The Cleveland Indians' pitching and catching units underwent some substantial changes this offseason.
In the rotation, the team parted ways with starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. In the bullpen, it allowed Joe Smith to leave via free agency, and cutting closer Chris Perez opened up another spot.
The Indians added some pieces to fill these voids, including left-handed reliever Josh Outman and closer John Axford. In the rotation, they filled one of the spots with a former prospect in Danny Salazar.
The fifth spot in the rotation is the only one currently up for grabs, and if the team's official depth chart is any indication, it'll be filled by Carlos Carrasco.
The catching position features the same two players as last season—Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes—but they'll switch roles in 2014. Gomes will get the everyday reps, leaving Santana to man multiple positions as the backup catcher.
With a lot of moves taking place in these units, there could be major consequences in the team's performance this season. So, in this article, we'll take a closer look at the 14 players who will make up these units while also giving some projections for their 2014 season.
Indians depth chart courtesy of Clevelandindians.com. Inclusion of Josh Outman and Josh Tomlin came through predictions for spring training position battles.
Role: Backup Catcher/First Base/DH/Third Base
DOB: 04/08/1986 (Age: 27)
Height/Weight: 5'11", 210 pounds
MLB Experience: 3.115 Years
Per Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, rumors this offseason had Carlos Santana as a possible everyday third baseman for the Indians in 2014. That said, it's hard seeing the Indians transitioning him there full-time right away. On top of that, the team has no backup catcher on its 40-man roster, so Santana will likely receive reps behind the plate to spell Yan Gomes.
No matter where Santana plays, though, his bat will be an asset. The 27-year-old switch-hitter displays significantly more power from the right side of the plate than he does from the left, but he's a better all-around hitter from the left side.
Santana's offensive game is predicated on his patience and overall feel for the strike zone. Over his four-year career, he owns strikeout and walk percentages of 17.8 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively—both of which are better than the league average during his career.
Generally speaking, when Santana makes contact, it's hard contact. Over 645 plate appearances, he's put the ball in play 419 times. Of those 419 balls in play, a whopping 24 percent have been line drives, compared to the 21 percent league average.
Defensively, Santana is anything but an impact player. For his career, he has averaged a 25 percent caught-stealing percentage, compared to four-year league average of 26 percent.
Additionally, Santana does a well-below-average job of blocking balls in the dirt. The young catcher has a tendency to get lazy and backhand balls in the dirt, as evidenced by his career RPP (catcher blocked pitches in runs above average) of minus-12.2.
2014 Projections: 151 G, 636 PA, 544 AB, .259/.367/.461, 23 HR, 2 3B, 37 2B, 77 RBI , 71 R, 107:93 K/BB
Role: Starting Catcher
DOB: 07/19/1987 (Age: 26)
Height/Weight: 6'2", 215 pounds
MLB Experience: 1.083 Years
Yan Gomes took the baseball world by storm last season with a scorching stat line of .294/.345/.481 with 11 home runs, 18 doubles, 38 RBI, 45 runs scored and 67:18 K/BB. For a player many viewed as a throw-in for the Mike Aviles trade, those are pretty remarkable numbers.
Consider what Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had to say of Gomes at the time of the trade:
What Gomes won't do is force Carlos Santana to move from behind the plate to full-time duty at first base. The Indians talent evaluators see Gomes mainly as a catcher, an organizational weakness. They say he has a strong throwing arm, soft hands and power.
While his last statement is true, the former statement on Gomes has been completely debunked.
Gomes' offensive game is bound to regress slightly given worse-than-league-average strikeout and walk rates from last season. However, he controls the strike zone very well and, although he walks very little, he should continue to hit at an above-league average rate.
In a worst-case scenario, Gomes is a league-average offensive catcher over the course of his career. However, his defense will always push him into that next class of catcher.
Last season, Gomes threw out an incredible 40.8 percent of runners attempting to steal—good for fifth in all of baseball. His defensive prowess earned him a DRS of 11 for the 2013 season, a far cry from the minus-12 DRS posted by Santana last season.
He gives the Indians the best of both worlds behind the plate, with above-average offensive production and plus defense.
