Cleveland Sports Insiders

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Rebuilding Salazar: Never a Groundball Pitcher

During his 2013 redemption campaign, Ubaldo Jimenez broke out in a way that shocked the Cleveland Indians’ fandom. While his walk rate remained high, and in spite of reduced fastball velocity, Jimenez struck out batters at a better rate than he ever had during his career. When asked about the role of Mickey Callaway, Jimenez stated, “When you have a pitching coach that is only telling you what to do and isn’t listening, it’s hard. Mickey has a lot of knowledge, but he also listens. He’s always trying to find out what you think and how you feel you need to improve.”

The lesson taught by this interaction between Callaway and Jimenez, that an instructor is at his best when he recognizes the pitcher’s strengths, is one that applies very directly to recently-excellent, but even more recently-subpar and yet more recently-demoted, Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Danny Salazar. Namely, Salazar’s skill is in generating swinging strikes and in working up in the zone, and to ignore this fact is to ignore the lessons that Callaway espoused only a year ago. Continue reading

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Strikeout and Swinging Strike Percentiles: May 26th

Entering the season, Carlos Carrasco’s strikeout rate posed something of a conundrum. Carrasco’s ‘stuff’ going into the year was very good – put less interestingly, his pitch mix induced a swinging rate that was average to above-average for starters. Typically, the meme for minor-leaguers is that they have good-looking pitches but that those pitches don’t translate to whiffs. This was the explanation reflexively thrown out there for Carrasco, despite the fact that his pitches did translate to whiffs. The gap, then, was the dissonance between Carrasco’s Swinging Strike rate and his strikeout rate – in other words, the approach was good, but the results did not follow.

Entering late May, this dissonance no longer exists – Carrasco’s above-average swinging strike rate has resulted in an above-average strikeout rate, as one expects. Raw Whiff Percentage is the leading predictor of strikeout rate, and it does so with incredible reliability. Of course, judging by Carrasco’s exiled last-man-in-the-pen role, Cleveland has the same regard for Whiff%/FIP/xFIP that Poet Laureate Violent J has for Scientists – who should not instruct him De Magnetum Natura – but those of us who harbor the terribly misguided delusion that the Cleveland ballclub has any interest in saber might be interested in the current starters’ Swinging Strike/Strikeout differential. Continue reading


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The Sunday Drive with Santana, Salazar, Bauer and LeBron James

With Mother’s Day and Easter behind us, and with the Indians’ locomotive heading towards Father’s Day and the hopeful heat of summer, it’s time for me to dust off the trusty old Smith-Corona PWP 5000 Word Processor (look that one up) and start writing about Cleveland Sports again. With the off-season Cavs and Browns actually becoming more interesting than the in season Indians, there’s plenty to talk about in this week’s Sunday Drive.

I really don’t know where to begin with the Cleveland Indians, so I suppose I’ll start with Carlos Santana.  I was all for the Santana experiment when it started. I was excited even more to see Santana start there when the Tribe announced early in Spring Training that he was going to be the starter.

I’m less excited now.

This is when I wish I utilized my brain for my decision-making skills, and not my heart. Look. We all knew that learning the third base position at the major league level starting in December was a long-shot at best. Hell, I would even go so far as to say that it was an impossible shot, from December through March.

Instead, my trust for Francona-decisions allowed my sense and sensibilities to get thrown out the window. Instead, I kept thinking to myself, “Boy, if he gets out from behind the plate, his offense will improve.”

Think about that. On one hand, Santana won’t be catching all those games, so his legs should be fresh. Of course, he’s learning a new position…and third base to boot. I did talk about one offsetting the other, but my blind belief that he could overcome this without physically seeing him or talking with him was simply idiotic. Continue reading


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Foul Ball Rates: Danny Salazar and Projections

Tuesday last, Danny Salazar took to the raised mound at the center of the base-ball diamond for the first time in Spring 2014. While Salazar’s own performance was rather overshadowed by the much-discussed outing of Trevor Bauer, Salazar’s own performance was less-than-inspiring, inducing only three whiffs over the course of his 42-pitch outing, for a Swinging Strike rate of 7.1%, according to my own personal collection of spring training statistics. This should neither surprise anyone nor be cause for concern: spring training means little, and the first start of spring training means even less.

