The Cleveland Indians: a Team of Guys They’ve Traded or Released Is Better Than the Actual Team

Indians lose again. I blow off steam.

Sample ImageBefore the season started, as I explained on this here site:

• C.C. Sabathia, their best starting pitcher, probably wouldn’t be as good this year. (Update: he’s 5-8 so far.)

• Fausto Carmona, their second-best pitcher, was at risk of injury from overuse; the manager and general manager were simply asking him to throw too many innings at too young an age. (He’s currently on the disabled list with a hip strain injury, which commonly results from overuse.)

• Joe Borowski would be horrible at closer, despite leading the league in saves last year, and would lose the job to Rafael Betancourt. (Borowski’s current ERA is 8.18, so yep, he lost the gig to Betancourt by May — until Betancourt sucked so mightily that Borowski now has it back for a while.)

• Second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera would be no more than ordinary. (Currently batting .184.)

• Travis Hafner was nowhere near returning to all-star form. (Currently batting .217.)

• The left-field platoon of Dellucci and Michaels was idiotic, and the job should have been given to minor-league batting champion Ben Francisco, who was instead sent back to the minors. (Dellucci is hitting .225, and Michaels batted just .207 until being sold to the Pirates for, I dunno, twenty bucks and a dead squirrel. Francisco was finally given the job in May, and he’s hitting .304, settling in as one of the team’s best hitters.)

• The Indians would be average or a little above average, tops, but no more, with not much chance of winning the division, and that the other teams in the division had done a lot more to improve themselves. (The Indians are currently 33-39, in fourth place out of five teams.)

If all this is obvious in advance from my kitchen table thousands of miles away, before the season even starts, why can’t the people who actually get paid to run the team see it?

Aaaaarggh.

This got me wondering: does the Indians general manager even realize how much he sucks? And the Indians used to have a pretty well-stocked organization. Just how many good players did they give up in order to get this bad?

Let’s compare the current team to a team made up of players the Indians had and let go.

EXHIBIT A — REAL TEAM: Here’s an actual Indians starting lineup from last week, along with each player’s OPS+, an oversimplified but useful stat roughly measuring overall offensive output, including power, speed, park effects, etc. 100 would be an average major leaguer; 125 or more would be worth considering for an all-star team. I use it here just for simplicity’s sake; it’s a fair first approximation of offensive value, but that’s all.

CF Sizemore – 136
LF Francisco -112
C Martinez – 80
1B Garko – 100
SS Peralta – 82
DH Dellucci – 97
3B Blake – 106
RF Gutierrez – 83
2B Carroll – 90

Avg OPS+: 98

So: that’s one all-star, one promising youngster, one perennial all-star (Martinez) struggling with nagging injuries, and… um… six OK-to-marginal guys whose stats would belong in the high minors in some organizations. (Gutierrez is a disappointment. His minor league stats indicate he should be much better than this. Otherwise, blegh.)

Baseball is a game of repeated trials — flipping a coin, over and over and over — and while surprises are constant, long-term, baseball generally obeys the laws of repeated trials. A career .300 hitter usually gets more hits the next year than a career .280 hitter, and nearly always more hits than a .250 hitter, and so on. Period.

Statistically, these nine guys — or any players of this caliber Indians management may switch in — have virtually no chance of success over the long haul. The Indians have a lot of this-caliber guys.

EXHIBIT B — BIZARRO WORLD INDIANS: found in the universe where the Indians have actually kept the good players they already had. Here’s a lineup of current players the Indians have let go, OPS+ stats all taken as of the same night, along with the manner of their departure:

SS Vazquez – 150 (released as a free agent in 2006)
CF Ludwick – 175 (released as a free agent in 2005)
LF Ramirez – 149 (released as a free agent in 2000; too expensive to pay)
DH Bradley – 193 (traded to Dodgers for Gutierrez after Bradley argued with the manager, 2004)
2B Phillips – 107 (traded to Reds for minor leaguer Jeffery Stevens, 2006; hit 30 HR, 2007)
1B Thome – 110 (released as a free agent in 2002; too expensive to pay)
RF Gerut – 99 (traded to Cubs for minor leaguer Jason Dubois, 2005)
3B Kouzmanoff – 88 (traded to Padres for minor leaguer Josh Barfield, 2006)
C Bard – 49 (sent to Red Sox in 7-player deal, 2005)

Avg OPS+: 124

No getting around it: that’s an eye-poppingly better team. Way better batting average, better on-base percentage, tons more power. Bizarro Indians would kick the real Indians’ ass. But of course, in the Bizarro universe, the general manager keeps the good players and drops the bad ones. What a crazy idea.

