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Indians Indians Archive Cleveland Indians Midseason Report: Handicapping the Tribe's MVP
Written by Noah Poinar

Noah Poinar

masterson copyWe're officially halfway through the season and the Indians own the second worst pitching staff in the AL as their opponents have outscored them by 27 runs.  Given that information, the projections say this team should be anywhere from 5 to 12 games below .500, but they’re three games above (42-39) and remarkably just two games back in the division.  Given the amount (and significance) of the injuries they’ve had, it’s hard to believe that this is the case; and, as a direct result, it’s even harder to handicap this team's MVP know, if it were cool to discuss and debate the MVP candidates of individual teams.   That’s what I’m here to do, rank this teams players from least to most valuable.  To configure the list, I asked the only qualifiable question that one should ever ask when sorting through a list of  value candidates: If this player went down for the season due to health complications, to what degree would the Indians be screwed.  


 (21) Jeanmar Gomez:  Back in May, I wrote a Indians Quarter Report similar to this and said that Jeanmar was the ace of this staff.  He’s been a liability ever since.  Let’s just move on...

(20) Aaron Cunningham

(19) Johnny Damon

(18) Shelly Duncan   

hammyThe sabermetric baseball community holds claim to a stat called WAR, which stands for Wins Above Replacement.  Using a complicated formula, WAR mashes a players statistics together and spits out a number which quantifiably represent how much value a player has; it's slowly becoming one of the more popular stats in the game.  It basically looks at a guy and asks, “If this player got injured and the team had to replace them with someone from their bench, how much value (or wins) would the team be losing?”   Combined, Shelly Duncan, Aaron Cunningham and Johnny Damon have a WAR of "aproximately" -3.8.  That means they aren’t even playing above what is considered replacement level; they are the replacement level, which is why I was forced to say "approximately."  To put this number into motion, let's say Matt Holiday, who has a WAR of 3.3—very good but not off the charts—played left field for the Indians this year.  They’d project to have a record somewere around the area of 48-33.  That’s a pretty big difference, and while it's a imperfect projection, it does illustrate the Indians offense in a nutshell.  When healthy, they're really just one significant addition away from being a offensive juggernaut and the class of the AL Central.  It's hard to believe this seeing as how this team has habitually struggled to put up runs at times, but it will make more sense when you get down to the gritty part of this list.    


(17) Matt LaPorta: The most annoying, head-scratching part of this entire season has been the Indians handling of Matt LaPorta.  Needless to say, if he were to get hurt, it wouldn’t matter because he’s not on the team.  He’s higher than Damon, Duncan, and Cunningham on this MVP ranking for the simple fact that he’s not Damon, Duncan, or Cunningham.  It’s sad, I know.  To give credit where it is due, over the last week the left field trio has stepped it up; so much so that I feel a bit guilty right now trashing them. 


(16) Josh Tomlin: He’s become the miniature version of Ubaldo Jimenez.  He’s a hit or miss nearly every start.  The “hit” part of that (as opposed to the “miss”) is the only reason he’s ahead of Gomez on here.  It’s disappointing because, stats aside, Tomlin’s one of the more likable guys on this roster.  Am I regretting a friendly wager I made prior to the year predicting that Tomlin would throw a no-hitter?  Yes, yes I am.   I’ve never seen a pitcher who was more prone to giving up the long ball; the guy is ‘pitching-to-contact’ at a rate that is unheard of.   


(15) Lou Marson:  When Santana went down with a concussion, Marson finally began hitting and has raised his sub .070 batting average all the way up to .295. It seems when Marson gets consistent, every-day at-bats—like he has been—he hits.  That's usually how it works for everyone in baseball though.  The security of playing time leads to confidence, confidence leads to production, and production leads to more confidence.  There have been two stretches where Marson has played in at least four consecutive games.  In those 2 stretches of 9 games Marson has a .437 (14 for 32) batting average, 5 RBI, 3 doubles, 4 triples 4BB, and nearly hit for the cycle in one of those games.  His recent play prompted me to ask—with a serious look on my face— “If this guy can play catcher, easily the toughest position in baseball, couldn’t he at least be a viable everyday left fielder?”  As the season long adage goes, he can't be any worse than what we already got, right? 


