Friday, February 25, 2005

My Obligatory Steroids Column

Now that an Indian has been implicated in the ever-widening circle of alleged steroids users, I guess I should comment on the situation. Others have done so more eloquently and succintly, but what's another opinion?

The foundations for this scandal was laid by baseball itself. By not inserting a testing program years ago, by not really addressing the problem until late last year, Bud Selig and the Players' Association has set themselves up for this current frenzy. There's a lot of other parties involved, and none of them really look good. Former players such as Jose Canseco look like opportunists, the media looks like the Salem elders, and the game itself has taken another hit.

Dennis Maniloff's recent column on the scandal is free of a lot of the hysteria that has accompanied Jose Canseco's book. Here's my favorite part of it:

Proving Canseco lied about any of them is the sticky wicket. In the end, all the accused really can present as evidence is their character, their resume, their believability. When Canseco says he injected McGwire in the bathroom area of the clubhouse, what can McGwire offer years removed as rebuttal, beyond his word?

It might not be fair, but it's reality.

Exactly. No matter what Mark McGwire or Ivan Rodriguez or Juan Gonzalez say, they can't remove the accusation from the public's mind. The only real way to reverse these accusations is to sue Canseco, but how do you prove anything when it's a he-said, he-said situation? Even if you point out the inaccuracies in the book, even if you infer that Canseco is simply trying to make a buck, I don't see how any of the players implicated in the book can prove he was lying, even if they never took steroids.

In the end, it comes down to a matter of belief. Some people are going to believe that 75% of the players in baseball are juiced, and nothing's going to change their mind. Because the burden of proof rests with the player to defend himself, what evidence can they put forth other than their word? That's why this subject won't be going away.

I've never thought of Juan Gonzalez as a muscular guy; he was more of a wiry-strong player, whose body hasn't changed that much since he broke in with the Rangers. I don't think he took steroids, but I have no way to prove it. That's what makes this whole situation so frustrating for baseball fans like myself. As the years roll by, and as the new testing policy takes effect, accusations on current players should die down, but no amount of time will dim the cry of those who feel Barry Bonds' 73 home runs in 2001 should be expunged from the annals of baseball.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Purchased the Contract of OF Juan Gonzalez

This move is mandated by a clause in Gonzalez's contract. All Juan has to do to make the club is to stay healthy, which is far from a sure thing. I'm not expecting much, and the Indians have a couple backup plans just in case he doesn't work out health-wise, including Grady Sizemore and Ryan Ludwick. Jody Gerut should be ready in June, which would make things even more interesting in the event that everyone's still healthy. But whenever you bring in this type of player, you always start to think of how good he can be if healthy. 2001 wasn't that long ago, right?

Placed LHP Jason Stanford on the 60-Day Disabled List (elbow)

The doppleganger to the Gonzalez purchase. Stanford is out until at least the All-Star Break, and probably won't contribute much if any innings for the Indians this season. Jody Gerut should be the only player (knock on wood) to join Stanford on the 60-day DL before the beginning of the season.

Signed LHP Cliff Bartosh, RHP Rafael Betancourt, RHP Jake Dittler, OF Ryan Ludwick, LHP Jason Stanford, and LHP Brian Tallet to 2005 Contracts

Ludwick is the only one of this group that's a lock to make the club, although Betancourt should be a favorite for one of the two bullpen spots. Bartosh and Tallet are the third and fourth left-handed relievers on the depth chart, and should go to Buffalo. Dittler's probably going to start in Akron, where he'll get a second shot at AA hitters.

Signed OF Darren Bragg to a minor-league contract

AAA fodder, at best. He's bumped around several organizations lately, including some major-league stints, but a lot of bad things would have to happen for Bragg to appear in an Indians uniform.

