Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cleveland Offensive Stereotypes 2008 Preview: Captain Cheeseburger and Friends Try Again

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

In 2007, the Cleveland Offensive Stereotypes rebounded from a disappointing 78-84 record of the previous year by winning 96 games and reaching a 3-1 lead in the ALCS. At that point the wheels, transmission, steering, and doors all came off as the Red Sox won the last three games in routs. Those last three games notwithstanding, it was a successful year. Center fielder Grady Sizemore continued his development into one of the league's best players and C.C. Sabathia earned the AL Cy Young award. Over the winter team management cut loose a bit of dead weight but didn't make any significant changes to the lineup.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Jacobs Field increased offense by about 5% last year, and the Stereotypes took advantage. They scored 5.40 runs per game at home and a mediocre 4.62 on the road. Sizemore and Victor Martinez had strong years and Ryan Garko helped after joining the lineup, but Travis Hafner had a somewhat disappointing season. Casey Blake was mediocre, and the Stereotypes did not receive championship quality offense from two outfield positions.

CF Grady Sizemore
2B Asdrubal Cabrera
DH Travis Hafner
C Victor Martinez
1B Ryan Garko
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF David Dellucci/Jason Michaels
RF Franklin Gutierrez
3B Casey Blake

A lot depends on Hafner hitting more like he did in 2005 and 2006. That's certainly possible, but a lot of guys similar to him throughout history have started slipping badly around his age (31). Gutierrez is one hitter who could certainly step up; he showed better plate discipline in the minors and hit with power after being called up in 2007. Certainly he'll be an improvement over the ghost of Trot Nixon.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Considering that their home park was working against them, the Stereotypes did very well to finish third in the AL in runs allowed. Their pitchers walked the fewest hitters of any AL team, led by Sabathia (209/37 K/BB ratio) and Paul Byrd and his amazing windup, who walked 28 in 192 innings. The bullpen work of the Rafaels, Betancourt and Perez, made up for the fact that the closer was more proof that saves are an overrated stat.

SP C. C. Sabathia
SP Fausto Carmona
SP Paul Byrd
SP Jake Westbrook
SP Aaron Laffey

CL Joe Borowski (still think that closers are a special breed?)
RP Rafael Betancourt
Rp Rafael Perez

Captain Cheeseburger is one amazing dude. He handles both his size and his workload well and should remain one of the games top starters for the next several years. Carmona has very good command for a 24 year old; Carmona, Byrd, and Laffey all throw strikes and let the defense do the heavy lifting. Westbrook is nothing special but he's not dragging the team down, either. I give the over/under on Borowski as May 22; that will be the date when management realizes that, saves or no saves, this guy isn't very good and replaces him with a Rafael.

And before you start, I know that Raphael isn't spelled the same way the pitcher's names are. Just look at the pretty picture and leave the jokes to me.

Witnesses for the defense

With a staff of pitchers that makes the defense earn its pay, the Stereotypes could do a little better afield. They were just average in defensive efficiency and fielding percentage in 2007, although they did turn the double play well. Switching Peralta and Cabrera might help. Having Gutierrez in right instead of Nixon will certainly help.

Yes, yes, wrong Nixon. I'm trying for some kind of theme here. Stop at the door on the way out for your refund.

Farm aid

There are a few pitchers on the way up who could be of help in 2008, but no more bats. Jensen Lewis will be the final nail in Borowski's coffin, he posted no ERA higher than 2.15 in three stops last year including the major leagues. Starters Chuck Lofgren and Adam Miller could work their way into the rotation if others falter; Miller has more upside but a more interesting injury history.

Watch out for that tree!

Byrd is entertaining to watch, but he's a 37 year old guy who gave up 239 hits last year. I'll be very surprised if he's still in the rotation by September, a 6.40 ERA isn't out of the question. Anything more I could say about Borowski would just be piling on. No one in the history of the major leagues has saved 40 or more games with an ERA as high as he posted last season (5.07). Those two guys are easily replaced. If Pronk doesn't turn things around, the Stereotypes have no chance of returning to the postseason. This is what can happen to guys of his build and skills. And it can happen fast.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

This team can't afford a slip of any kind this year. Their major rivals in the AL Central, the Tigers, enriched their lineup this winter, and the White Sox could be back in the rear view mirror. At least, I can delude myself that they might be. I think that there is enough young talent here to remain in the race, but, if Hafner doesn't bounce back, if Martinez gets hurt, if Gutierrez doesn't develop, or if the pitching and defense take a step backwards in the number of hits allowed, this could be an 82-80 team.

And, once again, we implore management: CHANGE THAT NAME AND DITCH THAT LOGO!

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