4 Biggest Takeaways from the First Month of the Cleveland Indians' Season

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

4 Biggest Takeaways from the First Month of the Cleveland Indians' Season

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    After a little over a month's worth of play, the Cleveland Indians sit at 15-19, good for last place in the American League Central.

    The club has been lackluster, largely due to inconsistencies on offense and in the back-end of the starting rotation. The team took steps to address the rotation, moving the struggling Carlos Carrasco to the bullpen and calling up veteran righty Josh Tomlin to replace him.

    The offense is far more complicated. Generally dependable players like Carlos Santana, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher have struggled to get themselves in form.

    Though all of this is true, there are other things we can take from the season's first month. In this article, I'll detail four of the biggest takeaways from the first month of the Indians' season.

    So, lets get started.

    All stats are current through play on May 7, 2014 and come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

David Murphy Was a Solid Pick Up...

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    After a 2013 season in which he set career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, David Murphy seemed like a peculiar choice to fill the hole in right field. Despite all that, the Tribe inked Murphy to a two year, $12 million contract through the 2015 season.

    Murphy rewarded the Indians and their confidence in him through a first month of solid production. Over 31 games, Murphy boasts solid stats, including a .250/.330/.375 slash line, with two home runs, a triple, four doubles, 18 RBI, 10 runs scored and an 11:12 K/BB ratio.

    Consider where Murphy's season marks rank in comparison to his teammates.

    2014 Stats32.250.330.3751810360.3103
    Team Rank3rd5th5th6th2ndT-7th6th7th9th

    Murphy has made a mark on the team, and while he isn't producing an ideal slugging percentage for a corner outfielder, the team would be much worse without him. With players like Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana all struggling to get themselves on track, David Murphy has been one of the team's few bright spots.

... but John Axford Was Not

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    For a somewhat curious price of $4.5 million, John Axford was brought in to replace struggling closer Chris Perez. Unfortunately, all Axford has done to this point is replicate the numbers put up by his predecessor.

    Over 16 appearances, Axford leads the American League in games finished (14), but has a 4.50 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP in 14 innings.

    Axford's numbers get increasingly uninspiring when you look deeper into his stat line. He boasts a solid K/9 figure of 8.4, but backs that up with a whopping 7.1 BB/9.

    Axford has also displayed an inability to keep the ball in the park, surrendering 1.9 home runs per-nine innings pitched—a mark that would represent his career high.

    The astonishing thing about Axford's season to this point, is that it probably should be worse. Axford sports a 6.39 FIP and an xFIP above the 5.00 mark—Fangraphs.com denotes 5.00 as the "awful" threshold.

    The 31-year-old closer has logged nine saves on the season, and he should be commended for that. However, he's also blown two, and we should expect to see a lot more as the season moves forward.

    Axford's poor stat line is his own doing. His surprisingly low .216 BABIP suggests that things will get much, much worse before they get better.

Lonnie Chisenhall Needs to Be Starting Every Day

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Lonnie Chisenhall got passed over as the starting third baseman when the team broke camp this spring. The 25-year-old had an outstanding spring, slashing .306/.386/.532 with three home runs, a double, two triples, nine RBI and 11 runs scored.

    Chisenhall has kept up his torrid pace through the start of the regular season. After 19 games, the North Carolina native boasts a strong .355/.412/.468 slash line with seven doubles, two RBI, nine runs scored and two stolen bases.

    Although his strikeout rate is trending at 20.3 percent, his line-drive rate (27 percent) and GB/FB rate (0.37) represent substantial improvement over his 2013 and career marks in the categories.

    Chisenhall's .458 BABIP suggests that he's in for some regression over the course of the season, but he's making consistently solid contact—a trait he hasn't always displayed in the past.

    Meanwhile, the team's first base, third base and DH situations are very much a mess.

    Carlos Santana, who has spent the bulk of his time at third base, has struggled to get things going. Over 115 at-bats, the 28-year-old owns a .130/.298/.278 slash line with four home runs, four doubles, 11 RBI and 14 runs scored.

    Santana has shown impressive plate discipline, however, logging a 28:26 K/BB ratio.

    At first base, Nick Swisher has been equally disappointing, slashing .203/.294/.322 with two home runs, nine doubles, 13 RBI and a 22.3 strikeout rate.

    The team has used a multitude of players at the DH position, but the results have been underwhelming. In 125 at-bats, Indians designated hitters carry a paltry .209/.298/.300 slash line with six extra-base hits, nine RBI and a 27:12 K/BB ratio.

    Chisenhall has been streaky in the past. While it remains to be seen whether he can actualize his once-lofty potential, something needs to change in the team's lineup, and the former top prospect looks like the solution.

Trevor Bauer Needs a Permanent Promotion

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Josh Tomlin made his 2014 debut for the Indians on Tuesday. Over 6.2 innings, the 29-year-old allowed one earned run on four hits and one walk while striking out four.

    In addition to this terrific performance, the veteran righty was downright dominant in Triple-A, allowing a 2.06 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP over 35 innings.

    Tomlin earned his chance to rejoin the Tribe's starting rotation. However, Trevor Bauer is the future of the Indians rotation, and he, in all honesty, has been better than Tomlin to this point in 2014.

    Over five minor league starts, Bauer boasts an impressive stat line, including a 1.10 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and averages of 8.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 3.44 K/BB and 6.6 H/9. In addition, in one big league start, the 23-year-old went six innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and two walks, while striking out eight.

    Bauer has made an impressive turnaround in 2014, allowing just 2.5 BB/9—by far the lowest total of his professional career. That, and Bauer's strikeout potential have him averaging 3.44 K/BB—a mark that would represent his highest full-season mark as a professional.

    Bauer should have gotten the call over Tomlin. If the latter falters, Bauer should be called up permanently.