Monday, February 21, 2005


Some randomness:

I've sponsored my first baseball-reference page. And the winner is........Jhonny Peralta. He's a guy I've liked since 2002, when he broke out in AA with 15 homers at the age of 20. Now, at 23, he's probably going to be the Indians' starting shortstop. He's replacing a local icon, but I think he'll be fine. I considered sponsoring Kyle "These Boots Were Made for Walking" Denney or Fernando Cabrera as well, but alas, my budget can stretch only so far. Oh yeah, I'll certainly take suggestions on the Peralta page's caption, as the best I could come up with was a lame comment on the spelling of his name.

If you haven't checked out 'Till You're Blue in the Face, I urge you to do so. It's more a prospect blog than a Royals blog; he ranks a prospect a day, giving each prospect a 1-5 star rating and an ETA. For those of you with fantasy keeper leagues, or if you're just interested in prospects, it's a great read. Here's some of his Indians reports:

Ryan Goleski
Adam Miller
Jake Gautreau
Sean Smith
Pat Osborn
Michael Aubrey
Tom Mastny

Spring Training Talk

Looking over the list of NRIs, there's a couple of guys I'm going to keep my eye on, beyond Juan Gonzalez and Paul Shuey. The first guy is Steve Watkins, a pitcher from the Padre organization. He posted pretty good peripherals between Mobile and Portland last year, and he could be called upon for a bullpen job sometime this year. The other one is John Rodriguez, from the Yankee organization. He had a career year for the Clippers in 2004, slugging .542 for Columbus. He's a center fielder by trade, so he might be a short-term fix if needed. Obviously there's also "internal" NRIs like Ryan Garko, Jake Robbins, and Billy Traber (although technically he was a minor-league signing) as well. Unfortunately for this year's class, there aren't that many opportunities to make the club; Ryan Ludwick is out of options, so he's the fourth outfielder if healthy, and both backup infield spots are spoken with Jose Hernandez and Alex Cora signed to major-league deals. The best opportunity for an NRI to make the club is Juan Gonzalez, but after that I don't think there's an opening.

Matt Miller, Rafael Betancourt, and Jason Davis are probably the front-runners for the two open bullpen slots. If you assume Davis is going to be the "6th starter", then it's really Miller vs. Betancourt, with Paul Shuey on the periphery. One of Betancourt or Miller might be dealt before the rosters are finalized, which is amazing considering that those two were probably the team's best relievers last year.

Oh yeah, here's the annual Jason Bere comeback article.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Catalyst

Today (or yesterday), the Twins signed 2004 AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana to a four-year contract. Essentially, Minnesota got Santana for two extra years, because he was eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. The specific details haven't been released by the team, but several reports have the bulk of the money coming in years three and four of the deal, which makes sense; those are the years that the Twins essentially "bought out." This contract is definitely risky for a team with a smaller payroll, but in my opinion it's a risk you almost have to take. The Twins are never going to be able to sign a pitcher like Santana on the free agent market, and if Johan stays healthy, he'll be well worth what he's getting even in 2007 and 2008.

Of all the aspects of player-management bargaining, I think the arbitration process is the most useful part for both sides. Player and management swap salaries, and an arbitrator picks one number or the other; he can't split the difference. Most often, though, deals get worked out before the hearing takes place because the arbitration hearing serves as a deadline for both sides. For the Indians, they haven't had a player go to arbitration since 1991.One of the reasons for this streak was former GM John Hart's tendency to lock players up before they became eligible. Hart's strategy has been copied in the years since, but I've gradually come to see the upsides and downsides of it. Of course the upsides are readily apparent; the team obtains cost certainty, and if the player stays healthy and gets better, the deal's an absolute bargain.

However, if you've read Outside the Lines' account of the Manny Ramirez contract negotiations, the fact that the Indians had Manny locked up below market value played a part in his decision to leave the Indians. Yes, the Indians would have paid more in the short term, especially if the club had lost in arbitration. But at least the player has some sense of being paid what he's worth. Sometimes these arbitration hearings lead to long-term deals like the one Johan Santana just signed. Ichiro signed a long-term contract with the Mariners in a similar circumstance, as did Albert Pujols with the Cardinals, as did Roy Halladay with the Blue Jays.

