It’s often said that you can tell how good a baseball team will be by the quarter mark of the season, or after 40 games have been played. The Cleveland Indians are now 43 games into the season, and I already declared the season over on May 18th, when they were 15-21; as of the time of this writing (Tuesday night), they’re 16-27 (although, on a happier note, they’re winning tonight). (Note: as of Thursday night, they’re 17-28.)
It’s not like the Indians were off to a promising start and the recent six game losing streak killed their hope. But the fact is, the Indians being 15-21 was, all things considered, pretty good, and maybe better than we expected. But after losing their rising star shortstop and established center fielder, the Indians lack experience both on the field and in management.
Sounds like a great time for a quarter season report card, right? Read on, after the jump.
- Shin Soo Choo: A-. With Sizemore on the DL, Choo is without question the Indians best power threat, best speed threat and best glove threat, and for the most part he’s living up to those expectations. Reasons he loses points here are that he seems to be a really streaky hitter who can be pitched to. His judgement at the plate (swinging at balls, swinging at the first pitch in the wrong situation, etc.) is also a little questionable.
- Grady Sizemore: I. Who knows how long Sizemore’s been playing hurt, but hopefully it’s been most of the season and that can explain his horrible stats (.211/0/13). MLB.com beat writer Anthony Castrovince offered this explanation for Sizemore’s struggles: “Sizemore used to generate a lot of topspin when he made contact, but he was strong enough and his hands were fast enough that he could get away with it and still drive the ball. Trouble is, such a swing can put a great deal of stress on the elbow upon contact, and all that stress caught up to Sizemore last year, prompting arthroscopic surgery.” That’s code for “his elbow is too weak to generate that kind of batspeed anymore”. Hopefully Sizemore adjusts, or his promising career might be derailed.
- Matt LaPorta/Austin Kearns: C+. The C+ is the average of the two here, with Kearns getting an A and LaPorta getting a D-. Kearns (.295/3/20) has been quite a pleasant surprise, at times being the most reliable bat in the Indians lineup and providing some solid defensive support as well. LaPorta, on the other hand, was the subject of a @sportsguy33 complaint about his fantasy team, wondering how a guy with 76 plate appearances, who’s supposed to be a power hitter, can only have 1 RBI. Some of that, granted, was due to the lack of people he had on base to drive in, but since that tweet (almost three weeks ago), LaPorta has added 4 RBI and 1 HR, bringing his numbers to .206/1/5. His playing time has noticeably decreased.
- Jhonny Peralta: B-. wince. I know, but stay with me. After hitting only .224 in April, he’s hitting .247 in May to bring his stats up to .238/3/19. He’s playing a serviceable third base.
Still not with me? Look, he’s not A-Rod. But Lonnie Chisenhall isn’t ready. Andy Marte isn’t quite an upgrade. Who else do the Indians play there?
- Asdrubal Cabrera: B+. Before going out with an injury, Cabrera was one of the Indians more consistent bats and (shockingly) one of the veteran leaders on this team. He was hitting .287/1/7 before he went out and doing a nice job as the Indians leadoff man. He’ll be sorely missed and welcomed back when he returns. He only loses points here for a couple of inexplicable defensive miscues.
- Luis Valbuena/Mark Grudzielanek: D. Luis Valbuena, as evidenced by his fielding play and demeanor at the plate, isn’t ready for the major leagues. Grudzielanek (.264/0/8) hasn’t quite woken up yet, but he’s a better everyday second baseman at this point than Valbuena. Time to get him back to Columbus for him to work out his problems.
- Russell Branyan: C. I know he’s struck out 30 times in 79 at-bats (over one-third of the time). What did you expect? He’s Russell Branyan.
- Lou Marson/Mike Redmond: B-. Mike Redmond gets a solid A from me for his handling of the pitching staff and general veteran presence on a very young team, despite his batting numbers (.227/0/5). Marson gets a C-, because again, what did you expect? This is not the Indians catcher of the future, and despite playing well defensively, his offensive numbers are just…well, offensive: .208/0/3 (although, I’ll point out that his average was below .100 a couple weeks ago, so maybe he’s improving).
- Jason Donald/Trevor Crowe: B. Both have impressed in their (thus far) brief stays with the Tribe, but only time will tell if their good starts can turn into prolonged success. If the history of rookies on the Indians is any guide, expect these guys to regress.
- Travis Hafner: B+. Is it possible that Travis Hafner is almost back (knock on wood)? On Saturday night he turned a 96 MPH fastball into a bomb to right center. His plate selectivity is certainly as good as its been in two years. He’s 7th in the league in on-base percentage. I’m not suggesting he’s putting up numbers worthy of $12 million a year that he’s getting paid (.284/4/16), but this is certainly improvement.
- Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Mitch Talbot: A. I’m impressed with all three of these guys, particularly Talbot, who threw his first major league complete game earlier this year. Westbrook has bounced back nicely from the surgery and Carmona, while not quite dominant, has evolved into a workhorse pitcher that will get you innings and keep you in the game. I couldn’t be happier with their performance.
- David Huff: C. I feel like David Huff’s numbers are worse than he’s actually pitched, but he certainly hasn’t pitched great and hasn’t been the benefactor of a lot of run support like he was last year. The second year in the big leagues is a year of adjustment, and Huff is going through both right now.
- Justin Masterson: D. Why he’s starting over Aaron Laffey is beyond me, but at some point he’s going to have to be moved to the pen or start throwing strikes. Masterson has shown flashes of what he can be if he ever figures it out, but for now, he’s inconsistent at best and downright untrustworthy for the most part.
- The bullpen: C. Some ups, some downs, and they haven’t exactly been bailed out by the fact that they’re always pitching in close games. Moving Chris Perez out of the closer’s role should help stabilize the bullpen (provided Kerry Wood can figure it out), but for the most part he did a nice job in there. I’m particularly impressed with Laffey’s work this year, and I’m unimpressed with Rafael Perez – where is the guy that was unhittable in 2007 and 2008?
- Manny Acta: B. The Indians managed to win some close games that could have easily gone the other way to start the season, and Acta has to get some credit for that. He also has to be given the benefit of the doubt for what he’s working with. Is Acta the guy to take the Indians to a title someday? Maybe not, but he’s not half bad either.
- The fans: F. As a team, the Indians have been disappointing. But watching games with an empty Progressive Field and then reading comments about how the Indians are a terrible team because Dolan won’t spend money is ridiculous. How’s he supposed to spend money if he’s not making any? Like it or not, the Indians are a business, and the best way to support the team and give the Indians some flexibility to sign some free agents is to get out to a game or two next year. And let’s be honest, unless you’re going to a game against the Orioles, you’re likely to see at least one major league team in action, right?
Sigh. It may be a long summer. But let’s remember, this is a team that was supposed to hit the ball hard and be hit hard, and so far, both aren’t true. So you never know what may happen. And if it turns out season wasn’t over on May 18, I’ll be more than happy to eat my words.