Cleveland Indians team outlook
Can the Indians' rotation live up to its promise? Can other hitters pick up the slack if Michael Brantley misses time? Al Melchior reviews their roster and sizes up their potential contributions to Fantasy success.
The White Sox and Tigers were popular picks to top the American League Central in 2015, but the Indians topped them both in the final standings. Unfortunately, that wound up being more of a commentary on the failures of those two franchises than on good things happening in Cleveland.
In fact, things couldn’t have started off much worse for the Indians, as they lost 19 of their first 29 games. After spending much of the rest of the season slowly rebounding from the early skid, the Indians peered their collective heads above .500, on Sept. 26, and they hung on to finish 81-80.
While the Indians figured to have enough offense to contend with Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes forming the core of their lineup, pitching would have to be key to their contention. Corey Kluber didn’t live up to his 2014 Cy Young campaign, Carlos Carrasco couldn’t keep up the pace of his prior year’s late-season run and Trevor Bauer failed to find control and consistency.
All was not lost for the 2015 Indians, as indicated by their 39-34 record in the second half. Danny Salazar started to come into his own, Josh Tomlin was outstanding down the stretch, and the pitching staff as a whole benefited from the addition of rookies Francisco Lindor and Geovanny Urshela to the infield defense. Lindor also made his presence felt at the plate, earning more Fantasy value than any other shortstop after the All-Star break.
The Indians didn’t lose any Fantasy-relevant free agents, but they may have to do without Brantley for a month or more at the beginning of the season, as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. He will be replaced at least initially by Rajai Davis, who will join Lonnie Chisenhall and Abraham Almonte in the outfield. Also,Mike Napoli arrives as the team’s new first baseman, allowing Santana to settle in as the full-time designated hitter.
Though last season didn’t turn out to be a memorable one, the Indians have the pieces in place to contend in 2016. That said, it’s not a given that Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar will be at their best, Brantley won’t struggle in his return or Lindor will be able to replicate this rookie season magic. Those are concerns that could weigh down each player’s value on Draft Day.
2016 projected lineup
1. Rajai Davis, LF
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
3. Francisco Lindor, SS
4. Carlos Santana, DH
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
6. Yan Gomes, C
7. Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
8. Abraham Almonte, CF
9. Giovanny Urshela, 3B
BENCH: Roberto Perez, C
BENCH: Jose Ramirez, 2B/SS
DL: Michael Brantley, LF
2016 projected rotation
1. Corey Kluber, RHP
2. Carlos Carrasco, RHP
3. Danny Salazar, RHP
4. Trevor Bauer, RHP
5. Josh Tomlin, RHP
ALT: Cody Anderson, RHP
2016 projected bullpen
1. Cody Allen, RHP
2. Bryan Shaw, RHP
3. Zach McAllister, RHP
4. Joe Thatcher, LHP
5. Shawn Armstrong, RHP
Bounceback player …
Corey Kluber SP / Cleveland Indians (2015 STATS)
|INN: 222||ERA: 3.49||K: 245||BB: 45|
Corey Kluber was by no means a bad pitcher in 2015. He finished in the top 20 among starting pitchers in Fantasy value, but expectations were higher, given that he ranked fourth the previous season. Kluber’s sensational 2014 stats were helped by an 80 percent strand rate and 5.5 percent home run-to-flyball ratio that he was unlikely to repeat, but luck may have swung too far in the opposite direction last year. In each of his four seasons in the Indians’ rotation, Kluber has been well below the major league average in the rate of pulled flyballs allowed, so last season’s 0.9 HR/9 ratio seems higher than it should have been. According to StatCorner, the only pitcher to allow more homers than Kluber with a pulled fly rate below 34 percent was Phil Hughes.
Kluber actually threw strikes and got whiffs at higher rates last season than in the year before. If fewer balls leave the park in 2016, Kluber could insert himself right back into the pitching elite.
Francisco Lindor SS / Cleveland Indians (2015 STATS VS. RHP)
|PA: 283||AVG: .308||HR: 7||2B: 13|
From just about any angle, Francisco Lindor had a wonderful rookie season. There was nothing wrong with his production through his first 59 games, as he hit .284 with five home runs and three stolen bases. It was after this initial stretch that Lindor really took off, batting .357 with seven home runs and nine stolen bases over his final 40 games.
Lindor hit .390 on balls in play during this hot streak, making his batting average hard to trust. Also, much of his power came against lefties, whom he has always hit well. His numbers against righties last season were far more pedestrian, and his overall stats will likely veer closer to those splits. For those planning on drafting Lindor based on how he performed late last season, be aware that there are good reasons to be skeptical of his sudden breakout. Rather than being an elite at the position, Lindor could struggle to crack the top 10.
Buyer beware …
Jason Kipnis 2B / Cleveland Indians (2015 STATS)
|PA: 641||AVG: .303||HR: 9||SB: 12|
The second half of 2015 was not kind to Jason Kipnis, but that didn’t prevent him from racking up the sixth-highest Fantasy point total and eighth-highest Rotisserie value among second basemen for the year. There are reasons to be concerned about Kipnis for 2016, and they don’t have to do with his three home runs and two stolen bases after the break. It’s Kipnis’ first half that should make us wary, as his .323 batting average was built on a .369 BABIP. He’s a good all-fields hitter, but Kipnis didn’t get many infield hits and he relied on a high line drive rate, which could be highly variable. In other words, Kipnis should not be counted on for a high batting average, and without that, he is borderline as a standard mixed league second baseman.
The Indians have moved outfielder Bradley Zimmer up quickly since drafting him in the first round of the 2014 draft, but he hit a snag last season when he advanced to Double-A. Zimmer stole 12 bases in 49 games, but he batted only .219 with six home runs. If he rebounds this season, he could make his major league debut before the year’s end. On Draft Day, only dynasty league owners need to put Zimmer on their radar.
The same is true for fellow outfielder Clint Frazier, even though he took a step forward in 2015. Frazier made major advances in his power hitting and strikeout rate in the Carolina League, but now he will have to prove himself in Double-A.
Yandy Diaz, on the other hand, has a genuine opportunity to be the Indians’ starting third baseman sometime this season. He doesn’t have much power, but he hit .315 with a .412 on-base percentage at Double-A Akron. If Giovanny Urshela and Jose Ramirez don’t pan out, it could be Diaz’s turn to take over the hot corner in Cleveland. He is still mainly a dynasty league option due to his lack of power development to date.
The system is not rife with pitching talent, but Mike Clevinger had an encouraging season at Double-A, and Justus Sheffield fared well in his first stint in a full-season league. Dynasty leaguers also need to keep Brady Aiken on their radar, even though he has yet to pitch with an affiliated team. He should complete his recovery from Tommy John surgery this spring or summer and begin working his way through the Indians’ organization.