Thursday, May 19, 2016

Tribe Talk 5.19.16: For Terry Francona, It's Playoffs or Bust

By Alex Hale, @DaSportsGenius7

From the day Terry Francona was named the Cleveland Indians manager, there has always been this hope that Francona is the guy help build this core of players up to their potential.  In 2013, his first year as manager, he did lead the Indians to the Wild Card game, only to get shutout by the Tampa Bay Rays.  Let’s be honest looking back at that season, the Indians were extremely lucky, especially winning 10 straight games to lock up a Wild Card spot.  Since 2013, the Indians have just barely been a .500 team, even though they’ve developed one of the best pitching rotations in baseball.  While it’s been fun to watch the Indians beat down the Detroit Tigers finally and also beat down on a horrific Cincinnati teams, we are missing Francona and the Indians are struggling against pretty much everyone else.

So the question is, am I asking for Terry Francona to be fired in May?  Well before we go on, I’m not advocating that whatsoever, in fact I’m giving Terry Francona until the end of the year to prove me wrong.  But I feel I have a strong case to back what I believe and that at the end of the day, sadly I’ll be right on this case.  Let’s get another thing straight, I’m not calling Terry Francona a bad manager, in fact he’s a very good manager, BUT he’s not a fit for the Cleveland Indians.  I know a lot of fans love him, but in order to understand where I’m going with this, let’s see Francona’s history.

We all talk about the teams Francona had in Boston, where he won 2 World Series titles.  What the Indians fans IGNORE is that Terry Francona was before that the manager for the Philadelphia Phillies.  On this Phillies team you had names like: Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal and Curt Schilling.  The Phillies had bonafide superstar players and some young developing players behind them like Doug Glanville, Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf.  You would think on a team like that, the Phillies would’ve been competitive?  In fact, it was the opposite as the Phillies under Francona’s tenure never finished better than 3rd place.  One could say that the Phillies in the late 1990s were in the same division as the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.  My argument against that is they had the superstar players to overcome that, something else wasn’t working.  After 4 years, Francona was let go by the Phillies in 2000 after finishing in last place in the division.  The Phillies would hire Larry Bowa to replace him and in 2001, the Phillies jumped up to finish in 2nd place.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Let’s go over some of my main issues with Francona to give you a better idea of my frustration level.

Francona’s misuse of the Bullpen- For a man who loves to carry 8 relievers, he sure as heck doesn’t use them all.  Is Dan Otero still on the Indians or better yet is the guy alive?  I’ll start with the fact that Francona doesn’t even believe in matchup situations or even has an understanding of how the bullpen roles work.  I’ll give you an example, late last season versus Minnesota the Indians were up in the 8th with 1 out and Joe Mauer was up at the plate with the game tied.  The Indians had Kyle Crockett and Cody Allen warming up.  Basic logic says to play the matchup and bring in Crockett, who has proven to be effective against lefties.  Instead Francona defies logic and brings in Cody Allen in a non-save situation.  Fortunately, in the 8th after a long battle with Mauer, Allen got a double play to get him out of the inning.  But when he started the 9th he was over 10 pitches, which for a closer is around the number they would like to pitch in a save situation.  Instead, Francona put his closer in a non-save situation and overused him, Minnesota would score 2 in the Top of the 9th and finish it off for the win.  Francona clearly has trust issues with relievers and overuses the same few relievers over and over to the point of you can start seeing some of the wear and tear grow on them from year to year.  That’s just horrible bullpen management for a guy who carries so many relievers.  The fact is Francona relies on basically 3 relievers: Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Zach McAllister.  All 3 have already over 17 appearances in the year, the next highest are Jeff Manship with 14 and Joba Chamberlain with Dan Otero at 12. 

To compare them:

Allen/Shaw/McAllister- 2-5, 4.32 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 46 IP, 12 Holds, 8 HRs allowed (combined)

Manship/Chamberlain/Otero- 0-0, 2.07 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 36 IP, 3 Holds, 0 HRs allowed (combined)

The stats don’t lie, stop being stubborn and use the other guys that are actually effective and not rely on your guys.