(14) Derek Lowe: Lowe began the season 6-2 and took a AL lead in the ERA department.  It was short stayed.  He’s 8-6 overall which isn’t bad when you remember that he's 39 years old, but he’s mostly been terrible since his surprising start to open the year.  His season ERA has ballooned to 4.34 and more and more groundballs are finding holes.  A lot of this, though, has to do with the injury to Jack Hanahan and the constant turnover of the team since Hafner's injury.  When Kotchman and Hanahan are both on the field, they make a huge difference for Derek Lowe.  That's why I have them ranked ahead of Lowe.


(13) Casey Kotchman:  During Wednesday’s rubber match against the Angels, Kotchman hit a rare 3-run home run off of a left handed pitcher to give the Indians a 9-1 lead.  That’s kind of how it’s been all season for him, he’s baseballs version of a garbage time player.  There aren’t many instances of clutch hitting by Kotchman this year, so his numbers (7HR and 31RBI) are a bit misleading.  But he does make up for this with his defense at first where he has a fielding percentage of .996.


(12) Lonnie Chisenhall: (Ineligible)


(11) Jack Hanahan: the best thing that could have happened to Hanahan was Lonnie Chisenhall’s injury.  Like Marson, Hanahan has been at his best when he’s getting everyday at-bats and coming to the park knowing he’s going to be in the starting lineup.  Already in July he has more hits than he did all of June, where he split duty with Chisenhall and only played nine games (mostly because of injury).


(10) Ubaldo Jimenez:  In his last six starts, he has a ERA of 2.96.  If you go back in the last two years and take any form of 6 straight starts by Jimenez, you won’t find a string of 6 starts where his ERA was lower than that 2.96 number.  Right now, he’s the Indians second best starter behind Masterson. Let's forego the part where I elaborate on the topic of how good he's been of late.  With Ubaldo, you want to avoid any and all hints of hexes at all possible costs.   


pestano copy(9)Vinnie Pestano: The Indians are 12-4 in one run games, 33-2 when they have the lead after 6 innings, and 34-1 with the lead after 7.  That’s the bullpen for you.  Wait, no, the bullpen has an ERA of 4.32, dead last in the league.  I meant to say, “That’s Vinnie Pestano for you (and Perez who we’ll get to later.)  Pestano (1.91 ERA) is first in the Majors with 20 holds, meaning he’s come into the game in the eighth with a lead and kept it 20 times.  In terms of win probability added to his team, Pestano ranks third in the AL for relief pitchers behind Tampa Bay’s Fernando Rodney and Baltimore’s Jim Johnson, the two top closers (saves' wise) in baseball.  Pestano and Perez are the best 1-2 combination in the Majors.  You lose one of them and, who knows, you might lose the other.  Pestano would be higher on this list if not for Nick Hagadone, the guy who would be Pestano’s set-up replacement if he went down.  For whatever reason, I chose not to include Hagadone in this column.


(8) Carlos Santana: Santana has been disappointing of late—which is why he’s so far down on this list—but he deserves a break. I’m actually concerned for the guy and his epidemic of concussions.  Ok, so technically he’s only had one concussion, which isn't exactly an epidemic.  But I’d be willing to bet there’s about 8 others to accompany that.  

csantanaHow many times have we seen Santana take a jarring hit to the face, flip his mask off, and shake his head like the Wile Coyote after taking a 2-ton Acme weight to his head.  By my unofficial account, it’s happened to Santana more than any other catcher in the league.  You can practically see stars circling his head as the ump slowly makes his walk to the front of home plate to give it a gesturely brush up.

I keep asking myself, is taking a 110 mph ball off the helmet (via a foul tip) that far off from being drilled by a 275 pound linebacker who is running at full speed?  I wish I had a link to a medical study for you, but there are none to be found as far as I know.  So I turned to my roommate, a physics major who's really, really smart—which automatically makes him credible in this instance.  To the best of his ability, he calculated that the differences aren’t that far off. 

All of this is somewhat troubling because Santana is arguably the Tribe’s best all around player (when healthy) and a vital key to this teams hopeful success for this season and in the future.  Not only will the Indians remain forever more cautious of Santana’s neurological state, but now he’s likely more prone than ever, and that’s why I’m worried.  I've read stuff about this.  A friend of mine who played hockey his whole life and dealt with chronic concussions starting at the age of 6—again, another credible source—had to hang it up early.  The good news is that he's now completely fine... I mean, periodically there are days when he wakes up thinking he's a confederate soldier in the Civil War and the only thing that can bring him back to reality is a entire case of Natty Light, but other than that he's perfectly fine.   I guess a simple Junior Seau reference would have been more appropiate to use there.  

