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Indians Indians Archive The B-List: 9/10 - 9/12
Written by Steve Buffum

Steve Buffum

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: despite excellent performances from the starters (counting Masterson as such), the woeful Indians’ offense contributed next to nothing and the Indians lost more games than they won.  Ha ha!  You tried to stop me, didn’t you?  Well, you can’t.  It’s a rhetorical device, and I’m not actually listening to you.  I am still writing about Indians, though, which means I will soon run out of rhetorical devices, because I will be insane or dead.  Huzzah! 

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Twins (83-58) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Indians (58-83) 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 X 2 6 0

W: Carmona (12-14) L: Pavano (16-11) 

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 R H E
Twins (84-58) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 8 0
Indians (58-84) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 2

W: Guerrier (4-7) L: Germano (0-2) S: Capps (12) 

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Twins (85-58) 5 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 6 7 1
Indians (58-85) 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 9 1

W: Slowey (12-6) L: Talbot (9-12) 

749072510110_Twins_at_OriolesPitching may win championships, but it sure isn’t enough to win actual ballgames. 

0) Administrative Notes 

For the purposes of this article, Justin Masterson is considered Sunday’s “starting pitcher.”  Mitch Talbot retired none of the three men he faced before realizing that pitching with a hurt shoulder hurt his shoulder.  Also, I would like to congratulate Mitch and the training staff for having the judgement of a raw walnut.  Finally, I say we lost Sunday’s game 3-2, that flour tortillas are superior to corn, and that the Dallas Cowboys may be the dumbest team inside the Asteroid Belt. 

1) ¡Fausto! 

On the advice of Cleveland coaches Tim Belcher and Scott Radinsky, Carmona slightly altered his grip three starts ago to take some velocity off his changeup. He was throwing the pitch too hard, and teams were sitting back and hitting it like it was a fastball. 
-- AP writeup

Okay, this is why I should not be hired to scout pitchers on a smallish computer window.  I did not notice that Fausto was using a different grip, and I’m pretty sure I would identify his changeup at anything better than a two-thirds clip.  (Even there, 2/3rds is likely a gross overstatement, but it’s my column.) 

Consider this quote, also from the AP: 

He worked hard on his conditioning during the offseason and Carmona sharpened his mental game in sessions with Cleveland's psychological staff. He's beginning to look more like the 19-game winner who broke onto the scene in 2007. 

"He accomplished it," Acta said, pointing toward Cleveland's clubhouse, where Carmona was getting dressed. "I'm proud of him. He pitched in winter ball, worked on what he had to work on. He bought into everything we were trying to sell to him." 

I don’t know whether he’s looking like 2007 or not.  Hitters have a better idea how to approach his sinker now: it’s not any more hittable, but hitters are generally being more selective and trying to swing at fewer of those that drop out of the strike zone.  At 95 mph, this is no easy judgement, so it’s still a great pitch, especially if he commands it well.  But 2007 might have been on the “good fortune” side of the ledger. 

On the other hand, it’s pretty indisputable that he’s using a more complete, more effective repertoire in 2010 than he did in either 2008 or 2009, when he was essentially a two-pitch pitcher.  Adding an effective change gives him a different movement at a different speed, meaning hitters have a much bigger challenge sitting on the sinker.  If this new grip is the reason for it, I cannot argue with the results.  (Mitch Talbot still has the most remarkable change on the staff, but I’d almost rather Fausto not throw that pitch, as I like the change to look more like his sinker coming out of his hand.)  But more to the point, this points to a certain coachability and willingness to accept new approaches in order to improve as a pitcher. 

Have the last three starts (when the supposed adjustment was made) really been qualitatively better than he had been doing?  Well, one issue with Fausto is that he is not particularly consistent in the first place, so it’s hard to do much trend analysis.  It is interesting to me that in the 7 starts before that, Carmona had apparently turned a “control corner,” giving up 7 walks in those 7 games COMBINED (2 once, 0 once).  Unfortunately, this also made him quite hittable and included a pair of 10-hit outings and a trio of 9-hitters.  Over the last 6 of those 7, he’d given up a horrific 1.57 hits per inning.  Some of this is defense, but … well, it’s just a lot of hits. 

Over his last three starts (ostensibly since the grip change): 

6 2/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 4 K 
8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 6 K 
9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K 

One plausible interpretation of these numbers is that he had some “getting used to” to do as evidenced by the walks.  However, as he began harnessing this new tool, he became less hittable, increased his striekouts, and finally, in the last start, hit his spots without sacrificing “stuff.”  He needed 108 pitches to complete this game against the Twins, 10 fewer than he used in the 6 2/3 innings against the Royals (walks will do this).  The Twins hit 0-for-1 with runners in scoring position.  One opportunity.  One.  They also hit into a pair of double plays.  After the second ended the 4th inning, Carmona did not allow another baserunner, retiring the last 15 (technically 17) in a row.  He got 5 of his 7 strikeouts in this stretch, including 2 each in the 8th and 9th innings.  (I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest he was not tiring or losing effectiveness.) 

