Ranking the 2014 roster at the stretch run, part two
Kluber's breakout season puts him back at the top of these rankings
Though there have been ups and downs this season, Cleveland's 70-65 record has them on the fringes of playoff contention and in the thick of things as the calendar turns to September. Despite some definite disappointments, there are still plenty of bright spots on the team this season.
With the season heading toward the stretch run, it is once again time to rank the roster. These rankings represent a snapshot of each player's performance to date and does not account for bad luck, coming regression, etc. Players with more playing time are given some preference to those with less, though in this edition of the rankings, I am giving it a little less weight.
Part one of the rankings ran yesterday and can be found here.
For previous editions of the rankings, click the links below:
- From before the season, parts one and two
- At the 40-game mark
- and parts one and two from the All-Star break
In-text photos from ESPN
#20 Nick Hagadone, LHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 36)
Don't look now, but after years of spotty control, Hagadone is actually limiting his walks this year. Combined with his mid-90s fastball velocity and high strikeout rate, Hagadone turned himself into a valuable bullpen arm in his fourth major league season. His BABIP and strand rate are both unsustainable -- and given his years of control problems, it would not be a surprise to see his walks go back up some -- but even with some regression, Hagadone looks to be a quality major league reliever. Even if he ultimately settles in as a LOOGY, Hagadone made a big improvement in 2014.
#19 Kyle Crockett, LHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 20)
Much like at every other stop along Crockett's rapid ascension to the major leagues, the left-hander has done very well in the major leagues this season. The 2013 fourth round pick is striking batters out, not walking batters, and inducing a ton of ground balls. That trifecta is everything you want to see out of a pitcher and the fact that Crockett is doing this in the majors just 14 months after being drafted is amazing. Cleveland has a nice collection of left-handed relievers in the organization, and though relievers tend to be volatile, Crockett figures to be at the head of the list for years to come.
#18 Jose Ramirez, INF (Previous Rank: NR, 28, 33)
The trade of Asdrubal Cabrera opened the shortstop position up, which has given Ramirez a chance show what he can do before Francisco Lindor gets his shot to take the job over for good. Even though Ramirez is not dominating offensively, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has been pretty good in about a quarter-season's worth of games, displaying his ability to be at least a second-division starting shortstop. Ramirez is taking advantage of his major league audition and will find a major league job one way or another; he is doing too well at too young of an age not to keep getting chances somewhere.
#17 Josh Tomlin, RHP (Previous Rank: NR, 17, 12)
Cleveland may be somewhat lacking in proven, high-end starting pitching options, but the collection of decent arms is pretty strong. Tomlin fits into this category, as the right-hander is not pitching particularly well, but is definitely adding value to the major league club. Home runs continue to be a problem for Tomlin, but even with them, the 29-year-old owns a 3.83 FIP in 102.1 innings. Based on the inability to strikeout batters over his entire career, Tomlin's 8.3 SO/9 this season seems unlikely to last, but even if that rate falls, Tomlin should continue filling up the zone and putting up serviceable innings again.
#16 Marc Rzepczynski, LHP (Previous Rank: 19, 16, 15)
Though younger players like Hagadone and Crockett are on their way up, they have not caught up to Rzepczynski in these rankings just yet. Most of that comes from Rzepczynski's lead in innings pitched, however, as all three essentially have the same value this season. That trio gives Cleveland enviable left-handed relief depth, especially considering Rzepczynski's ability to eliminate left-handed batters (.156/.208/.178 line this season). With rosters expanding in September, Francona should be able to keep Rzepczynski away from his kryptonite -- right-handed batters -- and use him to shut things down against lefties the rest of the way.
#15 Michael Bourn, OF (Previous Rank: NR, 19, 17)
Bourn's issues staying healthy seem to be real at this point, though there is always the chance his hamstring injury simply needed more than one offseason to heal. When on the field, Bourn continues to hit at a roughly league-average level, at rate that certainly plays in center field. The problem for Bourn is his defense is grading out even worse this season, dropping from elite in 2012 to average in 2013 to terrible in 2014. Again, that could be related to his hamstring problems, but defense tends to peak early and Bourn is not getting any younger.
#14 T.J. House, LHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 18)
Pitchers like House may not jump out at you like a Clayton Kershaw type, but every team needs pitchers like him to make it through a season. House is the perfect guy to have at the back of a rotation, capable of eating innings, limiting walks, generating groundballs, and putting up decent outings. The left-hander does not turn 25 years old until late this month and has years of team control ahead of him; provided he keeps running ERAs and FIPs around 4.00, he will have a good chance of being in Cleveland's starting rotation.
