PLAYER TO WATCH
This is an article from the April 5, 2010 issue
It's easy to forget how good Fausto Carmona was in 2007. The Indians' rotation also included the AL Cy Young winner for that season, CC Sabathia, and the next, Cliff Lee. But in '07 Carmona had a better ERA, allowed fewer hits per nine innings and gave up fewer home runs than either of those more heralded starters. Hitters simply could not master Carmona's hard, sinking fastball. If an official count had been kept, it's a fair guess that he broke as many bats as any other pitcher in the league.
Then things changed. Carmona's ERA jumped from 3.06 in 2007 to 5.44 the next season, his WHIP went from 1.21 to 1.62. Last year the bottom fell out: Carmona was 5--12 with a 6.32 ERA, spending two months in the minors at midseason.
The prevailing theory is that teams started laying off the sinking fastball; indeed, Carmona walked more hitters than he struck out over the last two seasons. But the Indians saw something else: a pitcher who lost his confidence and command of that fastball. This spring Carmona worked with veteran catcher Mike Redmond on slowing his pace, and some confidence seemed to return. For what it's worth, in his first 20 innings this spring, he had a 0.45 ERA.
In a year that isn't expected to count for much in Cleveland, a strong showing by Carmona—who is signed through 2011 and is the only one of the three standout pitchers from '07 left—might be the highlight of the season.
Home runs by Shin-Soo Choo last season, the lowest total by an Indians team leader since 1983 (when Gorman Thomas and Andre Thornton hit 17). But even though Cleveland lacked an elite slugger, it had 10 players who hit at least 10 home runs—most in the majors.
The Indians' projected rotation has just one pitcher, Justin Masterson, with an above-average strikeout rate during his career. Jake Westbrook doesn't miss bats, Fausto Carmona is much the same, and few of the young lefthanders in line for the other spots are strikeout pitchers. Such hurlers put a premium on good defense, which is why Cleveland should commit to Michael Brantley in leftfield and Matt LaPorta at first base, and relegate free-agent signing Russell Branyan to bench duty. Brantley has excellent speed—he was 46 for 51 stealing bases at Triple A last year—and has mostly been a centerfielder in the minors. Having him alongside Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo would give the Indians' ball-in-play rotation the best chance of success. Brantley's OBP and steals should make him about as productive as Branyan.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Manny Acta
1ST SEASON WITH INDIANS