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Jim Ingraham

Jim Ingraham: Terry Francona's worst Indians team? You might be looking at it

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    Indians manager Terry Francona looks out at the field during a game against the Tigers this season.

    AP

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We’re just over one month into this Indians season. The first widely accepted checkpoint for determining what kind of team you have is generally the 40-game mark. That’s when the sample size becomes large enough to begin forming valid opinions about a given team.

The Indians aren’t at the 40-game mark yet. But enough water has trickled under the bridge from which to draw some tentative, preliminary conclusions, one of which is the following:

The 2019 Indians might be Terry Francona’s worst team since becoming manager in 2013. A lot can change between now and September. But the Indians’ greatest deficiency, their most urgent need — an infusion of above-average major league hitters — was willingly sacrificed at the altar of payroll reduction, following the 2018 season.

So the chances of ownership suddenly reversing itself and paying the going rate for some quality major league hitters, through trades, is something less than nil. Once you’ve shown Michael Brantley the door, he’s not going to walk back through it.

The Indians have made their bed, and now they’ve got to sleep in it.

Even if the Indians reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive year, which I still think they will — though not as strongly as I did a month ago — this is going to be an ugly slog of a season.

Every game is a street fight. The inability of their punchless lineup to consistently score runs puts relentless pressure on the pitching staff to not give up any. In most games the pitchers have virtually no margin for error. The Indians have scored four runs or fewer in half (8-of-16) of their wins: 2-1, 4-1, 3-2, 3-1, 4-0, 4-2, 1-0, and 2-1.

Theirs is the most lopsided roster in the league: divine pitching and destitute hitting. Indians pitchers rank third in the American League in strikeouts-per-walk, third in fewest runs-per-game, fourth in ERA and fourth in WHIP. Their hitters rank last in batting average, 14th in on-base percentage, last in OPS and 14th in runs-per-game. Last year the Indians were fourth in the league with a run differential of +170. This year they’re eighth with a run differential of +4.

Only one Indians position player (Carlos Santana) has a higher WAR than Jefry Rodriguez (0.5), who has only pitched in two games this year. In addition to Rodriguez, the list of the Indians with the 10 highest WAR figures includes Matt Wittgren, Dan Otero and backup catcher Kevin Plawecki. Brad Miller ranks 12th on the team in WAR, and he was released over two weeks ago.

I’m no analytics ace, but I don’t think that’s very good.

The Indians have reached the postseason in four of Francona’s six years as manager. So identifying the “worst” of his Cleveland teams is somewhat relative. Record-wise, it would be the 2015 outfit that went 81-80. But that team’s pitchers led the American League in WHIP and strikeouts-per-walk, were second in ERA and fourth in runs allowed per game. They just couldn’t hit: ninth in OPS and 11th in runs-per-game.

In other words, a less-extreme version of what we’re seeing this year.

The 2014 team, with a record of 85-77, also missed the playoffs. That group was mediocre on both sides of the ball: sixth in ERA, eighth in WHIP, seventh in runs-per-game by the pitchers; seventh in runs-per-game, eighth in OPS and ninth in batting average for the hitters.

Those teams are the competition for this year’s group as the worst in the Francona Era in Cleveland. What separates them, however, is that the 2014 and ’15 teams failed to make the playoffs. The 2019 team still might — thanks to its mighty pitching staff.

However, it’s more than clear that the hitting version of the 2019 Indians is the worst version — hitting or pitching — of the franchise since Francona fell into its lap after the 2012 season.

But baseball being, well, baseball, sometimes weird stuff happens. Weird, inexplicable, earth-shaking stuff. For example, Francona’s best Cleveland team — by far — wasn’t the 2016 edition that made it to Game 7 of the World Series. It was the electrifying 2017 club that was seemingly destiny’s darlings — until destiny kicked it in the groin. That was the team that went nearly a month without losing a game. From Aug. 23 to Sept.14 they won an American League-record 22 games in a row on their way to a 102-win season, the second most in franchise history.

But then, in the Division Series, they lost three games in four days to the Yankees. That Indians team led the league in virtually everything. They should have won the World Series but instead went home with a sore groin.

Could this year’s team reverse that karma and right that wrong?

