Picking up Derek Lowe for what’s essentially a one-year, $5 million contract is a smart move for the Indians, as he pitched much better than his ERA suggests this season and if healthy should be a solid third or fourth starter.
Shortly before trading for Lowe the Indians also exercised their $7 million option on Fausto Carmona and together the two moves more or less solidify the rotation as Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Carmona, Lowe, and Josh Tomlin.
That’s potentially a very strong group, although certainly not without significant question marks. It’s also an extremely ground-ball heavy group, as Lowe, Masterson, and Carmona were three of the 10 starters across baseball to induce at least 54 percent grounders this season and Jimenez wasn’t far behind at 47.2 percent.
Tomlin is a fly-ball pitcher, but four-fifths of the rotation would be set up to thrive if the Indians can put a strong infield behind them. Asdrubal Cabrera is locked in at shortstop and sophomores Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall will likely be the starters at second base and third base.
I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.
First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:
+10 Blue Jays
The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.
Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:
Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.
According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.
The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.
Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.
It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.