Ranking the 2014 roster at the All-Star Break, part two
Brantley, Kluber lead the way at the All-Star break
There have been plenty of ups and downs for Cleveland so far in 2014, yet the team is entering the All-Star break at a perfectly average 47-47. There have been a few notable breakout stars and players performing above their true talent, but given the number of disappointments Cleveland's gone through, .500 actually feels pretty good right now.
These rankings represent a snapshot of each player's performance to date, meaning there are some people ranked higher who will regress down as the season goes on and vice versa. Players with more playing time are typically given some preference to those with less, which is why someone like Roberto Perez -- who performed well in one game -- is not #1.
In-text photos from ESPN
#21 John Axford, RHP (Previous Rank: 18, 26)
Axford has actually gotten his ERA in check lately, lowering it to 3.41 in 37.0 innings, but there are still greater signs that all is still not right with the right-hander. The strikeouts are there for Axford, but an inability to consistently put the ball over the plate (6.32 BB/9) and a third straight season of being prone to home runs are holding the right-hander back. It is possible Axford is on the upswing, but right now, he is still being used more in a mop-up role as opposed to being tasked with holding leads.
#20 Kyle Crockett, LHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR)
One place Cleveland excelled in the draft is acquiring fast-moving relievers, with Crockett's rapid ascent through the system serving as the latest example. The fourth round pick in 2013 already has 13.1 innings under his belt at the major league level and has succeeded in that time, posting a 2.03 ERA. Granted, Crockett only has a 7:5 SO:BB and 4.41 FIP in that time -- things that will need improvement if the left-hander is going to find continued success -- but for now, the 22-year-old is surviving in the majors roughly 13 months after being drafted; that itself is pretty impressive.
#19 Zach McAllister, RHP (Previous Rank: 10, 5)
McAllister's performance really fell off before he went on the disabled list, though whether that is a direct result of the injury or the regression that was bound to come his way is up for debate. Either way -- even with the poor performances factored in -- McAllister's 0.5 fWAR in 54.1 innings still puts him on pace for a roughly average full season based on his 4.08 FIP. Now, if McAllister keeps getting results closer to his 5.63 ERA, obviously, he will not be average. But there is some hope McAllister can get back to being a solid starter in the second half, something Cleveland desperately needs.
#18 T.J. House, LHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR)
How you feel about House's future depends on your opinion of his home run issues. The left-hander's 4.40 ERA and 4.76 FIP in 45.0 major league innings are both roughly replacement level, but those rates are only really sky-high due to House's 28.0 percent home run on fly ball rate. That figure typically regresses toward the mean, regression factored into House's 3.45 xFIP. If House can get his home runs under control, there is some real potential for the left-hander to be a solid back-of-the-rotation option who flashes more from time to time. But if House's relative lack of plus stuff keeps getting exploited by major league hitters, those home run problems may need more than simple regression to solve.
#17 Michael Bourn, OF (Previous Rank: NR, 19)
Given the amount of time Bourn is scheduled to miss due to his hamstring injury, the center fielder will likely slide when the next set of rankings come out around the end of August. For now, however, Bourn performed well enough to be at #17, though the results are still not pretty. Hitting at a roughly league-average rate has some value, but Bourn's defense is still not back to where it was pre-2013, a combination that leaves the 31-year-old closer to replacement level than not. Acknowledging Bourn's continued hamstring issues, it is possible his struggles are the result of not being fully recovered. The question, however, is whether these injuries are temporary or going to stay a part of Bourn's package for the rest of his career.
#16 Mike Aviles, INF/OF (Previous Rank: 14, 6)
After a hot start to the season, Aviles settled back into his normal routine: few walks, a fair amount of strikeouts, little power, and an on-base percentage in the .280s. That combination does not really amount to much at the major league level as a starter, and though Aviles is on pace for almost 110 games this season, he is still being used off the bench for most of that time. Aviles plays pretty frequently -- not the most ideal situation considering his 0.1 fWAR and 0.7 rWAR -- but the flexibility the 33-year-old offers Terry Francona off the bench is pretty valuable in its own right.
