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If the player development revolution and details revealed in The MVP Machine has taught us anything it’s this: believe players when they say they’ve revamped their swing.
Oscar Mercado did just that during the offseason, and the Indians took notice. It took him a bit longer than some would have liked to get his shot in the majors, but from his debut on May 14 against the Chicago White Sox onward, he has surpassed expectations. He's here to stay.
Projection systems, for one, did not see coming the 116 wRC+ hitter that Mercado has been through his first 26 games. Both ZiPS and Steamer projected him to be basically the same hitter — a below-average 76 wRC+ bat with no power and a stolen base here and there.
With three home runs to his name already, Mercado is on the verge of passing the four projected dingers ZiPS and Steamer had for him in 65 and 51 games, respectively.
It’s too early to say if this production for Mercado will last. He’s slashing a respectable .306/.358/.459, which beats out most of his minor league seasons, but pales in comparison to his post-swing revamp in Triple-A this season where he slashed .294/.396/.496 for the Columbus Clippers.
Right now, through 108 plate appearances, the only statistics that have stabilized for the young rookie are his swing rate and contact rate. Strikeout rate (150 PA stabilization point), walk rate (200 PA), home run rate (300 PA) and his slash line (500 PA) are still a ways off. But so far so good on pretty much all of them.
Mercado ranks 115th in contact rate at 78.6%, which generally requires you to hit a lot of home runs to succeed with consistency. Carlos Santana sits at 79.1% on the season, for example, and Cody Bellinger is a shade below Mercado at 78.3%. It’s not a world-breaking contact rate, but it’s not terrible, either.
Putting Mercado up against his rookie counterparts paints a more positive picture, as he ranks 10th among youngsters with at least 100 PA in contact rate.
Where Mercado’s swing has struggled the most season has been making contact out of the zone. He’s done so just 59.2% of the time (24th among rookies with at least 100 PA), but he’s swinging the second most at 80.3%. One symptom of that is that opposing pitchers aren’t worried about challenging him early on. As such, he has the eighth-lowest first strike rate at 59.3% among that same group of rookies.
With his strikeout rate a mere 42 PA from stabilizing, it sits at 17.6% — fourth best among rookies, and 84th overall.
Unlike other Indians players who shall be named here, there is no obvious hole in Mercado’s plate approach. He’s made contact just about everywhere, if only he could stop chasing those juicy pitches half a foot off the plate.
While in Triple-A this season, Mercado pulled the ball exactly half the time, yet in the majors that has dipped to 39.5% as he punches more balls straight up the center for doubles. He’s also hit the ball hard 44.4% of the time, according to FanGraphs — 63rd in the majors, and eighth among rookies.
Overall, everything about Mercado’s game is right on track for what you would expect out of a player with his profile allegedly making a huge upgrade to his swing over the offseason. Even his questionably high BABIP at .355 doesn’t seem too far off, given Mercado’s speed and apparent love of spraying the ball all over the field.
Can he win Rookie of the Year? Probably not, no matter how much Francisco Lindor wants him to avenge the robbery of 2015. But he can be a solid outfield piece for the Indians now and into the future, which is more than they could have hoped for.
Akron struggled on both sides of the field while losing a double header to Portland on Sunday.
Alexis Pantoja was the lone RubberDucks to have a multi-hit game in game one, going 2-3. Wilson Garcia went 1-2 with a double and a walk and Mitch Longo walked and was hit by a pitch.
Tanner Tully gave up three runs in 4.1 innings in defeat. Rob Kaminsky added a pair of scoreless innings of relief.
In game two, Connor Marabell paved the way offensively, going 2-3 with a home run and a double. Wilson Garcia also homered.
Jake Paulson struggled, allowing four runs in 3.0 innings. Matt Whitehouse allowed another two runs in 2.0 innings. Kyle Nelson and Robert Broom were excellent out of the pen, tossing two perfect scoreless innings combined.
Lynchburg Hillcats 5, Wilmington Blue Rocks 6 (F/10)
Lynchburg rallied to score three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game, but they couldn’t keep their momentum, losing in extra innings.
Trenton Brooks and Connor Smith both went 2-4 while Mike Rivera and Jonathan Laureano both went 1-3 with a walk to lead the Hillcats offensively. Gavin Collins also went 1-1 with a pinch hit two-run double in the ninth inning.