2014 Projections: 139 G, 583 PA, 531 AB, .260/.316/.435, 20 HR, 2 3B, 29 2B, 65 RBI, 60 R, 124:37 K/BB
Role: Long Relief
DOB: 10/19/1984 (Age: 29)
Height/Weight: 6'1", 190 pounds
MLB Experience: 3.069 Years
Josh Tomlin could very well find himself as the team's fifth starter for the 2014 season, but the team's depth chart currently has him listed as a reliever.
If Tomlin doesn't start, his skill set and stamina play perfectly into a role as a long reliever. Over his first two seasons as a big leaguer, he averaged over six innings per start, with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP.
Tomlin has never been much of a hard thrower, as indicated by the average velocities of his fastball over the past four seasons—89.62, 87.97, 89.42, 89.73 mph, respectively. But what he lacks in velocity he makes up for with command over his pitches and controlling the strike zone.
Tomlin's confidence and command of his pitches have allowed him to attack the strike zone at an impressive 66.4 percent rate over his four-year career. While that can get him in trouble at times—he has a worse-than-league-average HR%, HR/FB rate, LD%, XBH% and X/H%—it also allows him to limit his walks at an above-league-average rate (career 1.7 BB/9).
Tomlin's stamina, confidence and command make him a prime candidate to assume a long-relief role in the event that he flunks out of the competition for the team's final rotational spot. In addition to the boost he'd bring to the Tribe's bullpen, he can keep himself fresh with multi-inning appearances in the event that the Indians need him in a starting capacity at some point during the season.
The same reasons he fits the profile of a long reliever should be the same reasons he succeeds in the role in 2014.
2014 Projections: 60 G, 71 IP, 2-3 W-L, 3.68 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 3.57 K/BB, 8.7 H/9
Role: Middle Relief
DOB: 09/14/1984 (Age: 29)
Height/Weight: 6'1", 205 pounds
MLB Experience: 4.036 Years
Josh Outman looks to have the inside track for the Indians' other left-handed relief spot. The 29-year-old arrived in Cleveland via trade this offseason and, like most pitchers, will welcome the move from Coors Field in Colorado.
The veteran lefty is, like most pitchers, a fringe fly-ball pitcher—career GB/FB ratio of 0.76, compared to 0.81 league average over his career—and the move to a more pitcher-friendly park will certainly help him. Consider Outman's splits as a member of the Oakland A's, compared to those same splits as a member of the Colorado Rockies:
Outman clearly pitched better in Colorado than he did in Oakland, allowing few walks, striking out more batters and inducing more ground balls. However, despite the downward trend in fly balls allowed, he allowed more home runs and a higher percentage of home runs per fly ball.
Outman's uptick in ground balls induced is likely the result of the increase in the usage rate of his sinker. That type of downward-biting fastball will play well in any stadium. Outman's ability to generate strikeouts and ground balls should help him be a successful option out of the Indians bullpen.
2014 Projections: 58 G, 57.1 IP, 3-3 W-L, 3.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 2.45 K/BB, 8.5 H/9
Role: Left-Handed Specialist/Middle Relief
DOB: 08/29/1985, (Age: 28)
Height/Weight: 6'1", 215 pounds
MLB Experience: 3.132 Years
After a dismal showing with the St. Louis Cardinals in the season's first half, Marc Rzepczynski made his way to Cleveland for the second half of 2013. In 27 appearances with the team—mostly as a left-handed specialist—he managed an incredible stat line, including a 0.89 ERA, a 0.84 WHIP and averages of 8.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.33 K/BB and 4.9 H/9.
As noted above, Rzepczynski was used primarily as a left-handed specialist in Cleveland—and for good reason. Over equal sample sizes in 2013, the 28-year-old fared incredibly poorly against right-handed hitters, allowing a .298/.403/.456 slash line, compared to a .179/.230/.250 slash line against left-handed hitters.
Though it's generally true that left-handed pitchers have a more difficult time facing right-handed hitters, such drastic differences in RHB/LHB splits signify that Rzepczynski may be better suited for a left-handed specialist role moving forward. He'll certainly be used against righties as well, but those opportunities are likely to come in low-pressure situations.
2014 Projections: 46 G, 43.2 IP, 2-3 W-L, 3.30 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.67 K/BB, 8.2 H/9
Role: Middle Relief
DOB: 02/20/1985 (Age: 28)
Height/Weight: 6'0", 200 pounds
MLB Experience: 2.160 Years
After the team's inexplicable decision to let Joe Smith walk in free agency this offseason, one would think that Vinnie Pestano would be next in line to assume late-inning relief duty. Unfortunately, this might not be the case.
