Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Starters (in order): Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister
Potential Starters: Trevor Bauer (30%), Carlos Carrasco (40%), Josh Tomlin (15%)
Long Shots: Shaun Marcum (10%), Aaron Harrang (5%)
The Indians' starting rotation this season is significantly different than the most frequently used version from 2013. Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir have moved on to other teams—Baltimore and Oakland, respectively—and the team will look to replace them with 2013 breakout performer Danny Salazar, and the winner of the position battle for the fifth rotational spot.
Justin Masterson anchors the rotation as the team's ace. Although his numbers won't blow you away—3.86 ERA since 2010—Masterson does a great job of missing bats—9.1 K/9 in 2013—and inducing ground balls—1.35 GB/FB since 2010.
Kluber and McAllister are the other two familiar names.
Kluber was outstanding last season and flew under the radar of many baseball analysts. Over his 147.1 innings pitched, Kluber managed an ERA and WHIP of 3.85 and 1.26, respectively, while striking out 8.3 batters compared to just 2.0 walks per nine innings pitched.
Kluber's ERA hardly seems indicative of a strong No. 2 starter, but his FIP, xFIP and SIERA from 2013—3.30, 3.10 and 3.32, respectively—suggest that Kluber would fall in a group of pitchers that Fangraphs would label as "great." Based on those metrics alone, Kluber out-pitched Masterson last season, and we should expect him to continue to improve heading into his age-28 season.
McAllister is a bit of a regression candidate, and that's why he'll slot in as the team's fourth starter. Over 24 starts—134.1 innings pitched—McAllister pitched to a 3.75 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, but his FIP, xFIP, SIERA and K/9 figures suggest that his ERA may rise into the 4.00-4.20 range.
Salazar slots in as the team's No. 3 starter, and for good reason. The 24-year-old had a massive breakout season in 2013 spanning the Double-A, Triple-A and MLB levels.
Over 30 combined starts—145 innings pitched—Salazar allowed a 2.86 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP while averaging 12.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 4.97 K/BB and 7.1 H/9. The team will likely look to limit Salazar's innings in some capacity—think 175-180 innings—but Salazar should continue to be a highly effective starter in his age-24 season.
The fifth spot in the order is a bit more complex, and will be filled by the winner of a spring training position battle. I broke down the position battle in my spring training preview, where I predicted Trevor Bauer to win the job, so I'll roll with that here.
Since being drafted third overall back in 2011, Bauer has struggled to reach his once lofty potential. However, reports from spring training have Bauer showing vast levels of improvement in his mechanics, and he could finally be ready to assume a meaningful starting role with the team.
Carlos Carrasco also has a solid chance to make the rotation, despite some disappointing numbers as a starter. In 40 career starts, the 26-year-old boasts a 5.53 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP, with averages of 6.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.96 K/BB and 11.0 H/9.
Conversely, in relief appearances, Carrasco has shown flashes of great potential. Over eight appearances—13.2 innings—Carrasco owns a 1.32 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and averages of 7.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.20 K/BB and 4.6 H/9.
After Carrasco, Josh Tomlin has the next best chance to make the starting rotation, based largely on his past experience as a back-end starter with the Indians. However, at this point in his career, Tomlin looks to be better suited for a long relief role.