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Grady Sizemore Injured: Why the Cleveland Indians Need Shelley Duncan to Shine

With Grady Sizemore likely to miss Opening Day with a back injury, the Cleveland Indians will likely need to have Shelley Duncan produce in his absence.

Even the most optimistic Sizemore supporters like me figured that he would manage to make it to Spring Training before getting hurt. Somehow, that’s not the case.

While I still have faith that Grady will have some value this year, we’ve already reached the point in the season where the Tribe will need to find someone to replace Sizemore in the lineup.

Considering how I think Michael Brantley should get a shot in center field and could have a breakout year, the Indians will probably need to find a replacement in left field for at least part of the season.

I’d like to see Shelley Duncan get the first shot at filling that role.

2011 saw Duncan establish himself as a legitimate major league hitter. He had a strong .260/.324/.484 slash line, .808 OPS (123 OPS+), .346 wOBA (118 wRC+), 11 HR and 47 RBI in 247 PA. Despite the average OBP, he showed enough power to make himself a well above-average hitter.

There’s a good chance that Duncan will continue to improve in 2012. Check out how Bill James projects him for 2012:

.249/.335/.465 slash line, .344 wOBA, 13 HR, 45 RBI in 270 PA

Not a bad line at all. Plus, since that projection is only for a part-time role (270 PA would be roughly 64 full games), Duncan would be even better if these projections were stretched out for a full season, hitting 31 home runs and driving in 108 runs.

Now, the trade off with Duncan is that he’s not a great defender or baserunner. Assuming he’s slightly below average defensively and an average baserunner (assumptions that are backed up by the numbers on his Fangraphs page), we can use the Simple WAR calculator to get Duncan’s projected WAR to be around 1.9.

A 1.9 WAR isn’t going to be getting Duncan into the Hall of Fame or an All-Star game, but it is a perfectly good number for a regular player. Also considering the value Sizemore’s held over the past two years (-0.1 fWAR in 104 games), Duncan could end up being an upgrade.

There’s still a chance that Sizemore gets healthy and figures it out in 2012. But the key thing to remember is even though Shelley Duncan isn’t as big of a name as Grady Sizemore, he very well could be more use in helping the Indians win.

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Shin-Soo Choo Breaks Thumb: 5 Possible Fill-Ins the Cleveland Indians Can Use

While there has been no official word from the team, Jordan Bastian of reports that Shin-Soo Choo broke his thumb in the fourth inning of last night’s IndiansGiants game. While no timetable has been released, this isn’t the sort of injury Choo will be able to shake off in a few games.

With the Tribe already reeling on offense, the hope that Shin-Soo Choo would regain his elite 2008-2010 form was one of the few things keeping Indians fans off the ledge.

Without him for a significant stretch of time, who could fill in the hole in right field? They’ll not only need to replace his offense, but his elite defense as well.

It’s unlikely the Indians will make a trade to fill this hole, so let’s take a look at the five replacements who  could play in right field while Shin-Soo Choo is injured. 

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MLB: Which 5 Managers Are Starting to Feel the Heat in the Early Going?

It may still be really early in the season, but as the weather heats up, so does the proverbial seat that each manager sits on.

A fast start can do a lot to assuage the demands of the fans, whereas a slow start can make the calls come louder and more bloodthirsty.

Again, I know that it’s early. I know that nobody’s getting fired anytime soon. However, what we can do right now is figure out who should start feeling uncomfortable if they can’t turn things around soon. 

I’ve tried to leave first-year managers off this list, since they should get a slightly longer leash to establish themselves.

Down the road, they may be in trouble. For today, most of them are safe. 

Did I say I know it’s early? This is all just speculation.

I realise I’ll catch flack for suggesting that people could be fired, just half a month into the season.

However, once again, I’m just looking ahead and predicting. That’s it. It might not come to pass. Who knows?

For now, let’s just enjoy the ride. 

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Cleveland Indians: Grady Sizemore’s Well on His Way Down the Comeback Trail

Remember when Grady Sizemore was one of the perennial elite players in all of baseball? Remember when he was posting these stat lines?

2005 (age 22): .289 BA, .348 OBP, .484 SLG, 123 OPS+, 22 HR, 22 SB, 5.9 WAR (T-8th in MLB, 3rd in AL)

2006 (age 23): .290 BA, .375 OBP, .533 SLG, 133 OPS+, 28 HR, 22 SB, 7.3 WAR (3rd in MLB, 1st in AL)

2007 (age 24): .277 BA, .390 OBP, .462 SLG, 123 OPS+, 24 HR, 33 SB, 6.1 WAR (T-9th in MLB, 4th in AL)

2008 (age 25): .268 BA, .374 OBP, .502 SLG, 133 OPS+, 33 HR, 38 SB, 5.1 WAR (T-20th in MLB, T-10th in AL)

I go to the trouble of writing out these stat lines because, over the last offseason, I lost sight of how great Grady was. I spent plenty of time thinking about how Grady’s time had probably passed. How quickly things change.

We were all spoiled by how great Sizemore was at such a young age. At the time, it seemed like he would lead the Tribe for years to come.

