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Eight reasons 2014 was not a lost season for the Indians

Eight reasons 2014 was not a lost season for the Indians
The Indians have reason to feel good about their season even though they missed the playoffs. (Photo: AP)
October 5, 2014
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The Indians missed the playoffs but all was not lost this past season for the Indians. Here are eight reasons why this season was a productive one for the team:

1. Corey Kluber is a legitimate top of the rotation ace. Just take a look at these incredible numbers in what should be a Cy Young Award winning season: 18-9 record, 2.44 ERA, 269 strikeouts, 1.09 WHIP and in 235.2 innings he walked only 51 batters. According to Fangraphs, Kluber's 7.39 WAR ranks him 2nd in the MLB behind only Mike TroutJustin Masterson turned in an All-Star season last year but his numbers fail in comparison to Kluber's. Masterson in 2013 posted a 14-10 record, 3.45 ERA, 195 strikeouts, and a 1.20 WHIP.

Often in baseball it is said that pitching wins championships. Once you enter the playoffs, a legitimate ace at the top of the rotation can win games in the often run starved games of October. The Indians appear to have found their ace.

2. Michael Brantley has become one of the best players in all of baseball. Brantley hit .327 with 20 home runs, a .385 OBP and 97 runs batted in. His 200 hits are the most by a Cleveland Indian since Kenny Lofton had 210 in 1996. His 56 strikeouts were only four more than his walk total for the season. He stole 23 bases and was caught only once. While the Indians led the league in errors, Brantley recorded only one for the entire season. Brantley's 6.97 WAR ranked 5th in all of baseball and shows he is definitely deserving of consideration for the American League MVP award. In this new era of low power numbers, Brantley's all around play makes him a dominant force in the modern game.

3. Carlos Carrasco has developed into a top of the rotation starter alongside Kluber. Believe me Indians fans, I never thought I would be writing about Carrasco being a front line starter. Carrasco finished the season with an 8-7 record, 2.55 ERA, 140 strikeouts (compared to only 29 walks), and a .985 WHIP. He held hitters to a .209 batting average against which shows how dominant he was. Carrasco's new found control over his four quality pitches allowed him to rack up enormous strikeout totals while limiting the damage.

Believe it or not when Carrasco was reinserted into the rotation on August 10th, he was more dominant over the final two months than even Kluber. His 1.30 ERA led all of baseball during that span as did his .179 batting average against. This appears to only be the beginning of what Carrasco could accomplish over a full season.

4. Yan Gomes is a budding star behind the plate. This season Gomes batted .278 with 21 homers and 74 runs batted in. Among full time catchers with over 300 at bats Gomes ranked 6th in batting average, 6th in home runs, 4th in runs batted in, 3rd in runs scored, and 4th in slugging percentage. Gomes committed 14 errors on the season but most of those stemmed from an abysmal start throwing the ball in April. Gomes was by far the best Indians hitter against left handed pitching where he put together a .331 batting average. Finally, amongst catchers, a 4.6 WAR placed Gomes 3rd in all of baseball behind only Yadier Molina and Buster Posey.

5. Lonnie Chisenhall has established himself as a viable starting option at third base. This is a far cry from last year when Chisenhall batted a mere .225 and couldn't make it on the field against a left handed pitcher. In 2014, Chisenhall batted .280 with 13 home runs and 59 RBI. His improved plate discipline and new two strike approach are reasons for the higher batting average. Chisenhall batted .294 against left handed pitching and .276 against right handers.

As is true with any player he is not without his warts. His 18 errors led the team but there is reason to believe more playing time will lead to a higher fielding percentage. Remember, Chisenhall is a mere 25 years old.

6. The Indians have their entire starting rotation set for 2015. Seriously when was the last time we could say that after a season ended? I already mentioned Kluber and Carrasco so I'm going to focus on Danny Salazar,Trevor Bauer, and T.J. House.

Salazar started 20 games for the Tribe compiling a 6-8 record, 4.25 ERA, 120 strikeouts (only 35 walks), and a 1.38 WHIP. Salazar has electric stuff which can lead to dominating performances at times, though he gets into trouble when he can't throw his off speed pitches for strikes. His strikeout numbers prove he can be elite, but he will have to improve his command. After the All-Star break Salazar found himself and was 5-4 with a 3.50 ERA.

