I did a Q&A exchange with Lewie Pollis of WahooBlues.com to preview the Reds/Indians series. Here are his answers to my questions. You can find my answers to his questions here. Thanks to Lewie for reaching out and initiating this!
RR: The Indians are currently tied for first in the AL Central with the Tigers (as of Thursday afternoon prior to the end of the Tigers game) after being picked to finish 4th by many in the preseason. I'm sure it's been a fun ride thus far. What do you see happening over the rest of the regular season?
WB: It's definitely been a fun ride, but I think we've already climbed the biggest hill on this metaphorical roller coaster. This team definitely has the talent to win the division and I'd say it's better than even money that they at least hold on to second place, but barring a major deadline deal that would require the kind of mortgaging the future that the front office wants to avoid I think the Tigers have to be the favorites now. Still, I'd call a .500-plus season a great success for the franchise.
RR: Asdrubal Cabrera's .204 ISO: fluke, or does Orlando Cabrera deserve the Hitting Coach of the Year award?
WB: He's a little small for a slugger (6'0", 180) and he's never shown this kind of power before, but I think the improvement is legit. It's totally within the realm of possibility that a 25-year-old player would start to develop more power, and he's performing exactly as his luck-neutral numbers would suggest. Also, the jump doesn't seem quite as dramatic when you consider that he was struggling with injuries when he posted an .071 ISO in 2010 (he was at .130 in 2009—still a big difference, but at least it's closer).
I'm happy to give all the credit to Orlando—after being told ad nauseum that his impact can't be measured on the field (where he's been below replacement-level), I'm thrilled to latch onto any quantifiable evidence of his clubhouse contributions. [Ed: I haven't seen Asdrubal say it, but Orlando Cabrera may have something to do with this apparent change in approach. -j]
RR: Lonnie Chisenhall's off to a terrific start. Can you give us a scouting report on him? I've seen suggestions that he'll be anything from a solid MLB regular to an All Star.
WB: I'm not much of a scout and I don't think any two people agree on just how good Chiz is/will be, but I'd project him somewhere in the middle. He's a line-drive hitter with a very smooth swing. but beyond that he looks pretty much average to me everywhere else (I'm not sold on the alleged 25-homer potential). He won't do much right away, but I'd say he profiles as a consistent 3-4 WAR player going forward. He might make a couple All-Star teams but he won't be a perennial MVP candidate.
Take all that with a grain of salt—my opinion is influenced both by homerism bias and my difficulty trusting third base prospects after Andy Marte. I just don't know if I'm ready to love again.
RR: The Indians seem to have a pitching rotation full of ground ball pitchers: Carmona, Masterson, Carrasco...maybe even Talbot. Does this reflect a general organizational philosophy, or is it just a coincidence?
WB: Don't forget the 10 years of Jake Westbrook. I don't recall ever hearing an Indians executive explicitly say it, but I think it's clear that the Indians are attracted to a certain type of pitcher: pitch-to-contact worm-burners. Trading strikeouts for good control and ground balls is an interesting strategy—one that would work a lot better if Cleveland had better defense (even with Jack Hannahan's superb glove, Tribe infielders have combined for -16.5 UZR).
RR: At least when with the Nationals, I remember that Manny Acta had a reputation as a sabermetric-friendly manager. Have you seen indications of this in his time with the Indians? If so, how so?
WB: He's miles ahead of your boy Dusty, but while Acta talks the sabermetric talk, he doesn't walk the sabermetric walk (not that we get out of our basements much anyway). He makes my heart sing when he says things like that Carlos Santana's low batting average doesn't matter because "he's making the least amount of outs...That means a lot to me." But then it's game time and he plays by the book (as opposed to The Book) and does things like calling bunts in bad situations and holding Chris Perez out of high-leverage situations before the ninth inning so he can end up with the save.
He gets your hopes up because he sounds like he gets it (whenever I feel like the world has forsaken me, I read this 2007 interview) but that philosophy doesn't always make it onto the field. It's frustrating, but I'll take him over your skipper any day.