Ranking the 2014 year-end roster: Part two
Choosing between Kluber and Brantley is essentially impossible
The 2014 season may have ended with some disappointment with Cleveland missing the playoffs, but finishing with an 85-77 record and being in contention until the last weekend of the season is not all that bad.
Before looking forward to 2015, first IBI is going to look back on 2014. Personally, that starts for me with these roster rankings before transitioning to the IBI Awards next week.
As a reminder, these rankings only represent a player’s performance in 2014 and do not account for bad luck, coming regression, etc. Players with more playing time are given some preference to those since performing decently for a whole season is harder to do than being great in limited time.
The other versions of these rankings in 2014 are listed below. For part one of the year-end rankings, click here:
- Preseason part one and part two
- At the 40-game mark
- At the All-Star Break part one and part two
- At the stretch run part one and part two
In-text photos from ESPN
#20 Mike Aviles, INF/OF (Previous Rank: 14, 6, 16, 21)
Aviles seems to just be what he is at this point: a player capable of filling in basically anywhere on the field but not good enough offensively to be more than a replacement-level player. That defensive versatility is nice to have on the bench, but given Cleveland’s other versatile options coming up through the system (Jose Ramirez after Francisco Lindor presumably takes the shortstop position, Tyler Holt’s ability to play all three outfield positions, Zach Walters to some extent, etc.), it may not be enough to justify exercising Aviles’ $3.5 million team option at a time when cash is tight for the organization.
#19 Nick Hagadone, LHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 36, 20)
We still cannot be 100 percent certain that Hagadone’s outstanding 23.1 innings in 2014 mean more than his not-so-outstanding 67.2 before that, but this season was certainly a step in the right direction for the left-hander. Hagadone still throws hard, and now that he is getting more strikeouts and fewer walks, he looks like a force to be reckoned with. He will still likely slot behind Kyle Crockett and Marc Rzepczynski, but Hagadone is pitching well enough to force Cleveland to carry three left-handers in the bullpen in 2015.
#18 Michael Bourn, OF (Previous Rank: NR, 19, 17, 15)
Bourn ranks much higher than Nick Swisher due to posting a positive WAR total, but the 31-year-old still disappointed in 2014. He saw a drop in his steals again, as he went from stealing a base every 3.2 games before coming to Cleveland to stealing one every 5.7 games in 2013 to stealing one every 10.6 games in 2014. Paired with his drop in steals, Bourn rated out negatively again in center field, furthering the case that he just is not the same defender he was a few years ago. Bourn’s offense is still essentially at the same level, but without his value on the basepaths and on defense, the center fielder just is not the same player.
#17 Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (Previous Rank: 8, 4, 7, 10)
Cabrera sliding in these rankings is no reflection on his performance down the stretch, as he had 0.6 fWAR in 49 games with the Nationals as they won the National League East and enter the playoffs. But that value means nothing here since it did not come in Cleveland, leaving Cabrera stagnant while the rest of the roster moves up around him.
#16 Danny Salazar, RHP (Previous Rank: 5, 18, 23, 13)
The 2014 season did not start out well for Salazar, but ultimately, the right-hander settled in and pitched pretty well. Weighing runs allowed and peripherals equally, Salazar’s 4.25 ERA and 3.52 FIP in 110.0 innings left him as a roughly average starting pitcher. The hope for Salazar is that his ERA will regress down a bit toward his FIP, which could be the case given his .343 BABIP in 2014, but even if it does not, the right-hander is already a decent pitcher. Having a decent pitcher in the rotation with the upside for much more is a pretty good place to be and that is where Salazar is.
#15 T.J. House, LHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 18, 14)
You could have gotten really good odds before the season if you wanted to bet on House finishing ahead of Salazar here (as you can tell by looking at the previous rankings), yet here we are. In his first taste of the major leagues, House posted a 7.1 SO/9, 2.0 BB/9, and 60.9 percent groundball rate, marks that leave the left-hander as a well-rounded starting pitcher. It does not seem likely that House will run a 3.35 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 3.10 xFIP over the long haul as he did in his first 102.0 innings, but those marks still establish the 25-year-old as someone worthy of a major league spot in 2015.
#14 Trevor Bauer, RHP (Previous Rank: NR, 23, 9, 8)
Walks are still holding Bauer back, as his 3.5 BB/9 mark is still a little high and is part of the reason his 4.18 ERA and 4.01 FIP remain high, but 2014 still serves as a big step forward for Bauer. After last season’s refining of his pitching motion and rough results, seeing Bauer as a serviceable major league pitcher is huge. For now, Bauer is getting a bit of a bump in these rankings for pitching 153.0 major league innings, but considering the right-hander is throwing around an average level, he will need to perform better in the future to be more than a middle-of-the-road starter. Still, like Salazar, being a solid pitcher with the capability for more is not bad at all.