I'm likely overeacting to Santana's concussion, but last I checked, this is 2012...if you're not overreacting to the concussion crisis and pulling your kids out of pee wee contact sports, you don't have a soul.  Although, after all, this IS baseball we're talking about; there's what, two guys in the history of the game, Brian Roberts and Justin Morneau, to have had this type of problem? They haven't filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, have they?  They haven't tragically taken their own life, right?  There aren't any reports saying they've become more hostile and domestically violent, correct?  Alright good, phewww (wiping sweat off my brow), I was really starting to worry about Santana, but we're good though.  


(7) Justin Masterson: Masterson got off to a horrendous start; things were really looking scary.  When the Indians went to St. Louis he finally turned things around for good, and he wouldn't have had it any other way as the Indians lost in a very Justin Masterson-like fashion, 2-0.  In June, Masterson was 3-3 with a 1.76 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 36/9, and fourth in the AL with a WHIP of 1.00, meaning he’s allowed an average of 1 walk or hit per inning pitched.


Travis Hafner: On May 23rd, Travis Hafner went down with an injury that ultimately led to his getting surgery.  At the time, the Indians were 25-18 leading the Central division by 3.5 games over Chicago, and were averaging 5.7 runs per game.   It would appear the Indians have missed him.  As of late, the only production the Indians have gotten has been from Choo, Cabrera, Kipnis, and Brantley.  Basically, after those four guys, the Indians didn’t have much of an offense.  It’s amazing this team was able to remain in contention.  Without Hafner they were 16-21 and averaged 4.7 runs per game and the team used 7 different DH’s in the starting role.

His absence forced Acta to move Jose Lopez up in the lineup (which he has played worse in), and it ultimately led to a small-scale carousel of Triple-A call-ups beginning with LaPorta.  At the end of the day, it left the Indians with a ton of uncertainty.  Anytime you take away a teams cleanup hitter they’re likely to suffer from it.  All along we’ve undervalued Hafner’s presence in this lineup.

Imagine what would have happened had the White Sox lost Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn for a month?  Imagine if Detroit had been without Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder?  That’s what the Indians have been without Travis Hafner.   I’m no idiot, I’m aware Hafner isn’t even half the hitter that any of those guys have been this season, but nevertheless, he’s the power in the middle of the Indians lineup.  You lose a guy like that and you can expect to be set back, which the Indians have.fielder  

With Hafner playing, the Indians field an all lefty lineup when they face a right handed starter.  Sure, as a result they have one of the league’s worst records against left handed pitching (8-13), however, there’s simply not a lot of lefty’s out there to face as they’ve faced left handed starting pitching just 21 times this year.  Because of this, we’ve overstated this teams need for a right handed bat.  They’ve actually got a really good thing going with this all-lefty lineup, but that’s only when Hafner is in there.  Without him it screws everything up as we saw this past month.  

Prior to Hafner’s injury, the Indians led the league with a walk rate of 10.8%.  When Hafner was on the DL that rate dropped down to 7.3% during that span, 9th in the ALThis was exemplified in Wednesday's game against the Angels: In his first plate appearance after coming off the DL, with two outs in the first inning Hafner issued a walk on a 11 pitch at-bat.  It swung the game as Brantley hit a 2-out, 3-run homer in the very next at-bat—just his second long ball of the season.  It was enough to rattle Irving Santana to the point of implosion and the Indians blew L.A. out by a final score of 12-3.  But the Indians are at their optimal walk level when both Hafner and Santana are in the lineup.  Their health is key to the Tribe's postseason chances.

Batting in the #4 hole ahead of Santana—a move Manny Acta made after the first month—Hafner had 5 HR, 17 RBI, and 15 BB in just 82 at-bats.  It’s really when the Indians began to find their groove.  They’re 15-8 when Hafner hits cleanup with the win again LA the other day.  But, none of anything I just said has much of any relevance because there’s no certainty that Hafner can remain healthy for the duration of the season, let alone Santana and his beat up body.  


(5) Chris Perez: In terms of value, Perez is third among all AL reliever, according to fangraphs.  He has recorded 23 consecutive saves in a year when the baseball market of reliable closers has been volatile to say the least.  Nothing more needs to be said.


