Found July 02, 2012 on Death, Taxes, and Rebuilding:

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By: Eric Grinnell

The Cleveland Indians had an extremely uneven week, which was a fitting end to a very uneven June. Things looked bleak to start the week, as the Indians were swept by the Yankees and got outscored in the 3 game series, 18-9. But the Indians bounced back nicely to take 3 out of 4 at Baltimore, and outscored the O’s 33-17. The Indians overall record now stands at 40-38, good for second place in the AL Central.

1. Baseball is a game where things can change very fast, and boy does that seem to be the case with the Indians starting rotation. I feel like all of April and May I wrote about how the rotation was being carried by Derek Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez and that Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez really needed to find themselves. Well, that has been completely turned on its head, as Masterson and Jimenez are anchoring the staff, while Lowe, Tomlin, and the recently demoted Gomez have just been awful.

2. After his month of June, I think it’s safe to say that Justin Masterson is back. Masterson has been improving all year, and really looked like Justin Masterson circa 2011 throughout all of June. Here are a look at his stats for each month so far:

April: 5.40 ERA, .239 BAA, 5.99 K/9
May: 4.93 ERA, .285 BAA, 7.04 K/9
June: 2.09 ERA, .206 BAA, 7.45 K/9

Masterson also had 4 Quality Starts in June, and has not gone less than 6.0 IP since April 22nd. It’s great to have Masterson back, and I just wish he would have pitched this way all year because he probably would have been an All-Star.

3. I’m not quite ready to say that Ubaldo Jimenez is back as well, but take a look at his month-to-month break down:

April: 4.50 ERA, .242 BAA, 4.8 K/9, 5.24 BB/9
May: 6.75 ERA, .279 BAA, 5.62 K/9, 7.87 BB/9
June: 2.78 ERA, .210 BAA, 8.9 K/9, 3.06 BB/9

Obviously, his June was really impressive. The key for Jimenez is that he’s had better control and been able to keep his walks down. If he is able to keep his control, we may finally have something. I’ll wait to see his July to fully say that “he’s back,” but I am very encouraged.

4. Derek Lowe has to be happy that June is in the rear view mirror. It was just a brutal month for Lowe, and Indians fans need to really hope that this was just a poor month and that Lowe will bounce back to be a guy that can consistently give 6ish innings and only give up 3-4 earned runs. Here is Lowe’s month-to-month breakdown.

April: 2.27 ERA, .282 BAA, 1.42 WHIP
May: 4.30 ERA, .331 BAA, 1.63 WHIP
June: 6.49 ERA, .317 BAA, 1.64 WHIP

What’s interesting (but not all that surprising) is that Lowe’s WHIP and batting average against numbers haven’t really changed all that dramatically. The fact that Lowe had a .331 BAA and a 1.63 WHIP but only a 4.30 ERA in May is pretty incredible. Those are extremely high BAA and WHIP numbers and really, his ERA should have been more of what it looked like for the month of June.

I’m starting to get concerned about Lowe though. Last week, I said Lowe should settle in as our inning-eating #3. But Lowe is just getting absolutely shelled right now and he looks more like a #5 or should be out of the game. In fact, Lowe now has the highest batting average against for AL starting pitchers. That doesn’t bode well for the 2nd half of the season, as there is no way he’ll catch the same statistical breaks he did in April and May. Color me concerned going forward.

5. Lowe’s problems have really highlighted the problems of the Indians back half of the rotation. They really got nothing out of anyone past Masterson and Jimenez in June, and I think you could argue that if Lowe didn’t have the good fortune he did in April and early May he’d be on the verge of getting cut, and that Josh Tomlin should be down in Columbus. Here is Tomlin’s month-to-month breakdown.

April: 5.48 ERA, .302 BAA, 1.35 WHIP, 2 HR
May: 4.42 ERA, .206 BAA, 1.09 WHIP, 3 HR
June: 6.89 ERA, .346 BAA, 1.77 WHIP, 7 HR

Tomlin has really been pretty bad all year (and really a full calendar year, as he was pretty bad post All-Star Break last year), but he was really bad in June. Tomlin’s always struggled with giving up the long ball, and that was his biggest problem in June. But he also walked a lot of people, and a .346 BAA is just brutal.

Tomlin’s poor play really hasn’t seem to be a major topic yet, and I’m not sure why. Tomlin does the little things well (like control baserunners, get deep into games by pitching efficiently, making the most out of his stuff), but I think people are overlooking the fact that he has been one of the worst starters in the AL for about a year now. In fact, Tomlin now has the 6th worst ERA for AL starters and actually has a worse ERA than Jeanmar Gomez. Again, color me concerned.

6. Speaking of Jeanmar Gomez, he really started the back-of-the-rotation freefall. Like Lowe, Gomez started out great, but then imploded and was sent down last Monday. Here are Gomez monthly numbers:

April: 2.35 ERA, .179 BAA, 0.84 WHIP
May: 5.26 ERA, .273 BAA, 1.43 WHIP
June: 7.20 ERA, .310 BAA, 1.70 WHIP

As you can see, Gomez’s downfall wasn’t necessarily like Lowe’s, where his advanced stats showed he was getting lucky and that his ERA was likely unsustainable, but rather Gomez was just getting hit a lot harder each month.

