It’s All Going Wrong!

August 30, 2013

SSDD: Same Script, Different Day.

Here’s your recap: an Indians starter pitched well (today, Ubaldo Jimenez), but made one mistake (today, a 3-run home run to Brian McCann), and the inept Indians offense couldn’t muster much of anything (0 hits with RISP, with the lone run coming off a solo home run by Lonnie Chisenhall) and the Indians lost in Atlanta again.

The Tribe scored 3 runs in this entire series, and never really threatened to score more.

The Indians now head to Detroit, essentially with the season on the line.

That’s your recap, basically. But I have a lot more space, so let’s talk about this inept offense, and why it is so inept, shall we?

To start off, let’s do a little player comparison:

Player A: .240 AVG / .310 OBP / .373 SLG / 15:1 SB:CS / .683 OPS / 9 HR / 41 RBI
Player B: .268 AVG / .320 OBP / .355 SLG / 19:10 SB:CS / .676 OPS / 5 HR / 38 RBI

Player A is Drew Stubbs, someone who I think is a great and reasonably priced 9-hitter who can sometimes do great things in the field and who has tremendous speed.

Player B? That’s Michael Bourn, the high-priced ($12m a year for four years) free agent lead-off man that has quietly been one of the biggest busts in the American League. At this point he’s not even outperforming Drew Stubbs, an admittedly flawed player who I happen to love for his underdog status, and it’s not really particularly close.

Unfortunately, I can’t even make a case that this is a down year for Bourn, as his career stat line is .271/.336/.374. He’s also 30 years old, which means it’s quite possible his diminished speed (19 steals is bad enough, but the 10 caught stealing to go with it is downright abominable) is here to stay. Yes, Bourn is only one season removed from stealing 42 bases for the same Atlanta Braves that just swept the Indians, but he’s done nothing to suggest he has that kind of base stealing ability here in Cleveland. For all the talk about Nick Swisher being a bust (more on him in a minute), I haven’t heard one significant peep about Bourn, and I haven’t seen anyone else point out the more important point: In 2013, he’s been a worse hitter than Drew Stubbs. That’s bad.

Also, despite his diminished stat line, his .346 BABIP in 2013 is virtually identical to his career BABIP of .343. Yikes.

Now, let’s talk about Nick Swisher, who has occupied the #2 spot in Terry Francona’s lineup for roughly the entire second half of the season. In the first half, Nick Swisher’s .242/.352/.398 stat line was apparently unacceptable for the clean-up spot, so he was moved up in the lineup. This left the Indians without a suitable clean-up hitter (Asdrubal’s stint in the 4-hole was the stuff nightmares are made of, and Carlos Santana takes batting cleanup as an invitation to swing as hard and as long as possible), and it’s had a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup.

Oh, and #2 hitter Nick Swisher is hitting .242/.314/.405 in that role, so that experiment has kind of been an abject failure. When Swisher bats with the bases empty, he doesn’t take as many walks (because pitchers aren’t nearly as careful with him), and so Jason Kipnis often bats with 2 outs and nobody on. In essence, moving Swisher up in the lineup has created a vacuum for the team; when the Indians do get runners on base, it falls upon the shoulders of the weaker hitters in the lineup to drive runs in. Surprise, surprise, this has been a terrible recipe. In the first half, the Indians posted a .330 team OBP and a .748 team OPS. Since Swisher moved up, those numbers are .308 and .681, respectively.

Let me put those second-half numbers in context for you: at the time of his designation, Mark Reynolds posted a .307 OBP  and a .680 OPS with the Indians. In other words, the Indians have collectively produced like Mark Reynolds since the All-Star Break. If that doesn’t send chills down your spine, I don’t know what will.

Also, I think Asdrubal Cabrera is broken, and perhaps permanently. When he was mired in the cleanup spot, I joked on Twitter that Terry Francona was trying to sabotage Cabrera’s career and/or break his spirit. Joking aside, it may have worked; since the All-Star Break, Cabrera has a .255 OBP and an OPS of merely .584. For reference, that number would make Cabrera the third-worst regular position player in all of baseball measured by OPS. Somewhat ironically, it would also make him the third-worst regular shortstop in baseball by OPS (Miami’s Adeiny Hechavarria (.569) and Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar (.562) are worse). I think this is a good time to remind you that the Indians utilized Cabrera as a cleanup hitter for about three weeks.

