Nine game losing streaks require a response. Nine game losing streaks that effectively end a team's season during the first week of August demand action. Nine game losing streaks that come largely against the lowest dregs of the AL necessitate change.
The game threads over the weekend featured some discussion about who is to blame and who should be fired. Is it primarily a pitching issue, with Cleveland pitching coach Scott Radinsky to blame? Is it a tepid offense that has not gotten enough from hitting coach Bruce Fields? Or is it el capitan, manager Manny Acta?
One simple way to approach this question is to compare how players have performed relative to reasonable expectations for how they should have performed. To do this, I compared the performance of the Indians' positional regulars (min: 100 plate appearances) using wOBA data from Fangraphs to pre-season projections of their performance. I used four projections (Steamer, Bill James, Marcel, ZIPS) available at fangraphs and produced a weighted (by plate appearances) average based on each players performance relative to their expected performance. For the pitchers I used the same sources, but made comparisons between actual and expected ERA and FIP (weighted by innings, 25 inning minimum). Here is how the hitters have fared:
The weighted difference between performance and expectation is -0.011. In other words, the team has underperformed its expected offensive performance by 11 points. Hmm...how about the pitchers? I have averaged out the FIP and ERA differences:
|Name||ERA||FIP||proj ERA||proj FIP||dif|
On the whole, the weighted difference in FIP/ERA is +0.49. Also not good. So both the hitting and pitching have underperformed, with the pitching perhaps looking worse. But who is to blame?
Looking at the numbers in more detail, the primary drags on the offense is the foursome of players added in the off-season. Though they might not be guys we think of as core members of the offense, Aaron Cunningham, Casey Kotchman, Jose Lopez and Johnny Damon have logged more than 900 plate appearances, all of them substantially underperforming expectations. If you remove these four guys the offense is almost dead even with its projection. I have a hard time placing the blame for these four on Bruce Fields, but instead see them as evidence of a problem higher up the feeding chain. The blame for these four should fall either on Manny Acta for continuing to put them in the lineup, or Antonetti and the front office for acquiring them and failing to replace them. One could argue that it is not Antonetti's fault...these guys should have, in fact, been better! This argument is subject to the counter-claim that this is merely a failure in scouting and/or baseball personnel management once the failures began (which was spring training). I have a hard time pinning this on Acta, too, assuming he has no control over who is on his bench. So I put the offensive problems, more minor than the pitching woes, on the front office, not on Fields or Acta.
The underperformance in the pitching staff is largely the failure of the starting rotation. The five starters who broke camp with the club--Jimenez, Masterson, Lowe, Tomlin and Gomez--have collectively underperformed by between 0.57 and 1.66 runs. If not for the strong performance by the bullpen and McAllister the pitching staff would truly be in shambles. The front office also has to be implicated here, as only Gomez and Tomlin are homegrown. But this five represented the likely starting rotation, or a close approximation to it, from day one of spring training. Scott Radinsky has to assume some of this blame and seems to be a reasonable candidate to fire. It would be nice if Radinsky could just be re-assigned to bullpen coach, as the bullpen has continued to thrive under his coaching and Acta's usage.
My verdict is that Radinsky and the front office are guilty. I would not object to a firing of Radinsky. I do not think there is a strong argument to fire Fields (though there isn't much of an argument to keep him, either). As for the front office, there is strong motivations for the Indians to re-evaluate their decision making process regarding both pitchers and hitters. The 2011-2012 preseason was an utter front office failure.