I think we all know what the “butterfly effect” is by now, and if you don’t, you can do one of two things: read my brief definition of it in the next sentence or pause and go watch a surprisingly good movie by Ashton Kutcher of the same name and still probably be thoroughly confused as to what happens to him or try and understand Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm try to describe it in a Jeep on his way to see dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and come back and continue reading.1 The “butterfly effect” or “chaos theory” is the theory that small changes in actions can have impacts of vast importance thousands of miles away. The way a butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park can influence monarchies in third world countries. Basically, it’s a theory that we are all interconnected and every decision made, by us, to us, about us, has consequences both good and bad.
The butterfly effect is also brought up often in time travel movies as well: change one thing in the past and return to a completely different future. Think of the Back To The Future trilogy: instead of Marty’s mom getting raped in the back of a car,2 Marty influences his future dad to save her, beating up Biff the bully and therefore changing not only his future but entire families and cities worth. Terminator also touches on it; kill Sarah Connor, she can never birth John Conner who inevitably beats the robots, thusly changing the future but also causing it, as the humans send john’s father back in time to both stop the T800 and to…create John Connor.3 Also in Doctor Who, this is why River Song doesn’t want to hear spoilers of stories she was already in.4 Knowing about the future can be even more detrimental as changing the past.
So why am I bringing up chaos theory and time travel on a post about Corey Kluber? Well, given that he suffered a fractured forearm in last night’s contest with the Miami Marlins, an injury that will keep him out of action for months at a time, looking at how this particular flap of the wings could change the future is something we must do.5 Yes, it will involve theorizing about future events that probably won’t happen. Do I want these things to happen? Maybe, maybe not. Simply examining how the injury can help and hurt the franchise.
Possibility No.1: Trevor Bauer steps into ace role, wins AL Cy Young. Team signs Dallas Keuchel to fill in rotation. Mike Clevinger comes back mid-June, still strikes out 160+. Kluber returns before the All-Star Game, returns to form. Nick Wittgren continues dominance, becomes 8th inning stopper. Front office trades for Hunter Pence at deadline to shore up OF/DH spots. Team goes on to win division, wins ALDS against Houston Astros, ALCS against Tampa Bay Rays, loses World Series to Dodgers.
This is obviously the glass half full scenario, and even then it has them losing the World Series. Let’s look at a few of the “what ifs” here. One could argue Bauer was already the ace of the team, but with the looming presence of Kluber removed, he steps into the spotlight and shines. Signing Dallas Keuchel seemed like an obvious addition to the roster after Clevinger went down for months with a back muscle injury, and even more now with Kluber set to miss one-to-two months. It remains to be seen what he is waiting for, possibly the June draft so his pick compensation goes away, but adding him to the organization seems to be a win.
No timetable has been set for Kluber as of yet, and any timetable set will be under watchful eyes from both sides of Indians fandom. Too soon of a return and many will worry about a rush back to the game, especially given Kluber wasn’t exactly effective in the early going. Too late and it’s just another example of the Indians medical team and front office messing up yet another diagnosis. A non-disclosed fracture is bone setting, not ligament or muscle repair.6 I set “before the All-Star Game” as MY timetable and so thusly we move forward.
Speaking of Clevinger, he has already been moving along speedily with his rehab, recently playing catch from his delivery. A quicker than expected return to health and the rotation would mitigate the need to add Keuchel, but given the fact that he is still months away from helping the ballclub, the signing could and maybe should still be of importance. Once his spot on the roster is attained, I expect Clevinger to be a workhorse, throwing as many pitches per start as Bauer and working as effectively as possible.
The Nick Wittgren prediction is just me wanting to talk about Wittgren, somebody only WFNY’s Mitch Krall expected to be this good. A 35.8 K-rate with a 100% strand rate is elite, and while the shine could easily come off the apple, Wittgren seems to be exactly what the doctor ordered for this bullpen.
Hunter Pence is a name I figured the Indians might take a swing at in the offseason given his handedness at the plate, but that never came to fruition and we signed Carlos Gonzalez instead. However, the deadline is a different story and Pence is producing well in Texas with the Rangers. I will gladly take his 121 wRC+ in the outfield or in the DH left vacant by Hanley Ramirez. It should be noted, I’ve been keeping track of DH production in the wake of Ramirez’s departure and it hasn’t been half bad; in the nine games the team has been able to use the designated hitter, Indians hitters playing DH have produced these stats: .257 BA, .297 OBP, 2HR, 4 RBI, 5R, 7K, 2BB. Pence has done better than those numbers and could definitely help down the stretch run.
Possibility No. 2: Kluber doesn’t return until August as something else is wrong with his arm. Clevinger re-injures back attempting to return too early, has surgery and misses the year. Due to mounting injuries and Minnesota’s good team, decides to reload, trades Jason Kipnis, Carlos Gonzalez, Leonys Martin for prospects. Team finishes second in division, missing playoffs.
And this is the glass half empty., and also the argument for why mid-to-small market teams cannot build a top-heavy roster with little to no margin for error. A few bad luck breaks, and Kluber’s for sure is one of those, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. The team kept it together when Francisco Lindor missed the first few weeks of the season, inexplicably when you consider that also included the Clevinger injury, a Kipnis calf strain, an artic start by Jose Ramirez, and little help from anyone not named Carlos Santana.
Reloading for more runs in the future seems like a great idea, but the championship window is narrowing here. Lindor and Ramirez will not be around forever, unfortunately, and this front office knows it. Squeezing value out of players past their primes is something they have been great at doing, but there might come a tipping point where that value is best used for other teams and the return is prospects, not at-bats. Kipnis has a $16.5 million club option for 2020 that is surely not getting picked up so he is effectively in his walk year. Gonzalez and Martin are on one-year deals. These are pieces that are not going to be the future of Cleveland Indians baseball but have the ability to help maintain that future.
However, this is the nightmare situation. Two starters down when pitching was all that was helping win games. An offense that hasn’t clicked yet and has been only showing small signs of progress in getting out of these slumps is not going to get the job done. After Roberto Perez’s solo home run in Wednesday night’s game, 85% of Cleveland Indians home runs have been solo shots, by far the most in all of baseball. This team does not have the type of firepower to win shootouts, and while Jefry Rodriguez and others have stepped up in place of Clevinger, the future looks bleak here. Anybody got a time machine?
Rant of the week7
Why do babies throw things on the floor? My five-month-old, who is already too big for six-month pants and is almost outgrowing her six-month onesies, loves to sit in her high chair, ready for food that she can’t have yet, and so when my wife and I eat at the table, we put all her reachable toys on the tray in front of her. Why exactly does she then start the game of tossing them to and fro, dropping them almost immediately? Ming boggling.