Indians offseason checklist: Four steps to a contender in '15
Well, Tribe faithful, here we are again. On the outside looking in on the MLB postseason. Last season the Indians made it by the skin of their teeth and we watched our team put up a goose egg. But outside of that, a legitimate run has been a distant memory.
The Indians have a plethora of young talent between the Triple-A and Major League levels, helped by recent drafts and trades of veteran players such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson. Many of these players got opportunities this season, and most of them gave glimpses into an exciting future. Players like Carlos Carrasco and Lonnie Chisenhall made big jumps this season, while young guns like Kyle Crockett and Jose Ramirez impressed in their first real opportunities. With a lot of pieces in place, what do the Indians need to do to get back into AL Central dominance?
1. Get the defense into line
Saying that the Indians defense was disappointing this season would be a massive understatement. The Indians led the MLB in errors with 116 and possessed the worst team fielding percentage at .981. Player errors are ranked as follows:
Lonnie Chisenhall – 18 (.942 Fld%, 127 games)
Asdrubal Cabrera (traded) – 14 (.963 Fld%, 94 games)
Yan Gomes – 14 (.988 Fld%, 129 games)
Carlos Santana – 11 (.990 Fld%, 151 games)
Nick Swisher – 9 (.980, 92 games)
Mike Aviles – 8 (.974, 109 games)
Jason Kipnis – 6 (.989, 126 games)
Jose Ramirez – 4 (.985, 67 games)
David Murphy – 3 (.986, 122 games)
In calculating the Defensive Runs Saved Above Average per 1,200 innings, this group combines at -69. Basically this means that these 9 Indians players combined to give up 69 more runs defensively than the average team. Giving up that many runs defensively makes it incredibly hard to win games, and takes a mental toll on a pitching staff. If this group had even been average this season, paired with the offensive production and pitching, it would almost be a certainty to be a playoff team.
Some quick fixes would be to lock in players into positions where they are able to be successful defensively. Establishing some consistency is also crucial for a unit, as evidenced by the Carlos Santana 3B experiment of 2014. In 26 starts at third, Santana surrendered 6 errors for a fielding percentage of .909. This is far below the league average, making him a liability in the field. Santana was pretty solid at 1B with a .995% fielding clip, but he is best suited to focus on crushing the ball at the DH spot. Gomes really settled in defensively as the season went on, as the majority of his errors came in the first half of the season which was his first experience being a full-time catcher. Have no fear with him.
Chisenhall also suffered from the Santana 3B experiment, and was the team’s biggest liability in the field. Lonnie proved to be a near-elite #9 hitter for the Tribe, but was a major weakness on the diamond. It will be interesting to see how they handle his situation, especially with such depth in the minors on the infield (Lindor, Walters, Ramirez), as well as Aviles being capable of manning third base respectfully.
Swisher has historically been a pretty good outfielder defensively, though he has received limited time there as an Indian. For his career, Swish holds a .985% in the outfield, and that improves to .987% in right field, where he could play for the Indians over guys like David Murphy or Ryan Raburn.
One of the most challenging parts to improve on a team is the defense, especially without sacrificing offensive production. Many defensive specialists are offensive liabilities (is anybody lining up to resign Jack Hannahan?), and a player like Mike Trout who is a 5-tool phenom is an incredibly rare luxury for any team to stumble upon. The Indians have one potential phenom waiting in the wings; Francisco Lindor. He spent the majority of the season at the AAA level, and he’s certainly close to making his major league debut for the Tribe. Having him in the middle of the diamond would automatically be a defensive upgrade for the club, improving over error-prone Asdrubal Cabrera and respectable fill-in Mike Aviles.
Either way, the Indians defense has some work to do. A healthy Michael Bourn helps, as well as keeping players in positions where they are set up to succeed.
2. Fix the power outage
What happened to Jason Kipnis this season? After a breakout 2013 in which he hit 17 home runs and 84 RBIs en route to his first All-Star appearance, Kipnis recorded a meager 6 home runs and 41 RBIs. Six. After arguably being the Indians MVP in 2013, Kipnis struggled mightily this season. He fought off an early hamstring injury that lingered through September, which could be a big factor in losing his power. Kipnis’ slugging percentage dropped by over 120 points this season, and his average dropped by 44 points. It’s hard not to think of what could have been with a healthy 2013 version of Jason Kipnis.
