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Indians Indians Archive The B-List: 9/7
Written by Steve Buffum

Steve Buffum

Here’s a bet I would have accepted in June or July: “The Indians will win a game in September because Justin Masterson pitches seven 1-run innings while Lou Marson hits a grand slam.”  At a cursory glance, I would probably have accepted that bet if “in September” was replaced with “before the end of the universe.”  In today’s B-List, Buff looks at these performances, plus Marson’s golden arm, Travis Hafner’s slugging bat, Luis Valbuena’s eye, and Jayson Nix’ Tinfoil Hat.  Word. 

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Indians (57-82) 0 0 1 0 0 5 0 0 0 6 8 0
Angels (66-73) 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 7 2

marson_GS2W: Masterson (6-12)  L: T. Bell (2-5) 

September is great because when you’re listening to the radio in the car wondering what the score of the Cleveland game is, they don’t tell you because neither team is in the playoff hunt. 

1) To.  Fu.  Lou. 

In the 6th inning of a tie game, ersatz starter Trevor Bell was running out of gas.  A converted reliever, Bell finally cracked after a quality 5 innings, giving up a solo shot to Travis Hafner and getting Matt LaPorta to fly out.  Francisco Rodriguez came in to relieve Bell, and Jordan Brown was able to battle his way to an oposite-field bloop single.  He was immediately lifted for a pinch-runner in the guise of Trevor Crowe, and Jason Donald stepped to the plate. 

At this point, Francisco Rodriguez (not the Mets reliever, although he did used to pitch in Caliheimgeles) appeared to lose his release point, his composure, and quite possibly full control of his bladder.  He threw four straight balls to Jason Donald, and, after a first-pitch foul by Luis Valbuena, walked him on the next four pitches as well. 

(Let me interject here: you have just watched the man walk a hitter on four straight pitches.  If you’re going to swing at the first pitch, shouldn’t it be like right in your happy zone, or you take it?  There are three possibilities: 

a) You thought it was in your Happy Zone, but it was not 
b) It was in your Happy Zone and you fouled it off 
c) It looked like a strike, so I’m a-swingin’ with my hefty .170 AVG

(a) suggests you are bad at pitch recognition.  (c) suggests you have a bad approach.  But (b) might be most troubling, because it suggests you are not actually good at baseball.) 

To the plate strides Tofu Lou Marson, who watches ball one.  Now, this may be because he is a catcher, but I’d like to think it’s more because he’s a sane adult, but Marson said, “I knew he was going to come with a fastball.  He just left it up …”  Exactly.  The man has now thrown 9 balls in 10 pitches, you have to figure at this point he just wants to prove to himself that he can throw a bloody strike.  And listen: ordinarily, it is pretty safe to challenge the guy hitting .190/.267/.282.  What’s he going to do, bleed on you? 

So Marson waited for Rodriguez to groove one, and then Rodriguez grooved one, and Marson hit it over the left-center wall for the grand slam. 

Now, I’m not trying to belittle the achievement: on the contrary, I’m here to celebrate it.  This is fundamental baseball at its finest: get a pitcher in trouble, then have the skill to punish him for making a mistake.  If you can’t take advantage of that, it’s going to be a long row to hoe.  Marson showed he has the power to hit the occasional homer, and showed good recognition to jump on the pitch he could jump on. 

Here’s the thing about Marson: he seems to hit the ball to right a lot.  The data don’t necessarily back this up, but I swear whenever I see him, he’s hitting the ball to right center and it’s usually caught by the right fielder. 

According to, Marson goes up the middle most of the time: 

Pulled: 35 PA, 34 AB, 12 H, 0 2B, 2 HR, .353/.343/.529 
Up Middle: 113 PA, 112 AB, 23 H, 9 2B, 1 HR, .205/.205/.313 
Opp Field: 29 PA, 28 AB, 6 H, 2 2B, 0 HR, .214/.214/.286

Now, if BR’s software is interpreting right-center as “up the middle,” maybe my observation skills aren’t completely useless.  I guess it makes more sense their way, but I was just noticing that Marson seems to hit the ball right of second base a lot. 