#15 Marc Rzepczynski, LHP (Previous Rank: 19, 16)
Rzepczynski's overall results are in line with his strong performance last year, with the left-hander posting a 3.48 ERA and 3.26 FIP in 33.2 innings. Part of that is a byproduct of giving up fewer home runs -- something that could regress in time -- given Rzepczynski's strikeout and walk rates have fallen off in 2014 (8.02 SO/9, 4.01 BB/9). Rzepczynski is still succeeding in his main job, however, as he has held left-handed batters to a .181/.244/.208 line with a .212 wOBA this season, the type of results that would make him a key LOOGY if Cleveland makes the playoffs. As it is, Francona is still giving Rzepczynski chances against right-handers -- something that has not gone well given his .346/.455/.509 line and .412 wOBA -- though giving him the chance to figure it out in the middle of the season is not a terrible idea.
#14 Justin Masterson, RHP (Previous Rank: 4, 7)
Following last season's impressive performance, the falloff Masterson experienced has really hurt him and the team in 2014. A spike in walks and lack of control have left Masterson really struggling, though some of it may be a result of his knee injury. Even with his issues this season, Masterson has not pitched as bad as his 5.51 ERA indicates. Masterson's 4.09 FIP and 4.06 xFIP paint a much prettier picture of the right-hander's future and that potential positive regression would help the team immensely. That, combined with getting healthy, could be a key step in any turnaround Cleveland is going to experience this season.
#13 Scott Atchison, RHP (Previous Rank: 23, 13)
It would be hard to top the Scott Kazmir minor league signing from last offseason, but the Atchison deal is also working out quite well. A 2.93 ERA and 3.24 FIP in 40.0 from a middle reliever is quite good, leaving Atchison as a key part of Cleveland's bullpen. At 38 years old, Atchison obviously is not a long-term piece, but given the erratic performances from year to year of most relievers, few are. Pitchers like Atchison are great to have around, pitching well and holding things down in the middle innings.
#12 Josh Tomlin, RHP (Previous Rank: NR, 17)
Looking at Tomlin's major league career, his two seasons around replacement level came when his BB/9 went up to 2.34 (in 2010) and 2.18 (in 2012). Tomlin's solid 2011 season came attached to a 1.14 BB/9 a figure that is hard to maintain over the long haul. The right-hander is pulling that off this season in addition to ramping up his strikeouts, giving Tomlin an impressive 69:9 SO:BB in 77.0 major league innings. The 29-year-old's home run problems are keeping him from pitching at an elite level despite the great SO:BB, but a 4.21 ERA and 3.89 FIP are nothing to laugh at. Cleveland struggled to find consistent starting pitching for much of 2014, but right now, Tomlin is helping and doing decently every fifth day.
#11 Carlos Carrasco, RHP (Previous Rank: 17, 25)
Though it would have been better from a value standpoint for Carrasco to make it work in the rotation, right now the right-hander seems to making quite a good reliever. Carrasco owns a 1.62 ERA and 2.69 FIP in 33.1 innings out of the bullpen, giving him good overall results even with his problems as a starter to begin the season. Much of Carrasco's turnaround in the bullpen has come from him finding a way to consistently throw the ball over the plate, as his strikeout rate has stayed largely the same while his walk rate plummeted (he had a 23.5 percent strikeout rate and 9.2 percent walk rate as a starter compared to a 24.4 percent strikeout rate and 4.7 walk rate as a reliever). It looks like Carrasco has found his place, and though it would have been better if it had come in the rotation, this is not a terrible result.
#10 Bryan Shaw, RHP (Previous Rank: 15, 8)
Shaw's strikeouts are down in 2014, but a similar drop in his walks have left the right-hander just as successful as he was last season. With a 2.70 ERA and 3.00 FIP this year (compared to a 3.24 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 2013), Shaw has been a consistent rock in the bullpen for Francona. Shaw may not be an elite reliever or someone who draws the headlines, but he is one of the solid pieces that makes the bullpen work.
