Projected Division Finish
1. Kansas City Royals
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Minnesota Twins
2014 Finish: 85-77 (Third Place)
Projected Batting Order
CF Michael Bourn
2B Jason Kipnis
RF Michael Brantley
DH Carlos Santana
LF Brandon Moss
C Yan Gomes
1B Nick Swisher
3B Lonnie Chisenhall
SS Mike Aviles
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
RHP Corey Kluber
RHP Trevor Bauer
RHP Zach McAllister
RHP Danny Salazar
RHP Carlos Carrasco
CLOSER Cody Allen
The Indians quietly won 85 games last year to finish in third place in this division. I don’t think this is a bad team. But I think they are still inferior to Detroit and Kansas City and did nothing as the White Sox made significant improvements. For that reason, I see them slipping a bit this year and don’t think they will have the kind of season the state of Ohio thinks they are going to have.
I usually use this space to talk about the offense of each team. And to that end, the Indians were a very middle of the road offensive team last year hitting 253 as a group and ranking near the middle of every single major offensive category.
The better measure of why this team finished out of the playoffs is their defensive rankings (not pitching, the defense in the field). As a team, the Indians led the majors with 118 errors and 72 unearned runs allowed. Among the issues, Carlos Santana was dreadful catching and playing third while Asdrubal Cabrera was one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball. They corrected those issues, but after the offseason the rest of the division had, playing good defense all year may not be enough for the Indians to see October baseball.
Michael Brantley emerged as a star last season leading the team with a 327 AVG and 97 RBI. He also chipped in 21 HR, 23 SB and 94 R. That output was good enough for him to finish fourth in the AL MVP race. Always an underrated player, Brantley broke out in a big way to carry this Indians offense. Can he do it again? I think he can because he was always a good player and in his age 27 season trimmed his K rate and pulled the ball more. That hints towards better plate discipline and vision. Being able to pull the ball will help him continue to hit HRs and he was excellent at picking his spots on the bases, only getting caught once which earned him a green light. I’m a Brantley believer, even if his numbers aren’t quite as strong. I think he may see a drop in AVG, but still expect that he can hit 300 with 18 HR and 20 SB and 90 RBI/R
The cleanup man is Carlos Santana. Santana led the Indians with 27 HR last year and a career high 85 RBI. The thought was moving out from behind the plate would get him in more games and keep him healthy. It worked as he appeared in 150+ games the last two years. But moving all around the diamond may have hurt his offensive output. The third base experiment failed. And with Nick Swisher struggling so much, the call was made to have Santana play first everyday. Santana who hit a career low 231 last year. They love the power, but want to see that AVG tick up a bit. I’ll put him down for another 25 HR and 80 RBI with an AVG in the 240-250 range.
Brandon Moss was brought on to add a little more pop to this club and man right field. He’s a big power hitter with 25 HR last year and 30 the year before. He’s also driven in over 80 men for two straight years. There is concern about his batting average, which has dropped from 291 to 256 to 234 over the last three seasons. But as long as he continues to hit 20+ HR, drive in 80 and keep his AVG above 230, teams don’t mind his approach. I’ll put him down for 25 HR, 80 RBI and a 240 AVG.
Coming into last season, Jason Kipnis was considered the Indians best player. In 2013, he hit 284 with 17 HR, 84 RBI, 86 R and 30 SB, improving across the board on what had been a good 2012. But he took a step back in 2014, hitting 240 with only 6 HR. He still flashed good speed with 22 SB, but getting on base less limited his running and he only drove in 41 RBI. He was a major reason the Indians failed to build on their 92 win season from 2 years ago. Injuries were part of the problem as an oblique injury limited him to 129 games. Perhaps the emergence of Brantley will ease some of the pressure off of him. Hitting second, right in front of Brantley, may get him some better pitches to hit. But if the Indians want to be a threat in the division again, it starts with Kipnis playing better. I’ll put him down for 265 with 13 HR, 65 RBI, 70 R and 25 SB. The Indians would like to see more, but I don’t think he’s got it in him and 2013 will be seen as an outlier in his career.