What conclusion do we draw from this?  Lou Marson is an execrable hitter, and he knows way more about hitting than I do.  It would be pretty arrogant (not to mention foolhardy) for me to make any grand pronouncements about Marson’s hitting based on a handful of numbers and a faulty memory that occasionally forgets what level in the parking garage I’m parked on today.  But let me throw an idea out there anyway: I think Lou is waiting on pitches ‘til the last possible millisecond.  This seems like a good approach in that it is giving him time to recognize pitches well and try to control the strike zone.  He’s got 20 walks on the season, which isn’t bad for 242 PA, especially for a guy I assume oppposing pitchers will attack because, y’know, he hits .190 and all.  But it seems like a bad approach in terms of actually producing hits.  I mean, correlation doesn’t imply causation, and if he went up there trying to pull everything because he happens to hit better when he pulls is probably going to do little more than pull his pulling numbers back down to the rest of ‘em. 

Now, this is functionally his rookie year, and I figure Marson has learned a whole lot about pitching this season.  He may be able to take this same approach and turn it into Usable Offense in the future.  One of the fascinating things about Marson is that he’s hitting .221 on balls in play, which seems really low.  I don’t mean, “Boy, Tofu Lou can’t hit,” but rather, “Boy, Tofu Lou doesn’t find many holes when he hits the ball.” 


Pulled: .353/.343/.529, .303 BABIP 
Up Middle: .205/.205/.313, .198 (!) BABIP 
Opp Field: .214/.214/.286, .214 BABIP

I mean, who is playing center field against poor Tofu Lou, Usain Bolt?  Reed Richards?  Is that even remotely sensible?  I looked up Mike Brantley on a whim: 

Pulled: .349/.349/.651, .300 BABIP 
Up Middle: .245/.241/.274, .241 BABIP 
Opp Field: .235/.235/.235, .235 BABIP

Hm, that’s kind of the same trend, although Marson still looks extreme. 

Shin-Soo Choo? 

Pulled: .398/.398/.660, .361 BABIP 
Up Middle: .344/.343/.498, .317 BABIP 
Opp Field: .397/.390/.741, .368 BABIP

Okay, those numbers are just sick. 

So I’m not going to compare Lou Marson to Shin-Soo Choo, but I will say that hitters can certainly get better at evening out their trajectory results, and .198 on balls in play up the middle seems insanely low.  So Lou Marson might … not be terrible. 

I still would have bet against the grand slam, though. 

2) Wait, you forgot the best part! 

Oh, yeah!  That went on way longer than I expected anyway. 

Two men tried to steal a base off Tofu Lou.  Two men were caught stealing by Tofu Lou. 

Don’t steal on Tofu Lou. 

3) Who moved my paradigm? 

In 3 of his last 3 starts, Justin Masterson has allowed fewer than 3 runs, an average of 1.33 a game. 

In 4 of his last 5 starts, Justin Masterson has allowed fewer than 3 runs, an average of 1.00 a game. 

In 5 of his last 7 starts, Justin Masterson has allowed fewer than 3 runs, an average of 1.00 per game. 

Now, this is all very nice angels-on-pinheads-counting and arbitrary samples and what have you.  That 7th game only lasted 5 innings, at least partially because he walked 4 guys.  The 6 innings of 1-hit shutout ball were marred by 6 walks.  And the two bad games of the seven were pretty bad clunkers. 

But the fact is, Masterson has finally pushed his ERA under the 5.00 mark for the first time since April, and if you believe and understand such things, the Tweeter @devil_fingers (Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs) pointed out: 

Matt Garza 2010: 4.18 FIP, 4.44 xFIP; Justin Masterson 2010: 4.18 FIP, 4.14 xFIP 

This may have been as much a dig at Garza as lauding of Masterson, it is rather striking that Masterson’s “real” performance is significantly better than what we normally think of him as having.  He’s allowed a BABIP of .329, for example, which speaks to the infield defense he has had behind his groundball tendencies.  And he’s gotten his AVG against left-handed batters down to .304 (SLG: .435), which is a significant improvement over the early parts of the season. 

