The Cleveland Indians have gotten off to a relatively rough start to begin the season overall, starting 5-9 and are lowly 5th in the AL Central.
Their main issue overall has been offense (Although terrible starts from both Zach McAllister (0-1 — 6.10 ERA) and TJ House (0-2 — 14.14 ERA) have been major factors as well).
The Indians are averaging 3.14 runs per game, which is good for 27th best in the MLB. This is coming off a 2014 season where they averaged 4.13 runs per game (11th in the MLB) , and in 2013 where they averaged 4.57 runs per game (6th in the MLB). To say the least, with the pace the Indians are going it indeed looks to be the makings of a long year overall.
The saddest part of all with the Indians rough start is, outside of Zach McAllister and TJ House, the starting pitching has been phenomenal.
Corey Kluber is 0-2 with a 3.90 ERA, with the Indians having lost all four of his starts thus far. The reason for that? The Indians provided Kluber with a mere eight runs combined in his three starts for run support. (The eight runs is surprisingly deceiving, as he more-so received five runs total, with three more coming in the 8th and 9th inning of a game that seemed relatively lost from the get-go). Kluber has been phenomenal, and if the Indians cannot capitalize, the season will simply drag on and on in a painful fashion.
Alongside Kluber’s magnificent performances overall (Outside of the 6-0 loss to the White Sox, he was dominant regardless.), Carlos Carrasco (2-1 — 2.38 ERA), Trevor Bauer (2-0 — 0.95 ERA), and Danny Salazar (1-0 — 3.00 ERA) have all been excellent as well.
The Indians are simply at best average defensively (Despite being 6th in the MLB in Team Fielding overall), but regardless are a much improved defensive team than last year (In which they were 30th in the MLB in Team Fielding–Good for worst in the MLB).
So with all this being said? Is their truly any hope in this young baseball season for this Cleveland Indians team?
Well it would be easy for me to brush everything off as I typically do, being a diehard Indians fan myself (Often at times a stupid, overly optimistic one). Yet I decided it would be best for me to dive a bit deeper into the Indians chances overall.
Starting with the pitching overall.
The Indians Bullpen has been a unique story overall. The squad is coming off a 2014 campaign in which they possessed one of the best overall bullpens in Indians history, helping to shatter the team strikeout record, as well as the record for the most appearances in Indians history. They were the 7th best Bullpen in team ERA in 2014 with a team ERA of 3.12, and were extremely dominant overall. In 2014, players like Nick Hagadone (1-0 –2.70 ERA) , Kyle Crockett (4-1 –1.80 ERA), and Mark Rzepczynski (0-3 — 2.74 ERA) all had breakout seasons of sorts, and the Indians eve got surprising great output from a pitcher in Scott Atchison (6-0 –2.75 ERA). Even pitchers like Zach McAllister (who started year in the rotation, and transitioned to the bullpen.) put up unique numbers as a bullpen arm (gave up only 4 ER, while striking out 14 and walking only 2 batters). Of course Cody Allen (6-4 –2.07 ERA) and Bryan Shaw (5-5 –2.59 ERA) also put up excellent numbers as well. The bullpen as a whole was excellent in 2014.
In 2015, the Indians Bullpen ERA thus-far has been confusing to say the least. As a team, the bullpen’s team ERA is 3.91, which does not likely seem awful on paper. Yet, if one looks deeper into the stats, that is best for 20th in the MLB. Even further, one sees that the two teams that the Indians are chasing in Detroit and Kansas City both have superior bullpens. Kansas City appears to have arguably and near by-far the best bullpen in baseball as well (0.58 Bullpen Team ERA), and while Detroit hasn’t been much better they still have indeed been better (3.79 bullpen ERA).
So what’s the likely issue with the bullpen?
The best answer comes in the very record the Indians’ Bullpen set in 2014 for the most appearances by a bullpen overall. It is likely overall wear and tear. Both Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen started showing the wear and tear last September in which they both relatively struggled overall. (Shaw- 0-2 –4.09 ERA) (Allen- 0-1 –3.72 ERA). The talent level in this bullpen has not exactly decreased, and one can argue in spots it has actually increased. The wear and tear will likely eventually wear off overall, and to say the least the Indians need it too. The Indians need their bullpen to dominate like it did in 2014 if they truly want a chance of contending in the behemoth that is the AL Central.
In regards to the starting pitching as a collective whole, there is not much issue thus far. In fact, it has been an undeniable highlight in this young season.
The one major issue has come from TJ House, who has been a disappointment through two starts. House is a pure groundball pitcher and largely gets outs by pitching to contact. He truthfully has no dominant pitch, but his deception is decent in his delivery overall. TJ must figure it out in this young season or the Indians must figure out a reasonable option to replace him, because if he succeeds it would be huge for the Indians as a whole.
The starting rotation has been a legitimate bright spot. As the collective ERA combined between Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar is collective 2.21 ERA. Obviously I don’t expect this absolute and utter dominance to continue in the way it has, but quality starts are getting to a point of expectation of Carrasco, Kluber, and Bauer (Salazar is still up in the air, regardless of his great start to the season).
In regards to the defense, well the issues are there in spurts but it is much improved since last year’s abomination.