#13 Kyle Crockett, LHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 20, 19)
At only 22 years old and in his first full professional season, Crockett already established himself as a good major league reliever. In his first 30.0 major league innings, Crockett struck out nearly a batter per inning, posted a 2.4 BB/9, and ran a meager 1.80 ERA. His current profile is technically that of a LOOGY -- he posted a 1.91 FIP against lefties and a 5.22 FIP against righties -- but Crockett is still young enough that he could learn to get righties out in time. Crockett is a very good pitcher and should figure into the major league bullpen for a long time.
#12 Jose Ramirez, INF (Previous Rank: NR, 28, 33, 18)
Sure, as a pure hitter, Ramirez’s .262/.300/.346 line and 85 wRC+ does not stack up as much. But coming from a shortstop at a time when the average shortstop posted a .251/.306/.363 line and 87 wRC+, Ramirez’s offense is actually league-average provided it comes while he is at the shortstop position. Plus, after posting some very strong defensive marks and garnering praise for his defense at the hardest position on the field, it seems like Ramirez could hold his own as a shortstop in the majors. Expecting him to put up All-Star level WAR totals over a whole season still seems a little much, but after he did it in 266 plate appearances in 2014, it suddenly does not seem that outrageous.
#11 Marc Rzepczynski, LHP (Previous Rank: 19, 16, 15, 16)
Cleveland’s resident #1 left-handed reliever walked more batters this year (his 2.9 BB/9 in 2013 rose to 3.7 in 2014), but the 29-year-old paired that raise with a 59.7 percent groundball rate and 0.2 HR/9 to once again get stellar results. Rzepczynski’s ultimate value is still capped by his struggles against right-handed batters (4.55 FIP in 2014, 4.79 FIP for his career), but there will always be a place for a LOOGY in a major league bullpen. With a 2.56 career FIP and a 1.79 mark in 2014, Rzepczynski is definitely still someone Terry Francona can rely upon to neutralize a left-handed batter.
#10 Jason Kipnis, 2B (Previous Rank: 1, 12, 8, 12)
It certainly was not a good year for Kipnis, yet it still is hard to fully give up on the 27-year-old. His strikeout and walk rates remained essentially the same, with the big dip in his offensive value coming from a dip in power and BABIP. Obviously the BABIP is something likely to come back to his norm, but it is also possible the two issues are related in some way. Possible lingering effects of Kipnis’ oblique injury -- either physically, mentally, or mechanically -- could have harmed the second baseman’s ability to make hard contact, making it entirely possible we will look back on 2014 as the fluky year of his prime.
#9 Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (Previous Rank: 11, 10, 4, 5)
The consistency was not there for Chisenhall -- as evidenced by his 163 wRC+ in the first half and 68 wRC+ in the second half -- but the end result was a solid-average season with a 121 wRC+. The poor defense drags down Chisenhall’s value -- he was about a full win below average this year, which is right in line with his career norms -- but the bat might be for real. Third base may be a spot Cleveland looks to upgrade in the offseason, but assuming Chisenhall can find some consistency entering his age-26 season, he could be a valuable member of the team heading forward.
#8 Bryan Shaw, RHP (Previous Rank: 15, 8, 10, 7)
Shaw is not an elite reliever in the mold of an Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel, but the right-hander has done nothing but get results in his career. On top of his 2.59 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 2014, Shaw’s 3.01 ERA and 3.44 FIP for his career paint a portrait of a quality, trustworthy reliever. A note of caution regarding Shaw, however, is that Francona rode the right-hander hard in 2014, pitching him a league-high 27 times on no days rest. We do not know much about pitching injuries other than it happens to just about anyone, but given the volatility of relievers, it is something to keep in mind.
#7 Scott Atchison, RHP (Previous Rank: 23, 13, 13, 9)
Further proving that relievers can come out of nowhere, the 38-year-old Atchison came into camp on a minor league contract and ended up as the second-highest rated reliever in these rankings. Atchison does not blow hitters away, but he makes his 6.1 SO/9 work thanks to a 1.8 BB/9 and 58.8 percent groundball rate. Just like how he came out of nowhere, Atchison could fade away in 2015, but given his 3.44 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 2.4 fWAR in his 327.0 career innings, the right-hander has a history of performing and has been pretty good in three of the last four years. Atchison may not be young, but it looks like he still has plenty left in the tank.
