Wednesday, March 13, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #20: Cleveland Indians

Greetings! The Indians are spending money, so I'll give them that.

Projected Starters - Carlos Santana (C), Nick Swisher (1B), Jason Kipnis (2B), Asdrubal Cabrera (SS), Lonnie Chisenhall (3B), Michael Brantley (LF), Michael Bourn (CF), Drew Stubbs (RF), Mark Reynolds (DH)

This lineup could be very, very good if everything goes right. Carlos Santana is one of the best, young catchers in the majors and he posted a quality year last year (3.4 WAR) despite a .252 batting average. He's got great plate discipline (14.9% walk rate) and legitimate power from behind the plate and that's a luxury. Alongside him, there are several "proven", veteran bats that we can project with some clarity. Nick Swisher was acquired (and overpaid for) to play 1st base, and he's certainly going to hit. He's posted 3.2+ WAR in 6 of the last 7 seasons, hit 20+ homers for eight straight years, and is a guy who will post a .350-.370 OBP. There's nothing flashy about Swisher, but you love to have him. Michael Bourn was brought in at the last moment, and he's one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. This could be an electric outfield defensively (Stubbs and Brantley could both play CF in their own right), and Bourn's 40-steal pedigree helps as well. This lineup is also stocked with young guys who could break out this year. Jason Kipnis hit 14 homers, stole 31 bases, and scored 86 runs last year, but his numbers dropped off the cliff in the 2nd half, and that's cause for concern. Stubbs is never going to hit for average (career .241 hitter) but he can steal 30 bases, and hit 15-20 homers while providing really good defense in a corner outfield spot. Overall, they are going to hit, but the level of production could vary greatly based on the track records of guys like Kipnis, Chisenhall, and Reynolds.

Projected - Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Brett Myers, Trevor Bauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka/Carlos Carrasco

Say hello to the problem area. Who is the #1 starter for the Indians? Anyone?... I guess, by default, it is Ubaldo Jimenez. With Jimenez, there is "hope" for some dominant pitching, because he posted back-to-back 6 WAR seasons with the Rockies in 2009 and 2010, peaking with the dominant performance in 2010 where he threw 221 innings with a 2.88 ERA. Since then? Yikes. His combined ERA between Cleveland and Colorado with 4.68 in 2011, and last year, he threw 176 innings of 5.40 ERA baseball with the lowest K-rate of his career. Is he done? I have no idea, but they really, really need him to not be. After that, Masterson is a ground-ball pitcher who will eat innings (206 last year) but probably with average returns (4.93 ERA, 4.16 FIP in 2012). Myers has been closing for the Astros in recent years, and while he's got some quality years as a starter with Houson and Philly, there is cause for concern with a 32-year-old changing roles and leagues. Bauer is probably the biggest X-factor (with due respect to Ubaldo) because of his pedigree. The former top prospect really, really struggled in a small sample with the D-Backs and his routine did not sync up with what that organization expected. What isn't in question, however, is his stuff, as he struck out 10+ batters per 9 at every level in the minors, and has #1 starter upside. The 5th spot is up for grabs, but neither option is particularly exciting, although Dice-K would at least be entertaining.

Projected - Chris Perez (closer), Vinnie Pestano, Matt Albers, Matt Capps, Nick Hagadone

Cleveland has a funny situation. It seems that everyone knows that Vinnie Pestano is a better pitcher than Chris Perez... but they still use Chris Perez as the closer. Perez has been on the trading block for what feels like years, but as of now, he's the guy in the role and he saved 39 games last year. He's certainly not a bad pitcher at all (3.59 ERA, 9.21 K/9), but Pestano (2.57 ERA, 9.77 K/9) has been better for two years, and he's the closer of the future. After that, the bullpen isn't exceedingly sharp, but they should be fine at the back end.


Cleveland won 68 games in a "lost" season last year, and this is a much better club than that. I'm fully aware that if everything goes well, this projection is low, and this is a classic high-upside/low-floor type of team. If the pitching (namely Ubaldo and Bauer) goes well and the young bats (namely Chisenhall and Kipnis) get going, they could contend for a wild-card spot. In the end, I can't put enough stock into their pitching to fully buy in for 2013.


79-83, 3rd in AL Central

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