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Cleveland Indians: The Case for Cord Phelps

Over the first six weeks of the 2011 season, the Cleveland Indians have been baseball’s biggest surprise.  The starting rotation deserves the majority of the credit for the fast start.  I think I speak for the majority of Indian fans when I say that going in to this season, the rotation was the biggest area of concern and that its hot start has been a pleasant surprise.

However, for as good as the rotation has looked (save the recent series against Tampa Bay), there are some major points of concern for the Tribe offensively.  Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana have struggled out of the gate, and Austin Kearns hasn’t been able to recapture his 2010 success.  Journeymen Jack Hannahan, Orlando Cabrera and Shelley Duncan have faded in May after impressive Aprils.  Even with his great start at the dish (hit safely in every game he has played), not even the most optimistic Tribe fan believes Adam Everett is an everyday option in MLB.

Granted, there have been many bright spots at the dish for the Tribe: Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner appear to be in 2005 form after nearly a half-decade of injury issues, Asdrubal Cabrera is solid as always, and the duo of Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta are showing why CC Sabathia was traded to Milwaukee in 2007, but you need more than five consistent bats.

Though Choo has started slowly, it’s a safe bet to assume he will pick things up.  The other two OF spots are pretty well taken care of by Brantley and Sizemore.  If the Tribe is to improve its offense, Chris Antonetti will likely have to look to the infield (second and third base in particular).  Many Indian fans have “know the answer” since February: Put Kipnis and Chisenhall in at 2B and 3B respectively.  Unlike most Clevelanders, I’m not convinced this is the answer for 2011. 

Earlier this week, Jim Piascik made a strong argument for Jason Kipnis.  I’m out to do the same for the “other” 2B, Cord Phelps.  One year farther along than Kipnis, Phelps has been largely ignored by most publications.  Case-in-point: Kipnis is widely regarded as a top-five prospect in the organization while Phelps fails to crack most experts’ top-10s. 

Though Kipnis is likely the second baseman of the future in Cleveland, Phelps is the answer for 2011…here’s why:



The top-two non-pitching prospects in the Indian organization (Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, for those of you out of the loop) both have very clear-cut positions, and I don’t think either has the ability to play any other spot on the field.  Phelps, a (very good) 2B by trade has proven this season (after losing his starting 2B spot to Kipnis) to be a more than capable defender everywhere around the horn.  If Phelps gets the call to replace Adam Everett (my choice to cut), Manny Acta should have no trouble finding plenty of playing time for his four infielders (Phelps, the Cabreras, and Jack Hannahan).  With Chiz or Kipnis, this would be much more difficult.



Though he isn’t Roberto Alomar with the leather, Phelps is one of the best defensive infielders in the Cleveland organization.  On the other side of the coin, calling Chisenhall and Kipnis “raw” could be seen by some as an understatement.  With a staff consisting almost exclusively of ground ball pitchers, having a solid infield defense key (remember Nimartuena?).  Phelps has committed only two errors in 31 games while being bounced around multiple positions compared to six in 25 for Kipnis and four in 29 for Chiz while playing one position exclusively.


He’s a Switch Hitter

Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti have put together one of the most lefty-heavy lineups in the game.  Grady, Choo, Pronk, Brantley and Hannahan all hit from the left side of the plate.  By bringing up Kipnis or Chisenhall, Manny Acta may find himself starting six lefties at the same time, something that could hurt his team from a strategic standpoint.  Bringing up the switch-hitting Phelps instead avoids that potential problem.



There is no denying that Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall are terrific offensive prospects.  However, that doesn’t mean that Phelps is a slouch.  While Kipnis and Chisenhall are power hitters, Phelps is more of a contact hitter.  For his minor league career, Phelps has posted a .298/.382/.424 line, good for an .806 OPS (higher than Lonnie Chisenhall’s .798).  Those numbers compare pretty well against Chisenhall’s .273/.344/.454 and Kipnis’ .303/.386/.485.  Of the three, Phelps is the only player that has seen significant time at AAA (97 games over two seasons).  In that time, his .315/.403/.513 line is better than what the other two players have put up across the entire minor league system.



