2011 Season Forecast: Cleveland Indians

Last Five Years:

2010:  69 – 93  (Fourth in AL Central)
2009:  65 – 97
2008:  81 – 81
2007:  96 – 66
2006:  78 – 84

Remember 2007, anyone?  the Indians were a game away from getting to the World Series.

Runs Scored: 646 (12th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 752 (12th in the AL)

With this combination of runs scored and allowed, the Indians would have been expected to win 69 games – which is what they did.

Season Recap:

Most experts had the Indians and Royals battling for the bottom of the AL Central, and the Indians did just that – edging the Royals by two games to claim fourth in the division.

The Indians got off to a moderately slow start, but fell way off the pace in May, going 9 – 18.  Other than that month and a rather poor August (10 – 18, but played better than that), the Indians roared down the stretch with a 15 – 12 September, catching the Royals to get out of the cellar.  Part of this was adding a few nuggets – like rookie catcher Carlos Santana and infielders Jason Donald and Jayson Nix – who were happy to get playing time and helped lead the charge.

Starters:

Fausto Carmona returned to form, tossing sinkers and sinking fastballs, and giving the Indians 210.1 innings of solid baseball.  Justin Masterson’s first season as a regular in the rotation wasn’t a complete loss.  Sure, he allowed a lot of runs, but he had decent strikeout numbers and hung in there for the whole year.  He needs to work on his control, but there’s something to build on here.  Mitch Talbot won 10 games, but I’m not sure how.  He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out and he tends to walk even more guys than Masterson.  Jake Westbrook returned to make 21 fair starts before being shipped off to St. Louis for the stretch run.  David Huff, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez served as fifth starters – only Huff looked way out of place and of the three, Tomlin looks to be ready to take a turn 30 times and be successful.

Looking forward, a rotation of Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, Tomlin, and another kid named Carlos Carrasco has some potential for growth.  I see Talbot falling off a little, but if Carmona can hold form, the other three guys could certainly shave 30 – 40 runs off the runs allowed side of the ledger.

Relievers:

Chris Perez did a great job as the closer and returns for another season.  Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, and Frank Herrmann will tote some innings as well.  Justin Germano did an okay job last year and gets a non-roster invitation to training camp.  He has a shot at being the 11th man on the staff.  Of these, I am less inclined to believe that Perez and Smith will be as successful, so Lewis, Herrmann, and SOMEBODY will have to step up.  I think the bullpen may be off by 10 runs over the course of the season.

Catching:

Carlos Santana had a great first 40 games.  He’s a convert – came to the Dodgers in 2005 as a third baseman and played all over the infield and outfield – an Elmo Plaskett sort of career.  I 2007, he was switched to catcher and has shown himself to be a quick learner with a strong arm.  As a hitter, he has a .401 OBP in the minors with 25 homer potential.  His backup, Lou Marson, has solid defensive skills but struggled at the plate last year – even after being sent to AAA.  I don’t think this will happen again.

Infield:

Last year’s infield started out as Russell Branyan, Mark Grudzielanek or Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta.  By August, Grudzielanek was released and now is retired.  Branyan was returned to Seattle, and I have no reason why they would have done that – but what the hey.  Matt LaPorta came in to play first.  Jayson Nix outplayed Andy Marte to win the third base job, and Jason Donald earned a shot at second base.  Only Cabrera played most of the season – but even he, by the end of the season, was seeing less playing time because his bat had tanked from where it was in 2009.

Looking forward, Donald or Nix looks to be the third baseman, LaPorta will get one more shot at first base, and Asdrubal Cabrera will get a shot to return to form at short.  More importantly, the Indians have imported Reds infielder Orlando Cabrera to play second base.  Jayson Nix and Valbuena return as depth.  I like adding Orlando Cabrera, though he’s getting long in the tooth and hasn’t really played a whole lot of second base in his career.  Donald can hit as well as Peralta these days, and LaPorta has room for growth.  Defensively, it’s not awesome – but it’s not bad either (well, LaPorta didn’t impress me).  If nothing else, it’s an infield that gives a manager a lot of daily options if necessary.

Outfield:

In right field, Shin Soo Choo is awesome – 20/20 with a high batting average and on base percentage.  He’s one of the best in the game.  The problem is the other two positions.  In center, the Indians are hoping that Grady Sizemore can return from microfracture surgery on his left knee.  At peak, and Sizemore is just 29, Sizemore is a potent bat in the middle of the lineup.  He hasn’t had centerfield range in years, though, so I’d rather see him play left field.  That leaves Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe in left (or center) and neither impressed at the plate, being low average, low power guys with speed.  Crowe might be the better defensive option in center, but neither has 1000 innings in the field yet, so it’s still open for debate.  Austin Kearns returns to be a fourth or fifth outfielder and DH option.

