Two Players Away?

July 25, 2013

As the Trade Deadline draws closer, everyone has their own opinions on what the Tribe needs to do to legitimately improve this ballclub. Right now I claim that the Indians are two pieces away from being a legitimate playoff-caliber team.  Unfortunately, the two pieces that I’m talking about are pretty big.  In my opinion we need a legitimate cleanup hitter and an ace to pair alongside of Masterson.  I know that I might sound like Captain Obvious with this claim, and I know that this seems like a claim that every average baseball fan makes in regards to their team during the Trade Deadline.  I mean, what team isn’t looking for a big bat and a front of the line starter to add to their squad?  It’s pretty obvious these two pieces make every team better.

However, that’s not completely what I’m saying.  I’m not just saying we need these two pieces to make us better…I’m saying these two pieces are all we need to be a team that can genuinely be regarded as one of the top teams in this league.  Let’s be real here, Detroit clearly showed they were the superior team during the Tribe’s 4-game series against the Tigers earlier this month.  We have a record of 10-20 against the Eastern Division.  We’re simply not there yet…we’re on the right path, but we’re nowhere close to being an elite team.  A big bat and a front of the line starter will make us an elite team…I really do believe that.

I have compiled a list the top RBI guys and front-line starters for every championship team since 2000.  I defined top RBI guys as players with 90+ RBI, and I defined front-line starters as pitchers with 200+ IP with ERAs under 4.00.  Obviously a few players right on the verge of my cut-off points are excluded (Manny Ramirez, 2007), as well as young players who might not have played a full season (Josh Beckett, 2003) and players that missed a significant part of the season due to injury, but these players only work in favor of the point I’m trying to make anyways.  Take a look at what I found:


2012 Giants-

RBI Guys: Buster Posey (103 RBI)

Front-Line Starters: Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner


2011 Cardinals-

RBI Guys: Albert Pujols (99 RBI), Lance Berkman (94 RBI)

Front-Line Starter: Chris Carpenter


2010 Giants-

RBI Guys: None

Front-Line Starter: Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum


2009 Yankees-

RBI Guys: Mark Teixeira (122 RBI), Alex Rodriguez (100 RBI), Hideki Matsui (90 RBI)

Front-Line Starter: CC Sabathia


2008 Phillies-

RBI Guys: Ryan Howard (146 RBI), Chase Utley (104 RBI)

Front-Line Starter: Cole Hamels


2007 Red Sox-

RBI Guys: Mike Lowell (120 RBI), David Ortiz (117 RBI)

Front-Line Starter: Josh Beckett


2006 Cardinals-

RBI Guys: Albert Pujols (137 RBI), Scott Rolen (95 RBI)

Front-Line Starter: Chris Carpenter


2005 White Sox-

RBI Guys: Paul Konerko (100 RBI)

Front-Line Starters: Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras


2004 Red Sox-

RBI Guys: David Ortiz (139 RBI), Manny Ramirez (130 RBI), Johnny Damon (94 RBI)

Front-Line Starters: Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez



2003 Marlins-

RBI Guys: Mike Lowell (105 RBI), Juan Encarnación (94 RBI), Derrek Lee (92 RBI)

Front-Line Starters: None


2002 Angels-

RBI Guys: Garret Anderson (123 RBI), Troy Glaus (111 RBI)

Front-Line Starters: Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn


2001 Diamondbacks-

RBI Guys: Luis Gonzalez (142 RBI), Reggie Sanders (90 RBI)

Front-Line Starters: Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson


2000 New York Yankees-

RBI Guys: Bernie Williams (121 RBI), Paul O’Neill (100 RBI), Tino Martinez (91 RBI)

Front-Line Starters: Roger Clemens



I want to point out a couple commonalities among all these teams.  Almost every team has multiple RBI guys, and three that don’t (2012 Giants, 2010 Giants, 2005 White Sox) have multiple front-line starters.  The 2010 Giants team is also the only team with less than 3 key players (by the standards I’ve mentioned) altogether.  The only team without a front-line starter (based on what I defined a front-line starter to be in this case) was the 2003 Marlins.  However, they had three RBI guys and a young Josh Beckett ready to take the postseason by storm to make up for this.