#6 Carlos Carrasco, RHP (Previous Rank: 17, 25, 11, 11)
Oh, the wonders of baseball. After posting 1.3 fWAR in 238.1 innings prior to this season, Carrasco put up 3.2 fWAR in 134.0 2014 innings and looks like a top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Corey Kluber for years to come. Carrasco was a different guy this year, with an ERA (2.55), FIP (2.44), and xFIP (2.66) all below 2.70. The list of other starting pitchers to accomplish that feat in 2014: Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, and Felix Hernandez. We do not know if Carrasco will be able to maintain this level of performance while in the rotation full time and for more than 134.0 innings, but being able to pitch this well for two-thirds of a full season likely means the right-hander will be able to pitch at least decently in the future.
#5 Carlos Santana, 1B/3B/C (Previous Rank: 2, 14, 5, 4)
It may not be superstardom, but Santana’s fWAR totals over the last four years are all consistently in the same range: 3.3; 3.2; 3.5; 3.1. But while this past year only rates out as in the same consistently above-average range Santana has settled into to this point in his career, there is actually some hope for the 28-year-old to take another step forward in 2015. Santana’s overall offensive output was right on his career average, yet he accomplished that with a terribly low .249 BABIP. Even a little positive regression will raise Santana’s line up, which will help him meet the offensive demands of his new position: first base.
#4 Cody Allen, RHP (Previous Rank: 13, 9, 6, 6)
Like Shaw and Atchison, Francona called upon Allen frequently in 2014, though that is what you do when you have a reliever with a 2.07 ERA and 2.99 FIP. How the work affects Allen long term will be known in the years to come, but for now, the right-hander is a flamethrowing reliever with a stellar 11.8 SO/9 and a decent 3.4 BB/9. Allen’s 3.72 ERA and two blown saves in 9.2 September innings down the stretch did hurt Cleveland’s playoff chances, but in the big picture, the team probably would not have been in contention deep into the season without the right-hander.
#3 Yan Gomes, C (Previous Rank: 3, 3, 3, 3)
And a year of #3 rankings for Gomes comes to its logical conclusion with the 27-year-old coming in as the third-best player on the roster this season. Gomes’ walk rate fell a bit from 2013 to 2014 (5.6 to 4.6 percent) and his strikeout rate rose (20.8 to 23.2 percent), but thanks to continuing power (.194 isolated power) and above-average defense, the catcher remained quite valuable even while playing a full season. It may not seem like it based on a quick look, but Gomes finished in the top-30 in fWAR, ahead of such names as Victor Martinez, Justin Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Yoenis Cespedes, and Hanley Ramirez. Gomes is a very good player and has the catching position in Cleveland locked down for years to come.
#2 Michael Brantley, OF (Previous Rank: 7, 2, 1, 2)
#1 Corey Kluber, RHP (Previous Rank: 6, 1, 2, 1)
Taking you behind the curtain as to how I compile these rankings, I look at how far above average each player is in terms of WAR (2.0 for hitters and starting pitchers, 0.7 for relievers) and playing time (600 plate appearances for hitters, 200 innings for starting pitchers, 70 innings for relievers). After ranking those just based on the numbers, I then analyze what the numbers are telling me and make corrections as needed, especially when the numbers are close.
So how close are Brantley and Kluber?
- Kluber: 7.1 WAR (355% of the league average), 235.2 innings (118% of the league average): 473% of the league average overall
- Brantley: 7.0 WAR (348% of the league average), 676 plate appearances (113% of the league average): 460% of the league average overall
Despite Kluber exceeding Brantley’s totals in both category, both marks are definitely close enough that picking Brantley is defensible.
Personally, I am going with the player with a serious argument for the AL Cy Young over the guy who will definitely finish behind Mike Trout in the MVP vote (though there is a good case for him finishing second). But if you want Brantley, no argument. Cleveland was blessed with two truly elite players in 2014; in the end, enjoying and appreciating that is all that matters.
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Each position has a baseline for a good performance. For relievers, that's a bit lower because they inherently will not have as many innings. So a 1.0 WAR reliever is above-average compared to other major league relievers even though he falls below the 2.0 WAR mark for an "average" player.
The criteria for each player is the same: put up as much value as possible. But the baseline for success is different for different positions.