DH:

Travis Hafner, no longer the threat he once was, still helps put runs on the board.  Carlos Santana, Shelly Duncan, or Austin Kearns will be the other half of a platoon arrangement.

Down on the Farm:

The guys at AAA who looked like they could play a little, Brantley, Crowe, Donald, LaPorta (who caught in AAA), all got shots with the parent club.  Of those who did not, Jose Constanza hit .319 with less power and a lower OBP than Brantley, so that won’t work.  Cord Phelps moved up from AA, is just 24, and hit .317 with a little power.  Phelps is a 3rd round pick out of Stanford in 2008 who has been moved up quickly and played better at each level.  That being said, the entire Columbus AAA team hit .285, so I wouldn’t put stock in those averages holding up at the big league level.  None of the guys who hit .300 in AAA hit anywhere near .250 in the bigs in 2010.  A couple of pitchers were rushed to the bigs, including Gomez and Huff, while Carlos Carrasco pitched better than all of them (10 – 6, 133Ks in 150.1 innings, good control, 3.65 ERA in a hitter’s park).  So of the young arms in camp, I like his the best.

AA Akron features a couple of pitchers who might make you look for them in a year or two.  Alex White is just 22, had a 2.28 ERA in 17 starts, and had good control, decent K numbers, and kept the ball in the park.  The UNC grad was the #1 pick of the Indians in 2009 and appears to have a fast track to the majors.  Chen Lee pitched relief, fanned 82 and walked just 22 in 72.2 innings of work.

The second round pick of the 2009 draft, Jason Kipnis, hit well at A+ Kinston, batting .300 with a .387 OBP and power, earning a trip to Akron, where he continued to hit well (.311/.385/.502).  I like him because he’s from Northbrook, IL – a graduate of Glenbrook North, where a bunch of my cousins went to school.  He’s still figuring out second base, but he will be in the majors before you know it.  The 2008 #1 pick, Lonnie Chisenhall, has migrated to third base and shows power – but right now projects out as an Andy Marte clone – and that’s not MLB ready yet.

2011 Forecast:

Let’s call it guarded optimism.  The young pitchers should be able to build on 2010, but I think the defense will suffer if Sizemore is allowed to play center and with Orlando Cabrera learning a new position (and LaPorta likely getting 1000 innings at first).  It’s not a total wash, but it’s at least mitigating some of the potential improvement.  If Sizemore plays left and Crowe plays center, the team will remove 30 runs from the runs allowed side.  If Sizemore is still in center, I don’t see any change.

The offense will certainly be better at catcher, and if Sizemore can hit, that’s another huge plus – possibly 80 extra runs on the board between the two positions.  Cabrera or Donald or Nix will be better than a full season of Luis Valbuena, too.  When I feel optimistic, the system says that the team should score 725 runs and allow about 740 – but managerial decisions and Sizemore’s health aren’t guarantees, so I’ll hedge my bet and guess it will be more like 700 and 750 instead.  That puts the Indians at 75 wins – a nice step in the right direction.  On the other hand, the potential is there to get to 80 games if a lot of things work in their favor.  Besides, Cleveland could use some good news from a sporting standpoint.  As such, I’ll be rooting for the pleasant surprise…

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2010 Top AL Left Fielders

Carl Crawford – TB (128.8 Runs Created, 13.1 Runs Saved = 141.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Which player had the better contract season, Crawford or Adrian Beltre?   Maybe it was Jose Bautista…  Did what he always does, only with a few more homers and triples.  Nobody compares them, but Crawford and Johnny Damon are extremely similar players.  Well – the Damon of a few years ago, anyway.

Josh Hamilton – TEX (131.5 Runs Created, 3.7 Runs Saved = 135.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Still played some center, but only because Julio Borbon isn’t that strong a hitter.  Who does he remind you of, as a hitter?  I can’t think of any modern player…  Al Simmons?  Goose Goslin?

Scott Podsednik – KC/LAD (77.6 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 87.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Kind of like Juan Pierre, but with a touch more power and a bit more range.  Led the AL in hitting early on, earning a trip to a contender – that flopped upon his arrival.  Returns to the AL with Toronto in 2011.  Turns 35 in spring training, which should give you pause, but has retained his speed and skill thus far.  Alex Gordon got the spot after Podsednik left and proved he still isn’t a prospect.

Bobby Abreu, if he were a regular left fielder, would rank about here (85.2 Total Runs Productivity).

Juan Pierre – CHI (77.9 Runs Created, 3.1 Runs Saved = 81.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Still can run (68 stolen bases), still slaps singles but not at the rate he once did.  Unless he hits .310, he’s not that valuable, but he still gets 650 at bats because he has a great work ethic and people think his speed makes up for a complete lack of power and a bunch of ground outs.