Another downside to the Hart-style contract is if the player gets hurt, a la Jaret Wright. You lose some degree of flexibility when you sign a player to a long-term deal, and if you pick the wrong guy to lock up, you'll get burned. The Blue Jays are finding this out with Eric Hinske. Heck, the Twins have only to look at Joe Mays to remind them of what can happen when you sign a pitcher to a long-term deal.

Now I'm not categorically against long-term deals with young players, but I'm also less inclined the think they're a magic bullet. Especially if you want to keep a player beyond six years. If a player is signed through his sixth season, there's no leverage on the team's part in contract negotiations. The Indians may run into this problem with CC Sabathia, who's eligible for free agency in 2006 at the age of 26. My hope is that the two sides get together right after this season is complete and work out a long-term deal. However, there's no reason for Sabathia to agree to an extension because the Indians are probably going to pay him $7M or so in 2006 (he has an option, but I believe it vests with a certain amount of innings pitched). Ironically, Sabathia's agent was Jeff Moorad, who was Manny Ramirez's agent. Fortunately, Moorad is now employed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but the contract remains.

Monday, February 14, 2005

What the Unbalanced Schedule Has Wrought

When baseball went to an unbalanced schedule in 2001, I was initially for it. After all, it would make the division title more meaningful, right?. However, as we enter the 5th year with the unbalanced schedule, I'm starting to like it less and less. For teams in the AL Central, I think it's really hurt attendance. None of the teams are really a draw the way the Yankees or Red Sox are, and the fact that the Indians have three home series each against the White Sox, Royals, Twins, and Tigers starts to depress attendance even more. It's no surprise that all five AL Central teams ranked in the bottom third of MLB in attendance; while some of those low numbers may be due to poor performance, I have to believe that the lack of draws hurt attendance as well.

Let's take this year's schedule as an example. Here's a breakdown of who the Indians play at home this year:

Minnesota (10)
Chicago (10)
Detroit (9)
Kansas City (10)
Toronto (3)
Anaheim (3)
Oakland (6)
Colorado (3)
Arizona (3)
Boston (3)
Cincinnati (3)
Seattle (3)
New York (3)
Tampa (6)
Texas (3)
Baltimore (3)

Yes, the Indians have as many home dates against the Rockies and Diamondbacks as they have against the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rangers. To me, this not only costs the teams attendance, but it also may affect the team on the field, especially in Wild Card competition.

Here's my solution:

(1) Reduce the number of in-division games from 76 to 56
(2) Reduce the number of Interleague games from 18 to 6
(3) Increase the number of non-division AL games from 68 to 100

Teams would still play more games per division team (14) than non-division team (11 or 12), they would also be guarenteed at least two home series versus each non-division AL team. And they would still have six Interleague games to play versus either a NL rival (such as Cincinnati) or two random NL teams if they don't have a clear rival. Furthermore, the league wild card races would become more meaningful. Here's my modified home schedule:

Minnesota (7)
Chicago (7)
Kansas City (7)
Detroit (7)
Toronto (6)
Anaheim (5)
Oakland (6)
Boston (5)
New York (6)
Tampa (5)
Texas (6)
Baltimore (5)
Seattle (5)
Cincinnati (3)

Divisional games, to increase their magnitude, would be stacked later in the season, much as they are now. The Interleague series would be held on the weekend before and the weekend after the All-Star Break. AL West teams would still play 19 games against division opponents due to one less team in the division.

I think moving towards a slightly unbalanced schedule would still preserve rivalries within the division, but also reinvigorate rivalries with teams in the other two divisions. Of course, commissioner Bud Selig seems to think that the gimmick that is Interleague play is a success, so I doubt we see any schedule change reducing the number of games. But I believe that as the novelty of Interleague play starts to wear off and teams begin to clamor for more games against teams like the Yankees, this type of schedule should start to gain popularity.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Tweeners

Here's a list of a few players that probably won't make the club, but should be key pieces of the 2005 Indians.

