162 Games Later…

Chief Wahoo needs a hug

So here we are. 162 games later. The Cleveland Indians are finished playing until next spring, with a meager 69-93 record and a 4th place finish in the American League Central. The year went painfully slowly as it seemed the team got worse and worse, for a stretch it appeared that they had completely given up on new coach Manny Acta and decided to mail it in, and then the team would reawaken, if only for a day or two, and cause a few heads to turn. An up and down year is definitely a good way to describe the Tribe’s 2010 season, with much more of the down than the up. The season leaves us with a lot to talk about, some big moments and some disastrous moments to look back on, but most importantly it leaves me and many others with some hope for next year. Spring Training 2011 will see the return of Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana, as well the beginning of another season with Shin-Soo Choo as the cornerstone of the team. Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco have given the starting rotation some positives going into next year, while Chris Perez, Raffy Perez and Vinny Pestano are key parts of a stronger looking bullpen. This is our look back on the 2010 season, the things that were good, bad and the things that anticipating next season already.The 2010 season was the 2nd consecutive lost season for Grady Sizemore. What began as a mere bruised knee, ended with season ending and career threatening knee surgery. Sizemore only played in a handful of games before missing the remainder of the season (33 games to be exact), and he did not show much of anything offensively in that time period. His. 211 average was combined with the awe inspiring 0 home runs, 13 rbis and 4 stolen bases. He did leave us with a few high light reel catches in Center, but that is the one thing he will always provide. 2009 saw nagging injuries wear him down and deteriorate his performance, while 2010 ended before it really began for Grady. He will apparently be ready for Spring Training, but after 2 injury ended seasons Grady is no longer a sure thing for the Indians. He has quickly gone from one of the best outfielders in baseball to possibly the biggest question mark on the Indians roster. The team, and the fans, do not know if Grady will ever be fully healthy again, nor do they know if his speed and power will return. This season was suppoosaed to be a rebound year for the star of the team, but rather it appears as if he may be just another potential filled player who never quite reaches that potential due  to injuries and other struggles. I could be too pessimistic on the matter, but without question 2011 is the biggest year in Sizemore’s career.

SHIN-SOO CHOOOOOOOOOOO

Shin-Soo Choo has proven with his 2010 campaign that he is one of the best outfielders in baseball, both solid and consistent, the South Korean posted his 2nd consecutive 20/20 season, mashing 22 homeruns and 22 steals. His .300 BA, .401 OBP, and .484 slugging only further established him as arguably the best right fielder in baseball. He did show a few weaknesses to his game this year, that were only magnified because he is such a strong player in every other way, his baserunning (while very good) can cost the team runs when he gets overly aggressive, but I will not complain as he is easily the star of the team. He missed a chunk of the summer with injuries, and still while playing 12 games less than last year (his first full year) he set new career highs in HR (22), RBI (90) Walks (83), Stolen Bases (22), OBP (.401) and OPS (885). Choo led the team in EVERY SINGLE offensive category, but while that is a great testament to Choo’s skill, it is also a sign of a struggling offensive team, and that certainly describes the Indians well.

Jayson Nix was claimed off of waivers from the White Sox, to give the Indians a right handed hitting infielder to try to provide a little extra offense because of the horrible struggles of the middle Infield, and 3B positions in producing runs. Nix did just that. He finished 2nd on the team with 13 homers, he played in 78 games for the Tribe splitting time between 3B and 2B. While he provided a nice punch offensively, but his defense was more of a liability than Andy Marte and Jhonny Peralta. He made 11 errors while playing 40 game at 3B, and while he made no errors at 2B or Left Field, it wasn’t the prettiest thing to watch him play defense. The other stat that is telling about Nix’s performance, is his 29 rbi in a Tribe uni. While he could hit the bombs, he struggled with runners on base. Nix may very well find himself a home in the Indians lineup next season as the stop gap at 2nd or 3rd base while Lonnie Chisenhall or Jason Kipnis gets ready for Big League action, but I wouldn’t count too heavily on it. His defense is atrocious and while he shows some power, he rarely gets hits with runners on or in big spots. None the less, 3B will likely being constant flux again next season if if the Indians keep Nix.