#13 Danny Salazar, RHP (Previous Rank: 5, 18, 23)
The strikeouts dipped and the walks rose for Salazar, but after the dust settled on his early-season struggles, the right-hander ended up roughly an average pitcher this season. Plus, since returning to the majors in mid-July, Salazar looked much more like the guy from last season (2.84 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 3.74 xFIP in 38.0 innings) than the beginning of 2014. Salazar has not immediately stepped into the role of top-of-the-rotation starter like expected before the season, but he is still relatively young and inexperienced at the major league level. Salazar still has the ability to grow into the role and should, at the very least, continue to pitch well in Cleveland.
#12 Jason Kipnis, 2B (Previous Rank: 1, 12, 8)
So what do we do with Kipnis' below-average season in the first year of his long-term contract? Given his long track record before 2014, this seems like a bit of a fluke; he is on pace for a 1.0 fWAR season after putting up 3.0 and 4.4 marks in the past two seasons. Kipnis was always an above-average player before 2014, and with the absence of power this year being the main culprit of his drop-off, connecting his oblique injury earlier this season with his power outage makes for a plausible explanation. That could be confusing correlation with causation, however, and while a bounce back over the rest of the season and in 2015 seems like a safe bet, Kipnis it is not guaranteed by any means.
#11 Carlos Carrasco, RHP (Previous Rank: 17, 25, 11)
It has been five years since Carrasco made his Cleveland debut, way back on September 1, 2009, but after all that time, the right-hander has finally become a quality major league starting pitcher. Even including his starts at the beginning of the season that saw him moved to the bullpen, Carrasco owns a 9.1 SO/9, 2.3 BB/9, 48.8 percent groundball rate, 3.55 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 3.19 xFIP in 46.2 innings as a starter this season. Sure, this is the only time Carrasco pitched this well in his career, but at 27 years old and just now entering his arbitration seasons, the right-hander has the potential to be a valuable member of the starting rotation with three years of team control left to go.
#10 Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (Previous Rank: 8, 4, 7)
The city-wide hate-fest Cleveland had for Cabrera is finally over, as the shortstop found himself traded to the Washington Nationals at the trading deadline. The trade made perfect sense for Cleveland given Cabrera was in the last year of his contract, but sending the 28-year-old away was not simply giving up a useless player. League-average hitters who can handle shortstop are a rare commodity and Cabrera qualifies as such a player. Cleveland is able to survive losing him due to the middle infield depth bubbling up through the minor league system, but make no mistake, Cabrera was helping the team in 2014, just as he is helping the Nationals in their playoff race.
#9 Scott Atchison, RHP (Previous Rank: 23, 13, 13)
Atchison continues to be proof that there is nothing wrong with taking fliers on minor league contracts; either you hit as with Atchison or you cut your losses for a negligible expense. The 38-year-old Atchison has not turned out quite as well as 2013's signing of Scott Kazmir, but with a solid approach to filling up the zone with strikes, the right-hander has been quite valuable out of the bullpen this season. Given Cleveland's gobs of right-handed relief depth, I personally did not love guaranteeing Atchison's contract for 2015, but considering he was going to be arbitration-eligible (amazingly, considering next year is his age-39 season) and he is only signed for $900,000, it ultimately should not hurt too bad.
#8 Trevor Bauer, RHP (Previous Rank: NR, 23, 9)
The organization never fully gave up on Carrasco due to his raw ability and youth, just like with Bauer. The Diamondbacks gave up on the right-hander, and after Bauer's rough 2013 season, the decision was working out well for Arizona. Yet Bauer is still only 23 years old and entered this season with all of 33.1 major league innings under his belt. After another year's worth of growth, Bauer developed into an average starter who has the potential to turn into more in the years to come. It is not smart to bet against youth and talent, because young people often grow, mature, and turn out just fine, like Carrasco and Bauer.
#7 Bryan Shaw, RHP (Previous Rank: 15, 8, 10)
Shaw's ERA is down about a run this season, but considering his FIP and xFIP in 2013 and 2014 are both essentially the same (around 3.10 and 3.60 respectively), the right-hander has basically been the same pitcher this season. Not that there is anything wrong with Shaw being as good as he was last year, since the 26-year-old finished in the top-50 among relievers in fWAR. Shaw remains a key member of the bullpen, and with him pitching on a pre-arbitration contract, he has been plenty valuable. That will change next season when Shaw is arbitration-eligible for the first time, but given how well he has pitched since coming over from Arizona with Bauer, it has a good chance of being money well spent.
