I learned something from my post yesterday, from the way it not only didn't provoke much discussion, it actually seemed to chill discussion everywhere on the site. It just seemed to trigger the latent resignation that flows in our veins as Cleveland fans. Maybe I've should have known better, maybe I thought your intelligence would kick in, maybe I owe you an apology.
But people ... how could you fall for that?
Have you forgotten who and what this team really is?
The guys who went 96-66, the best record in baseball.
The guys who played through snow-outs, who played three home openers and won all three.
The guys who set the tone early by sweeping the Tigers in Detroit.
The guys with the best and deepest rotation, the most dominant 1-2 punch, the Cobra, the best big three, and the goddam Cy Young winner.
The guys who beat the best pitcher in the game five times in one season, when no other team had ever beat him three times.
The guys who stalled out in June and July but never collapsed, and the guys who charged back to dominate down the stretch.
The guys who took a surging Twins team, coming off a 9-3 run and threatening to get back in the race, and swept them both home and way, six wins over ten days , to end their season.
The guys who unceremoniously booted the Tigers out of the race with yet another sweep, sending them 7.5 games back when they could have been 1.5 games back. That's the photo at the top, the first game of that series, Casey Blake with the walkoff in the 11th.
The guys who delivered a vicious beatdown to the Yankees in the playoffs, chilling and silencing a Yankee Stadium crowd. The guys who – let's just put it out there – nearly sent the best team in the game home early.
(Purely as an aside, when you do an image search for Chris Antonetti, one of the first results to pop up is this, which I take as just further proof that people must really, really love being a part of the Indians organization.)
Yeah, that's right ... those guys. You love those guys, remember? And they're more or less awesome, remember?
Those guys are back. Those guys have gotten better.
Those guys are going to win this year, and this is why.
Pure talent. Seriously, did you really think the Tigers had more pure talent than the Indians? Sure, the Tigers had some injuries, but they had a bunch of fluke seasons, and all it got them was 88 wins. They had to import Miguel Cabrera just to try to close the gap.
Let me tell you about a difference in talent. On our club, we make Cliff Lee fight and practically grovel for the last spot in the rotation. On their club, they trade for "the Cliff Lee of the NL" and hand him the #3 starter job. When your #7 starter is about as good as their #3, that isn't just us having depth, it's them being in trouble.
People ... half our roster was born in the 80's. We aren't on the wrong side of 30, we're on the right side of 28. Our roster is younger, less injury prone, and full of guys who could take small or large steps forward. Garko or even Peralta could hit 30 home runs, and Sizemore could make a run at an MVP. Our catcher created 109 runs last season, theirs only 59 – and our guy is 29, while theirs is 36.
The Indians won 96 games last season, and our players as a group are on the rise. The Tigers won 88 games last season, and their players on the whole are in decline. MIguel Cabrera isn't enough to close that gap, and they traded most of their best young talent to get him. The Tigers may have a hair more raw talent than the Indians on their roster, but too much of that talent is old and breaking down.
Regression is a bitch ... for the other guys. It's the most clear-cut, powerful and undeniable force in baseball – stronger than the age curve and more reliable than platoon splits. The Tigers may seem poised to bounce back from a down year, but their 88 wins were propped up by a number of flukey career seasons, while our 96 wins by and large were not.
Just look at the BABIP for the two teams' regulars. The bottom of the list is Sheffield, who wasn't so much unlucky as he was playing hurt. Then there's Hafner, who definitely suffered some bad luck even if that wasn't his only problem. Then there's Inge, who won't be a factor, and Victor, who will. Check it out: Victor put up downballot-MVP type numbers despite hitting into some of the worst luck on either team. It would be hard to bet on him improving on 2007, but his luck probably will.
Now look at the top of the list – Ordoñez at .381, Granderson at .360, Polanco at .346, compared with their career marks of .314, .344 and .314. And not even listed there – Renteria at .375, against a career mark of .322. The snapback to reality on these guys is going to be enormous – PECOTA is mean-projecting a 56-run drop in production from Ordoñez alone – essentially negating the upgrade from Inge to Cabrera – to go with a 40-run drop for Granderson and a 30-run drop for Renteria.
In fairness, PECOTA predicts every player to drop after a good season, but this is an extreme case. Granderson production rate is not expected to fall off much – he will be 27 after all – but then again, Sizemore's high-looking .333 BABIP is actually below his career average, meaning he too was slightly unlucky, and Hafner also is a good bet to improve at least somewhat on 2007. As for the Tigers, their best bounceback candidate is a 39-year-old who's missed 150 games over the past two seasons.
So regression is a bitch for the TIgers, who won't score 900 runs this season, let alone 1000. But for the Indians, regression helps our lineup and work out about even in the rotation, where stellar seasons from Sabathia and Carmona were evenly matched by trainwrecks from Lee, Sowers and Westbrook.
And you know who else is due for some good luck with the balls in play? Joe Borowski.
Stellar depth. Another one I can't believe you fell for. How many teams have Josh Barfield as their 4th middle infielder, or Ben Francisco as their 6th outfielder, or Andy Marte as a backup third baseman, or Jeremy Sowers as their 7th starter, or Tom Mastny as their 9th reliever? I'll tell you how many, none. Every one of those guys would be playing in many other teams' lineups, rotations and bullpens. It's totally ridiculous, and it's a great advantage, and it will absolutely matter this year, as it matters every year for almost every team.
