What to expect in 2015, according to Fangraphs
As it stands right now, Cleveland looks to be a playoff team in 2015
Over at Fangraphs, most of the best publicly available projection systems are readily available for you to view, free of charge. Plus, in addition to the raw projections for each player, Fangraphs maintains a projected depth chart, which parses out the available playing time in a full season to the players most likely to receive it in the coming year.
There will always be players who exceed their projections in any given year (see the 2014 version of Michael Brantley) and there will always be players who fall well short of their projections (see the 2014 version of Jason Kipnis). But that does not mean the projections are useless.
Each projection system tells you the most likely thing to happen that year. Though a big part of the beauty of baseball is the unexpected -- if the projection systems were perfect, then we wouldn’t bother playing the games -- grounding your expectations in reality is wise.
So, as we celebrate the end of 2014 and look forward to the new year, just what does Fangraphs project for Cleveland in 2015?
Here is the link to Cleveland’s projection page. The current numbers only include Steamer projections, with the ZiPS projections still in the process of being released.
11.5 WAR, fourth in the majors
Only ranking behind the power rotations of the Dodgers, the Nationals, and the Mariners, Cleveland is projected to easily have one of the best rotations in all of baseball. It helps having the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner at the top of the rotation, but Cleveland’s starting pitching is more than just Corey Kluber.
Currently, Kluber is projected for a significant step back, only expected to put up 4.0 WAR. But Steamer sees Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar as above-average pitchers in 2015, as well as projecting Gavin Floyd (due to his injury history) and T.J. House (due to likely spending some time in the minors) for around half of a season of average pitching.
Plus, Steamer is not high on Trevor Bauer, seeing him as a roughly replacement-level player due to his struggles in the not-so-distant 2013. But if you believe 2013 was a year of adjustments for Bauer -- essentially making the data flawed and useless -- then the right-hander’s projection is quite low, giving Cleveland’s rotation plenty of upside.
The projections do not have any Cleveland pitcher projected for crazy stats, yet the team still ranks in the top-five with room to grow. As of right now, the rotation looks to be in good shape.
1.7 WAR, 19th in the majors
The bullpen projections are very close together, with the seventh-place Athletics (2.4 WAR) and the 24th-place Brewers (1.4 WAR) all within 1.0 WAR of each other. Given the inherent volatility of projections, a difference of 1.0 WAR might as well be the same.
So with that in mind, Cleveland’s bullpen may project in the bottom half, but it is not guaranteed to finish the year there. Steamer basically thinks Cleveland’s entire bullpen outside of Cody Allen will be replacement level, something that does not seem likely to happen given the recent history of Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Crockett, and Nick Hagadone.
It is best to be conservative when projecting relievers, especially given their wild performance variations from year to year, but this one looks low on Cleveland’s front.
4.3 WAR, fourth in the majors
The projections think only the Buster Posey-led Giants, the Russell Martin-led Blue Jays, and the Salvador Perez-led Royals will finish ahead of Yan Gomes and the Cleveland catchers. That does not seem like an outrageous idea, but if you think Gomes will once again lead the American League in WAR (as he did in 2014), then this projection will be low.
Either way, Gomes is one of the best catchers in baseball and his backup, Roberto Perez, projects to be a very solid backup. This is definitely a position of strength for Cleveland in 2015.
3.1 WAR, 10th in the majors
First base in Cleveland may not be on par with the starting rotation or the catcher position, but it still projects to be an above-average one with upside. The projections only have Carlos Santana as a slightly above-average player, and if you believe being freed from the defensive burdens of catching or learning third base on the fly will let his bat take a big step forward, then Santana will rate out much better in 2015.
Brandon Moss is also projected to be a solidly above-average player, with Nick Swisher expected to be okay in a little playing time. All in all, first base is not flashy for Cleveland, but it does look pretty good.
2.8 WAR, eighth in the majors
In roughly a full season’s worth of playing time, Steamer expects Jason Kipnis to be worth a slightly above-average 2.4 WAR. After posting 3.0 WAR and 4.4 WAR in 2012 and 2013, that projection would seem light if you take out an injury-riddled 2014.
But 2014 happened, of course, and while Kipnis still put up a not-awful 1.0 WAR in 129 games (25th among all major league second baseman), expecting the All-Star version of the second baseman to return would be aggressive. But as it is, Steamer is projecting Kipnis to anchor a top-10 unit at second base. While not an outstanding projection, following last year, the organization would take it.
2.1 WAR, 21st in the majors
As it stands right now, the Fangraphs depth charts have Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor roughly splitting the season at shortstop, a result that seems likely given what we know about the organization’s plan for the top prospect.
But if these projections are what is going to happen, Lindor will not receive that much playing time in 2015. Steamer has Lindor being worth about 1.0 WAR in a full season, while Ramirez is projected for above-average performance.
Giving Lindor’s playing time to Ramirez jumps Cleveland’s shortstops to a borderline top-10 ranking, and unless the organization sees Lindor as ready to be much better than these projections say to expect, I would expect Ramirez to keep the job and Lindor to continue biding his time in the minors.
