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Building a Wahoo Winner: Establish some arms behind Kluber

Building a Wahoo Winner: Establish some arms behind Kluber
Carlos Carrasco (Photo: AP)
November 4, 2014
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Prior to the start of the 2014 season, I made a claim that the combined performance of Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister would mirror the Indians season.

In essence, if Kluber and McAllister pitched well, the Tribe would be playoff bound once again, but should they fall apart, the Tribe would as well.

As it turns out - I was somewhat correct in this prediction.

Kluber is currently awaiting his fate as either the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner or the runner up, while McAllister started strong, faltered, had a back injury and never really returned to the starting rotation.

Add those two together - one being arguably the most effective pitcher in the American League and the other making no true impact until he found his way to the bullpen near the end of the season - and I'd argue that their combined efforts mirrored the Indians' 85-77 record in 2014.

All that being said, while Kluber was consistently dominant, he was essentially alone in his consistency. Should the Indians contend in 2015 that needs to change.

If Kluber is the rotation's Batman, he needs a Robin and when looking at last year's starters, there wasn't anything remotely close to a Robin-type figure.

In fact, of the other six Indians pitchers who started more than 10 games last season, not one of them averaged more than six innings per start nor did any pitch more than 154 innings.

With so much inconsistency in the rotation last season, it's difficult to determine who may be suited to step into the aforementioned "Robin" role for the Tribe, but the two most inconsistent Tribe tossers may be the prime candidates: Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.

To describe Carrasco's 2014 as a roller coaster would be a massive understatement. Consider instead a remote control plane being flown amidst the win, being tossed up and down and all around until finally a massive gust propels it to its ultimate height near the end of the ride.

Carrasco started the year in the Indians rotation, but in four early starts where he allowed 17 total runs in just 20.2 innings he found himself back in the bullpen.

It was as a long-reliever in the pen that Carrasco started to return to his effective ways, amassing just 11 runs allowed in 26 relief appearances from April 30 to August 5.

While his bullpen performance was good enough to bring him back into the rotation, it was his performance upon returning to the rotation that put him in this specific conversation.

In 10 starts from August 10 in New York to September 27 against Tampa, Carrasco averaged 6.2 IP, allowed an average of one earned run and struck out 7.8 batters per outing to give him a FIP of 2.44 and a WAR of 3.2 - both good for second amongst Indians pitchers on the season.

Certainly if he was to remain on track and continue to progress in a full season as a starter, there would be no doubt that Carrasco would man the number two spot in the Tribe rotation, but his track record certainly proves that Carrasco is about as inconsistent as they come and that a solid 2015 is far from a guarantee.

Which leads to the other candidate to play Robin to Kluber's Batman: Trevor Bauer.

If Carrasco's season was a long, windy remote control flight, Bauer's was a series of 26 individual flights, each of which seemingly was set for either perfection or complete failure.

While we could go game-by-game and see the wide range of innings, runs, hits and walks he put together, there may be two consecutive starts by Bauer that essentially tell his 2014 story.

On August 14, Bauer took the bump against the Twins in Minneapolis and allowed five runs on five hits in just 4.2 innings of work, all the while walking two and striking out four. However, in his next start on August 25th against Houston in Cleveland he was brilliant, amassing just four-hits in six shutout innings of work.

This two-game stretch was a microcosm of Bauer's 2014 campaign - he was nearly unbeatable at home (4-3, 3.67 ERA) and beaten down on the road (1-5, 4.87 ERA).

While Bauer and his incredible baseball mind may be the only ones who understand how to fix his inconsistency, if he is able to make the latter performance against the Astros closer to the norm, there's no doubt that he too can be productive as the second option in the Tribe rotation.

With all that being said, it doesn't really matter which of these two Tribe unknowns - or any other starter for that matter – fills the role as the Indians second best starter. They just need to offer Kluber some help and give the Indians a consistent chance to win every time they take the mound.

If that can happen, then a good set of dominos begin to fall.

With two very good starters manning the helm of the Indians rotation, followed by a solid group behind them, the overworked and over-utilized bullpen can rest. When the bullpen is not overtaxed, they can be even more productive and can be just as strong down the stretch. As we saw in the finishing stages of the 2014 season, that overuse of the bullpen early in the year had a big hand in some late season meltdowns in key moments.

Again, we all know that Terry Francona loves his bullpen, but maybe Francona will love his bullpen more when he doesn't need to use it as much.

As I did a year ago with Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber, I will once again hinge the Tribe's hopes on two starting pitchers: Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.

Should Carrasco continue his ascent and solidify himself as one of the Indians' more dangerous arms, there should be no reason the Tribe struggles due to pitching.

Same goes for Bauer.

Should he turn his game-by-game, home vs. away inconsistencies into solidified successful outings, then once again the Indians should be in a great spot to compete and contend for a coveted playoff berth.

My preseason prediction this year ended with Corey Kluber a Cy Young finalist and Zach McAllister a mess with an unknown role going forward. The Indians finished just slightly-over .500.

Who knows what will happen next season, but I imagine that it'll be Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer and their ability to play the role of Robin that will determined if the Wahoo's will be winners in 2015.

User Comments

November 5, 2014 - 4:53 PM EST
Walt, I have always been intrigued by Morrow. Talented, but injury prone. I would be fine if the I Indians took a shot on a 1 year "pillow" contract.

Yes, even would do the same with Justin Masterson, who's more likely going to have a deeper market than Morrow. I'm predicting the Cubs make a run at Masterson after they acquire their Lester or Hammels type.

Another name I think the Indians would look at is Chad Billingsley
November 5, 2014 - 10:31 AM EST
I would like to see the Indians pick up Brandon Morrow for the back end of the rotation. I know the Blue Jays declined his option. Not sure how expensive he would be coming of a bad year and if he was willing to take a one yr contract to reestablish his value.

November 5, 2014 - 9:24 AM EST
The starting pitching is definitely the Indians biggest strength. Though it may also be their biggest question mark as no one outside of Kluber has established themselves over the course of a full season. Man, next year is going to be very interesting to see how these five guys shake out. Someone will surely just hope it is only one.
Canadian Joe
November 5, 2014 - 8:53 AM EST
I believe a lot of innings were given up, as both Salazar and Carrasco were still getting over TJ surgery, and innings had to be stretched out. Bauer is a mixed up young man who has to understand he doesn't need 16 pitches to succeed. When he understands that, he will be more effective and the innings will take care of thenselves. House just wasn't here all year, though he was very effective down the stretch. There is always a need for depth in a rotation as injuries/ineffectiveness do come in to play, but I sure do like our "Fab 5" going forward. Can't wait for '15.

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