Friday, October 19, 2012

Tribe 2012: What Happened & Boy Was I Wrong

68-94. never saw that coming. what a season. it wasn't all ugly, but it was mostly ugly. let's start with the problems we had before the season even began.

the biggest problem going into 2012 was left field. it was a concern from the jump and an ongoing issue all year. i think it was unfair to count on Shelley Duncan and hope he would turn his good September 2011 into a respectable full season both offensively and defensively. and bringing in Johnny Damon, who had no spring training under his belt, wasn't the answer either. not getting Willingham was the dumbest thing ever. it's right up there with actually believing Sizemore was going to come back and play well. so not.

then we had the 3rd base issue. Hanny was not supposed to be anything more than a backup platoon guy. he was not supposed to be our regular starter at the hot corner, and after a while, he got worn out. it was disappointing that Chiz didn't have a strong enough spring to take control of that job. but i do give him credit for how well he did right before he got injured, and then how great he played when he came back from the injury. sadly for the Tribe, by that time it didn't matter who was manning 3rd because too many other problems had arisen and taken us out of contention.

1st base could have used some help also. i was really excited about having Kotchman's glove over there, but we needed someone else who could swing the bat. platooning with Santana didn't quite work because what we lost defensively with Kotch on the bench, we didn't even make up for offensively, as Santana really struggled with his bat in the first half of the season. and Matt LaPorta certainly didn't pan out. the guy ended up being nothing more than a Triple A slugger, putting up good numbers only in Huntington Park. huge disappointment and now that CC trade can be deemed a fail. love Brantley, obviously, but he was not the big piece the Indians wanted when that deal was made. throwing Shelley or Lopez or Hanny at 1st wasn't a great solution either. the sad fact is our corner infielders were nothing to brag about.

we also didn't exactly have strong backups for any fielding position. if we had issues with the starters at 1st, 3rd, and left field, what does it even matter who the heck backed those guys up? we also didn't have a decent bat/arm to put in center or right when Brantley and Choo needed a day of rest. sorry to Cunningham, EZ, and Donald, but those names in the starting lineup didn't thrill anybody. and poor Kip and Cabby on the infield. once again, Cabby faded out in the second half, which could partly be attributed to playing a little too much in the first half. and Kip was not immune to the hardships of a first full year in the big leagues. he could have used some more days off as well. given who we had to work with, it took just about everyone playing to perfection on a nightly basis in order to be competitive. and for us, that just wasn't realistic.

to go along with the problems we had going into the season, we also developed other problems as the season got underway. first it was our hitting, or lack thereof, by many of our regular guys. then our starting pitching fell apart. we also did nothing at the trade deadline, much to the dismay of fans everywhere. although, by that time we probably could have used five new faces and bats, and even that may not have helped us break out of our slump and avoid those horrid losing streaks. let's start with dissecting the pitching.

finishing the year with a 5.25 ERA is nothing to be proud of. clearly our starting rotation was doing something wrong. at one point we had more Columbus kids in the rotation than veterans, never a good sign. between unexpected injuries, guys who just lost it, and guys who really never had it, it's amazing we were able to stay in 1st place in our division for as long as we did.

our ace, Justin Masterson, looked great on Opening Day. but over time, he became inconsistent and when he got beat, he really got beat. he was getting pounded by lefties, he couldn't stay out of the big inning, and just about every game he lost was a blowout. now i'm not saying an ace has to be perfect, put up nothing but 0s, and win every game he starts. but an ace is supposed to set the tone for the rest of the rotation and should be able to stop the bleeding before we flat line. an ace should not be 2nd in the AL in wild pitches. Masterson has a lot to work on for next season if he's still going to be our #1 guy.

when your ace is struggling, the #2 should be able to pick the team back up. Jimenez was NOT that guy. i've never been shy about expressing my unhappiness with the acquisition of Ubaldo. we traded for an ace type caliber pitcher, and what he displayed this season wouldn't even satisfy most teams for the backend of their rotation. he lost 17 games, led the AL in wild pitches, let just about everyone steal bases off him, rarely pitched deep into games, etc. since the All Star Break, he was 1-10 with an ERA of 6.96. does that resemble an ace to you? the scarier thing is, we have another year with this guy, and i don't see any signs of him becoming more reliable or consistent.