At least four (Ludwick, Ramirez, Bradley, Phillips) belong in the all-star game this year. Of course, Vazquez probably isn’t really this good, Thome is on the downside of a Hall of Fame career, Kouzmanoff has a ton of promise not yet fulfilled, and Gerut and Bard are included here just to fill out a team.

Bradley, you could argue, is a head case and tough on the clubhouse. Yep. But look it up — he has also been a solidly above average and usually exceptional player every year since 2003 — and when the Indians dumped him, he was their best offensive player by a mile. Genius.

By my half-cocked back-of-the-envelope Bill James-style math, the Bizarro Indians would score enough runs to typically generate an additional 20 wins per year, plus or minus. (Wow. Can that be right? My calculator thinks so, anyway.) Which would translate, at the current moment of mid-June, into 8 more wins and first place in the division.

And that entire team of guys, you notice, was dumped — for exactly one current Indians starter (currently batting .243), some cash, and a few benchwarmers and minor leaguers in return.  Nice work, front office.

Apologists will argue that a small-market team simply can’t afford guys like Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. Probably true. The entire payroll of the Indians example, above, is only slightly more than what Manny Ramirez currently gets paid all by himself. Fair enough. (The decision to let Manny go wasn’t the current GM’s decision, anyway.)

Then again, Indians management is currently paying $10 million to Jake Westbrook, who has had a couple of good years between various struggles, but that’s all; 8 million to Travis Hafner, who has been on a steady decline for two years; 6 million to the ordinary Casey Blake at third; 4 million to firestarting closer Joe Borowski; 4 million to .225 hitter David Dellucci; and even 2 million to journeyman Jamey Carroll, who could be replaced by a dozen AAA minor leaguers I could name (none of them in the Indians system, unfortunately).

That’s $34 million down a hole to six players, only one of whom (Hafner) has ever been truly special. So the Indians can’t argue they’re spending what money they do have all that wisely.

They don’t have much help coming from fresh faces in the minors, either. In AAA, Adam Miller has a shot to become a good starter, and veteran Rick Bauer is turning into a possible closer option. In AA, Wes Hodges is the Indians 3B of the future, and catcher Chris Jimenez is interesting. Pitchers David Huff, Randy Newsom, and Jeffrey Stevens all look pretty good. (Stevens has dominating strikeout numbers, the sort of thing that tells you a kid has a real shot. He was acquired in the Brandon Phillips trade, so that may not look so horrible in a few years. Maybe.) In A ball, there are two relievers in Kinston and four or five pitchers in Lake County to write home about.

And that’s it. Note the near-complete lack of promising position players. Baseball America’s top-rated Indians prospect, Beau Mills, is still hitting just .259 down in A ball with no speed, little power, and 105 strikeouts in 127 games. Yeesh. By comparison, Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds’ top prospect, is eight months younger — and he’s already hitting over .300 with speed and power for… um… the actual Cincinnati Reds.

So that guy hitting .259 in Kinston, North Carolina is the best thing some analysts see in the Indians’ future? OK, then. Not holding my breath. At least as long as the current management has their jobs.

How would the Indians look right now with Ryan Ludwick in the OF with Francisco and Sizemore, Brandon Phillips at 2B, Bradley at DH, and Kouzmanoff at 3B? They’d look pretty damn good for the next few years, that’s what. They’d definitely have a better shot at the playoffs, which is to say more than none.

They coulda been a contender.

They could been somebody.

Instead of a bum, which is what they are, let’s face it.