Now, not to belabor a point, but three starts is as meaningful as a funny Dane Cook one-liner.  It might make you temporarily happy, but it’s no guarantee you’re going to enjoy a whole season of them.  (In Cook’s case, you will not.)  As fun and exciting as it is to declare Carmona “fixed” or “augmented” or “Cliff Lee,” this is hardly demonstratable.  What I think is reasonable to say at this juncture is that Carmona has looked really tremendous over the last few starts and this gives me a reason to think that he can be a comfortable FOR starter in 2011. 

2) Screw it, gimme the pen 

Last weekend I wrote: 

Ultimately, I’m happy with Carrasco’s outings and see him as a viable choice for the 2011 rotation.  He may start the year in Clumbus, he may start in Cleveland.  But he’s no Super Obvious Lock for the bigs, as there are red flags to be found in his two starts this season. 

Well, heck with that.  After a third straight Quality Start, I’ve seen enough to declare he is one of our five best starting pitchers, and will likely be in 2011 as well. 

Why the change of heart?  Well, partially because I have the patience of a small dog with a full bladder.  Oo, look, shiny object!  I’m aware of this.  I can be swayed by three very good starts.  I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is. 

But the other thing is that Carrasco just looks ready.  This was his best start thus far, but not without a blemish in that he walked 3 guys.  On the other hand, I was concerned about his high SLG allowed, and all five Twins hits were singles.  I was concerned about taterosity, and he gave up no homers.  Interestingly, it seems as though Carrasco is more willing to challenge right-handed hitters (0 BB, 8 K) than left-handers (6 BB, 6 K), which would be understandable … if he actually pitched better against right-handers than left-handers (.907 OPS vs. RHB, .432 OPS vs. LHB). 

But what makes him different from, say, Jeanmar Gomez or Josh Tomlin?  Tomlin’s third start missed being Quality by one run (he pitched enough innings), and Gomez’ first FIVE starts featured two runs or fewer (although he didn’t pitch long enough in starts 2 & 3 to hit the 6-inning threshold for the definition of Quality Start).  Well, for one thing, Carrasco actually strikes someone out: Tomlin and Gomez live in the 4.70 – 4.75 range, while Carrasco is at 6.10.  This isn’t an enormous difference, but look at their stuff, man.  In addition, Carrasco posted 14 groundouts to 3 in the air: in total, his GB:FB ratio is 41:20.  Not ground OUTS to fly OUTS, which are often more extreme, because a bunch of balls hit in the air become HITS instead of OUTS, but ground BALLS to fly BALLS.  That’s ridiculous.  Whereas Tomlin is waiting for his first ground ball of the season.  (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but his ratio is 48:106.  Forty-eight to one hundred six!)  In his last two starts, he’s gone 6 innings each time and gotten THREE ground balls in EACH.  Look, I know it’s possible to be a perfectly acceptible flyball pitcher: hey, fly balls turn into hits less often than ground balls.  (Liners turn into hits a lot.)  But they turn into home runs WAY more often.  I would investigate trading Tomlin to San Diego, Seattle, or maybe even Minnesota.  (If you’re wondering, Gomez is neutral GB:FB.) 

I like Gomez more than I should, in all probability.  I eschew the Lefty Brigade (Huff, Sowers, Laffey) more than I should, potentially … but maybe not.  They might need X-Treme S-Chewing.  But if you think there are clearly five guys more suited to starting than Carlos Carrasco, I’d sure love to hear your reasoning

3) Powering through vs. the Dead Cat Bounce 

Or not.  Mitch Talbot’s last start IS looking like a DCB.

4) A brilliant plan to limit his innings 

By moving Justin Masterson to the bullpen, the Indians hope to limit his innings for the rest of the season.  He made his first relief appearance after the move. 

He pitched seven innings.  With outings like this, the team should have no trouble holding Masterson under his unofficial limit of one million innings. 

Okay, there were extenuating circumstances OBVIOUSLY.  But after a shaky first inning, which is quite understandable coming in after THREE BATTERS, Masterson proceeded to retire 12 straight in the 2nd through 5th innings before yielding his only earned run in the 6th on a double-single combo.  (A nice, honest run.) 

