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Trend Spotting: On Larry Doby, Jim Thome and a statue travesty

I shall preface this column with the understanding that I don’t wish to be excessively critical of Jim Thome or his career in Cleveland. Indeed, like many, he was my favorite Indian from the earliest years which I can recollect. Unfortunately, my tone or at least prose is unavoidably loaded with criticism and irritation towards the honoring of Jim Thome. If this note makes you immediately click off the page, I understand completely.

The irritation regarding this statue has more to do with those who haven’t been honored by the Indians organization than Thome himself. The most egregious being the Indians near avoidance of honoring Larry Doby.  There are a few others which I believe have legitimate stakes to being more deserving of a statue than Thome but in the majority of the space I am afforded, I will be attempting to make a comprehensive case for the recognition of Doby.

Recognition itself seems too meager a term to adequately remember Doby, as his character, talent are the model on which one would build a player.  Before waxing about Doby’s social and human impacts, I deem it necessary to take a look at his statistical production for a few specific reasons.

Whatever opposition one may have to Clarence Thomas and his jurisprudence, he has long opposed affirmative action legislation because he believes it has led to the degradation of what he rightfully earned as an individual.  Unfortunately, this stigma exists at college acceptance time, when Caucasians deride the disadvantage of checking that box.

In many ways, this fallacious and bigoted approach has attached itself to Larry Doby’s playing career and legitimacy as a hall of famer. While I believe a statue honoring the second or most influential of all time should be built because of his role in the desegregation of baseball and his role in the civil rights movements, his excellence on the field should not be tossed aside.

Thus, before touching Doby the human being, let us first appreciate Doby the Hall of Fame talent.

Season HR BB/K ISO wRC+ WAR
1948 14 0.70 .189 134 4.5
1949 24 1.01 .188 130 4.3
1950 25 1.38 .219 155 6.8
1951 20 1.25 .217 159 6.3
1952 32 0.81 .266 157 6.9
1953 29 0.79 .224 138 5.0
1954 32 0.90 .211 133 5.9
1955 26 0.61 .214 131 4.2
1956 24 0.97 .198 127 4.7
1957 14 0.71 .175 131 2.4

Indeed, it is somewhat obvious that I cherry picked a bit, as I decided to use Doby’s 10 year peak in order to demonstrate his elite skill. Of course, Doby makes it fairly easy, as during those 10 years he averaged a tick over a 5 WAR per year.

In terms of defensive capacity, we have fairly limited information mostly based on first person accounts, the eye test. Many deemed him to be an average to a tick above average defender. Of course the power production in center field was his defining characteristic.

Secondarily, one of Doby’s key skills, on-base percentage, is one which was almost completely unconsidered and undervalued until at least the early nineties. Though in many ways, walk rate is still scorned for inefficient and sexy measurements like RBI.

Indeed, Doby is what advanced front offices dream about at night; an up the middle athlete with plus power and elite on base ability. Unfortunately, I can do little to speak of what he was in terms of subjective enjoyment, many who witnessed Doby are fading into the annuls of time much the way he has.

In order to create some contextual comparison, I inserted the following graphic comparing Doby to contemporary, fellow member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, Duke Snider.

(Courtesy of Fangraphs)

Obviously, Snider was able to maintain his peak over a longer period of time, three years on the front end as well as two on the back end. These are not to be underrated with the proviso that Doby probably could have been productive at 21 or 22 if he had been allowed to play MLB.  His 23 year old season should be tossed away because of a small sample as well as obvious challenges.  When looking at wRC+  as well as wOBA, we see a player often producing 40-60% above league average. Secondly, his yearly WAR averages are between all-star and super star.

As for his role in the success of good teams Doby was one of the best position players on the Indians 1948 World Series winner, contributing a key home run in a 2-1 win in Game Four.  In 1954, on arguably the greatest team to lose a World Series, he was the best or second best position player. This team had an impeccable if not ungodly collection of pitching talent which must be noted.

Indeed, we have a Hall of Famer on his merits purely as a baseball player, while he does exist on the lower bounds of WAR production; some is based on his constrained tenure, which was outside of his control.

A quick, tangent which I will permit myself; when discussing the Thome statue, many Indians staff and upper level management stressed that this was not based only on his skills as a baseball player but his qualities as a human being.

This sickens me, not because Thome is not of good character because of what we know he is. Indeed, if there was a list of Indians I would love to get a beer with, he would place near the top. Yet, how can we talk about honoring a man of great character, without building a statue of Doby? Is Doby not a paragon of the sort of person we would want to represent the organization?

Doby the Human Being

Once again a disclaimer, I am going to attempt to and fail miserably at properly stating the type of human being Larry Doby was as well as the challenges he faced. Simply because, experientially I will never face or understand such circumstances.

“He was a great American, he served the country in World War II and was a great ballplayer. He was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, because he was the second African-American player in the Majors.” – Bob Feller on Larry Doby.

When delving deeper into his experience, Doby spent a portion of his time exhibitioning his skills, yet that does not undermine his service which included stationing in the Pacific Theater.

