First Quarter Grades for the Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians haven't gotten off to the best of starts here in 2014. Over the first quarter of the season, the team boasts an 18-20 record, good for third place in the American League Central.
The team's pitching staff has been decent, but the bullpen has done most of the heavy lifting. The starting staff on the other hand, has been wildly inconsistent.
Offensively, the team has struggled, ranking in the league's bottom third in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, OPS and total bases. The team has managed to keep themselves within six games of the division lead, however, and if the Tribe's offense comes around at any point, they could be poised for a huge run at the top spot in the division.
Like the overall units they compose, some of the team's players have been very inconsistent as well.
Over the next 12 slides, I'll look at each individual offensive starter, as well as the team's bench, their starting rotation and bullpen, grading each along the way. We'll start with a breakout performer from the 2013 campaign, Yan Gomes.
2014 Stats: 32 G, .264/.305/.473, 5 HR, 1 3B, 6 2B, 14 RBI, 15 R, 29:6 K/BB, 0.9 bWAR
After a breakout campaign in 2013 in which he slashed .294/.345/.481 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI over just 88 games played, Yan Gomes has struggled to regain his impressive form here in early 2014.
Over 32 games played, the 26-year-old boasts lackluster marks in batting average and on-base percentage, both of which hold at .264 and .305, respectively. The young catcher has been rather unlucky, however, and owns just a .312 BAbip—30 points below his 2013 mark—despite his having generated a whopping 26 percent line-drive rate.
Gomes still flashes impressive power, and he ranks third in slugging percentage among American League catchers with at least 100 plate appearances.
Gomes could deal with a few more walks in his ledger—he's walking at a 5.1 percent clip thus far—but his OBP and batting average will surely climb if he continues to generate a high line-drive percentage.
Defensively, Gomes has been solid, throwing out a league-average 25 percent of would-be base stealers.
2014 Stats: 37 G, .203/.304/.319, 2 HR, 0 3B, 10 2B, 13 RBI, 15 R, 35:21 K/BB, -0.2 bWAR
Nick Swisher has had a pretty rough go of things over the first 37 games of his 2014 campaign. The 33-year-old first baseman owns just a .203 batting average and on-base and slugging percentages which are only slightly north of the .300 mark.
Swisher's numbers look somewhat disturbing on the surface, but the further you dive into it, the more you'll see that the 11-year-veteran has been one of the unluckiest players on the Tribe's roster.
Through 138 at-bats, Swisher carries an insane 30 percent line-drive rate—the MLB average over his career is just 19 percent. That 31 percent mark is the highest among qualified Indians batters, yet his BAbip trends at just .252 through play on May 11th—the third lowest mark among qualified Indians batters.
Swisher's line-drive rate and BAbip don't jive, and it's reasonable to expect his average to climb a good 50-60 points as the season progresses.
Defensively, it's been an ugly year for Swisher. While he's been unlucky at the plate, the Ohio native has been downright awful in the field and ranks last among qualified MLB first basemen in defensive runs saved (negative-four) and UZR/150 (negative-29.8).
2014 Stats: 27 G, .234/.354/.294, 3 HR, 0 3B, 6 2B, 12 RBI, 12 R, 16:17 K/BB, 0.5 bWAR
After an All-Star campaign in 2013, Jason Kipnis has seen his numbers dip across the board here in the early part of 2014. Through 27 games, the 27-year-old second baseman carries a .234/.354/.294 slash line and a 0.5 bWAR.
There are a few things buried within Kipnis' slash line, however, that suggest he'll be coming around in the very near future.
First, through 113 plate appearances, Kipnis boasts career-best marks in both his walk and strikeout percentages, clocking in at 15 and 14.2 percent, respectively. in addition to the impressive plate discipline he's displayed through the first quarter of 2014, Kipnis is generating a 23 percent line-drive rate, which is just four percent lower than 2013 and three percent higher than the league average for his career.
Though his .234 and .294 marks in batting average and slugging percentage suggest that he's struggling, Kipnis has actually been rather unlucky, and the numbers above, along with his uncharacteristically low .250 BAbip—his career average is .311—support that idea.
Defensively Kipnis has been disappointing to say the least. In 214 innings at second base, the Arizona State product is tied for 18th among 23 qualified MLB second basemen in DRS (negative-three) and 22nd in UZR/150 (negative-22.3).
2014 Stats: 37 G, .148/.319/.281, 4 HR, 0 3B, 5 2B, 11 RBI, 15 R, 31:32 K/BB, 0.0 bWAR
After winning the starting gig at third base this spring, Carlos Santana has fallen into a deep slump here to start the 2014 season.
Over his first 37 games, the 28-year-old veteran owns just a .148/.319/.281 slash line with nine extra-base hits (four home runs), 11 RBI and 15 runs scored. Santana has walked at a solid clip—20 percent to start the season—but he's also striking out at a 19.4 percent clip, representing a 2.3 percent increase over his 2013 mark and a 1.5 percent increase over his career average.
