Posts By Ronnie Tellalian
The Indians bullpen has long been a point of strength for the team. Through a revolving door of pitchers, the Indians have managed to maintain a well-run pen for years. This season the revolving door continues as they lost several key pitchers. Few were sad to see former closer Chris Perez depart, but he did have some good seasons in Cleveland. Matt Albers left via free agency and signed with the Houston Astros. Rich Hill recently signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox. Finally, side winding Joe Smith took his talents to Los Angeles to pitch for the Angels. Replacing those guys is going to be tough, but the Indians have some good arms in the fold.
The new addition to the closers roll is former Milwaukie Brewers closer John Axford. After leading the league in saves in 2011, Axford struggled for a season and a half until the Brewers finally traded him to St Louis in August of 2013. He found his place as a Cardinal, pitching very well in 13 games posting 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.74 ERA. He will be the Indians closer this season and the Tribe hopes he continues to mow down the competition.
There seems to be a perception that the Indians won in spite of a terrible offense. There is a wide spreading belief that the pitching staff carried the team and was pressured into pitching a shutout every night in order …
The Cleveland Indians entered the 2013 season with an alarming lack of apparent ability in the starting rotation. With the turnaround of Ubaldo Jimenez, the comeback of Scott Kazmir, and the emergence of Cory Kluber, the starting rotation became a source of strength for the Indians. Kazmir moved on to the Oakland Athletics and Jimenez seems destine to sign with another team as well. With the loss of two key players, the big question is whether or not the Indians can repeat their playoff season.
In order to look at where the Indians could be in 2014, we must look at what they have lost and gained in this current off season. In addition to this, we have to look at the loss and gain of the other teams in the American League Central. Using a statistic known as Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, we can project how many wins each player is, or could be worth. If we add up the cumulative WAR of the players the Indians lost, and the WAR of the new additions to the team, we can project how many wins the Indians lost or gained with through free agency and trades this winter.
The Indians have been relatively quiet this off season, and it is no secret that they have a need for starting pitching. The spots of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir will not be easy to fill, but this is going to be about the pitchers the Indians do have on board; specifically Corey Kluber, a pitcher that quietly performed as one of the best pitchers on the staff.
In his first taste of big league experience, Kluber gave up four runs in four and one third innings back in 2011. The next season he managed 12 starts with a little better, but still poor 5.14 ERA. He came into the 2013 season with little expectation among fans. In his first full season as a starter, Kluber put up some very good numbers. He finished with a record of 11-5 over 24 starts. He threw 147 innings and struck out 136 batters with a 3.85 ERA. His success was due in part to his much improved array of pitches.
Power is not an easy commodity to come by. There has been much speculation about the possibility of the Indians adding a power bat before the start of the 2014 season. This is going to be a difficult prospect, not only because the Indians do not have a lot of money to spare, but also because there are not many power hitters available on the open market. In fact, there are only two players still available that hit more home runs than the Indians team leader last season. Power used to be easy to find, in today’s game, it is a rare talent.
Just 14 seasons ago, in 2000, 13 teams hit more than 190 home runs on the season. Just one team in 2013, the Baltimore Orioles, surpassed that mark. The Indians finished 10th among the 30 Major League Baseball teams with 171 home runs, in 2000 that would have been good enough for 22nd. From an individual standpoint, 40 players in 2000 hit more than 30 home runs on the season. This past year only 10 men hit over 30 home runs. Power hitters are just no longer as prevalent as they were during the major offensive era that lasted from about 1994-2006. The prospect of finding a power bat readily available on the open market is not such an easy task, and the scarcity of these players makes them all the more expensive.
Before Jacobs Field turned in to Progressive Field, and before there was Municipal Stadium, the Cleveland Indians called League Park their home. It first opened its doors on May 1, 1891 as part of a new generation of baseball parks. It first held the Cleveland Spiders, then the Cleveland Indians, and it also played home to the Negro League Cleveland Buckeyes who won the 1945 Negro League Championship. The old park hosted its last game on September 21, 1946 against the Detroit Tigers, but not until baring witness to many historical moments in baseball.