It’s too early to write this team off.

But it’s not too early to locate a pencil sharpener.

Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.We’re just over one month into this Indians season. The first widely accepted checkpoint for determining what kind of team you have is generally the 40-game mark. That’s when the sample size becomes large enough to begin forming valid opinions about a given team.

The Indians aren’t at the 40-game mark yet. But enough water has trickled under the bridge from which to draw some tentative, preliminary conclusions, one of which is the following:

The 2019 Indians might be Terry Francona’s worst team since becoming manager in 2013. A lot can change between now and September. But the Indians’ greatest deficiency, their most urgent need — an infusion of above-average major league hitters — was willingly sacrificed at the altar of payroll reduction, following the 2018 season.

So the chances of ownership suddenly reversing itself and paying the going rate for some quality major league hitters, through trades, is something less than nil. Once you’ve shown Michael Brantley the door, he’s not going to walk back through it.

The Indians have made their bed, and now they’ve got to sleep in it.

Even if the Indians reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive year, which I still think they will — though not as strongly as I did a month ago — this is going to be an ugly slog of a season.

Every game is a street fight. The inability of their punchless lineup to consistently score runs puts relentless pressure on the pitching staff to not give up any. In most games the pitchers have virtually no margin for error. The Indians have scored four runs or fewer in half (8-of-16) of their wins: 2-1, 4-1, 3-2, 3-1, 4-0, 4-2, 1-0, and 2-1.

Theirs is the most lopsided roster in the league: divine pitching and destitute hitting. Indians pitchers rank third in the American League in strikeouts-per-walk, third in fewest runs-per-game, fourth in ERA and fourth in WHIP. Their hitters rank last in batting average, 14th in on-base percentage, last in OPS and 14th in runs-per-game. Last year the Indians were fourth in the league with a run differential of +170. This year they’re eighth with a run differential of +4.

Only one Indians position player (Carlos Santana) has a higher WAR than Jefry Rodriguez (0.5), who has only pitched in two games this year. In addition to Rodriguez, the list of the Indians with the 10 highest WAR figures includes Matt Wittgren, Dan Otero and backup catcher Kevin Plawecki. Brad Miller ranks 12th on the team in WAR, and he was released over two weeks ago.

I’m no analytics ace, but I don’t think that’s very good.

The Indians have reached the postseason in four of Francona’s six years as manager. So identifying the “worst” of his Cleveland teams is somewhat relative. Record-wise, it would be the 2015 outfit that went 81-80. But that team’s pitchers led the American League in WHIP and strikeouts-per-walk, were second in ERA and fourth in runs allowed per game. They just couldn’t hit: ninth in OPS and 11th in runs-per-game.

In other words, a less-extreme version of what we’re seeing this year.

The 2014 team, with a record of 85-77, also missed the playoffs. That group was mediocre on both sides of the ball: sixth in ERA, eighth in WHIP, seventh in runs-per-game by the pitchers; seventh in runs-per-game, eighth in OPS and ninth in batting average for the hitters.

Those teams are the competition for this year’s group as the worst in the Francona Era in Cleveland. What separates them, however, is that the 2014 and ’15 teams failed to make the playoffs. The 2019 team still might — thanks to its mighty pitching staff.

However, it’s more than clear that the hitting version of the 2019 Indians is the worst version — hitting or pitching — of the franchise since Francona fell into its lap after the 2012 season.

But baseball being, well, baseball, sometimes weird stuff happens. Weird, inexplicable, earth-shaking stuff. For example, Francona’s best Cleveland team — by far — wasn’t the 2016 edition that made it to Game 7 of the World Series. It was the electrifying 2017 club that was seemingly destiny’s darlings — until destiny kicked it in the groin. That was the team that went nearly a month without losing a game. From Aug. 23 to Sept.14 they won an American League-record 22 games in a row on their way to a 102-win season, the second most in franchise history.

But then, in the Division Series, they lost three games in four days to the Yankees. That Indians team led the league in virtually everything. They should have won the World Series but instead went home with a sore groin.

Could this year’s team reverse that karma and right that wrong?

It’s too early to write this team off.

But it’s not too early to locate a pencil sharpener.

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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