Monday, March 05, 2018

In Search of....


The Internet to me is an almost magical place because I lived a significant portion of my life without it. I learned to write letters (as in pieces of paper that you sent to other people via the Postal Service) in school because that was a key form of communication, went to the public library to research for school projects, and watched (grainy) television or rented videos at physical stores for entertainment. Nowadays you may think about these things as hardships, but 20-25 years ago they were the best technology we had at the time and were not thought of negatively. In fact, things like going to the rental store for a weekend movie was quite a novelty, at least where I lived.

By the time I reached high school, I had access to dial-up internet, and there were a couple of a computers at school connected to the Internet, but it wasn't really until I got to college that I experienced anything like the Internet we have today. The ability to have your own constantly-connected high-speed portal to the Web was an exhilarating experience, my generation's version of experiencing the widespread availability of electricity.

The delivery mechanism was the revolution that came with the Internet. We still communicate, we still research, and we still consume entertainment, it’s just that now we do these things from our computers instead of through physical means. Time and distance no longer matters; all you need is an Internet-connected device. That device allows anyone in the world to access the same information that a couple of decades ago was only available to people in universities or in large, wealthy cities. This democratization of access is one of the major breakthroughs of the last century, and we see the effects of that unfolding before our eyes every day. No longer does the average man or woman just consume information, but contributes it as well.

Surfing the web was the main pastime for me in the early days on the Internet. The joy was in the search, and occasionally you'd find a gem. The Internet, even in those days, was a massive, massive place, and although you rarely found exactly what you were looking for, you'd often find something that you weren't looking for but was interesting nonetheless. Many of the sites that I follow to this day I found unintentionally, usually while I was searching for something completely different. Some I found because someone I regularly read recommended them.

            --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When I first started this site, a huge chunk of my time and energy was spent figuring out how to be seen by other Indians fans. There were portal sites that you could submit your blog to, and ways to get noticed by the search engine spiders, but the more effective way was simply trading links with other sites; someone e-mailed you about their blog, you checked it out, then you posted a link on your site to his blog and he posted a link to you on his blog. In that way you created a connected community of readers, in this case Indians fans.

Nowadays, the best way to get noticed quickly is to just stake out a spot in the walled gardens of the large social networks and try to play by their rules, because that's where the readers are. If you're a consumer of content, you're going to go to one of the big sites, because that's where the content is; you just have to allow these sites to know your search history and some personal information in exchange. This begins a positive feedback loop resulting in much of the content being concentrated in fewer and fewer places. For example, Vidme, one of the few competitors to YouTube, shut down last year, noting the extreme difficulty in monetizing user-generated video content. This comes in the form of the hardware needed to stream millions of videos concurrently, the algorithms needed to curate these videos, and catering to the needs of fickle advertisers. For a place like Facebook, you add the difficulty of poaching users: you can't just convince individuals to jump to your platform, but entire circles of people, because people aren't going to go somewhere new if their friends aren't there.

A Sidebar: The Ad-Based Revenue Model 
The modern digital currency is not the dollar, yuan, euro, or bitcoin, but personal information. This currency is the backbone of the ad-based Internet, and the reason why Google and Facebook are two of the largest companies in the world today. 
When you visit any kind of website that is both free to the reader and has advertisements, you are the product. The content provider makes its money via advertisements, and they get more money with more impressions. The more people visit the site, the more impressions the advertisers get, and the more money the content creator gets. This model itself is not new, as newspapers, television, and radio all have operated under this for decades. The difference with this new medium is that advertisers have immediate feedback on how much traffic they received as a result of that ad. Instead of getting partial feedback (for instance, the prevalence of discount codes tied to specific advertising campaigns is an attempt for companies to judge its effectiveness), companies know exactly how many people clicked on that banner ad, plus perhaps other information on those people.

Digital content companies like Google and Facebook have taken this a step further. Because of the data they have on their users, they have the ability to place ads in front of the people who are the most likely to be interested in them. They have massive user bases, and more importantly information from those users to be able to tailor advertisements to them. This is accomplished through a computer algorithm, which is a fascinating topic in and of itself. In brief, these algorithms sift through the massive amount of content on a site like YouTube and determines what you see on the site based on the criteria they are given. For example, the YouTube algorithms could be operating with a goal of maximizing the average time spent on the site, and the algorithm takes it from there, even if it affects the makeup of the audience and the type of content that is preferred. Google's AdWords is the dominant advertiser on the Internet, with ad revenue accounting for $95.38B for the company in 2017.

Another important distinction between the "old" and "new" method of advertising is that the actual content on the "new" sites is not being created by the company, but by its users. Google/YouTube, for example, provides the infrastructure to handle streaming videos, as well as the algorithms that attempts to give people videos they want to see, but they (for the most part) don't make the videos themselves. If the local newspaper followed the Google/Facebook model, they would own the printing equipment and the distribution network, but not write any of their stories.
I was one of the first people to adopt many Google products, including Blogspot (which Google had just purchased in 2003) and Gmail (which is the reason I have a rather unique e-mail address), but I have begun to recognize the downsides of the algorithmic ad-based model. Many YouTube content creators, stung by demonetization, have gone to Patreon or similar sites so that they can get  a consistent income without going behind a paywall. Some new sites, like The Athletic, have committed to a pure subscription model. There are also browser-based models being tried out, which shifts the walls from the site to the browser. I hope one of these competing models succeeds.

