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2013 Key Players: Midseason review

2013 Key Players: Midseason review
July 16, 2013
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In the spring I profiled five players that I felt were keys to the Indians season. These were the guys that I labeled that the team needed to step forward if the team wanted to compete in 2013. Those five players were Justin MastersonUbaldo JimenezJason KipnisCarlos Santana, and Lonnie Chisenhall. The previous article covering each player is linked to their name.

With the season now just past the halfway point, it’s time to review how each player is doing.

Justin Masterson

The Key Players series started with Justin Masterson, who in my opinion was the most important player to the Indians season. At the time I was hopeful for a bounce back season from Masterson and figured that he’d post an ERA between 3.80 and 4.00. Those figures were slightly more optimistic than where the projections had him, and Masterson’s first half performance has backed up that optimism.

As it stands, Masterson has a 3.72 ERA in 135.1 inning and his FIP of 3.41 and xFIP of 3.42 shows that he’s even been a bit better than that. He’s bounced back about as well as we could have hoped after a disappointing 2012 season.  His WAR currently sits at 2.3 which is good for 17th in baseball. Masterson is currently fifth in baseball in innings pitched and currently boasts the second highest groundball percentage of any starting pitcher. He’s long been a workhorse and groundball machine, but this year he’s posting elite strikeout numbers (9.11 K/9) as well. 

The one thing Masterson has failed to improve this year is his control (3.59 BB/9) and as such he’s struggled with his consistency over the last month and a half. That begs the question on just which pitcher we’ll see in the second half, the guy who dominated through his first ten starts, or the guy who’s been uneven since.  I tend to believe what you’re seeing right now is what you’ll get the rest of the way. I don’t expect his ERA to significantly improve or decline in the second half.  When he can harness everything, Masterson will sparkle. At times though, he’ll just need to labor through and hopefully still post a quality start.

Regardless of how the second half turns out, the sight of seeing Masterson on the hill is a lot more comforting than it used to be. His improvement was necessary for the team to make the steps it has this year, and he’s done just that.

Lonnie Chisenhall

Out of the players discussed in this article, Chisenhall’s first half was by far the most disappointing. He entered the season as a wildcard, a guy with the talent to make the Indians lineup really special if he had a breakout season. Instead, Chisenhall regressed and found himself back in AAA in May. At the time of his demotion his slash line was .213/.253/.351. Worse yet, as a player who needed to take steps forward with his plate discipline it appeared instead to be in decline, with just three walks in 94 at-bats. 

To his credit, Chisenhall took his demotion in stride and went down to Columbus and tore the cover off the ball for the next month, forcing his way back to Cleveland. Since that time he’s been a much better player. For the month of July Chisenhall is hitting .314/.385/.571 and showing improved plate discipline. His defense at third base seems about average, but he’s a big improvement over Mark Reynolds who earned the majority of the playing time at third when Chisenhall was in AAA. From what I’ve seen, he’s not hurting the team with his glove at third at all.

From the looks of it Chisenhall could be poised for a big second half. He’s trending in the right direction and is still a talented hitter with the ability to have a huge impact in the lineup. His season numbers rate just barely above replacement level, but if he’s able to turn in a 2+ WAR season it would be a huge boost to the club. I still classify Chisenhall as one of the ‘keys’ to the Indians moving forward in what they hope will be a pennant race.

Jason Kipnis

In March, I labeled Kipnis as possibly the most important position player on the team. He’s turned out to not only be the most important, he’s been the best. 

I saw Kipnis as more of a glue guy in the lineup, a player that can do everything and do it well. Instead, he’s been the guy carrying the load for the Indians. He leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage (not counting Ryan Raburn), hits, RBI’s, OPS (not counting Raburn), and stolen bases. He’s not only the Indians best position player; he’s blossomed into one of the best players in the entire league.

It’s hard to expect anything more than what Kipnis has given the team in the first half. The hope is that he can simply keep it up for the rest of the season. We all remember his dreadful second half last year after a great start. The Indians have to hope the same thing doesn’t happen in 2013. Right now he’s the best run producer on the team and he’s settled in nicely in the three-hole in the lineup. Truthfully, he’s the only dynamic hitter in a lineup that doesn’t have many guys playing at a high level. It’s crucial that Kipnis remain productive moving forward and hopefully some of the other hitters will join him in stepping up their game.

Carlos Santana

As I wrote in the spring, I thought this would be the season that Carlos Santana would break out and become the middle of the lineup type slugger the Indians have long been hopeful he would become. It just hasn’t happened.

That’s not to say Santana has been bad at the plate, because he hasn’t, but he hasn’t taken a step forward either. His ISO has bounced back a bit from his 2012 numbers, but he’s still below his mark from 2011. As of right now he’s only on pace for 19 home runs, which would be a bit disappointing as a season total. He’s still probably the second most important and valuable Indian hitter, but I can’t help but feel he should be doing more.

To his credit, Santana is still posting elite walk numbers and has kept his strikeout rate consistent with years past. However, his numbers are mostly pedestrian since his stellar month of April. I’m not sure if we’re at the point where we say this is what Carlos Santana is, but the one thing that we do know is that he’s regressed considerably on defense. There’s really no subtle way to say this; Santana has been terrible behind the plate this year. He’s never been a particularly good defensive catcher, but he’s looked worse than ever. He has to do a better job or he’s going to risk losing even more time in the field to Yan Gomes and becoming more of a DH type player.