before Lowe's time with the Indians was over, he went from the top to the bottom. he was a first half of the season wonder. at one point, Derek was the best guy in the rotation. and then later, we saw why the Braves got rid of him. but he did what we brought him in here to do. he pitched decent in the first few months before he faded out. i don't have any issues with this acquisition, although i did have a problem when they waited a little too long to get rid of him. unfortunately, Roberto Hernandez was not ready to come back when Lowe began to lose it. so we had to plug a Columbus kid into the #3 spot and hope for the best. that's usually not how top of the line major league rotations operate.

poor Josh Tomlin. who expected him to still have elbow problems this year, and who thought he'd end up having Tommy John surgery? it was obvious something was wrong with him when he kept giving up all those hits and 2- and 3-run homers. Josh is a good pitcher, and what we saw this season was not his normal self. now we won't see him be a factor in our rotation again until 2014. why couldn't they just have done the surgery when he went on the DL last year? alas, it put another hole in our rotation, and gave another Columbus Clipper an opportunity to begin to prove himself in the bigs.

Gomez started out strong. he rightfully earned that 5th spot in spring training, as no other guy really came close to pitching as well as he did. but, as with most of the rest of our rotation, he fizzled out after a while. insert another Clipper here.

the last of the bunch all had their ups and downs. McAllister did well to start and then began to tire out. Kluber struggled in the beginning, then finished the year strong. Seddon pitched much better after we put him in the bullpen. Huff had some good outings at a point in the year when looks can be deceiving. and when Hernandez finally got back, we only saw a small sample size before he sprained his ankle. but it was enough to know that while his name may have changed, his delivery was the same. any combination of these guys in our starting rotation for an extended period of time was not going to help us make a run for the division.

when we were lucky enough to get a good start from Masterson or anybody else, there were countless times when our hitters did not back them up with much, or any, run support. pitching match ups pit our ace against other teams' aces quite often, and we'd end up losing games even after seeing a quality start from whoever took the mound. in turn, some losses came unfairly to our pitchers, but i will dive deeper into our offensive woes in a bit.

in total, we allowed 845 runs. a team like the Indians needs to have reliable starting pitching in order to be competitive. we got into all those losing streaks because our starting pitching failed us. bottom line, our entire rotation underperformed this season, and we cannot expect to contend when that is happening. some of these guys, the capability is there, but fans are losing patience waiting for everyone to reach their full potential and get themselves turned around.

another unexpected problem arose as a result of the first unexpected problem. because our starters were not getting deep into games, we ended up overworking arguably the best weapon of our team—the bullpen. consequentially, our strength became weakened. you can't go to your bullpen in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th innings as much as we did and still expect all those guys to remain sharp. on several occasions, when we finally had the ability to use our Smitty-Vinnie-Rage trio, usually one of them would be rusty due to not getting into games regularly. so, through no real fault of their own, there were times when they would either make the game interesting, or straight up blow the lead.

and speaking of blowing leads, no one should have been panicked after Chris Perez blew the Opening Day game. it was most likely because he was over-hyped and didn't get a normal amount of work in during spring training. losing Game 1 was disappointing, but it didn't mark the end of the season as we knew it. (lots of other things did that.) Chris had 39 saves this year. he was basically a rock. let's not even think about how many more save opportunities he could have had if our starters had pitched better. maybe he should thank his lucky stars that he finished the season with the 39 saves that he did.

coming out of spring training, i openly disliked Asencio. i felt he would be our weakest link in the pen, and over time he proved me right. Wheeler also wasn't helping the bullpen's ERA any. eventually, we DFA'd both those guys. Tomlin in the bullpen was a disaster, but as i covered above, that was due to his elbow ailment, and he wasn't part of the mafia for long. as the season went on, many a Clipper got his chance up here as a reliever. again, there is some nice potential with Allen and Barnes, and the acquisition of Esmil Rogers may have been the best of the entire year. going into next year, i see another strong bullpen mafia as long as the starters don't force them to be overused and wear them out.

now let's move on to the other side of baseball: the offense. so many guys struggled this season and, inconveniently for us, at the same time. when we started losing game after game, guys were pressing, trying to hit home runs instead of putting good swings on pitches and just getting themselves on base. strike 3 was called way too much, and a few specific players were more prone to it than others. we rarely managed to get guys home when they were in scoring position, and the fact that we might have loaded the bases with less than 2 outs was never feared by the opposition. we left 1,162 runners on base. fail.