Feller frustratingly noted the great sadness in Doby’s which stems from his entrance to the stage a few months later than Robinson. What Doby experienced off the field equaled Robinson as indeed the Indians were an equally unwelcoming team, not to mention crowds and opponents.

Yet, on the field while Robinson had an escape in his first season, Doby struggled mightily.  He struck out in 33% of his plate appearances and played sparingly in 29 games.  Doby was not only facing paralyzing, heartbreaking bigotry and hatred, he also was facing failure on the baseball field for the first time in his life.

To overcome and to push through his initial struggles which most of us cannot begin to understand is where Doby’s legacy lies.  Somehow, it feels as if the Indians are constantly running away from Larry Doby’s legacy, when perhaps it is the greatest contribution the franchise has made to baseball.

Bob Feller’s number was retired in 1957 the year after he retired from Major League Baseball. Larry Doby’s was retired in 1994, 35 years after he played his last game.  What is most deplorable is that the Indians are complicit with the fading legacy of Larry Doby as they make few efforts to build his image as the truly heroic man that he was.

I like many am beguiled by Jim Thome’s wide infectious smile, though it cannot make me forget his exodus, or the fact that he was rarely the best player on those nineties teams.  I must ask, how can we honor Thome’s character and ignore the most virtuous of men?

While building Thome this statue when none exists for Doby is flawed, it is not a separate incident but merely highlights their lack of organizational respect for a champion who helped change baseball and the world in which he lived for the better.

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Trend Spotting: The definitive Joe Wendle

Joe Wendle has become an increasingly polarizing prospect in the Indians system as his value is all over the map according to national pundits. Early in the off-season, Jim Bowden, whose opinion I rarely value, actually showed positive interest in Wendle, deeming Joe to be a second-level piece in order to approach a deal for Tampa Bay ace David Price.

This was surprising in that Bowden is not the type of writer who often researches with any depth, but would likely derive his information from an old friend and industry source. Of course the outside analysts have had varying approaches to his value as well.

According to Baseball America, he is outside the top ten prospects, yet Baseball Prospectus had him sitting at number nine. Which, while positive, is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

On the other hand, the prospect community rarely admits its inaccuracies, thus performance and skill, which has gone underrated, often continues to be so because of past conceptions.

Indeed, it is fairly obvious when reading my tone that I have come to the conclusion that Wendle is indeed an underrated commodity both inside the Indians prospect community and nationally.

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Trend Spotting: Quiet additions edition

Since the last time I opined in exacerbating detail the Indians have made three moves which will undoubtedly be impactful on the 2014 season. The three pertinent moves include the signing ofJohn AxfordShaun Marcum’s entrance into the fold, and the trade of Drew Stubbs for Josh Outman. This is of course conceding that the Matt Treanor signing to a minor-league deal will at best have the impact of replacement level production.

I will leave the Axford signing alone in this space because Jim Piascik wrote a detailed and insightful piece on Tuesday, which should be read as the definitive piece on Axford throughout the Cleveland Blogosphere.

Digressing, I would first like to touch upon the addition of Shaun Marcum. The details of course have become common knowledge but I will include them here: It is a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. If Marcum is to make the roster, he will make a million dollars with the incentives to drive the contract as high as four million.

Marcum is indeed the ultimate invite type, offering sizable upside with a fair contract, as well as zero risk for the Indians. Indeed, he appears to be in that slight way, Kazmir comparable.
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Trend Spotting: On Michael Bourn, Quick thoughts on pitching

Over the past three weeks, trading Michael Bourn has become a hipster approach both because of the market place that currently exists as well as his contract implications on the Indians over the next three possibly four years.

I must admit that I have fluctuated in between camps regarding whether or not he should be dealt. As well, answering a question like should the Indians deal Bourn, Justin Masterson or Asdrubal Cabrera is imperfect, irrational.

Because any certainty cannot exist unless we are able to see what the return would be, that said, the idea of trading Cabrera for any part is close to certainty for myself merely based on cost/production value.

Nevertheless, Bourn has become someone that many believe to be easily replaceable, which is understandably based on the Indians outfield depth.

The case can be made based solely on last season – and I emphasize solely – that with Michael BrantleyDrew StubbsDavid Murphy and Ryan Raburn they could cover his production loss in the aggregate.

Indeed, the marginal value gap between optimized platoons among the four outfielders and the outfield including Bourn’s production from last year may be equivalent.

In order to provide context to a possible Bourn deal, I am going to attempt to discuss the value of his contract comparatively, attempt to project a baseline of future production and discern how valuable he is as a trade asset.

This inevitably begins with discussing his 2013 production, its implications and what he truly contributed.
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Trend Spotting: On Corey Kluber and a few offseason concerns

Kluber

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Corey Kluber is the most interesting man in the world. Perhaps that is an overstatement, but his quiet, complex demeanor is so entirely appealing.

