8/24-8/26 Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

I’d probably try to get thrown out of every game if I was Manny Acta at this point. (AP)

Cleveland is one of just two AL cities the Yankees have yet to visit this season (Minnesota is the other), but the Yankees are in town for a three-game set this weekend. The Bombers swept three games from the Tribe back in late-June, back when they were on the middle of an all-out assault against the rest of baseball.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Indians are bad. I mean really, really bad. They’ve lost eight in a row and 21 of their last 25 games overall. Since topping out at five games over .500 on June 10th, Cleveland has gone 23-43 and fallen 15 games back of the White Sox in the AL Central. At 54-70 with a -131 run differential, the Tribe has the second worst record and easily the worst run differential in the league.

Offense

(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

With an average of 4.4 runs per game and a team 97 wRC+, the Indians are essentially a league average offense. Their best player is true five-tool outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (133 wRC+), who can beat you with his legs, his defense, or his bat. He leads the club with 15 homers and pretty much every other meaningful offensive category as well. It’s worth noting that Choo, a left-handed hitter, has a massive platoon split — 166 wRC+ vs. RHP but a 67 wRC+ vs. LHP.

Most of Cleveland’s top hitters are left-handed, but switch-hitters Carlos Santana (112 wRC+) and Asdrubal Cabrera (111 wRC+) provide some balance. Michael Brantley (106 wRC+) and Jason Kipnis (100 wRC+) provide a little more lineup depth as well. Casey Kotchman (82 wRC+) has been predictably terrible, though the recently recalled Ezequiel Carrera (130 wRC+) has provided some spark in limited action. Former Yankee Shelley Duncan (94 wRC+ vs. LHP) leads the gaggle of platoon players that includes Jack Hannahan (80 wRC+ vs. RHP) and Brent Lillibridge (39 wRC+ vs. LHP). Utility infielder Jason Donald (45 wRC+) and backup catcher Lou Marson (82 wRC+) round out the bench. The Yankees catch a little bit of a break because Travis Hafner (121 wRC+) is on the DL with back problems.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Corey Kluber
A 26-year-old rookie, Kluber will be making his fifth career start tonight. He pitched very well in Triple-A (3.59 ERA and 3.38 FIP) but has been unable to carry that success over to the show — his best start was three runs in six innings against the lowly Twins. Otherwise he’s pitched to a 6.27 ERA (5.77 FIP) with few strikeouts (6.27 K/9 and 14.8K%) but decent ground ball (42.4%) and walk (3.38 BB/9 and 8.0 BB%) rates in just 18.2 innings. Kluber is a true four-pitch pitcher, using a low-90s fastball to setup his upper-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, and low-80s curveball. The Yankees, obviously, have never seen him before.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Justin Masterson
Masterson was Cleveland’s Opening Day starter this year, but he’s been unable to build on last year’s breakout season. He’s sitting on a 4.73 ERA (4.13 FIP) that closely resembles his pre-2011 performance, and the same goes for his walk rate (3.90 BB/9 and 9.9 BB%). Both his strikeout (7.07 K/9 and 18.0 K%) and ground ball (56.0%) percentages remain at their usual levels. Masterson is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, relying on a bowling ball low-90s sinker and a sweepy mid-80s slider. He’ll throw two or three mid-80s changeup per start, but that’s it. The Yankees have seen plenty of the 27-year-old dating back to his days with the Red Sox, and they tagged him for four runs in six innings earlier this year. It’s worth noting that Masterson has a massive platoon split, holding righties to a .279 wOBA but getting tagged for a .357 wOBA by lefties.

Sunday: RHP David Phelps Freddy Garcia vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
You have to think the Indians expected a little more than a replacement level pitcher when they traded away four young players for Jimenez last season. The 28-year-old right-hander owns a 5.59 ERA (5.33 FIP) in 143.1 innings this season, all because of astronomical walk (5.02 BB/9 and 12.3 BB%) and homer (1.44 HR/9) rates. Both the strikeout (7.53 K/9 and 18.4 K%) and ground ball (39.2%) numbers are way down compared to his career norms. Jimenez has been steadily losing velocity in recent years and now sits in the low-90s with his two- and four-seamers. He’ll also throw a mid-80s split-change hybrid as well as a low-80s slider and an upper-70s curveball. Like Masterson, the Yankees hung four runs on six innings on Ubaldo earlier this season.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the Tribe has a fresh bullpen because they had Thursday off. Manager Manny Acta has one of the best closer-setup tandems in baseball at his disposal in Chris Perez (2.47 FIP) and Vinnie Pestano (2.87 FIP). I’m kinda disappointed that Pestano is from California and not Brooklyn, just because a name like Vinnie Pestano should belong to a Brooklynite. You just know his grandmother calls him Vincent.

