FanPost

The Plan (?!)

Hey all: I've been lurking on this site for the past few weeks, and I've been impressed with the level of discourse on here, which is substantially higher than anywhere else I've been (pretty much the cleveland.com forums).  Anyways, I'd like to make my first post on a topic near and dear to all Tribe fans' hearts: The Plan.

Tribe fans have been hearing and talking about "The Plan" since 2001, when Mark Shapiro took over as GM and started putting together the current incarnation of the Cleveland Indians.  Unlike many front offices, the Shapiro regime seems to have a cogent philosophy when it comes to team-building, with a neat balance of objective and subjective data on which it bases its decisionmaking.   The "Indians model" is a term that's been thrown around a bit over the last several years, usually connected with the Tribe's recent rise to prominence and the ascent of Neil Huntington to the top job in Pittsburgh.  Whether this is accurate or not, many national sportswriters, analysts and commentators have percieved Shapiro's "Plan" as a sort of blueprint for other small- to mid-market teams--a happy medium that combines the so-called Moneyball methods with the old-timey wisdom of scouts. 

However, these vague notions of "The Plan" are rarely drawn out or explained.  We know the Moneyball approach because it was made public--Beane's organizational philosophy at the time emphasized players who had patience, power, and a reliable track record, and we know this thanks to Michael Lewis.  Unfortunately we don't have the same kind of access to Shapiro & co., and so we're left to infer what kind of qualities they look for when scouting players as well as reasoning behind their strategies in the draft and elsewhere.  I think this makes for an interesting discussion--what are the primary elements of "the Plan," and if you had to sum up the Shapiro regime's approach in a few specific principles, what would they be?  I want to know what you all think, and here's what I've come up with:

As far as player attributes go,

  1. OBP and P/PA.  We all know how important this is, and there aren't many front offices left who don't take OBP and walks seriously.  In 2007 we had the fourth most walks in the AL and the second most P/PA.
  2. K/BB  We were first in ESPN's Beane Count last year because we didn't walk anybody.  Raffy B., C.C., and Byrd were probably the best examples of this, all posting great (in Sabathia's case, historically great) K/BB ratios. 

As far as team-building goes,

  1. The draft isn't the only way to build from within.  Shapiro's success has come mostly through his Latin FA signings and through trades at the minor league level.  Out of all the players on the 25 man roster, only Garko, Francisco, Laffey, and Lewis were taken in the amateur draft by Shapiro (correct me if I'm wrong on this).  Pretty much all of our everyday players have been produced by our Latin scouting department (Martinez, Peralta, Carmona, Perez) or through our amateur scouting department (Lee, Sizemore, Westbrook, Caberera, Hafner, Gutierrez, Betancourt).  I'm guessing this has something to do with the high cost of signing bonuses involved with the big-time draft picks, as well as the inherent risks of dealing with 17 and 18 year old kids.  Acquiring cheap Latin amateurs and established minor leaguers from other systems as your core players is a cheap and relatively low-risk strategy to acquire high-ceiling players.
  2. Use the draft to acquire lower-risk college players who will fill out your organization, but take a few gambles as well.  The guys we've drafted are mostly college position players with decent to good upside (Hodges, Mills, Crowe, Garko, Aubrey), pitchers with mid-rotation potential (Sowers, Laffey), and we've taken a select few shots at high school pitchers with plus stuff (Lofgren) to plus-plus stuff (Miller).  This strategy goes hand-in-hand with #1.   
  3. Stockpile left-handed pitching.  This might just be incidental--maybe Shapiro has just stumbled into an excess of LHP--but I think that it was more likely an intentional move given the market for lefty starters--if nothing else, they're extremely valuable as trade bait.
  4. Use free-agents as filler.  We all know this one--Dellucci, Byrd, Borowski, Kobayashi, and whoever else comprises our FA contingent are bit players (45 saves notwithstanding) and nothing more.

Well, that's what I came up with.  I'd like to see what you all can add or subtract to my interpretation (?) of "The Plan".

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