Yet one trait in particular was gripping in Danny Salazar’s outing against the Angels: he induces a great many foul balls. While Tuesday was only one spring training game, it was wholly reminiscent of his 2013 outings wherein his pitch counts ran extraordinarily high – not because he was walking batters, but because batters were making such frequent foul contact. In 2013, Salazar Foul-Per-Contact rate was 55.6% – substantially above the league average of 48%.

Foul contact rate, as illustrated by this well-aged article from 2008, is a fairly unequivocal good for pitchers. It correlates positively and (pun incoming) strikingly with K rates, and correlates negatively with all manner of ‘batting-against’ statistics. Foul rates correlate positively with positive pitching traits and negatively with negative pitching traits. If one is a major-league pitcher who both wishes to succeed and who has an abiding admiration for the aesthetics of ten-pitch at-bats, high foul rates are a way to combine these two, and to varying degrees normal, desires.

More remarkably, it’s true that Foul% also negatively correlates with HR/FB rate – meaning, in short, that given Salazar’s high foul rate, his HR/FB rate should have been average-or-below. In the particular case of Danny Salazar, this leaves one with decided optimism. By far the most prominent criticism of Danny Salazar in the aftermath of his 2013 campaign was that he had trouble with the long-ball, which is certainly true: his HR/FB rate was well above league average. However, HR/FB has been shown to be one of the least stable year-to-year statistics, so simply because HR/FB ratio is high one year, there’s rarely reason to believe it will be high the following year. In Salazar’s case, his extremely high Foul/Contact rate indicates that not only should his HR/FB rate be merely league-average going forwards, there’s reason for Cleveland fans to believe that his true talent level on HR/FB rates should actually be better than league average; in short, Salazar’s home run rate, so problematic in 2013, may turn out to be one of Salazar’s strengths in 2014.

The correlation between Foul% and HR/FB is a weak one, to be sure, but Foul% is the stat that correlates more strongly with HR/FB rate than any other. The idea that Danny Salazar has a home run problem, the idea that his fastball is too straight to not result in large amounts of home runs, is one that’s understandable: last year, after all, his fastball was straight, and he gave up many home runs. There’s little reason, however, to believe that his fastball was a causative factor in his home run rate. A pitcher is extraordinarily unlikely to throw fifty-two innings of transcendent baseball if he has a glaring, fatal flaw. The HR problem he supposedly exhibited in 2013, then, was very likely mere statistical noise.


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500 words or less…on signing Ubaldo Jimenez

Ubaldo Jimenez (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Ubaldo Jimenez (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

The Cleveland Indians should sign Ubaldo Jimenez.

Jon Heyman reported on Monday’s MLB Tonight that Ubaldo had dropped his contract demands further and was seeking a three-year, $39 million dollar deal.

That puts Jimenez right in the Tribe’s money wheelhouse.

On October 9th, I speculated that Jimenez would have a floor of three years and $33 million, with a ceiling of three and $39. While there were more years and bigger numbers being discussed by his agent, money expectations for Jimenez had to be tempered a bit because of his overall body of work with the Indians. While he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last August and September, he was far from it in his previous two seasons with the Tribe.

Jimenez is the pure definition of dichotomy as a starting pitcher. On one side of the coin, he is a flawed pitcher that struggles to throw strikes. On the flip-side, he is one of the best pitchers in baseball when everything is clicking, who works the zone, confuses hitters, and can carry a team. Continue reading


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Trading for Samardzija at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

Jeff Samardzija (Morry Gash--MLB.com)

Jeff Samardzija (Morry Gash–MLB.com)

I’m daydreaming again here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

It’s not a hard thing to do when you’re a Cleveland Indians’ fan floating through an offseason, because they tend to be about as exciting as watching the Browns play football, Anthony Bennett set a pick, or perhaps more appropriate to the baseball conversation; it’s been as exciting as watching MLB’s top free agent pitchers sign contracts.

