“It’s over, and the Cubs have finally won it all!” Those were the last ten words Cleveland Indians fans were left with to end the 2016 season, as Joe Buck took a minute from doodling in his Kyle Schwarber diary to let everyone know the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. After blowing a three-one lead of their own, Cleveland fans were left with nothing to do except for what Roger Hornsby taught them: stare out the window and wait for spring. And while right now I am staring out my window at six inches of snow and my car covered in ice as thick as a wad of manager Tito Francona’s bubble gum, the date on the calender still keeps my heart warm knowing we are only three weeks away from real baseball games.
It’s been a long winter. After not winning a championship in 52 years, the Indians had a chance to capture Cleveland’s second in just five months (getting a little greedy, here). And while we all know what happened, we can’t stop ourselves from the inevitable “what-ifs.” What if Corey Kluber could have that first at-bat of the game back, and Dexter Fowler didn’t take him deep? What if David Ross, a fantastic clubhouse presence, but an absolutely abysmal hitter, didn’t take the games best pitcher for a trot around the bases? What if Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco were healthy? What if Trevor Bauer wasn’t a mad scientist? What if five months later I could stop thinking about it? What if my wife could stop calling me an ass for not crying at our wedding, but crying at videos of Carlos Santana catching the 27th out game five of the ALCS?
They say the best thing about baseball is that you always have another game tomorrow. This wasn’t the case for the Indians. There was no tomorrow, just next season. And now that that season is here, it feels like a championship or bust type of deal. The Indians are the favorites to win the American League Central. Many have them as the favorites to win the American League, and there’s even those with enough faith to make them the favorites to win the whole damn thing. It’s only March, but I know I’m not the only one waiting for that September day when I get to mute Sports Time Ohio, sync up WTAM 1100 to the game, and listen to Tom Hamilton say, “Cleveland, you WILL have another October to remember.”
October is a ways away, though. Before an October to remember, the Tribe has to take care of 162 games regular season games first. And with those games being just three weeks away, I would like to take this time to remind everyone of some things that us fans should not say this season. Like Hattery wrote the other day, the age divide in sports is as big as it will probably ever be, and there is no clearer indication in that than in baseball, in my opinion. Analytics have helped re-shape the sport of baseball over the last two decades, and while some disagree, it truly is for the better. And while I could write forever about why, I’m just going to leave it at that above sentence and give fair warning that most of these things we shouldn’t talk about this year are part of that age divide.
Don’t say Carlos Santana isn’t good
Depending on your opinion of analytics, you probably either love Santana, or you cannot stand him. Santana is a career .247 hitter. Last season, Santana hit .259, which was second best to his 2013 campaign when he hit .268. .259 isn’t eye grabbing, but in this era of baseball, it is respectable. .300 is no longer the threshold of a great hitter. We are out of the steroid era where .270 was average. Someone who hits .270 today may very well be an all-star. Santana’s .259 mark was seventh among A.L. first basemen. Among his positional peers Santana was second in on-base percentage at .366, fourth in slugging .498, third in wRC+ at 132, and third in fWAR at 3.7. Oh, and by the way, Santana trailed his now teammate Edward Encarnacion in slugging, wRC+, and fWAR, so how’s that for a DH/1b combo? And while it may be tough for some to accept, walks are important. The ultimate goal as a hitter is to score a run. In order to score you have to reach base, preferably without making an out. Walking does that. Santana led all AL first basemen and was fourth in the AL in walk percentage at 14.4%. Is Santana prime Jim Thome? Heck no. But does that mean he isn’t good? Hell no. That brings me to my next thing we shouldn’t talk about.
Don’t compare everyone to your favorite team or player of the 90s
The 90s were a great time to be alive. From the incredible clothing options, Nintendo 64, and the awesome Indians teams, it’s hard for another decade to compete. Those 90s Indians teams shaped a lot of Clevelander’s baseball fandom. At a time when the city didn’t have a football team, the Indians were there to lift the spirit of thousands. The Indians are what Clevelanders had to bond over, they were what brought the community together. Things like that do a lot for a memories. Not only do people remember the good teams, they remember the good times. I was born in 1993, but those teams from the late 90s and early 2000’s started my love of baseball. We all dreamed about being Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, and Manny Ramirez. Those 90s teams that brought us such heartbreak are the same one’s that brought us stories to tell for an eternity. It’s hard not to talk about them.