Another big disappointment was Nick Swisher. The signing of Swisher was criticized for the hefty role that he was asked to step into with the Tribe. A big note of comfort was that Swisher was as consistent and reliable as they come, hitting over 20 home runs for every MLB season of his career, minus his rookie year. He racked up over 80 RBI in each of his four seasons with the Yankees, as well as 75+ runs and an on-base percentage of over .359. But he has slipped drastically as an Indian; here are his COMBINED numbers for both seasons with the Tribe:
- 909 AB, 107 runs, 210 hits, 30 home runs, 105 RBIs, 113 BB, 249 K, .231 AVG, .355 OBP
These numbers aren’t impressive, but they don’t look as anemic as they really are. To put it into perspective, he had 106 runs, 35 home runs, 95 RBI and 97 BB in 2006 alone (556 AB, Oakland). Sure, some drop-off is to come with age, but this incredibly dramatic struggle is a huge concern for the Indians, as they need him to at least be an average hitter to bolster this lineup.
Whether it was the big expectations or if it is simply age, Swisher needs to overcome this drastic struggle. Setting him up as a full-time DH could help him focus on improving his swing, and Swish is a guy capable of 25+ home runs and 80+ RBI.
Some power did come from this lineup in 2014, even from unexpected places. Michael Brantley set a career high at 20 home runs after previously failing to eclipse 10 home runs. Yan Gomes busted out to hit 21 home runs in full-time catching duties. Carlos Santana burst onto the scene after a dreadful first month, tying his career high of 27 home runs. Outside of these three, only Lonnie had double-digit home runs on the Indians.
The Indians received power from left field, catcher and first base. The DH spot and third base failed to live up to the MLB-typical power numbers that most other teams possess. 15+ home runs from these positions could really bring this offense to life next season, though that could still end up happening with Chisenhall.
3. Keep improving the rotation
Since August 1st, the starting rotation has been nothing short of fantastic. Check out these numbers:
That’s enough to make opposing offenses shake a little. The strikeout rates have been absurd, and Mickey Callaway is obviously having an amazing impact on this group of young slingers. This is especially impressive when you factor in the less-than-stellar defense behind the Indians’ pitchers mentioned above.
While none of the five of these pitchers have had proven, ongoing success, the potential in this group is incredibly exciting. Corey Kluber could very well be the AL Cy Young winner. Carlos Carrasco has always had great stuff, but failed to succeed while pitching extended innings. Entering this season he had a career ERA of 5.29, while finishing this season with an 2.55 ERA. His fastball was dazzling, he seemed to keep his composure and trust his stuff consistently. He cut his WHIP drastically down to a 0.99, and had an incredibly low BB rate of 5.5% of batters faced.
Danny Salazar struggled early, even being demoted to Triple-A for a good portion of the season. An injury to McAllister coupled with the dealing of struggling starting pitcher Justin Masterson resulted in him returning to the majors, where he showed great improvement. He ended the season with an unimpressive 4.25 ERA, especially after being the AL Wild Card starter for the Tribe last season. His stuff is still dazzling, and he should be a great pitcher for the Tribe. Bauer has the same type of great stuff, and ended up performing consistently pretty well this season. He’s here to stay.
T.J. House was the huge surprise of the season for the Indians, as the hard-throwing lefty compiled an impressive ERA of 3.35 with 80 strikeouts in 102 innings pitched. He did have a slightly high WHIP of 1.32, but was impressive and was a great change-of-pace lefty for the Tribe.
A rotation going forward of Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Bauer and House is an incredible amount of talented youth, but also carries some question marks. Can all of these young slingers maintain the success of August and September? Without a veteran leader, how will this group perform come postseason (God-willing)? What happens to the other starters on the club such as Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin?
A veteran leader could really round out this rotation, but it’ll be interesting to see what the club would do if one is in fact signed.
4. Make a real splash
The Tigers making a big move for former Rays ace David Price proved one thing: some teams do whatever they need to do to win games, and some teams…sign David Murphy. The Tigers have won four straight AL Central championships, and they’ve done it with a deep checkbook and a desire to consistently intimidate other teams with power and pitching.
In 2010, they made a splash by trading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson to the Yankees and D-Backs and receiving Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer, among others. In 2011, they signed Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit to sizable contracts. In 2012, they signed Prince Fielder to a huge contract. They also traded starting pitcher Jacob Turner and two minor leaguers for second baseman Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins. In 2013,Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez (resigned) were the big moves. In 2014, the Tigers traded slugger Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for three-time All Star second baseman Ian Kinsler. When the bullpen struggled last season, the team signed Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain and Joel Hanrahan to contracts, all respected closers in the league. They later traded for former All-Star closer Joakim Soria and All-Star David Price. All this to say, good teams make big moves. Whether or not they work out is another story.