Starting pitcher Matt Solter was decent, allowing four runs (three earned) in 5.2 innings to just miss a quality start.
Just like Lynchburg, Lake County rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to tie the game, but also just like Lynchburg, the bullpen allowed a run immediately afterwords to lose.
Henry Pujols went 2-3 with a triple while Jose Fermin went 3-4 with two stolen bases to lead the Captains offensively.
Juan Mota allowed three runs on three hits while striking out three and walking one in 5.0 innings. Randy Valladares added two shutout frames of relief while Skylar Arias ran into trouble, allowing the TinCaps to walk it off with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Mahoning Valley Scrappers 9, West Virginia Black Bears 7
It was home run derby Sunday in the Mahoning Valley home opener.
George Valera hit a home run for the second game in a row while top prospects Bryan Rocchio and Raynel Delgado also homered for the Scrappers.
Rocchio and Delgado both went 2-4 while Valera went 1-4. Jonathan Englemann went 1-3 with a home run and a walk, while Johnathan Rodriguez went 2-4 with a double. Bryan Lavistada also went 1-3 with a three-run double and a walk.
Starting pitcher Matt Turner was rock solid, allowing two runs in 5.0 innings on four hits while striking out six and walking none.
Jerson Ramirez was the only reliever to not get knocked around, tossing 1.1 scoreless innings with a pair of strikeouts to earn the save.
Wow, what a rush. The road trip started off with a bang with a solid sweep of the Detroit Tigers. The road trip continues down into Texas as the Indians begin a four-game set with the Texas Rangers, the best team the Indians will play until the All-Star break.
Team in a box
At 38-33, the Rangers are exactly as good as they should be, according to their Pythagorean record. And they would be in first in their division if it weren’t for some other team from a different part of Texas.
Monday, June 17 8:05 p.m. ET: RHP Lance Lynn (v. Mike Clevinger)
Lance Lynn has been pitching better than his ERA (4.40) would indicate. His FIP (3.06) would seem to indicate that he’s run into a bit of bad luck this year. Overall, across 86.0 innings, Lynn has allowed 42 earned runs while walking 24 and striking out 93 (ERA+ 113). On the other hand, he’s thrown more wild pitches (9) this season than he has in any other season in his career. He’s got a good fastball (95 mph) that’ll get hitters to swing and miss frequently, and he pairs it with a great sinker (93 mph) that can generate both ground balls and whiffs. He rounds out the arsenal with a cutter (89 mph) that usually results in a fly ball or a whiff and a curve (81 mph) that is a big fly ball pitch. His most recent start came on June 12 against the Boston Red Sox; in that game, Lynn went 6.0 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 6 hits while walking 1 and striking out 8.
Tuesday, June 18 8:05 p.m. ET: RHP Adrian Sampson (v. Zach Plesac)
After pitching in just 23.0 major league innings last year, Adrian Sampson is looking to stick with the Rangers in 2019. And it’s looking like he’s going to do it. Across 72.2 innings so far this year, Sampson has allowed 34 earned runs while walking 15 and striking out 58 (ERA+ 118). He relies mainly on his fastball (93 mph), but he’ll toss in a slider (84 mph) or a change (88 mph), both of which generate a decent amount of fly balls. His most recent start came on June 13 against the Red Sox; in that game, Sampson went 5.0 innings and allowed 6 earned runs on 7 hits while walking 1 and striking out 5.
Wednesday, June 19 8:05 p.m. ET: TBD (v. Adam Plutko)
MLB isn’t sure who will get this game for the Rangers, but FanGraphs believes it to be rookie Joe Palumbo. This would normally be Drew Smyly’s spot in the rotation, but he’s pitched so poorly this season that he’s lost his rotation spot. Palumbo, age 24, was drafted in the 30th round of the 2013 draft by the Rangers, shooting through their system with ease. He’s got a good fastball (94 mph) that can get a lot of swings and misses. He pairs it with a curve (78 mph) and a change (86 mph). Palumbo has only made one start this season back on June 8 against the Oakland Athletics; in that game, he went 4.0 innings and allowed 4 earned runs on 6 hits while walking none and striking out 4.
