The Tribe's challenge in closing the gap in AL Central (Part 1)
With the Kansas City Royals finally realizing their promise after years of being picked as the darlings of prognosticators everywhere, one has to ask the question, “Why are the Royals good?”
And for that matter, what makes the Giants any good, either?
Before setting out to examine the three contenders of the AL Central, what strikes me immediately about the two teams in the Fall Classic is this — they are both managed extremely well and just flat-out do things the right way. So, in that sense, the Cleveland Indians seem to at least possess the right manager in Terry Francona. As for the whole “doing things right” concept, we will have to wait and see.
Looking at the three-headed monster that is the Royals, Tigers and Indians in the AL Central, what the Royals are being touted for this fall are speed and defense. But are they really that exceptional in these areas? Let’s take a look.
The Royals absolutely put a great amount of pressure on opposing defenses with their aggressive running game. Kansas City led the American League with an astounding 153 stolen bases, compared to DET (106/4th) and CLE (104/6th). While the other two teams ranked well in the league, it is very apparent that KC’s approach to offense is entirely different than the other two, and most teams in the American League. Frankly, the Royals are in the mode of a 1980’s National League squad more than they fit in today’s American League scheme. EDGE: Royals by a mile.
This is a category that is terrifically difficult to gauge. We have our numbers, defensive ratings and more, but when you examine mere statistics it shows results that are telling, yet not definitive. Detroit actually committed less errors (101) and surrendered less unearned runs (57) than the Royals (104/59), numbers that would place them about 9th & 10th in the league. Whereas the Indians were dead last, committing a whopping 116 errors that cost them 72 unearned runs in the process — a glaring deficiency that needs to be corrected. EDGE: Royals on strength of youth.
So, if the Tribe hopes to overcome these two divisional rivals, can they possibly do it at the plate?
The Indians hold their own in the power categories, but the Tigers and Royals are exceptional offensive clubs for many reasons.
BATTING AVERAGE (w/AL Rank): DET .277 (1), KC .263 (2), CLE .253 (8)
SLUGGING % (w/AL Rank): DET .426 (1), CLE .389 (6), KC .376 (11)
OPS (w/AL Rank): DET .757 (1), CLE .706 (7), KC .690 (10)
STRIKEOUTS (w/AL Rank): KC (15), DET (11), CLE (8)
The Tribe comes in being in the middle of the pack in almost all categories, making them at least an adequate offensive club. The Tigers on the other hand, excel in almost every category with a beautiful blend of power and consistency. What the Royals lack in power, they make up for by making contact. KC actually leads the league with the fewest strikeouts, and backs it up with the second-best batting average. This plays right into their blueprint for getting on base and pressuring teams with their running game. The Tigers basically are hard to get out, period, while their raw power forms a lethal combination with having so many runners on base. So what then is the Tribe’s forte? You’ve got me. Basically, it’s being mediocre. And that’s not going to win anything.
What the Indians do have going for them is a core of good talent in their prime. Let’s compare the lineups and see how they stack up (ranked comparatively).
Basically, Kansas City and Detroit are two really good teams. However, looking at these numbers we can see where, although lagging behind collectively, Cleveland has a number of good position guys who stack up well in the divisional lineups.
The stunning fact is that, offensively at least, Lonnie Chisenhall is the best third baseman in the division. And when you look at a team like San Francisco, you begin to realize that the most talented teams don’t always make it to the World Series. It seems to come down to execution and who’s hot, not to mention some stellar pitching in October.
The trick is for the Indians to figure out exactly what those nuances are, find a way to plug some holes and fix it.
In the Tribe’s favor, Detroit is a quickly-aging team which is in line to possibly lose some of their most productive free agents. Victor Martinez will be looking for a new three-year deal at age 35, while Torii Hunter is 39 and may even retire. While the Tigers have other productive hitters, they can ill-afford to lose the kind of output they received from Hunter and Martinez.
On the flip side, while Kansas City’s “youthful” lineup is finally coming into its own, it’s not as young as people perceive. The starting lineups shown reflect that the Royals and Indians both average out at 25.2 years of age, while the Tigers are at 26.8. And while Detroit’s would actually land in the “career prime” range, as Indiana Jones once opined, “It’s not the years, baby, it’s the mileage.” When looking at that list, the Tiger’s names in bold are 39, 32, 32 and 31 years of age. The tread is beginning to wear low. When you throw in the fact that Max Scherzer is a free agent, David Price has only one year left on his deal and Justin Verlander has a long, expensive albatross contract, it’s easy to see the Tiger’s window is about to slam shut. So, expect one last push for glory out of the Motor City Kitties as their run akin to the Tribe of the 90’s comes to an end.
