Despite going 85-77 this past season, the Indians’ three most important players: Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, and Nick Swisher, all had their worst career seasons. Those three players combined for a WAR of 0.8 and a 2014 salary of $30.6 million, meaning that the Indians would have had to pay $38.3 million to get 1 win out of them, mathematically. On the flip side, the Indians’ three best players last season: Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes, had a combined WAR of 18.8 and a 2014 salary of $2.6 million, 1 win for every $136k. In 2013, Bourn, Kipnis, and Swisher had a WAR of 11.6. Had they replicated those numbers in 2014, the Indians would have been a theoretical 95 win team. Bounce back seasons from these three guys could determine whether the Indians are fighting for the World Series or golfing in October. Here’s why each player can have a return-to-form year.
Bourn made it 10 games into his Indians career before injuries finally caught up with him. Against the White Sox on April 14, 2013, Bourn slid head first into first base and had his finger stepped on, forcing him to miss a month. Late in the 2013, it was discovered that Bourn was dealing with a bad hamstring. Once the Indians were eliminated by the Rays in AL Wild Card game, Bourn had surgery on his hamstring and hoped to be full go by spring training. Alas, Bourn re-injured his hamstring in spring training and again in earlier July, forcing him to miss 52 games in 2014.
So why will Bourn bounce back? Health is the key reason. In his four seasons prior to signing with the Tribe, Bourn averaged 153 games played with 53 stolen bases, a slash line of .280/.348/.378 (BA, OBP, SLG), and an average WAR of 4.9. In his two years with the Tribe, Bourn has averaged 118 games played with 16 stolen bases, a slash line of .260/.315/.360, and a WAR of 1.4. He may never steal 40 bases again, but if his hamstring problems are over, then Bourn should be able to post some respectable numbers. Last year, you could tell that Bourn was playing it safe by not going full out all the time, as he didn’t want to risk another set back. He will have a full off-season to rest his legs, and this time he won’t have to worry about rehabbing from off-season surgery. Bourn should be healthy for the first time since that fateful day on April 14, 2013.
Coming off a highly successful 2013 campaign, which included representing the Indians at the All-Star game, Kipnis came into spring training a little out of shape, according to some people. Weight gain or not, the Indians decided to lock up Kipnis for the foreseeable future, giving him a 6-year, $52.5 million contract extension. He then proceeded to hit at .234 clip before suffering an oblique injury that forced him on the DL for a month. When he finally returned from injury, Kipnis just didn’t have the same make-up as the previous years. In his first two full seasons with the Tribe, Kipnis averaged 150 games played, 16 home runs, 80 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, with a slash line of .270/.350/.415, and an average WAR of 4.9. 2014 saw Kipnis decline in every statistcal category, he played just 129 games, with 6 home runs, 41 RBI’s, 22 stolen bases, a slash line of .240/.310/.330, and a WAR of 0.9. He battled fans on Twitter, and tried to hard to live up to his contract.
Kipnis has the best chance of the three to bounce back. He will be 28 years old at the start of the 2015 season, and is in the middle of his prime years. His oblique and hamstring injuries are behind him, plus it will have been a year since he signed his extension. If you follow Kipnis on Twitter then you know he has already started preparing his body for spring training. Expect him to come to spring training in the best shape of his life. He knows how disappointing the 2014 season was, and he has no plans to repeat it. Jason Kipnis will have the best season of his career in 2015.
You know the story, nine straight 20 home run seasons, then suddenly Swisher becomes the worst contract in baseball. Swisher has been disappointing in his time with the Indians, save for a strong September in 2013 when he hit .263 with 7 home runs and 17 RBIs. Sporting the largest free agent contract ever given out by the the Indians, Nick Swisher came out in 2014 and, to say it nicely, didn’t live up to expectations. Swisher had the worst season in his career, and it wasn’t really close. In his previous 9 seasons, Swisher averaged 148 games played, 25 home runs, 81 RBIs, a slash line of .255/.358/.463, and a WAR of 2.7. In 2014, Swisher played in just 97 games before undergoing season ending surgery on both knees. He hit just 8 home runs, had 42 RBIs, struck out in 30% of his at-bats, with a slash line of .208/.271/.331, and negatively affected the team when he was on the field, as evident by his -1.0 WAR.
What’s that you’re saying? Thirty four year old baseball players coming off knee surgeries don’t improve. Then again, guys as consistent as Nick Swisher has been over his career don’t just suddenly drop off into oblivion. Working in Swisher’s favor is his current health, the fact that he won’t play in the field as much in 2015, and his knowing that he doesn’t have to lead the offense any more. There are no expectations for Swisher to succeed in 2015, so he will be playing pressure free baseball in 2015. He has been too good for too long for his career to just suddenly end.
— Chris Sladoje (@CST_Doje)