I was an advocate of letting Phelps start 2011 at 3B instead of the current Jack Hannahan/Adam Everett platoon and the Lonnie Chisenhall experiment that many Tribe fans wanted.  I admit that Kipnis and Chisenahll are the better long-term prospects, and Phelps’ place on this team beyond 2011 is likely that of a utility infielder.  However, in the short-term, the Indians are in a pennant race in a very winnable American League.  With the team gearing up for a pennant race, what is the point of bringing up one-dimensional players with six weeks of AAA experience when an equally successful prospect who has more tools and is better-polished is also available?


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Baseball Hall Of Fame: Bert Blyleven In, Who’s Long Wait Will End Next?

On Wednesday afternoon, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced the induction of Bert Blyleven (among others) after a 14-year wait.  Blyleven’s election comes on the heels of the elections of Jim Rice (class of ’09) and Andre “Hawk” Dawson (’10) after comparably long waits.  With these three men all in, we can now turn our sights to other players who have spent many years (five or more for the sake of this article) on the ballot and are still waiting for the all-important call from Cooperstown.  I took each player who will be on their fifth ballot or late in 2012.  Players are ordered not by merit, but by time on the ballot to avoid any claims of favoritism.


Dale Murphy: 1977-1993 (14th Ballot in 2012): .265 BA, 398 HR, 1,266 RBIs, 1982 and ’83 NL MVP, 7-time All-Star, 5 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers (12.6 percent in 2011)

With the exception of his batting average, Dale Murphy’s numbers compare quite favorably to Hall of Famer Jim Rice.  Even if they don’t put him in the Hall, they certainly should garner better than 12.6 percent over the ballots cast.  Two MVPs for Murphy against one for Rice, seven All-Stars vs eight, four Silver Sluggers vs two, five Gold Gloves vs none.  Murphy hit 16 more home runs and drove in 200 less RBIs in two more seasons.  When comparing Murphy to Jim Rice, one must ask, are too few people voting for Murphy, or did too many vote for Rice?

Murphy dominated from 1982 through ’87, hitting .289 and averaging 36 HR and 105 RBIs.  He made the All-Star game each year and won both of his MVPs along with all of his Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers in that period.  After 1987, Murphy was unable to match that type of success again.  He hit over .250 only once (1991 with the Phillies) and never again drove in over 90 runners.

The .265 career BA and short window of dominance are the biggest marks against Murphy. 


Jack Morris: 1977-1994 (13th Ballot in 2012): 254 W, 3.90 ERA, 2,478 K, 5-time All-Star (53.5 percent in 2011)

Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s with 162 victories.  The pitchers that led every previous decade in wins have all reached the hallowed hall of Cooperstown.  The 1990s’ leader Greg Maddux is a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer as well.  Morris won four World Series rings with the Tigers (1984), Twins (’91) and Blue Jays (’92 and ’93).  His gutty ten-inning performance in game seven of the ’91 World Series is the accomplishment that is most closely associated with Morris.  Now that Bert Byleven (a player with significantly better stats across the board) has been inducted, the debate can begin in earnest over Morris.

The two biggest marks against Morris are his 3.90 career ERA and lack of a Cy Young Award.  Will that be enough to hold him out?  Only time will tell.  It is worth noting that of the players on this list, Morris was the only one to receive better than 50-percent of the vote in 2011.


Don Mattingly: 1982-1995 (12th Ballot in 2012): .307 BA, 222 HR, 1,099 RBI, 1985 MVP, 6-time All-Star, 9 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Sluggers (13.6 percent in 2011)

“Donnie Baseball” had one of the most dominant six-year periods of any player in that era.  From 1982-1989, Mattingly hit .327 and averaged 27 HR and 114 RBIs per season.  In that period, Mattingly won his MVP, made all six of his all-star appearances, and collected five Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers.

Unfortunately for Mattingly and his supporters, back problems severely shortened the prime of his career.  After the ’89 season, Mattingly would never again reach 20 HR or 90 RBIs in a season.  Only once (’94) did he manage to hit over .300.  I fear that his lack of longevity will be enough to keep him out of Cooperstown.