Last season was the first season since 2007 that was filled with a lot of good times. It was the first real playoff baseball the Indians had in ten years. When a team makes a deep playoff run, one can’t help themselves but to say, “this is just like 1997 when…” But that’s not fair to this team. Stop comparing Francisco Lindor to Omar Vizquel. Stop comparing Josh Tomlin to Charles Nagy (even though that one is kind of fair). Stop comparing Danny Salazar to Jaret Wright. Let these Indians be their own team. The city finally has a team that is good enough to help us stop reminiscing of teams from 20 years ago, we should appreciate that. Instead of constantly living in 20 years in the past, let this team create some memories for you to compare to teams in the future. That way when my future son is the player/pitcher/manager in 2046, you guys can all say, “wow, this kid reminds me of Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, and Terry Francona.” This group of guys is as fun as any Cleveland team we’ve had in a while, even those 2009 Cavs. Instead of thinking about the 90s, appreciate Lindor’s smile, Corey Kluber’s stern face, Jose Ramirez’s helmet falling off every single time he runs, and the opportunity to make a terrible Miller Time joke every time Andrew Miller enters the game.
Don’t freak out over an over/under achieving player
Every single April of every single baseball season for every single baseball team, this has been a problem. There is going to be an all-star on your team who struggles out of the gate, and there’s going to be a guy who doesn’t usually produce who is going to play like an all-star. Don’t. Freak. Out. It’s a 162 game season. Everyone is going to get hot, everyone is going to get cold. A guy who hits .198 in April could easily come back and hit .385 in May. And when the guy who usually hits .240 hits .330 in April, don’t get all frustrated when he comes back to Earth the rest of the season. It’s the law of averages, people.
Don’t say we need a right handed power hitter
Edward Encarnacion is a power hitter. He is right handed. He is on the Cleveland Indians. (He also has an imaginary parrot) So no more complaining. Even with Mike Napoli last year, there were still complaints. I’m not sure why everyone is so concerned about which side of the plate their home runs are coming from, but we have what we all wanted. I’ve been listening to moans and groans from fans about a right handed power hitter since, like, Manny Ramirez. A home run is a home run, regardless of who hits it. If a team hits 200 home runs, does it matter if they’re spread evenly throughout a line up, or if one guy has 25% of them? A run is a run regardless of who scores it.
Don’t say dumb things about Cody Allen
I touched on this during October when fans were growing restless with Cody Allen, which was unwarranted. Allen is up there with Kevin Love for the most mistreated Cleveland athlete. To start last season, Allen put up an ERA of over six, which fans were just not able to forget. From July 4th, if you exclude Allen’s outing in August against the Chicago White Sox where he got rocked for five runs in one-third of an inning, Allen threw 47 innings and gave up two earned runs. Two. That includes a post-season where Allen threw 13 and two-thirds scoreless innings. That is an ERA of .38. Even if you include the Chicago outing, his ERA was still just 1.33. Those are unbelievable numbers. Even though a player crossing the plate against Allen was almost as rare as a Dwayne Bowe reception, fans still loved to hate on Allen. Maybe fans are taking Andrew Miller for granted and think that there’s other human beings like him. Well, there aren’t. Just because Allen doesn’t come in and strike out every single batter he faces with a slider that breaks harder than Andrew Bogut’s leg, doesn’t mean he isn’t dominant. Andrew Miller being better than Cody Allen has led to many fans to call for the closer, which leads me to my next point…
Don’t say Andrew Miller should be the closer