Thursday, June 20 2:05 p.m. ET: LHP Mike Minor (v. Shane Bieber)
Mike Minor is having a fantastic year; if he keeps it up, he’s easily on track for the best season of his career. Across 95.2 innings so far in 2019, Minor has allowed just 28 earned runs while walking 32 and striking out 99 (ERA+ 188). He’s been going to his fastball (93 mph) a lot this year, using it to get hitters to swing and miss frequently. He’ll also throw in a change (87 mph), a slider (87 mph), and a curve (81 mph) that can generate a decent amount of ground balls. His most recent start came on June 15 against the Cincinnati Reds; in that game, Minor went 6.1 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 4 hits while walking 4 and striking out 6.
OF Joey Gallo: Joey Gallo has been one of the best hitters for the Rangers this year. Sure, he’s striking out an unsightly 35.5% of the time, but his walks have also skyrocketed up to 19.6%. Add that in with a BABIP over 100 points above his career average, and you’re looking at a hitter who’s playing with borrowed time. It’ll all come crashing down at some point, but right now, he’s producing. Across 214 plate appearances, Gallo is slashing .276/.421/.653 (wRC+ 169). His 17 home runs are tops on his team, so he is really embodying a “three true outcomes” type player.
LF/DH Hunter Pence: Raise your hand if you had Hunter Pence as being a viable major league player this season. For those of you raising your hand, thank you for identifying yourselves as liars. Hunter Pence has been terrible for the past couple of seasons, the worst of which was last year when he only played in 97 games and ended the year with a wRC+ of 59. At age 36, it didn’t look like he was coming back to relevance. Well, here we are. Across 215 plate appearances this year, Pence is slashing .294/.353/.608 (wRC+ 143). He’s still striking out more than 20% of the time, but his walks have ticked back up around his career average (7.9% v. 7.4% career) as has his BABIP (.313 v. .318 career). He’s got 15 homers, good for second on his team. I’m hesitant to believe that this is all real (his slugging is more than 150 points better than his career mark, at age 36), but like Joey Gallo, it’s working right now.
LF/DH Shin-Soo Choo: LGFT Shin-Soo Choo got paid in 2014 by the Rangers to the tune of $130 million that will take him through the 2020 season. And the Rangers have got their money’s worth since Choo has continued to be an above-average to great hitter every year of this contract. 2019 is no exception. In 291 plate appearances, Choo is slashing .284/.385/.512 (wRC+ 132). He’s still striking out a lot (25.4%), but he’s managing to produce with a reasonable BABIP (.360 v. .338 career). Of the three hitters highlighted here, Choo would be the one I’d bet will still be producing by the end of the year.
Well that’s more like it. Trevor Bauer was fantastic, throwing a complete game shutout. Oscar Mercado had four RBIs and the good guys racked up 14 hits. The win improves the Tribe to 37-33 on the season.
I’m not so sure a big bounceback is coming, but I’m certainly cheering for it. From Mandy Bell:
The Indians second baseman has struggled offensively all season, hitting .207 with a .556 OPS and just two homers in his first 49 games entering Sunday’s 8-0 victory over the Tigers. But in his final at-bat on Saturday, a swinging strikeout against Joe Jimenez, he found an answer that he’s been looking for.
“I found something with my hands,” Kipnis said. “So, I went to bed last night with at least some hope for today.”
The results were immediate. The left-handed hitter served a double to the opposite field in the first inning, plating Carlos Santana to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. In his next at-bat, he launched a two-run homer, his third of the season, to right-center. He later picked up a single in the eighth, logging his first three-hit game of the season, which is the most in a game since he recorded four on Aug. 26 of last season.
Trevor Bauer shutout the Detroit Tigers while every spot in the lineup pitched in for a total of eight runs, all leading to a series sweep for the Cleveland Indians.
Bauer needed 117 pitches in order to complete the shutout, but it’s the first of his major league career. And besides, 117 pitches for Bauer converts to about 90 pitches for any other starter.
Eight Tigers fell by strikeout this afternoon, but an efficiency unusual for this season guided Bauer’s day. He didn’t walk a single batter, which is a welcome divergence from his 4.08 BB/9 mark on the season. For much of the game the strikeout didn’t factor in much, either. Rather than blowing people away, Bauer induced weak contact for much of the game, as evidence by his 11 ground ball outs and eight fly outs. Only four of the Tigers who managed to put a ball into play earned a hit.