Impressively enough, this outing slots right in with his run of “Quality Starts,” needing only 98 pitches to complete 7 innings.  Most excitingly to me, Masterson walked 0 hitters, a fifth straight with 2 or fewer walks, while still having enough juice to record 6 Ks.  His last three “starts” have been exactly what I think Masterson is capable of at the high end: nearly a K an inning, fewer than 1 hit per inning, limit the walks, very low run totals (1 ER in each).  I mean, that’s a really good pitcher.  Heck, that’s Roy Oswalt.  (Not comparing the pitchers, just the results.) 

Another case of happily splashing around in the Pool of Confirmation Bias, I understand: “He made an adjustment, and it obviously worked!  We’re set from here on out!”  You gotta give me SOMETHING. 

5) Today’s Science Lesson 

Everyone knows that the red blood cells carry oxygen to the cells of the body, and most have heard of hemoglobin, an iron-infused protein chain that uses the chemical properties of the iron ion in the center to bind to oxygen molecules.  One of the dangers of using hemoglobin to ferry oxygen around is that its structure unfortunately is such that it binds to other molecules as well, notably carbon monoxide, cyanide, and hydrogen sulfide (or “swamp gas”).  This is at least part of what makes these compounds toxic, in that they will block the hemoglobin’s receptors for oxygen and inhibit cell functioning.  Hemoglobin’s affinity for carbon monoxide, for example, is 200 times greater than that of oxygen: in a sense, it “prefers” carbon monoxide, which is one or the myriad reasons that smoking is bad for you. 

A number of mutations in hemoglobin have been discovered over the years, including “sickle cell” and “thalassemias.”  These mutations, interestingly enough, occur disproportionately in descendants of population groups who live(d) in tropical regions, where malaria is most rampant.  In each case, the shape of the red blood cell makes it especially difficult for the parasite that causes malaria to make a home and reproduce, thus lessening the severity of the outbreak.  It does not “cure” or “prevent” malaria, but a person who is a “carrier” (with one gene, meaning they do not suffer from the respective full-blown anemia) is more likely to survive and function through an infection. 

Anemia is kind of a catch-all designation for a lowered amount of hemoglobin in the blood.  As such, it affects people by lowering the amount of oxygen they can bind and thus use as fuel for cell growth and function.  In this way, anemia sufferers are often listless, lacking energy, and short of breath. 

Science now points us to a new possible mutation in the world of sports, where teams that are naturally anemic with respect to, for example, their offense, have investigated replacing hemoglobin with some other oxygen-binding mechanism.  Sadly, it would appear that the first major test of this principle is an evolutionary dead-end.  For this reason, I am recommending that the Cleveland Indians’ use of “schmuckoglobin” be discontinued, as a garden-variety “anemic” offense would be preferable to the “schmuckic” version we trot out on a regular basis. 

6) A pitcure is worth a thousand words; a thousand words are worth an emetic 

Instead of harping on individuals, let’s consider the weekend position-by-position.  Which position had the most productive weekend? 

Center field wasn’t too bad: Mike Brantley had at least one hit in each game, going 4-for-14, including a triple that stranded him on third.  That’s not shabby.  But it wasn’t the most productive position. 

Left fielders, too, got a hit in each game, as Trevor Crowe (twice) and Jordan Brown (once) each singled in each game.  But it wasn’t the most productive position. 

Second baseman collected more RBI this weekend than any other position, thanks to a two-run double by Luis Valbuena, who started the game after Jason Donald clevely executed a suicide squeeze with his knuckles.  Although he was called out, at least they combined for … well, two hits.  I guess that’s not really very good at all.  It certainly wasn’t the most productive position. 

DH’s got three hits.  First basemen hit all of the homers for the weekend.  Shortstops had three hits and a sacrifice fly.  Third basemen did not ingest dimethylmercury.  But none of them were the most productive position. 

The most productive position was the catcher tandem of Tofu Lou Marson and Chris Gimenez.  Marson hits .196 and his greatest offensive asset is that he throws out basestealers.  Gimenez hits .204 ans his greatest offensive asset is that he is bald.  Together, they had at least a hit per game, two 2-hit games, a double, and a stolen base.  They went a combined 5-for-11 from the NINE slot.  Because they hit .196 and .204. 

It is hard to believe this team scored only 3 runs in 30 innings. 

7) Credit Where Credit is Due Dept. 

Chris Perez struck out two hitters in a perfect inning of work. 

Tony Sipp struck out two hitters in an imperfect (but scoreless) two innings. 

Jensen Lewis and Joe Smiff each pitched scoreless (if meaningless) innings. 

Luis Valbuena did not make any errors on Friday, a game in which he did not play.

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