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Notes from the Wigwam: One of "those" weeks

Offensive woes continue as Tribe goes 2-3 during week

Notes from the Wigwam: One of "those" weeks
April 29, 2013
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It’s been one of those weeks for the Cleveland Indians.

Simply put, not much of anything went right for the Tribe this past week. The team’s scheduled game was rained out on two occasions, and when they did play, the Indians' performance was less than stellar.

The Indians began the week on a high note as right-hander Justin Masterson earned his fourth win of the season in a 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox last Monday. That game was the third straight win for the Indians, but the team then followed it up with four straight losses.

In those losses, the Tribe averaged a mere 1.33 runs per game — that number is simply not going to cut it.

It’s been that kind of a month for the Indians unfortunately. While the team has shown glimpses, there has been very little consistency. Perhaps the best news for the team is that Wednesday is the first of May since April is one month the Indians would like to soon forget.

With that being said, let’s dive into the past week…

Weekly results

April 22 at Chicago, W 3-2 (WP: Masterson, LP: Thornton)

April 24 at Chicago, L 3-2 (WP: Quintana, LP: McAllister)

April 27 at Kansas City, L 3-2 (WP: Santana, LP: Kazmir)

April 28 at Kansas City, L 9-0 (WP: Guthrie, LP: Masterson)

April 28 at Kansas City, W 10-3 (WP: Kluber, LP: Smith)

Player of the Week

Carlos Santana — Catcher

4 G, 7-for-17, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 K

This was not the most impressive week that Santana has had so far in the early season, but he still performed quite well. Santana was at his absolute best in game two of Sunday's doubleheader against the Royals as the switch-hitter went 4-for-5 and drove in a run. The thought going into the season was that Santana would benefit significantly from the Tribe's news acquisitions, and that thought has been proven true so far. No, Santana is not going to hit .388 all season, but it does seem entirely reasonable that he could now be a legitimate .300 hitter. His early success has been welcomed on this team, especially when you consider how so many teammates have gotten off to a slow start. The IBI's Jim Pete has gone on record saying that he believes Santana can be a legitimate MVP contender. I'm not sure if I'm there yet, but I may have to reevaluate my thoughts if Santana continues to hit at this clip.

Minor League Player of the Week

Francisco Lindor — Shortstop, Carolina Mudcats

7 G, 10-for-30, 2 2B, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K

Francisco Lindor is just 19 years old. Can you believe it? The Carolina League is notoriously known for being one of the more difficult leagues to play in, yet Lindor has been one of the most dominant players so far, and this past week helps prove that. Overall, Lindor is hitting .326 (28-for-86) with five doubles, three triples, nine walks, 12 strikeouts and seven stolen bases. The sky is the limit is one of the most overused clichés in all of sports, but it’s entirely applicable to Lindor. Every single Major League team hopes to have at least one bonafide, future superstar in its system, and that’s what Lindor is for the Indians. We saw his stock rise considerably from 2012 to 2013. Now just imagine how much it could rise from 2013 to 2014. We could legitimately be looking at a future Top-5 prospect in all of baseball.

A rough week

Jason Kipnis — Second baseman

4 G, 3-for-15, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 6 K

Kipnis did have one game this past week where he recorded two hits, but that's where the positives start and end for the left-handed hitting infielder. Kipnis has really struggled to settle into a groove this season, and one has to wonder how long the Indians will contine to trot him out their as their starting second baseman. He hit .233/.322/.328 last season following the All-Star Break, and those struggles have now carried over into the 2013 season. While it be argued that he may just be a streaky hitter, the problem is that Kipnis has not gone on a good streak in quite some time. It's only April, and there's plenty of time for Kipnis to figure things out, but if his struggles do carry over into May, then one has to wonder if the Indians could indeed explore alternative options. Hopefully that's not the case as production from Kipnis could be a monumental boost to this offense.