#9 Trevor Bauer, RHP (Previous Rank: NR, 23)
Through 72.2 innings in Cleveland this season, Bauer owns a solid 3.84 ERA and 3.98 FIP, becoming the critical contributor at the major league level the #3 pick in the 2011 draft was always supposed to be. Considering Bauer only has 429.1 professional innings (323.1 in the minors, 106.0 in the majors), it should not come as a surprise the right-hander is only now beginning to establish himself as a legitimate major league option. In the grand scheme of things, it did not take the 23-year-old long to become a big league pitcher. He is only roughly a league-average pitcher right now, but given how much he has grown already in a short amount of time, it looks like Bauer's upside as a top-of-the-rotation may still be attainable.
#8 Jason Kipnis, 2B (Previous Rank: 1, 12)
Kipnis has been hitting around an average level this season, which combined with his above-average baserunning and below-average defense leaves Kipnis as an average player in 2014. Of course, given Kipnis' status as an All-Star in 2013 and the long-term contract he signed before the season, much more was expected from the 27-year-old this season. Kipnis' biggest problem this season has been a big decrease in his power, something that could just be leftover from his oblique injury earlier this season. It is probable Kipnis will rediscover his power stroke in the second half, something that would get his value back around where it has been the past two seasons.
#7 Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (Previous Rank: 8, 4)
Despite what seems to be near-universal hatred from the fanbase, Cabrera is having a decent season and is holding down the shortstop position adequately. Cabrera is never going to be a good fielder at shortstop, but the 28-year-old is doing enough that, when paired with his roughly league-average offense, he is about an average player this season. He may not be a star, but with the number of underperformers on the team this season, just having someone like Cabrera play solidly is quite valuable. Though plenty love to mock his "clutch" stats, that is mostly the result of dividing small samples into even smaller, flukier samples; Cabrera has not had those issues in his whole career and actually did quite well in high leverage situations from 2010 to 2012. Though he may end up on the trading block later this month -- and seems likely to leave at the end of the season via free agency -- Cabrera has been a key, steady member of this season's team.
#6 Cody Allen, RHP (Previous Rank: 13, 9)
With another season of high strikeout and decent walk totals, Allen remains one of the better relievers in baseball. Now tasked with the closer's role -- for better, for worse -- Allen is consistently using his talents to shut down opposing lineups in the spotlight of the ninth inning. His presence this high on the list despite only throwing 41.2 innings is a testament to how great he has been in 2014, though it is also influenced by how poor the rest of the team performed overall. Still, Allen ranks fifth on the team in rWAR and is tied for sixth in fWAR; it may not be ideal to have a reliever this high in the rankings, but there is no denying Allen earned this position.
#5 Carlos Santana, 3B/C/1B (Previous Rank: 2, 14)
After all the handwringing over Santana earlier in the season, the 28-year-old is actually doing pretty well, getting on-base at a decent .349 clip and hitting for the same power as always (.181 isolated power) through 84 games. Plus, Santana pulled that off with a .238 BABIP well below both his normal mark and the league average. It has been a disappointing season for Santana, yet he is still not terrible and most of the disappointment falls at the feet of the fluky BABIP gods. Santana may not end up a star -- especially if he is a first baseman for the rest of his career -- but he should be a good to great player going forward. On this team right now, that is a pretty good thing to have.
#4 Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (Previous Rank: 11, 10)
Chisenhall's BABIP is starting to regress toward the mean -- as is his offense -- but the 25-year-old still owns a .328/.392/.515 line with a 156 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR in 79 games this season. A good amount of that damage has come against right-handers, though for the first time in his career, Chisenhall is hitting lefties (162 wRC+ against right-handers in 237 plate appearances, 133 wRC+ against left-handers in 61 plate appearances). We have a lot of past data telling us Chisenhall struggles against lefties -- meaning we should be careful about assuming he will be this good the rest of the season -- but this is definitely an encouraging development. Finally given regular playing time at the major league level, Chisenhall seized the third base position. Even with some regression, Chisenhall should be a starter in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.
#3 Yan Gomes, C (Previous Rank: 3, 3)
For the third time in a row, Gomes is third in these rankings. Even with the expected BABIP regression, Gomes is still hitting for power and playing some really good defense. Those throwing issues at the beginning of the season faded, leaving Gomes as a solid member of the team and on pace for a four-win season. This was the best case scenario after Gomes' 3.6 fWAR in limited time last season, with the soon-to-be 27-year-old still performing at a high level despite becoming an everyday player. The long-term contract the catcher signed before the season was a risk with his lack of track record, but Gomes kept going and made that deal look like a bargain.
