Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How's Wedgie doin'?

It was the 4th of July weekend when Tribe GM Mark Shapiro went public with his promise that Eric Wedge and his coaches would be around at least until the end of the season, when all would be evaluated.

Since that time the Tribe has played 35 games and put up an 18-17 record. Better than they had been to that point, but hardly an exciting number.

But at the time Shapiro said the post-season evaluation would have less to do with wins and losses than with player development.

Specifically, Shapiro was looking for Wedge to polish off a few prospects to the point where they could be counted on to be a positive presence next season.

So, to borrow of a phrase from former NYC mayor Ed Koch, "How's Wedgie doin'."

Maybe the easiest way to do this is to take each of the youngsters one-by-one and see what type of progress they've made, or in the case of some how much regression there has been this season.

The dismal first half was a collective effort, with all facets of the team underperforming - except possibly for the ground crew and field operations folks who found a quick solution to the seagull problem that cropped up in the late spring.

But it was the pitching - especially the bullpen - that was most responsible for the disaster that the 2009 season quickly became.

So let's start up on the hill.

There are so many failures here a case can be made for many a player, but for argument sake let's just say Fausto Carmona was the biggest disappointment and the biggest drag on the team's success.

As you know, Fausto was sent to Arizona to have his hard-drive cleared and to start the season all over with a clean slate.

Carmona's made four starts since returning from his reprogramming. At first glance, it looks as if some progress has been made in remaking Carmona.

Going into his start Tuesday, Carmona had made 3 starts since his recall, pitching 17 innings and allowing just 5 earned runs - for an ERA of 2.65. But in those 3 starts, Fausto gave up 15 hits and 10 walks in 17 innings. That's a WHIP of 1.47. He'd averaged only 5 2/3 innings in those 3 starts, mostly because he was at or near 100 pitches by that time. He threw three 299 pitches in those three starts, with 172, or 55%, of them being strikes. Not good at all.

Granted tonight's start versus the Angels was against an offense that has averaged about 8 runs per game over the last 6 weeks or so, but it was perhaps Fausto's worst outing since his return. While he gave up just 3 earned runs in 5 innings, the outing was a lot uglier than those numbers indicate. Carmona gave up 10 hits and two walks over those 5 innings, which took him 110 pitches (66 of them, or 54%, strikes) to complete.

So far, Carmona has not shown he's anywhere close to the pitcher who won 19 games just two seasons ago. Better than he was in May, but with still a long way to go.

Aaron Laffey is another story.

Since returning from a mid-season injury, Laffey has made 7 starts and has put up an ERA of 2.93 in 47 innings. In three of those 7 starts Laffey was unscored upon. His 1.38 WHIP has been a little high, but for a groundball pitcher base runners can be easily erased two at a time.

Laffey is looking as polished as any one of the youngsters on the club and should be someone to be counted on next year.

Jeremy Sowers? A string of 3 starts in late July and early August in which Sowers actually survived into the 7th twice and had 3 so-called quality starts seemed to indicate he might be coming around. But in his last outing Sowers folded after 5 again, much as he has done throughout most of the season.

Has Sowers progressed this year under Wedge? I vote no.

Over 17 starts this year, David Huff has put up 6.55 ERA, a 1.65 WHIP and a .319 BA against. Having seen many of his starts on the dish, it seems like those numbers are a bit worse than Huff's actual performance. He has shown flashes at times. But has he developed as he should have this season? Nada.

You could argue that the utter failure of Raffie Perez and Jensen Lewis to perform up to expectations was an even bigger factor in the first half than Carmona's disappearance. I wouldn't give you much of an argument.

Perez has been up and down a few times and Lewis was sent back to Columbus for retooling. Has either been straightened out?

Four of Perez's 5 outings since his latest recall have been scoreless, which is encouraging. But I would hardly say he's been lights out, having allowed 9 base runners in the 5 innings he's pitched over those 5 outings. Still, there's hope Perez can show he's back on track over the next 6 weeks.

Jensen Lewis, like Perez, has had 5 outings since his recall, 4 of which have been scoreless over 7 innings. He too looks to be heading back in the right direction, but lets not forget he put up 13 saves during garbage time with the heat off last August and September as well.