Bauer finished the season with a 5-8 record, 4.18 ERA, 143 strikeouts, and 1.38 WHIP. Bauer made huge strides this year under pitching coach Mickey Callaway and normally could be relied upon to go fairly deep into games. With Bauer it will always come down to the walks. Like Salazar, Bauer has great stuff, but his command eludes him at times. Bauer's splits prove he was a very consistent pitcher. He held left handers to a .254 batting average against compared to .264 for right handers.

House may be the first quality home grown Indians lefty since C.C. Sabathia. In 18 games started for the Tribe he put together a 5-3 record, 3.35 ERA, 80 strikeouts (only 20 walks), and 1.32 WHIP. House does not have dominating stuff but he is crafty and knows how to avoid the barrel of bats. He'll have to improve on his .297 average against right-handers if he wants to be a mainstay in the Indians rotation. All five members figured to make up the 2015 starting rotation are under 30 years of age and contractually tied to the team for at least the next three seasons (refer to IBI's payroll chart).

7. In Jose Ramirez the Indians have found a more than suitable replacement for Asdrubal CabreraWhile Tribe fans are clamoring for top prospect Francisco Lindor to make the jump to the majors, they should take notice of the job Ramirez did in his short time with the big club. Despite being only 22 years of age he showed great poise in the Indians playoff push.

Ramirez hit .262, with 2 homers, 17 RBI's, 27 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases this season. He tied for the MLB lead in sacrifice bunts (13) while only playing in 68 games. I really like the speed he has hitting in the number two spot in the order and could easily project to have 20-30 steals over the course of a full season. He was also better than anyone could have anticipated with the glove. His 10.7 defensive WAR would have ranked him 6th in baseball among shortstops. The emergence of Ramirez could allow the Indians the flexibility of trading him or Lindor for the power bat they so desperately need.

8. The Indians rock solid bullpen was again a major strength with the addition of some new faces. We'll start at the back end where Cody Allen did a tremendous job in his first stint as the full time closer. Remember, we are only a few months removed from the John Axford experiment that went awry. Allen compiled a 6-4 record, 2.07 ERA, converted 24 of 28 save opportunities, and had a 1.06 WHIP. His 91 strikeouts in 69.2 innings shows he has the power stuff to pitch at the backend of a bullpen. He is just 25 years of age and while pitching in only his third year he is becoming an elite closer.

Bryan Shaw filled the void of departed set-up man Joe Smith and did an admirable job. Shaw's piled up a 5-5 record, 2.59 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP. He broke Bob Howry's club record of 79 appearances and hopefully the high usage won't lead to a major decline in 2015. Lefty Marc Rzepczynski put together a nice season with 73 appearances and a 2.74 ERA. I see him as more of a matchup guy and his splits dictate as much (lefties hit only .180 off him but righties hit .338).

The ageless wonder Scott Atchison was the Indians most consistent reliever all year long. Atchison put together a 6-0 record and a 2.75 ERA. His mere 14 walks allowed him to compile a 1.03 WHIP. Nick Hagadone finally put his power stuff to use in the strike zone. He only appeared in 35 games but he held batters to a .214 average and had a 1.03 WHIP (tied Atchison for 2nd on the team behind Carrasco). Despite being drafted just last season, Kyle Crockett made a rapid ascent to the big leagues and pitched very well for the Tribe. He had a 4-1 record, 1.13 WHIP, and a team low 1.80 ERA in 43 appearances. He could be a key piece to the bullpen for years to come.

User Comments

October 6, 2014 - 10:40 AM EDT
Lonnie fell flat on his face in the second half of the season with a wRC+ of 68, the fact that he still finished the season at a 121 wRC+ is a testament to how far over his head he was playing in the first half. I have no doubt that given a full time opportunity next season that it'll be more of the same. With his poor play at 3B and weak bat will cost him that opportunity by the end of May. At this point, I'd rather see what we have in Walters who is supposed to have good defense and we all know about his tremendous power. And lets face it, this team's defense is so bad that if we have an option who can be at least league average with bat and glove then we should give him a shot over a guy like Chisenhall.
October 6, 2014 - 10:21 AM EDT
We are all grasping at straws to find offense and defense. The only players that fit the bill and meet the Indians needs have already been talked about in Beltre and Donadson. Now the Cuban Tomas is the hot topic of conversation.