You know who should be the closer? Nobody. The closer should not exist. At this point with this topic, I’m not even beating a dead horse anymore. I am digging up a horse that has been dead for ten years and I am doing things so inhumane to it that they cannot be talked about on this platform. The idea of saving your best guy until the very last inning just to get a stat that was made up some 40-something years ago is absolutely insane. Luckily for Clevelanders, Terry Francona understands this. Francona sort of revolutionized the use of the bullpen this past October. Rather than waiting until the ninth inning, Tito was bringing in his best pitcher, Andrew Miller, in high leverage situations. While I have been doing this in video games and calling for people to do it in real life for about five or six years now, I will not try to take any credit away from Tito. The last three outs are not the hardest to get. Do you know why you think that? Because your dad told you that. Think about it: do you have any actual proof that the last three are harder to get other than you get nervous watching them? No, you don’t. You can argue all you want about how they seem much more difficult, but the truth is that there’s no statistical evidence to back that claim up. Would you rather your best pitcher throw in the sixth inning with bases loaded and one out in a two run game, or would you rather wait until the ninth inning just in case your team is up by three or less, and he can come in with bases empty and get a save? Give me Andrew Miller, or give me death. Maybe next Francona can implement my idea of a three man rotation…
Don’t say we “need” a guy like Michael Martinez
Michael Martinez is a good dude. Me and my buddies sat right behind the Indians dugout at a game this year and he was going to throw my friend a can of Skoal until Juan Uribe selfishly told him not to. And while Michael Martinez hasn’t had the most successful big league career, a lot of fans love him. The hair flopping as he runs out every ground ball as hard as he can, the ability to play almost any position, and the role of being the gritty guy who will do anything wins a lot of hearts in this town. I won’t lie, I was a little upset when the Indians traded him to Boston last season, of course getting him back later on in the year. But don’t confuse liking someone with needing them. There’s no room to waste roster spots. Remember when the Indians let Jason Giambi stay on the roster in 2014, just because they liked him? That was dumb. If there is a guy out there who can come and be a solid platoon player, a la Brandon Guyer, or a reliever who can be a welcomed addition to the bullpen, a la Boone Logan, you have to get them. You can’t hog a spot just because someone hustles. Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes* thinks Martinez can make the team if he gets better at bunting. Not hitting, fielding, base running, anything that plays a significant impact on every single game. But bunting. Are we really going to keep a guy around just to give up an out? Never bunt.
Don’t say we miss Mike Napoli’s club house presence
Having Mike Napoli last season was awesome. From his monster home runs that almost knocked out John Adams, to his awesome Party At Napoli’s t-shirts, he was a great guy to have on the team. It would be disrespectful to say he didn’t have a huge impact on the Indians division title and World Series run. But letting Napoli go was the right move. The Indians got exactly what they wanted out of him. He was a low-risk, high reward guy, who gave the Tribe a bigger reward than they could have expected. He went and hit himself back into Texas on a two-year/seventeen million dollar deal. It would have been nice to bring Napoli back, but with Edward Encarnacion being available, the Indians had to take him. With there being no way the Indians could provide enough AB’s to go around for Santana, Napoli, and Encarnacion, someone had to go, and Napoli drew the short straw. The Indians made the right baseball decision, and if this team doesn’t have as much success as 2016, it would just be dumb to direct blame to the club house. Winning creates chemistry, chemistry does not create winning. Talent creates winning, and Encarnacion is more talented than Napoli. So while there may not be any “Party At Edwin’s” shirts going around this season, I think he will find other ways to contribute to the success and chemistry of the team.
It’s going to be a fun year for the Tribe. With that World Series loss still fresh in everyone’s mind, fans are going to be anxious to get to October. But, as we all know, it’s a long season that is going to be filled with ups and downs. My only hope is that during those downs people can refrain from saying some of the dumb things listed above. I know it will probably only take one walk to hear about Cody Allen sucking, and one three game losing streak to talk about how much this team needs Napoli, but we will get through this together. 2017 is going to be a fun year, but let’s do our best to be smart.
*Paul Hoynes once offered to let me write a rebuttal article to his Cy Young piece in 2013 because he thought I was Jody Gerut.