As often as there will be “#FreeLindor” tweets, Jose Ramirez has played a unique role thus far for the Indians on the young season. He has played an above average shortstop for the Indians last year, and somewhat appears to have taken a tad step back defensively (Albeit, he was so stellar defensively in the second half last season, a regression was expected in some sorts overall.) Ramirez has been poor offensively thus-far, and has taken a significant step-back in that area overall. Yet, he isn’t on this team for the offense overall (So we’ll leave that for another day.) Ramirez will stay what he is, until of course the awaited day that comes in the call-up of Francisco Lindor happens.
The all around-defense is much improved. Yet players like Lonnie Chisenhall are still a liability, despite improvements overall. He is an iffy-at best defensive third baseman, with an average at best arm. He has improved all around in his technique, but is still arguably a question mark going forward. His offense can leave a lot to be desired as well.
The Indians still have a capable defensive catcher in Roberto Perez, who despite not being Yan Gomes, still commands a great game and has a plus arm.
While there really has not been much of an issue in the outfield, health and depth remain the main issue. Brantley and Bourn must stay healthy if the Indians are going to turn it around, and the Indians must find some decent defensive depth as well. (Tyler Holt anyone?)
In regards to the hitting overall, there is obviously a genuine issue. With that said, is it a fixable one?
In 12 games thus-far the Indians have scored a mere 44 runs (Which before last night’s 6-2 win, was a putrid mere 38 runs). In order to put that in perspective, the Twins have scored 45, the White Sox 44, Detroit 72, and Kansas City 81. With a stat like that, it is not shocking that the Indians have gotten off to the start that they have overall.
So what are the major issues with the bats thus-far?
Well frankly, one could equate it to many things. Largely a mixture of a lack of health and kicking off where they were at the end of last season, where the hitting kept them from winning many games down the stretch. Yet I see it as a bit more than that.
The loss of Yan Gomes is huge overall, but likely won’t kill the Indians, as it is a long season and he will eventually be back. Yet him being out of the lineup, being our best right-handed power bat, hurts the offense nonetheless.
The one thing I’ve heard numerous times is that the Indians cannot hit lefties, and thus-far that is completely looking to be correct. The Indians this year a batting a mere .203 against left-handed pitching, with a meager .278 OBP. Yet, is it true that the Indians really cannot hit left-handed pitching?
With the Indians main hitters vastly being all left handed hitters, it leaves it to be a tough task to go continually against lefties in a division pretty much filled with them. So why was it that the Indians the best hitting team against lefties statistically in 2013, and the 9th best hitting team against lefties in 2014?
In 2013, the Indians lineup was much more balanced. Kipnis was having an excellent year, Brantley had begun his breakout, and Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Ryan Raburn all had quality years to match. They were just at that point a better naturally offensive team overall (Statistically the 6th best Offensive team in baseball in 2013).
In 2014, they truthfully weren’t that great against lefties, and given the current pace this season. I expect the Indians to eventually round out to bat roughly .240-.250 against lefties.
The Indians have arguably much more offensive talent on this team than in the past two years overall, but a lot must fall into place in order for a turn-around to happen.
The Indians must start getting contributions from Jason Kipnis, Brandon Moss, and even some contributions from guys like Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall overall. When Swisher gets back, if he was even 80% of his 2013 form, it will be an improvement over last year’s putrid version of Nick Swisher. More than anything, the Indians just need some of these key players to contribute at a consistent basis (Which is absolutely possible). As much as Kipnis has struggled to start the season, his AB’s still have looked significantly better than the majority of last year’s ABs.
And before one says, “Oh there is zero chance of all of this.”, it can happen regardless. It frankly needs to happen, but regardless. Overreacting to this talented lineup’s slumping way about them this early is a tad bit asinine collectively, as the numbers should absolutely even out as time passes. Frankly, they need to.
And I believe they will do just that.
So why am I still optimistic with this Indians team that has started 5-9 and being last in the AL Central?
Well, for a variety of reasons.
The Bullpen will figure itself out. Whether Cody Allen is removed from the closers’ role is yet to be seen, but he is simply too talented to continue to struggle like he has. Brian Shaw will figure it out as well. The Bullpen arguably has more talent in it than it did last season. Kevin Cash leaving to become manager of the Rays hurt more than people realize, and I feel the Indians are slowly but surely figuring out how to manage without him as well.
There is simply too much talent in this offensive lineup, to completely fall apart day to day like they have. They should absolutely figure it out. (And they kind of need to as well.)
The pitching staff continues to shine, and if the Indians could pair offense with the top 3 in the rotation the Indians could and will be a scary, scary team.
The Indians also have arguably the best manager in the game in Terry Francona at the helm.
The biggest reason for why I am still even remotely optimistic?
I may be an overly optimistic, at-times idiotic Cleveland Indians fan. Yet I also watched the Indians team from 2013 start 5-9 and finish 92-70. I watched the Indians team from 2014 start 11-17 and finish 85-77.
Baseball season is a long, long season.
Yes, the Indians have looked bad. Yet let me assure you, this Indians team absolutely has the talent to contend for a playoff spot. And I firmly believe, the Indians will do just that.