I bet Indians this hot stove season might have better chance finding more pitching than a legit bat.
October 6, 2014 - 9:46 AM EDT
What in the world is the fascination with Dayan Viciedo? He's a well below-average defender. He's, at best, a league average bat. He's a poor baserunner. That's not the kind of player that will improve this team.
October 6, 2014 - 8:46 AM EDT
No doubt, one of the Indians biggest needs this offseason is to find another late inning pen arm. It's the one missing piece for them to round out this pen if you ask me. Zach McAllister is not an option for a backend role. He'll be a nice mid-long relief option early next year possibly, along the lines of Carrasco this year, but he no experience in the role and his value is still as a starter to this team. Later in the year it is possible he could move into such a later inning role, but not at the outset. They need another arm....and should target one in a trade like they did in getting Shaw two years ago.

Biggest need this offseason obviously will be to fill the lineup with two good everyday player and one role player - preferably right-handed and who play good defense. Whether the everyday guy is the 3B and the role player is the RF, or vice versa, doesn't matter to me. They just need the one and a half players to boost this lineup/defense.
October 6, 2014 - 3:25 AM EDT
Ok. We sign Viciedo. Great. Where do we play him? Right field? Ok, still have Murphy there. Gonna "just trade him"? Not always that easy. Left? Nah Brantley plays there. Bourn in center? See Murphy. DH? Already have a team full of DH's

A healthy Swisher just may be more productive than Viciedo. Whether you like the brohio crap or not. Plus Viciedo is just turning 26. I promise he isn't going to come cheap. Not a right handed power bat that's young. Another reason I don't believe the White Sox will just non tender him or whatever.
Vic Venom
October 6, 2014 - 12:53 AM EDT
Like i have been saying. Go after Viciedo if he is cut loose or shell out the greenbacks for Yasmani Thomas. You aren't getting Stanton unless you want to get rid of most of your top minor league prospects and THEN SOME.
Vic Venom
October 6, 2014 - 12:47 AM EDT
You could put Slider in the lineup and he would hit better than douche Swisher. I am all for Tribe kicking this bum and his injuries to the curb. Get rid of the Brohio section as well.
October 5, 2014 - 10:22 PM EDT
I have no faith in Swisher. I think he's done and we cannot afford to lose games in 2015 by putting an automatic out in the daily lineup.
October 5, 2014 - 8:29 PM EDT
Nice piece, Graydon. Things are looking up for the Tribe. Very young team, and will only get better. Chisenhall showed he can be a pure hitter, in what was really his first full season in the bigs. Need Kipnis to have a bounce-back year, Bourn to stay healthy, and hope that Swisher is not on that over-the-hill downward spiral.
October 5, 2014 - 6:22 PM EDT
The bullpen by its very nature will always be volatile.. The Indians have perhaps the core of a very good pen, but, need to see one of the other arms in the system step up.. Zach McAllister as a RHRP makes a lot of good sense. The 2015 season should be Austin Adams' coming out year.. Add the group coming back and the pen is pretty darn solid.. One guy who should be permitted to walk, CC Lee. He's not going to trick anyone with his stuff.. cut the cord now.. or start calling him the next John Axford..

The best news for this squad is the rotation is pretty well set and should get better..

The return of Swisher.. will be a wait and see kind of thing.. The advancement of Zach Walters from an interesting middle infield / DH to a player who can put the bat on the ball is needed.. As is the return to form of both Ryan Raburn and Jason Kipnis..

One good trade. under the radar type.. would be expected.. Otherwise.. this team should pretty much stand pat and let the kids get one more year of experience..

There was a news flash in the PD.. Terry Pluto thinks that the Indians might make a trade using one of their middle infielders for something they need.. Gotta love the brilliance coming out of the Plain Dull-er. SMH..
October 5, 2014 - 4:58 PM EDT

I agree, the Indians seem likely to add another bullpen arm. Two arms I like...Ryan Cook and Addison Reed might be available. Both be would nice adds similar impact to adding another arm like Bryan Shaw to the pen.

