Cleveland Indians Predictions

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The Cleveland Indians were one of the biggest surprises in the league in 2013. Terry Francona won AL Manager of the Year by leading the Indians to a 92-70 record and a postseason berth as the AL’s first Wild Card. They would lose to the Rays in the Wild Card Game, but all in all it was a successful season for Francona and company.

The Indians have not had consecutive winning seasons since 2000-01, which is something they’ll be after in 2014. That streak may be tough to break considering the losses this offseason. They part ways with 10-game winner Scott Kazmir, and 13-game winner Ubaldo Jimenez. They also lost closer Chris Perez and key relievers Matt Albers and Joe Smith. Let’s take a look at your 2014 Indians.

Projected Lineup

Michael Bourn (CF) – Bourn was certainly a disappointment in his first season with the Indians after signing a big contract heading into 2013. He hit just .263/.316/.360 (average/on-base/slugging) last year while looking a step slow in every aspect of the game. Nothing was mentioned of leg injuries all season, but he did suffer a hamstring injury in the regular-season finale that required surgery. His range in center was poor last year, his 23 stolen bases were 18 fewer than his previous single-season low when playing in at least 130 games, and he reached on a career-low 26 percent of bunt attempts. Hopefully, the injuries were the reason for his slower step in all areas, and that Bourn returns healthy and ready to go for Opening Day in 2014.

Nick Swisher (1B) – Like Bourn, Swisher did not live up to the expectations he created for himself in previous stops in Oakland and New York. That’s not good news for the costliest Indian on the team, one that hit .246/.341/.423 last year. It’s easy to see what the difference was from his impressive .272/.364/.473 with the Yankees in 2012. Swisher had a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .324 in ’12 compared to a .288 mark in ’13. Considering his career BABIP is .291, it’s easy to see that ’12 was the aberration, and ’13 is probably closer to what we can expect from Swisher going forward. To his credit, Swisher posted a .294/.380/.588 slash line from September 6th on, so he was a big reason for the run into October.

Jason Kipnis (2B) – Kipnis was the second-best second baseman in the American League last year behind Robinson Cano. He hit .284/.366/.452 with 17 homers, 84 RBIs and 86 runs scored. He also stole 30 bases for a second consecutive season. That said, there were some concerns with how he performed in the second half. He hit 13 homers in the first half before swatting only four in the second as his slugging percentage went way down. Also, his BABIP of .345 last year is unsustainable after posting a .291 mark in that department in ’12.

Carlos Santana (DH) – Carlos Santana had a monster April last year before settling in to post a .268/.377/.455 slash line with 20 homers and 74 RBIs. He proved to be one of the best catchers in the league once again last season, performing slightly better than his .252/.365/.420 line with 18 homers and 76 RBIs in ’12. Yan Gomes played well enough last season that the Indians were able to limit Santana to just 81 games behind home plate. Santana’s defense is suspect to say the least, and it’s only a matter of time before the organization settles with him playing first base. His willingness to go deep into counts will always keep his batting average down, but he’s coming off the best season of his career in that department, and there’s reason to believe the 28-year old can continue that upward trend.

Michael Brantley (CF) – Brantley broke the franchise record for most consecutive games (264) without an error by the end of last season. He had 11 outfield assists last year and plenty of range after previously being a center fielder. He shows great contact skills at the plate, which has led to consistent stat lines throughout his career. He hit .288/.348/.402 in ’12, and came back with a .284/.332/.396 slash line in ’13. His best asset was coming up big in the clutch time and time again last year in helping guide the Indians to the postseason. His BABIP has been anywhere from .303 to .310 the past three seasons, so expect more of the same from Brantley in ’14.

Asdrubal Cabrera (SS) – Memories of the 25 home runs Cabrera blasted in 2011 faded in ’13 when he disappointed all year, and then hit into the game-ending double play in the Wild Card. Pessimists will point to how he swung at too many pitches outside the strike zone, which led to his career-worst 20.3% strikeout percentage. Optimists will see that his walk rate (6.2%) was close to that of his ’11 mark (6.6%), and that his isolated power (slugging minus average) of .159 was the second-highest of his career. His BABIP of .283 was also his lowest ever, and there’s reason to believe that number will rise closer to his career BABIP of .313. Entering the final year of his contract, there is plenty of hope that Cabrera can rebound in ’14.

David Murphy (RF) – Murphy was coming off a career year in 2012 when he hit .304/.380/.479 for the Rangers with 15 homers and 61 RBIs. He was in line to win a starting job in ’13 entering the final year of his contract. Murphy would fall flat on his face, posting a .220/.282/.374 slash line. People who follow sabermetrics will point out that his walk rate (7.8%) and isolated power (.154) were basically right on par with his career mark s of 8.7% and .166, respectively. Also, his BABIP of .227 was one of the worst in baseball, and over 100 points less than his .333 mark from ’12. However, he was never right mechanically last season, rolling over on pitches that he would previously hit for line drives the year before. For only a $12 million investment, the Indians could be getting great value here as a bounce back is expected.

Yan Gomes (C) – It’s safe to say that Gomes came out of nowhere to help the Tribe make the postseason last year. He had spent most of his career in the minors prior to being traded to the Indians in ’13. He would earn the call up early in the season and proceeded to hit .294/.345/.481 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs in just 322 plate appearances last season. Getting on base will not continue to be a strong suit for him, and his BABIP of .342 is likely unsustainable. However, Gomes’ isolated power of .188 last year is for real, and he showed enough skills behind home plate to earn even more playing time in ’14.

