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The Quarter Pole

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Time to wax statistic:

The obvious weakness over the first quarter of the season has been run prevention, which includes both pitching and defense. With defense, all we really know is that, as a whole, the position players are not catching as many balls in play as they did last year. We can make educated guess as to the culprits, and based on the numbers of the two groundball pitchers on the staff, the infield seems to be the weaker of the two defensive areas. All the (qualified) pitchers in the rotation have been hurt by the defense, or lack thereof:

(FIP-ERA)

Cliff Lee: -0.42
Jake Westbrook: -1.10
Paul Byrd: -1.38
Jason Johnson: -1.92

Three of the five starters are dependant on defense, especially Westbrook and Johnson. So although the onus is on them to make better pitches, their style isn't going to change that much. Jason Johnson has bigger issues, such getting the ball down in the strike zone.

Solutions? A better defensive third baseman would make sense. Other than that, you'd be robbing Offense to pay Defense. Yeah, Eider Torres plays a slick second base, but could you live with him hitting below the Mendoza Line? Or, they could put a pitcher with better strikeout rates in the rotation.

The bullpen's been much better as of late, thanks in no large part to Rafael Betancourt and Fernando Cabrera coming back from the Disabled List, and the starters going deeper into games. Danny Graves has been banished to Buffalo, and Guillermo Mota has inherited his role as mopup man. It's a lot easier to cobble together a decent bullpen than to fashion a mediocre rotation in the middle of the season, and the organizational depth is there to help out if needed.

The offense as a whole has been excellent. Disappointing numbers from Jhonny Peralta have been balanced by unexpected production by Casey Blake and the two first basemen. The Indians lead the AL in runs, and play half their games in a pitcher's park. In other words, Peralta batting third isn't a big deal.

Going forward, the rotation and the bullpen have to stabilize, although there have been encouraging signs with both lately. With not a lot of positional depth, staying healthy will be important in order for the offense to keep clicking. Jeremy Sowers or Fausto Carmona may get a shot if Jason Johnson continues to struggle, but that's pretty much the only major move I see happening within the next month.