Then came the injuries. 2009 and 2010 knocked Grady off the pedestal he was on and brought him back down to Earth.

Now, in 2011, Grady’s nearly ready to rejoin the big league club. He’s currently at Akron on a rehab assignment and I was able to witness him play on Saturday.

Let me tell you, I think Grady’s back.

When I say back, I don’t necessarily mean back to his elite 2005-08 form. What I mean is that I think he can be an effective major league player again. If he can ascend back up to the ranks of the elite, all the better. But even just an average Grady Sizemore will help the Indians immensely.

In Akron on Saturday, Grady displayed the far-ranging skills necessary to play baseball at the highest levels. He beat out a grounder to 1st base to drive in a key run. He seemed like he got up to full speed without any trouble.

Later on in the 9th inning, Grady hit a shot deep into the left-center corridor for a solid double. When the sound of the bat hitting the ball sounds that good, you know you’ve witnessed something special. This wasn’t some former major league star trying to figure things out; this was Grady Sizemore showing everyone in attendance he’s ready to play.

Grady made all of the plays necessary in center field and looked ready to go. He’ll be ready to go soon enough, replacing Austin Kearns/Travis Buck/Shelley Duncan (thank goodness) in the lineup. The Tribe’s off to a fast start as it is; can you imagine the boost that a healthy Sizemore could bring to that lineup?

I don’t want to jinx it, but I like what I’ve seen from the Indians and I like what I’ve seen from Grady Sizemore. Tribe fans everywhere: I want you to get excited.

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MLB Opening Day 2011: 10 Things We Learned About the Cleveland Indians

The Indians honored the memory of Bob Feller before their Opening Day game today.

If only they had honored it with their play as well.

It was a rough game for Tribe fans, as the Indians fell to the White Sox 15-10 on a frigid Opening Day. I was afraid for a while that I might actually get frostbite on my toes. The Indians came out cold, allowing 14 runs to the White Sox in the first four innings. Despite the late comeback, today’s game still counts as a loss in the standings and wasn’t the beginning any Tribe fans were hoping for. We watched the White Sox get encouraging signs (Buehrle’s effective work, Dunn fitting right in) while we watched our team get destroyed.

It may be just the first game, but there was plenty to draw from the game today. Here are 10 things we learned about the Indians today on Opening Day 2011.

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MLB Trade Speculation: 12 Players To Help the 2011 Cleveland Indians Contend

Let’s take a trip through the looking glass and leave our cynicism behind.

Let’s pretend for a second that the Cleveland Indians are the San Diego Padres of 2010, contending in late July but starting to show signs of fading. What this miracle team needs is some new blood injected via trade.

It’s almost impossible to predict what teams will be struggling (thus wanting to move stars) this early in the spring, but it’s also a stretch to think the Tribe will be contending this year. So let’s use our imagination on both fronts and look at 12 players that could help a surprise Indians team make it to the playoffs and maybe even win the World Series. The year is still young; we can all have our wild dreams.

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MLB Preview 2011: 5 Under-24 Minor Leaguers Who Can Help the Indians This Year

For the past three years, Indians fans have been told over and over again that the team was rebuilding for the future. We said goodbye to CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Casey Blake, Jhonny Peralta and many others, all for players two or three years away from the big leagues.

I don’t need to say that the past three years have been rough for Tribe fans. We all know that.

The good news is that these young prospects are finally ready to contribute at the big league level. We’ve seen some of them already (Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley) make it to the majors. While they’ve had varying levels of success, their futures, at least for now, look bright.

The even more exciting part for Indians fans everywhere is the rest of the crop of young players on their way up. There is plenty of talent pushing through the farm system ready to burst onto the scene. Five of these players are under 24 and poised to contribute to the big league club in a big way this year.

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MLB Preview 2011: Ranking the AL Central’s Starting Rotations

A good starting rotation can cure many ills, and with the AL Central up for grabs like it normally is, whoever assembles the strongest rotation could easily take the division come September. There is some real pitching talent in the division, but we’ve also lost three of the last four AL Cy Young Award winners (CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke).

At the end of the year, whichever rotation fares best will probably get a chance to strut their stuff in the postseason. With that, let’s take a look at how the AL Central’s rotations stand up to each other.

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MLB Spring Training: Cleveland Indians Make Same Mistake With Orlando Cabrera

The official web site of the Cleveland Indians has Orlando Cabrera listed as the starting second baseman for the club. This confirms what has been suspected since the signing was announced last week.

For the most part, reaction to the signing has been positive. All I’m hearing about is how great a player Cabrera is and how he’s a big addition to the 2011 team. Did you know he’s been to the playoffs six of the last seven years? I’ve heard about it ad infinitum.

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I really don’t see the purpose of this signing. All I see is the Indians once again refusing to just embrace the youth movement they’re trying to sell to the public. How are we supposed to believe in it when even the people in charge don’t?

Orlando Cabrera has never been a great hitter. In his 14 season career, the 36-year-old has only had an OPS+ above 100 (or above average) once, way back in 2003. Last year’s OPS+ of 78 hardly inspires confidence that Cabrera will be an average hitter in 2011.

