Cleveland Indians Still Hurting From Bad Luck

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The Indians need a turnaround from Fausto Carmona

Roberto Hernandez (or Fausto Carmona, as we was known during his better days) was inconsistent throughout his career but did manage to garner some Cy Young attention for his excellent 2007 season.  He also earned an all-star appearance in 2010.  The Indians got unlucky with Hernandez in a number of ways.  First, he never managed to replicate his 2007 performance.  This was partly due to a freak accident hip injury he suffered while running to cover first base early in 2008.  He actually began that year looking exactly like his 2007 self; in his first 8 games he managed a 2.39 ERA in 49 innings pitched, largely due to a 66.3% ground ball rate.  After his return from the injury, however, and through all of 2009, he pitched at replacement level.  He did have a bit of a bounce back year in 2010, however, and this is where another bit of bad luck comes in.  See, the Indians operate partially on the motto “29 and decline”.  Due to extensive research incorporated into building their “DiamondView” player projection and analysis program, one simple fact is evident:  most players peak at the age of 29 and begin a slow, gradual decline afterwards.  Now during 2010, Fausto Carmona had a 3.77 ERA and was believed to be pitching at the age of 26.  It was later learned, however, that his name was Roberto Hernandez and that he was actually pitching at the age of, you guessed it, 29 years old.  If the Indians had known that his bounce-back 2010 was actually the start of his decline, they would have had the option to take action and trade him at his peak.  If they’d done just that, they’d have pulled in some prospects in return for a player who had mostly options left on his contract, reaping future value that would have helped the more recent Indians teams.  As things unfolded, however, the Indians didn’t find out about his actual age until he was arrested for identity fraud prior to the 2012 season.  After serving a 3-week suspension, he pitched during the Tribe’s historically terrible August (during which they lost more games than any other month in Indians history), contributing to the failure with a 7.53 ERA.  The Indians allowed a fallen, out-of-shape 32 year-old Roberto Hernandez to walk in free agency at the end of the season, getting no future value from his once-spectacular talent.

The bad luck doesn’t stop there.  Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco are making the C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee trades look pretty good right now, but for a while they were considered phenomenal failures.  You can still make an argument that they didn’t reap as good of a return as they should have for two Cy Young Award-winners.  The failures of the two main pieces in those trades- Matt LaPorta and Jason Knapp, respectively- was also partly due to a lot of bad luck.

Matt LaPorta tore it up in the lower levels of the minor leagues, causing some scouts to dub him “the next Ryan Braun”.  He played passable outfield defense and clubbed homers left and right. Unfortunately, a series of ill-timed back and hip injuries obstructed his development, caused him to miss playing time, and lead to him tinkering with his swing to a point where he began to lose power began to produce weak ground balls.  He bounced back and forth between AAA and the majors for two years before the Tribe finally gave up on him in 2013.

Jason Knapp entered 2010 as number 64 on Baseball America’s top prospect list.  However, a shoulder injury caused him to miss all of 2011, and he lost major development time recovering.  After his second shoulder surgery in 2012, the Indians made the decision to release him.

It’s an obvious and unnecessary statement that it’s rare for everything to go exactly right in baseball.  But in a perfect world for the Indians, they’d have Matt LaPorta and Jason Knapp still playing well above-average baseball for the team, plus hefty prospect or draft pick returns for Hafner, Sizemore and Hernandez either with the team or in the upper minors.  Roster depth and the farm system would be even bigger strengths for the organization.  As it stands though, every single one of those opportunities had something go terribly wrong, almost entirely out of the organization’s control.  If all of these players had worked out, climbing out of the 2009-2012 rut would have been significantly easier.  As it stands, the organization has worked very hard (and done a very good job) over the past few years to get the Tribe in a position to contend.  But even if just LaPorta and Knapp had avoided injury, the Tribe would probably not have signed Nick Swisher, and would have had another top-of-the-rotation arm pitching during the 2013 playoff run.

The lesson to be learned is that the front office deserves a lot of respect for putting the team in the position it’s in right now.  As the saying goes, sometimes you have to “roll with the punches”, and the team has bounced back from quite a few rough ones.