Yes, the whole team is mired in a slump right now, but it has lasted the entire month and coincides with Nick Swisher being moved up in the lineup. I think Francona has no choice but to move Swisher back down and hope the offense regains the ability to hit.

But to be frank, it may already be too late. Nothing short of a sweep of the Tigers can get the Indians off of life support, and with the way this team has hit for the past month, well… it ain’t lookin’ good. I hate to be so negative (and I still have hope!) but the numbers don’t lie: this is an offense that has essentially jumped out of an airplane without a parachute.

(Bonus note: Lonnie Chisenhall has a .508 OPS since the All-Star Break. Andy Marte had a .635 career OPS and had a higher fielding % at 3B (.945 to .941). Just saying. He’s a bust.)


  • Peter says:

    Ouch! this is harsh. True, but harsh!

    I just read an article where Francona stated he doesn’t believe in shuffling the lineup, saying it’s an insult to the hitters. Their hitting is an insult to the paying fans!

    I wonder if Antonetti is feeling the heat? Has any of the big winter signings worked in the tribe’s favor? I was all for them and expected big things, but they just haven’t materialized.

    I love Brantley, Gomes and Kipnis. Sanatana is fine at first/DH. Asdrubal has been such a black hole where I thought we were solid. He has to be the biggest disappointment of the year. We need a third baseman. Bourn, Stubbs and Swisher are all average platoon players. Raburn has a lot of upside except we just signed him so he will be a bust too! (Tribe Fan Humor!)

    So, while the record is better, it seems to me we have as many need this year as we did last year. Or is it reasonable to expect these guys to have better years next year?

    • Adam Hintz says:

      Swisher’s fine, and always was fine. Moving him up in the lineup was a reactionary move that backfired (Hey, our high-priced run producing 1Bman is not driving in runs… let’s put him in a position to never drive in runs again, THAT’LL SHOW HIM). He’s not a .300 hitter, and he’s not a 30 HR guy. He should be batting on the south side of cleanup, not the north side.

      I think at this point it’s all about using hitters intelligently. Don’t put Carlos (a high OBP guy) in a position to drive in runs… it encourages him to walk less and swing harder (both of which torpedo his value). Don’t put Asdrubal anywhere near the top of the lineup until he shows he’s qualitatively better than Alcides Escobar (ouch), and figure out where you want to play Brantley. Tito talks about how professional he is with being willing to hit anywhere, but he’s a guy who needs a role, just like anyone else. I say stick HIM at #2 and leave him there.

      I don’t hold out hope that Bourn will be better next year. This is his first season in the AL (that might inspire some home, to be fair), but he’ll be 31 next year. A .700 OPS seems like his ceiling, which is… not worth $12 million a year. Ouch. Should have signed Kyle Lohse.

      Swisher will be fine, people just need to accept that on a good season he’s going to be a .260 hitter with an OBP north of .350. It is what it is, and it’s actually pretty good.

      I would be in favor of trading Santana for pitching, but only for a great deal. It would necessitate the Indians going out and finding another good bat, which I don’t think they can do at this point.

      I dunno, it’s frustrating.

  • Swift says:

    Nice summary Adam.

    Tom Hamilton during the pre-game with Tito was asking a little about what to do about the offense and Tito was saying something along the lines of “that’s something we’ll have to look at during the off-season”. Really? Have you given up on trying to fix it during the month that is left Tito? That’s depressing.

    I had not thought about Bourne, but you are right, he is disappointing.

    And yes, I also really like Drew Stubbs. Yes, he is only a career 0.240 hitter, but he is completely meeting expectations and giving us at least as much, if not more, than we expected. No one expected him to carry this offense, like Swisher and Bourne.

    Why is it that every summer the Indian’s offense just collapes?

    I also wonder if we will see a new batting coach next year.

  • Swift says:

    I just got this, off of the Indians website (in their story about Kubel):

    “The Indians’ offense has labored in August, ranking last in the AL in average (.227), on-base percentage (.295), slugging percentage (.354) and runs scored (85) for the month.”