In all seriousness, there’s been a legitimate lack of movement from the Indians this offseason, which truly is the norm here on the North Coast. Now I’m not necessarily knocking the moves that they have made; they’ve been solid acquisitions to be sure. But after the major moves made last year, this one feels a bit like a dud, even if it’s not. Let’s put it a bit in perspective: Continue reading


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500 words or less…on Ubaldo Jimenez and Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer (photo: AP)

Trevor Bauer (photo: AP)

Can Trevor Bauer rebound from his struggling 2013 season?

Clevelandsportsinsider.com columnist Steve Orbanek and I bantered about the numbers of Danny Salazar‘s 2012 minor league campaign with Cody Anderson‘s stat line in 2013. Steve makes a good case for Anderson’s future in Friday, January 17th‘s Orbiting Cleveland.

Salazar and Anderson are different styled pitchers, but are on a similar trajectory.

From there, I began a cursory look at Trevor Bauer, pondering his future compared to Salazar and Anderson because of his day-to-day struggles to find the strike zone. While Bauer, Salazar and Anderson all have had varied levels of success, comping them while Bauer is struggling seemed unfair.

While pondering a comparison-study, one name stood out to me in relationship to Bauer: Ubaldo Jimenez. I cherry-picked Jimenez’s final season at Triple A Colorado Springs, as-well-as Bauer’s 2013 season in Columbus. Continue reading


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Indians’ projections at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

Masterson (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Masterson (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

While rationalizations over the firing of Rob Chudzinsky and the Browns’ ensuing head-coach search engross us here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, a relatively quiet hot-stove league is finally set to give way to the sights and sounds of a new and fresh baseball season. In less than a month, 27 days to be exact, pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Arizona signaling the start of the 2014 baseball season.

For most readers of my column, the Browns escapades and the Cavaliers year-to-year folly are mere placeholders for the crack-of-the-bat, the pop of the glove and all of the optimism that comes with the start of every year. The Cleveland Indians won 92 games last season and tasted the playoffs for the first time since 2007. With the major pieces seemingly set, it’s time to start figuring out what is to be expected of the 2014 Indians.

Can this club match the blossoming expectations that are now in place, or is the bar set far too high thanks to an unexpected September run? Regardless of what you believe, the 2014 Indians are set to give the North Coast one thing that neither the Browns nor the Cavs can. Continue reading


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Rotational conversation at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

Danny Slazar (REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk)

Danny Slazar (REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk)

The holidays have passed, and the New Year is in full bloom here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and I’ve got my thermal underwear, as the temperature is hovering right around zero, with a wind chill somewhere south of that. This is the time of the year that really has me missing baseball.

The freezing temperatures have a chokehold around a Greater Cleveland area that doesn’t have any more football to watch, and has been mesmerized by another basketball season full of more dysfunction than one city should have to endure.

While the hot stove season is still in full effect, this is the downtime that can drive a fan absolutely crazy. The Indians certainly haven’t been stagnant, but after last year’s rapid upheaval of a “thought-dead” organization, the few moves that have been made just haven’t put the wind behind many sails.

It can be utter torture, especially when you watch the spending several other teams have made this offseason, including some small market team located right here in the A.L. Central. Continue reading


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Orbiting Cleveland: Analyzing 2014 Indians top prospect lists

francisco-lindor-2013-bwOn Wednesday, Baseball America released its long-awaited 2014 Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects list.

The list is always interesting to see simply because of Baseball America’s reputation as being the standard in the industry when it comes to prospect rankings. The rankings are, however, subjective to the opinions of Baseball America’s writers, and debate is inevitable once they’re released.

That has already been the case this season as there were some surprises and some notable omissions. Without further ado, take a look at Baseball America’s listing for yourself: Continue reading