The Cleveland Indians: a Team of Guys They’ve Traded or Released Is Better Than the Actual Team

Indians lose again. I blow off steam.

Sample ImageBefore the season started, as I explained on this here site:

• C.C. Sabathia, their best starting pitcher, probably wouldn’t be as good this year. (Update: he’s 5-8 so far.)

• Fausto Carmona, their second-best pitcher, was at risk of injury from overuse; the manager and general manager were simply asking him to throw too many innings at too young an age. (He’s currently on the disabled list with a hip strain injury, which commonly results from overuse.)

• Joe Borowski would be horrible at closer, despite leading the league in saves last year, and would lose the job to Rafael Betancourt. (Borowski’s current ERA is 8.18, so yep, he lost the gig to Betancourt by May — until Betancourt sucked so mightily that Borowski now has it back for a while.)

• Second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera would be no more than ordinary. (Currently batting .184.)

• Travis Hafner was nowhere near returning to all-star form. (Currently batting .217.)

• The left-field platoon of Dellucci and Michaels was idiotic, and the job should have been given to minor-league batting champion Ben Francisco, who was instead sent back to the minors. (Dellucci is hitting .225, and Michaels batted just .207 until being sold to the Pirates for, I dunno, twenty bucks and a dead squirrel. Francisco was finally given the job in May, and he’s hitting .304, settling in as one of the team’s best hitters.)

• The Indians would be average or a little above average, tops, but no more, with not much chance of winning the division, and that the other teams in the division had done a lot more to improve themselves. (The Indians are currently 33-39, in fourth place out of five teams.)

If all this is obvious in advance from my kitchen table thousands of miles away, before the season even starts, why can’t the people who actually get paid to run the team see it?

Aaaaarggh.

This got me wondering: does the Indians general manager even realize how much he sucks? And the Indians used to have a pretty well-stocked organization. Just how many good players did they give up in order to get this bad?

Let’s compare the current team to a team made up of players the Indians had and let go.

EXHIBIT A — REAL TEAM: Here’s an actual Indians starting lineup from last week, along with each player’s OPS+, an oversimplified but useful stat roughly measuring overall offensive output, including power, speed, park effects, etc. 100 would be an average major leaguer; 125 or more would be worth considering for an all-star team. I use it here just for simplicity’s sake; it’s a fair first approximation of offensive value, but that’s all.

CF Sizemore – 136
LF Francisco -112
C Martinez – 80
1B Garko – 100
SS Peralta – 82
DH Dellucci – 97
3B Blake – 106
RF Gutierrez – 83
2B Carroll – 90

Avg OPS+: 98

So: that’s one all-star, one promising youngster, one perennial all-star (Martinez) struggling with nagging injuries, and… um… six OK-to-marginal guys whose stats would belong in the high minors in some organizations. (Gutierrez is a disappointment. His minor league stats indicate he should be much better than this. Otherwise, blegh.)

Baseball is a game of repeated trials — flipping a coin, over and over and over — and while surprises are constant, long-term, baseball generally obeys the laws of repeated trials. A career .300 hitter usually gets more hits the next year than a career .280 hitter, and nearly always more hits than a .250 hitter, and so on. Period.

Statistically, these nine guys — or any players of this caliber Indians management may switch in — have virtually no chance of success over the long haul. The Indians have a lot of this-caliber guys.

EXHIBIT B — BIZARRO WORLD INDIANS: found in the universe where the Indians have actually kept the good players they already had. Here’s a lineup of current players the Indians have let go, OPS+ stats all taken as of the same night, along with the manner of their departure:

SS Vazquez – 150 (released as a free agent in 2006)
CF Ludwick – 175 (released as a free agent in 2005)
LF Ramirez – 149 (released as a free agent in 2000; too expensive to pay)
DH Bradley – 193 (traded to Dodgers for Gutierrez after Bradley argued with the manager, 2004)
2B Phillips – 107 (traded to Reds for minor leaguer Jeffery Stevens, 2006; hit 30 HR, 2007)
1B Thome – 110 (released as a free agent in 2002; too expensive to pay)
RF Gerut – 99 (traded to Cubs for minor leaguer Jason Dubois, 2005)
3B Kouzmanoff – 88 (traded to Padres for minor leaguer Josh Barfield, 2006)
C Bard – 49 (sent to Red Sox in 7-player deal, 2005)

Avg OPS+: 124

No getting around it: that’s an eye-poppingly better team. Way better batting average, better on-base percentage, tons more power. Bizarro Indians would kick the real Indians’ ass. But of course, in the Bizarro universe, the general manager keeps the good players and drops the bad ones. What a crazy idea.