The algorithm is just a tool, neither inherently good nor bad.  But even if it works well, it still removes much of the agency of the user, and in order to fully utilize the algorithm, you need to provide these sites personal information you wouldn't want anyone outside your family or close friends to have, never mind available to the Internet. There has always been a trade off in this arrangement, but over the past several years that trade off has become much less tenable to me. I'll use these major sites as ways to find content, but once found, I'll read/watch them via an RSS reader, which I think is a way to consolidate what you want to consume, rather than relying on a site telling you what it thinks you want to consume.

So if I'm not on  Facebook as much as I used to, or suddenly move this blog to a different platform, you'll understand why.


While writing that last sentence, this popped up in my Facebook feed. Maybe the algorithm knew I was writing this post.....


















Monday, February 26, 2018

The Offseason



(you can see the live version of this here)

If ever there were an team's offseason to sit out as a fan, it was this one. Of the projected 25-man roster, 24 of the players were in the organization at the end of the 2017 season. Heck, if you want to go a step further, 38 of the players on the 40-man roster were in the organization at the end of the 2017 season, free agent Yonder Alonson and waiver claim Rob Refsnyder being the only two newcomers. So if you turned off the TV in frustration on the evening of October 11, didn't catch a single piece of Indians news this winter, then turned on STO to watch Friday's Cactus League opener, you hardly missed a thing.

The Indians had a similar type of offseason in the winter of 2016-2017, but the difference here is that in 2017 the Indians did lose multiple key players to free agency. Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, Jay Bruce, and Joe Smith, all of whom played major roles down the stretch in 2017 left, with the Indians only attempting to replace Santana via free agency. The rest of the holes, at least for now, will be filled by existing players. Most of the 40-man roster spots vacated by departing free agents were filled by homegrown prospects.

One departure that may have quite an effect on the roster isn't a player: Mickey Callaway, who oversaw some of the best pitching staffs in franchise history, is now the manager of the New York Mets. Mickey is leaving one talented pitching staff for another, so it will be fascinating to see how both will fare from this point forward. It's always difficult as outsiders to determine exactly how much of an impact an individual coach or manager has on a group of players, but this change is as close to a controlled experiment as any.

The Indians have had an extended continuity of people in charge of baseball operations. John Hart replaced Hank Peters as general manager of the team in 1991, and since then every subsequent GM (or its successor title -  President of Baseball Operations) had previously been a part of the Tribe front office. The reason I bring this up is that this quiet offseason is reminiscent of that overall continuity. The lessons learned in the wake of the 2008-09 crack-up is that you need a continuous wave of young players to take the places of key players who get too expensive to keep on a mid-market payroll. The Indians could still trade some of that young talent during the season (a corner outfielder would be need #1, especially if Michael Brantley has any kind of setback), but for now they're going to see if they can get by with what's already here. They could have easily attempted to maximize the potential for winning over the next 2-3 years at the expense of having to tear everything down after 2020, but didn't (at least yet).

I mention 2020 because that's how long they have their top five starting pitchers as well seven of the nine projected starting position players under control for. The Indians will lose important players before that point (Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Michael Brantley are free agents after this season, for instance), but the Indians can still remain at least a playoff contender even with those losses. After 2020 and 2021, though? If the Indians remain competitive, they'll be so with an entirely new slate of players. After the 2020 season (assuming all options are picked up) Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Danny Salazar, and Jason Kipnis can become free agents. After 2021, Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber can become free agents. Now some of those players by then won't be worth retaining, but even so they'll need an equivalent of their 2017 value to slot into that roster slot. If the Indians can't develop the next group of core players by then, 2021 isn't going to be much fun even if Kluber and Lindor are still here.

They're going to see if Tyler Naquin can still become a viable major-league player (especially as a corner outfielder), and whether Ryan Merritt can make the jump to a major-league rotation. In other words, can Naquin become the next Lonnie Chisenhall, and can Merritt become the next Josh Tomlin? That goes for higher-upside players like Yandy Diaz or Francisco Mejia, both of whom could allow the Indians to trade more expensive players because they want to and not because they have to. It's also going to be important to develop the next generation of the high leverage group, as neither Cody Allen nor Andrew Miller will likely be pitching for the Indians in 2019. If the Indians have to go out and pay retail for their 8th/9th inning pitchers or third outfielders or 5th starters, they won't have that money in hand to try to extend the one or two of their core players in 2019 or 2020 that they really want to keep. I think it's important to look as closely at the margins of a roster rather than the centerpiece, because a productive homegrown margin allows you to spend on your stars. Just think of what the Indians have gotten out of Josh Tomlin over the years, and what they would have had to spend (whether in prospects or in free agent cash) had he not developed into a decent starting pitcher.

