How good are the Cleveland Indians?
I’ve been pondering this question a lot here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario over the past few months as the 2014 season has progressed, and the answer is just as hazy today as it was back in April. Sure, the details are a little bit different, but the overall sense that this team is either pretty good, or not good enough is still hovering in the late-summer air.
While the leaves are finally beginning to shed their summer green, the Indians are doing their best 2013 impressions by rolling into September with ground to be made, and teams in front of them on their journey. They’ve responded by going 6-6 in their 12 September games, and while that hasn’t prepped them for October golf plans quite yet, it certainly hasn’t helped their cause.
What’s frustrating here is that the rotation has a 2.47 ERA over the past 30 days, and a 2.64 ERA since the start of September. The bullpen’s ERA has been a less-than-stellar 8.26, and the offense has been about as middling as you could possibly get.
It’s frustrating. It’s really…really frustrating…
But, we move on…
There’s a lot to like about the Cleveland Indians.
- The rotation has turned into something pretty special, and you could argue that it is one of the four or five best rotations in baseball right now, based on their play over the past couple of months.
- Jose Ramirez has solidified the infield with his play at shortstop, and while you can only do so much manning one position, he has certainly made dealing Asdrubal Cabrera something significantly more than just “addition by subtraction.”
- Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana are Major League Baseball stars, and that’s all I have to say about that.
- Mickey Callaway is a bona fide baseball genius. I love Tito Francona, and his hiring has absolutely changed the dynamics of the Cleveland Indians. With that said, it’s pretty clear that Callaway is a coaching-star right now, and will get a Major League job sooner-rather-than-later. What he’s done with this staff two years in a row is nothing short of amazing, and I say that with a clear understanding that superlatives are overused.
- Players like Tyler Holt, Zach Walters and a few other minor leaguers are providing the Indians with a little bit of glue as the team weaves its way through September. I’m particularly interested in Holt’s progress, since I’ve followed him for a few years now. I’m not saying these guys are stars, or even future regulars, but they are quality players that should be able to supplement this club for years to come.
There’s a lot not to like about the Cleveland Indians:
- Defense anyone? There are some that should be excluded from this conversation, but the team defense is atrocious, and it simply has to be addressed.
- The money-conundrum has to get fixed in whatever creative manner the front office sees fit. I absolutely loved it when the Indians signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, for as much as the signal it sent to the city, as for what I thought the team was getting with regards to on-the-field play.
- What in the hell is wrong with Jason Kipnis? If you break apart his career by taking away his massively hot streaks with his downplay, you start to question the Indians’ willingness to pay him the money long-term. I’m not ready to get off the Kipnis bandwagon just yet, but he needed to be a big bat in the Indians’ lineup this year. He isn’t.
- Oh yeah, they still need a stud offensive player…
The funny thing about all of this is that if you weigh what’s good about this team with what’s bad, it really does seem like this team should be better than what it is. No, they don’t have the superstars that a team like the California Angels have, but they also don’t have that kind of money.
What they do have have is a pretty damn solid team, with a pitching staff that has a lot of talent, and perhaps the best young pitching coach in baseball. They have a manager that has clearly created a locker room that loves to play in Cleveland, and really has become a ‘team,’ in that very cliched sorta way. There are stars, and really are lacking just that one major offensive punch that could carry them over the hump from being in the hazy shade of annoying gray, to way in the black.
They really do feel like they are that close.
I hate saying it, but it’s almost more frustrating than if they just plain sucked.
Such is the life of a Cleveland Indians’ fan.
The Jason Kipnis Conundrum could get complicated over the next 12-to-18 months if the Indians’ second baseman doesn’t start hitting the baseball. If you take a cursory look at Kipnis’s statistics over the three full-ish seasons in which he’s played, and include his call-up year, you’ll see that the Indians’ second baseman has only hit over .270 six time over his 21 total months played. When you add the fact that his OPS has only been at .730 or above ten times over that same stretch, you start to see the true measure of his streakiness of a player.
Here’s a look at the numbers.
Of course, there’s a lot more analyzing that could be done with these numbers, but if .730 truly is a fairly average Major League ballplayer, then Kipnis and his 10 months of sub .700 would suggest that there is a lot of time in which Kipnis is flat out below average.
When you take into account his defense, then throw in the fact that this year has been far and away his worst, you have to really question the contract.
Those that know me know that it truly pains me to even insinuate that he could be a bust. I love the type of player that Jason Kipnis embodies from a pure “style of play” perspective. I love how hard he plays. I love that he wears his emotions on his sleeve, and I love how he can flat out carry a team when he’s on.
