2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Cleveland Indians

My favorite spot on the tour.  Stop #23.  In a very real way, it’ll be the next stop on my tour of the U.S., since I’m moving (back) there this summer.  Please excuse any momentary lapses in objectivity on my part.  I love the Indians.
Record: 96-66, 1st in AL Central (Won ALDS 3-1 over Yankees, Lost ALCS 4-3 to Red Sox)
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 91.82 wins (811 runs scored,  704 runs allowed)… good to see that karma caught up with the Indians.
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Tribe Report
More Indians Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status 
Trade Rumors
Overview: They broke my heart, but my left brain knows that love is fleeting.  I have faith in my dear Indians.  They’re one of the organizations in baseball that has gone fully into Sabermetrics and advanced statistical analysis as a method to aid in decision-making.  All off-season, I’ve been nursing my broken heart with that fact.
What went right: Everything that went right for the Indians last year starts with Fausto Carmona… and C.C. Sabathia.  Sabathia simply continued a long arc of progress to the point where he can now claim to be among the best in baseball, but Carmona came out of nowhere.  In 2006, he was a failure as a would-be closer and was just awful.  Or was he?  Look at Carmona’s batted ball profiles from the last two years.  Carmona rarely gives up line drives and nearly 60% of this balls in play were grounders.  Carmona’s BABIP was up in 2006.  The kid has the stuff, although everyone says that he’s going to suffer from the fatigue of over-use last year?  Has anyone ever done a study on whether such an effect exists, once one controls for regression to the mean?
Here’s a stat that shows what the Indians’ bullpen meant to them last year.  Net WPA added by the offense, 2.92 wins.  By the starting pitching, 4.57 wins.  By the bullpen, 7.51 wins.  Rafael Betancourt had such a good year last year that I could have seen an honest vote going his way for the Cy Young Award.   Rafael Perez showed up mid-season and became Mr. Indispensible.  The bad news is that Dos Rafaelos (it’s a Cleveland thing) both had BABIP’s in the .240s.  However, bullpen fillers Tom Mastny, Jensen Lewis, and Joe Borowski… yeah he was a bullpen filler… all had BABIP’s in the .340s.  So, things should even out a bit in 2008.
And they eliminated the Yankees.
What went wrong: Josh Barfield was supposed to be the great solution at second base for the Indians.  He cost the Tribe Kevin Kouzmanoff (my Russian-speaking wife hates it when I say his name… apparently, I and everyone else in baseball butchers it), who given the other Indians’ problem that is Andy Marte, would look good in an Indians uniform right now.  Barfield was one of the least valuable players (by VORP) in baseball last year.  What went wrong here?  Simple.  He developed a hole in his swing.  His batted-ball profile didn’t change.  His BABIP didn’t change.  His K rate went way up.  If you look at his Pitch f/x plots, it shows a man who is chasing off-speed pitches down and away.  Barfield also looks like he’s fouling off a lot of pitches.  Hopefully, he’s been doing some work in the cages this year to fix that hole.
The David Dellucci and Trot Nixon signings didn’t exactly work out either.  Nothing fancy there.  The two of them simply fell victim to the fact that guys who are 33 tend to trend downward.
Yeah, that about sums it up: A small peak into the mind of manager Eric Wedge.  The Indians’ top four starters (Sabathia, Carmona, Jake Westbrook, and Paul Byrd) issued 11 intentional walks.  Then again, Sabathia and Byrd issued fewer than 1.4 total walks per nine innings.  Apparently, Cleveland’s pitching philosophy is “put the ball in play, we’ll take care of the rest.”
Oh Asdrubal Cabrera, I want to believe: Cleveland’s new second baseman is actually a shortstop whom they stole from Seattle at the trading deadline in 2006 for Eduardo Perez.  Cabrera came up to Cleveland in August and finally made Josh Barfield sit down.  Cabrera put up a nifty .283/.354/.421 in 186 PA.  Nice.  Cleveland fans, please do take note of the following.  We don’t yet know the real Asdrubal Cabrera.  186 PA is a pretty small sample size.  What can we say about a player after 186 PA?  Well, we have a pretty good idea of how he likes to swing the bat along with his walk and strikeout rates.  Cabrera struck out 18.2% of the time, and he hits a lot of ground balls.  I want to believe that he’s the second coming of Robby Alomar, but I’m worried that he’s the second coming of Tommy Hinzo.
What happened to Travis Hafner?: His line drives were down and his grounders were way up.  His power numbers were reduced (it’s hard to hit ground ball home runs, but even his HR/FB were down).  Sounds like a guy who’s got a little hitch in his swing.  Cleveland fans, if you’re hoping that Pronk will make his way back up to 2006 levels when he had a good argument going for “The Best Hitter in Baseball,” you’re likely not going to get it.  However, Hafner’s track record says that he’s going to hit more fly balls this year, and more of them will leave the yard.  His BABIP was down well-below his career average (the ground balls, probably… he’s not going to beat many of them out…)  I’m bullish on Travis Hafner.  Perhaps I’m just hopeful.
Outlook: The entire city of Cleveland will be holding its collective breath during the season and then after to see whether C.C. will sign with the team.  Think of it as Johan Santana, Part Deux.  I don’t envy the position that the Indians’ PR department is in.  The Indians will probably (wisely) refuse to put more than four years on a contract for a pitcher, and they have super-prospect Adam Miller waiting in the wings, but they’ll have to explain why they’re letting the best* pitcher in baseball walk away.

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2 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Cleveland Indians

  1. dan says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but I know this quote: “my left brain knows that love is fleeting” from the white stripes song “fell in love with a girl.” Is it from something else that I’m not aware of?

  2. Pizza Cutter says:

    I was just looking for something new. I don’t consider it cheating.

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