I see the conservative offseason as partly an attempt to forestall an apocalyptic 2021. This franchise, barring some radical change as to how MLB payrolls are structured, is always going to operate on the notion of postponing a rebuild as long as possible. It's going to happen someday, but if you always have that delaying idea in mind, you won't be suddenly forced to sell everything off some July in the future after you tried to win at all costs for a couple glorious seasons.









Monday, February 19, 2018

Constraining myself - a schedule

After writing my goodbye to Let’s Go Tribe, I thought that I would immediately start back up in this place, exploring things that interested me but had be shunted to the side in favor of baseball writing. Now the possibilities were endless, the space limitless, and time abundant. You can see those sentiments in the post below. So why was nothing posted here since then?

 Habits are hard to break, but new habits are even harder to form. I spent 12 years formally (and a couple years before that informally) writing about one subject, and it had become a deep and smooth groove. And no, I wouldn’t call it a rut; that word evokes feelings of drudgery, and while at times I felt frustration at the process, at no point did I dread thinking or writing about baseball. In fact, I'd like to continue to do so.

Once I pushed myself into a LGT post, I was able to quickly finish it, as I had all that well-worn experience to draw on. The happenings of the previous three hours may have been new, but there was always a past piece of specific writing to tie to it, no matter how bizarre the events. It was a baseball game that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. There were key plays, key decisions, and key performances that accounted for the outcome. There were larger issues to talk about (the division race, a positional battle, an injury), and there were player and manager reactions to parse. If you stretched things you could bring in non-baseball content, but you couldn't let the non-baseball overwhelm the baseball.

Time was also a useful constraint, as it forced me to quickly grasp the important bits to convey without dithering about perfection. The recaps, which was most of my output at LGT, generally needed to be up less than an hour after the final out, or it wouldn't receive the optimal number of views. At worst it needed to be up by the following morning, and since I needed to sleep, that generally meant I needed to either finish the recap in the couple hours between the end of the game and the end of my waking hours, or to get up early and finish the recap before heading to work. Deadlines tend to focus the mind and the writing, which I count as overall a good habit, though subtlety and polish necessarily had to be left out. There is only a first draft in writing on a short deadline.

Climbing out of that groove to see the expanse of topics surrounding me was both exhilarating and terrifying. The structure that both constrained and comforted me was gone, and in its place was complete freedom, or what I would later learn was really chaotic freedom. I wasn't constrained by something else any longer, but neither was I constrained by myself. I was making grandiose, open-ended plans, but hadn't thought much of the practical steps needed to accomplish them. Perhaps I liked the idea of having freedom rather than using freedom.

To get more specific, over the past couple months I started many different posts, all with broad themes, but never could seem to stay in focus. The paragraphs would dart off in every sort of direction and couldn't be tied neatly together at the end. I was trying to go everywhere at once but ended up going nowhere. And so, while I have plenty of ideas to mine for the future, I didn't have anything I felt comfortable in exposing to the world.

So that's why I'm placing some constraints on myself. I'm going to start out with baseball while making feeble forays into other subjects. My plan is to do one post a week (on Mondays), with baseball posts alternating weekly with other things. Next Monday (February 25th) will be something about the Indians, while the Monday after (March 5th) will be about something else (which is down to a just a couple specific subjects).  I know that most of you came by this place, whether many years ago or in the past several months, because of the Indians, and I still want to write about them. This schedule also gives me an opportunity to write about other subjects as they pop up. The relaxed time frame gives me a deadline but allows enough time to be more contemplative.

I'll be posting links to my posts on my Twitter feed if you want to follow that way, or you can use the RSS feed if you have a feed reader. I would also appreciate any feedback you might give, whether it be on potential Indians subjects or anything else.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Well, I'm back

In the Year of Christ 1571, Michel Montaigne, at the age of 38 on his birthday, the day preceding the Calends of March, already long wearied of the servitude of the law-courts, and of public offices, has retired, with faculties still entire, to the arms of the learned virgins, there to pass in all quiet and security, such length of days as remain to him, of his already more than half-spent years, if so the fates permit him to finish this abode and these sweet ancestral retreats consecrated to his freedom and tranquility and leisure.
                           -Inscription (translated from Latin) above fireplace in Montaigne's study


As anyone who is reading this knows by now, I am no longer writing for Let's Go Tribe. After 12 years of writing on a schedule, I am retiring (as an Internet writer) to this personal blog. I treasure the time I spent at LGT, not the least of which were the people I was able to meet. To be given the opportunity to create a Cleveland Indians community is something that I still marvel at, and that amazement should only grow with the years. But as I noted in my farewell, I had said everything I wanted to say in that format, and didn't want to endlessly repeat myself to the detriment of the site and its visitors.

The constraints that a modern content portal demands tends to limit the scope of what you can write, both because of regimented schedule and the amount of time that writing stays available to the reader. Even so, those constraints can still allow for great content, and will continue to do so; it is not my intent to denigrate the format of the medium, which is necessary in order for those types of sites to be commercially viable. But now that I no longer have to follow those constraints, I'd like to spend my time exploring formats and subjects that just weren't possible before. That's both exhilarating and terrifying.