With his struggles behind the plate Santana’s WAR stands at 1.5 right now, which is fifth on the team. I had hopes that he would become a 5-6 WAR type player, but that seems a long ways off right now. There’s still time for him to get on a hot streak with the bat, and he’s still extremely talented, so we’ll see what happens.

I’m hopeful of improved play from Santana in all facets of the game in the second half.

Ubaldo Jimenez

We didn’t really know what to expect from Jimenez entering the 2013 season. What we did know is that we needed him to pitch a LOT better. The Indians had question marks all over the rotation, but the question marks surrounding Jimenez loomed larger than the rest. As possibly the most talented pitcher on the Indians staff, the Indians made fixing Ubaldo one of their priorities in the offseason and to some extent it’s worked. Jimenez still isn’t the ace the Indians hoped he would be upon acquiring him, but he’s been better. 

Think back to what each one of you expected from Jimenez when the season started. Not much, right? In fact, the majority of us were just hoping to avoid the utter disaster that was his second half last season. Jimenez hasn’t been a disaster; instead, he’s been a decent middle of the rotation pitcher in 2013. He started out rough, but his 3.33 ERA over his last ten starts show that he’s made some adjustments.  Jimenez still struggles mightily with his control, and his inefficiency puts a lot of strain on the bullpen (he hasn’t lasted more than six innings in a start since June 1st), but it’s hard to complain with how he’s performed so far. Most of us didn’t expect him to even be this good.

Ideally, the Indians would like to see him continue to pitch like he has in his last ten starts as well as pitch deeper into games. I won’t say that they need that to happen to continue being competitive, but it would be a big boost to the rotation. His importance to the team is still high. They can’t afford for him to crash and burn in the second half, but on the other end of the spectrum he’s still a pitcher with the upside to be even better than he’s been so far.

User Comments

Joe Chengery
July 16, 2013 - 10:16 PM EDT
Meant to say, "tougher out THAN in the past."
Joe Chengery
July 16, 2013 - 10:15 PM EDT
I would consider moving Santana to 1B long-term, have Gomes as your full-time C, and having a capable back-up behind Gomes (doubt that's Marson- whether that's Lowery, Lavisky, Perez, etc., don't know). That would be harder with Swisher as your 1B, unless Stubbs becomes your 4th OF/is traded and Swisher plays more RF, though I suspect the Indians will want Swisher to primarily play first base rather than the OF as he gets older, so that may not be possible.

I don't think Santana has been quite as bad as people are making him out to be, but his defense will look poorer when Gomes' defense has been among the best in the league. Unless you're Mauer or Molina, almost every C in the league will not look good to Gomes defensively, Santana included. Santana can improve defensively and probably will never be a Gold Glover or stand out defensively, but as long as he can play decent to above-average defense back there, combined with solid to strong offense, I'd take that.

While Santana is not hitting many HRs, he's stayed out of real-deep slumps and has been a tougher out in the past (largely due to the better BB/K ratio). Outside of Kipnis and Brantley, Santana really has been the only consistent force in the middle of the lineup every day. Cabrera's been erratic and inconsistent, Swisher has disappeared for long stretches, and Reynolds has been almost non-existent for two months. While there may have been higher hopes for Santana, he's still young enough to reach them, and he has still out-performed the three more experienced players I mentioned earlier.
July 16, 2013 - 2:50 PM EDT
Defensive metrics as a whole are incredibly unreliable, and they are even moreso for catchers. Santana has made a few bad throws and has failed to block a few balls in the dirt that he should have had, but other than that, the pitching staff deserves more blame than he does for many things. Masterson and Jimenez are atrocious at holding runners on base, and are also two of the hardest pitchers to catch for in baseball because of their inconsistent command and the natural movement on their pitches.

I'm not saying we should view Carlos as a plus defender, but I don't think it's a stretch to just say he's about average. No positive value, but not much, if any negative value. If you look at him as just a neutral defensive player, you're talking about a guy that would probably be closer to 2.5 WAR at this point.

Even if he eventually has to move to 1B, there is still plenty to like. He'd be the #3 ranked offensive first baseman in the AL, a few percentage points behind Encarnacion. His wOBA is better than: Lind, Loney, Fielder, Morales, etc.
July 16, 2013 - 2:26 PM EDT

It might be unfair, but I still look at Santana through the perspective of the player I thought he would become. He's absolutely a valuable hitter, but I can't help but expect more out of him. I'm anxious to see how the second half turns out for him offensively. He looked much better before the break than he has since April. Defensively, he's playing himself into a dangerous territory. The luster of his bat fades considerably if the team decides he's too much of a liability to catch 4-5 times a week.
Ron Vollmar
July 16, 2013 - 2:04 PM EDT
I would like to read an article to be written by you, regarding the next five to ten players on your ranking.

Thanks for the article, I did enjoy reading it.
July 16, 2013 - 12:30 PM EDT
Santana's WAR is really not a reflection of whether or not he's become "the middle of the lineup type slugger the Indians have long been hopeful he would become."

His offensive numbers are 37% above average, which if the season ended today, would be his best full season tally of his career. His overall batting line (.367 wOBA) is better than it was in 2011 (.351) despite hitting for a little less power. If we're giving Chisenhall credit for his month of July, you have to do the same for Santana:

.317 avg/ .408 OBP/ .512 SLG/ 152 wRC+

Those are elite numbers for anybody outside of the Miguel Cabrera/Chris Davis stratosphere. If he continues to hit like he has in the month of July, he will end up as the best hitting catcher in the AL by the end of the year...and when you consider that he had a 148 wRC+ in the second half last year, it's not like he's playing significantly over his head.

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