The 28-year-old suffered through a disappointing start to the 2013 season and was even sent down to the minors for a prolonged period of time, making 15 combined appearances with the team's Single-A and Triple-A affiliates. Pestano rejoined the team in September, allowing a 4.50 ERA over just two innings pitched.
Like John Axford—whom we'll examine on the next slide—Pestano struggled to get ahead in the count last season. He threw a first-pitch strike just 56.6 percent of the time, compared to the league average of 60.1 percent. Outside of this, Pestano was likely a victim of some bad luck given the major increase in his BABIP from the 2011-12 seasons to the 2013 season—.265 in 2011-12, .330 in 2013.
Though it's an incredibly small sample size, Pestano didn't appear ready to return to the big league level at the end of the 2013 season. Unless he's made some substantial changes in his approach on the mound, we could be in for a similar, but slightly better showing from Pestano in 2013.
2014 Projections: 57 G, 56.1 IP, 3-3 W-L, 3.67 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 2.33 K/BB, 8.1 H/9
Role: Setup/Late Relief
DOB: 11/20/1988 (Age: 25)
Height/Weight: 6'1", 210 pounds
MLB Experience: 1.076 Years
After a decent half-season with the Tribe in 2012, Cody Allen was able to step in and be arguably the team's best reliever in 2013.
The then-24-year-old allowed a 2.43 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP while averaging 11.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 3.38 K/BB and 7.9 H/9 over 70.1 innings pitched. Despite generally being used in a middle-relief role, the young righty was able to gather enough of a following to muster up a sixth-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting last year—an impressive feat for a non-closer or starter.
He operates through two pitches, his fastball and his curveball. The 25-year-old righty used those two pitches 99.58 percent of the time in 2013 and experienced incredible levels of success doing so.
Allen's fastball—which averaged out at 95.35 mph—generated a whiff percentage of 10.25 percent, while his breaking ball, a true 12-6 curve, generated a whiff percentage of 20.49 percent. His curve is a devastating pitch, and he uses his fastball to perfection as a setup pitch.
Despite his young age, Allen has a great feel for pitching. Although he could benefit from throwing a few more first-pitch strikes—55.5 percent in 2013—the complaints about his game are minimal to this point.
2014 Projections: 73 G, 71.1 IP, 4-2 W-L, 2.53 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 10.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 3.15 K/BB, 8.2 H/9
Role: Setup/Late Relief
DOB: 11/8/1987 (Age: 26)
Height/Weight: 6'1", 210 pounds
MLB Experience: 2.081 Years
The Indians acquired Bryan Shaw prior to the 2013 season as part of the return package for Shin-Soo Choo. The 26-year-old went on to appear in 70 games, allowing a 3.24 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP while averaging 8.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 2.61 K/BB and 7.2 H/9.
He utilized essentially two pitches to generate that stat line: his cutter and slider. Shaw used those two pitches 73.16 percent and 21.01 percent of the time, respectively. Though he used them most frequently, Shaw's cutter and slider also generated the best opponents' batting averages during the 2013 season, coming in at .245 and .108 respectively.
Though it didn't show last season, those two pitches help Shaw generate an impressive number of ground balls. In the two seasons prior, he averaged a ground ball/fly ball ratio of 1.35, compared to the 0.75 GB/FB ratio he allowed last season.
Despite the reduction in his GB/FB ratio, Shaw was able to improve on his previous performances, due largely in part to a massive uptick in his K/9 rate and a slight reduction in his BB/9 rate.
Shaw's FIP, xFIP and SIERA figures—3.07, 3.58 and 3.39, respectively—are slightly better than his career marks, but that's to be expected of an improving 26-year-old pitcher. If he continues to lower his walk rate while also maintaining his 2013 strikeout rate, the Indians will have a great setup man moving forward.
2014 Projections: 69 G, 69 IP, 4-2, 3.26 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.56 K/BB, 7.7 H/9
DOB: 04/01/1983 (Age: 30)
Height/Weight: 6'5", 220 pounds
MLB Experience: 3.170 Years
Despite John Axford's dismal performance over the past two seasons, the 30-year-old has managed to latch on with the Indians and is in line to assume the team's closing role in 2014.