I'm not sure where exactly I'm going to go with this place. The blog itself is in major need of renovation, having been kept in its 2005 format until recently. Even now it still needs a lot of work. As for content, I will be writing about the Indians (though in different formats), but that won't be the only thing I'll write about. No, I'm not going to do current [deleted - politics], that's way too boring and annoying, but I have a couple of other subjects in mind. Perhaps I will write a lot of words about Person of Interest, perhaps I delve into books or history or music or video games. Whatever I do, I would like to take advantage of the unlimited space a personal blog allows, and write longer pieces, so that necessarily means the posts won't come frequently. I will let you know when I do post on my Twitter feed, and if you'd like to use the traditional RSS feed, that is also available.

Ugh. Only 394 words if you don't count the opening quote. I need to unlearn a lot of things.



Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Clubhouse Tales

With many apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer

General Prologue.
When April’s gentle rains have pierced the frost
And warmed the piles of snow into lukewarm slush;
When the sun begins to timidly turn the earth
Soft again so that growing things begin their rebirth
(And with it the pricking of every Midwestern heart),
The yearly pilgrimage then some folks desire to start
Towards dormant Fields and Stadiums where
Baseball and spring both fill the gentle air.
A particular shrine renowned through the Land
Of Lake and Crooked River do its folks through streets and highways wend:
To seek their summer heroes is their will,
The ones who may at last salve their ills.

Now in that season it befell one day
At the suburban Motel where I lay,
As I was all prepared for driving out
To Cleveland with a heart devout,
There had come into that place at night
Some twenty-five (or twenty-six if CBA is signed)
Sundry men, baseball players all
Who were staying, downtown being their next port of call.
Tomorrow they would ride for the Field and begin
The game that would start their season.
The rooms were comfortable and spacious,
But humble enough for them to be anonymous,
So for one night I sat among them, talking openly about
The years and games of old, of hits and outs.
I spoke with each about their coming journey
Of hopes of once again playing the October tourney,
But also hints of other things completely unknown
To me, a man who while very much grown
Still could not fathom how much fallow time
Was allotted them, a strange paradigm
Of stress then nothingness
Of very much and then much less
That these athletes were expected to endure.
And so, my interest being piqued, and having imbibed
Enough spirits to speak my mind,
I asked the athletic company of how they overcame
The gulf between game and game.

The leader of the club smiled and, taking me aside
Told me of the secret that kept morale so high,
“We have a running contest in which tales are told
By each player both young and old.
And whoever tells the most interesting tale each day
Gets the first crack at dinner after the game.
Each time the contest conditions changes just a bit;
One day it might be originality, the next it might be wit.
But whatever the rules might be the outcome is the same:
Laughs and smiles, tears and much acclaim.”
I wished aloud that I could hear this for myself one time
To hear the players inventing prose and rhyme.
But I thanked him for his honesty, and then the hour being late,
Headed for my room, for next morn’s meeting was at eight.

While I slept, dark clouds crept over our abode
As it stole to the north over all the main roads
So that by morning the sky was gray – no – black.
It was a still and somber day as I drove to my 8 o’clock.
Then wind began to blow, and curses! Rain started to fall
Deluging the Field with puddles and casting a pall
Over the planned festivities.
Because the crowd was to be great, the ballpark activities
Were postponed until the morrow. This I learned
As I returned from my early sojourn,
My business being completed for the day.
I arrived to a room full of players whose joy had gone astray,
Their faces downcast, having to wait for their anticipated debut
Another 24 hours stuck in this comfortable but confining venue.

The leader of the group, remembering what I had said last night,
Suddenly raised his voice above the somber din
“Fellows, I know the skies won’t let our season begin
On time, and we’ll have to wait just a bit more,
And let’s use this time to not to watch TV and be bored
But tell some tales and raise our spirits so that tomorrow
When we take the field it will be with a joyous glow.
Today’s contest will be judged by this guy here,
(You remember him from last night’s beers),
And whoever tells the most astounding and amusing tale
Will have tonight’s dinner paid for by us all.
If this plan appeals to all of you, speak now
For if it does, let’s begin in one hour!”
To this there was unanimous assent, with none heartier than me,
For what I wished last night to hear one day was now to be.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

When we sorrow most

I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth,
But stagnates in the field of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam A.H.H (Canto XXVII)

Although Tennyson wrote this great lyric poem after his close friend Arthur Henry Hallem's sudden death, the famous passage above is more often invoked in the wake of a broken relationship. I think the original context is more moving, for in that case it is not the love that is lost but the loved one.


It is a natural reaction in the wake of bitter disappointment to want to sever all emotional ties so that you'll never have to feel that way again. Nobody wants to feel heartbroken. Nobody wants to feel what we're feeling now, the day after Game 7. But it isn't just the final anguish that we got from this relationship. There were many tiny delights, several moments of elation in our time with the 2016 Indians that are still there, perhaps overshadowed right now, but there nonetheless. There were many good things needed to get to that precipice of sorrow. This wasn't a team that never knew the joys of summer, or spent its time wandering aimlessly through the schedule.