Anyway, the Indians are carrying eight relievers these days. Tony Sipp (4.39 FIP) and Chris Seddon (3.74 FIP in limited time) are the two left-handers, and right-hander Cody Allen (3.61 FIP) has emerged as a late-game arm recently. He was a 23rd round pick in last year’s draft and became the second player from that class to reach to big leagues earlier this season. Only Trevor Bauer beat him. Frank Herrmann (3.62 FIP), Esmil Rogers (3.91 FIP), and Joe freakin’ Smith (3.67 FIP) round out their relief corps. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for info on the Yankees’ bullpen, and then check out any of The DiaTribe, Let’s Go Tribe, or Wahoo’s on First for the latest and greatest on the Cleveland nine.

email

Yankees claim Chris Schwinden off waivers, cut Danny Farquhar

The Yankees have claimed right-hander Chris Schwinden off waivers from the Indians and assigned him to Triple-A Empire State, the team announced. Fellow right-hander and the recently claimed Danny Farquhar was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot. He hadn’t even appeared in a game yet.

Schwinden, 25, owns a 6.98 ERA (5.02 FIP) in 29.2 career big league innings, all coming with the Mets this year and last. His career Triple-A performance — 4.02 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 212.2 IP — is slightly more encouraging. Baseball America ranked Schwinden as the 24th best prospect in the Mets’ system before the season, saying he “fits best as a No. 5 starter whose pitchability always will outstrip his raw stuff.” With Adam Warren in the show and Dellin Betances in Double-A, the Yankees needed to replenish some pitching depth in Triple-A.

6/25-6/27 Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The Yankees and Indians have some playoff history, though the Tribe has only made the postseasons once in the last decade. That was in 2007, when they beat New York in the ALDS. You can also go back to Sandy Alomar Jr. beating Mariano Rivera in 1997. That was a long time ago though, and both of these clubs current sit at the top of their respective divisions.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Indians just lost two straight to the Astros but had won four in a row prior to that. At 37-34, they’re tied with the White Sox atop the AL Central in the loss column. At the same time, Cleveland has the second worst run differential (-42) in the league. Are they a legitimate first place team … or one of the worst in the AL?

Offense

(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

A middle of the road offense at 4.28 runs per game, the Indians generate a lot of their scoring with the free pass. Their 9.4% walk rate is one of the best in baseball, right there with the Yankees (9.3%). Cleveland’s two best (healthy) hitters — Shin-Soo Choo (126 wRC+) and Asdrubal Cabrera (138 wRC+) — set the table atop the lineup as the one-two combination. Not-a-rookie second baseman Jason Kipnis (118 wRC+) has assumed three-hole responsibilities.

Switch-hitting backstop Carlos Santana (96 wRC+) usually bats cleanup, but lately backup infielder Jose Lopez (99 wRC+ vs. LHP) has been getting the call against southpaws. Michael Brantley (89 wRC+) was part of the CC Sabathia trade and bats fifth. The rest of the batting order rotates, with Johnny Damon (72 wRC+) and Casey Kotchman (78 wRC+) seeing regular at-bats. Remember when those two were in the mix for New York’s DH job? Yikes. Former Yankee Shelley Duncan (92 wRC+ vs. LHP) will see time in the outfield against lefties. Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (98 wRC+), infielder Jack Hannahan (96 wRC+), backup catcher Lou Marson (95 wRC+), and backup outfielder Aaron Cunningham (29 wRC+) round out the roster.

The most notable thing about the Tribe’s offense is that it is very, very lefty heavy. Santana and Cabrera are switch-hitters, but otherwise every other starter bats from the left side. Shelley, Lopez, and Cunningham are righties and will spot start, but on most days seven of their nine batters swing it left-handed exclusively. Expect to see quite a bit of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada these next two days, before Andy Pettitte starts on Wednesday.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Josh Tomlin
The 27-year-old Tomlin does nothing exceptionally well other than limit walks. His 1.14 BB

/9 and 3.2 BB% both led all qualified starters last season and while he hasn’t been quite that good this year — 2.13 BB/9 and 5.5 BB% — the guy won’t beat himself with free baserunners. Tomlin doesn’t strike out a ton of batters (5.40 K/9 and 14.0 K%) or generate many ground balls (42.8%), so he’ll let the Yankees put the ball in the air. That plays right into their offensive strength. An upper-80s four-seamer and a mid-80s cutter are his weapons of choice, though he’ll mix in the occasional low-80s changeup and mid-70s slider. The Yankees have seen Tomlin a handful of times over the last two years.