C/1B Ryan Garko

If Garko terrorizes the International League, the Indians have a dilemma. Not only do they have to decide whether to bring him up, but they have to figure out how they can use him. Let's assume that Garko can play two positions (three if you count DH as a position): catcher and first base. The knock on Ryan is that he's not very good defensively behind the plate. That, combined with the fact that the Indians already have Victor Martinez and Josh Bard on the roster leads me to believe that, barring an injury, he isn't catching for the Indians any time soon. First base is then the easiest avenue for Ryan to reach Cleveland, but he's also blocked there. Ben Broussard probably won't be around for too much longer, but he's not an offensive albatross. Travis Hafner is probably the full-time DH from here on out, so unless they're comfortable platooning Ryan with Broussard, Hafner, or both, Garko's stuck in Buffalo. Compounding things is Michael Aubrey, who could be ready for the bigs by next year. Garko may end up like the Phillies' Ryan Howard, blocked in his organization by other players. Or maybe the Indians can shoehorn him on the roster as a Matt LeCroy (or even a Josh Phelps) type of player.

RHP Jason Davis

Closer or starter? At this point, Davis is the 6th starter on the staff. Given the injury histories of the rotation members, he might get 10-15 starts before the year's out. Upper 90s heat tends to make clubs turn guys Davis into closers, and I see his potential there as well. But he still has a lot kinks in his delivery to work out; pitching in shorter spurts isn't going to completely hide those flaws. Davis still has an option, so the Indians still have some time to think about his some more, whether that be as the 12th pitcher on the staff or in Buffalo. My guess: he fills in for Scott Elarton, loses his job, then finishes the year as a key setup man after a stint with the Bisons.

RHP Kaz Tadano

Like Davis, the Indians still don't know what to make of Tadano. That's where the similarities between the pitchers end. Tadano has pretty good control. His issue keeping him from starting is his durability. He may end up having a career similar to his countryman Shigetoshi Hasegawa, who was tried as a starter initially, then settled down into a setup role. Tadano is probably ticketed to Buffalo again, and will probably stay in the rotation as an insurance policy.

2B/SS Brandon Phillips

Reading between the lines, I think Jhonny Peralta is the favorite to win the shortstop job. That leaves Brandon back in Buffalo, where he'll probably stay unless Peralta or Belliard gets hurt. It's hard to believe it's been two seasons since Brandon was essentially given the second base job going into the 2003 season. Now the shoe's on the other foot, and Phillips will have to bide his time. I wouldn't surprised if he gets dealt sometime during or after this season, especially if Peralta has a good year. The Indians have Alex Cora for another year, and have a 2006 option on Ronnie Belliard. Neither is what I'd call a long-term solution, but Phillips may not be one either.

OF Grady Sizemore

It's not his fault, but if Juan Gonzalez is healthy, Grady is going to Buffalo. Personally I'd take him over Coco Crisp, but that isn't happening. Sizemore is an outstanding fielder, the best the Indians have in the system besides perhaps Franklin Gutierrez, and he wasn't overpowered at the plate last season. Unlike the other players on this list, Sizemore is going to get his shot sooner or later.

OF Ryan Ludwick

Injuries are the reason Ludwick is on this list. His golden opportunity was last year, when Alex Escobar was flopping in the majors. Now it may be too late for anything beyond a complementary role for Ryan. He should be the fourth outfielder no matter if Gonzalez makes the club or not. He should get fairly regular at-bats against left-handed pitching, but a lot of injuries will have to happen for him to become a regular starter.

RHP Jeremy Guthrie

He's probably going to Buffalo as well. Guthrie's career fell off a cliff in late 2003, when he was hammered by AAA hitting. The experience carried over to 2004, where he struggled in AA a year after he dominated there. Now he's way down on the list of starter candidates, and may be hard-pressed to win a bullpen job.