Right now the Indians have one front-line starter in Justin Masterson and one RBI guy in Jason Kipnis.  The back-end of our rotation of Kluber, Kazmir, and McAllister has shattered all expectations placed upon them at the beginning of the season.  However, I’m still not sure any I would consider any of these guys as potential number 1 or 2 guys in a rotation (Kazmir might be the exception if his recent performance is an indicator of what he can do consistently in the future).  The Tribe hoped that Nick Swisher would be a big RBI guy this season as well, but if you look at Swisher’s career stats, he only has two seasons of 90+ RBI in his career.  If they choose to go for a big bat, they need a bigger bat than Swisher (even if Swisher was having a good season).  If the past decade or so has told us anything, we need at least one or the other (a big bat or front-line starter), in order to take the Tribe to the next level.  Trade Deadline deals are awfully difficult to make for players like this without giving up an excessive amount of talent.  It might be more reasonable and wise to wait until the offseason, unless something incredible falls into Antonetti’s lap before July 31st.


  • Drew says:

    Disagree. Starting pitching is not the problem. Each guy in the rotation is capable of a quality start except Ubaldo but for the IP side instead of the runs allowed. The Indians bullpen has 8 guys of which only 2 guys can be counted on. Why the Indians did not attend Brian Wilson’s audition is ludicrous! This team would have 60 wins right now with a better bullpen.

  • Sean Porter says:

    I can’t believe I’m saying this (as someone who had serious worries about this rotation before the season started) but I agree with Drew – I’d rather have a stud in the bullpen. Masterson, Kluber and Kazmir have shown that they can be counted on, and one way or another Ubaldo at the least is a very solid 5th starter. McAllister should get better as he shakes off the rust.

    Obviously, I’d take a legit cleanup hitter too. I’m not sure how this problem spot is going to get fixed anytime soon for the Tribe, as there really isn’t an in-shop candidate on the roster or coming up through the minors, and cleanup hitters aren’t cheap via free agency.

  • Ryan Pinheiro says:

    Thanks for the comments guys. I think the point of this post has been misunderstood though. I was not trying to point out ways to merely improve the ballclub. As you guys noted, the Tribe’s bullpen has been a huge disappointment this season, and I certainly agree that Tribe needs to look into upgrading some arms in the pen. However, adding an extra stud to the bullpen is not what is going to take us from being a good team to a great team. Take a look at Detroit, Boston, and Tampa Bay (3 out of the top 4 teams in the AL): Detroit and Boston have had closer/bullpen problems all season long and the majority of Tampa Bay’s bullpen has ERAs over 4.00. While bullpens are certainly important to winning ballclubs, one or two extra solid arms in the bullpen does not take a good team and make it a great team. That was that point of the post…how does the Tribe go from being a good team to a great team that can legitimately compete with the elite teams in this league. As noted in my post, if the past 13 championship ballclubs tell us anything, we are at least an elite power hitter and/or elite starting pitcher short right now, even if we do improve our bullpen.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    Add a Verlander and a Miguel Cabrera to any .500-plus team and you have a championship contender, but that doesn’t really get us anywhere because that type of player is not available to us. In the real world, we’ll be lucky to get a relief pitcher and a league-average bat at the deadline. The aces and cleanup hitters will have to come from within.

    • Swift says:

      Good point. To a great extent it doesn’t matter what we need, it matters what is available and how high is the price (and do we want to give up a lot of our future by selling prospects, for that shot at the present).

      And no, I don’t have the answer to that.

    • Ryan Pinheiro says:

      Obviously players of Verlander and Cabrera’s caliber are not available to anyone. I’m clearly not saying that we need the league’s last Triple Crown winner and last MVP pitcher to compete. Based on statistics from 2012, there were roughly 35 guys in the league that had 90+ RBI, and roughly 30 pitchers with 200+ IP and an ERA under 4.00, with many more right on the cusp. So in total there were 65-70 guys that fit at least one of these two categories. I do agree with you that it’s unlikely we get either or these two types of players at the Trade Deadline without massively overpaying. However, I don’t think it’s out of the question that we make try to land one or two of these caliber of players through trades and/or free agency in the offseason.

  • Andy says:

    We should have only been a player away. Let’s not forget we gave Choo away in the offseason because we knew he wasn’t signing with us after 2013. Put Choo into this lineup and everything changes (and we are likely in first place). Then all we would need is some pen help (which is much easier/cheaper to obtain that frontline starters/cleanup hitters). Sometimes, you have to think about the short term and take risks keeping players.

    • Drew says:

      I think the likelihood that Trevor Bauer can produce at the MLB level is much higher than the likelihood that Choo signs an extension with the Indians. But I’d be delusional in telling you that Stubbs’ defense is so superior to Choo’s that it offsets the offensive inferiority. However, much of Choo’s value comes from his lead-off abilities. If you don’t make that trade and Choo is RF and Bourne is in CF, who bats 1st? I guess that’s a first world problem.