As someone who lived through the final innings of the 1997 World Series, you never truly get over this kind of ending. It's always going to be there, at first a festering sore, and then an eternal scab. The best you can do is to also cherish those fond memories, and remember that before the loss, there was joy.




Sunday, August 07, 2005

Closing Time

This is probably the final entry of this blog as it is currently constituted. But don't fret; I'm moving to a new location, and the format shouldn't change much at all.

The new location is at SportsBlogs, a group of blogs headlined by Athletics Nation. My blog will be called "Let's Go Tribe," and the URL is www.letsgotribe.com. In other words, if you found my blog (and its convoluted address), you should find this new destination easy to remember.

I appreciate all of you for making this blog what it is today, and look forward to making the new iteration even better. I'm going to continue some of my long-dormant projects at LGT, including my 2002 retrospective, prospect profiles, rating the Top 100 Players in Indians History, and a host of other things. And of course, I will still be posting my thoughts on the day-to-day happenings of the Cleveland Indians. I invite you, the readers, to take a more active role in the new blog by creating diaries, or simply commenting on my posts. I've been very impressed with the quality of comments lately, and hopefully that will continue as well, for I feel reader participation is the lifeblood of my blog; without it, I'm just some idiot writing in cyberspace. I will make every effort to respond to comments or e-mail, so if you have any suggestions for future content, be sure to make them known.

See you on the other side!

-Ryan Richards

New Site

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Getting Back Off the Mat


The Indians, in a bizarre game, beat Detroit 9-6 last night. The game featured two instances of starting pitchers self-destructing after a run of pretty good pitching. Fortunately for the Indians, Nate Robertson's implosion resulted in nine runs being scored, which was enough to overcome Sabathia's five-run seventh inning. CC had looked pretty good up to that point, only allowing one run on one hit through six innings. The win was encouraging because it came in the wake of probably the most devastating loss of the season.

Some transactions:

Reinstated 1B Travis Hafner from the Disabled List

Optioned OF Jason Dubois to Buffalo (AAA)

So the Indians, instead of trying out Dubois at the very least against left-handers (note how Coco Crisp and Grady Sizemore do against southpaws), the Indians keep Jeff Liefer around, who has the same defensive ability as Dubois, plays the same positions, and who is five years older than Jason. How exactly does Liefer fit in the lineup, except as a replacement to Casey Blake? I don't get this move; yes, Liefer is out of options, but who's going to claim him now when they could have had him for a song when he was with Buffalo? I wrote when the Gerut-Dubois deal was made that the Indians owe it to themselves to see what Dubois can do. And that hasn't really happened yet. Dubois will probably put up some great numbers for the Bisons in the interim, but that wouldn't be anything unexpected.

Placed LHP Arthur Rhodes on the Bereavement List

Recalled RHP Fernando Cabrera from Buffalo (AAA)

Rhodes, who is attending to a sickness in his family, will be gone a minimum of three days, which puts even more of a strain on the Indian bullpen, especially the back-end folks. Bob Wickman was not available last night, and Scott Sauerbeck has been used a lot lately. The Indians could have a used a blowout on Friday, but thanks to the five-run seventh inning, the Indians had to use Bob Howry to save the game. Cabrera hasn't been inserted into any high-leverage situation, but he has the stuff to handle a seventh inning assignment right now. Of course Brian Tallet is still in the bullpen, and yes, he hasn't been used yet; that can be looked at as a good thing, because no starter has been taken out early since CC Sabathia's blow-up in Oakland. But like it or not, the Indians will have to use a relatively inexperienced pitcher sooner or later, and Cabrera is the best young relief arm in the system right now.

MLB Suspended RHP Kevin Millwood for five games, RHP David Riske for four games, and Eric Wedge and Robbie Thompson for one game apiece

What really got me is the guy who started the whole mess, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, only received a fine. Obviously the umpire that night believed that Hasegawa threw at Sizemore intentionally, so why does MLB not believe so? Take for example Cliff Lee's suspension last year: he was thrown out of a game for throwing behind Ken Griffey, Jr, and he was suspended for six games (one start). How are the circumstances different here (besides the fact that Hasegawa actually hit Sizemore)? Is it because Grady Sizemore isn't the superstar Griffey was? To me, this smacks of a double standard. Here's what Millwood had to say about it:

"[Hasegawa's] the one that started the whole mess," Millwood said. "If he doesn't get suspended, then it's pretty much a joke."

Millwood, who will make his next start on Thursday in Kansas City, gleaned a message from the discipline dispensed after Cleveland's 10-5 victory.

"I guess it's OK to throw right in the middle of somebody's back when you're getting your [backside] whooped," Millwood said. "But it's not OK to [stick] up for your teammate."