The Tribe has a history of going after comeback-potential players who were at one point slightly above-average players, such as Murphy. They tried recently to make some splashes, signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to sizable deals in the most expensive offseason in team history. Both players have been disappointments, with Swisher struggling mightily for most of his time as an Indians and Michael Bourn battling hamstring injuries that have taken a noticeable hop out of his step.
Though the Indians have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball ($82,534,800, 5th lowest in the majors), they need to continue to build this team through smart investments on talented players. Locking up Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes have appeared to be fantastic moves, as both had breakout seasons in 2014 and settled in as the Indians’ best offensive players.
The Indians need to find a balance between going out and spending money wisely to seriously improve the team and going out to spend money for the sake of spending money. Guys like Francisco Liriano or Adam LaRoche could help the club at a less-than-elite dollar mark, while guys like James Shields or Nelson Cruz could really be game-changers.
The Indians are in a tough position financially, and they could choose to bring back everyone from 2014 next season since the entire roster is under control. With few expiring contracts and many long-term commitments, it will be crucial to improve from within. With a roster full of talent and one of the best coaching staffs in the MLB, it could be a fun ride going forward.
the 2007 team was one that should have beat boston to go to the WS and probably would have beat that rockies team too, everyone and their brother knew CC was going to walk after the 2008 season so the front office had to go for the gusto in order to win it all. instead of trying to get that piece to put them over the top, they sat on their hands and the season was lost.
yes, there were injuries and trades ended up happening in july but the case remains, when this team was on the verge of being a world series shap and co. declined to make any moves of significance to get them over the top.
House hits 93-95, but sits low 90s. No, he's not a flame thrower but probably throws harder than the average lefty.
As for Bauer, agreed, he needs to work on control, but as a 23 yo power pitcher, I would imagine that is the last thing to come. He dramatically improved over this past offseason. Expect him to continue to work hard to improve. I think the biggest thing for him is finding a better approach early on. His ERA suffered bc of a number of games giving up runs in the first inning.
Using fielding percentage is like counting up the number of singles a guy hit to determine his ability at the plate. It ignores hugely important things, just like counting singles ignores an ability to draw a walk or hit for power. And that sometimes the scorekeeper can subjectively overrule what should be a single or not. And that fielding percentage doesn't even tell us if its his glove or arm that caused the errors. Sounds like there a lot of huge flaws in it.
Anthony can say whatever snarky things he wants to about me. But he's going to have to come across with something a lot stronger than fielding percentage.
matt - the team "shit" the bed in 2008 because Hafner, Martinez, and Westbrook got hurt, Sabathia started slow, the bullpen stunk, including Betancourt, and Carmona, well I don't want to talk about that. That had nothing to do with spending, and no amount of realistic spending could have fixed those problems. Anyone who blames 2008 on the lack of spending is just looking for a excuse to whine, not to actually analyze the problems.
Fangraphs had an excellent article the other day talking about the least best player WAR on each team. The Rays were outstanding in not giving playing time to negative WAR players. The Indians, by contrast with the 2013 Tribe, were bad, giving far too much time to Ryan Rayburn and the hobbled Swisher. Partly those guys got so much time because Murphy was almost as bad and has lower ceiling, so Tito probably figured "what the heck". If the Indians cannot get a healthy Swisher back in 2015 they will need to pull the trigger fast and get at least a replacement level player there lots earlier in the year. Spring training is going to tell the tale in right field, I believe.
I won't be surprised to see the Indians add a veteran arm to the rotation. It might even help facilitate a trade for a bat by creating depth.
Agreed, they are on the cusp of a really good run. That's part of the reason I've been so out spoken to add someone like Josh Donaldson.
IF Dolan did spend to get "that player" for the lineup would people even show up? If attendance were stronger perhaps he would spend, but I don't see it.
They will spend, and they seem likely to stretch the payroll if necessary, but they won't lose draft picks to sign big name FA's. I think they will be willing to take on a little salary (a cpl M) if it is clear that this team is a playoff team.
Let's face it the AL Central might be a dog fight next yr. They'll need some upgrades bc KC and DET will not be push overs.
in winter of the '07 season the front office sat on their hands and the team sh*t the bed. i hope hope hope they actually try and improve the team to make a run as to not waste this starting pitching.
i have zero faith in this front office however - call it the cleveland in me, but i anticipate a big bucket of nothing this off season. shapiro/antonetti era has grown stale - need new leadership at the top.
