…the Indians don’t have an offense. Even with the Indians now projected by many analytical sites to win the AL Central, the offense is still projected to rank 10th in the AL (Fangraphs has the Indians at 86 wins and averaging 4.34 runs per game). The Indians offense has been in decline since the 2013 season where they scored 745 runs and ranked 4th in the AL. In 2014, the Indians scored 669 runs and fell to 7th in the AL. Last season, the Indians scored 669 runs again (albeit in only 161 games), but fell in the standings, all the way down to 11th in the AL.
So what did management do to help supplement the offense? Sign Justin Upton? Trade for a big bat? Of course not! Instead, the Indians brought in the likes of Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and a bunch of other replacement level players, the kind the Indians are so keen on signing. Oh wait, I forgot to mention that Michael Brantley, one of the best hitters in the game, could be out until May (but it is looking like an April return is probable). With a pitching staff that rivals the vaunted Mets rotation, the Indians seem to be wasting away another year of great pitching.
Let me pump the brakes on the pessimism I’m bringing to our Wahoo Warriors. Being the eternal optimist when it comes to my favorite sports teams, I’m here to tell you that the Indians offense will be good enough to make playoffs. Astute readers of mine (all three of them) will notice and say, “Wait a minute, didn’t you write an article last season saying the Indians would have the best offense in the AL?” And to that, I say, yes. You can read it here, if you want a good laugh. Let me run down the players in the lineup who will help the Tribe when it comes to scoring runs.
At catcher, the Tribe will have a healthy Yan Gomes, who from 2013 to 2014 produced a 6.5 offensive WAR and won a Silver Slugger in 2014. Last season was definitely a disappointment from Gomes, but a knee injury that forced him to miss eight weeks was the main culprit behind his poor numbers. Not to mention he rushed back and tried to help his slumping team. A funny thing happened in 2015 though, Gomes replacement, Roberto Perez, actually performed better offensively than Gomes. Perez had a 1.0 oWAR in 70 games, while Gomes had 0.6 oWAR in 95 games, so the Indians are in a very good spot when it comes to the catching position.
As for the first base position, I’m going to talk about both Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana. Napoli will most likely play first base the majority of the time due to his defensive prowess (okay, he’s an average defender, but compared to Santana he might as well be a Gold Glove first basemen). With Boston last season, Napoli wasn’t much to write home about, but after his trade to Texas, he saw his numbers see a sharp upgrade. Napoli isn’t an everyday player anymore, but he still has 20 home run power and will still draw plenty of walks. With Napoli holding down the first base job, Carlos Santana finally makes his inevitable move to DH. Surprising as it may be, Santana has been one of the more consistent hitters over the past couple of years. You can almost always pencil Santana in for a .240 average, 20 home runs, 80 RBI, and a .360 on-base. Unfortunately, Santana has been placed in the middle of the order for most of his career, when his numbers would do better a the top of a lineup. Fans have been expecting Santana to put up big numbers, but his game just isn’t built for that batting slot. In the right situation, Santana is a very valuable hitter.
The middle of the infield is where the Indians will really shine (besides the pitching staff, of course). Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis combined for a 9.2 WAR in 2015 and that number should go up in 2016. Lindor led the AL in batting average after the All-Star break with a .342 average, while Kipnis was the lone Indians All-Star representative and had his best season at the plate with a .302 average. The 2015 version of Jason Kipnis might have raised his batting average, but saw his home runs greatly decrease, but he did see an increase in doubles and triples, which means he might be in for some better luck in 2016 and reach those high teens home run totals. As for Lindor, the closest thing the Indians have to a superstar, it’s possible he could reach the 20-20 plateau in 2016, but might fall short in the power department. Most pundits predict Lindor to decrease in the offensive category, seeing his Major League numbers as basically a fluke. But a full season worth should give him more value than the 99 games he played in 2015.
The last player that you can count on offensively is the one that the Indians won’t be able to count on initially. Michael Brantley is probably out for a month, and is far and away the best hitter on the Indians and one of the best hitters in the league. Over the past two seasons, Brantley has hit at a clip of .319 and has an on-base percentage of .389. Last season, despite being hampered by nagging shoulder and back injuries, which limited him to 137 games, Brantley still led AL in doubles with 45, two more than teammate Jason Kipnis.
To sum up, I count six guys who can clearly give the Indians plenty of offensive production. Now, of course, they’ll be nowhere near the 90’s Indians in terms of production. Heck, they probably won’t even be close to the mid-2000’s Indians in terms of offense, but they don’t need to be. Offense has clearly been in decline since those steroid-juiced years. In 1999, the average team scored 838 runs, in 2007 that number fell to 794 runs. Last season, the average AL offense scored 710 runs for the season. So where can the Indians expect to get those extra 40 runs from? Last season, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Brandon Moss, Jerry Sands, and Mike Aviles were a combined 52 runs worse than a league average player. Meanwhile, the Indians additions of Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis and Juan Uribe were a combined two runs better than league average players. So basically, the Indians have swapped below replacement players for average players. Throw in the fact that Yan Gomes was -15 runs worse than a league average hitter last season, when he had normally been +10 in that department, and the Indians have clearly improved from last season.
One last note on the Indians. Fans clamoring over the fact that the Indians didn’t sign a big name or even a medium name outfielder should know that Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier (ranked as the 26th and 27th overall prospects, according to MLB.com) will make an impact for this team in 2017. Meaning that whatever player the Indians signed would have been a one year rental at most. Next year’s outfield is looking really good. Brantley, Zimmer, and Frazier will be a great outfield for years, so calm down Tribe fans, this team is set up very well for the future.
— Chris Sladoje (@The_Doje)