(4) Michael Brantley: In case you didn’t know, Michael Brantley has 40 RBI despite only hitting 2 HR all season.  

April: Hits-19, RBI-5, Avg-.250

May: Hits-34, RBI-16, Avg-.296

June: Hits-30, RBI-14, Avg-286

This improvement was actually projected.  In April Brantley was hitting the cover off the ball, unfortunately for him, it was one of those ruts where every ball seemed to be hit right at the defense.  Expect Brantley to put these type of numbers up for the remainder of the year.  He’s hitting .276 vs lefties and .282 vs righties while posting the second highest swing-contact rate in the AL.  His K-rate of 9.5% is the second lowest in the American league (behind Ichiro) for players with at least 300 AB’s.  

Keep in mind, this guy is only 25. We’ve heard how important it is for a team to be solid “up the middle” and, up the middle, the Indians have Brantley (age 25), Cabrera (27), Kipnis (25), Santana (26), and go ahead and throw in Masterson (27).  Expect the Indians to give Kipnis and Brantley a new contract within the next 12 months. 


(3) Asdrubal Cabrera: Entering play on June 10th against the Reds, Asdrubal Cabrera had 5 HR and 23 RBI’s.  Currently, he has 11 HR, 43 RBI and will make his second consecutive trip to the all star game.  In June, Cabrera had 6 HR and 20 RBI.  For what it’s worth, he’s the only Indians player to grace the “What if” Indians commercials because he’s responsible for the few walk-off hits/homeruns that the Indians have at home this year.


(2) Jason Kipnis:  My favorite part about Jason Kipnis isn’t that he is so good so early in his career, it’s the fact that he’s better (by a large margin) than Seattle Mariners second basemen, Dustin Ackley.  The two player’s are both converted outfielders who highlighted the 2009 draft class.  They entered this season as the poor mans A-Rod and Jeter—circa early 1990’s.  Ok, maybe that’s just how I viewed them.  Really, outside of Cleveland, Kipnis wasn’t on anyone’s radar.  In fantasy league’s, he was the 13th overall drafted second basemen.   If they had a re-draft today he would go number one or two.  The guy does everything.  He leads all second basemen with 20 stolen bases, 49 RBI, and is second with 11 HR and 51 runs scored.  

Meanwhile, he leads the Indians in nearly every statistical category including WAR (wins above replacement) and with runners on base he’s hitting .327 and .375 when those runners are in scoring position.  So why don’t I have him at the top spot? 


(1) Shin Soo-Choo: Choo has solid numbers (.292 avg, 8 HR, 31 RBI), but is he really the teams most valuable player?    

I’m about to dip into the advanced, sabermetric world for one of the few times in this article.  There’s a stat called Weighted Runs Created, or wRC.  Choo is 11th in the AL with 55 runs created.  Josh Hamilton is first with 64.  (Choo is also 7th in runs scored with 55.)  For a leadoff hitter, his wRC production is rare, which goes to show how good the Angels Mike Trout is.  As their leadoff man, Trout has a wRC of 53 and has played considerably fewer games than Choo.  Many are giving AL MVP considerations to Trout.  I’m giving the Indians MVP to Choo.shinchoo

I really could have put any of the top three hitters in the lineup here at No. 1.  Cabrera has a wRC of 49 and Kipnis 48.  That puts all three of them in all star territory, ranking ahead of the likes of both Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols.  The only reason the Indians were able to stay in contention throughout the truculent month of June was because of these three player’s (and Brantley).  Here’s how the teams wRC breaks down.

Choo: 55

Cabrera: 49

Kipnis: 48

Brantley: 35

Santana: 28

Hafner: 24

Kotchman: 23

The Indians left field combined has created 36 runs, which surprisingly isn’t as terrible as we once thought (but that’s thanks to the huge week they just had.)  

Since being moved to the leadoff spot in May, Choo has been a new man.  Returning to his old form, he’s hitting .325 in the leadoff and has stolen 11 bases.  When leading off the inning, Choo is batting .356 with 12 doubles, 2 triples, 5 HR’s and 13 walks.  He's the ideal leadoff man, who would have ever thought.  He’s also been hit by more pitches than any Indian, and that has to count for something.  

I'll see you at the 120 game mark, peace.

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