  • Michael says:

    I think that studying who had 100 RBIs on each team is entirely the wrong way to go about this. We don’t need “someone who drives runs in,” we just need a solid team. Having a good team creates opportunities for RBIs, you don’t just have a guy who goes out there and creates them where there aren’t chances for RBIs.

    • Ryan Pinheiro says:

      The Indians clearly have a team that creates opportunities for RBIs. How else is Jason Kipnis on pace for 100+ RBI this season? He needs more help though. The point of highlighting all the championship teams and showing the RBI guys and top tier starters was to show that we need at least one additional player high caliber player that fits into one of these two categories to legitimately compete. If the past 13 years tell us anything, it’s that we’re one or two high caliber players short right now. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see the Indians defying what has worked for every other championship team over the past 13 years with the team they have right now.

  • Jeremy C says:

    You are basing good teams on RBIs? RBI is one of the worst stats in baseball and is a lot of the times determined by chance (the situation when the batter comes to the plate).

    • Ryan Pinheiro says:

      No Jeremy, I’m basing good teams on teams that WON THE WORLD SERIES. I am simply looking at key components that all these teams have to show that the Indians are lacking an impact player or two based on the commonalities of all these teams. I agree that RBIs can be misleading at times when judging the quality of a hitter, SLG is a much better indicator of a player’s potential for a middle of the order bat (for the record, the vast majority of guys with high RBIs have high SLG simply because they are good hitters). However, it’s not one of the worst stats in baseball if you interpret it correctly. You say that RBI is a lot of times determined by chance, and that’s true to some extent…however it’s not random chance. The “chance” or probability that you talk about when a player comes to the plate has a lot to do with the players hitting in front him. Since Jason Kipnis is on pace for 100+ RBI this season, that means that the players in front of him are doing a good enough job to create a higher probability of RBI situations for the middle of the order. Kipnis is only one taking advantage of these situations at an elite level, and the past decade of history shows us that just one elite middle of the order bat and one front of the rotation starter is not enough to win a championship.

      • David White says:

        “Kipnis is only one taking advantage of these situations at an elite level” – isn’t Michael Brantley batting .370 this year with RISP? The reason the Indians don’t have many RBI hogs is that the hitters who have been batting in traditional RBI producing spots have not been producing (Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Asdrubal Cabrera). The #4 hitter and the #7 could be both hit 70 RBI but would that mean they are equal run producers? No, the #7 would be more efficient due to having less opportunities to driving in runs.

        I’m sure if Brantley and Kipnis were batting 3 and 4 the whole season that they would both be above 60 RBI at this point.

        • Ryan Pinheiro says:

          I admit that my words do not completely convey what I meant. Kipnis is the only one taking advantage of these situations enough to be considered an elite middle of the order hitter. Just because Michael Brantley is batting .370 with RISP does not make him a great middle of the order hitter. Does Michael Borun’s .310 AVG with RISP make him a good middle of the order hitter? Also, in both “Baseball Between the Numbers” and “THE BOOK” it is mathematically proven that “clutch hitting ability” does not truly exist. Clutch hitting is based more on your true ability as a batter rather than some sort of extra “clutch skill”. Brantley is a good hitter, but there’s no doubt in my mind that if he were in the 3 or 4 hole all season, his .370 with RISP would diminish closer to his true ability as a hitter. If you claim that Brantley would be over 60 RBI in if he batter 3rd or 4th all season, then that would put him on pace for around 100 RBI for the season. Tell me the last player to have 100 RBI while slugging under .400 for the season. I respectfully disagree with your claim (I really do mean respectfully though…you’ve made some great points in both of your comments!). This is why a good middle of the order bat would be big for us in my opinion.

  • NHTribeFan says:

    All of you analysts out there, is there any chance that Antonetti pulls off a deal for Cliff Lee with the Phillies (after he shuts down the Tigers tomorrow)?

    I know he’s REALLY expensive, but the Phillies have to be thinking of moving him at this point, don’t they?

    • Ryan Pinheiro says:

      It’s definitely a good thought, but I think that the asking price would be too much for the Tribe to even consider. If you look at the Matt Garza trade, the Rangers had to give up 4 prospects for Garza, who is a free agent at the end of the season. You have to imagine that Lee’s price would be a lot higher than that since he’s under contract for a couple more seasons, and he is also a better pitcher than Garza. I just don’t think the Tribe has enough to meet the Phillies potential needs, unless they’re maybe willing to give up Lindor (and they’re not). I have heard recent rumors about the Tribe’s interest in Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners, which would be a great addition at a more reasonable price. However, they are just rumors so I don’t know how legitimate/reasonable that actually is. Thanks for the comment!