At least four (Ludwick, Ramirez, Bradley, Phillips) belong in the all-star game this year. Of course, Vazquez probably isn’t really this good, Thome is on the downside of a Hall of Fame career, Kouzmanoff has a ton of promise not yet fulfilled, and Gerut and Bard are included here just to fill out a team.

Bradley, you could argue, is a head case and tough on the clubhouse. Yep. But look it up — he has also been a solidly above average and usually exceptional player every year since 2003 — and when the Indians dumped him, he was their best offensive player by a mile. Genius.

By my half-cocked back-of-the-envelope Bill James-style math, the Bizarro Indians would score enough runs to typically generate an additional 20 wins per year, plus or minus. (Wow. Can that be right? My calculator thinks so, anyway.) Which would translate, at the current moment of mid-June, into 8 more wins and first place in the division.

And that entire team of guys, you notice, was dumped — for exactly one current Indians starter (currently batting .243), some cash, and a few benchwarmers and minor leaguers in return.  Nice work, front office.

Apologists will argue that a small-market team simply can’t afford guys like Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. Probably true. The entire payroll of the Indians example, above, is only slightly more than what Manny Ramirez currently gets paid all by himself. Fair enough. (The decision to let Manny go wasn’t the current GM’s decision, anyway.)

Then again, Indians management is currently paying $10 million to Jake Westbrook, who has had a couple of good years between various struggles, but that’s all; 8 million to Travis Hafner, who has been on a steady decline for two years; 6 million to the ordinary Casey Blake at third; 4 million to firestarting closer Joe Borowski; 4 million to .225 hitter David Dellucci; and even 2 million to journeyman Jamey Carroll, who could be replaced by a dozen AAA minor leaguers I could name (none of them in the Indians system, unfortunately).

That’s $34 million down a hole to six players, only one of whom (Hafner) has ever been truly special. So the Indians can’t argue they’re spending what money they do have all that wisely.

They don’t have much help coming from fresh faces in the minors, either. In AAA, Adam Miller has a shot to become a good starter, and veteran Rick Bauer is turning into a possible closer option. In AA, Wes Hodges is the Indians 3B of the future, and catcher Chris Jimenez is interesting. Pitchers David Huff, Randy Newsom, and Jeffrey Stevens all look pretty good. (Stevens has dominating strikeout numbers, the sort of thing that tells you a kid has a real shot. He was acquired in the Brandon Phillips trade, so that may not look so horrible in a few years. Maybe.) In A ball, there are two relievers in Kinston and four or five pitchers in Lake County to write home about.

And that’s it. Note the near-complete lack of promising position players. Baseball America’s top-rated Indians prospect, Beau Mills, is still hitting just .259 down in A ball with no speed, little power, and 105 strikeouts in 127 games. Yeesh. By comparison, Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds’ top prospect, is eight months younger — and he’s already hitting over .300 with speed and power for… um… the actual Cincinnati Reds.

So that guy hitting .259 in Kinston, North Carolina is the best thing some analysts see in the Indians’ future? OK, then. Not holding my breath. At least as long as the current management has their jobs.

How would the Indians look right now with Ryan Ludwick in the OF with Francisco and Sizemore, Brandon Phillips at 2B, Bradley at DH, and Kouzmanoff at 3B? They’d look pretty damn good for the next few years, that’s what. They’d definitely have a better shot at the playoffs, which is to say more than none.

They coulda been a contender.

They could been somebody.

Instead of a bum, which is what they are, let’s face it.