The Cleveland Indians are taking social media really, really seriously

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I may waste about 93% of my day cracking wise on Twitter, but I’m no social media expert. I can’t say, therefore, what an aggressive social media initiative can do for a business.  I understand how buzz can make people click YouTube videos and low transaction cost things like that, but I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to figuring out whether one’s efforts to translate buzz into cash on the barrel head are truly working. I do know this, though: the Cleveland Indians are going to figure it out before any other baseball team does.

The Indians took a big step into social media last year, getting active on Twitter and Facebook and doing fun things like launching the Tribe Social Deck, which was a dedicated and decked-out space in the left field seats for bloggers and tweeters and stuff.  I was invited to the Social Deck a couple of times last season. It was great fun and led to some connections between some plugged-in Indians fans and me.  This year, however, the Indians are ramping things up in a major way. There’s a video press release of it here, but here are the relevant details:

For starters, they have moved the Social Deck from left field to an actual suite, and have renamed it the Indians Social Suite.  The team will continue to invite social media mavens to the space this year on a game-by-game basis (you can apply for an invite here).  I’ll be in the Social Suite on Opening Day as the Indians take on the White Sox next Friday and I’ll be tweeting and blogging and stuff from there.

And yes, I’d be blogging about all of this even if I hadn’t been invited. There is certainly a public relations aspect to all of this, but the Indians have made a point to invite bloggers who are critical of the team. Heck, I’ve been critical of the team and will continue to be as criticism is warranted, and they’ve continued to be swell to me.  Not that I’ll name any names, but a lot of other clubs could take a hint. Some ballparks won’t let you bring an iPad in.  Others have media relations people who seek out bloggers and try to intimidate them when they write negative stuff.  Get a clue fellas.

Beyond the Social Suite, the Indians are introducing discounted tickets for followers of the team’s social media outlets (i.e. Facebook and Twitter feeds).  They’re also going to be using the MLB.com At Bat 11 application in the the ballpark during games, allowing fans to receive discounts on various things. I presume this means concessions and refreshments and whatnot.

Finally, they’ve released a really comprehensive list of the team’s active Twitter accounts, including Mark Shapiro (@MarkShapiro), Chris Antonetti (@IndiansGM), Manny Acta (@mactriber_11) and the Indians radio guys (@IndiansRadio).  Their PR department has long been active on Twitter (@tribetalk).  A handful of Indians players are also on Twitter, most notably Shelley Duncan (@shelldunc). Well, notable for my daughter’s purposes anyway.

Like I said: I don’t know what this could mean to the Indians bottom line. Social media is a world where, I suspect, more people are making money by selling their services as so-called social media experts than by actually using social media to sell products.  In this, it’s akin to the California Gold Rush and any number of other times in history where those working on the periphery selling dry goods and the like do better than those actually mining for gold.

But the Indians are a team in a competitive funk in a financially-challenged city with a declining population.  They have nothing to lose here, and they should be credited for trying something new to drum up interest.  Good for them for being creative.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.