    • David White says:

      According to an anonymous executive, the Phillies will be buyers this year at the trade deadline.

  • MD says:

    What the Indians need is a little luck, which could come in the form of: 1) a call-up from the minors or role player getting on a hot streak, 2) staying healthy, 3) playing teams at the right times and/or catching a break, 4) having one or more of the opposite happening to the Tigers.

    There is only a 3 game gap right now, so it doesn’t take much. These are more likely to happen than getting lucky on the trade market.

  • David White says:

    I think Corey Kluber has been a legitimate #2 starter for the Indians through the first half of the season. He’s given a consistent 6 innings per start along with a 3.69 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Along with an ELITE 4.21 strikeouts per walk. Just because he isn’t Max Scherzer doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been effective. McAllister is a solid 3, Jimenez a average 4 and Kazmir a solid 5th starter. There doesn’t look to be anything wrong with our rotation, it’s just not as elite as we’d like. However, we knew that going into the season.

    You must remember with the Indians that we have 13 players with more than 22 RBI just 100 games into the year! The Indians have incredible balance throughout their lineup. The need for one or two guys to drive in 100 runs is not necessary for a World Series team as long as the team has balance. Your article proved exactly that.

    Despite this, the Indians do need to acquire a left handed reliever and a middle of the order bat to compete for the World Series. However, I am completely ok if the Indians stand pat at the deadline. If the deal isn’t there, don’t force it. The Indians also might make a trade in August due to the waiver trade deadline being so far extended. Many fans forget that.

    • Ryan Pinheiro says:

      I agree a lot of what you said David. I agree that the Tribe should stand pat at the deadline rather than force the issue and overpay. If you’re content with our offense, ok cool, I get what you’re saying about a balanced lineup (although we both agree a middle of the order bat would help us out a lot). However, I disagree that Corey Kluber can be our legitimate #2 starter (assuming we’re standing pat at the Trade Deadline) if we wish to play and succeed in October. A pitcher that simply gives you a “consistent 6 innings” is not enough to be considered a legit #2 starter on a great team. After tonight’s start Kluber is averaging exactly 6 innings per start. If we were to rank this against all the pitchers I named above, it would easily rank dead last. That doesn’t even rank him in the top 40 pitchers in IP/GS right now. His 1.23 WHIP does not rank him in the top 40 in the MLB either. His .260 BAA doesn’t even crack the top 60. He’s pitched more than 7 innings only 3 times this season. The opposition is batting .300 against Kluber from pitches 91-115 in a game. Compare that to a .238 BAA for Masterson. In my opinion, your #2 needs to be a workhorse and get you deep into games on a consistent basis, and I don’t consider 6 innings deep into a game. I have got a lot of respect for Kluber. He has shattered my expectations of him, and has brought stability to the rotation. However, he’s still got some work to do if we want to consider him our #2 guy and expect to have success in October.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    No way the Indians stand pat, even if it’s just a token move to tell the players they have their back and keep fan interest up. Antonetti went on record tonight saying he’s looking primarily for relief pitching. Can’t argue with that after watching the mafia cough up another big lead tonight. I agree with Ryan that an “RBI guy” is a need for the middle of the order. Watching the Indians the last two years, I see lots of table setters but so few who can drive them in consistently. I guess it really is hard to find that lineup anchor guy. Not sure where he will come from, though. Soriano might have been a good move to make. The Cubs picked up all but 7M of his contract and the Yanks got him for one mid-level pitching prospect. .255 with 17HR would look good at DH for us right now, but not to be. We’re still waiting for that elusive Mark Reynolds hot streak.

  • Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you, However
    I am going through issues with your RSS. I don’t know why I cannot join it. Is there anybody getting the same RSS problems? Anybody who knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanks!!

    • Ryan Pinheiro says:

      Thanks, I appreciate it! I let a couple of the higher-ups know about your RSS issues. If I’m able to find out anything in regards to helping you fix the problems you’ve been having, I’ll let you know ASAP. Thanks for following our site!

    I am really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog.
    Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays.

    • Ryan Pinheiro says:

      Thanks for the compliment, that means a lot to me! As for the layout of the blog, the site was constructed before I start writing here so I am actually unsure whether it was a paid theme or modified. I only control the layout of the actual post itself. I appreciate the comment, and feel free to check back with us anytime!

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