Allen Trammell: 1977-1996 (11th Ballot in 2012): .285 BA, 185 HR, 1,003 RBIs, 1,231 R, 236 SB, 6-time All-Star, 4 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Sluggers (24.3 percent in 2011)

Allen Trammell was one of the key contributors to the Tigers during their run in the 1980s.  Playing shortstop in an era dominated by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith and future Hall of Famer (in my book at least) Barry Larkin led many to overlook the accomplishments of Trammell in Detroit.  Trammell was a sure-handed defender playing the toughest position on the field.

However, Trammell was a streaky hitter.  There were a handful of seasons when he would hit well over .300 before suddenly slipping back to an average in the .270s or worse the next year.  For his career, Trammell struck out more than he walked.  Though a solid fielder, he lacked the flashy defensive abilities that defined the careers of Smith and (potential HOFer) Omar Vizquel.


Lee Smith: 1980-1997 (10th Ballot in 2012): 71 W, 3.03 ERA, 478 S, 1,251 K, 7-time All-Star (45.3% in 2011)

For many years, relievers had a difficult time getting votes for the Hall.  Recently, this trend has begun to shift.  Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter were both elected after long waits and current closers Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera are looking like first-ballot HOFers.  At the time of his retirement, Lee Smith had the career lead in saves by over 100 on Dennis Eckersley.  Smith was the first pitcher to collect saves in such a large quantity.

Working against Smith is his 3.03 ERA (high for a Hall of Fame-caliber reliever) and low strikeout totals compared to his competition.  Many have made the argument that Smith was nothing more than a “compiler” of statistics over his 18-year career.


Mark McGwire: 1986-2001 (6th Ballot in 2012): .263 BA, 583 HR, 1,414 RBIs, 1987 AL ROY, 12-time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 3 Silver Sluggers (19.8 percent in 2011)

Mark McGwire was one of the most prolific homerun hitters in the history of the game.  “Big Mac” averaged 36 HR per season (that number jumps to 39 if you don’t include the 18 games he played in 1986) including injury-riddled 1993 and ’94 when he combined for 18 HR.

Given recent revelations, much of McGwire’s power numbers have come in to question.  Without his HRs, McGwire doesn’t have much to stand on.  He was a below-average defender at the position widely considered to be the easiest position on the field.  He hit .263 for his career and his RBI totals are quite low when you consider how many homeruns he hit (for the sake of comparison, Dave Winfield drove in 400 more runs while hitting 100 less homers).


Tim Raines: 1979-2002 (5th Ballot): .294 BA, 170 HR, 980 RBIs, 2,605 H, 808 SB, 7-time All-Star, 1 Silver Slugger (37.5% in 2011)

The supporters of Tim Raines often refer to him as the Rickey Henderson of the National League.  On the surface, that makes a lot of sense.  Both were leadoff men who hit for a similar average, stole a bunch of bases, and played LF instead of CF.

However, there is only one stat in which Henderson doesn’t blow Raines away.  Raines hit 15 points better than Henderson.  Other than that, Henderson has over 500 more steals, over 400 more hits, over 100 more homers, and 135 more RBIs.


Now that you have some information on the seven player who will be on the ballot for the fifth time or more in 2012, which ones do you think deserve to be elected?  Which ones will be elected?  I look forward to reading and responding to your comments on this subject.

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My 2011 Baseball Hall Of Fame Ballot (If I Had One)

As we rapidly approach January, members the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) are filling out their ballots for the 2011 inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  With the Winter Meetings over, January’s HOF announcement is the biggest story until pitchers and catchers report in about six weeks.

For those of you who don’t know how the balloting works, here is a brief summary.  All candidates that received greater than five-percent of votes in the previous year remain on the ballot.  Players that have spent 15 years on the ballot without getting elected are dropped. 

The holdovers from the previous season are joined new candidates selected form a pool of players that have been retired for five years (or deceased for six months) and played a minimum of 10 MLB seasons.

Voters can choose to put up to 10 players on their ballot.  Any players appearing on over 75-percent of submitted ballots are inducted the following summer.  With that in mind, here is my ballot.