Beyond his strikeout woes though, Santana hasn't been barreling the ball up as well and as consistently as he has in years past. Over his 160 plate appearances, Santana has seen his line-drive rate dip all the way to 14 percent—five percent below his career average, and six percent below the MLB average over the his five-year career.
Santana, like some of the previous players we've looked at, has been somewhat unlucky, and it shows in his paltry .161 BAbip—his career average is .273. Even so, he hasn't produced the kind of solid contact that would produce good all-around numbers.
Defensively, Santana has been solidly below average. His range at third is nearly nonexistent, as evidenced by only two plays made out of the fielding zone. In addition to disappointing range, Santana has been worth negative-two defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of negative-12.
2014 Stats: 38 G, .246/.325/.391, 3 HR, 1 3B, 9 2B, 11 RBI, 19 R, 26:12 K/BB, 0.9 bWAR
Asdrubal Cabrera's struggles last season were well documented. Over 136 games played, the then-27-year-old shortstop mustered up an alarmingly poor .242/.299/.402 slash line with a career-high 20.3 percent strikeout rate.
This year, Cabrera has been better, but he is still not on par with his All-Star campaigns from 2011 and 2012.
Through 38 games, the 28-year-old owns a .246/.325/.391 slash line with three home runs, a 26:12 K/BB ratio and a 0.9 bWAR. In addition to the improvements shown in his slash line, Cabrera has managed to bring his strikeout rate back down to a much more desirable 16.9 percent, while his walk rate is also up on the season—7.8 percent, up from 6.2 percent in 2013.
Defensively, Cabrera has been a middle-of-the-pack option, putting up a negative-two DRS and a UZR/150 of negative-2.5.
Cabrera is playing a far-better brand of baseball this year than he displayed at any point during the 2013 season, and it appears as though he's on track toward rebounding from that awful showing last season.
2014 Stats: 37 G, .286/.348/.493, 7 HR, 0 3B, 8 2B, 30 RBI, 20 R, 14:13 K/BB, 0.9 bWAR
Through the first quarter of the 2014 season, Michael Brantley has been arguably the most consistent offensive producer for the Tribe. The breakout star from the 2013 season boasts a solid .286/.348/.493 slash line over 37 games and has also logged 15 extra-base hits (seven home runs) to go along with 30 RBI and four stolen bases.
Brantley is well on his way toward the first 20-20 season of his big-league career, and with a bWAR of 0.9 through his first 37 games, the 26-year-old is on pace for his best offensive season to date.
Defensively, Brantley has been rather mundane, and he ranks toward the bottom of the left-field leader board in DRS (negative-two) and UZR/150 (negative-7.8).
2014 Stats: 18 G, .244/.268/.346, 0 HR, 3 3B, 2 2B, 7 RBI, 6 R, 22:3 K/BB, -0.3 bWAR
After beginning the season on the DL, Michael Bourn rejoined the Tribe's lineup in mid-April. Unfortunately, the team's leadoff hitter has been anything but a table-setter so far, slashing just .244/.268/.346 through 18 games played.
Bourn does rank in a tie for the MLB lead in triples, but his 26.8 percent strikeout rate and 3.7 walk rate have kept him from being a truly effective leadoff hitter.
It's quite possible that Bourn isn't 100 percent, as he missed an additional four games earlier this month as the result of a nagging hamstring injury—per ESPN.com. The injury may be adversely effecting Bourn's defensive contributions as well, as the two-time Gold Glove Award winner ranks 25th and 28th out of 36 MLB center fielders with at least 100 innings played in DRS and UZR/150, respectively.
Whether his hamstring injury—which effects the same hamstring he had surgery on last season—hampers him for a prolonged stretch of the 2014 season remains to be seen, but so far, he doesn't look like the same player that the team signed to a four-year, $48 million contract prior to the 2013 season.
2014 Stats: 36 G, .243/.331/.369, 2 HR, 1 3B, 6 2B, 19 RBI, 12 R, 15:15 K/BB, 0.1 bWAR
After falling flat as a member of the Texas Rangers during the 2013 season, David Murphy has rebounded here in 2014 to be one of the more consistent position players on the Indians roster.
Over 36 games, the 32-year-old owns a .243/.331 slash line with nine extra-base hits (two home runs), 19 RBI and an even 15:15 K/BB ratio. His work at the plate has kept him above the zero-bWAR mark, and his 101 OPS+ would easily surpass his 2013 mark in the category—77 OPS+ in 2013.
Defensively, Murphy, like many of his teammates, ranks near the bottom of the pack in DRS—tied for 14th at negative-four. However, the veteran boasts a solid UZR/150 of 5.3, good for a 10th place ranking amongst qualified MLB right fielders.
