Balls In Play: May 2

The team's strong progress on infield defense will outweigh the eventual regress of Hannahan's bat.

It appears that our long nightmare of horrible Indians coverage on FanGraphs has come to an end, or at least to a respite. Evidently, the Indians are now a big enough story to attract their A-List contributors (and let's just admit it, that means the Seattle guys plus Szymborski), so we no longer have to endure error-riddled, sloppy analysis from some ass-clown Yankees blogger. If so, that alone may be the second-best thing to happen in Indians media this year (trailing the "Hammy overlay" feature of course). Let's take a look.

FanGraphs: Jack Hannahan’s Crazy April

So far this year, Hannahan is hitting .529/.619/1.059 against LHBs, good for a .684 wOBA. Yes, it includes a ridiculous .700 BABIP, but Hannahan has also shown legitimate offensive skills against lefties – four of his nine hits have gone for extra bases and he has a 4/5 BB/K ratio in 21 plate appearances, which isn’t easy to do against same-handed pitching, even in a small sample size.

He’s obviously not going to keep this up, but looking through his career, it’s interesting to note that Hannahan has actually hit LHPs better than RHPs, posting a slight reverse platoon split. He has only 250 career plate appearances against southpaws, so we’re still dealing in small samples, but his core numbers don’t change much regardless of who is on the mound. It sets up an interesting – and somewhat unorthodox – option for the Indians.

Hannahan was essentially brought in to keep the seat warm for top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall, who is currently performing just okay in Triple-A. Chisenhall is clearly the future at third base for the Tribe, but he’s not quite Major League ready just yet. His biggest problem? Hitting left-handed pitching.

I'm going to go farther and suggest that Chisenhall will not be our Opening Day third baseman in 2012, because Hannahan will be. Is this irrational exuberance for Hannahan? Perhaps, but I don't think so. I have drunk the Kool-Aid on Hannahan in the sense that I believe a legit major leaguer, albeit not the impact player he has appeared to be over short stretches. His defense is strong enough that he sticks on the roster as long as he can sustain a 700 OPS. Effective, cheap, and under club control for multiple years, Hannahan is everything we hope Chisenhall can be, and while Hannahan is unlikely to be a star, many feel that Chisenhall won't be, either. And anyway, as Cameron suggests here, why not make room for both?

Hannahan represents two positive, early trends for the Antonetti regime. First, the acquisition of what you might call neo-prospects (or perhaps "junior retreads"), players who have some big-league experience but have washed out for one reason or another. Guys who never reached their ceiling on the one hand, and who have minimal service time on the other. Turn one of these guys into a solid player, and the club gets to treat him like a late-blooming core player, keeping him on the roster inexpensively for four or five seasons, rather than watching him drive up his price with a nice make-good season and then walk away, like Bob Howry or Kevin Millwood.

Mark my words, among Hannahan, Buck and Duncan, at least one of these guys will still be on the roster in 2013, and possibly a second one will have been traded for something more than a bag of balls.

The second trend is his reconfiguration of the lineup to focus on infield defense, something about which some of us have obsessed for three years. Our outfield defense is arguably in even better shape, but that mostly has come together out of long-term moves. The infield defense, on the other hand, was put together by Antonetti in a deliberate series of moves that were seen as insignificant and even incomprehensible — our failure to explain Orlando Cabrera's signing was a full-fledged meme for a good week — and all three were short-term moves. Speaking of which ...

FanGraphs: Same Masterson, Different Results

In 2009 and 2010, the right-hander’s average on balls in play was roughly 25% more than the league average, which came despite a fantastic groundball rate. It certainly did not help that most of those groundballs came in front of the second worst defense in the league during the same period. With an increased amount of balls finding holes, his strand rate fell about 6% below the average of his peers.

In terms of the things he had control over, Masterson was much better. Both his FIP and xFIP settled around the 4.0 mark. Although his strikeout-to-walk ratio fell under 2.00, he allowed just 26 home runs in 309.1 innings – a byproduct of the insane amount of groundballs allowed.