#6 Cody Allen, RHP (Previous Rank: 13, 9, 6)
Cleveland's top reliever this season, however, remains Allen, whose 1.0 fWAR is pushing him into top-30 consideration among relievers in fWAR. Like Shaw, Allen's 2014 is a carbon copy of his 2013 from a FIP perspective (roughly 3.00 in each year), but Allen's ERA has dropped from 2.43 to 1.80 this season (at this point, we know ERA is a little fluky, but there is no denying Allen has been more lights out this season). He is a power reliever who strikes out a ton of batters and is a great guy to have anchoring the bullpen. If Cleveland is going to finish off another miracle September playoff run this season, having Allen as a ninth-inning stopper will be a pretty big part of it.
#5 Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (Previous Rank: 11, 10, 4)
So which is the real Chisenhall: the one that posted a .332/.396/.519 line and 162 wRC+ in the first half of the season or the one that has struggled to a .228/.291/.350 line and 82 wRC+ to date in the second half? As with so many things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, with Chisenhall's .299/.363/.465 line and 137 wRC+ on the season making him worthy of the #5 spot in these rankings. The 2014 season in Cleveland has been characterized to some extent by many proven players falling off and not living up to their reputation (Swisher, Kipnis, Bourn, etc.), making Chisenhall's breakout all the more important. Even if he is ultimately only the roughly-average player his season stats make him out to be, Chisenhall will be a useful major league player for Cleveland down the stretch and in the years ahead.
#4 Carlos Santana, 1B/3B/C (Previous Rank: 2, 14, 5)
Following a terrible start to the season largely fueled by a terrible BABIP, Santana has been on the way up and turned in a strong season. Santana is walking a ton, is not striking out so often it hurts his value, and is hitting for essentially the same power as always. The 28-year-old's BABIP is still fairly low -- yielding hope for further positive regression over the last month of the season -- but as it is, Santana is on track for his fourth-consecutive season in the 3.0-WAR range. Santana's ceiling looked a little higher a few years ago, but settling in as a consistently above-average player (even after his switch to first base) is still a good outcome.
#3 Yan Gomes, C (Previous Rank: 3, 3, 3)
Gomes had some problems with his throws earlier in the season, but the catcher has gotten back on track and is currently leading American League catchers in fWAR with 4.2. Some of that value is coming from Gomes repeating his high BABIP from 2013, though it is possible the 27-year-old is able to make consistently hard contact and get more hits on balls in play. Even though Gomes' 244 career major league games feels like a large sample, we will need to see him put up a higher BABIP than normal for a bit longer before we can call it a real skill, but even if his BABIP regresses in time, Cleveland has a strong defensive catcher with some pop signed to a relatively cheap long-term contract; that is not a bad overall combination.
#2 Michael Brantley, OF (Previous Rank: 7, 2, 1)
The biggest cause of Brantley's big jump remains in his power, where the outfielder went from around a .115 isolated power in 2011-2013 to a .185 mark this season. Brantley's power has fallen off a bit in the second half, with his home run per fly ball rate going from 17.6 percent (around David Ortiz's rate this season) to 6.3 percent (roughly Brantley's rate prior to 2014) after the All-Star break. The 27-year-old is still a very good player due to his decent walk rate, rock-bottom strikeout rate, and heightened line drive rate, but it does seem like Brantley's home run rate is on its way back down. But with offense down league-wide, Brantley can be plenty valuable without hitting home runs like Ortiz.
#1 Corey Kluber, RHP (Previous Rank: 6, 1, 2)
Despite Monday's poor outing against the Tigers, Kluber's breakout season is still ongoing and propelled him back to the top of these rankings. Kluber's strikeout rate jumped again, going from 8.3 SO/9 to 9.9, which paired with a 2.1 BB/9 and 48.2 percent groundball rate have him right near the top of the fWAR leaderboards. While Kluber may not end up with a Cy Young Award for his 2014 season, that does not discredit it at all. Even though Cleveland watched most of their top-of-the-rotation starters from 2013 go, it still has one ready to go every fifth day in Kluber. How the rest of the rotation shakes out is still up for debate, but right now, you can bet Kluber will be at the top.
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