Amen.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Boone's Option Picked Up

Exercised (and restructured) the 2006 Option of 3B Aaron Boone; Added a 2007 Mutual Option

Press Release

I guess you could call this an extension, although Boone probably would have reached the plate appearance threshold where the option would have vested anyway. No dollars have been released, but Mark Shapiro said that Boone gave back a bit for 2006, and the Indians added the mutual option for 2007. Not really an earth-shattering move, but the Indians save some money next season.

If you believe that Boone's level of play is closer to what he's done in June and July than in April and May, then Boone's probably worth the option. If you think he's the player that hit at or under the Mendoza line the first two months of the season, then he isn't. I think the future level of production lies somewhere between the two extremes, probably he's good for a .260/.320/.430 line next year. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA player projection system pegged Boone's 50 percentile forecast at .263/.322/.429. His defense has been pretty good, probably better than I expected it to be.

Scott Elarton, Again

Boy am I glad when I'm wrong.

Elarton made his second start against the Yankees, and for the second time he pitched as well as you could hope for. His line:

6.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 SO, 0 BB

I'll take it. But to look long-term, is Elarton, who is eligible for free agency after the season, worth bringing back? After all, the Indians do have a couple pitchers that they could plug into the rotation in 2006.

The standard pitching numbers look pretty good. Elarton has given up 120 hits in 117 innings of work, which is pretty decent. He's struck out 68 hitters this year, which translates to 5.0/9IP. One reason why Elarton has been successful has been his low walk totals: he's only walked 30 this season, which is especially important given his penchant for giving up homers (all the runs scored off him tonight were via the long ball). My view is that you're looking at a guy who has marginal stuff, but can survive if he can spot his offspeed pitches. If he can't throw his curve or change for strikes, then he's in trouble. But you could say that for a lot of successful MLB pitches. What I want to know, then, is if this season's numbers are a product of luck, or whether they are indicative of what Scott could do for the next couple of years. To do that, let's look at some of the numbers I used to evaluate Jake Westbrook's 2004 season.

xFIP ERA: 4.70

This statistic normalizes fielding independent pitching to the pitchers' home park, which is especially useful when considering that we're looking at a flyball pitcher. FIP itself is a statistic used to take out all the externalities (mainly fielding) that can affect a pitcher's regular ERA. In this case Elarton's xFIP ERA is a bit higher than his regular ERA, but not by a large amount. So you can say that Elarton's current ERA is pretty good measure of how he's pitching.

LD%: 20.6%

This is expected given how most of Elarton's outs are recorded. I will say that I believe Elarton has been helped very much by the Indian outfielders, specifically in center and left, and that if a an inferior outfielder is playing behind Elarton, some of those line drives may start to fall in for singles and doubles. Just a word of warning.

One other thing that should shed some light on Elarton: a trend analysis. I've broken down Elarton's perforance by month, noting innings, hits, and walks (the strikeouts seem to have remained constant):

April: 19.0 IP, 27 H, 9 BB
May: 29.1 IP, 33 H, 9 BB
June: 31.0 IP, 29 H, 5 BB
July: 37.2 IP, 31 H, 7 BB

Note that Elarton has gotten better during every month. To my untrained eye, he seems to have more control over his pitches, and more hitters are making "weak outs" than before. In summary, everything looks good, and the Indians should entertain bringing Scott back on a one- or two-year deal if they can't retain Kevin Millwood. If they keep Millwood, Elarton is probably redundant. Notice I haven't mentioned the cost; because I underestimated last season what pitchers would be getting on the free agent market, so rather than by suggesting numbers that might look comical four months from now, I'll say Elarton should be retained with "fourth starter money."

Jim Ingraham has figured out why the Indians are trailing the White Sox by umpteen games:

Despite the fact that they are 10th in the American League in hitting, and have lower slugging and on-base percentages than the Indians, the White Sox are running away with American League's Central Division race.

Why?

They play the game the right way. They move base runners, they hit with runners in scoring position, they catch the ball. The Indians do none of that. At least not consistently.


Of course, he failed to mention that the White Sox lead the AL in pitching. And hitting with RISP is not a "fundamental;" it's hitting (and it involves some luck). "Catching the ball" is called fielding; it is not (by my definition) a fundamental. And while the White Sox are second in the league in Defensive Efficiency, the Indians are right behind them.

I've come to believe that "fundamentals" are just a catch phrase sportswriters use to criticize teams that aren't playing "the right way, according to me." If a team like the Indians doesn't bunt all that much, they get criticized because somehow bunting has come to be indicative of a "true team." Nevermind in most cases that giving up an out in order to slightly increase the probability of scoring one run in that inning decreases drastically thel posibility of scoring multiple runs in that inning. ESPN stopped tracking "productive outs" (to my knowledge) this season, and for good reason; there seems to be no correlation between productive outs and scoring runs.

Ingraham, later in the article, admits that a definition of "fundamentals" is very hard to pin down:

Fundamentals are hard to quantify statistically, except for one very obvious statistic: Wins. The teams that win the most tend to be the teams that play the game the right way the most.


