Why the Indians Lose, Case #1,384,263

Delay of Game is not, despite what it might appear, a football-only blog. The reason I don’t talk much about the Cavs is that I don’t like basketball, and my understanding is limited. I knew enough to say there was no chance this team would go 82-0… but that was easy.

I know Kyrie Irving shouldn’t be seventh in minutes (or Lebron James 20th)… But David Blatt is under pressure to go 56-3 (the win target everyone wanted was 70), so I get that.

I don’t talk about the Indians, because it’s annoying. I am a better and more knowledgeable writer about baseball than I am football– but I ignore the Indians because they piss me off.

  • Mark Shapiro is an idiot who knows virtually nothing about how to run a baseball team. He should have been fired, rather than promoted.

All you really need to understand about Shapiro: He fired Charlie Manuel, a manager who won a world championship in Philly, because Manuel didn’t agree with Shapiro’s infantile views about how to build a championship team.

During the hiring process, Shapiro chose Eric Wedge (great handler of pitchers, awful offensive manager)– while completely overlooking another championship manager. Terry Francona had served in the Cleveland front office with Shapiro and was not managing at the time. (He was either just about to be fired as a bench coach in Texas, where he worked in 2002– or had just been hired as bench coach in Oakland. (his 2003 job ) Shapiro overlooked him.

Shapiro has two assistant GMs. Chris Antonetti brownnosed him, agreeing with all his stupid ideas. He was told he was next in line. Neal Huntington disagreed with Shapiro and was told to seek work elsewhere.

Huntington joined the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team comparable to the Indians in every market dynamic– and more extreme in every respect. Huntington rebuilt the Pirates sooner and they’ve been a better team the last two years.

Late update: Since I’ve been asked, let me define what I mean by “more extreme in every respect.” I mean “Every excuse Shapiro makes to explain his inability to win games and draw fans is even more true of the Pirates.”

Shapiro, for example, talks about how John Hart trying to win it all depleted the farm system. by the time he took over. Huntington joined a team whose farm system was depleted because the people who ran it had had ten straight losing seasons— 4 years of 83 or more losses, 5 of 90+ losses and one where they broke the century mark. Which guy had the tougher task?

We now return you to the essay already in progress.

The “Football City” argument: The City of Cleveland sold out 455 games and holds (or held) most of the attendance records for the American League. Despite this fact, Shapiro and his apologists argue that Cleveland isn’t a baseball city– that the city cares more about the Browns.

This is false– people care more about the Browns because they’ve been better than the Indians. Even when they’ve been bad, they’ve done things (trades, high draft picks) to make people think they might actually get better soon.

People don’t come to see Mark Shapiro’s teams because they usually lose. The rare years that they do win, fans can see the team is built with bungie cords, duct tape and cardboard.

The Indians had winning records in 2013 and 2014– the first time, since Shapiro has run the team, that it has had two good seasons in a row.

But pretend Shapiro’s CYA story is correct. Huntington had a much harder task, because Pittsburgh actually is a football town.

There is evidence– not present in Shapiro’s whines– that Pittsburgh fans care more about the Steelers than the Pirates.  Even when the Pirates were in the playoffs in the 70’s and 80’s– even when the team won the world series in 1979 and 1979– they were barely above average in attendance.

Yet Huntington has managed to capture the market, by steadily improving the club, and winning the confidence of fans who, frankly, had heard promises of a long hard slog ending in wonderful things before:

Season Record Attendance Rank
2010 57-105 17,918 15th of 16
2011 72-90 23,955 15th of 16
2012 79-83 25,826 15th of 16
2013 94-68 27,862 11th of 15
2014 88-74 30,155 9th of 15

It took three years of improvement– gains of 17, then 7 and then 15 wins– to get out the second-last spot in attendance.  I understand that Paul Hoynes, Dennis Manoloff and Tom Hamilton (all of whom are paid to attend games) think that a few good weeks should be enough to get fans in the seats, but that isn’t how it works.

The problem the Indians are facing is that “show me continued improvement” barrier. They haven’t gotten better for three straight years. Or it might be that after 15 years (Shapiro took over in 2001), fans simply don’t trust the Dolan family, Shapiro and his sock puppet Chris Antonetti. The 2011-2012 tease– when the team improved from 69 wins to 80, got the fans to come back, then tanked again– might have been current management’s last chance:

Season Record Attendance Rank
2010 69-93 19,918 14th of 14
2011 80-82 22,726 9th of 14
2012 68-94 19,797 13th of 14
2013 92-70 19,418 14th of 15
2014 85-77 17,745 15th of 15

Why should people pay to watch the team, when (a) it’s the same old guys, doing the same old stuff, and (b) you get the games for free?

During the 2014 season, there was some hope that the Indians might be learning things, but that’s been effectively torpedoed by the rental of Gavin Floyd.

So let me take this idiotic decision apart:

1. It’s a one-year rental. They’re guaranteeing him $4 million and a roster spot. If he makes all his incentives, he gets $10 million. After the season, one of two things will happen:

  • He’ll pitch well enough to justify the $10 million, someone will offer him a four-year deal for $13 a year and the Indians will decline
  • He won’t pitch well and the two sides will part company– during the year or at the end of it.