2014 Stats: 26 G, .338/.395/.446, 0 HR, 0 3B, 8 2B, 2 RBI, 12 R, 17:4 K/BB, 0.6 bWAR
Over 26 games, Lonnie Chisenhall has staked himself out to a fantastic start for the 2014 season. In 74 at-bats, Chisenhall owns a .338/.395/.446 slash line with eight doubles, two RBI and 12 runs scored.
His 20.5 percent strikeout rate represents the highest total of his four-year-career, but it's just one percent above both the MLB average for his career as well as his career average. The slight increase in strikeouts can be tolerated rather easily though, as Chisenhall has seen his line-drive rate climb by five percent since the 2013 season—28 percent, up from 23 percent in 2013.
Chisenhall is getting regular opportunities at DH, and, to this point, he's made the most of them, posting the third-best bWAR value of any Indians position player. The home run power hasn't come around yet, but given his line-drive (28 percent) and contact rates (77 percent), we should expect that to come sooner rather than later.
Combined 2014 Stats: 70 G, .255/.303/.335, 3 HR, 0 3B, 7 2B, 24 RBI, 24 R, 35:16 K/BB
The Indians' current bench consists of four players, those being Mike Aviles, Jose Ramirez, Ryan Raburn and Nyjer Morgan.
In a combined 200 at-bats, the Indians bench combined for a .255/.303/.335 slash line with 10 extra-base hits, three home runs and 24 RBI. As a unit, the bench has been rather good offensively. However, they're carried heavily by the contributions from Mike Aviles and Nyjer Morgan.
Aviles, a 33-year-old utility player, boasts a strong stat line including a .312/.337/.442 slash line, two home runs, 10 RBI, 11 runs scored and four stolen bases. Morgan, who played the entirety of the 2013 season in Japan, has been on fire to start the year, slashing .341/.429/.439 with a homer, six RBI, eight runs scored and three steals.
Ramirez has played only six games, but his .071/.071/.071 slash line over 14 at-bats has hardly helped the cause. Raburn has been better than Ramirez but not by much. Over 68 at-bats, the breakout performer from 2013 owns just a .176/.227/.206 slash line with just two extra-base hits and a 17:5 K/BB ratio.
Unit Grade: B
Combined Stats: 33 GS, 194 IP, 3.99 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 3.06 K/BB, 9.3 H/9
The team's starting rotation underwent a major change already in 2014, as the Indians sent Carlos Carrasco to the bullpen and recalled Josh Tomlin from Triple-A to fill in as the fifth starter.
The rotation, in its current state, is composed of five pitchers, those being Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Tomlin.
Combined, the five carry a 3.99 ERA and per-nine ratios of 9.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and 9.3 H/9 over 194 innings pitched. The unit's all-around numbers aren't horrible, but the group of Masterson, Kluber, McAllister and Tomlin are carrying Salazar, who's been wildly disappointing over his first seven starts.
Over his seven starts, Salazar has struggled to a 5.65 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP in 36.2 innings pitched. Salazar has found extreme difficulty in working deep into games, averaging just under 5.1 innings per start.
Masterson, the team's defacto ace, has been rather pedestrian this season, allowing a 3.86 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP over his eight starts. McAllister and Kluber, however, have been the best of the group. The two boast ERAs of 3.89 and 3.48, respectively but have pitched better than those numbers would indicate.
According to Fangraphs.com, McAllister and Kluber have out pitched their early-season ERAs, allowing xFIP marks of 3.90 and 2.81, respectively. Kluber in particular, is quickly becoming the team's new ace. The 28-year-old has been stellar in his eight starts, averaging 9.9 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a whopping 4.75 K/BB.
All in all, the group has been pretty average, and the possible addition of Trevor Bauer in the coming months (weeks?) could help put them get over the top.
Unit Grade: B-
Combined Stats: 115 G, 101 IP, 2.37 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 2.42K/BB, 6.3 H/9
After finishing the season as arguably the weakest unit on the team, the Tribe's bullpen has quickly morphed into its strongest unit for 2014. The 'pen is composed of veterans Cody Allen, Scott Atchison, John Axford, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Outman, Marc Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw along with rookie C.C. Lee and, for the most part they've been quite good.
Over a combined 101 innings pitched, the eight relievers have allowed just a 2.37 ERA to go along with a 1.20 WHIP and per-nine ratios of 8.4 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 6.3 H/9.
As a group, the bullpen has been outstanding. Unfortunately, one of its newest members, John Axford, has faltered in the closer's role, and he has thrown the bullpen configuration up into the air.
Over his 17 appearances, Axford has finished 14 games, saving nine, with an ERA and WHIP of 4.91 and 1.77, respectively. The 31-year-old was removed from his role as the team's closer back on May 10th—per ESPN.com—and by the looks of his current stat line, it's hard to imagine him regaining the role anytime soon.
Aside from Axford, the rest of the bullpen has been downright fantastic. With him in a less pressure-oriented role, the unit could get even better over the coming weeks.
Unit Grade: A