The official Indians press release touts the fact that Cabrera is a “two-time Rawlings Gold winner.” The Gold Gloves sound great, but Cabrera’s defense has declined significantly in the past two years. His dWAR (Wins Above Replacement strictly from defense) was -2.9 in 2009 and 2010.

He may have won Gold Gloves in 2001 and 2007, but the 2011 version of Orlando Cabrera isn’t the fielder he used to be. Moving to second base isn’t going to fix everything.

The real problem with the Cabrera signing is his age. Like the Russell Branyan signing, which took playing time away from Matt LaPorta last year, the Indians keep telling us how excited they are about their young prospects while they sign veterans to play over them.

Maybe the Cabrera signing would make more sense if he were coming off of a great 2010 campaign. The fact is, he isn’t.

In the second half last year, Cabrera had a .348 OBP and a .763 OPS. Too bad in the first half he only had a .283 OBP and a .612 OPS. On the year, he was only worth 0.4 WAR, not very impressive at all.

In fact, in the past two seasons, Cabrera’s WAR has been a nice, round 0.0. Even Jayson Nix, who I don’t think has any real future with the Indians, has a 1.0 WAR in the past two seasons.

Orlando Cabrera has literally only been playing at the level of a AAA call-up in the past two years. With that being the case, what’s so wrong with just playing Jason Kipnis? He’d probably play at the same level. At the very least, the Indians should give Jayson Nix another chance to prove himself instead of bringing in Cabrera.

I know that the contract is only $1 million for one year; I know that Orlando Cabrera is great in the clubhouse and I know that he’s got great playoff pedigree, but none of that really matters. If the Indians were one piece from competing, maybe this would make sense. If this were five years ago, this signing would make sense.

As it is, the team that is constantly complaining about lack of money is just wasting it here.

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Cleveland Indians: Why Jason Kipnis Will Be a Breakout Star in 2011

With all of the attention put on the search for a third baseman, the Cleveland Indians might have just as much of a problem at second base this year.

Maybe the hole that is second base is being forgotten because some of the candidates for the third base job (Jayson Nix, Luis Valbuena) are originally second basemen. This compounds the problem, though. Nix and Valbuena probably should not be starters at either position.

The only other candidate currently officially in the mix is Jason Donald. While he is a good player with a 94 OPS+ and 0.8 wins above replacement in 88 games last year, the Indians don’t seem to be married to starting him.

Instead of hoping that one of these three players suddenly establishes themselves, the Indians should see what Jason Kipnis can do with the job.

Though young, Jason Kipnis has all of the tools needed to make the transition to major league starter. He hasn’t had a batting average below .300, an on-base percentage below .385, a slugging percentage below .459 or an OPS below .847 at any minor league level.

What makes Kipnis’ performance even more impressive is that he’s done it while learning a new position. In college at Arizona State, Kipnis played center field. Transitioning from outfield to infield is difficult to say the least, and Kipnis has done very well at it.

Not only has Kipnis’ offense not suffered in the slightest during his defensive transition, he also looks like a second baseman. I watched him play numerous games at Akron this year, and I would have never guessed that he was a converted outfielder.

Admittedly, I am a defensive purist who would rather see a 2-1 game than an 11-10 one. I love watching great defense, and that’s one of the things that stood out to me about Kipnis. He fields his position well and does a good job turning the double play. Any flaws in his defense are minimal. With the level Kipnis plays at offensively, any minimal defensive flaws don’t matter enough to keep him down.

When Kipnis was called up to the Columbus Clippers for the AAA International League playoffs, he took his game to another level. In seven games, Kipnis had a 1.199 OPS and hit for the cycle during the series’ clincher.

Clearly, Jason Kipnis does not shrink away from pressure. There seems to be no reason that he wouldn’t embrace the challenge of being the Indians’ everyday second baseman and run with it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that he will get the chance out of the gate this year.

Cleveland Indians farm director Ross Atkins says that “we’ve found there’s just a lot less pressure on a young player when they start in the minors rather than have them on the Opening Day roster.”

I don’t care that he goes on to say that Jason Kipnis could be an exception to that rule; that rule is ridiculous. These players are being paid to play baseball, with the ultimate goal of making the big league club. Making the Opening Day roster should be a reward for hard work.

Maybe Atkins and the Tribe are trying to protect prospects debuting in the major league. When a young prospect struggles out of the gate, he can lose his job and be sent back to AAA. This creates immense pressure on prospects to prove themselves immediately.

Things rarely go well right out of the gate for prospects. Basically from the start, they are playing scared. Prospects press because of the fear of losing their jobs.

My point is if a team would just commit to the prospect from the start, he would be fine. Tell him that he is the starter and they are sticking with him, and then back it up. This eliminates most of the pressure problem.

This rule that young players should start the season in the minors, and then get called up doesn’t make sense. Prospects don’t become miraculously ready after a month in the minors; if they’re ready in May, then they’re ready a month earlier on Opening Day.

Hopefully, the Indians aren’t blinded by their arbitrary rules and see that Jason Kipnis is the best option they have at second base in 2011. Why delay the future for players who probably won’t be around for much longer? Let’s see what Kipnis has to offer the Tribe, now and in the future.

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