This season, it appears as if the 26-year-old is experiencing a breakout. Through five turns in the rotation, he is a perfect 5-0 with shiny 2.18 ERA. Despite the improvement in traditional marks, Masterson is roughly the same pitcher he has been for a few years now. Masterson’s 2011 xFIP of .3.77 is slightly lower than his 3.87 xFIP of a season ago; the .10 point improvement, however, has little to do with his ERA being sliced in half.

... somebody noticed. When Cole Hamels posted a mediocre 2009 campaign, contrasting with fairly stellar results in 2007 and 2008, eventually a spate of articles noted that the fundamentals of his performance had not really changed. He was not as bad as he looked in 2009, and not quite as good as he'd looked before that. If Masterson continues to look like an All-Star, we can expect to see similar posts about him (in reverse of course), and here's the first. (I do wonder, why does FanGraphs insist on citing the win-loss only to refute it in every single article about a pitcher? Isn't it time to just start ignoring stats that don't matter?)

What may take a little longer is the rush to reevaluate Mark Shapiro's trades for prospects in 2009. And here's I'm going to pull out some fermented soylent green to make the point.

We won’t know whether this trade was a success for Cleveland—-I’m being as liberal as I can—-until 2011. More realistically, check back in five or six years.

Bartolo Colon was traded June 27, 2002. Two and half years later, at the end of the 2004 season:

Cliff Lee, age 25, just pitched 179 innings, gave up more hits than innings pitched, served up 30 bombs, and walked 81 batters for an unimpressive 1BB:2K ratio.

Brandon Phillips spent nearly the entire season at AAA, except gathering 22 ABs in Cleveland in 2004. This came after his horrible 300ABs in Cleveland the previous year.

Grady Sizemore posted a .798OPS in Columbus and a .739OPS in 136ABs in Cleveland. He was the hope of salvaging the trade.

We’re three months into the Cliff Lee trade. Save the reflections, as tempting as it is to take stock of the deal from Cleveland’s perspective in light of Cliff’s NLDS performance.

by xrickx on Oct 15, 2009 2:03 AM EDT   11 recs

This comment was made in response to one of those old, hacky FanGraphs articles about the Indians. If it seems painfully familiar, it's because since this comment was posted 19 months ago, several LGT commenters (including me) have been beating it like a drum. What xrickx divined here has become gospel to me; I call it the Three-Year Rule. That is, one can't even begin to evaluate a trade for prospects until at least three years have passed. And please note, I'm not saying one can make a final judgment after three years. I'm saying, again, one can begin to make judgments after three years.

Without going into a detailed analysis, I think the objective view at this point has to be that Masterson will be a significant contributor, Carrasco's upside as at least a number-three guy looks very much in reach, Hagadone has a K rate suggestive of a late-season debut this year, and Marson and Donald are providing some value to the current club as well.

All of this while emphasizing, it is still more than a year too early even to begin making judgments about those trades. All-Stark break, 2012, that's when this discussion starts for real. Masterson, Carrasco, Hagadone, Marson, Donald, Price — and don't forget Jason Knapp. I'm looking forward to that discussion, and when we have it, the point won't be that early critiques of the 2009 trades will have been proven wrong eventually. The point will be, they were always wrong. They were wrongheaded, built upon fallacy and nothing more.

We are, however, coming up on the three-year mark on the Sabathia deal, and if current trends hold, we'll be feeling good about that deal come July. Brantley never looked like an impact player, and LaPorta didn't look like one for very long. At this moment, the exact one-sixth point in the season, both have played like average major league starters, and that's what I expect them to be. LaPorta can be something close to Overbay than Konerko, Brantley can be the more intuitive and electrifying version of Coco Crisp. Perhaps more to the point, they look better now than their old Double-A Brewers teammates like Gamel, Escobar and Green, whom we might have acquired instead.

The oft-forgot Rob Bryson has been recovering from a fluke, non-baseball injury to his foot and will be back in Akron soon, hopefully building on a pretty stellar 2010 campaign. Is it enough to get two average big-league starters for six or seven years, plus a decent bullpen arm, in return for a Cy Young incumbent on three-month rental? For most any GM, sure, that return would be enough.

For the typical fan, however, that thorny question is answered with another question: Are we in first place?

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