#2 Corey Kluber, RHP (Previous Rank: 6, 1)
Masterson may not have been able to maintain his status as #1 starter this season, but even if he had pitched well, Kluber probably would have ascended to that role anyway. Kluber has taken the next step this season, posting a 3.01 ERA, a 2.79 FIP, and 3.4 fWAR in 131.2 innings. By fWAR, Kluber is tied for sixth among all pitchers in baseball -- making the decision to leave him off the All-Star team frustrating, at best -- and though he falls off a bit when using his higher ERA, the point still stands. At 28 years old, Kluber is in his prime and pitching like a top-of-the-rotation pitcher; not a bad return for two months of Jake Westbrook.
#1 Michael Brantley, OF (Previous Rank: 7, 2)
Kluber may have been deserving of an All-Star nomination, but if Cleveland was only going to get one spot, the choice of Brantley was the right one. The jump in home runs may not last over the long haul -- his 17.6 home run per fly ball rate is nearly three times his career mark -- but even without the home runs, Brantley's low-strikeout, high-contact style is working in a great way. With a little more power behind that approach, Brantley is making pitchers pay and is the best player on the team at the All-Star break. While he may fall off this pace in time, Brantley will remain a very good player and one more than worthy of a long-term deal.
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One observation--as much as we like to complain about the dead weight of the Swisher and Bourn contracts, let's give the front office credit for locking up two top 5 guys--Gomes and Brantley--on the cheap. And on the subject of Swish and Bourn--yeah, those contracts are pretty ugly but at least the Tribe erred on money, not years. Both players only have two more guaranteed years left; if they continue to decline, I doubt they'll hit the performance metrics to extend their deals beyond 2016. And unlike the situation with Grady and Hafner 5 years ago, there is actually some minor league talent coming up that can produce on the cheap--Bauer, Lindor, Ramirez, Salazar, Naquin, etc. By the time we rid ourselves of the Swisher/Bourn money, we'll still have a pretty good young core locked up with plenty of room to lock up more young talent.
Kluber and Chisenhall still need long term deals but my guess is those will come sometime late in Spring Training 2015. That shouldn't be a problem, particularly if they backload the money to 2016 and beyond, once the you-know-whos are off the payroll. Go Tribe!
Regarding Kipnis, I'm not convinced he's been 100% healthy. I think most players return when they are cleared to play, not when their injuries are totally gone. Plus, oblique injuries have a tendency to hang around. It wouldn't surprise me if that is still holding him back even though he has been off the DL for a while now. But that's just my opinion on it. :) He's still been pretty close to average without any of his power and we have no reason to assume it'll all be gone forever. Hopefully.
Disappointing yes but not terrible.
Again, this is why I don't see Kipnis as the long-term answer at 2B, despite the contract, and why I wouldn't be that eager or willing to part with Ramirez, as I think he can match or outdo everything Kipnis can do (at a much cheaper cost, never mind the fact Ramirez could legitimate get better at his age- 22, I believe, versus Kipnis being pretty much what he is at age 27). The one area where Kipnis might have had an advantage over Ramirez- power- looks to be a minor advantage at best now, as Ramirez probably can be a 5-10 HR guy, might have a shot at 10-15 long-term. I think Kipnis, at best, is more of a 10-15 guy, and he might only be a 5-10 guy himself. At best for Kipnis, it's a minor advantage, and probably his only advantage over Ramirez. Even Kipnis' BB/K ratio is nothing more than decent, just over a 1 BB/2 K ratio (29 BB/52 K). Even that has fallen off, as he only had a 7 BB/28 K ratio in 110 June at-bats.
Thus, I'm not as confident in Kipnis' offensive surge de in the second half. Truth be told, I have a better feeling that Santana will have more of an offensive impact. He'll probably still be streaky and finish with a lower BA than his career BA of .247 to end the season, but is probably still a better bet to display more consistent power and a higher OPS than Kipnis is in my opinion. Even though I'm not sure Santana will have a real hot streak in the second half either like Brantley and Chisenhall have shown throughout much of the season, when compared to Kipnis, Santana is probably still a better bet when taking into account the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014 for both hitters.