Indeed, his Calvin Coolidge-esque silence is oddly compelling, monitoring Kluber’s changing facial expressions on the mound, or lack thereof, is reminiscent – at least for myself – of another, former Cleveland starter.

Kluber’s facial expressions offer incredible intensity, yet it is accompanied by some Zen like poise.

In order to create clarity, surrounding this comparison, I believe that it is reasonable to compare on facet of a player to another without saying they are equivalent beings in every manner.

Thus, in terms of on mound composure, and more accurately focus, Kluber is eerily similar to former ace Cliff Lee. Of course there were times early in his career where Lee would lose his temper and show frustration. But in terms of makeup on the mound they are opposite handed mirrors.
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Trend Spotting: A look at Danny Salazar’s 2013 season

Danny Salazar’s development has been profiled in great depth throughout this site over the past two years, yet his ascendancy feels almost unreal. Indeed, prior to this season, if one was to track the most frequent phrases used when discussing Salazar they would undoubtedly be “injury history”, “pitch counts” and likely “bullpen arm”.

In many cases Tommy John surgery suppressed the long term expectations for Salazar. For instance, he was ranked the 38th prospect in the Indians system on IBI prior to the 2012 season, perhaps more so than it has for other prospects because of the manner in which Salazar was handled post-surgery as well as the occasional cropping up of elbow tightness.

There were two final concerns outside of his arm health which we can now begin to discuss with some context from his first taste of the big leagues.

The first is whether Salazar has good enough secondary stuff to be able to play off his plus fastball to the point that he is a front of the line type guy. The other consideration was one that you hear with almost every starter: can he control the fastball adequately to create advantageous counts.
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Trend Spotting: Drew Stubbs and his value as a sub

The Indians offseason is strewn with forks in the road. Yes, this is another path dependency discussion but in brevity. However, the most important fork may have three prongs being multi-year decisions on Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Scott Kazmir.

Each of these starters have been analyzed in an in-depth manner be it Orbanek’s confidence in Jimenez,  Matt Rose’s look at Masterson, or this foolish man’s look at Kazmir.

Therefore, for the time being I have decided to divert my attention to a move that will inevitably have a smaller effect but yet still an effect. Beyond Drew Stubbs’ boyish good looks is an enigmatic performer who seems to have impressively drawn ire from every corner of the state of Ohio.

At this point, not even the staunchest of Stubbs supporters can argue that he should be a starting outfielder; however, he does retain immense value as a fourth outfielder because of his ability to impact the game in many different ways.

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Trend Spotting: The case for retaining Scott Kazmir

The Indians have a plethora of offseason decisions which are of seemingly equal importance, each one creating specific options or paths. The offseason is a lesson in path dependency, each decision opening and closing different doors.  This means that there very well may be a path that I prefer which no one could conceive of before the Winter Meetings begin.

Perhaps, the last paragraph was an opportunity for me to hedge my bets or maybe, just maybe it is sufficient reasoning. Another important piece is that every option must be explored meaning that every player is worth signing for the right price or dealing for the right value, something benevolent editor, Jim Pete asserted in his Wednesday column. Meaning that there is always value to be found even in surprising avenues, thus almost any Indian be it Drew StubbsUbaldo Jimenez or Scott Kazmir is worth signing semi-long term if the price is advantageous.

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Trend Spotting: Finding the value gap, position by position

When a team goes from a 94 loss season to a 92 win season there are going to be a collection of production increases at multiple positions. Today, in brevity I will be looking at the positional production team wide using surface statistics to show the difference from 2012 to 2013.

This is just a launching off point as I will spend much of the offseason in this column looking position by position to project 2014 production and to talk about what changes occurred for better or for worse in 2013.  Trend Spotting will spend the rest of its time using analytics to evaluate any offseason acquisitions the Indians make and how they affect the 2014 season. This could be consuming as I expect this offseason to be a busy one.

Digressing, I will be laying out the 2012 and 2013 starters at each position as well as the overall positional WAR.

Starting with the catching position…

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Trend Spotting: Run scoring trends and what they mean

The Indians offense so far this season has been a paragon of inconsistency, a mercurial mess which leaves us with shelves full of empty bottles of antacid and a broken remote or two. This is not to decry the offense in its entirety as they have been relatively productive in the month of September, whether that has to do with facing the White Sox and other mediocre teams we will bypass for a later discussion.

Merely, to assert the instability of production that this offense has shown because of the lack of any real anchor’s in the middle of the order. None the less, run scoring trends are interesting and we are going to take a look at what might cause some of the Indians peak scoring innings.

As a quick aside, the Indians struggles to score on Bruce Chen is one of the most torturous things I experience on a yearly basis. As challenging as it is when a pitcher changes speeds effectively, you simply must be able to put up a four spot against him every time out. Chen is the poorest of man’s Jamie Moyer. Yes, the Indians struggled to bury a Royals team who started Bruce Chen in a game for their playoff life.

Digressing, much has been made of the fifth inning for the Indians throughout the season as the scoring margin is particularly vast in that frame. However there have been a few other innings of note.

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