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What's new in 2013: The starting rotation

What's new in 2013: The starting rotation
February 1, 2013
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I continue on with part two of my four-part series that compares the 2012 and 2013 Indians. Part one’s comparison of the lineups posted on Tuesday.

Things really started to fall apart for the Indians in August last season. While many factors contributed to this collapse, the real Achilles’ heel behind it all was lack of depth and consistency from the starting pitchers. Tribe aces Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez saw career worst performances last season. Rookie Zach McAllister turned out to be a pleasant surprise, but even he faded considerably in the second half with his worst two months in August and September. None of the other starting pitchers made it through the whole season.

This offseason the Tribe added veteran starter Brett Myers and rookie sensation Trevor Bauer to the roster to help bolster the rotation. In this installment of my four-part series, I will break down and compare last year’s starting pitching staff to this year’s projected rotation.

Justin Masterson 2012 vs. Justin Masterson 2013:

Justin Masterson 2012 Stats
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
34 11-15 4.93 206.1 212 122 113 18 88 159

Of all the regression the Indians’ starters had last season, Justin Masterson has the best chance of rebounding. Following the 2011 season where the right-hander broke out and took charge of the rotation, the new Indians ace struggled in 2012 and was plagued with inconsistency. There were games where he looked like he could pitch a complete game, then days where he labored to make it through the first couple innings.  However, the circumstances all appear to be in place for Masterson to get back on his game in the upcoming season.

First off, Masterson will be reunited with former manager Terry Francona, who managed him in Boston. That past relationship may help ease some of the tension off of Masterson. Second, Masterson admitted that he had issues with his non-throwing shoulder last season which affected his delivery. Francona has assured he is healed now.

It’s also important to remember that Masterson wasn’t all-bad in 2012. In fact, there were seven starts in 2012 where he pitched well, but he ended up with a loss or a no-decision when he very well could have easily won another three or four games.  Also, in the starts where he pitched well and earned the win he was dominant pitching nine starts of seven innings or more with one complete game and an average of only 1.2 runs allowed in those games. Masterson still has the capability to lead this rotation, he just needs to find more consistency. If he can figure things out, he will emerge as the Indians ace yet.

Ubaldo Jimenez 2012 vs. Ubaldo Jimenez 2013:

Ubaldo Jimenez 2012 Stats
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
31 9-17 5.40 176.2 190 116 106 25 95 143

When it comes to Ubaldo Jimenez, everyone has their own opinions, theories, and ideas about the enigmatic right-handed former ace of the Rockies. Jimenez was traded to the Indians in the middle of the 2011 season in exchange for pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, and is a trade that to this day is criticized by many fans. Unfortunately, 2012 was no better for Jimenez, who was slated as the secondary ace behind Masterson. In addition to his disappointing stats, Jimenez also led the league in losses (17) and wild pitches (16). New manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway are committed to getting Jimenez back to his pre-2011 form when he was a Cy Young contender, and have been keeping tabs on him all offseason.

Personally, I believe the root of Jimenez’s problems is his lack of velocity. A lot of fans forget that during the month of June last season that he was very effective as a starter going 2-2 in five starts with a much better-looking 2.78 ERA. Why? He pumped up the velocity on his fastball. For example, the game against St. Louis on June 10th, Ubaldo pitched seven innings and only allowed one run and the average speed of his fastball was 94-96 mph. Then against the Blue Jays on July 14th, Jimenez only lasted 2.1 innings but gave up eight runs and the average speed on his fastball was only 89-93 mph. The point is Ubaldo Jimenez is a velocity pitcher. It was key to his success in Colorado back when he could zip a fastball in on hitters closer to 100 mph. I believe that if he can consistently run up the velocity on his fastball and slider that his secondary pitches should also become more effective. In turn he could be the dominant starter the Indians were originally hoping for when they acquired him.

Derek Lowe 2012 vs. Brett Myers 2013:

Derek Lowe 2012 Stats (Indians)
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
21 8-10 5.52 119.0 156 79 73 8 45 41
Brett Myers 2011 Stats (Astros)
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
33 7-14 4.46 216.0 226 116 107 31 57 160

Veteran leadership is important in any starting rotation, or any roster for that matter. The overwhelmingly youthful Indians attempted to bring that veteran dynamic into the starting rotation last season by acquiring Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves early last offseason. For the early portion of the season, it paid off well for the Tribe as Lowe emerged as the leader of the rotation going 6-3 with a 3.29 ERA between April and May, which included a complete game shutout against the Twins on May 15th. Unfortunately, the long, demanding season took its toll on Lowe as he went 2-7 with an 8.26 ERA for the remainder of his tenure with Cleveland until he was released Lowe on August 10th.