They have spent. Bourn, and Swisher. Santana, Kipnis, Gomes, and Brantley.
They could spend another 10-15M this offseason. But don't look for any big FA signings. They've ruled that out. I can't say I blame them. Any big add should/could be by way of trade.
- Larry Dolan, in the summer of 2002.
My personal favorite is DRS though. E.g. FP says Josh Donaldson and Nick Castellanos were about the same defensively, and both were slightly better than Lonnie. DRS says Josh Donaldson saved 50 more runs than Nick Castellanos. The Indians' DRS negative leaderboard, Murphy, Chiz, Kipnis, Asdrubal, also jives well with reality. Murphy "leading" the pack, especially with his abbreviated season, is surprising and kind of eyebrow-raising, but it could be right! He looked very Choo-like at times with his route-running, and lacking the Choo arm, that makes for a sucky right-fielder. The other 3 are pretty much the unquestioned leaders of defensive ineptitude from 2014, in that order.
Steve, what's hilarious about your argument is that you believe any of the convoluted fielding metrics have any value. All fielding metrics are "nearly useless as a measure of defensive value". You know what works? Observation. If you watch someone in the field you can judge range, footwork, positioning, agility, et cetera. That plus Fielding Percentage will be your best measure of fielding ability, unless you watch every game. One reason I prefer OPS+ to WAR is because WAR attempts to quantify the unquantifiable, namely defensive value.
Last thing, the only reason I engaged you at all was the snotty remark about the use of FP by the writer. You're free to start your own blog or even apply to write something for IBI. C'mon, give Anthony Kaylor the opportunity to write something snarky about you.
This is the part the Jacobs excelled in because he not only had the extra cash to spend but he knew that if he went the extra mile, the fans would damn near double his profit. Please don't tell me it was a different time and era. These are still the same fans and the tv viewing is showing the interest is still there. The Dolans did absolutely nothing the first 10-12 years of ownership and it's time to put up or shut up. This team is very close to be a juggernaut, with the farm system they have. It's time to spend a little more than what you want to get the players that you need to push over the top.
When I say that, it doesn't have to be the big free agents but 1-2 that you can rely on or that trade in which you take on a salary more than what you want to but it will push the team into the elite realm. IT'S TIME!!!
As for addressing defense - I expect Chisenhall to continue to improve with continued reps at 3b. Urshela - whenever he's ready brings GG caliber defense at 3b a RH bat that continues to improve. Any upgrade likely comes in the form of Beltre, Frazier, or Donaldson. Any of the three represent an offensive and defense upgrade at the corner, but could cost the team significantly.
Adding a bat like Alex Rios could impact the lineup and provide balance offensively.
Finally, don't overlook the need for another qlty bullpen arm. The Indians blew several games in the second half. Then consider the potential set back / wear of the 2014 season on a cpl arms and it seems possible the Indians add a qlty bullpen arm to extend the bullpen and close out some games next season. That could be moving McAllister into a bullpen role - I think he flashed potential for a setup role next yr.
And "convoluted situational scenarios constructed" is the only strawman in this discussion.
Really, extra weight won't help a baseball player unless he's a stick.
Signing some kind of vet SP as insurance never hurts. If you need him, he's there. If you don't, someone else might, & be willing to pay.
Metrics snobs kill me. They act like they invented the damned things. If a guy has stone hands, fielding % will show it. If he has a great FP it means he catches what he can get to. Won't show range but I prefer a guy with a good FP, despite convoluted situational scenarios constructed to illustrate it's uselessness.
Save the straw men for the corn fields.
I'm not sure if you've paid attention to the rest of baseball, but power, offense overall really, is down everywhere. The team's offense was still middle of the pack. A healthy Kipnis and anything out of Swisher, and they should have a good offense next year.
The rotation looks good, but they need some health/consistency. They only used eight starters all year, same as the Royals, but only Kluber made 30 starts, and Bauer was the only other guy over 25. The Royals had four guys start 30 games, and Duffy got to 25. I'd look for an innings eater, a guy who can provide stability to the rotation and help save some wear on the bullpen.
Yeah, everyone wants a big offseason splash. And many get cranky when one isn't made. I'm not sure what they expect a small market team that is 29th in attendance to do though. Even if there are guys they can afford, almost every other market has more room to spend. Like you said, build from within. Anybody who expects a big splash seems to have not paid attention to how MLB works.