The problem with that at the major league level is when a small market is depending on the type of offense that Kipnis isn’t producing, it can absolutely stymie a team’s chances to be anything more than a wildcard team.
Is Jason Kipnis a lost cause?
Of course not. He’s still a young player who hasn’t really entered his prime years yet, so talk of his demise is surely early when you consider the big picture. Kipnis is the type of player who can overwork, and when he’s slumping, this can manifest, and we’ve seen it in the past with regards to Kip’s performance. He also has a tendency to wear down.
Unfortunately, you can’t always take into account the big picture when a team is dependent on the offensive production, and when you have players in the minor league system that play the same position, and could likely provide the major league team a boost.
We’ve seen that this year with Jose Ramirez, who not only replaced Asdrubal Cabrera, but has provided the team with nearly a 2 WAR (both fangraphs and baseball reference) since he has become the full-time replacement at shortstop. Next year, the team’s long-standing number one prospect, Francisco Lindor, will likely be knocking on the big league club’s door.
For those of us that try and analyze rosters with any sort of logical assumptions, it’s easy to see a scenario in which Lindor forces his way onto the club as the starting shortstop, and pushes Ramirez over to second base, simply because he’s a second baseman first and foremost. Of course, that move is predicated on Kipnis continuing to slump.
While a JRam/Lindor middle infield is something to salivate over defensively, neither player can provide the mix of offense that Jason Kipnis can provide if he’s playing pretty well. There aren’t many second baseman that can hit 20 homers, steal 30 bases, and carry a team.
But will that happen?
Do the numbers suggest that even if it does, will it happen with the type of continuity that the Indians would need?
If your answer is no, then what do you do with Kipnis? Do you really move him from second base, to allow the singles-hitting Ramirez to take his place? Do you move him to right field, a position he really hasn’t played since college, and never as a pro? Do you start a chain reaction, and move him to right, and deal Bourn if a team will take the salary? Do you even move Kipnis?
The reality is that the Indians just signed Kipnis to a six-year deal, and the likelihood that he’s dealt is not good. He’s clearly at a sell-low point right now, and unless Chris Antonetti is blown out of his socks with an offer that gives the Indians an immediate impact player, I just don’t see it happening.
But as I said as far back as last October, do the Indians look better with Lindor at Short, JRam at second and Kipnis at right?
I told my fellow #EHC writers Steve Orbanek and Michael Hattery that the Indians had to sweep the Tigers and the Royals to have a realistic shot at getting into the playoffs. That’s definitively not true from a pure numbers’ sense, but it is absolutely true in the sense that the Indians needed to make some sort of statement to themselves as they go forward.
This has been a two-step-forward, one-step-back team all year long, and I’d love for them to smack around the division going forward. Of course, they lost Friday night, which kills the sweep mentality, but they certainly could run through the Tigers and the Royals from this point forward.
How nice would it be if the Indians could win this division, and avoid the wildcard scenarios altogether.
I really think it’s the only way they’ll make it any further than the ALDS. I’m not saying the Indians can’t win a one-game playoff, but it sure would be nice for the Tribe to have at least one day off, should they make the playoffs, and perhaps line some things up a bit.
Look, I’ll take anything at this point, but a ten-game run would be wonderful. Can lightning strike twice?
I keep saying no, but with this rotation, anything seems possible at this point.
I’m sitting at about 20% likelihood that the Indians make the playoffs. My heart wants me to go to 90% or so, but the ups and downs are getting to be too much for me at this point. I’ll have a piece on the stretch run in the next day or two.
Let’s hope my head is damn wrong at this point.
How wrong was I about Carlos Carrasco?
Thank goodness I was.
When Carrasco is discussed as a starter, it always begins with a five-start stretch in 2011 in which he looked about as dominant as a pitcher could look getting his first real major league chance, which you can see below:
Carrasco pitched in 36 2/3 innings, gave up only 22 hits, four earned runs and five walks, while striking out 28 batters. His ERA was a sultry .98.
Here are Carrasco’s numbers through Friday Night’s ballgame:
Since Carrasco moved back into the rotation here in 2014, he’s gone 45 innings, while giving up 32 hits, seven runs and six walks, while striking out 47. For those counting at home, that’s a 1.40 ERA.
Carrasco has been nothing short of scintillating, his last start notwithstanding. I’ll get to that in a second.
Carrasco has been rock solid on the hill, has been hitting 95-plus with regularity, and has been wiping hitters out. What’s been the biggest pleasure though has been the demeanor. He’s clearly matured in the sense that he’s handling everything with much more aplomb than he has in the past, and looks like the ace that the Indians traded for way back in 2009.