Meanwhile, Oscar Mercado and Jason Kipnis starred for the offense this afternoon. Kipnis did most of his damage early. In the top of the first he knocked a double to left that scored Carlos Santana. In the third, he took a slider in the bottom half of the zone over the wall in left for a two-run job. He added his third and final hit in the top of the eighth. While this one didn’t lead to or create any runs, there’s still reason for us to celebrate it: today marks the first three-hit game for Kipnis this year.
Mercado singled in Lindor in the top of the third, then followed that up in the fourth inning by scoring Tyler Naquin and Roberto Pérez on another single. He drove in a fourth run on a double in the top of the sixth, and managed to reach base for a fourth time by walking in the eighth.
While these were the most noteworthy performances of the day, they weren’t the only ones worth discussing. Jake Bauers kept his bat hot with two hits and a walk, while Pérez did the same. In fact, every Indians’ starter reached base today, and the only one that did so without earning a hit was Leonys Martin. He came around to score, though he did it in a much more conventional way than his straight-steal of home last night.
And so another weekend of Indians baseball comes to a close. I find it kind of bemusing that the team decided to become entertaining at the exact moment I mentally distanced myself from their performance. They’ve won eight of their last eleven, including games against the Twins and Yankees in that stretch. Have the Indians finally turned a corner? Is the cycle-slapping Jake Bauers the one we can expect to watch for the rest of the summer? Will today’s performance convince the front office that Kipnis deserves another 100 at-bats at the Major League level?
Only time will tell. I’m just glad that, right now, this team is a hell of a lot of fun to watch again.
Bit, you can Tid my Tribe.
José Ramírez obliterated a baseball in the eighth inning with two runners on that very, very nearly became a three-run home run. I desperately wanted it to stay fair because any amount of confidence on his shoulders right now should be welcomed. Alas, it hooked just foul, and he grounded out instead.
Six of the Indians’ runs came with two outs; Kipnis batted in three, while Mercado plated the other three.
Lindor struck out three times today, though he saw a total of nineteen pitches in those at-bats. The last strikeout came on a filthy back-door cutter that I think is completely forgivable. He also smoked a double and earned an intentional walk.
Bebo/Berto/Big Bad Catcher Man is now hitting .245/.345/.490 this season. In-season WAR isn’t great, but he’s sneaking his way up the FanGraphs leader board. Since I’m staring at it right now I just want to point out that Mitch Garver is going to get a nice, big hug from regression.
Anyway, the Indians take on the Rangers tomorrow night in Texas. More importantly, MIKE CLEVINGER RETURNS.
Shane Bieber looked great, the Tigers defense did not
I would love to point to Shane Bieber’s dominant outing tonight as his best of the season, but nothing can top what he did to the Orioles last month. Taking strength of opponent into account, this might not have even been his second best outing of 2019. He’s had too many good outings this season in general; it’s a rough life. Truly.
Instead, let’s just call this start that resulted in a 4-2 victory a very, very, very, very good one.
Bieber’s slider was absolutely filthy tonight, and combined with pinpoint control of his four-seam fastball, he was able to make the Tigers lineup look even worse than they really are.
The aforementioned slider induced 12 swinging strikes and seven called strikes while only being put into play six times on the night. Conversely, no one bit at his four-seamer, but he was placed so well that it was called nine times and fouled off 13 others — mostly in defense of a strikeout. His big curveball was also thrown for nine swinging strikes en route to a 12 strikeout, four-hit performance over 7.2 innings.
There were at-bats here and there where Bieber looked like he was on the verge of losing command, but he kept fighting back. And, really, that’s what tonight was about for Bieber. The ability to fight back on a macro and micro level — be it fighting back in a single at-bat, between batters, or even between games.
This dominant display came immediately after one of the worst starts of Bieber’s young career when he allowed five hits over 1.2 innings against the Yankees Sunday. Like in that Yankees start, though, Bieber had a single inning that got to him. The only difference now being that it came in the seventh instead of the second; and he was also able to work out of it this time.
After cruising through six innings of rainy, foggy work, Beiber walked Christian Stewart and was hit by the next three Tigers batters to start the seventh. It only resulted in a pair of runs, though (off a Brandon Dixon single to left), because José Ramírez absolutely fooled Miguel Cabrera by stopping him halfway to third, throwing to second, and getting the ball back at third in time for the tag out — all before the rapidly aging Cabrera could make it to the base.