Over the past two seasons, Axford appeared in 150 games, logged 134.1 innings and allowed a 4.35 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. While that doesn't bode well for him, his 13 games with the Cardinals last season seem to be the performance the Indians are banking on after signing him to a one year, $4.5 million contract for the 2014 season.
In said 13 games, Axford allowed a 1.74 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP while averaging 9.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.67 K/BB and 9.6 H/9.
His troubles are rooted in his inability to get ahead in the count. Consider these splits Axford produced over the last two seasons and how they compare to the league average over his career:
Over the last two seasons, Axford has gotten himself into far too many 1-0 counts and more than his fair share of 3-0 counts. With him constantly pitching from behind in the count, he's putting himself at a major disadvantage.
After cutting ties with former closer Chris Perez, the Indians need Axford to be on top of his game. In order to return to his pre-2012 form, he will have to make major strides in his pitch selection and location. Otherwise, it will be a long year in Cleveland.
2014 Projections: 66 G, 65.1 IP, 29 SV, 4-3 W-L, 3.58 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 2.50 K/BB, 8.3 H/9
Role: No. 5 Starter
DOB: 03/21/1987 (Age: 26)
Height/Weight: 6'3", 210 pounds
MLB Experience: 2.147 Years
Ultimately, due to his tremendous upside, I see Trevor Bauer leaving camp with the team's fifth rotational spot. However, since we're staying true to the team's official depth chart, Carlos Carrasco gets the nod here.
Carrasco has been with the Indians since mid-2009, when the team acquired him as the center piece of the Cliff Lee deal. Unfortunately, to this point in his career, he has yet to live up to his potential.
Over 48 appearances at the big league level, Carrasco is the owner of a 5.29 ERA, a 1.53 WHIP and averages of 6.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.98 K/BB and 12.3 H/9. This is a pitcher who was once tabbed as Baseball America's No. 41 overall prospect back in 2007.
Carrasco will try to reassure the organization that he's built for starting duties, and he'll do so with a five-pitch repertoire. Consider the usage rates of his five pitches over his last two seasons:
Carrasco's pitch diversification decreased between the 2011 and 2013 seasons, and that resulted in increases in his batting average allowed and slugging percentage allowed. The chart below depicts these increases:
Carrasco underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012, and that could have something to do with the perceived regression. Even so, if his recent performance is any indication, he'll have his work cut out for him in the 2014 season.
2014 Projections: 21 GS, 121 IP, 7-9 W-L, 4.24 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.12 K/BB, 9.0 H/9
Role: No. 4 Starter
DOB: 12/08/1987 (Age: 26)
Height/Weight: 6'6", 240 pounds
MLB Experience: 1.124 Years
The outstanding effort put forth by 26-year-old Zach McAllister was overshadowed by the surprise performances of Corey Kluber and Scott Kazmir. Over 24 starts (134.1 IP), he allowed a 3.75 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP while averaging 6.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.06 K/BB and 9.0 H/9.
McAllister is a contact pitcher, and that's evident by the young right-hander's career splits. Consider those career marks, displayed alongside his 2013 percentages in the same categories.:
|2011-13 MLB Avg.||63.4%||59.7%||78.3%||68%||20%||.306||.254|
McAllister allows a contact rate, in-play rate and a batting average against that are all worse than league average. However, it's due in large part to the aggressiveness with which he attacks the strike zone.
McAllister's aggressiveness benefits him by allowing him the opportunity to pitch from ahead in the count while also driving down his walk rate (career 3.1 BB/9). Because of this aggressiveness, he tends to allow a few more hits, but he does a good enough job of controlling things within his immediate sphere of influence—strikeouts and walks.
2014 Projections: 30 GS, 175.2 IP, 12-10, 3.89 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.13 K/BB, 9.4 H/9
Role: No. 3 Starter
DOB: 1/11/1990 (Age: 24)
Height/Weight: 6'0", 190 pounds
MLB Experience: 0.055 Years
Danny Salazar burst onto the scene in 2013, essentially coming out of nowhere to become one of the game's most talked-about young pitchers. Prior to the 2013 season, he was nowhere to be found on top prospect lists, but you'd never know it from watching him.