News & notes

— So much has been made said about the Indians’ starting pitching woes, but the offense has arguably been an even bigger issue. It’s hard to exactly know why, either. While some offensive players  have yet to hit their stride (Jason Kipnis), others have done quite well (Carlos Santana, Mark Reynolds), and even some who have struggled seem to be on their way to breaking out of their slumps (Asdrubal Cabrera). One of the team’s biggest problems has been its inability to record hits when runners get on base. For example, the Indians are currently stranding an average of 7.29 runners per game, which ranks 24th out of 30. That simply is not going to cut it, and we’re not going to see this team win very many games if a trend like that continues. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the Indians can do to overcome a trend like this, but conventional wisdom really suggests there’s not much they can do. There are no high-impact bats that the team can recall from the minors to spark its offense. This team is just going to have to pull itself up by its bootstraps and hope that the hits start to come. The one positive is that it looks like outfielderMichael Bourn will be rejoining the team this week.

— Without question, Justin Masterson has been the most productive starter for the Indians this season. The big right-hander made two starts this past week and ended up going 1-1 in the contests. Last Monday, Masterson pitched seven strong innings and struck out five en route to gaining a win during the Tribe’s 3-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Masterson did not have the same luck on Sunday though when he faced the Kansas City Royals in the first game of a day-night doubleheader. Masterson ended up pitching 6 1/3 innings and allowed seven earned runs. The start looks poor at first glance, but it’s hard to explain how dominant Masterson looked at times. It seems almost oxymoronic to say a starter could ever look dominant in an outing where he allowed seven earned runs, but that was the case as he struck out the side on one occasion and recorded a total of nine strikeouts in the contest. His slider looked especially dominant at times, and it’s just unfortunate that the overall line does not reflect how well he really pitched. To make a long story short, the point is that I suggest not reading too much into Masterson’s outing. The numbers may look bad, but they really do not tell the whole story of how he performed.

— What do we make of Lonnie Chisenhall? The left-handed hitter is now hitting .234 (15-for-64) on the season with four doubles, two home runs and nine RBI. He’s also crushed right-handed pitching to the tune of a .295 average. The problem is that Chisenhall has struggled mightily against left-handers, and he also has made zero progress in the area of plate discipline. He’s walked only two times so far, yet he’s struck out 16 times. His .100 average (2-for-20) against left-handers does at least raise the question of whether or not Chisenhall is indeed an everyday player. He clearly knows how to handle right-handers, and perhaps he would be best suited as a left-handed bat off the bench. Sixty-four at-bats is still a too small of a sample size to make that kind off conclusion, but the problem is how lost Chisenhall has looked against lefties. He struggles to take pitches, and he just looks so uncomfortable at times. There’s no statistic that necessarily quantifies this, but just use your eyes. There’s still time for this trend to change, but it’s hard to be encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.

— While Chisenhall has struggled, one player who has performed quite well is utility infielder Mike Aviles. Aviles has gone 10-for-40 with two home runs and 12 RBI. He also has some pretty ugly splits as he’s hit .190 against left-handers and .333 against right-handers. However, that is clearly just a technicality as Aviles is a career .291 hitter against left-handers and a career .270 hitter against right-handers. Aviles’ natural position is shortstop and he has played a few games at second base, but one has to wonder if it might be worthwhile to try giving him a few more starts at third base. He’s played at third base five times so far this year, and he might be the best candidate to move there permanently if Chisenhall continues to struggle. The key is that Aviles would have to prove that he is capable of handling the position as he already has two errors in only five games there this year. Regardless, Aviles is a player the Indians should try to get into their lineup on a more consistent basis as he’s been a solid offensive performer for them this year. Can you believe that the Tribe was able to acquire both him and Yan Gomes for Esmil Rogers?

— If the Indians do ever look to the minor league system for help, one of the first players to get the call could be first baseman Mike McDade. The switch-hitter is hitting .262 (17-for-65) in 19 games for the Columbus Clippers this season. He got off to a horrendous start, but he’s not hit in four straight contests and has gone 9-for-19 in his last six games. He’s not an impact talent, but he could prove to be a serviceable player, and he does offer some value since he is a switch-hitter. Before he can get a call to Cleveland, however, McDade will have to improve in two areas: plate discipline and power. He’s yet to record a home run so far, and he’s also struck out 22 times while walking just seven times. The poor plate discipline and power outage has led to an OPS of .666, which will just not cut it for a player, whose calling card is supposed to be power.

