Orbiting Cleveland: Indians positioned to have best rotation in years


iIs there any better pick-me-up than a Corey Kluber complete game?

The Cleveland Indians’ offense had been struggling, scoring just one run off Chicago White Sox starter Jose Quintana through six innings on Saturday night. For the Indians to have a chance, Kluber was going to have to keep putting up zeroes while the Tribe could slowly chip away.

As expected, as he has done all season, Kluber did just that. The end result was a complete-game victory in which the right-hander allowed just fives hits, one unearned run and struck out eight batters while throwing just 104 pitches. Put more eloquently — it was a gem of a game.

Here we sit on September 8, and the Indians own a 74-67 record. They’re three-and-a-half games out of the American League Wild Card race with three weeks left to play.


They’re still in this thing, and it’s because of performances like the one demonstrated by Kluber on Saturday.Outings like this, the complete-game shutout hurled by Danny Salazar last Wednesday, and the impressive performance by Carlos Carrasco on Sunday are so key as the Indians attempt to remain in contention during the season’s final month.

The fact that the Tribe does not have a day off until September 25 has been well-documented, and you cannot understate the value a complete game during this stretch. An extra day of the rest of the bullpen is a victory in itself for the team at this point and time.

The Indians making the postseason may still be a long shot, but the beautiful thing about the 2014 season is how it’s setting up for 2015, 2016, 2017 and beyond.

The following statement may seem brash, but I implore you ponder it for a moment.

The current Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation has the potential to possibly be one of the greatest in team history.

Still reading?

By no means is this to imply that the current crop of starters has a chance of replicating the success of the Indians’ 1954 rotation–Early Wynn (23-11, 2.73), Mike Garcia (19-8, 2.64), Bob Lemon (23-7, 2.72), Art Houtteman (15-7, 3.35), Bob Feller (13-3, 3.09)–but it should be known that this team has more high-upside starting arms at its disposal than any time in recent memory.

With Kluber, Salazar, Carrasco Trevor Bauer and even T.J. House, the Indians have five controllable starters in their mid-to-late 20s who all possess above-average stuff. It’s not a coincidence that the Indians have played their best baseball since that contingent became the regular starting rotation on August 1.

Since the start of August, the Indians are 21-12. It’s easily the best stretch of baseball that the team has played all season, and it’s indicative of the outstanding efforts received by the rotation.

Just how good has this group been? Take a look below:

Pitcher (Aug. 1, 2014 to Now) ERA BABIP K/9 FIP xFIP
Carlos Carrasco 1.44 0.274 9.69 1.91 2.20
Corey Kluber 1.96 0.303 10.37 2.93 2.89
Danny Salazar 2.06 0.274 8.23 2.90 3.55
T.J. House 2.57 0.323 8.49 2.76 2.66
Trevor Bauer 3.76 0.291 8.63 3.59 4.45

It’s easy to see that the rotation has been the single-most important reason as to why the Indians have remained in contention so long. It might have taken the team awhile to stumble upon an ideal rotation, but once they did, the results were evident, and the Indians are now reaping the benefits during the season’s two most important months.

Some other conclusions that can be drawn from the data include:

  • Every starter has an above-average strikeout rate since the start of August. That should not come as a surprise in regard to Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar and Bauer, but some might not have expected this type of a performance from House. It’s important to note that House had a career strikeout rate of 7.0 during his minor league career, which spanned six seasons. That’s not outstanding, but it’s still above average, and there’s no reason to believe that House cannot sit around that rate for his Major League career. The key takeaway is that you can do a lot worse than having T.J. House start every fifth day.
  • None of the five starters have posted BABIPs that appear to be unsustainable. It is important to note that this is still a very small sample size, but all of these pitchers have had this kind of success while still putting a typical amount of balls in play. That bodes well when it comes to forecasting for the future.
  • Each of these starters is under control through at least the 2017 season. Outside of Carrasco, every starter is under control through the 2018 season. Teams long for young, controllable starting pitching, and that is exactly what the Indians have at the moment.
  • As noted earlier, it may still be wishful thinking to believe that the Indians can earn a playoff spot in 2014, but this entire experience is still so valuable for this young staff. There’s something to be said for gaining experience in meaningful situations, and that’s what this rotation has been doing for the last month and a half. That’s going to help out tremendously next year when the team figures to be a legitimate contender in the American League Central.

Sure, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding this rotation. Let’s remember that Carrasco has fooled us before with signs brilliance only to later falter. However, is it just me, or does something seem different this time around?

15764474-largeSimilarly, Salazar has made only 26 career Major League starts, and it’s still very much a learning process for the young right-hander. He does seem to get better with every outing and as Jim Pete pointed out in his Sunday Drive piece, something was different with Salazar this past Wednesday. He’s been dominant before, but this was on another level.

There’s also some questions surrounding Bauer’s future effectiveness, but people seem to forget that he is just 23-years-old. He was a big-time prospect for so long that it seems as if he should be older than he really is. But consider the strides that Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway made in year one to year two with Bauer. What can we expect for year three?

Finally, as already noted, House makes for a solid fifth starter. We will need to see more starts to know if his success is sustainable, but there’s nothing that suggests otherwise to this point. It’s also never a bad idea to have a left-hander capable of throwing 95 miles per hour in your rotation.

As for Kluber, he seems to have already cemented himself as exactly what he is—one of the best, young front-of-the-rotation arms in the Major Leagues. As long as he is at the helm, the Indians will always feel good about their chances.

Furthering that point, as long as this five-man group continues to progress, the Indians should feel good about their chances when any one of them is on the mound. It’s been a long time since a statement like that could be taken with any level of seriousness.

For years, Indians President Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti have talked about creating a window of four-to-five years where the team would have continued, sustainable success.

Barring anything crazy, that window is now here.

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