Welcome to Tribe Talk, where our panel of Cleveland Indians fans weigh-in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.
This week, we discuss how well the Tribe is weathering the injury storm they're currently mired in, accusations of flagrant abuse of the sacrifice bunt and Progressive Field's between-inning entertainment.
I would like to thank this week's participant Lewie Pollis for his contribution. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. The Indians suffered a spate of injuries over the last two weeks that have forced them to make a lot of roster moves to compensate. With so many good players going down with injuries, things seemed concerning at first, yet the Indians still came out of the weekend with a sweep of the Reds and the best record in baseball.
With that in mind, how concerned are you about the injuries to key players going forward? Do you think the Indians have the depth to get through a rough patch like this? Which player on the roster do you think has done the best job stepping in for an injured player so far? Which one has disappointed you?
Of the roster moves made as a result of the injuries, which has been your favorite call-up? Are there any players who you think should have been called up instead but weren't?
Lewie Pollis: No question, the best injury replacement has been Jack Hannahan. His bat has (predictably) cooled off after his scorching April, but he's still been good for 0.9 WAR. His superb defense is a big reason why Indians pitchers have been outperforming their peripherals.
For disappointments, I'll collectively give that to Austin Kearns, Travis Buck and Shelley Duncan. After 57 games they've combined for just 0.4 WAR—that's almost replacement level. Maybe I'm forgetting someone, but I don't have any real gripes with who the Indians have called up to replace injured players.
Depth is a bit of a problem—especially in the outfield and the rotation. And is Buck really the best DH we can muster without Hafner in the lineup? I'd like to see a trade or two as the summer progresses to add some warm bodies to the bench.
Samantha Bunten: So far, the Indians have been able to absorb the injuries and find ways to win despite losing key players, though the offense has been noticeably hurt by the absence of Hafner and Sizemore, and losing Alex White will probably hurt the rotation.
I think they have the depth to get through it for now, but that may change down the road when guys start to get worn down (particularly with the pitchers). That will be the true test for both the replacement players and for the other guys on the roster who will need to step up and show a little something extra to bail out their fallen teammates.
As for the best replacement so far, that goes to Jack Hannahan, no question. Last season, third base was a complete disaster defensively for the Indians. This year that spot is manned by one of the best defensive third basemen out there. Hannahan isn't exactly a powerhouse at the plate, but he wasn't brought in for his offense. I'm 100 percent happy with what he's done for us this season.
A close second has to be Alex White, though he's injured now. He did a fantastic job stepping into the rotation with zero experience, and I believe he'll be a major contributor again when he's back from the DL.
In terms of disappointments, the outfield seems to be where injuries have hurt the most. The Indians had three options there—Buck, Kearns and Duncan—and none of them have exactly been great. To be fair, we've seen some nice catches from Kearns in left, and Buck and Duncan have both come up big when it counted a couple of times, but these guys are a far, far cry from Sizemore.
2. Later this week, the Indians will face the Tampa Bay Rays, who gave them a fair amount of trouble in the last series in which they faced them.
With that in mind, what do you think went wrong the last time the team played Tampa Bay? What do you think are the keys for the Indians to win the series against the Rays this time around?
Lewie Pollis: What did the Indians do wrong? They drew David Price and James Shields as their opposing pitchers. Masterson and Carrasco didn't have their best stuff, but they didn't have much margin for error against the Rays' two aces.
Unfortunately, we drew even worse this time around: we get Price and Shields again, plus Hellboy. All I can really say is that we better not give up too many runs because we're not going to be doing much scoring.
Samantha Bunten: Two things went wrong for the Tribe the last time they faced Tampa Bay. First, they had two of their best pitchers on the mound and we had two of our guys who have a tendency to struggle. Second, I don't think they approached that caliber of pitching correctly as hitters.
When you're facing guys like David Price and James Shields, the odds are pretty bad that you're going to catch them on that one bad start they have once every few months. Instead of focusing on trying to overcome spectacular pitching, the Indians should have been focusing more on working the count. Make them pitch to you, run up their pitch count, force Tampa to go to their bullpen.
The Rays' pen is hittable, so if the Tribe could have gotten to that by the seventh, they would have had three innings to play catch-up. And as we all know, the Indians have been fantastic in the late innings this season. If our pitchers can keep the score within a few runs up to that point, the Tribe would be able to do what they do best—stage a comeback win.
So that's the key going forward as well: Keep Tampa's offense in check and force the starters out of the game early enough to allow hitters to have a few cracks at their bullpen.
3. There has been some criticism of the Indians this season for employing sacrifice bunts or flies when many felt it was unnecessary or a waste of an out. Do you agree with this assessment?
When do you think it's appropriate to sacrifice? Have the Indians followed suit?
Regardless of how you feel about sacrifices at times where it might not be absolutely necessary in general, are you okay with the way the Indians have employed the tactic this season since the team has done so well thus far?
Lewie Pollis: Absolutely. Acta is a progressive-thinking manager, and I really admire that. Check out this interview with the Washington Post from his days with the Nationals—he's a heck of a lot smarter than Ozzie Guillen and Dusty Baker.
That's why some of his calls are so troubling. Simply put, his actions this year haven't always matched up with his professed philosophy. He's called for bunts at bad times, been too stuck in the save-situation mentality to use Chris Perez when he's most needed and just this week showed a reckless approach to baserunning that may have cost the Indians the game Tuesday night.