Over 21 appearances (93 innings) in the minors last season—seven at Double-A and 14 at Triple-A—Salazar allowed a 2.71 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP while averaging 12.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 5.38 K/BB and 6.9 K/9. The 24-year-old experienced similar success at the big league level last season, allowing a 3.12 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP, with averages of 11.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 4.33 K/BB and 7.6 H/9.
He utilized a four-pitch repertoire that includes a four-seasm fastball, sinker, slider and splitter. Consider the usage rates, velocities and batting averages against for Salazar's four pitches last season:
|Usage Rate (%)||64.14%||4.02%||12.53%||19.31%|
|Velocity (MPH)||96.24 MPH||94.33 MPH||86.77 MPH||85.65 MPH|
He maintains decent distribution with his pitch selection, though, moving forward, he may benefit from additional use of his sinker. Either way, Salazar's opponents weren't putting up much of a fight, as opponents slashed .226/.281/.374 against him in 2013.
There are a few negatives in Salazar's game, including his worse-than-league-average HR%, GB/FB ratio, LD% and HR/FB ratio. He is an aggressive pitcher—68.5 percent of his pitches last year went for strikes—and although it's a small sample size, the possibility for hard-hit balls grows exponentially if he misses with a pitch.
As Salazar continues to figure out the art of pitching, he'll regress slightly over the 2014 season. However, he'll still be a very effective pitcher.
And had he not exhausted his rookie eligibility by two innings last season, he'd be a top preseason candidate for Rookie of the Year honors in 2014.
2014 Projections: 28 GS, 177.1 IP, 13-7 W-L, 3.45 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 3.20 K/BB, 7.5 H/9
Role: No. 2 Starter
DOB: 04/10/1986 (Age: 27)
Height/Weight: 6'4", 215 pounds
MLB Experience: 1.074 Years
In his first full season of work with the Indians, Corey Kluber put together an outstanding season. Over 147.1 innings pitched, he managed a 3.85 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, with averages of 8.3 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 4.12 K/BB and 9.3 H/9.
Like a lot of young pitchers, Kluber has moved away from the traditional four-seam fastball, in favor of a sinker, in an attempt to induce more weak contact and ground balls.
That said, his sinker carried a batting average against of .342 last season. Luckily, his secondary offerings picked up the slack, as opposing batters managed batting averages of .154, .233, .194 and .205 against his four-seam fastball, changeup, slider and cutter, respectively.
Not only are hitters unable to muster up competent batting averages against Kluber's secondary offerings, they manage low slugging percentages as well. Kluber's four-seam, change, slider and cutter allowed slugging percentages of .231, .302, .306 and .288, respectively.
Kluber does a wonderful job of keeping the ball on the ground (career .85 GB/FB). That GB/FB rate and his impressive ability to limit walks—2.0 BB/9 in 2013—should continue to help him moving forward.
2014 Projections: 30 GS, 186 IP, 11-9 W-L, 3.82 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 2.88 K/BB, 8.7 H/9
Role: No. 1 Starter
DOB: 03/22/1985 (Age: 28)
Height/Weight: 6'6", 250 pounds
MLB Experience: 5.108 Years
Justin Masterson slots in as the team's No. 1 starter for the 2014 season. After a disappointing 2012 showing, Masterson bounced back in a big way, allowing a 3.45 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP while averaging 9.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 2.57 K/BB and 7.3 H/9.
At 6'6", 250 pounds, he has a prototypical build for pitching. The 28-year-old uses that build his advantage, as seen in his average fastball and sinker velocities from 2013: 93.24 and 90.41 mph, respectively.
Masterson's fastball tails in on righties, as does his sinker. Because of this, his slider acts as the perfect complementary pitch to those two primary offerings. In 2013, his slider generated a whiff percentage of 17.25 percent, by far the highest of any of his regularly used pitches.
Masterson's sinker and slider also help him generate a large number of ground balls. Over the course of his six-year career, he owns a GB/FB ratio of 1.31, including a mark of 1.45 in the 2013 season.
His high GB/FB rate and the movement of his pitches generate weak contact, as evidenced by his low LD%, HR/FB ratio, HR%, X/H% and XBH%. Given his track record over the past six years and the fact that he's right in the physical prime of his career, look for more of the same out of Masterson.
2014 Projections: 33 GS, 204 IP, 14-9 W-L, 3.57 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.36 K/BB, 8.7 H/9