1st-Quarter Grades for the Cleveland Indians

Dan DiLoretoContributor IMay 18, 2013

1st-Quarter Grades for the Cleveland Indians

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    The Cleveland Indians are now roughly one quarter of the way through their 2013 season and are sitting atop the AL Central standings with a 23-17 record.

    Even with a nice start, some Indians fans may be hesitant to hop on the bandwagon after similar starts in 2011 and 2012—where the Indians combined for a 49-31 record through the first 40 games in each season.

    No one could blame them for being hesitant, because the aforementioned teams finished both seasons without a playoff berth. In fact, last year the Indians compiled the worst month in franchise history when they put together a 5-24 record during the month of August.

    But enough about the past, right?

    So far in 2013, there isn’t too much to complain about in Cleveland. Breaking down the offense, defense, rotation, bullpen, bench and coaching will give you a better idea of what is working in Cleveland and what might need a little tweak.

Offense

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    To say the Indians did work in the offseason might be the understatement of the year.  Toward the end of the dreadful 2012 campaign—and further back, depending on who you ask—the Tribe lineup looked lethargic at best.

    The front office took notice.

    After an overhaul during the offseason that saw the Indians uncharacteristically spend $117 million in free agency, the dividends are already paying off.

    Batting Average: .264

    Runs Scored: 191

    RBI: 185

    Home runs: 53

    Those numbers are good for the top six—or better—in each category for the AL.  The offseason acquisitions of Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs have given the Indians lineup a boost to the tune of a collective batting average of .273.

    Mix that together with Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana and you have yourself one of the most potent offenses in the American League.

    The addition of utility man Mike Aviles has done wonders for the team as well. His versatility has been crucial when some of the everyday players need a break.

    Ryan Raburn has been just as crucial to the team as well. He stepped in when Bourn was injured and ended up with an American League Player of the Week award after hitting .591 with four home runs in just five games.

    Also worth mentioning is the seamless transition Yan Gomes has made since getting called up twice for the injured Lou Marson.

    Grade: A

Defense

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    The Indians—on paper at least—look like they are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to their defense. There is some truth to that, but if you take your eyes off the stats and watch a game, you will see a much more versatile group of guys than in years past.

    Nick Swisher has been a vacuum at first base. Not only is he scooping everything thrown at him, but he is also sucking up everything hit his way as well. Mark Reynolds has also been getting time at first base, and we have even seen him do splits to get the out.

    However, if you do want to look at stats, you will find the Indians right in the middle when it comes to errors and fielding percentage.

    Errors: 22

    Fielding PCT: .984

    The Indians rank eighth in the AL in errors, but that number might be skewed a bit. The main contributor to the Tribe’s number of errors was Lonnie Chisenhall, who was demoted to Triple-A this week.

    Finally.

    Also, just one of the team's 22 errors was charged to the outfielders during the first quarter of the season. Even though it is a lot easier to make an error while playing the infield, steps must be taken to ensure they are minimized (read: Chisenhall demotion). A more careful infield as the Indians move toward the All-Star break should have them moving up the list in no time.

    Grade: B

Rotation

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    The Indians were expected to hit—early and often—in 2013. That expectation has held true. Another prediction was that the Indians' starting pitching would be the factor that held the team back from contention.

    Two-for-two.

    However, what started out as a two-man show on the rotation between Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister has now—thanks to four solid outings from Ubaldo Jimenez—turned into a three-man show.

    W/L: 17-17

    ERA: 4.44

    Of those 17 wins, the three pitchers mentioned have accounted for 12 of them. The back end of the rotation is where the real question marks lie so far this season.

    As of right now, the Indians are utilizing comeback story Scott Kazmir and 27-year-old Cory Kluber—who has only pitched in 21 games in three years with the club.

    Once Brett Myers comes off the DL, it should be expected that Kluber will return to Triple-A, even though Myers had struggled while healthy with an 8.02 ERA to go along with his 0-3 record. If his woes continue in the starting rotation, he would be a viable candidate for relief out of the bullpen  His spot would then be filled by either Kluber or offseason acquisition Trevor Bauer.

    A trade near the deadline for a starter to give the Indians a push toward the postseason isn’t out of the question either.

    The grade they are receiving might be considered high, but it is because of the dominance from the top of the rotation thus far.

    Grade: C

Bullpen

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    The Indians' starting pitching through the first quarter of the season has really helped out the bullpen. By giving the team quality starts, the bullpen has been able to be productive and reliable.

    With some exceptions.

    Nick Hagadone (0-0, 7.02 ERA) was one of the exceptions. Hagadone had trouble locating the strike zone for the majority of the season and is now carpooling with Lonnie Chisenhall to Triple-A. Of course, if Vinnie Pestano hadn’t been coming off the DL, he may have remained with the club.

    W/L: 5-0

    ERA: 3.03

    Saves: 8

    Closer Chris Perez is a big contributor to those numbers, recording six saves, grabbing one win and boasting a 0.89 ERA so far this season.

    Remember what I said about taking your eyes off the stats and watching the game?

    Perez has caused chest pains to the Tribe faithful every time he enters a game. A walk here, a hit there and all of the sudden he is on the verge of blowing it.

    But he gets his save.

    At some point he is going to have to buckle down and return to his “Pure Rage” persona, but until then the Indians' fans should have their baby aspirin ready.

    Grade: B+

Bench

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    The word “huge” comes to mind when thinking of a term to describe the impact the bench has had on the Indians so far this year. Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Jason Giambi are more than capable of doing their job, and it can be argued that they have the talent—save for Giambi—to be everyday players for any club.

    Raburn: .298/.359/.512

    Gomes: .283/.545/.828

    Giambi: .205/.280/.409

    Raburn, as mentioned before, came off the bench when Michael Bourn was sidelined with an injury and lifted this team to the height they are at now. Catcher Yan Gomes has proven to be the future when the Indians can no longer afford Carlos Santana, with his rocket arm and power at the plate.

    Giambi, if nothing else, provides the veteran leadership that many teams lack. It was never more apparent than when Giambi slid head-first into first base for an infield hit during the eighth inning when the Indians were winning 14-2 against the Phillies.

    Grade: A

Coaching

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    The signing of Terry Francona this offseason took the Indians' 2013 expectations to new heights. So far this season, he has done nothing but deliver on those expectations.

    W/L: 23-17

    One-run Games: 10-3

    Extra-inning Games: 4-0

    There were early signs that Francona was the right choice for Cleveland, but after 40 games those signs have been replaced by productivity. The ability to close out games might be one of the strongest characteristics for the Cleveland Indians.

    Another strong characteristic is Francona’s ability to spot a problem and fix it right away rather than let it work itself out. His decision to send down both Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Hagadone prove that Francona—as well as the Indians—are in it for the long haul this season.

    Grade: A