Tribe Starters on a Roll, and Hitting Down League Wide

mighty-casey.jpgThe Indians beat the A’s 4-0 in the first of a three game series in Cleveland Tuesday night.

How good has the Tribe’s starting pitching been? How about 34 consecutive scoreless innings? How about one run given up in the last 39 innings? (The three runs Toronto scored on Monday night were off the bullpen, ok Betancourt.) Tonight Paul Byrd kept the A’s in the yard, and was the beneficiary of more outstanding defense. Asdrubal Cabrera didn’t record any triple plays, or double plays for that matter, but he made the finest diving catch I’ve seen from a second baseman. Cabrera caught a ball in shallow center field that was a no-doubt bloop single. Watch Sportscenter top plays, or web gems and you’ll see it.

Grady Sizemore also made a fantastic diving catch that would have been the talk of the game had it not been for Cabrera’s stab. Aside from that catch, he threw out the unspeedy Frank Thomas at the plate. Victor Martinez made a fantastic block of the plate and took the brunt of ‘The Big Hurt’. Victor and Casey Blake hooked up for the Tribe’s only double play of the night, a strike out throw out job in the 5th.

The offense once again struggled against the opposing starter, with Hafner’s 2 out RBI in the first as the only run charged to Justin Duchscherer. This is the second time Oakland’s former reliever has stymied the Tribe’s offense. He earned a win on April 4th in Oakland. In the eighth the Tribe got a blast from the bat of Ryan Garko, his third homer of the season, and first since April 17th. It was his first three RBI in the month of May. (Ouch.)

The win pushed the Tribe over .500 at 20-19, a game behind the Twins (pending their final against the Jays.)

So here’s a question that was proposed by reader Phil that I can’t get out of my mind-

A question has been on my mind for a couple of days about the offensive woes of the Tribe. Is there any chance that this sort of lull is a phenomenon that has gripped not only the Indians but several teams, to the point where it might be something of a league-wide trend, if only a modest one? Are pitchers gaining an upper hand again, after years of offensive numbers expanding? I noted that the Blue Jays have been going through a similar phase this season, with stellar starting pitching and very few runs. Does it go any further than these two teams? The Yanks have had a few batters in their lineup come up stinkers this year, too. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Even if, statistically, such a trend could be confirmed, I would be the last to argue that it might serve as an excuse for the poor performances of Tribe hitters. I’m only curious.

That’s a great question Phil. If you read through the blogs and fan sites around the league you will see some familiar sentences. Where has the offense gone? What happened to ____? Why can’t we score any runs? Has the pendulum swung away from the hitter and to the pitchers? The easy answer is the steroid testing. But as the Mitchell Report showed us, the pitchers were as guilty as the hitters in all of this. Now, I’m of the belief that performance enhancers would benefit sluggers more, but I can’t really prove that.

So I thought about sending a query to the good folks at Baseball Prospectus, but don’t you know they were already on it-

The most significant conclusion from all this work is this: through May 10, there is a massive disparity between the league in terms of the direction of change as compared to 2007. Offense is up in the NL, and way down in the AL. By runs per game, offense is down nearly 13 percent over two seasons in the American League, which is a staggering figure.

So this confirms what we have been thinking, that runs are at a premium throughout the league. The article linked there is full of statistical analysis that I had difficulty keeping up with to be honest with you. But there was a nugget that I felt you might be interested in-

Over the last year or so, we’ve heard a lot about teams getting away from the style of baseball played during the peak of the high-offense era, and trying to play better defense. Personnel decisions along the lines of playing Tony Pena Jr. or Asdrubal Cabrera add up, and they start to impact the league’s statistics. Teams have been choosing defense over offense, and that is probably the biggest reason for the drop in offense in the AL: personnel selection. Managers and GMs are putting lesser hitters on the field in an effort to prevent runs, and they’re getting just that result—for themselves and the opposition.

I’m not so sure if this is the reason for the Tribe’s struggles as I think the Indians would play offense over defense right now if they had anyone that could hit the ball consistently. I will agree that the Indians are more about pitching as opposed to hitting with this team, after the previous philosophy failed to win the title in the 90’s.

They end the article with this gem-

We are just six weeks into the season, and because of that, all of these figures are prone to dramatic change, so take the conclusions presented today with a grain of salt, something to season your thoughts with the next time you see a 2-1 game with nine singles and a triple.

So in other words…he don’t know. Well, make that two of us.

  • Phil

    There’s the sort of sober analysis I prefer. Compare that to… the local voice of… well, you get my point. There is no 40-game truth threshold. And if there were, there’d be another 40-game reconciliation threshold to follow, ’cause that’s the nature of the game. Sometimes, you suck, even when you don’t suck at all.

    There’s been a good deal of overreaction in the nation press, too. Some journalist penned an article for Yahoo! the other day calling the Indians a “disaster.” Give me a break. They are, what?, a half game out of first. They have better pitching than perhaps at any time in franchise history. And compare that to, say, the Yankees and their bloated payroll chugging along at under .500 on the year.

    Can we have a little perspective once in a while? 🙂

  • patrick eaton

    great write-up rick. something that i honestly hadn’t let creep into my head. i was just so frustrated that the question “what happened to ____?” is travis hafner in my eyes. and there’s no way that hafner is just suddenly an average hitter. but maybe it is…

    and about the rafi giving up 3 runs in the 10th, if you look back at my previous comments, i am not a fan of rafi being at the end of our bullpen, and he hasn’t exactly shined. tho the blown saves stat isn’t there, he has been prone to give up runs at the wrong times…but funny thing is, like normal cleveland fans, none of the other contributers to the comment section that supported “joe blow getting the hell out and rafi being our closer” have had much to say when he gives up runs in the 9th, or in last nights case the 10th…interesting

  • Rick

    Wow, you guys are quick…I just put this up there.

    Patrick- you have the right to call all commenters on the carpet that wanted to see Betancourt in the closer role, but keep in mind he hasn’t been the same Raffy we all loved last season yet this year, whether closing or setting up.

    Phil- I love it, “Sometimes, you suck, even when you don’t suck at all.” That could be a great shirt or bumper sticker!

  • darren

    Asdrubal has really made him self nationally known the past few days. good for him.

  • Tom

    It’s been a frustrating month and a half for sure. But to call this team a disaster is a bit of a stretch. A half game behind [/i]Minnesota[i] at about the quarter mark is acceptable. The season doesn’t end tomorrow, and at some point a few of the bats will warm up.

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  • Rick

    Seriously, do you people read the articles before you link to them?

  • patrick eaton

    rick-i guess thats kinda my argument as to why he shouldn’t have even been put in that role. he wasn’t really having the year that we would have expected before the switch. i’m just frustrated, that’s all…

  • Great post. I was thinking it was a beginning of a trend toward what baseball was like pre-steroids. This piece adds credence to that thought.

    I’ve referenced it and linked to it on my site, Tribe Fan in Yankeeland, and put up a permanent link to your site – which is terrific.

    The story I wrote is about how the Tribe seems – perhaps by default – to be leading the charge back to an emphasis on pitching, defense and fundamental baseball.