The tribe optioned Zac Mac to columbus today that means he has to stay 10 days unless a disabled list addition. It doesnt take a math major to figure that when the season started zac mac had one season and 124 days of service. That coupled with 2014 prolly would have put him in the two+arbitration eligible
catagory. I hope they arent doing this to freeze zac out of eligibility for arbitration this winter. It is a mute issue now cause he will be no more than 2+100days and that wont be enough to be a super two candidate. It can make a difference of a million bucks in arbitration awards and adds to the salary in the negotiating of terms. I hope the FO isnt playing mundane days of service to be penny wise. that makes them look cheap.
I wish I could disagree with your thoughts about Masterson for the remainder of the season, but I can't. I'm not even confident now that he will pitch before mid-August or so....this knee thing seems worse than the reporting about it makes it seem.
My only comment is that Masterson is 90th of 92 in ERA among pitchers that have started at least 17 games this season to date. I am surprised that he is not in the lower half of the Plascik rankings. Yes, I see his FIP around 4.10, but I've also watched him pitch. My eyes are telling me that yes, he really is 90 of 92, despite his rosier FIP. I am hoping that other teams that need pitching right now are viewing this through your perspective, Jim, because trading Masterson now is an imperative for the team for several reasons.
Santana is hitting at an above-average level with a 114 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR. Kipnis is roughly average on offense with a 96 wRC+ and a 0.9 fWAR. They're both creating runs, which is why they're ranked that high. Bourn, on the other hand, may have a solid 96 wRC+, but his defense has been horrible, which has him giving back most of his value and leads to his 0.1 fWAR. Swisher has been worse, only posting an 80 wRC+ and a -1.0 fWAR. Thus why they're ranked where they are. Plenty of difference between them.
I'd have McAllister higher if not for the missed time. Provided he stays in the big league rotation and gets some better results, he should move right up. We'll see on the 43-28 post-All-Star break record. That goes out to a 100-win season pace, which is pretty extreme. They can do it, but it'll take a lot going right.
Thanks for the kind words. I'm going with the opposite though. The team's .500 even with the big money people having down years. Spin it positively, haha. :)
Agree with the top 6 for sure. It's pathetic that of the 4 guys who are making $10M+ this year, Cabrera is highest at #7. The lack of production from Swish, Bourn and Masty is killing this team.
Being 64 i have been a tribe follower since woody held and tito francona. This makes me OLD but also makes me WISE! I have been posting for a couple years that dr smooth reminds me of Garrett Anderson and 2014 validates that point. (he runs better) What a talent thank god he was the PTBNL the brew crew if they had held onto him would be running away with the natl league lead. He is the straw that stirs the tribe drink. He deserves the number 1 ranking. Kluber and gomer deserve their ranks too. I have also been a big Lonnie fan and the reason he suffered against lefties may have been that he didnt see them enough to get comfortable with them. With that classic swing i never doubted he would hit anyone!!!! I wish he could be just avg defensively. However i have to drop him to number 5. Cody allen is my number 4 and i see nothing to drop him below 4. I suspect that come august Trevor will be number 5 and kLUBER AND BAUER back to back is gonna be a huge advantage in any series. Plus Zac Mac is also top ten much higher than jim has him. Overall the rotation is better than given credit for. I sure wish they hadnt signed kikmis to that contract he may be tough to move if the opportunity presents itself. He is one of the team leaders but his defense isnt up to par. as of now and frankly since 2013 alstar break he is no more than average 2b. i expect crockett to move up on the list even though he isnt flame thrower he will get more command and long term is gonna be around major leagues baseball if he stays healthy well beyond his free agent years. Santana i agree as a catcher is more valuable however gomer is a weapon and santana is more than average 1b. we need roughly 43 more victories to make wild card and 43-28 is reachable with masty becoming masty which i think will happen and someone whether it is tomlin, salazar or house is gonna claim that 5 hole in the rotation. with 12 or 13 starts left out of the number 5 starter winning 6 or 7 as a team is sufficient. Incidently the reason i think 90 gets wild card is with the mariners angels and A's beating up on each other one may not make it to 90 or 90 maybe good enough to host the game.