As for Zach McAllister, he performed great in his appearances as a RP. Yes way too early to compare him to Wade Davis as far as production and expectation. However, the other side of the coin Davis is a failed SP that found his role with KC as a force in the pen hitting 98-99 regularly sending guys back to the dug out shaking their heads...I think that's where the Davis comps are coming from - his role in the pen. Personally, I think McAllister could be used in similar fashion.
October 5, 2014 - 3:23 PM EDT

Word is Brett Lawrie will either be the Jays 3b or 2b depending on what they are able to do in FA or trades.
October 5, 2014 - 12:39 PM EDT
Does anyone think the Jays would consider moving Brett Lawrie?

if he could stay healthy i could see him being a right handed bat that we need
October 5, 2014 - 11:06 AM EDT
Disagree on Chisenhall. The real Lonnie showed up after June. Can't have a poor fielding, low power numbers, 250 hitter at thrid base.
October 5, 2014 - 10:50 AM EDT
Bullpen isn't a huge concern of mine. Find another arm to put in there behind Allen & Shaw. Seems like people forget that not two years ago those two guys were both setting up along side Joe Smith for Chris Perez. As those two got elevated in the pen they were both considerably over worked.

If Scrabble continues getting lefties out, Crockett and perhaps even Hagadone can finally accend to a bigger role along side Shaw to set up Allen. I wouldn't be shocked at all to see a reliever brought in, IMO likely through trade.

Guys like Lee, Adams, Price etc are good and all as extra depth, but if you're going to count on them right out the gates, you're being a bit foolish.

Perhaps McAllister has a role in the bullpen, I think initially though it's going to be as a long man or like a 2 inning bridge for when Salazar or Bauer have a 100 pitch, 4-5 inning performance. I don't see Wade Davis in Zach McAllister though, that talk needs to stop. Not to say he can't be extremely good, but Davis just had a sort of freak season. Unfair to raise expectations on ZMac so high he can't possibly live up to them.
October 5, 2014 - 10:04 AM EDT
The key to winning in 2015 will be in finding consistency. You can overcome a slow start but the long stretches of down periods over the course of the season kill you at the end. I hope the Tribe doesn't attempt a drastic offensive overhaul. Just having a guy like Carlos Santana avioid hitting under .150 for half the season would have made a huge difference and Lonnie's .280 looks fine overall but he was hitting as high as .393 until slipping in the second half. If everyone just contributes at his level of ability the offense will be okay.
October 5, 2014 - 9:28 AM EDT
I sort of agree with Vic. Francona mentioned after the season he would prefer to go after more pitching than hitting. I think he believes that Bauer and Salazar are not a sure bet to eat up innings, He probably wants another starter and most likely more relief help to go with Atchison, Shaw and Allen.
October 5, 2014 - 8:22 AM EDT
Bullpen is the least of my concerns. Mccallister could really blossom there next season. Tomlin with more distance behind him from TJ surgery will make a great swing man. If Bauer/Salazar take off next year like they are capable of, and House pitches like he did at end of year our staff could be as good as any in MLB.

The defense has to improve up the middle and at thirdbase. If we have another year of Chisenhall and Kipnis playing there the results will continue to be disasterous..
October 5, 2014 - 8:01 AM EDT
The bullpen was outstanding until the last week or two when there were some glitches, probably due to the pitchers wearing down from overuse. That doesn't nullify how well they pitched for 95% of the season.

The key to next year is for Bauer, Salazar, and House pitching into the 6th or 7th inning consistently instead of running up high pitch counts and being pulled after five innings, leaving more innings for the bullpen to absorb.

I don't fault Tito for overusing the bullpen. When your starter has thrown 100 pitches and it's only the 5th inning, what is he supposed to do - make him throw 130?
Vic Venom
October 5, 2014 - 1:27 AM EDT
I wouldn't say the Indians bullpen was rock solid. Tito overused the bullpen and its his fault, but the bullpen was not solid IMO. Starting rotation was lights out, bullpen still is frickin shaky.

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