Springtime Storylines: Are the Indians the worst team in baseball?

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Cleveland Block C Cap.jpgBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Hello, everybody, Harry Doyle here, welcoming all you Friends of the Feather to another season of Indians baseball!


The
big question: Are the Indians the worst team in baseball?

We won’t get to the Pirates until next week, but the Tribe has a good argument.  Mostly because of the rotation. Pop quiz, hot shot: how many other teams’ rotations would Jake Westbrook, Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona make? A few? Sure, probably. Now on how many teams would they make the top 3?  Hard to see any to be honest, but they’ll be anchoring Cleveland’s staff. Rounding things out will be Aaron Laffey and David Huff. If the scoreboard at Progressive Field wasn’t electronic the team would have to place a special order for extra crooked numbers this year.

What’s more, the pitchers won’t get much help from the defense, especially on the infield. Cabrera, Valbuena, and Peralta may be the most lyrically-named infield in baseball, but all three of them had negative UZRs last year.  Outfield is better, but not significantly so. Grady Sizemore can cover ground, so that’s nice, but Shin Soo-Choo and Matt Laporta (or Michael Brantley) aren’t any great shakes. They’ll get some offense from that crew, though, so it’s not like the outfield is a black hole or anything.

But really, it does all come back to pitching here. The Indians’ were 29th in the majors in ERA last year, and that was with Cliff Lee on the team until July 29th. Having a healthy Westbrook will be nice, I suppose it’s hard to imagine Carmona being worse this year than he was last year and the youngins are bound to improve a bit, but there’s no escaping the fact that this team is gonna get utterly destroyed by opposing hitters night-in and night-out.

So what else is going on?

  • While the Indians may be the worst major league team this year, they are far from the worst organization.  The trades of CC Sabathia, Casey Blake, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee and others were depressing for Indians’ season ticket purchasers, but between those moves, good drafts and good scrap heap pickups there is a lot of young talent in the Indians’ system.
  • The stylish Manny Acta takes over in the dugout. When he was given the job in Washington people thought it was a good move because he’s supposed to be a guy who can help young prospects develop and stuff. Only problem is that Jim Bowden never gave him any. He’ll have some in Cleveland towards the end of the season and definitely in 2011. In the meantime, though, his life is going to seem a lot like it did in D.C.: poor talent, little chance to compete and a mandate to keep morale up. With better talent in the pipeline he may find it easier to be optimistic with the Tribe than it was with the Nats.
  • Believe it or not, the Indians are still in the process of trying to unload veterans.  If Kerry Wood has anything more than a weak pulse this summer you can bet he’ll be shopped. Same with Jhonny Peralta.  Any other guy over the age of 25 or so who does anything this season is likely headed to the trading block too, at least for a look-see. Only problem is that the guys they want to move the most have rather ugly contracts: $11.5 million for Travis Hafner, $11 million
    for Jake Westbrook and
    $10.5 million for Wood.
  • The most interesting question in Cleveland this year — at least for people who don’t get off on rebuilding and prospect watching — will be whether Grady Sizemore can return to elite status. Sizemore underwent surgeries to repair his left elbow and abdominal wall last
    September, ending a very disappointing season for a guy who, before then, was considered one of the best players in the game. It’s almost certain that it was the elbow injury and not sudden-suck syndrome that led to the down year, so I’m fairly confident that he’ll rebound.

So how
are they gonna do?

It’s not a team that’s built to compete in 2010, but it will be
competing again soon. In the meantime, Tribe fans should enjoy the fact
that there are plenty of available seats in a pretty nice ballpark. The media will focus on the near-empty stadium and the dismal nightly performances, but the Indians’ situation is not totally hopeless. Just hopeless for 2010.

Prediction: Last place in the AL Central and challenging for the worst record in baseball.

NOTE: Unlike I have for every other team, I will not use the official logo for the Indians (or, like with the Tigers, a vintage official logo).  Why? Because while I don’t get bent out of shape at the team being called “The Indians,” Chief Wahoo is a racist freakin’ logo and I’m not giving him any time face time.  If you insist on it I will write a post next week explaining in brutal detail why I feel this way, but I have covered this before (and here’s a wonderfully comprehensive take on it from some Indians fans).  Besides: the block C alternate cap Cleveland uses is by far the coolest cap in the game. They should totally wear that all the time.

UPDATE: I’m a moron. That cap I had previously pictured above was not the official Block C cap the Indians have used as alternates the past couple of years. It was an original design made by Paul Cousineau at The DiaTribe blog, for a post he did back in January re-imagining the Indians’ uniforms. The real hat — which is up there now — doesn’t have the white piping It’s a great post, by the way.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.

The Blue Jays will also try to sign Josh Donaldson to a multi-year deal

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson gets up after being unable to handle an infield single by Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
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Tacking onto Friday’s report that the Blue Jays will attempt to sign Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to multi-year deals, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the club will try to do the same with third baseman and defending American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes that Donaldson’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 15, so the two sides will have 10 days to hammer out a contract.

Donaldson, 30, is entering his second of four years of arbitration eligibility. After earning $4.3 million last season, Donaldson filed for $11.8 million and the Blue Jays countered at $11.35 million. The $450,000 difference isn’t much compared to some of the other disparities among arbitration-eligible players and their respective clubs. Jake Arrieta and the Cubs, for example, had a gap of $6.5 million.

This past season, Donaldson let the league in runs scored and RBI with 122 and 123, respectively, while batting .297.371/.568 with 41 home runs and 41 doubles. He earned 23 of 30 first place votes in AL MVP balloting, with runner-up Mike Trout of the Angels grabbing the other seven votes.

Reds prospect Juan Duran suspended 80 games

Banned
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Juan Duran, a minor-league outfielder in the Reds’ farm system, has been suspended 80 games following positive tests for the performance-enhancing drugs Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone.

Duran is 6-foot-7 with big-time power, averaging 23 homers per 150 games since 2011, but he also strikes out a ton and struggles to control the strike zone. He spent last season at Double-A, missing a lot of time with injuries and hitting .256 with six homers and a .728 OPS in 59 games as a 23-year-old.

Duran is on the 40-man roster and is considered a quasi-prospect, but he’ll be ineligible to play until July and figures to head back to Double-A once reinstated.