2.1 WAR, 22nd in the majors
Cleveland’s left side of the infield is weak in these projections, though Lonnie Chisenhall is still seen as a roughly average player. We outlined above how the projection at the shortstop position seems low in reality, but this one seems just about right.
It would be hard for a team to be above-average at every position, and for Cleveland, third base is the weak spot. Chisenhall is still only 26 years old and took a decent step forward in 2014, yielding hope for a little more development in the future. But as it is, though Chisenhall projects to be an okay player, the combination of him and Mike Aviles does not rate out well compared to the rest of the league.
2.9 WAR, 10th in the majors
Michael Brantley just finished third in the American League MVP voting, but Steamer is only counting on him to be an above-average contributor in 2015. But in a way, that is almost good news.
If Brantley’s breakout is real, then Cleveland’s left field should be one of the best in baseball. If the breakout is not real, however, and Brantley is an above-average player who got lucky in 2014, then Cleveland is still projected to be pretty good. The floor is high for Cleveland’s left field and there is real value in that kind of certainty.
2.2 WAR, 19th in the majors
Though Michael Bourn has not lived up to his contract yet, he does project as a decent center fielder for the 2015 season. The Bourn-anchored center field projects roughly as average, easily within striking distance of the top half of the league despite being ranked 19th, thanks in large part to a 1.8 WAR projection for Bourn.
That projection expects Bourn to be the 2013 version of himself, which would require the 32-year-old to be fully healthy again. It is possible 2014 was just the lingering effects of Bourn’s 2013 injuries and the center fielder will be fine in 2015. But this is a projection with a lot of risk, as Bourn has not proven to be a safe bet during his time in Cleveland.
2.2 WAR, 15th in the majors
The combination of Brandon Moss and David Murphy in right field is not a sexy one, but it does rate out as perfectly average according to the Steamer projections. Though the addition of Moss may end up being Cleveland’s big move for the offseason -- and is not one that captures many headlines -- the 31-year-old projects to be a good player and firms up this position in relation to the rest of the league.
There is some injury risk here, but the history of players with Moss’ injury and the projections expect him to be fine. If that turns out to be true, then it looks like right field will be another solid position for Cleveland in 2015.
1.7 WAR, fifth in the majors
Despite giving Nick Swisher the most playing time at designated hitter, the projections still expect Cleveland to be above-average at the position. Most of that comes from Brandon Moss and Carlos Santana’s contributions -- 1.2 WAR in 280 plate appearances -- but the projections expect Swisher to adequately tread water while serving as the designated hitter.
Swisher was one of the worst players in baseball last year, but expecting him to repeat that feat is probably excessive. The projections see Swisher as a slightly-above replacement-level player in 2015, and assuming he is fully recovered from the 2014 injuries that required surgery on both knees, calling Swisher slightly better than a readily available Triple-A player seems reasonable.
85-77 record, eighth in the majors, fourth in the American League, second in the AL Central
Cleveland is a well-rounded team that does not project to have many holes, which is a good way to build a winner. The end result is a team that, as it stands right now in the projections, would finish one game behind the Tigers in the division and would play in the AL Wild Card game.
There is plenty of volatility in each individual player’s projection -- and even more when adding each player’s projection up to create a team projection -- but clearly Cleveland has built a deep, solid team that is great at times.
Cleveland may not be having an explosive offseason like the one going on in San Diego, but the front office has still built a team that is quite good and should be in playoff contention. Which, when it comes down to it, is all that you can really hope for.
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I would take 13-8 or even 12-9- the Indians have not been able to be at or above .500 to end April in most of the seasons since the "Golden Era" of the 90s, early 2000s. Getting back to that would be the next logical step for the Indians to have a sustained run of reaching the postseason and winning one or more World Series, as the early slumps and slow starts have greatly hindered the Indians' ability to reach the postseasons in seasons where they seem to have better summer and even fall portions of the season, but can't make up for the poor Aprils.
I think the real key for the Indians to match and exceed expectations is to get off to a good start in April, a real issue for the Indians for most of the last several years (really since the "Golden Era," outside of really 2007 and 2013, the two years the Indians did make the postseason.) Slow Aprils have sabotaged late surges in years like 2014- the Indians cannot afford another slow start in 2015 if they really want to make the postseason and win the World Series.
Let's hope the Indians can hit the field running in 2015- go Tribe!
Overall, the future looks bright. Usually teams go deep in the playoffs when just about everything goes right for at least the last two months of the season. In that regard, if Kip can return to 2013 style, Swish can return even to his 2013 production, and Chis can ever figure out how to hit above .250 for more than five consecutive weeks.....this team could go deep. Just imagine a Chis hitting about .270 to .280 each and every month, with no drop off against LHP.....! That Chis could wrack up 25+ bombs over a season.....not to mention many doubles and triples.
And Happy New Year to you too Path!
The places where we can improve are clear: the bullpen, shortstop, third base and outfield. And its nice to see that the Tribe has young, still-developing (hopefully!) players in all of those spots. It will be very interesting to see if our younger players (Ramirez, Chisenhall, Lindor, Urshela, Aguilar, Naquin, Ramsey, Hagadone, Crockett and Adams) continue to improve and impact at the ML level in 2015.
Happy New Year!