(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Justin Masterson
We’re all familiar with Masterson from his time with the Red Sox. Masterson had a breakout season with the Tribe last year, pitching to a 3.21 ERA with a 3.28 FIP in 216 innings across 33 starts (and one relief appearance). He has not been able to build on that success though, reverting to his pre-2011 self this year. That’s still a really good pitcher though: 3.98 ERA (3.86 FIP), 7.12 K/9 (18.6 K%), 3.70 BB/9 (9.7 BB%), and a 55.9% ground ball rate. Those walks are the biggest difference between this season and last, a year ago it was just 2.71 BB/9 (7.2 BB%). Masterson is primarily a two-pitch pitcher, relying heavily on his low-90s sinker and low-80s slider. He’ll also throw a mid-80s changeup once in a while. It’s worth noting that he owns a massive platoon split, I’m talking a .260 wOBA from right-handed batters (.271 career) and .337 from lefties (.346 career). Might be a good game to completely sit Alex Rodriguez so Eric Chavez (third), Dewayne Wise (left), and Raul Ibanez (DH) can all start.

Wednesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
There was a time last season when it looked like Ubaldo would wind up in pinstripes, but he instead headed to Cleveland and has pitched to a 4.81 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 27 starts since the trade. The 28-year-old leads the league with 48 walks (5.36 BB/9 and 13.3 BB%) and has a career-worst strikeout rate (6.34 K/9 and 15.7 K%). His 39.1% ground ball rate is way off his career mark (49.3%) as well. I was in favor of trading for Jimenez has summer, but boy was I wrong. The Yankees dodged a serious bullet. Ubaldo’s fastball has been steadily declining and now sits in the low-90s, and he’ll back it up with a mid-80s split-change, a low-80s slider, and an upper-70s curveball. Jimenez can still dominate on occasion (as the Cardinals found out earlier this month), but most outings are a chore for him.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bullpen
Manager Manny Acta has one of the least effective bullpens in baseball (4.62 ERA), though not because of closer Chris Perez (1.83 FIP) and setup man Vinnie Pestano (3.10 FIP). Perez has really improved after a so-so season in 2011, boosting his strikeout (8.89 K/9 and 24.4 K%) and ground ball (40.0%) rates while cutting back on the free passes (2.22 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%).

Right-hander Jeremy Accardo has a high ERA (4.34 ERA) but a low FIP (2.58) since being called up (18.2 IP), and he’ll work the middle innings with submariner Joe Smith (3.49 FIP) and the recently acquired Esmil Rogers (7.11 ERA but 4.36 FIP). Left-handers Tony Sipp (4.73 FIP) and Nick Hagadone (4.83 FIP) will handle the matchup work. Smith, Hagadone, and Rogers each appeared in yesterday’s loss, but overall the bullpen is very well rested because they had Thursday off and Masterson threw a complete game on Friday.

The Yankees, on the other hand, figure to have a short bullpen tonight since Logan, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano have each appeared in the last two games. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. For the latest and greatest on the Indians, we recommend The DiaTribe, Let’s Go Tribe, and Wahoo’s on First.

2012 Season Preview: Rest of the AL

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Last week we took a nice long look at the teams who figure to be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, meaning the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. There are eight other clubs in the American League though, and the Yankees are going to play those eight teams quite a bit more than the five other contenders. Most of those eight teams aren’t very good, but every game counts the same.

Rather than doing a boring old offense/defense/pitching preview for each of those eight non-contenders, I decided to have a little fun with this one and put together some haikus. I encourage you to leave your own in the comments.

Baltimore Orioles
No pitching, few bats.
Buck is all talk and no bite.
Don’t dare dis Flanny!

Chicago White Sox
Rebuild or contend?
Kenny can’t seem to decide.
I wish we had Danks.

Cleveland Indians
Some funny names,
Asdrubal and Ubaldo?
Not winning this year.

Kansas City Royals
Hosmer is the shizz.
Young pitching ain’t quite there yet.
LOL Frenchy.

Minnesota Twins
Mauer and Morneau
Used to be really awesome.
Now they are broken.

Oakland Athletics
Yoenis is here.
Trade all of the pitchers!
Where are the fans?

Seattle Mariners
Felix is the man,
The rest of the team sucks.
I miss Montero.

Toronto Blue Jays
AA the best,
Until he gets Jeff Mathis.
New unis do rule.

Reports: Angels, Indians want Burnett too

Via Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman, both the Angels and Indians have expressed interest in trading for A.J. Burnett, though the Halos are one of ten teams included in his no-trade clause and he won’t waive it. Talks with the Tribe apparently revolve around Burnett and Travis Hafner, who’d fit that left-handed DH role beautifully. Cleveland isn’t exactly thrilled about that potential swap though, plus Pronk is owed $15.75M next year (including the buyout of his 2013 option). They’d have to figure out the money.

Over the weekend we heard that four teams have interest in Burnett, one being the Pirates and one being a club on his no-trade list. That means we’re down to just one mystery team.