Francona is not a Team Builder, he’s an Ego Manager- Let me explain…you look at the situations in Cleveland and Philadelphia, those situations were for managers to go in, but not just manage but to help develop a culture and winning attitude.  That includes holding people accountable, not being afraid to take charge, and most importantly call out players when you need to.  Now we look at a Boston where the team was pretty much bought so all Francona had to do was manage egos and put the lineups together and not screw up.  Francona worked in Boston because what they asked him to do there was what he’s good at.  He’s not a guy who develops players and teams, he keeps their egos in check, that’s it.  The body language he shows in press conferences is extremely laid back no matter what happens.  Francona could lose 100-0 and talk in a very calm demeanor, acting like it wasn’t a big deal.  If I lost 100-0, I’d be pissed that we showed no heart and I’d make sure people knew about it.  Sometimes you got to assert yourself to your players that we don’t accept play like that.  Players won’t like it immediately but in time, if done right, players can respect that.

Lack of Urgency in Team- When the Indians have had a chance to really put themselves way over .500, they’ve choked at the opportunity EVERY time.  They’ve already had multiple golden opportunities to put themselves potentially 4-5 games over .500, that for this early is a great help later in the year.  Every time the Indians seem to get, “allergic” to the idea of going way over .500 and lose a few games and fall back to under .500.  If I was Francona I’d be livid about this last year and lay the law down that this kind of play in these kind of games is totally unacceptable.  I will say the addition of Francisco Lindor has brought a renewed energy to the team that seems to partially eliminate the calm demeanor of Francona and has allowed the Indians to play at a higher level at times.  Someone in the organization should light a fire under Francona to put some urgency in him so the urgency can go back to the team.

Biased Use of Veterans over Young players- This is the most damning of all to Francona.  Whether it be in 2014 when he could’ve played Jesus Aguilar more late in the year, refusing to embrace Kyle Crockett as his lefty specialist, or as of most recently, the misuse of Tyler Naquin.  It’s obvious to me that Francona doesn’t know how to utilize young players.  Don’t believe me, look at Philadelphia and Cleveland’s situations with Francona.  Very similar and both were mishandled.  What really frustrates me is that after the energy and play that Francisco Lindor has had since his arrival in the Majors that Francona still hasn’t learned.  What concerns me even more is the Indians have 2 other top prospects on their way to the majors in the next year in OFs Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer.  I fear like Naquin, Francona will opt to sign veterans to 1 year deals and play them instead.  Don’t believe me?  When Naquin started the year, when a lefty started for the other team Francona opted for COLIN COWGILL.  Think about that…why not left Naquin play through his early MLB struggles and get better for it.  They had a golden opportunity with Michael Brantley hurt and whiffed on that.  Then they sent him back to AAA and even after Michael Brantley was placed on the DL again, they sent him down and kept Michael Martinez up.  That for me is the final straw.  While Naquin’s defense has struggled, Naquin in 27 games was hitting .317.  While he struck out a lot, he was playing well and had some early struggles he was working through.  Again Francona instead will rely on Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, Marlon Byrd and use Jose Ramirez in the outfield as well.

Terry Francona is quite possibly the most arrogant manager in Baseball today.  I respect the fact that he has his beliefs and he sticks to them, but if you’re just a mediocre team over the past 2 years with a pitching staff like he had, you need to re-evaluate things.  I encourage Terry Francona to try to make a few adjustments throughout the season, but as much as people love Francona, my fair warning is when the Indians next generation of young players arrives over the next year, Francona will ruin their growth by having them in the majors but opting for veterans instead.  Look at Jesus Aguilar, everywhere he played up to Cleveland, he was a middle of the order bat who had good patience at the plate and really was looking to be the Indians future 1B.  Instead Francona in recent years in the September call-ups wouldn’t play Aguilar and other young players even when the Indians were out of contention.  In Cleveland, we don’t have the deep pockets to buy players like Boston does, we rely on PLAYER DEVELOPMENT.  As great as our Minor League development team is, other than Lindor, Francona has ruined a lot of those guys at the Major League level.  Cleveland needs to get away from this, “Honeymoon Phase” with Terry Francona and wake up, for Terry Francona in 2016, it’s Playoffs or Bust.  A .500 team isn’t good enough anymore, you deserve better Cleveland.

Sometimes folks you need to hear the truth about the Indians, whether you want to accept it or not is up to you.  For 3 years you’ve worshipped the ground Francona walks on and he gives you a .500 team.

Don’t settle for mediocrity anymore and send a message to Francona, PLAYOFFS OR BUST.

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