7. Just last week I wrote that the Indians rotation was taking form with Masterson and Jimenez as #1, #2, Lowe as the #3, and then Tomlin as one of the last two spots (I said I wished he was the 5th man). But now, it looks like the Indians only have two spots solidified, and could really use a #3 or #4.

Like I said above, I’m really skeptical about Lowe. His WHIP and BAA numbers have been awful all year, and his ERA really should be much, much worse than it currently is. My hope is that he can be a #3-#4 guy that gives you 6 IP and 3 ER (and settles around a low to mid 4.xx ERA), but if his numbers stay the way they are, I’m not sure he’ll even make it through the rest of the year.

I’m also skeptical about Tomlin. I really think Tomlin should be down in Columbus right now, and it wouldn’t surpirse me if Tomlin has a few more bad starts that this happens. But the problem is that the Indians have already exhuasted some of their depth by sending down Gomez.

Overall, I think the Indians need a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. I think between Lowe, Gomez, Tomlin, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, and David Huff they should be able to find #4 and #5 guys. But the Indians desparetely need a guy that can go out there and give them a 6 IP, 3 ER game on a consistent basis.

8. If you are a regular reader of MMTT, you’ve probably noticed that I talk a lot more about the starting rotation than I do the lineup or the bullpen. I do this for two reasons. One, I am a big believer in starting pitching and think this is what teams should be built around. A good rotation will keep a team in any game, regardless of the offense. But two, I think the starting rotation is the most important component of the 2012 Cleveland Indians. The Indians lineup is what it is — they have a great top of the order, a slightly below average middle of the order, and a brutal third of the order. They are going to struggle against lefties, they are going to have series where they are cold and look hopeless (like against the Astros and Yankees) and they are going to have the occasional series where they are hot and look pretty darn good (like against the O’s). But overall, they are an average lineup and I don’t see much changing there. Yes, they may make a trade for a right-handed bat, but it’s not going to be for a guy that dramatically changes the llineup. Sure, he’ll probably help, but it’s not going to be a huge difference. So the key to me is the starting rotation. If Masterson and Jimenez pitch to their potential, and the Indians can find some consistency in the middle of the rotation, the offense should be good enough to make this an above-average team. But the Indians are in trouble if they continue to throw out 3 guys that put up 6.xx+ ERAs. They just don’t have the offensive firepower to win those type of high scoring games on a consistent basis.

9. I think the biggest surprise of June was the play of Lou Marson. Carlos Santana has struggled all year (before and after his concussion), but Sweet Lou played great behind the plate in June. For the month, Lou put up a great line of .383/.473/.532/1.005 with 8 walks, 8 strikeouts and 2 triples. This has been huge, as the Indians are really getting minimal production from Santana right now.

What’s also great about it is that Marson has arguably turned himself into the Indians best trade chip. As mentioned above, the Indians could desparately use a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher and a right-handed bat. The problem is, the Indians don’t really have any assets after last year’s Jimenez trade. Indians top prospect Francisco Lindor is probably untouchable, and past that, the Indians don’t really have any desirable minor league prospects. With so little assets in the minor league system, the Indians may look to deal a guy like Marson. Marson has to have pretty good value too, he’s young, is a great defensive catcher, and is showing that he can be productive at that plate. I have to think a team that is sellers this year, but not terribly untalented (think the Mariners, Diamondbacks, or Brewers) would be interested in trading a veteran for Marson.

The question would be, are the Indians willing to part with Marson? Defensive catchers can be valuable, and it’s nice to have Lou behind Santana. It also gives the lineup some versatility, as it allows Santana to DH or play 1B if they want to give him a bit of a rest. Furthermore, Lou is good insurance for Santana, as Santana really has had a disappointing major league career thus far (especially in 2012). Keep an eye on this moving forward.

10. The other surprise of June has to be Esmil Rogers. The Indians obtained Rogers from the Rockies on June 12 for cash, and he’s looked like a great pickup so far. Rogers has electric stuff, a legit upper-90s fastball and a sharp slider, but was supposed to have major control issues, which is why he was available for cheap. But Rogers, and his control, has been great in his time with the Tribe. In 8 appearances and 10.1 IP with the Tribe, Rogers has a 1.74 ERA, .139 BAA, 12.19 K/9, and has only allowed 1 walk! He’s just been awesome. What’s most impressive is that his one wart (control) has not looked like an issue. 1 walk in 10.1 IP is an incredible number, and everytime I see Rogers pitch he is painting corners, or barely missing. I don’t want to get too excited, because there have to be some control issues in there somewhere, but so far the trade looks like a steal.

11. Lastly, congrats to Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez for making the All-Star team. Jason Kipnis definitely should have made it as well, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that someone scratches and Kipnis finds his way on the team.

Follow @ClevelandDTR

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