José had to fight back a smirk on his way back to the dugout.
Bieber bounced back from that bad inning by getting two quick outs against John Hicks and Dawel Lugo in the eighth before being pulled for Oliver Pérez. That officially shut the book on Bieber’s night, and should be more than enough to get him King of the Mound, if the staff is still doing such a thing.
The dark undertone of this game is that, without the Tigers being a miserable excuse for a defense, the Indians probably would have lost 2-0.
Francisco Lindor had a couple ugly at-bats, including one with Leonys Martin at second with no outs that he popped up on the first pitch. Martin managed to make it to third on the it, and even got home eventually (more on that in a minute), but Lindor was visibly frustrated and slammed his bat before the ball was even out of frame.
If you just look at the box score and see Oscar Mercado’s two singles — that looks pretty good! What you miss is the infield bungling one throw and the pitcher deflecting another and completely losing sight of it. Credit Mercado’s speed for being able to beat out mistakes, but it wasn’t exactly a mastery of the plate tonight either. His stolen base was equally as gifted when the Tigers’ second baseman forgot how to catch a ball thrown right into his glove. You hate to see it.
It may have only shown up as just one error in the box score, but Tigers defensive incompetence was a running theme tonight. As such, I’m a little leery to declare the offense “back” — even after 13 runs last night — but it sure was fun to watch in a masochistic kind of way.
Most fun of all was Leonys Martin, known Tiger killer, getting into the action as well with a double late in the game and STRAIGHT UP STEALING HOME. WHAT?!
You see, most of Leonys’ overall skill set may be aging like milk, but he’s still got speed and he has eyeballs. He saw Victor Alcántara staring at the ground for a good 2-3 seconds before every pitch. He saw that no one was covering third base and he could take a huge lead. He put two and two together and flew for home plate, dove, and was able to (inadvertently) slap the catcher’s glove and knock the ball free before trotting back to the dugout having given his team a two-run lead.
Brad Hand opted to be a merciful God tonight and let Miguel Cabrera enjoy a rousing dash to second base before striking out two of the next three batters to add to his growing save total; which now sits at an AL-league leading 20.
Akron played well last night but didn’t get the result. They matched Portland in walks, hits, and extra-base hits, but sequencing didn’t favor the RubberDucks. Alex Call provided the lone RBI for the team, driving in a run on a double.
Evan Mitchell’s start lasted five innings with a two earned runs. David Speer tossed in three scoreless frames with only two total baserunners allowed. These were critical innings that kept the RubberDucks within one, but a final insurance run allowed by Anthony Gose in the top of the ninth put things out of reach.
Another tough, close game for an Indians affiliate. The game remained scoreless through five until Juan Hillman allowed two in the top of the sixth. The Hillcats clawed one back form the Blue Rocks in their half of the frame courtesy of a Steven Kwan RBI. It would be the only run of the game, as the offense struggled overall while producing four hits.
Hillman allowed eight hits but only two runs, and still owns a sub-3.00 ERA for the year.
Luis Oviedo earned himself a “loss” for this game, but it appeared to be a step forward for the inconsistent starter. He pitched for six innings, allowing three earned runs. On the face of it that’s your default quality start, but he struck out seven and walked none while allowing six hits. The main issue is that the runs came off of two long balls.
Will Benson inflicted the most damage at the plate for Lake County, driving in a run on a solo home run (his seventeenth). The Captain’s other run came from Bo Naylor, who scored on a throwing error.
The Indians survived this thorough rout, which included a ten-run fifth inning from the Rangers. Perhaps the only bright spot on the day for the Indians was the performance of Luis Almonte. He finished the game with 3.1 scoreless innings, bringing a merciful end to the onslaught.
It might not be quite as bad as it looks - the Rangers are already 11-1 this season in DSL play.
Mahoning Valley Scrappers 5, West Virginia Black Bears 4
George Valera paced the Scrapper’s offense with two doubles, two runs, and two RBIs. Raynel Delgado, Jonathan Englemann, and Korey Holland got in on the fun with hits and runs of their own.
Carlos Vargas earned the inaugural start and tossed four innings of two-run ball. Jordan Scheftz earned the win in follow-up duties. Things got dicey in the bottom of the ninth thanks to two infield singles, a passed ball, and an error, but Tim Herrin weathered the storm and earned the save.