This offseason the Indians are taking another chance on a veteran starter; however, this time it’s a younger, more durable option in Brett Myers. The Indians signed the free agent right-hander to a one year, $7 million deal with an $8 million club option for 2014. Myers worked only as a reliever last season splitting time between the Astros and the White Sox going 3-8 with a 3.31 ERA. A starter by trade, Myers is a career 4.20 ERA pitcher, but is durable and can eat a lot of innings for any team, which is obviously what attracted the Indians to him given their rotation that is full of question marks and uncertainties. Myers is also a known competitor and will bring that competitive edge to the clubhouse. The only question surrounding him is how he transitions to a starter again since he only worked as a reliever last season.

Josh Tomlin 2012 vs. Zach McAllister 2013:

Josh Tomlin 2012 Stats
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
16 5-8 6.36 103.1 126 74 73 18 25 56
Zach McAllister 2012 Stats
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
22 6-8 4.24 125.1 133 78 59 19 38 110

It looks like we won’t be seeing the “Little Cowboy” this season. Right-hander Josh Tomlin is expected to be sidelined for the majority (if not all) of the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August. Tomlin had his good and bad games last season as one day he was out-pitching Felix Hernandez, and then the next he was being shelled by the Minnesota Twins. After it was announced he would need Tommy John surgery, questions came up surrounding his overall health considering his multiple stints on the disabled list. Tomlin was the team leader in wins in 2011 finishing with a 12-7 record. Depending on how his recovery goes, he could be a factor later in the year, though probably not until 2014.

Zach McAllister was about the only bright spot in the rotation last season. After being called up for Tomlin last season and eventually replacing Jeanmar Gomez in the rotation, McAllister hit the ground running going 4-2 with a 3.23 ERA in his first 10 starts. Down the stretch the rookie came back down to earth going 2-6 with a 5.29 ERA in his remaining starts. However, the spark he showed last season is encouraging and according to GM Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona he is expected to have a “leg up” on one of the two remaining rotation spots.

Jeanmar Gomez 2012 vs. Bauer/Carrasco/Kluber 2013:

Jeanmar Gomez 2012 Stats
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
17 5-8 5.96 90.2 95 66 60 15 34 47
Trevor Bauer 2012 Stats (AA Mobile/AAA Reno)
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
22 12-2 2.42 130.1 107 40 35 9 61 157
Corey Kluber 2012 Stats
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
12 2-5 5.14 63.0 76 44 36 9 18 54
Carlos Carrasco 2011 Stats
Starts W-L ERA IP Hits Runs ER’s HR’s BB’s K’s
21 8-9 4.62 124.2 130 68 64 15 40 85

Despite a strong spring training performance, rookie starter Jeanmar Gomez struggled in 2012 and was eventually replaced in the rotation by Zach McAllister in June. Gomez’s first four starts in 2012 were dominant as he went 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA; however, his Cy Young campaign dwindled over his next ten starts as he went 3-6 with a 6.26 ERA. Gomez was optioned to Columbus in June and didn’t return to the majors until late August when he worked mostly out of the bullpen, but continued to struggle finishing September with a 9.72 ERA. Gomez was designated for assignment this offseason to clear a roster spot for new right fielder Nick Swisher and was traded to the Pirates for outfield prospect Quincy Latimore.

In a surprising mega-trade which sent right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and utility player Jason Donald to Cincinnati and relief pitcher Tony Sipp and first base prospect Lars Anderson to Arizona, the Indians acquired relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw; center fielder Drew Stubbs; and, as the centerpiece of the trade, top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. Bauer, who has been named one of the Top 20 prospects in all of baseball, is a crafty right-hander with numerous pitches and unorthodox delivery and warm-up techniques. Unfortunately, his methods were not looked kindly upon in Arizona and issues between Bauer and the team led to him being traded to the Tribe. The Indians, on the other hand, are more open-minded about Bauer’s routines and hope to work with him as best as they can. Bauer made his major league debut last season, but struggled going 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA in four starts; however, he was dealing with a minor groin injury at the time which affected his delivery. In spring training, Bauer does hope to make a good impression and maybe even make the rotation to start the season. The Indians aren’t in any rush to plug him into the rotation, though, as he is expected to be more of a long-term solution. There is the possibility he could start the year in AAA Columbus.

Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco will also be competing for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring. Carrasco has completed his rehab following Tommy John surgery in 2011 and is expected to resume full baseball activities this spring. Having Carrasco back could be good news for the Tribe considering the right-hander went 4-2 with a 1.90 ERA in six starts during June 2011 before his injury. Kluber made his major league debut as a starter last season and although the numbers don’t show it, there’s potential for him and he should be considered for the rotation this season. In the two starts he won against the White Sox and Tigers last year, he pitched six to seven innings and only allowed two runs in each start. There’s still room for improvement, but the spark Kluber showed should be enough to qualify him as an option for the starting rotation, and at worst a depth starting option for the Indians.

Starting Depth 2012 vs. Starting Depth 2013:

This upcoming season should be better for the Indians as far as starting pitching depth is concerned. In addition to acquiring Brett Myers and Trevor Bauer, the Indians also signed former Rays left-handed ace Scott Kazmir to a minor league deal. Kazmir, a two-time all-star and former strikeout champion, hasn’t pitched at the major league level in nearly two seasons leaving with a 27.00 ERA after one start in 2011. Injuries and setbacks have hindered Kazmir over the last few years; however, he’s pitched better as of late going 0-2 with a 4.37 ERA in winter ball this offseason. Now with an invite to spring training, Kazmir has an opportunity to make the Indians’ 2013 major league staff. Other free agent pitchers such as Daisuke Matsuzaka and Javier Vazquez could also be signed to minor league deals to add to the Indians starting depth.

Regardless who wins the fifth spot in the rotation this spring, of the three aforementioned candidates Kluber, Bauer, and Carrasco, there will be two legitimate backups in the minors. All of them have roster flexibility (options) and all of them have a decent amount of major league experience. Plus, lefties David Huff and Scott Barnes, who appear likely to make the bullpen this season, are capable of starting as they’ve done so in the minors. In an emergency situation, prospects TJ House and Danny Salazar could also be brought up to start. Certainly more depth can be added, but the starting pitching depth the Indians have at the moment is better than what they had going into the 2011 and 2012 seasons – though it still needs to improve.

The AL Central division does currently have some of the league’s best pitching. The Tigers top the list with one of the best rotations in baseball which includes the likes of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister. The White Sox rode their surprising rise to contention last season on the shoulders of starters Chris Sale and Jake Peavy. Even the Royals have improved their rotation with the addition of James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana this offseason. If the Indians hope to contend, they’ll have to match these dominant rotations. And while Masterson, Jimenez, Myers, McAllister, and Bauer don’t necessarily strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, it is a more solid rotation than they’ve had the last few seasons.

If all these pitchers play to their expected levels – not great, but expected career norms – then the Indians could be in good shape this year. If all of them reach their full potential, then look out AL Central.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

February 2, 2013 - 2:27 PM EST
Nice article. Although better SP, this staff is still very scary. Outside of Minnesota, unfortunately probably the weakest rotation in the Central Division. I hope Tribe plans to add some more candidates to work with, even if Minor League deals. Outside of T Bauer, I don't see much in minors, at least close to help us this year. We have bullpen arms, and if Capps works out, maybe say C Perez can be packaged for more SP. Maybe Ubaldo will be motivated by going for the new contract, maybe new Pitching coach can get Ubaldo and Justin turned around. We missed Tim Belcher last year. I think more then Tribe would like to admit.
February 1, 2013 - 9:23 PM EST
The rotation has to be better this season for the Indians to have a chance. I'm bullish on them improving overall, but I think Masterson's days with a sub-4 ERA are over. Hopefully he can improve on his 2012 ERA of 4.93 and be a 3+ WAR kind of guy over 200+ IP.
February 1, 2013 - 3:18 PM EST
If you just look at the guys that are gone from last year it looks pretty encouraging:

Lowe 5.52 ERA, 21 starts
Tomlin 6.36 ERA, 16 starts
Gomez, 5.96 ERA, 17 starts

That's 54 starts by pitchers with ERA's between 5.52 and 6.36.

I have to believe Myers, McAllister, and some combination of Kluber, Bauer and Carrasco will do better than those guys.

I agree Masterson should do much better than 4.93. He had left shoulder surgery last off-season and he said it affected his preparation. I had not heard that he admitted his delivery was affected once the season started, however. That explains the huge increase in his ERA.

Ubaldo is in a salary drive year so we'll get his best effort. Whether he'll improve on that 5.40 ERA is the question.

It's entirely possible all five spots in the rotation could be better this year.
February 1, 2013 - 2:50 PM EST
Thank you for the kind words, Bobby! You got the point I was trying to make precisely.
February 1, 2013 - 1:50 PM EST
anyone wondering if the indians improved or not need only look at these two pieces. the opening day lineup and rotation is much different and at least at the outset looks more balanced, reliable, and talented. nice job jake. this rotation has lots of upside, though could go in either direction which is why it is so fascinating to see how these guys do this year.

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