    You know what else is sad, that was probably one of Jimenez’s best outings of the year, with 10 strikeouts and no walks in 7 innnings.

  • Andy says:

    Do you even look at stats before you criticize Carlos for having a “long swing” oh master scouting director?

    Since Carlos moved into the cleanup spot on August 14th he is hitting .288 with a .457 OBP and a .533 SLG for an OPS of .990 (which over a season puts him 4th in the AL). I get it that you have something against Santana, but he is one of the better hitters in the league (15st in OPS+ in AL) and has been pretty darn good since moving into the cleanup spot.

    • Adam Hintz says:

      He’s been hot for the last two weeks, yes. I don’t have any major complaints about him over the past two weeks.

      Here’s the thing with Santana: his value is primarily in his ability to get on base, not drive runners in (he has never eclipsed 80 RBI in a season), so putting him in the cleanup spot is a bad idea, because often he will just take a walk, transferring the high leverage situation to those below him in the lineup. Generally this kind of selfless play is praised by coaches, but over the past month this has transferred responsibility onto Cabrera (and his <.600 OPS), Brantley (who is a fine player but had an OPS of .579 in August as his BABIP plummeted to .236 for the month), or whoever else is in that 4-8 mixture of players on a given night.

      My issues with Santana as a hitter are actually very nitpicky, and I realize that. I just think he's kind of weird: He's a power hitter who doesn't hit for much power (~20 HR is nice but it feels like a disappointment for a player of Carlos' ability, but that's who he is), and he's a high OBP guy who runs like a truck.

      Combine those things with his aloofness as a catcher (he leads the league in wild pitches and passed balls, and it's not because he's Jesus Montero back there. He doesn't dive for balls, trying instead to trap them with his glove), and you have a player who is much less effective than his offensive stat line would suggest.

      At this point, I would just move him to first full time (unless the team was looking to trade him as a catcher this offseason — something I would be considering if it could bring back a #3 or #2 starting pitcher), but I would also get him out of the #4 hole. It's asking him to be a guy who drives in runs when that's just not his strength.

      If I were to shuffle the lineup to try to get this team going, this is what I'd do (and I'd stick with it for a couple weeks, just to see how it flows):

      1. Bourn (The Indians don't have another player capable of leading off, which is unfortunate)
      2. Brantley
      3. Santana (1B)
      4. Kipnis
      5. Swisher
      6. Aviles (Please for the love of goodness just install him as the permanent 3B until next season)
      7. Gomes
      8. Cabrera
      9. Stubbs

      This puts the guys who get on base/put the best at bats up at the top of the lineup (I've always thought of Brantley as the prototypical #2 hitter, personally), and puts the RBI guys (Kipnis/Swisher) in a position to drive in runs. Aviles bats 6th because despite his shortcomings as a hitter, he goes out and gets the job done situationally.

      I dunno. I'm just a guy on a blog… and I've defended Francona's offensive mind numerous times this season, but ever since the All-Star Break he's made some perplexing decisions (the Swisher move never REALLY made sense, when you think about it, the Cabrera move NEVER made sense to anyone, etc etc). He needs to shake this lineup up now; we ranked dead last in the AL in offense in August.

    • Gvl Steve says:

      Thank you. I was just about to say that to the Swisher apologist.

  • DaveR says:

    Man it would have been nice to keep Choo (even with a big deal) then flip him if they stunk. You know someone would have taken him at the break.

    Anyways lets hope for a split record vs Detroit and Baltimore.

  • The Doctor says:

    hey, at least we’re only burdened with 3 more years of both bourn and swisher, who the dolans will inevitably use as excuses for why they won’t spend more money on FAs.

  • The Doctor says:

    i know it’s way too far off the beaten path for relatively old-school francona, but i’ve always wanted to see santana batting leadoff.

    being stuck with 3 more years of bourn, who can’t draw walks and strikes out WAY too much for a leadoff hitter, is going to be really frustrating. he’s one of those guys that a manager will never move out of the leadoff spot simply because “he’s fast” and “can make things happen on the bases” (like get thrown out a bunch, apparently).

    i have a horrible feeling we’re going to be mimicking the drew stubbs in cincy situation for the next 3 years – “who cares that he can’t hit or draw a walk! he’s fast! he’s gotta bat leadoff!”