So, what can the Indians do to tilt the division in their direction? We will look at that in part two tomorrow. For now, it is enough to know that with a solid young staff and a core of talent in its prime, the Cleveland Indians need to be in the discussion as one of the teams to challenge for the American League Central in 2015.
We'll have to disagree on this issue. But if you don't think Chis can play 3B at the MLB level, where are you going to put him on this team?
You're comparing career lines & I was comparing them age year by age year. Why should Chiz be held up to the standard of Brantley's best year after his first full season. As for WAR comps, I find them to be bogus. Brantley has better defensive numbers playing the easiest position on the diamond; well Whoop-De-Do. I'm near 60 & I could play LF. Brantley's best SP prior to this past season was .402. Also, using BB/K numbers is bogus because Brantley doesn't K much but he also doesn't walk much. So what? Also, I wouldn't call a decent year, then a down year, then a quantum leap consistent improvement. I'll take it, I'm happy about it, but don't mischaracterize it in order to smear Chiz.
Chiz had a .770 OPS as a 25 yr. old in his 1st full season while attempting to man the 3rd most difficult defensive position on the diamond. I don't think that he can play 3B at the ML level but that doesn't nullify his bat & I don't know why you expect him to live up to one of the most excellent statistical seasons in team history.
From 246 / 296 and a -1.2 WAR in 2010, Brantley has progressed to 327 / 385 and 7.0 WAR in 2014 and 284 / 332 and 2.4 WAR in a "down" year (down a bit from 2012) in 2013. Brantley also has an overall OF FP of .994 and for LF only its .997. Finally, his K;BB ratio is generally about 1 - 1.2 : 1. Overall, the best description of Brantley are "steady yearly improvement in all aspects of the game."
Even in 2014, Chis's WAR was 1.5.....his highest ever. He shows no consistency. He is a bad fielder. His K:BB runs about 2.5 - 3.0 : 1
Those are the reasons why I prefer Brantley's line to Chisenhall's. Until proven otherwise, Chis is a 250 / 280 strikeout machine who can't field, and who has occasional power.
Chiz in his 22-24 seasons, 213 games, had a total 287 OPS+. His age 25 season he had a .770 OPS and an OPS+ of 120, after which he had people complaining that he had a MVP 1st half & a 2nd half that matched that of the 3B on the pennant winning team. His OPS by month were: .901, 1.020, .919, 569, .717, .568.
Why is one line better than the other? I'd take Lonnie's. I hope he gets more consistent but a half season of MVP play isn't too bad. It would be very difficult to match Brantley's numbers for this past season, not only for Lonnie but for Brantley himself.
17 major league months over 4 seasons now....
10 of those months his OBP was under 300 and 7 over 300
2 months BA under 200
6 months BA 200 to 250
7 months 250 to 300
3 months over 300
IMO, the only way Chis will ever show consistent success with increased BA and OBP is to develop some plate discipline and an eye for pitches and start learning how to work more walks.
I expect Kipnis to do better next season, at least an additional 20 points on batting, on base and slugging average.
My main concern, like many state, is defense. But having Santana at first all year may help a bit.
Hopefully Tito doesn't burn out the bullpen (again). Need them at the end of the year too.
As for your question: "So, if the Tribe hopes to overcome these two divisional rivals, can they possibly do it at the plate?" To me, the answer is no, overtaking the Royals and Tigers won't happen imo with just improvements at the plate. It will take better defense and better pitching than we had last year. That said, I really do think that we need to improve with the stick, and adding a right-handed middle-of-the-order bat will do a lot for this lineup (also, expecting improvements from Kipnis, Santana and Swisher is reasonable). I'm not sure if Van Slyke is the answer in RF, I doubt it, but maybe...but I'm pretty sure that Swish in RF is not the answer (or even a possibility).
The Tribe is deficient in two IF and two OF spots, and it's unlikely that more than two of those deficiencies (at the most) will be remedied in the next 2 years.
For the Tribe, it's going to have to be all about the pitching until Lindor and Urshela are up, and something is done to power up right field. Assuming Swisher's knees are healed, I would put him out there....historically that 's the position most conducive to his offensive production, and he's probably as "good" a defender as Murphy.