RHP Fernando Cabrera

Like Sizemore, Cabrera is on this list because there isn't room for him on the major-league roster. He adjusted well to his new role as a reliever last season, and is pretty much ready for the majors. If the Indians need a reliever early in the year, Cabrera should be the first one called up.

Monday, February 07, 2005

A Korean Perspective on the Indians

Via Baseball Think Factory, a Korean cartoon depicting the 2004 Indinas. Obviously, the captions are in Korean, so I have no idea what they say (if any reader knows the language, by all means translate it). But since a picture's worth a thousand words, so I'll give it a shot.

1. Jake Westbrook. Casey Blake, Ronnie Belliard, and Omar Vizquel are tired of fielding all of Jake's ground balls.
2. Travis Hafner. He's harmless against left-handers (I think that's Mark Buerhle on the left), but mashes right-handed pitching.
3. CC Sabathia/Bob Wickman. Both pitchers are successful despite their bulkiness.
4. Victor Martinez. He's a good player without the added weight.
5. Kaz Tadano. Well, this one should be pretty obvious. The batter is Alex Rodriguez, I think.
6. Coco Crisp. He beat out Alex Escobar and Grady Sizemore.
7. Jose Jimenez. He sucked.

Feel free to add your own captions.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Magglio Ordonez

Every so often, a baseball signing just completely shocks me. Alex Rodriguez was the last time it happened, but today's (reported) signing has the same effect on me.

Magglio Ordonez has been for years one of the game's most underrated players, maybe because he played in a division no one cared about nationally, or maybe it was his consistency. Most Indians fans know how good he is from experience; him and Frank Thomas would kill the Indians time after time throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. He's never hit 40 home runs in a season, but he's also been one of the better hitters in the American League since 1998.

But I simply can't imagine he'd ever get 75 million dollars from anyone. Especially after a career-threatening knee injury. Especially after an offseason where players like Adrian Beltre and Carlos Delgado didn't really get market value. That's what the Detroit Tigers are reportedly going to pay Magglio over the next five seasons. I had assumed that some team like the Mets or Cubs would get him at a reduced rate, he'd have a good year, and then go back on the free agent market and cash in. But I have to credit his agent for somehow getting a team to give him a five year contract.

In 2002, Jim Thome was the best position player on the market, coming off a career year, and he roughly got what Ordonez is getting. He's going to get more than Vlad got last year.

The Tigers are probably forced into paying this much because of their past history, which you can justify on some level. They struck gold after signing Ivan Rodriguez late last offseason, and appear to be following the same script with Ordonez in this offseason. But with these types of signings comes an incredible amount of risk. I always like to ask myself when I see a contract is what the dollar amounts says about the player. For instance, Alex Rodriguez is being paid to be the best player in baseball. Magglio Ordonez is going to be paid to be one of the top 10 players in baseball. The problem comes when the monetary expectations (ie the contract dollars) doesn't mesh with the baseball expectations (ie the performance on the field). I'll bring up another example near and dear to our hearts: Matt Lawton. He's a nice player, but the disconnect between his performance and his paycheck was fairly large. That's what I see with this deal, but on a grander scale. Unless Magglio somehow ups his game to Pujolsian levels over the next five seasons, he won't be worth what he's getting.

And yes, if the Indians had given out a contract like this in the past two months, I'd be saying the same thing. When dollars don't match performance, there's a big problem, because most teams only have so much money that they can spend. The larger the gulf, the bigger the problem. The smaller the payroll, the bigger the problem. Now if the Tigers suddenly start spending $100M a year, they might not suffer as much from this contract. They are one year away from ridding themselves of Bobby Higginson's Ferry-esque contract, so they'll should be all right monetarily. But the bigger issue comes from the performance on the field; this is what happened to the Indians in 2002.

This signing definitely makes the AL Central more interesting, though. If everyone's healthy, a Rodriguez-Ordonez-Young middle of the order is going to be scary to face.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Warming Up the Trucks

Right about this time, trucks carrying baseball equipment should be on their way to Winter Haven. Baseball's around the corner, and although LeBron has kept Cleveland sports fans fixated through the winter months, it's nice to know that Spring Training is near.

