Stepping Back

The Indians beat the Baltimore Orioles again last night, and now are one-half game behind Minnesota for the Wild Card lead.

With the first three months of the season behind us, let’s look at how the team is doing.

Pitching

ERA
AL Overall: tie-3rd (3.70)
AL Starters: 7th (4.21)
AL Relievers: 1st (2.80)

OPS Against: .693 (2nd)
K/9: 6.65 (3rd)
WHIP: 1.24 (3rd)

The pitchers are the reason why the Indians were even around the .500 mark at the beginning of June. From top-to-bottom, the pitching has been solid. Special mention must go the bullpen, which saved a ton of close games early in the year, keeping the team afloat. The starters have been solid, lead by Cliff Lee and, when healthy, Kevin Millwood. Jake Westbrook seems to have hit his stride lately. Even Scott Elarton, has pitched well (by his standards). Only the White Sox and Angels have allowed less runs.

Bullpen VORP:
(1) Rafael Betancourt – 13.2
(2) Matt Miller – 12.2
(3) Arthur Rhodes – 11.8
(4) Bob Wickman – 10.0
(5) David Riske – 8.6
(6) Bob Howry – 7.3
(7) Scott Sauerbeck – 5.0

Keep in mind that VORP is playing-time dependent, so Betancourt and Miller get higher rankings thanks to the larger number of innings pitched. But Matt and Rafael have done yeoman’s work, essentially sharing the role traditionally held by the “6th starter” or longman. You could say that Matt Miller has been the best reliever on the staff, but you could also present compelling arguments for either Arthur Rhodes or Rafael Betancourt. Yes, I know Bob Wickman has the saves, but the real key to Wicky having the save opportunity is the guys pitching in front of him.

Holds:
(1) Arthur Rhodes – 11 (6th overall)
(2) Bob Howry – 10 (8th overall)
(3) Scott Sauerbeck – 8
(4) Rafael Betancourt – 6
(5) Matt Miller – 5

The Indians’ relievers have the best of both worlds: depth and execution. This should help spread the innings load among all seven pitchers, which should help it stay effective down the stretch run. No reliever has gone more than 36.2 IP, and no reliever has appeared in a game more than 37 times. The starters do need to start going deeper into games, but unlike some other teams, the Indians aren’t really relying on one or two relievers to finish games.

Starter VORP:
(1) Kevin Millwood – 20.6
(2) Cliff Lee – 18.4
(3) CC Sabathia – 9.3
(4) Jake Westbrook – 9.0
(5) Scott Elarton – 4.8
(6) Jason Davis – (-0.2)

For the most part, the starters have been pretty average, usually going 6 innings and leaving the rest for the bullpen. You’d like to see some of the starters start to go longer into games, and there are positive signs up and down the rotation. Kevin Millwood has looked like an excellent signing, and has become the de facto best pitcher on the staff. Cliff Lee is probably a very long shot to make the All-Star team, but he’s been the staff’s most consistent starter. Both Sabathia and Westbrook have had rough patches, although both looked outstanding in their most recent starts. As far as Scott Elarton is concerned, you just have to hope you can squeeze another three months worth of production from him, but if not, you take your chances with Jason Davis or Brian Tallet as the 5th starter.

Hitting

AL Runs Scored: 9th (359)
AL OPS: 5th (.752)
AL OBP: 10th (.323)
AL SLG: 5th (.429)
AL HR: 6th (90)

Since June 1st, the team has been hitting the bejeezus out of the baseball. The uptick coincided with two events; the firing of hitting coach Eddie Murray, and ascension of Grady Sizemore to the leadoff spot. I’m more likely to pin the blame on Grady, but that’s because I can see what he’s done, and couldn’t see what Murray allegedly didn’t do. Several players have shown marked improvement after slow to abysmal starts. Let’s go to the individual VORP numbers (AL positional rank in parentheses):

1B Ben Broussard: 9.6 (8th)
2B Ronnie Belliard: 12.8 (6th)
3B Aaron Boone: -8.4 (Last)
C Victor Martinez: 10.9 (6th)
CF Grady Sizemore: 27.8 (2nd)
DH Travis Hafner: 30.9 (2nd)
LF Coco Crisp: 13.2 (8th)
RF Casey Blake: -0.5 (17th)
SS Jhonny Peralta: 16.3 (6th)

As you can see, things have gotten a lot better since last we looked at the hitters. Aaron Boone and Casey Blake are still replacement-level hitters, but guys like Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner have really gotten going recently. Most impressive is Grady Sizemore putting up excellent offensive numbers in what is essentially his rookie season. Jhonny Peralta is penalized a bit because he’s sat more than he should have; even though he’s been on the active roster all year, he still is not qualified for the batting title. That should change. It’s pretty obvious that the team needs a large upgrade or three at the corners, but that’s something best talked about as the trade deadline approaches.

Defense

Fielding Percentage: .982 (10th)
Defensive Efficiency: .7094 (4th)

I tend to gravitate towards the defensive effeciency measure, as it gives a more encompassing view of the defense. The Indians seem to have good range as a team, especially in the outfield. Although the team has no real candidates for Gold Gloves, everyone more or less does their job. Ronnie Belliard turns double plays very well, Aaron Boone is a marked improvement over Casey Blake in the field, and although Jhonny Peralta has had his lapses, he has acquitted himself well at short. I guess I’ll summarize the defense thusly: the outfield has really helped the flyball pitchers, and the infield hasn’t hurt the groundball hurlers.

So there you have it. The Indians don’t appear to be “lucky” having the record they now hold, and every aspect of the club seems to be solid. Will this remain the same throughout second half of the 2005 season? I wish I knew; injuries can happen, ineffectiveness can happen. But from the information given, I can with a clear conscience say that this is a good team. Whether that translates into a playoff berth remains to be seen, but I certainly like what I see as of right now.

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