Leadoff man Michael Bourn has been one of the biggest disappointments in Cleveland. After signing a big contract coming into the 2013 season, Bourn has gone downhill from his All Star days in Atlanta and Houston. He appeared in only 130 games his first season with a meager 26 SB, 263 AVG and 316 OBP. Last year it was only 106 games with a 257 AVG and 314 OBP. His AVG has dropped 5 straight seasons. He only went 10 for 16 on the bases last year and is starting to prove that speed doesn’t age well. At 32 years old,. I’m putting him down for 255 with 15 SB and 70 R. Not at all what the Indians are paying for.
The other free agent bust is DH Nick Swisher. He is likely to miss the start of the season with a knee injury, but is on his way back after starting his spring training late. He was always overrated after hitting in the new Yankee Stadium and their little league dimensions. His first season in Cleveland was subpar and his second was worse. He hit 208 in 97 games last year with 8 HR and 42 RBI. He will spend most of his time at DH hitting in the bottom of the order.
One of the few bright spots from last year was catcher Yan Gomes. Gomes was stuck behind Carlos Santana for years, but got to catch everyday last season and responded well. He was already pushing for more playing time due to his performance in 2013 (294/11 HR) and he has locked up the starting job after what he did in 2014 (278/21 HR/74 RBI). I like him for 260-280 with 15-20 HR and 70+ RBI.
Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall make up the rest of the starting lineup. Chisenhall had his best season last year after the threat of losing his playing time to Carlos Santana at third. He appeared in 142 games, a career high, achieved career bests in AVG (280), HR (13) and RBI (59). Those numbers are still low for a starting corner infielder and now that the threat of him losing playing time is gone, you wonder if he’ll regress. I just don’t have a lot of faith in him and would expect a pedestrian season of 240/12 HR/60 RBI. Ramirez is a defense first guy with only 83 MLB games under his belt. I’d expect him to struggle at the plate, though he could chip in 15 SB.
This offense was very average last year. They hope to be better this season, but really only added one major piece to improve: Brandon Moss. What they are truly hoping for are bounce back seasons from Kipnis, Bourn and Swisher. I think that’s too much to hope for.
Defensively, this team should be better, but still not good. Carlos Santana is not good at first; he just does the least amount of damage there. Nick Swisher is better, but not great. Brandon Moss can play first but is average at best. Moss is likely the best of the bunch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if gets more time there than expected. Swisher is no longer a viable option in right so will probably only DH. Kipnis and Chisenhall struggled defensively last year. They are better than they played in the field and I think we may see them bounce back. The only plus defender on the infield is Ramirez at short. Brantley is excellent in left. Gomes is fantastic behind the plate. Bourn is losing a step in center, which is bad because his arm was never great. Moss is not very good in right. The bench will likely see a lot of action later in games with Murphy the best option in right, Raburn able to play both corner outfield spots well and Aviles able to play every infield position but first. If Swisher weren’t making so much money, I’m sure Santana would DH, Moss would play first and Murphy would play right. So while this defense will be a little better, expect them to struggle and be below average once again.
For the most part, the Indians pitching staff was a pretty average group with two exceptions: their 3.56 ERA was 5th in the league (out of 15 teams….above average I’d say) and they led the league in Ks. A major part of that was the breakout of Corey Kluber who led the team with 18 Wins, a 2.44 ERA and 269 Ks en route to a Cy Young Award. Kluber was dominant last year, despite allowing more base runners than the average ace. His 1.09 WHIP was good, but not great and his 233 BAA was just a little better than average. Kluber had 51 BBs in 235 IP. But his 269 Ks helped him get out of a lot of jams. He was a horse last year with a ton of innings. He may have been a little lucky in the ERA department, but not much. I expect another strong season this year with 15+ Wins, 220 IP, 250 Ks and an ERA right around 3.