The future of the Indians at 2nd Base, Jason Kipnis might be the man next year

The development of Michael Brantley at the big league level has been a pretty rough one, but it is definitely the major story line of this year and next year. After his late season call up in 2009 people were calling for him to be an every day player from Opening Day this year. Well, they got their wish because of injuries during Spring Training that called for him to star the year in the Tribe’s lineup. He failed miserably. He batted .156, with an OBP of .229 in 9 games to start the year and was swiftly demoted to AAA wher ehe played extremely well and showed a lot of improvement from last season, he was brought back up again later in the season and took over every day in Center Field and batted leadoff. He played 63 more games after being called back up, and at first he struggled again, but after the All Star break he showed us all what we wanted to see. He struggled a lot up on coming back up in July but it all clicked in August, and that success faded as the season wore on, but still, his 2nd half numbers were much improved over those in the first half of the season. Before the break he batted .118, and after the break he batted .284. 2 of his 3 homers came in the 2nd half, as did all 10 of his steals. His 2nd half OBP of .335, while still low for a leadoff guy, was tremendously better than his .164 through his first 17 games of the year. Surely, his defense was certainly amazing in CF, and everyone will remember his wall climbing, game saving, homerun robbing snag in extra innings against the Angels. He should be the starting CF next season, which would move the injury prone Sizemore to LF, a hopefully safer position for him.

A team-wide Power Outage. The team hit 128 home runs, tied for 28th in the League. No where close to the output that was expected looking at the team’s line up at the start of the year. Matt LaPorta the most frustratingly of all, drew much of my anger this season. He hit for a very poor average, .221, and only managed to smash 12 homers. He played so poorly for such long stretches that he could be counted on for maybe 1 home run every 40 at bats. LaPorta’s struggles found him demoted to AAA, where he miraculously found his power and was quickly promoted back to the big league squad. Upon his recall he caught fire for about a week, before returning to his longslumps that saw him awake from hibernation every 10 games or so and deliver some excitement. Travis Hafner had a similar year, although his power struggles are far more understandable with his recent injury history. Regardless, his 13 homers were good for a 2nd place tie with Nix for team lead. Much like LaPorta, his home run stroke came and went all year long, including the last year of the season which saw Hafner destroy 2 baseballs. His doubles numbers were way above the past few years, 29 doubles in 118 games. His average also bumped up a bit to .278 and his OBP returned to the .370+ range. Unless something drastically changes next year, his contract will continue to wear down the team, unless he miraculously returns to 30+ homer health.

The emergence of Pure Rage. Likely the best thing to come out of the 2010 season was the move of Kerry Wood from the Disabled List to the New York Yankees, allowing Pure Rage Chris Perez to take over the team’s closer role. The Indians Grape Gatorade fueled, long-haired and bearded closer with the high 90’s fastball and power slider began to establish himself as a true force in the 9th inning. He earned saves in 23 of 27 chances, and appeared in 63 games overall. He had 9 holds prior to becoming the closer, in 63 innings pitched he allowed just 12 earned runs, tallied 61 strikeouts, allowed a batting average against of a miniscule .182. His ERA was 1.71, he purely dominated when he was in games this season. The Indians finally have a closer to help them build and succeed in the future. All they have to focus on now is getting more games to him, and his new partner in crime Vinny Pestano. Pestano may only have 5 appearances under his belt, but after a dominant year at AAA Columbus, he looks as if he might be penciled in as the 7th or 8th inning guy next season, part of a hopefully sturdy bullpen who will bridge the gap between starters and Pure Rage.

Carlos Santana – the embodiment of the struggles of Cleveland. When Carlos Santana was promoted to the Major Leagues in June of this season, there was a noticeable change in the Indians team, in the attitude, in the fans, in the team’s swagger, in their performance. In every way imaginable. Santana is the future of the team, and for 46 games he was the now. Inserted immediately into the #3 spot in the order, the Indians received an immediate boost as he created a strong 1-2 punch with fellow run producer “Big League” Choo. In 46 games Carlos put up spectacular numbers, .260 BA, .401 OBP, .467 slugging, 6 homers, 3 steals, 13 doubles, 37 walks, 22 rbis in only 150 at bats. Of his 39 hits, 19 were for extra bases. The kid can hit, and he proved he could handle the pitching staff while he was playing, he proved he could defend behind the plate. In fact, it was his good defense at home that cost him his season, and for a minute it was feared it may have cost him his career. In true Cleveland fashion, Santana was carted off of the field after blocking home plate, a play that resulted in a Joe Theisman like knee injury, luckily for everyone in Cleveland and for Santana, it was a slight tear of a cartilage in his knee. Watching the injury happen before my eyes I felt 2 things, pain and vomit rushing up through my throat. It was a painful and disgusting thing to watch, thankfully it will only cost Santana the 2010 season, and regardless, the year was not a loss for the young catcher. He, in just 46 games, established himself as an offensive force in the Indians lineup, he will return to the #3 spot likely next season, hopefully with a full team of healthy players, looking to improve upon a long and hard year.