Quick hits

— The Indians have still yet to announce who will make the start for them in Wednesday’s contest against the Philadelphia Phillies. There seems to be some belief that they could turn to right-hander Trevor Bauer. In three games with the Columbus Clippers, Bauer has been impressive as he’s posted a 2.50 ERA while striking out 12 batters per nine innings.

— Lou Marson was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the second time this season on Sunday. Marson has played only three games so far this year, and the latest trip to the disabled list is in response to inflammation in his right shoulder.

— Asdrubal Cabrera's slow start seems to be a thing of the past. The switch-hitting infielder has now hit in seven straight games and has gone 10-for-26 over that span. This can only be considered a positive, but probably should have been expected considering Cabrera's track record of Major League success.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Rich
April 30, 2013 - 8:56 AM EDT
Thanks for clarifying that, Seth. I still think he needs to improve on that percentage. I'll bet Hafner's chase percentage is extremely low. You almost never see him swing at a bad pitch. Same with Thome.

As long as Chiz is swinging at three balls outside the strike zone for every ten he sees, he'll be closer to Francoeur than Thome or Pronk.

I have not seen Chiz get any base hits swinging at bad pitches. All he does is foul them off, miss them, or get himself out with weak ground balls or pop ups. Improving his plate discipline should be his primary focus and actually his only focus right now.
Seth
April 29, 2013 - 2:04 PM EDT
Those are percentages of pitches in and out of the zone that he swings at. i.e., of every 10 pitches that are actually balls, he offers at about 3 of them. It's not supposed to add up to 100%. He could swing at 20% of each if he wanted. 29% isn't actually that bad, Asdrubal and Aviles are at 31% and 35%, respectively. Chisenhall can make solid contact on pitches that are out of the zone, that's part of his game, so you'd never expect him to be at Brantley/Santana/Swisher swing % levels ... what he really needs to stop doing is swinging at the pitches that aren't even close, as he'll still unload on breaking calls in the dirt every now and then. It seems like he's done a better job in the past week or so. For comparison, Pablo Sandoval's swinging at 47% of pitches he sees that are out of the zone, Josh Hamilton and Francoeur are at 44%. Pretty much the guys you'd expect at the top of that leaderboard.
Rich
April 29, 2013 - 1:41 PM EDT
"This year, he's only swinging at pitches out of the zone 29.6% of the time, and swinging in the zone 64.3% of the time."

That only adds up to 94%. What are the other 6% - borderline pitches?

If we assume half of those are out of the zone, that means about a third of his swings are at pitches out of the zone.

He'll never be a productive hitter if he keeps chasing that many bad pitches.

I wonder how long they'll continue to bat Kipnis 2nd if his hitting doesn't improve. I could see them moving Brantley up to the 2-hole behind Bourn and dropping Kipnis down to 8th.
Seth
April 29, 2013 - 12:59 PM EDT
Again, not understanding the Aviles/Chisenhall thing. They have pretty much identical offensive production so far, but you're saying Chisenhall has struggled and Aviles has played quite well? From what I've seen of them, Chisenhall is better than Aviles defensively at 3b, who's been historically awful at 3rd, compiling a -19.5 UZR/150. If Aviles should replace anyone, it's Kipnis. I think Kipnis is hurt. He actually looked okay to start the year, he was giving up some at bats but he also had some bad luck on some balls he hit well, since the mysterious elbow thing it's been another story, can't think of a ball he's even hit moderately deep.

I still believe Chisenhall will have a solid year. Once he relaxes at the plate a bit he'll have more success. Though it hasn't shown up in his walks and Ks, his plate discipline is trending in the right direction. His pitchf/x numbers had him going out of the zone 38.8% of the time in 2011, then moderate improvement to 36.7% last year, but that was mostly because he stopped swinging at all pitches as much, his rate of swinging at pitches in the zone dropped even more, from 68.8% to 62.8%. This year, he's only swinging at pitches out of the zone 29.6% of the time, and swinging in the zone 64.3% of the time. Which is not bad. That should eventually translate to improved walk and K rates.

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