Lonnie Chisenhall (3B) – Sabermetrics are certainly calling for a breakout year for Chisenhall in ’14. Of the 753 players with 500 or more plate appearances and a .173 or greater isolated power over the last 10 seasons, 738 of them finished with a better BABIP than Chisenhall (.343) last year. The 25-year-old got demoted last season due to his poor luck, and promptly tore up Triple-A pitching with a .390/.456/.676 line over 125 plate appearances. It’s also a good sign that in 40 plate appearances in the big leagues from September on, he hit .270/.325/.595. I am calling for a big year out of Chisenhall with improved luck in the BABIP department.

Projected Rotation

Justin Masterson (RHP) – It was a tale of two seasons in 2011 and ’12 for Masterson. He was 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in ’11, and then 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in ’12. That made ’13 a huge year for the 29-year-old to prove that ’12 was the aberration. He responded, going 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and 1.20 WHIP and 195 strikeouts over 193 innings. His K/9 of 9.1 was easily a career high last year and way up from the 6.9 mark in ’12. Of all pitchers who have faced 500 right-handed batters over the past three seasons, no one has held those batters to a lower OPS (on-base plus slugging) than Masterson (.537). He has held righties to a .215/.298/.292 slash line in his career compared to a .278/.361/.418 mark against lefties. Teams will continue to insert southpaw-heavy lineups against him because of it.

Corey Kluber (RHP) – Kluber’s ’13 campaign was even better than it looked on paper. He went 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA and 1.26 WHIP while striking out 8.3 batters per nine innings. Opposing hitters posted an abnormally high .330 BABIP against him, and that’s why big things can be expected from this 28-year-old going forward. He had a 3.54 ERA before spraining his finger in August while ranking among the league leaders in walkout and strikeout rate up to that point. His September return was not a good one due to an inflated .395 BABIP, and considering his velocity, walks and strikeouts were in line with what he was doing prior to the injury, I wouldn’t look too much into his late-season struggles.

Danny Salazar (RHP) – The key for Salazar is to try and forget about the Wild Card game debacle, and the home run served up to Delmon Young. Salazar is another year removed from Tommy John surgery after consistently hitting 100 mph on the radar gun last season. That heater gives him a second plus-pitch to go along with his devastating split-finger. He went 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 52 innings in the big leagues last season. He posted a ridiculous 11.2 K/9 and should continue to be one of the better strikeout pitchers in the game. While his slider was effective against righties last year, if he can develop a third pitch, the sky is the limit for the 24-year-old Salazar going forward.

Zach McAllister (RHP) – While the surprising seasons of Masterson, Kluber, Salazar, Jimenez and Kazmir grabbed most of the headlines last year, the solid all-around performance of McAllister got overlooked. He went 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over 24 starts for the Tribe in ’13. McAllister probably goes unnoticed because he doesn’t throw hard, he has a propensity for giving up the long ball, and he has suspect control. However, his four-seem fastball has enough movement to be effective in setting up his show-me slider and changeup. He won’t ‘wow’ you, but he does have what it takes to be a solid back-end rotation guy going forward.

Shaun Marcum (RHP) – The fifth spot in the rotation could go to a number of guys with Marcum, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer in the mix. I’m going to give the edge to the veteran Marcum. While he went just 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA and 1.35 WHIP with the Mets last season in what was the worst of his career, there’s reason to believe the 32-year-old still has some good years ahead. Marcum gave up a career-high .332 BABIP to opposing hitters last season, which was well up from their career mark of .275 against him. The fielding in New York was awful last year as well, which was the biggest reason for the jump in BABIP. The Indians got Marcum on a minor-league deal, so he could prove to be one of the steals of the offseason.

Bullpen

Cleveland’s relievers posted a 33-16 record and a 3.62 ERA last season, ranking 19th in the league in that category. It’s going to be tough to replace closer Chris Perez and key setup men Joe Smith and Matt Albers this season. The Indians have tried to replace Perez with John Axford, who lost his closer’s job in April last year and was relegated to a setup role between Milwaukee and St. Louis. Axford recorded 105 saves from 2010-12 for the Brewers, so he knows that it takes.

Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw will likely serve as the primary setup men. Allen went 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA and 11.3 K/9 over 70 1/3 innings as the Indians’ most valuable reliever last year. Shaw was solid as well, going 7-3 with a 3.24 ERA and 8.8 K/9. To be even more dominant in the bullpen this season, Cleveland could use a bounce-back campaign out of Vinnie Pestano, who had previously been one of the AL’s best setup men before battling through a sore elbow last year.

Betting Odds

  • To Win World Series: 40/1
  • To Win AL Pennant: 22/1
  • To Win AL Central: 7/1

2014 Season Win Total: 83

The Indians were one of the most improved teams in the league last year.  They won 24 more games than in ’12 to finish with 92 victories on the season.  While oddsmakers have lowered expectations for them by setting their win total at 83 this season, I still believe there is some value on the under.  I have them pegged at 82 wins in 2014.

Prediction: 3rd Place AL Central (82-80)

There is reason to believe the Indians can match their success from last season, but I’m going to predict some regression. While the offense finished fifth in the league in runs scored last season, I don’t believe that is sustainable with this mediocre lineup. Both Bourn and Swisher are overrated and proving to be money not well spent. The Indians desperately need bounce-back years out of Cabrera, Murphy and Chisenhall to remain in contention in the AL Central, and at least two of those three should come through based on metrics posted last year.

I am concerned with the losses of Jimenez and Kazmir, who combined for 23 wins a year ago. I do like the promise of Kluber and Salazar, who could be great in the near future, but who also have not proven themselves for a full season. I have a hard time seeing Masterson matching his ’13 numbers, and the Indians are still in search of a fifth starter. Perez was solid at the back end of the bullpen, and Axford will have a short leash if he falters in the early going. I like the Indians to finish with a winning record in ’14, but their overall talent doesn’t stack up to that of Detroit and Kansas City.

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