blowout games were few and rare, as getting blown out was more our speed. most of the games we won were by close margins. we only scored 667 runs and that's why we had the worst run differential in the AL. we averaged a measly 3.6 runs after the All Star Break, and honestly i'm shocked it was even that high. the team's batting average for the year was .251, we had a .324 OBP, and we were shut out in a total of 12 games.

remember all those times we faced a rookie pitcher or a pitcher making his big league debut, and then lost because we couldn't hit against him? we also had a tendency to make sub-par pitchers look like Cy Young winners. it was an all too familiar pattern, or as i always say, it was classic Tribe.

the team as a whole sucked against left-handed pitching, finishing with a whopping .234 average against the south paws. our heavy left-handed lineup was rendered useless quite often against lefty starters, as is evidenced by our 18-35 record. and teams always had the option to counter in late innings with a left-handed reliever in hopes of shutting us down. the arguments to having so many left-handed hitters on the team—Progressive Field is a good left-handed hitter's park and most of the teams we're going to face in the AL have more right-handed pitchers—fell flat. no right-handers down on the farm were hitting well enough to help us, and knowing that we don't have any amazing prospects there does nothing to reassure fans that things are gonna get better in the near future.

should i continue on and mention our lackadaisical defense? okay well first off, left field was a mess all season. Choo had a few mental mishaps in right and came off to some people as not even caring towards the end of the season. one infielder would commit an error, and then inexplicably, someone else would mess up, resulting in 2 or 3 errors in 1 inning several times. this, in turn, negatively effected the psyche of the guy on the mound. more than one ball ended up in the photo bay area or outfield when we were trying to pick off or throw out a base runner. (on the flip side of that, we displayed some ugliness on the base paths ourselves.) players were looking like total newbies on the field at times. it was unacceptable, oftentimes embarrassing, and really just brutal. this team has a laundry list of things to improve on for 2013.

before the season began, i listed a few reasons why this season would be better than last. specifically, here is what i was banking on for 2012.

what can make a difference this year that we didn't have last year:

--Kipnis will be in our lineup for a full season

--Brantley hopefully will be healthy all season and we won't lose out on his bat in August and September

--Choo should have a bounce back season and be much more like the Choo from 2009-2010 than the guy we saw in 2011

--we have better defense at 1st base this year (sorry LaPorta lol) and may end up with more run production coming from that corner too

and who knows, if we manage to get a better outfielder in a couple months and if Jimenez actually turns into the player we traded for, this team could be in a pennant race.

my prediction for the Tribe's 2012 season, assuming everyone plays to the max of their abilities and we don't get hit with too many major injuries, is 84-78. last year i said we'd finish 82-80, and we were 80-82.

Hoynsie says 86-76, Livy: 76-86, D-Man: 84-78, Terry: 76-86, Bud Shaw: 84-78.

basically we got a total of 2 of those things this year. Kip did decent, he was a thief on the base paths and was tied for the most RBIs on the team. but he also had some defensive issues and was pressing at the plate at times in the second half. that batting average was not pretty. now that his first full season's out of the way, next year we can probably count on him to perform the way i hoped to see from him this year.

Brantley's bat was in our lineup in August and September. well, most of September. he was playing hurt in the second half again this year, except this time his numbers didn't take a nose dive. he was a very consistent hitter, hitting righties and lefties well, and led the team with his .288 batting average.

Choo was not much like the guy from 2009-2010. yes his OPS was over .800, and he led the team in doubles and runs scored, but his home runs were below what he's capable of. he didn't come close to being a 30-30 guy. not to mention how now he can only hit well in the leadoff spot and nowhere else. his defense was lazy at times and he also needs some serious work against left-handed pitching.

the production we got from 1st base was laughable. yes defense is important, and i realize we were extremely fortunate to witness Kotchman digging all those balls out of the dirt. but when you look at all the top offensive 1st basemen in the league, we looked pretty pathetic.

the better outfielder never came, and Jimenez was still an erratic mess and pitched nothing like a #2 guy. after all was said and done, we should consider ourselves very lucky that we didn't end up finishing the year in the AL Central cellar.

my optimism was cute, and my hopes of building on last year were not all that far-fetched, but the lack of moves made by the front office combined with the unforeseeable collapse of our starting pitching killed the dream. nobody thought we'd lose over 90 games. we are not a 94 loss team. it was upsetting and sad that things turned out this way, but the positive to pull from all of it is that there's really nowhere to go now but up. right?

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