As for Kipnis, here are Fangraphs' breakdowns of value on Offense, Defense, and Baserunning (accounting for position):
Kipnis: -2.6 Offense, -6.6 Defense, 6.2 Baserunning, 1.0 fWAR in 555 PA
Bourn: -4.5 Offense, -7.8 Defense, -1.1 Baserunning, 0.4 fWAR in 487 PA
Murphy: -2.7 Offense, -16.6 Defense, -3.0 Baserunning, -0.5 fWAR in 462 PA
Kipnis wins in all three categories, plus stayed on the field more. Even though the lead is slight in some categories, it adds up. It wasn't a pretty year, but it was definitely better than Bourn's and Murphy's.
Finally, the statement "a great 4th outfielder who bats 40 times would be ranked higher than Brantley" is itself silly, because: 1, that outfielder would not have any time to accumulate value; 2, I add in the playing time component; and 3, that's not how my rankings work.Tyler Holt was not in the top-20. Brantley was #2. That is a wholly wrong statement.
As for Kipnis over Bourn and Murphy, I'm not sure where that's coming from. Kipnis beat them both at both versions of WAR (except for Bourn edging Kipnis 1.0 to 0.9 in rWAR). Plus Kipnis played more, which has the benefit of not overstretching the bench/minor league system.
Bourn and Murphy both technically outhit Kipnis, but given the offensive requirements of Murphy's position (which he didn't quite live up to) and that Bourn did not beat Kipnis by much (and played a little bit worse defense), that's how Kipnis ends up higher.
For some reason, TF keeps batting him 4th, notwithstanding that his career stats clearly show that he hits for much better average batting 5th. Batting him 4th is idiocy, repeated daily. I doubt TF has looked at a stat more complex than right handed vs. left handed in his career.
if i remember correctly before his finger injury Zac Mac was working and it was successful with a splitter. that could be similar to wade davis's they both can hit 98 and davis has electric curve If zac maC can make the splitter an effective pitch and lower his fastball percentage from low 70's to low 60's percent of pitches he needs to develop the split and get his confidence back in it. that in my opinion is one big reason we didnt make playoffs was shaw and allen giving up home runs late 4 times snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. Lets hope the correlation of zac mac and wade davis and maybe last years luke holshiver numbers can happen.
It's much easier to see Victor's value because we are very used to offensive statistics. But accounting for the huge defense gap (plus a few extra points for the baserunning), it's perfectly rational to see Gomes' value slipping past Victor's.
Fangraph's generous ranking kind of reminds me of Bourn's 6 WAR season in 2012. The defense may be good, but I'd much prefer a dominant middle of the order run producer, something the Indians have lacked since Hafner.
1) Kipnis had a horrible year, both at the plate and with the glove. I still feel he will rebound, at least with the bat. Wasn't he considered pretty good with the glove going into 2014 too?
2) Bourne- already discussed.
3) Chiz- overachieved in the first half, underachieved in the 2nd half. Has the talent to be much better, both with the bat and with the glove. (he should be MUCH better with the glove anyway)
4) Raburn- Will the real Ryan Raburn PLEASE stand up???
5) Swisher- He is NOT as bad as he has looked! Bat or glove....
6) Murphy- Well, he was pretty close to norm, but still below....
Someone may take him if they only have to pay 7?? I hope!!
First, people saying cut ties with Mike Aviles by declining his option. I think is a mistake, listed here at 20 tells me has has value even if marginal. I think they could flip him for a RP to help fortify the pen, or add him to a larger deal. Regardless, why dump value?
Second, yes, Trevor Bauer walks too many people, as a 23 yo, SP in his first (almost) full season in the big leagues. I think he gets too cute at times, trying to nibble the corners. He's got the stuff to throw it over the plate and make people miss. I think reputation hurts him a bit, I watch MLB.com's pitch tracker and he had a lot of balls called that were right on the edge of the strike zone that could / should have went the other way. If he were a premier name or a seasoned vet, he'd probably get those calls. Point is, he's got the talent and drive to improve, I wouldn't be a bit shocked to see his ERA improve to 3.25 - 3.50 next season.
Dumping all or a large portion of Bourns salary is the key. Every effort has to be made. His crappy numbers can easily be replaced by someone making a lot less.
But yeah, it's an interesting breakdown for a team that was in contention to the last weekend of the season. No doubt about it.
Anyway, great list Jim. I agree with all. I guess my rant just goes to highlight how surprisingly weak a lot of this roster is. I can only credit Tito as a manager and truly elite performances of guys like Kluber, Brantley, and Gomes to our strong finish this year.