Tony Sipp was most recently recalled in late June. He was horrid in June/July, giving up 7 runs in 7 2/3 innings over 12 outings and allowing 14 base runners in that time frame. August has been another story, as Sipp has allowed only 1 run and 4 base runners in 7 1/3 innings over 8 outings. Another guy who seems to be showing improvement of late.

Chris Perez has been as-advertised since coming over from St. Louis (excepting 2 bad outings in his first 3 appearances with the Tribe).

Jess Todd, the other pitcher obtained from the Cardinals for Mark DeRosa, is still getting his feet wet, but he hasn't looked good doing it - allowing 4 runs in 5 innings over 5 outings. Not much to go on with him yet though.

As far as position players go, there are fewer to be looked at, at least to this point.

Andy Marte continues to be hopelessly lost at the plate and at times (like tonight when he made a costly error and failed to cut off a throw to the plate that cost the Tribe an out) in the field.

Is Marte just lacking the intangibles that separate AAAA players from big-leaguers?

Is he unable to get anything going because Wedge stubbornly refuses to play him every day and he can't get his timing down?

Is he pressing because he knows Wedge won't play him regularly unless he starts to rip it up at the plate?

Who knows. But one thing is clear. When it comes time to look at players Wedge and his staff were charged with developing, this is their biggest failure.

Chris Gimenez? What is Wedge's infatuation here? And is Wedge retarding the development of others by giving Gimenez so much playing time?

Much like with Gimenez, Wedge apparently sees a lot he likes in Luis Valbuena.

In this case I agree with him.

Something about Valbuena's body language on the field, and the attitude he brings makes you feel as though he expects to succeed. And, despite a less-than-stellar .233 BA, he has a nice stroke and rips the ball into the gaps, allowing him to put up an .840 OPS in July and .768 so far this month.

The middle infield appears to be an area of little concern for next season.

We haven't seen enough of Wyatt Toregas to make an assessment yet, and just when it seemed like Trevor Crowe was getting a feel for things he came out of the lineup with an injury.

In September, there are likely to be some new youngsters for Wedge & Co. to work with. Hector Rondon seems like a sure call-up, as does Carlos Carrasco, who is 4-0 with a 3.45 ERA in 4 starts since coming to Columbus in the Cliff Lee deal. Just as important, he's walked only 5 and has struck out 27 in 28 innings at Columbus.

Looking forward to seeing what this duo will do at the big-league level, even if it will be just a September call-up for them.

Which brings us to the other likely call-up next month - Matt LaPorta. I say "likely" because there were three other times this season that I thought he would get recalled, and he remains - mysteriously - in Columbus.

Why LaPorta is not here now - especially since the Tribe has been forced to start Jamey Carroll in the outfield the past few games - is beyond me.

The only thing that makes any sense is that Shapiro was so unhappy with Wedge's indifference to playing LaPorta when he was up briefly earlier this year that he doesn't want to give Wedge another chance to sew seeds of doubt in the youngster's head.

And if that's the case, none of the rest of what I've written will matter. Wedge will be a goner.

And not a moment too soon.


Anonymous said...

It's really sad how players have developed under Wedge.

With the exception of Cabrera and Choo, no offensive player is truely better now than when Wedge (and Shelton) got their hands on them. In fact, most are worse, which is just unacceptable.

Part of me is extremely glad that LaPorta has been left in AAA. I really would prefer Wedge and company not getting their hands on him and screwing him up, ala Andy Marte.

The Indians need to decide on a position for LaPorta, be it 1B or the OF. And with Wedge, you know he'd be playing 1B one day, sit 2 days, then play the OF for a day if he was promoted to Cleveland.

At least he's getting regular playing time in AAA (though still has moved around some).

Sucks that Jordan Brown is on the DL......was really hoping to see him sooner rather than later....

Anonymous said...

laffey up
sowers down
huff iffy
gimeniz down
marte down - thought he was going to play everyday
bullpen - no comment
valbuena - good defense can only go up

aren't the indians the best team in the AL central and 5 th best AL pitching staff since the break

wait until next year !!!

Anonymous said...

wedge must go!!! 'nuff said.