Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cleveland Indians: Room for Improvement?

The Cleveland Indians offense has struggled mightily this season, barely topping the 200 run mark through 49 games. But can fans expect improvement? There's a common theory that over the course of the year, players' "slash stats" will regress to their career averages. The slash stats, of course, are batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. (The fourth slash below is OPS, on base plus slugging.) Using the great site Fangraphs, let's compare each hitter's 2008 performance to their career performance. I've left Ben Francisco and Michael Aubrey out of the discussion, because they don't have enough major league experience to make this exercise worthwhile. And, well, they are two of the few Tribe hitters who don't need any improvement.

Casey Blake 2008: .219/.310/.358/.667, Career: .260/.331/.440/.771 - Blake has a little room for improvement. I was going to chalk the low numbers up to his age. But he performed at or above his career averages in 2006 and 2007, so it doesn't look like he's regressing just yet.

Asdrubal Cabrera 2008: .172/.272/.234/.506, Career: .233/.317/.338/.655 - It may not be fair to judge Cabrera just yet, as his career totals are based on just 80+ games. Cabrera may be the defensive answer at shortstop, but he has a long way to go before his bat catches up with his glove.

Jamey Carroll 2008: .203/.329/.246/.576, Career: .269/.349/.348/.697 - Carroll got off to a good start this year, at least in terms of On Base Percentage. That's cooled off a bit as of late, but he's still around the league average. Carroll has yet to hit for any power in 2008, and it looks like he does have a little room for improvement there.

David Dellucci 2008: .228/.310/.377/.687, Career: .259/.343/.441/.784: A month ago, Dellucci was one of the lone bright spots for the Indians. Now his numbers have tailed off below his career averages. Expect to see some improvement for Dellucci as the season goes on, unless he's traded away to make room for Shin-Soo Choo.

Ryan Garko 2008: .236/.329/.372/.701, Career: .280/.353/.460/.813: Everyone knew coming in that Garko was just a guy that got on base, not a slugger. Still, he's struggled a bit in 2008. His walk rate (9.8%) is actually the highest it's been in his young career, but his batting average on balls in play is way down. BABIP is a flukey thing, and often relies on luck. His ground ball/fly ball/line drive rates aren't much different this year, so Garko just needs to be patient and wait for the hits to start dropping in.

Franklin Gutierrez 2008: .235/.279/.341/.619, Career: .259/.302/.411/.713 - Gutierrez has always been a five tool player, but those tools have never quite translated into good numbers at the plate. Still, as you can see, Gutierrez can expect for his numbers to improve a little as they regress back to his career totals.

Travis Hafner 2008: .219/.320/.358/.678, Career: .285/.393/.540/.933 - Pronk's numbers have been enigmatic over the past two years, and many people say he hasn't been the same since the high beanball from Mark Buehrle in late 2006. What's changed since 2006?

As you can see, Hafner's fly ball rate (blue line) have been in a steady decline over the past few years. His ground ball percentage (green line) also had a huge spike, which is bad news when the opposing infielders always shift in your honor. The good news is that this year, Hafner's ground ball rate is starting to go down again and his line drive percentage is coming up. This could be the start of the turnaround. Indeed, Pronk has been making quite a few "loud outs" lately.
However, it looks like the slump has affected Hafner's famous plate discipline. Not so, according to the numbers. Hafner is swinging at just 16.38 of pitches he sees outside of the zone, the lowest mark of his career. He's also swinging at 62.78% of pitches inside the strike zone, a slight improvement over last year. Pronk also has had a higher contact percentage in these past two seasons (his "slump years"); I'm not sure what that indicates. Maybe the source of his power was a more emphatic all-or-nothing swing before the slump?

Andy Marte 2008: .115/.179/.115/.294, Career: .194/.256/.336/.592 - Marte's another guy that I'm not sure was fair to put on this list. He's never been a full-time player, including this year. The stats say he has room to improve over this year's numbers to date. Of course, the scouts and his minor league numbers will say that he has room to improve even over his career MLB stats.

Victor Martinez 2008: .300/.344/.357/.702, Career: .301/.372/.467/.838 - As you can see, Martinez has done well in terms of average and OBP, but where's his power been this season?

As you can see, his line drive rate is up, which is probably what's holding his average together. His ground ball rate is also up, which is good for a speedster, but not for a plodder like Martinez. But his fly ball percentage has completely fallen. I'd love to do a mechanics analysis of his swing from the past and this year, but unfortunately I don't have the time or the resources for that.

Jhonny Peralta 2008: .212/.277/.404/.681, Career: .262/.332/.424/.755 - Peralta and his better than 20/20 vision do have plenty of room for improvement. But improvement to what? Peralta's career .262 batting average and .332 on base are almost exactly league average. That's not what you want from a guy whose bat is supposed to make up for mediocre defensive play. Even a move to third base seems like a bad idea now, as you expect better production than that out of your third baseman.

Kelly Shoppach 2008: .217/.288/.300/.588, Career: .237/.291/.393/.685 - Shoppach is a very solid backup catcher. Maybe he could even start in the National League. But as far as this year goes, he needs to improve his average and power. His career is far too short to pay much attention to patterns, but since peaking in 2006, Shoppach's line drive rate has gone down and his ground ball and fly ball rates have gone up.

Grady Sizemore 2008: .261/.373/.472/.825, Career: .281/.369/.489/.856 - His batting average may not show it, but Grady Sizemore is having a typical year. He's actually on pace to match most of his career averages as well. I doubt there are many people disappointed in Sizemore's play to date, especially since he's doing very well compared to the rest of the team. So far, what you see is what you should get with Grady.