April 17, 2012

Welcome to the first edition of Tribe-o-metrics, a weekly column in which I’ll highlight some of the best notes from the week that was in Indians baseball.

Bats starting slowly
While the offense has woken up (thanks to the Royals pitching), the first two series were painful to watch. Through their first five games of the season, the Tribe was batting just .176 – their worst start since posting a .172 average through five games in 1992, Mike Hargrove’s first full year as the skipper. The slow start in ’92 was a sign of things to come. The Tribe would go on to average just 4.16 runs per game that year.

Brantley setting the pace… in all the wrong ways
Leadoff hitters are supposed to set the table, but through the first five games Michael Brantley was doing anything but. Brantley’s 1-17 start was the was the worst by an Indian through five games since Otis Nixon began the season in a 1-18 hole in 1984. Hopefully, Brantley can turn it around faster than Nixon, who would hit just .154 in 49 games for the Tribe that year.

But Brantley wasn’t the only one who started slowly. Over the past 25 seasons, nine Indians have posted a batting average under .100 (min 15 PA) through five games and three of them did so this year. Brantley (.059) was joined by Casey Kotchman and Jason Kipnis (both at .095).

Heating up
Slowly but surely, the Tribe offense warmed up. Check out the progression of their slugging percentage through their heat maps from each of the season’s first three series.

While they couldn’t hit a thing against the Blue Jays unless it was grooved down the center of the plate, they couldn’t miss against the Royals. To be fair, the quality of the opposing pitchers also decreased significantly in each series, but at least they’re trending in the right direction.

One of these things is not like the other
Over the past 40 seasons, only three Indians left fielders have hit at least two home runs through eight games, and posted a slugging percentage over .600: David Justice (1997, 2000), Albert Belle (1993, 1995, 1996) and… Shelley Duncan?

Duncan is red-hot right now, reaching base in seven of eight games. He is the only Tribe regular with a batting average over .300.

Lowe highlights
After a shaky 2011 season in Atlanta, Derek Lowe is off to a fantastic start with the Tribe. His high ground-ball rate fits perfectly with the Indians strong defensive infield and through two games, Lowe is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA.

Lowe is the Indians first offseason acquisition to win his first two starts with the Tribe while posting an ERA under 2.00 since Dick Donovan in 1962. Donovan, who was picked up from the Senators in exchange for Jimmy Piersall, started the season off with consecutive shutouts, both against the Red Sox. He would go on to win 20 games en route to a 5th-place finish in the MVP voting.

All is well in Pronkville
On April 11, Travis Hafner belted a home run off the White Sox’s John Danks which landed in the second deck of right field, the space formerly known as Pronkville.

While that homer certainly seemed like an encouraging sign, no one could have predicted what happened next. On Sunday afternoon, Hafner belted a 481-foot bomb off the Royals’ Luis Mendoza which, according to Hit Tracker Online, is the longest home run of the year and the third longest since the start of the 2011 season. In fact, it was the longest homer by an Indian since Hit Tracker Online started tracking data in 2006, surpassing a 464 foot blast by Ronnie Belliard in 2006 off Eric Milton.

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