Here’s a quote that struck a chord with me (quote courtesy of AP): 

"It's one of those things where you're trying to find the correct checkpoints and things come together," Masterson said. "As a big, tall, lanky guy, you try to work through many different things. And I've finally found some good checkpoints to catch myself -- even within the game. I just tell myself to remember what makes me good and what I can do. I've been turning to those checkpoints, and that's what's made me consistent." 

He’s certainly big and tall, although while he has long limbs, he’s less “lanky” than “enormous.”  He’s listed at 250 lb, after all.  Raffy Perez is “lanky.”  Justin Masterson is “huge.” 

Anyway, the troubles he’s had with walks and command over the year speak to a certain difficulty finding the right release point or stride or something.  It’s not all just the low delivery angle: part of it is the almost Kevin Brown type of wide-open throwing motion that seems to have a lot of moving parts, which has to be hard on consistency. 

I’m still a long way from declaring Masterson “all fixed now,” but the fact is, he has pitched better lately, has walked no more than 2 hitters in any of his last four starts, and may now have enough in his arsenal to guarantee that rotation spot in 2010. 

(Ironically, Anthony Castrovince (@castrovince for real or @caskranowich for fake) opines that the Tribe will be moving Masterson to the pen as he’s pitched 166 innings this season, approaching his “limit.”) 

4) Pronk smash! 

Travis Hafner hit a high mistake from Bell over the wall for his 11th home run on the season.  He also had a double in the 3rd inning.  He is hitting .274/.371/.445 on the season. 

Here’s a question: is Bobby Abreu a valuable offensive player?  Maybe not so much any more.  (He’s certainly not a good right fielder, but that’s not really germane.)  Still, Abreu has gotten some love over the years for being kind of perpetually underrated, and certainly in his prime, he was more valuable than you might remember, putting up lines in the .310/.415/.535 range every year from 1999 to 2004.  Of course, he’s 36, he’s no longer that player. 

Still, he is this player: 

2007: .283/.369/.445 
2008: .296/.371/.471 
2009: .293/.390/.435 
2010: .251/.348/.426

This looks like the end may be coming for Bobby Abreu. 

But Travis Hafner is 33.  Bobby Abreu was 33 in 2007. 

Hafner age 33: .274/.371/.445 
Abreu age 33: .283/.369/.445

Hafner has injury issues, while Abreu has been remarkably durable, but if Hafner’s next two years look like Abreu’s 2008 & 2009 … I mean, forget the salary, which is a sunk cost.  Is that player worth having in your lineup? 

I have to think he is. 

(Note: if Travis Hafner plays past his age 36 season of 2013, I’ll be moderately surprised.) 

5) Terror on the Basepaths! 

Mike Brantley was a one-man horror show for the Angels last night: in the first, he drew a walk, and when Bell tried to pick him off, he threw wildly and Brantley advanced to second.  Nothing came of this, but it was still Terror for the Angels. 

In the third, though, Brantley singled to the opposite field, stole second, and took third on the flub by shortstop Erick Aybar.  He then scored on a sac fly by Shin-Soo Choo. 

In all, Brantley reached base three times. 

6) Good eye! 

Matt LaPorta also reached base three times. He went 0-for-2.  (He drew three walks.) 

Luis Valbuena reached base twice.  He also went 0-for-2.  (He drew two walks.  This should not be surprising, as his last RBI was collected on a walk as well.  Also, he hits .174.) 

7) Credit Where Credit is Due Dept. 

Jordan Brown collected a pair of singles. 

Jayson Nix avoided the Golden Sombrero by striking out only 3 times. 

Andy Marte forced the pitcher to use FOUR pitches to strike him out.

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