Why don't we then concentrate on what we can quantify, then? Baseball does not lack for statistics by which we can evaluate players or teams, which makes relying on a such a subjective concept so silly.



Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Transactions

Reinstated LHP Jason Stanford from the 60-day Disabled List; Optioned him to Akron (AA)

Stanford has made a couple starts (an inning apiece) in Mahoning Valley, but he's a ways away from pitching in the majors. Stanford had Tommy John surgery just about a year ago (7-29-04). He should be in the pitching mix for the Indians next season.

Transferred OF Juan Gonzalez to the 60-day Disabled List (hamstring)

Juan is probably going to miss the rest of the season, barring something miraculous happening.

Optioned IF Brandon Phillips to Buffalo (AAA)

Phillips played sparingly (although you can't blame Wedge, given how well Peralta and Belliard were playing), but the main reason he was up in Cleveland seemed to be Derek Shelton, the team's pitching coach and former minor-league hitting instructor. Phillips is good enough defensively to be on a major-league roster right now, but his swing still has too many holes in it. Getting Phillips to take outside fastballs to right field is probably a major hurdle to clear, from what I've seen.

Recalled IF Ramon Vazquez from Buffalo (AAA)

Because Travis Hafner isn't ready to go yet, the Indians called up a middle infielder, although he probably would have been called up anyway. Vazquez is a left-handed middle infielder, and can hit right-handed pitching (career .715 OPS). I'd expect Belliard and Peralta to get some days off now, especially if Hafner comes back. For now, Jeff Liefer is still with the club, and will probably hit against right-handers until Pronk comes back.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Rafael Palmeiro...

has been suspended by MLB for violating its drug policy.

Somehow I think this will get more attention than the Betancourt suspension...

*Yawn*

I did find it amusing that Buster Olney and Steve Phillips spent two hours on Sunday breaking down the trades that weren't made. Although I do have to say I enjoyed watching the Sunday night broadcast sans Joe Morgan, although I know it's only a one week reprieve. Jon Miller and Steve Stone would be a great pairing, but I know it'll never happen. For those unfamiliar with Stone, he used to do Cub games for WGN, and now he's doing ESPN broadcasts, usually for daygames. Hopefully he'll get better assignments in the future, for I think he's the best there is among color analysts.

When Matt Lawton is the biggest name dealt near the trading deadline, you know it's been a boring deadline. Interestingly enough, the Cubs dealt Jody Gerut to the Pirates in exchange for Lawton, forming a sort of three-way deal that's taken place over eight months (VORP in parenthesis):

Cleveland Gets:
LHP Arthur Rhodes (14.3)
OF Jason Dubois (4.4)*

Pittsburgh Gets:
Jody Gerut (2.6)*

Chicago Gets:
Matt Lawton (24.5)

*Combined between Cleveland and Chicago

Given that the Indians have Rhodes under contract for 2006, there's good chance they come out on the winning end of this deal. The opportunity cost remains though, as the Indians essentially replaced Lawton with Casey Blake (he of the -3.8 VORP). I guess it would have been funny if the Indians had dealt Dubois to Pittsburgh for Lawton, closing the cycle once and for all.

The Rangers did not deal Alfonso Soriano (much to Adam's chagrin), Manny Ramirez decided once and for all that he was a Boston "gangster," and the Devil Rays decided to sit on Julio Lugo and Danys Baez rather than get something for them. Hal Lebovitz reported that the Royals had demanded Fausto Carmona for Matt Stairs; if this "offer" is representative of the deliberations last week, then there's no wonder why almost nothing got done. I'm a bit disappointed that the Indians couldn't deal one of their relievers for an outfielder, but given what actually got traded, that disappointment is tempered somewhat.

VORP report as of August 1st (AL rank):

C Victor Martinez: 23.2 (4th)
1B Ben Broussard: 7.5 (13th)
2B Ron Belliard: 16.2 (8th)
3B Aaron Boone: -3.1 (24th)
CF Grady Sizemore: 26.7 (3rd)
DH Travis Hafner: 43.9 (2nd)
LF Coco Crisp: 17.6 (6th)
RF Casy Blake: -3.8 (24th)
SS Jhonny Peralta: 32.3 (5th)

As you can see, the Indians have great offensive numbers up the middle, but are getting little production from traditional offensive positions. Victor Martinez has carried the team since Travis Hafner went on the disabled list, and although Boone's numbers still look horrific, he's hit well in both June (.272/.341/.506) and July (.314/.362/.430). Coco Crisp continues to be a pleasant surprise in left, and Jhonny Peralta is 5th only because he's behind a stellar group of shortstops (and because he sat early in the season). You know the drill on the underachievers.

Next up: the Yankees. The Indians offense has to put the hurt on the Yankee starters, because New York's offense will get their six runs a game.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Friday Night Fights (Sort of)

Alright, no punches were thrown in last night's victory, but give it time; there's two games left in the series.

