Yes, the Indians are not a perfect team. They have a terrible problem with starting pitching made worse by a brain dead Carlos Carrasco and an arm dead Brett Myers and an emotionally dead Ubaldo Jimenez. But they couldn’t address ALL the holes in one off season. It is very very clear to all and to Antonetti that starting pitching is priority one and signing Brantley and Kipnis is priority two.

So now, it comes back to us!!! The fans MUST step up and support this team which is vastly improved over 2012. Just like we knew the team was milk toast last year and didn’t show up no matter what the record, we need to show up this year despite the early struggles. I asked Indians management and ownership to “pay it forward” for years and the cries fell on deaf ears. We all have. Now they paid forward and we need to pay forward as well. This team has obvious holes, but it should be exciting and will win it’s share of games. With luck, we will challenge for the division title or a wild card playoff birth. If we don’t, at least THIS time we can say we had unfortunate injuries (and we actually have) or that we had bad luck and say it with a straight face.

So, even though I have seen some shoddy baseball for the past couple of weeks, I will support this team. I will believe that “paying forward” by the ownership will pay off in the end. I could be wrong but what the heck. I am a fan after all. And that is not about to change. What do you think?