I've also uploaded my rankings of the 36 pitchers on the Indians' Top 100 list. Here's the top ten, with WARP3 in parentheses:

1. Bob Feller (106.4)
2. Bob Lemon (88.1)
3. Mel Harder (76.1)
4. Stan Coveleski (68.8)
5. Early Wynn (62.2)
6. Charles Nagy (59.5)
7. Willis Hudlin (57.5)
8. Mike Garcia (57.1)
9. Addie Joss (52.8)
10. Sam McDowell (51.2)

I was a bit surprised that Nagy ranked so high, but revisting his statistics, he had an excellent career. After 1999 he was pretty much done, but during the mid 1990s, he was one of the best pitchers in the American League. Note that I'm ranking these pitchers by the time they spent with the Indians, so pitchers like Gaylord Perry will be lower in the list because they didn't pitch long in Cleveland. The download link is to the right, under "Links."

Here's the pitching numbers I promised a couple days ago.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Challenge Trade

Traded 3B/OF Corey Smith to the San Diego Padres for 2B/3B Jake Gautreau

By "challenge trade" I mean clubs are swapping problems in the hopes that a change of scenery will help get their careers back on track. Both can play third base, though neither can play it well. Both are past first round busts. But there are a couple differences between the two. Gautreau has been sidelined with collitis (I guess DaJuan Wagner isn't the only athlete to get it) in the past couple of years, while Smith has stayed relatively healthy. Gautreau was moved to second base last season, while Smith was moved to the outfield this offseason. Smith is three years younger than Gautreau, but Jake is closer to the majors. He also hits left-handed, so that's a plus. All in all, you can understand the reasoning behind both sides of the deal. Given that the Indians have a bazillion third basemen in Cleveland, Gautreau might be groomed as a utility guy until needed in the majors.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Fuel on the Fire

I apologize for continuing on this Westbrook theme, but I found this article yesterday, and it piqued my interest even further. It goes a bit further than I have, examining what type of balls in play pitchers give up. The Hardball Times compiled the data and showed the outcomes (eg strikeouts, walks, groundball, etc) by percentage. It turns out that Jake gave up the greatest proportion of ground balls in the majors, 49%. More importantly, Westbrook also gave up a below-average percentage of line drives, 11%. Why is that important? HT figured the percentage of the time certain outcomes turned into outs, and line drives were caught only 26% of the time. So obviously if you're a pitcher, giving up a lot of line drives isn't a good idea.

So what's the best type of out, then? Obviously #1 is a strikeout; you will almost always record an out if this happens (the exceptions being a strikeout combined with a wild pitch or passed ball). Infield flies are next at 97%. After that it gets a bit tricky. Outfield flies (75%) become outs more often than ground balls (72%), but ground balls never become home runs; outfield flies leave the park 12% of the time.

Where am I going with this? It's very possible, if you're an extreme ground ball pitcher, to be successful with a lower than average strikeout rate. There are two big caveats, though. Number one, the pitcher has to keep his walks down. Number two, he has to have a good infield defense behind him. Obviously the best outcome would be for Jake to raise his strikeout rate to 5.5-5.8, but if his ground ball percentage sticks around 50%, it's very possible that he can be effective while posting substandard strikeout ratios. By effective I mean a 4.00-4.25 ERA, not a 3.38 ERA. That's a good middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Brandon Webb, who makes a nice Westbrook comp, saw his ERA increase because his walk percentage ballooned to 14%. I'd take Webb over Westbrook because of his ability to combine his sinker with a healthy strikeout rate, but his stat line serves as a reminder of what can happen if you start walking batters without compensating with strikeouts.

I'll throw out some percentages for other Indians starters tomorrow.

By the way, check out Dave Haller's excellent article on Barry Larkin (and to a certain extent) Omar Vizquel.