First of all, Hasegawa hit Grady Sizemore on purpose for no real good reason. Yeah, he just gave up a home run to Jason Dubois on the previous pitch, but come on. The umpire absolutely made the correct call in tossing him, given where the pitch was thrown (right behind Sizemore, so Grady would back into the pitch). The next inning, Millwood stuck up for his teammate by plunking Yunieski Betancourt, the first batter of the next inning. The benches cleared, Millwood and manager Eric Wedge were tossed, but nothing else happend. But David Riske set the stage for future histrionics by hitting Ichiro in the ninth inning; of course he was ejected, and acting manager Robbie Thompson was as well. Stay tuned, for the next two games may get interesting.

Of course, there was a lot of good that happened during the course of the game; the Indians pounded (soon to be ex?) Seattle pitcher Aaron Sele for nine runs. Victor Martinez, who seems to be hitting now like he did a year ago, hit another three-run homer to effectively put the game out of reach. He finished a triple short of the cycle. Grady Sizemore lead off the game with homer to deep center, and ended a double short of the cycle. Jason Dubois, who loves fastballs out on the outer half of the plate, scorched a home run to right center. When Travis Hafner comes back, Jason needs to be playing right field; although there are some holes in his swing (like a lot of power hitters), you'll take the strikeouts if you can get some power out of him.

The trading deadline is approaching (Sunday at 4pm), and there's some talk that Mark Shapiro might deal either Bob Wickman or Kevin Millwood for some offensive help. Now I'd deal Wickman before Millwood, but I understand that Kevin at this point has a lot more value. With the proposed three-way deal involving Manny Ramirez held up, I'd look to see if I could get Mike Cameron or Aubrey Huff. Obviously the Devil Rays would want prospects (and are supposedly asking the moon and the stars), but the Mets might be interested in Wickman or some other bullpen arm. The Rangers might be a possible destination as well; Kevin Mench would be a great fit. And the Marlins might move Juan Encarnacion. I don't think there's going to be a lot of classic veteren-for-prospect deals this year because of all the teams that are still in races. However, I think you might see a lot of veteren-for-veteren deals where two clubs might trade strengths for weaknesses.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Karma....and Casey Blake

I guess this is karma coming back on Wickman (and me) because of all those saves he almost blew, but it was an awful time to receive it. Again, there's a lot of season left, but with virtually everyone in the AL still in the race, merely keeping pace with the peloton isn't good enough. What makes the loss even more frustrating is that the Indians collected 14 hits, and had but 4 runs to show for it. Whether it's due to the lack of getting hits at the right time or just plain idiotic baserunning, wasting opportunities just grates on me. But if you look at the stats, Oakland left just as many runners on base (11), and had as many hits (14). That's baseball, I guess.

Let me once and for all enunciate my thoughts on Casey Blake, which dovetails with a bit of my philosophy. Blake is disliked right now not because of who he is, but how he's being used. I think if Blake was a platoon partner for Ben Broussard or played in the outfield once a week and still hit .223/.296/.388, some people would complain, but it wouldn't cause much of a kerfluffle. It's because he's trotted out to right field every day, and his offensive struggles are there in front of you every day that it begins to gnaw at your insides. And I don't care where he's hitting in the order, because it really doesn't matter all too much, but I do care that he's in the lineup to begin with. A parallel is the animosity towards Matt Lawton during his stint with the Indians; it wasn't Matt Lawton per se, it was the fact that the Indians gave him a huge contract after trading for him. Heck, at this point I'd take Lawton's cement-shoed range in right field right now, because he's still a pretty decent hitter. But I guess that's besides the point right now. It wasn't that the Indians should have kept Matt Lawton, it's that they replaced him (essentially) with Casey Blake.

And it goes a bit farther than just saying the Indians made a bad move signing Blake to a two-year deal last winter, because there are instances where a team made the absolute correct decision and the player bombs despite everything. No, the Indians signed Blake to a two-year deal, knowing they'd be moving him to outfield, knowing that even at 2004 levels he'd be an average right fielder, knowing that he was 31 and didn't have much of a track record. The good news is that Blake can play the outfield, and he probably can make out a career as a fourth outfielder/utility man. The bad news is that he's not hitting enough to be a backup catcher right now, and as a result, the Indians have a gigantic hole in the outfield. I'm just glad Grady Sizemore has played as well as he has this season; if not, the outfield would have been Coco Crisp, Jody Gerut (assuming they wouldn't have traded him), and ????.

How do you make the best of this situation? Well, I think you go to Jason Dubois, tell him that he's the right fielder, and see what happens. Or Jeff Liefer. Or Ernie Young. Or Andy Abad. Whoever they decide to pick. Obviously besides possibly Dubois, none of these guys are much of a long-term solution, but they don't need to be. All you want is a .250/.350/.450 line for two months.

I guess my point is that good organizations get the most out of the players they have, and they find the right roles for them. For two years, the Indians did exactly that with Casey Blake, a minor-league free agent who gave them two good years at third base. Then they gave him a two-year deal to play right field, effectively canceling out the great return they received in 2003 and 2004. Hopefully he serves as a warning, so whenever the next Casey Blake appears, they know what to do with him.