Brett Gardner – NYY (73.2 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 77.1 Total Runs Productivity)

A better leadoff hitter than Derek Jeter, and the best #9 hitter in baseball.  Gets on base, runs like the wind, and covers plenty of ground.  The new Brett Butler.  If he had 650 at bats rather than 450 (not that you can tell Jeter he’s batting ninth), would have created about 100 runs.  One day, he will.

Johnny Damon – DET (79.7 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 76.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Heads to Tampa where he and/or Manny Ramirez will share the field and DH duties.  Not as mobile as he used to be as a myriad of leg injuries are sapping him of his old speed, but he’s still a quality bat.  Damon’s power, never great, is tolerable and he now works the count like a veteran who is losing his ability to catch up to a fastball.  Not sure how many years he has left and wouldn’t be surprised if his career runs out of steam.  29 hits from 2600.

Delmon Young – MIN (97.7 Runs Created, -25.0 Runs Saved = 72.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Took his batting and fielding to new levels – albeit in different directions.  Hit .298 with power, driving in 112 runs – by far his best season.  Also avoided fly balls at a career worst rate.  Hard to believe he’s really that bad in left, but he just doesn’t get to anything.

Juan Rivera – LAA (57.6 Runs Created, 12.1 Runs Saved = 69.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Decent hitter, average glove (don’t let the runs saved number fool you, it was his best season since 2006 and usually is a shade under league average).  Another guy moving to Toronto where he might explode for a year.

Brennan Boesch – DET (64.0 Runs Created, 4.0 Runs Saved = 68.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Played more in right field – nearly full time combined.  He’s got mid-range power, can cover some ground, a bit better eye than Ryan Raburn.  If nothing else, when the Tigers kept Damon or Ordonez as a DH, they had a young and mobile outfield.  Damon is gone now, so both Raburn and Boesch will get 550 at bats rather than 400.

Austin Kearns – CLE/NY (57.3 Runs Created, 8.8 Runs Saved = 66.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Saved what looked to be a dead career with a strong start as an unplanned outfielder in Cleveland and wound up an insurance extra outfielder for the Yankees.  Showed surprising range in the outfield and contributed by hitting for a little power and getting on base.  He hasn’t been consistently productive, but if he plays like he did in 2010, he’ll have a job for a few more years.  Heck, he probably got two years of contracts out of this season alone.

Ryan Raburn – DET (61.2 Runs Created, 1.8 Runs Saved = 63.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Played a lot of left, but also snuck innings in at second base (not badly), third, first, center, and right.  A decent hitter, too – sowed power and hit .280.  Will get more time in 2011 – might be worth a late look in your fantasy leagues.

Fourteen guys played left field for Oakland, led by Rajai Davis at 320.1 innings – but Davis also split time in center with Coco Crisp, leading the team in innings there, too.  Josh Willingham would appear to have the job in 2011 (62.7 Total Runs Productivity).  Willingham hits, plays hard, is a consumate professional, but with a stiff back is really not a good outfielder.

Trevor Crowe – CLE (49.0 Runs Created, 11.4 Runs Saved = 60.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Has speed, but will probably show little growth as a hitter since he’s already 27 and wasn’t a world beater in the minors, Crowe played more centerfield but was just a few innings from leading the Indians in time spent in left field as well.  At this point, he’s a much better defensive player than Grady Sizemore, but he needs to increase either his on base percentage or slugging percentage to be worth giving 1000 innings in the field.  He’s really a fifth outfielder at best.

Corey Patterson – BAL/OAK (52.7 Runs Created, 7.0 Runs Saved = 59.7 Total Runs Productivity)

An older version of Felix Pie with more power and a greater willingness to steal bases.

David Murphy – TEX (67.4 Runs Created, -7.9 Runs Saved = 59.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Would be the best fourth outfielder in baseball if he were more consistent in the field, but he never gets to play one position for a long period of time.  Valuable player.

Fred Lewis – TOR (60.6 Runs Created, -9.2 Runs Saved = 51.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Doesn’t hit for much power, doesn’t get on base enough, runs a little but not a ton.  Didn’t field his position well in 2010 (was slightly below average in 2008, slightly above in 2009).  Fourth outfielder at best.

Bill Hall – BOS (49.5 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 47.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Valuable player, logging time at six positions and playing most of them pretty well.  With the current rosters lugging bigger pitching staffs, a guy like Hall is remarkably valuable.

Michael Saunders – SEA (35.7 Runs Created, 7.9 Runs Saved = 43.6 Total Runs Productivity)

A bit of power and decent range in the outfield made up for a low batting average – strikes out a lot.  Never had a GREAT year in the minors and I’d be hard pressed to believe he’s really a 20 homer guy.  I think he might improve – but that means .240 with 15 homers, which isn’t good enough.

