Comparative Analysis 2015: Indians vs. AL Central
Does Cleveland have the most complete team in the division?
It’s been a few weeks since teams and GM’s returned from their sojourn in San Diego after bringing the Hot Stove to a boiling point with a flurry of moves. Of course, it appeared the Chicago White Sox had stolen the show, or at least the majority of the headlines that week, with their blockbuster transactions that brought All-Star right-hander Jeff Samardzija, premier free agent closer David Robertson and veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera to the South Side.
The question is, though, as much as the Pale Hose have captured our attention, how much in reality did they actually improve their squad and do they have a legitimate shot at being a contender in 2015? After all, they do have to go through the 4-time reigning division champs in Detroit, the AL pennant winners of Kansas City and the fighting Tribesman here in Cleveland who are coming off back-to-back winning seasons and are host to the reigning Cy Young Award winner, an MVP finalist and two Silver Slugger winners.
Just as a point of reference, here were the final AL Central standings in 2014 along with the respective team run differentials:
2014 AL Central Standings
1. Detroit Tigers (90-72): +52 Diff.
2. Kansas City Royals (89-73): +27 Diff.
3. Cleveland Indians (85-77): +16 Diff.
4. Chicago White Sox (73-89): -98 Diff.
5. Minnesota Twins (70-92): -136 Diff.
So when you allow nearly 100 runs more than you score as a team even with Cy Young finalist Chris Sale as your ace and Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu as your cleanup hitter, of course blockbuster acquisitions like Samardzija and Robertson make sense.
However, improving by 98 runs is still a tall task even with the moves they’ve made and that just gets them even. They’d still have to score 52 more runs to catch up with Detroit. Not that these stats are the standard for the division moving forward, but they outline the uphill climb for Chicago in 2015 and beyond.
So what about the Indians who also made headlines during the Winter Meetings trading for All-Star outfielder and first baseman Brandon Moss from the A’s and have since added veteran starter Gavin Floyd and reliever Scott Downs? I think an argument can be made that while they have their uncertainties and question marks, they have the most complete team in the division.
Allow me to clarify that “most complete team” doesn’t necessarily mean the best team or even the team that will win the division crown. It simply is a statement of every major facet of the roster being at or above league average. Does this mean the Indians have a better lineup than the Tigers or a better bullpen than the Royals? Not necessarily, but when comparing rosters as a whole, there are no glaring weaknesses.
Of course, the struggles of the defense and seemingly southpaw-heavy lineup could be identified as weaknesses, but I don’t believe they’re as severe hindrances as some make them out to be.
While I’m not an expert on the advanced defensive metrics, I would still say the defensive woes endured by the Tribe in 2014 were more of an exception than the rule. Errors are not a perfect measurement of fielding ability, but the Indians’ MLB-leading 116 miscues were a definite spike from the previous two seasons where they didn’t even reach triple digits.
Two key factors that I believe contributed to the shoddy defense spiraling out of control for the Tribe at times last season were the position alignment at the start of the season and heavy concentration of miscues in the early portions of the year that led to the defense snowballing and weighing on the players’ minds. With a clean slate next season, I’d be surprised if these struggles repeated themselves at the same magnitude.
The position shifts due to the departure of Asdrubal Cabrera via trade and Nick Swisher’s knee injuries led to rookie infielder Jose Ramirez taking over the starting duties at shortstop and Carlos Santana taking over at first base after the third base experiment failed to pan out. Switching out Cabrera for Ramirez in particular did wonders for the infield defense. Between Cabrera and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, the left side of the Indians infield accounted for -21 defensive runs saved in 2014. Ramirez helped even the score a bit with a positive DRS of 4 as the team’s shortstop.
Regarding the addition of Moss, does the Tribe’s new outfielder/first baseman being a southpaw diminish his value to their lefty-laden lineup? To me, it shouldn’t because power is power no matter which batter’s box it emanates from. Over the last three seasons, Moss is tied for eighth in the majors with reigning AL MVP Mike Trout in isolated power at .249. The next closest Indians slugger on that list is Carlos Santana at 60th with a .184 ISO within that timeframe.