So if this works well, it’s Scott Kazmir or Kevin Millwood. If it doesn’t, it’s Carl Pavano, Brett Myers again.

2. They don’t need him. The Indians are fond of saying that you can never have too much pitching– that they don’t just want five starters– they like to have at least seven.

They already do. Last season, eight pitchers started at least 10 games for the Indians. One (Justin Masterson) is gone, but there other 7 are still there. Let me list them in order of starts:

  1. Corey Kluber, age 28 (34 starts): He’ just won the AL Cy Young Award.
  2. Trevor Bauer, 23 (26 starts): He took 13 no-decisions, but posted a 4.18 ERA, making him 1.5 Wins above Replacement.
  3. Danny Salazar, 24 (20 starts): A year older than Bauer, about the same results.
  4. T.J. House, 24 (18 starts): Stuck in AAA, while the Indians indulged their anal fixation with Masterson. Still posted a winning record (5-3) with a very good ERA (3.55) and ended with 2.0 WAR in only 100 innings.
  5. Josh Tomlin, 29 (16 starts): Some people like him. To me, he’s a white guy with no “out” pitch, who’s worn through the small amount of tread God put on his tires and is most attractive to older fans who don’t like non-conformists or foreign players.But if that’s your fifth starter, you’re doing OK. A lot of teams have players who go 6-9 with a 4.76 ERA.
  6. Zach McAlister, 26 (15 starts): Had two injuries and might not have enough of an arm to hold up under 39 starts. However 2014 was his first bump in the road.
  7. Carlos Carrasco, 27 (14 starts): The Indians, media and fans tried their best to destroy the guy who was traded for Cliff Lee, but Francona believed in him and talent won out. 807 with a 2.55 ERA, but

Some questions there, but that list doesn’t include Gabriel Arias (24, 14-6, 3.68 in 25 starts split between Akron and Columbus) or Joseph Colon (24, 8-7, 3.39 in 25 starts at Akron)– or players like Shawn Morimando or Ryan Merritt, whom Mark Shapiro would never consider using, despite their big seasons in the low minors, but other teams would.

One of Shapiro’s beliefs– the reason he couldn’t repair his relationship with Manuel– is the moronic notion that all players benefit from spending a full year at each minor league level. He fought Manuel vehemently about bringing C.C. Sabathia to the majors (Shapiro thought he belonged in a high A league) and still (I’m told) tells friends that Manuel set his development back.

If a rational person were making a list of positions that required additional talent, the rotation wouldn’t be in the top 5.

3. Floyd isn’t any good. A front office guy (his teams have won at least one championship)– whose teams had a reputation for ‘gambling’ on players who turned out to be ready– once game me a great piece of advice.

“Before you sign a veteran and give him a young player’s job, look at his best season ever. Then ask yourself how long it’s been since he’s done that.

“Then look at his last complete season and ask yourself if you have anyone who looks like he can do that.

“If you can, don’t sign the guy.”

Gavin Floyd is 31.That’s older than any of the 7 pitchers who started 10+ games for the Indians last year.

In his last complete season, 2012, he made 29 starts, pitched 168 innings (5.2 per start), and went 12-11 with a 4.28 ERA. Neither Salazar nor House pitched as many innings, but Salazar had comparable results– House was a lot better.

Floyd’s best season ever was 2008, where he went 17-8 with a 3.54 ERA in 33 starts and 206 innings. That’s his career best in starts, innings, ERA, wins and WHIP.

So that is the prize you get if Floyd makes your gamble work and matches the best year he has ever had– a #2 or #3 starter maybe.

If he walls off a little from that peak, you get the 2009-2010 model Floyd: .500 pitcher, ERA around 4.00, around a hit an inning.

If he can’t hit that level, then you have the 2011-12 guy– ERA up a quarter of a point, 170-185 innings and some control problems (he hit 11 batters one year and then 14 the next).

Or you could just get the guy who blew out his arm 5 starts into 2013, and then couldn’t pitch until late 2014.

And, no I don’t care about the record with Atlanta. I don’t care for the same reason I was unimpressed with the 1.74 ERA that John Axford put up with the Cardinals late in the 2013 season:

  • A fraction of a season (insufficient sample size),
  • In the National League (which has no DH),
  • For a team that has a history of fixing pitchers,
  • Which decided not to re-sign him.

The 2014 Atlanta Braves went 79-83 last year. They had 36-year-old Aaron Harang and 31-year-old Ervin Santana in the rotation.

But they didn’t re-sign him. Why is that?

Is it because the Braves don’t understand how important pitching is? Or that they can’t afford $4 million, with an extra six if he pitches well?

I can give you a whole list of possible reasons, but I can guarantee you that none of them will be “Because Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti are smarter than a team that is so accustomed to winning that it fired a GM for falling under .500 for the second time in seven years.”

The best-case outcome is that Floyd, like Myers did in 2013, pitches badly from the get-go, and then blows out his arm so they can’t use him– and Francona can go back to developing one of the many fine young pitchers already on the roster.

My take on Shapiro is pretty much identical to Mojo Nixon’s opinion of Don Henley. Only the Indians can add a player and make the upcoming season less exciting.


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