Felix Pie – BAL (35.5 Runs Created, 6.4 Runs Saved = 41.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Mobile fielder, can play all three fields, ordinary hitter with no bonuses for on base percentage.  Once a prospect, now a servicable fourth outfielder.

Milton Bradley – SEA (29.1 Runs Created, 6.1 Runs Saved = 35.2 Total Runs Productivity)

If he’s got ANYTHING left, he’s way over due to show it.  Career may be in final tailspin and with his personal history, it’s not like people are going to bend over to give him an EXTRA chance.

Shelley Duncan – CLE (31.5 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 28.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Got a chance because he has decent power and his dad is Dave Duncan.  Doesn’t do much else, though…  Low batting average, not much of a fielder.

Jeremy Hermida – BOS/OAK (17.4 Runs Created, 5.4 Runs Saved = 22.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Awkwardly effective in the outfield (runs fast, plays the ball well, but hates diving and walls), and a disappointing hitter – won’t be in the majors after next year, probably, unless he can turn himself into Jay Johnstone.  And Hermida’s not that funny.

Daniel Nava – BOS (19.8 Runs Created, -10.4 Runs Saved = 9.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Got the most innings when Jacoby Ellsbury went out with more maladies than a guest star on House.  Not that strong a hitter, for someone who is fast Nava didn’t look comfortable playing in Boston’s oddly shaped left field.

And Here is All That Other Stuff That Happened in Baseball Other Than Trade Deadline Deals

After the trades, there were a few other things going on in baseball this weekend… Here goes my list:

Brandon Webb’s shoulder isn’t healling and now he’s heading to surgery on Monday. Not only is this year done, but there is no telling if he’ll be ready for next year – and Arizona can opt out of 2010 for just $2 million. [MLB] 

Boston’s J.D. Drew is day to day with a groin injury. Drew tried to play today, smashed a double, reinjured himself running the bases, and left after the one at bat. [MLB]

New Red Scott Rolen was hit in the head by a Jason Marquis pitch and had to leave the game. He’s day to day.

Toronto closer Scott Downs heads to the DL with a foot injury – possibly reinjuring the same foot that cost him a DL stint in June. Jason Frasor will get save opportunities for the short term, and Jeremy Accardo returns from AAA to help out. [MLB]

Texas loses Ian Kinsler (Hamstring) and Jason Grilli (not listed) to the DL, and will be calling up two prospects to the roster. Doug Mathis is a pretty good pitcher, but really no more than a fourth or fifth starter at best. The real gem is reliever Neftali Feliz, who has fanned 325 batters in 276 innings and even in the PCL has only allowed two homers in 77 innings. It was only a matter of time before the top ranked prospect (according to Baseball America, that’s who) got his shot – and he’s ready. Next year, we’ll be angling to add him to our fantasy rosters somehow. [MLB]

Casey Blake and Yunel Escobar are dealing with wrist injuries. Blake injured his in the weight room, while Escobar is working on getting his swing back in the cages.

Milwaukee signed outfielder Corey Patterson to a minor league deal. He can play as a fourth or fifth outfielder.

Jeff Bennett, the guy who broke his hand punching a door and was released by Atlanta, was signed to a minor league deal by Tampa.

Hurry Back! Oriole starter Brad Bergesen heads to DL with a leg contusion. Giants LF Andres Torres strained a hammy and will be out 15 days. Florida’s Burke Badenhop heads to the DL with a strained right trapezius. Red Sox catcher George Kottaras heads to the DL, but the injury wasn’t listed. Rockies pitcher Juan Rincon heads to the DL with elbow stiffness.

Welcome Back!

The Mets activated Gary Sheffield from the DL. Chris Ray comes off the DL for Baltimore and gets back his closer role with the departure of George Sherrill. Marlins closer (?) Matt Lindstrom came off the DL. I wonder how that will work out… Brett Lillibridge returns to the White Sox – a burner but not a prospect. He’s infield insurance. The Yankees recalled bopper Shelly Duncan, and when Jerry Hairston arrived, he was sent back down. Cincinnnati is giving Kip Wells a chance to pitch – they must be desperate. Washington recalled Elijah Dukes from Syracuse. Adam Dunn is a first baseman for the rest of the season now that Nick Johnson is gone and Dukes gets one more shot.

Welcome to the Bigs! Barbaro Canizares – a Cuban first baseman who hits like Mark Grace with fewer walks. Andy LaRoche’s job is not safe – this guy can hit. The Giants recalled reliever Waldis Joaquin – he’s a raw relief talent who needs to work on his command, but he’s just an insurance policy for San Francisco.

Is it Over? Brandon Wood was dispatched back to the minors by the Angels. For him to return to prospect status, he has to stick somewhere. Sidney Ponson was designated for assignment by the Royals. It might be the last call…