The hip surgery is a concern, but cause for optimism can be found in the fact that Moss did receive a cortisone shot at the end of the regular season last year that he said helped immensely (and we all know what he did in the Wild Card Game).
As far as the rest of the team goes, the most exciting element of the team comes in the form of the five-plus hurlers who will make up the starting rotation in 2015. This group not only has the potential to be the top staff in the division, but possibly even one of the best in the league. The youth, the quality of stuff and depth make this starting five a potential force to be reckoned with not only next season, but for the next few years to come. A Cy Young winner and a new MLB record in strikeouts don’t just come out of thin air.
The addition of Gavin Floyd definitely helped balance the young staff with some veteran presence as well as lengthen the depth to eight immediate major league starting pitching options. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say the Indians have plenty of pitching, but in comparison to the last few years, this is the best crop we’ve had in Cleveland.
If the Indians are going to have a team with their foundation based on pitching, they won’t need nine All-Stars in their lineup to be successful. Over the last two seasons, the Indians have scored 1,414 runs combined, which is 35 runs better than the league average in that span.
Moss should add a nice jolt to their power in the middle of the lineup, though. The Indians as a team finished in the middle of the pack in OPS last season at .704. Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes had a combined OPS of .822 while the rest of the lineup sat at .642. Will Brantley repeat his same historic campaign in 2015? Probably not, but it’s also just as unlikely that Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis will struggle as much as they did last year. Some degree of equalization of both extremes isn’t far-fetched.
The bullpen continues to be a strength of the Indians even with the issues they had in 2014 with Opening Day closer John Axford and the overworking of the primary back-end relievers Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison. However, the workload was relatively front-heavy as those four notched 176 combined appearances before the All-Star Break compared to just 123 in the second half due to the improvement of the starting rotation.
The Indians relievers finished fourth in the league in ERA (3.12), strikeouts (504) and sixth in WHIP (1.23).
Could they still use a veteran arm in the mix? Of course, seeing as how the Indians had the youngest pitching staff in baseball in 2014. But that also speaks to the team’s ability to develop relievers. Closer Cody Allen is a product of the farm system and the Tribe has several other young arms waiting in the wings such as lefty Kyle Crockett, who made his big league debut last year.
So are the Indians heading into 2015 without question marks on their roster? Certainly not, but in contrast to the rest of the division, the Tribe may be in the most comfortable situation as potential playoff contenders.
Will the Tigers’ aging stars continue to produce at elite levels with their beleaguered bullpen and possibly without Max Scherzer at the front of their staff? Can Kansas City remain as competitive as reigning league champions without the services of their former ace James Shields? Will the White Sox bullpen suddenly become dominant with David Robertson as the new closer?
Considering those questions and more that our rivals have to answer in 2015, I bet Chris Antonetti is glad one of the toughest questions his team faces next season is whether they should retain Jason Giambi as a coach.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
Last yr, I suggested the Tribe pickup KRod and Oliver Perez. KRod re-signed with the Brewers for (only) $3.25M, and Perez signed for (only) $2.5M.
A cpl other players/pitchers Id like to see the Indians make a run at...Emilio Bonaficio, Burke Badenhop and a minor league deal (with incentives) with just about anyone who would sign one (Chad Billingsley, Sean Burnett, Gordon Beckham, Jonny Gomes).
Same goes with the pen. Unless the Indians are comfortable banking that one of Adams, Armstrong, or even CC Lee will emerge into more of a setup role along side Shaw, I want another arm added to the mix.
Probably the more eye catching names still available, Joba Chamberlain, Fransisco Rodriguez, & Rafael Soriano are all welcome to join the Indians IMO. Their price tags would likely dictate otherwise.
Casey Janssen and to a lesser extent, Brian Wilson could probably be had at a more reasonable rate.