There are specific times when bunting is the right move—late innings, close game, bad hitter at the plate—but employing the sacrifice should be the exception, not the norm. Acta's quotes make it sound like he gets that, but actions speak louder than words.
It's hard to complain when the team is doing so well, especially when some of these seemingly ill-thought ideas end up working. But a bad decision that happens to work isn't a good decision, and any time Acta or a base coach calls a play that hurts the Indians' chances to win, it should be cause for concern.
Samantha Bunten: It's really tough to criticize small moves like this when the team has done so well on the whole, but baseball is often a game of small moves. In the post-HR era, games are won and lost on little things like this. So far, the Indians have been lucky with that, but it won't last.
So yes, I do agree with that criticism of Acta. The bunt certainly has its place in baseball, and sometimes it's absolutely the right move (think of last week's win on Carrera's drag bunt down the first base line), but at the end of the day, it's still throwing away an out, which you really have to think twice about doing.
Obviously, there are plenty of occasions when giving up the out is completely worth it. A sac fly or bunt to tie or take the lead late in the game, a suicide squeeze in a close matchup...there are plenty of times when it makes sense to call for a bunt. But unfortunately, the Tribe has been a bit bunt-happy this season, and while it hasn't cost them all that much thus far, it will before long.
To put it in the simplest of terms, ceding a "free" out to the opposition should almost always be a last resort. Further, the hitter best be a good bunter, not just the guy who happens to be standing in the batter's box when it seems like a sac bunt might be an option.
I absolutely love Manny Acta and what he's been able to do with this team, but some of his decisions on bunting and sacrifices in general are one of the few things I don't love about him. To a degree, I feel compelled to just trust him because he's proven over and over that his baseball intelligence is off the charts, but at the same time, I think this tendency will hurt the team over the course of the season.
4. The MLB amateur draft is fast approaching, with the first round beginning on June 6th.
What are your goals for the Indians in the draft this season?
Which positions do you think they need to focus on the most when thinking about what they currently have in their system, top to bottom? Are there any specific players you have your eye on?
Lewie Pollis: I'm not a prospect guy, so any specific analysis I could offer would just be what I've read elsewhere. But given the Indians' incredible minor league depth, I don't think we have any major needs.
My advice would just be to take the best player available, simple as that. We could use some high-upside guys in the system.
Samantha Bunten: Hopefully we won't have a very good draft slot next year, so we should strike while the iron is hot on the best player available this time around.
The Indians farm system is in pretty good shape at the moment, but if they're still in the race when we get close to the trade deadline (and I think that they will be), they may have to give up some players from the farm to get some depth for the major league team to make a run at the pennant.
With the system in good shape for the most part, I think it's best to focus on pitching, particularly in the early rounds. No matter how stacked a team's farm system is, no one ever seems to have enough pitching. The Indians should take advantage of the fact that they don't have desperate needs at other positions and use this draft to load up on hurlers.
To that end, I'd like to see the Tribe go after a college pitcher (NO high school pitchers in the first round please!) with the No. 8 overall pick. I like Trevor Bauer out of UCLA, Jed Bradley out of Georgia Tech or Sonny Gray out of Vanderbilt, assuming both Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen are off the board when the Tribe makes their selection.
5. Fun Question of the Week:The Indians have employed some new marketing campaigns and activities for fans at the ballpark this season. There are new concourse activities and some interesting video segments employed before the game and between innings.
Do you think the Indians have done a good job with these things this season? What is your favorite ballpark concourse activity or scoreboard video/display? What do you think of the Indians' new and much-discussed "What If?" campaign and accompanying scoreboard video?
Lewie Pollis: I've only made it out to the ballpark twice this year (that's what happens when you leave for college), so I haven't noticed too many differences, but in general I've been satisfied with the mid-inning entertainment. I suppose I'd prefer another highlight reel to watching another fan play a scoreboard game, but it's not that big of a deal to me.
My favorite is the hot dog race—as long as that's there, that's all the non-baseball activity I need. I'm a little tired of the "What if?" thing, but that's probably because I hear it at least 15 times every time I listen to the game on the radio, which is my primary medium while I'm at school. There is some corny magicalness to it, though.
The only ads I can't stand are the ones for the country music extravaganza later this month. I've probably heard that at least a couple hundred times already.
Samantha Bunten: Whether a team is doing a good job with this kind of entertainment is all relative: If you're playing well, you don't need many entertainment elements at the ballpark, because baseball is the entertainment. Conversely, if your team is playing poorly, you pretty much need a three-ring circus at the park to keep attendance from flatlining.
The Indians entertainment this season is plenty adequate considering how we'll they're playing. If they weren't doing so well, however, this stuff wouldn't cut it.
Among the best entertainment elements? I absolutely love the "What If?" video. Gives me goosebumps. It's a great appeal to those of us who have a strong emotional attachment to baseball and to the Indians. And of course, you have to love a good hot dog race. We were at the game on Monday night and saw one where Ketchup cheated—silly yes, but also pretty funny. It's the little things.
Among the worst? The scoreboard games are only fun for the person picked to play them. For everyone else, it's a big yawn. And the "promotional team" that gives out freebies around the ballpark and from the tops of the dugouts or the outfield wall? Yikes. All of their enthusiasm looks forced. I'm guessing that's a pretty fun job to have, and a number of those people make it look about as fun as doing data entry. There's a million kids out there who would kill for that job. Clearly, those aren't the folks they chose for it.