Stellar youth. Of course young players are inconsistent, but they improve more often than they decline. Our youngest and least experienced key players will start at 2B and RF this season. Any risk there is strongly mitigated by the fact that for both players, much of their value is in their exceptional defense, which is far more predictable. And besides, the bar is incredibly low for each – the chance that we'll get less production out of those two positions in 2008 than we did in 2007 is practically nil.
Babied arms. We have the best medical staff in the game, and they know how to protect pitchers. Case in point: Westbrook has never been more effective than in the second half last season, and this Spring he looked even better. Carmona is going to be fine, he breezed economically through almost every start last year, hardly ever pitching under stress. C.C. may show a little wear, but it won't break us. And as for the other guys, who cares? Our guys break down less than on any other team, and besides, we've got that stellar depth, too.
Wacky bullpens – not a problem. You don't ever really know about bullpens. Some years they collapse, some years they're stellar. Here's the thing though ... last year, our bullpen collapsed and was stellar. Just look at the body count: Foulke, Oldberto, Matt Miler, J.D., Fernando – and most of the flame-outs were happening while Sowers, Lee and Westbrook were struggling to get into the 4th inning.
That's enough to break most teams' bullpens, which in turn is enough to break most teams – but not the Indians. They planned ahead, stocked up. Spent most of the decade acquiring and developing arms, then picked up four veterans in the offseason – and they took good care of Rafael Betancourt. That gave them a full boat of experienced guys in Cleveland, plus 4-5 young guys on the brink in Buffalo – plus Jensen Lewis in Akron.
So despite all the flame-outs, the Indians finished with the 6th best bullpen ERA in the majors – not only didn't the bullpen sink the Indians, it was actually a strength. The Indians keep 21 pitchers on the 40-man roster for just 12 big-league jobs, and this is the reason why.
And now they've done it again, picking up Kobayashi, Julio, and Breslow to replace Oldberto, Miller and Fultz. And this year, we've got Perez and Lewis taking the place of two multi-year head-scratchers. And young'uns Mastny, Mujica, Santos and Stevens in Buffalo. And who's to say we won't have another surprise breakout like Lewis' last year – Scott Lewis? J.D. Martin? Tony Sipp? Adam Mller? It's not that any one of these guys is likely to contribute, but the Indians have a ton of pitchers in various states of development and repair, and they basically never trade any. At some point, it becomes more likely than not that one or more will contribute, even from the rehab bin.
The Indians start off with a strong bullpen, full of guys with strong track records and hard-to-hit stuff, and it's considerably more stocked than Detroit's . But more than that, the Indians are very well prepared for the inevitable struggles, injuries and flame-outs, and the Tigers are not prepared at all. Wacky bullpens can sink almost any team, but they'll have a lot of trouble sinking these Indians.
Good timing. Wedge finally figured out how to beat Pythagoras last season, so we're all good now.
That guy, finally. It's an even-numbered year, and that can only mean one thing: Miller Time.
I don't know if it'll be in the bullpen or the rotation, but Atom
Miller will be healthy this year, and that means a bunch of big-league
hitters are going to be striking out.
Lack of Vizquel, Thome, Manny, Millwood, and soon Sabathia, too. It may be strange to say that losing Sabathia is part of why we'll win, but it is. This team, as much or as any team in professional sports, is run by grownups. They respect players, and their affection is palpable, but when it comes to making decisions, they leave their sentimentality at the door. They don't kid themselves – they know you can find great insights in statistical analysis, but they know it doesn't have all the answers. They're rigorous. They're pros. They've avoided the Big Mistake that sinks the season – or multiple seasons. And they've never, ever made decisions based on trying to save face with the fans.
They've built a great team with that approach, and I'll tell you just one more thing about them ...
Grit. Dammit, I'm telling you these guys got a lot of grit. Victor's got grit. Shoppach is brimming with grit. Sizemore will be diving in the outfield when he's 50. Stomp Lewis has to take medication just to keep his grit under control. Borowski has nothing but grit, but he'd never complain about that, because he's so damned gritty. Betancourt, he's got all that and a bag of grit.
And our much-maligned left field platoon, Dellucci and Michaels, those guys've got more grit than most entire rosters. You people should be worshipping at their gritty, clutchy, diving, ass-slapping feet.
And what I'm trying to tell you here, and I don't even know if it's right or natural or legal, but ... Diamondview's got grit. I don't know how they did it, but they got grit into the Diamondview somehow, and now it's spitting out chemistry and intangibles and That Elusive It Factor along with the usual performance projections and market undervaluations. We've never seen anything like it, but I'm telling you ... Diamondview's got grit.
And by the way ... Scott Elarton? Tom Mastny? Ben Francisco? That's right, even our depth has grit, which means that even our grit has depth. If somebody gritty were to go down – and they often do, because that comes with playing the game the right way, you know – we've got someone else ready to step in and play just as gritty – someone gritty enough to start on most teams. It's totally out of control. It's enough to make Darin Erstad retire and Joe Morgan's head explode.
So let me sum it up for you. We've got the talent, the timing, the grit, the smarts, the chemistry and the momentum. We've got everything worth having on a ballclub, and the only question to be settled is whether we're the best team in the game or merely the best in our division.