Fausto Carmona. While his 13-14 record is slightly mis-leading because of the overall team performance, he showed the league and the team something this year. He was back. His 3.77 ERA was a major improvement over his past 2 years. He looked almost as good as he did in 2007, he pitched the way he was expected to pitch after blowing everyone’s minds in ’07. He threw 210 innings, 4 complete games, limited his walks to a degree, improved his strikeout totals and lowered his BAA. The most important aspect of Carmona’s season is not in statistics, it is in watching him pitch and seeing confidence, seeing devastating movement on his pitches, forcing ground balls and working quickly. He looked like a front of the rotation starter. It gives us hope for him and this team moving into next year, especially when you look at it combined with the upside of the rest of the rotation.

Carlos Carrasco impressed in his stint in 2010, can it continue next year?

The young and the talented. Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, Jeanmar Gomez, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin. In some combination they will make up the other 4 spots in the Indians rotation. Masterson led the team with 140 strike outs while pitching 180 innings. He started 29 games and appeared out of the bullpen 5 times. The jury is still out on weather or not he is a starter or a reliever, and he will have the chance again next spring to prove himself as a starter. He arguably has the highest upside with his big frame, power stuff and longevity, but he has yet to consistently put it together. He was almost as much of a conundrum this season as Matt LaPorta. Down the stretch, to limit his innings, he got to strut his stuff in the bullpen and he got 2 holds in 5 appearances. He could be a dominant reliever, but he could also be a dominant starter if he limited walks and could figure out how to pitch to lefties. They killed him all year long, which is actually also misleading. They didn’t kill him with the bats as much as righties, he faced more lefties and actually had an ERA 1 point less, but his walks to lefties was what really kept him down all year. He walked 46 lefties compared to 27 righties, where he struckout righties 82 times versus 52 lefties. He made great strides in the 2nd half, like many Indians this year. In 16 2nd half games his ERA was 3,84 compared to 5.31 in 18 first half games. If he can figure it out as a starter it will be great, and he is still only 25 and has plenty of time to get his role settled, but if he struggles as a starter, at least the team knows he can be great out of the pen. Look at his 5 appearances this year, 10 innings, 10 k’s, no walks, and a 3.38 ERA. The other pitchers are very young and talented as well, Talbot is the oldest of the group and out of options, so he will most likely have a spot if he is still with the Tribe come next season. His rookie year saw him post a 10-13 record and a 4.41 ERA. The 27 year old righty started 28 games for the young Indians, throwing 159 innings, 108 of which in 17 first half starts. His 2nd half was derailed by an oblique injury and upon returning the Fury struggled with his control and saw his numbers take a dip. In the first half his 3.99 ERA and 8-8 record was a nice surprise, but his low strikeout and high walk rate were and still are alarming. At best he is a #4 or #5 starter moving forward.

Carlos Carrasco turned some heads this time around. 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA upon his call up, the young righty put up a 38-14 k/bb ratio and showed the team what they wanted to see. He showed them what they thought they were getting when they traded for him last season. As for Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez, this was also their first taste of big league competition and they both impressed. While they started hot and faded down the stretch, the youngsters are in the discussion for a much longer look in 2011.

Due to the injuries and extended tryouts for 2011, the 201 season left Indians fans, and the team, with more questions than answers moving forward. What the season did provide was a glimpse to the future of the organization, which of course is all hypothetical because you never know if the youngsters will fulfill all the potential. The team has a big offseason to get ready for, and it should be interesting to see what they try and do for next year. 2011 could be a fun year to watch if the young guys stay healthy and produce, they could surprise some people and stay more competitive in the AL Central, but for the next few weeks it is a period of evaluation for the Tribe. As things happen and the picture for 2011 develops, we will be here to talk about it, as for now, we will be contemplating the team and looking forward to Spring Training.

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