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Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller Enters Hospice Care Center

Wednesday evening, Cleveland Indians vice president of public relations Bob DiBiasio announced that Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller has been transferred from the Cleveland Clinic to a hospice care center for the terminally ill. 

The 92-year-old Feller recently entered the Clinic suffering from pneumonia.  The illness was the most recent health issue for the Hall of Famer.  In August, Feller was diagnosed with leukemia, a month later a pacemaker was installed.

Signed by scout Cy Slapnicka for $1 and an autographed baseball, Feller made his debut with the Indians in 1936 at age 17.  Following the season, he returned home to Van Meeter, IA to complete his senior year in high school. 

“Rapid Robert” would go on to pitch 18 seasons with the Tribe, making eight All-Star games.  He missed three of the prime years of his career while serving in the United States Navy during World War II.

Feller led the Indians in most major pitching categories, including wins (266), innings (3,827), strikeouts (2,581), complete games (279) and starts (484).  He threw three career no-hitters including Major League Baseball’s only Opening Day no-hitter in 1940 against the Chicago White Sox.

Feller’s No. 19 was retired by the Indians in 1957, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  At the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston, Major League Baseball named Feller one of its 100 All-Century Players.  Since retiring, he has remained very active with the Indian organization as well as the City of Cleveland.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to meet Feller several years ago while attending spring training for the Indians.  He is a class act and a wonderful ambassador for both the game of baseball and City of Cleveland.

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Seattle Mariners Hire Eric Wedge: A Cleveland Perspective

As reported by, the Seattle Mariners have hired former Cleveland manager Eric “The Grinder” Wedge, to replace fired skipper Don Wakamatsu following a 101 loss season.  For a team that has suffered from a chronic case of underachievement, Wedge doesn’t strike me as the antidote.  Furthermore, he doesn’t strike me as the solution to any team’s problems. 

Here are several reasons why.

Slow starting teams: in his entire tenure with Cleveland (7 years), the Indians had only one winning April (2007).  To me, this is an indication of a manager who doesn’t know how to prepare a team for a season during spring training.  Regardless of talent, his teams begin every season flat.  When a team is under .500 and 5+ games out of first by the beginning of May, it’s really tough to make the postseason.

Failure to meet expectations: the three Indians teams that received the highest preseason praise under his tenure were the ’06, ’08 and ’09 squads.  The best record any of those teams had was 81-81 in 08.  Much like the Indians, the Mariners have a history of underachieving, especially in recent years.  Does it seem like a good idea to add an underachieving manager to that mix?

Teams crack under pressure: the best teams Wedge managed (’05 and ’07) both cracked when the pressure was turned up.  In 2005, his team was a shoo-in for the playoffs, until the last week of the season.  The Tribe lost six of their last seven to the Royals, Rays and White Sox and finished two games out of the postseason picture.  The ’07 team had a 3-1 lead in the LCS, with the #1 (C.C. Sabathia) and #3 (Fausto Carmona) pitchers in the Cy Young race scheduled to pitch in games 5 and 6.  They still managed to crack under the pressure and allowed the Red Sox to win the last three games and take the series.  Like Indians fans, Seattle fans put A LOT of pressure on their teams to break through and give their city a winner.  I really doubt a Wedge-led team will be able to handle the pressure.

Bad managerial decisions: offensively, Wedge is a “get some guys on and swing for the fences” manager. This strategy certainly doesn’t fit the talent on the current 25-man roster or the dimensions of Safeco Field.  There is little nuance in his game plan…don’t expect to see stolen bases, hit-and-runs or sacrifices.  Wedge’s handling of his pitching staff is a cause for concern as well.  Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee spent the early years of their career being bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, making it difficult for them to settle in at the major league level.  In his later years, a similar situation has occurred with lefty Aaron Laffey, who ended up missing the majority of this season with arm fatigue. Fausto Carmona started ’06 as a starter before moving to long relief, set-up, and eventually closer.  After his failure replacing Joe Borowski as closer, he was demoted to AAA and returned to the rotation.

You can chalk this up to sour grapes on the part of a disappointed Indian fan if you want.  Trust me, after several years of the “Grind,” you’ll be ready to run Wedgie out of town on a rail.

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