After Kluber, there is a big drop off in talent. The Indians are hoping for a big season from highly touted Trevor Bauer, who has quietly been getting better each year. He made 26 starts last year going 5-8 with a 4.18 ERA. But he had 143 Ks in 158 IP, saw his walk rate improve (it’s still not good) and his ERA drop for the third straight year. Mickey Callaway may be the best pitching coach in baseball after resurrecting Scott Kazmir’s career, getting Ubaldo Jiminez to pitch his best baseball and turning Kluber into a Cy Young Winner. With him at the helm, I see Bauer as my dark horse candidate to be Comeback Player of the year with a great season. While most are expecting merely modest improvement, I’m going out on a limb here and saying that Bauer will win 15 games, pitch to a sub 3.25 ERA and reach 200 Ks in 215 IP.
Carlos Carrasco bounced back and forth between the starting rotation and bullpen, finally settling into the rotation as the season wore on. He went 8-7 with a 2.55 ERA and 140 Ks in 134 IP. Many are expecting a breakout season from him this year, but he has struggled this spring. I don’t know what to make of him. He has filthy stuff (0.99 WHIP and 209 BAA) but his numbers are artificially propped up by 26 strong relief appearances. I think he’ll stick, but don’t know how effective he will be. I’m guessing a losing record with maybe 8 Wins to go with an ERA around 4. He could have 180 Ks in 150 IP, but just don’t think he’ll be the pitcher everyone thinks he will be.
After Danny Salazer’s terrible spring, Zach McAllister and T.J. House took the last two rotation spots. McAllister struggled last season after a solid 2013. He was limited to 15 starts, but went 4-7 and saw his ERA climb from 3.75 to 5.23. I don’t think he’ll be any better than 8 Wins and a 4.50 ERA. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was worse than that. House made his MLB debut last season and went 5-3 in 18 starts with a 3.35 ERA. He struck out 80 in 100 IP with a 1.35 WHIP (bad) and 284 BAA (worse). He’s young, so you expect some improvement and it looks like he’s not too far behind the curve. But I’d expect growing pains this year as he will likely see his ERA climb towards 5 if he can’t get the base runners under control.
Cody Allen leads a very talented Indians bullpen. Allen took over as the closer early on in the year with 24 Saves and 9 Holds to only 4 Blown Saves. He pitched to a 2.07 ERA and logged 91 Ks in 69 IP. His 1.06 WHIP and 194 BAA show that he looks legit and should have another strong season on the mound. I think he could surpass 30 Saves this year with a sub 2 ERA and 100 Ks.
A stable of quality arms including Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Nick Hagadone know how to pitch and don’t allow to many base runners. That is all you ask of your relievers. The Indians had the second best bullpen WAR in the league last season. The only concern is the workload as they set a new single season record for appearances with 573 and had 4 pitchers make at least 70 appearances. They had to make all those appearances with the pitching deficiencies in the starting rotation. After Kluber, there are no sure things in the starting rotation. I see this bullpen playing a major role in Cleveland’s season this year. While they have the talent, I worry that their overuse could hurt them in the long run.
This pitching staff is looking to improve. They were pretty average last year. But they didn’t make any moves t get better. The bullpen is strong but they will have to play a lot to support a weaker starting rotation. Eventually, all those innings will catch up to them, despite their talent. At best, the Indians look like an average pitching staff. I think the bullpen will slip some, and the pitching staff as a whole will take a step back because of that.
The Indians were pretty average across the board last year. Their defense was terrible, and while it got better, they still look bad. Their offense was average. They added a quality power bat, but that will only help them a little. Their pitching staff was average. They made no moves to improve it. Their starting group looks thin.
The Indians are not as good as the Tigers or Royals. The White Sox got better and look better on paper. This will be a tough division this year and I think the Indians are clearly a step below the top teams.
I’m putting them down for 75 Wins and a fourth place finish. They won’t be a factor in the playoffs or even the playoff hunt.