In last night’s start, Carrasco was humming right along before Miguel Cabrera nearly hit him with a line-drive up the box. Up to that point, he had only given up two hits and a run, with three K’s, and was in total control. He was a different pitcher afterwards.
He then gave up a one-out home run to J.D. Martinez, and never really seemed to get back on his feet. Is that a sign of his shaky head? Not at all. Carrasco battled through the rest of the fourth and the fifth, and was pulled when Ian Kinsler singled in the bottom of the sixth with one out.
He threw a lot of pitches, but the old Carrasco would have given up more than four runs. Had the Indians gotten a big hit with two-outs and runners on second and third in the second inning, things could have been a bit different.
Carrasco has seemed to put his struggling past behind him, and the developmental plan that Mickey Callaway has put in place for Carrasco has clearly worked. Carrasco used to pitch defensively, nibbling around the strike zone with an already loose command of his pitches. He danced around the top-side of the zone, and it often burned him.
These days, Carrasco really goes after hitters unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It almost seems as though he’s wrapped up the aggression that used to come out after he gave up a big hit into every pitch. It looks as though he’s always pitching out of the stretch now, and using that relief mentality as a starter.
Now, the big key is repetition. Can Carrasco maintain this “zone” that he’s in, or is this just a solid stretch of baseball. It’s hard to say, but it will be interesting to see how he bounces back from Friday Night’s start. If Carrasco pans out into a top-end rotation type, things could really get interesting over the next few years with this rotation. His pedigree is equal to Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, and while he’s a bit older, he gives the Indians three high-upside youngsters to put alongside Corey Kluber, and that doesn’t include T.J. House.
I’ll have a piece on him later in the week.
In other words, Carrasco could give the front office some flexibility going forward, since the rotation is a bit more rounded.
We shall see, but boy does Callaway look like a wizard.
Congratulations to Tyler Holt, who has made a nice impact as a part-time player for the Indians. I certainly don’t expect Holt to become an all-star, but what I love about him is his ability to shake things up off the bench. He has blazing speed, and is a plus defender at all three outfield positions.
The key to Holt’s future is his ability to get on base. In his minor league career, he’s struck out a lot, but over the past two seasons, he’s improved to the point where he’s walking as much as striking out. If he can become a factor off the bench longterm, it really could make the offseason interesting one with regards to moves that could be made with Raburn, Murphy and Kipnis.
Again, Holt is one of those icing-on-the-cake sorta players: he’s a hard worker with a drive-it-home mentality that could be a factor off the bench.
I’m not big on fantasy booking with regards to the Cleveland Indians, but how good would they have looked this year had they not signed Kipnis to a long-term deal, and had instead went after Jose Abreu. I know that hindsight is 20-20, but the boys at #EHC talked for 15 minutes on the potential that Abreu could offer the Indians in 2014, should they gamble and sign him.
Think about this: Kipnis signed a six-year deal, to the tune of $53 million. It’s an escalating deal that starts at $4 million next year, and climbs to $16.5 million in the sixth season, should the Indians exercise that option. Abreu signed a six-year, $68 million deal. He’s a right-handed, power-hitting first baseman, and while there were mixed scouting reports on him, the common theme was that he could be a better hitter than Yoenis Cespedes, both for power and for average.
Obviously, a six-year deal for a guy who has never played a game in the majors is a stretch for any team, especially the Indians. Obviously, $68 million is a ton of money for any team, especially the Indians. But, looking at the deal and the year-by-year, it looks like a deal that the Indians could have made, if they found a reason and need for a right-handed power hitter.
This year and next, Abreu makes seven million a year, which is only a million more than the Indians paid for Mark Reynolds and David Murphy. In year three, his salary jumps to $10 million, then $10.5, $11.5 and finishes off at $12 million.
It’s over and done with, and the Indians can’t do a thing about it, but boy, what a pick-up that would have been. Of course, the Swisher and Bourn deals more or less hand-cuffed the Indians this past offseason. Still, to make that final push, when do the Indians take a flier on a player that could step right in and make a difference?
A contingent of http://www.everybodyhatescleveland.com headed over to Progressive field for our first official festivity as a working site. Onsite and present were Steve Orbanek, Joe Cuneo, Rich Primo and myself, and it was a whole lotta fun getting together with a great group of writers, and even better friends.
Joining us for a few innings to talk baseball was IBI beat writer Jim Berdysz, and we spent all nine innings taking in some baseball at a fantastic ballpark, with a team that is fighting tooth and nail.
Next year, EHC will have season tickets of some sort, and we can’t wait to meet many of our readers at the ballpark.
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