Cy Young threw the first pitch at League Park in 1891, and in 1908 Addie Joss pitched a perfect game. In the 1920 World Series Elmer Smith hit the first World Series grand slam, and Bill Wambsganss recorded the first and only World Series triple play. Nine years later Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run, and in 1936, at the age of 17, Bob Feller struck out 15 St Louis Browns to win his first career start. Finally, in 1941, Joe DiMaggio smacked out two hits for his 56th consecutive game with a base hit, the next day his historic streak was ended.
The off-season is one of my favorite times of year. Teams are abuzz with trades, free agent acquisitions, arbitration herrings, and many other roster moves that build the franchise for not just the upcoming season, but for many seasons to come. The Cleveland Indians made some big splashes in the free agent pool in baseball’s second season following 2012 by acquiring a couple of MLB’s top free agents in Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. In this off-season, however, things seem less exciting. Both of the previously mentioned free agent signings came after the New Year, but this winter just doesn’t have the same feel.
After a hugely successful season in 2013 the Indians are losing two major pieces of their pitching staff. Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir combined for 23 wins and 356 strikeouts in the Indians rotation last season, and those are going to be tough numbers to replace. Though it may seem like a daunting task, it may not be as difficult as one may think. Through free agency, or internal options, the Indians will do all they can to fill those holes with the best possible option.
Free agents like Matt Garza are way out of the Indians price range, and pitchers that may be in that range may not be worth the roster spot, either due to an injury laden background, or poor current performances. The possible lack of activity on the free agent market may not be a failure for the Indians; they have several pitchers already in the fold that could step into those rotation spots and find success. The Tribe could find a future star or at least a couple solid Major League starters right in their own back yard. Looking at the young talent that could win a rotation role in 2014, four names came right to the top.
Coming off a huge turn around season in 2013, one in which the Indians refused to lose down the stretch and bulldozed their way into the playoffs, there are a lot of holes to be filled in the new Indians roster.
With the loss of the excellent Joe Smith, as well as arms like Matt Albers and Chris Perez, the Indians have a lot of innings to replace before the start of the 2014 season. Internal options will arise in players like Preston Guilmet and a hopeful return to dominance from Vinnie Pestano, but the free agent market cannot go untapped. Several solid right-handed arms can be acquired at bargain prices, an aspect that will appeal to a small market team like the Cleveland Indians.
Coming off a fantastic 2013 campaign, a season in which the Indians made the playoffs and turn from a 90 loss team to a 90 win team, it is difficulty to really look through the roster and find glaring holes. They do exist though, and one of the biggest is left handed relief pitching. The Indians bullpen ranked just 24 out of 30 Major League teams, and a large part of that was due to their lefty relief.
Rich Hill was the team’s primary lefty; he pitched in 63 games and threw 38.2 innings, the most of any lefty in the Indians bullpen. Unfortunately for Hill and the Indians, he was not always the most successful pitcher. In those 38.2 innings he struck out 51 batters for a total of 11.9K/9IN, a very good number. He also held left handed batters to a .238 batting average. On the bad side, he allowed left handed batters to get on base at a .375 clip, not very productive in terms of getting lefties out. He walks 29 batters on the season for a very poor 6.8BB/9IN. His 6.28 ERA is not a nice number to look at in a box score, and he didn’t help his team down the stretch posting a 7.71 ERA in September. All this being said, the Indians could easily find someone to replace Hill.
The season began with high hopes for Lonnie Chisenhall. He really had no competition for third base and the position was his from the get-go. He had two partial seasons under his belt and it looked like he was steadily improving and could possibly have a breakout season. Things started off poorly, and on May 12 he was sent to Triple-A after batting .213/.253/.351 with a 25% strikeout rate. He was called back up in June and remained for the rest of the season, mostly in a platoon split with Mike Aviles.
Although the season was disappointing, don’t give up hope on him yet. It appears as though he will have another chance at the hot corner in 2014 and I believe he deserves it. He is still very young, he has over 200 games under his belt in the majors and he will only be 25 years old for the 2014 season. Many players that have begun their careers at such a young age struggle up until their age 25 seasons. There are a few specific examples of guys that not only struggled young only to have a breakout 25 year old season and go on to successful careers, but their age 23 and 24 seasons were nearly identical to Chisenhall.
After a surprising 2013 Cleveland Indians season the organization has higher expectations for 2014 than any season dating back to 2008. The Indians and their fans will expect a playoff team and World Series contender. For the month of October, we’ll look at the how the Indians became a contender, but most importantly, How Do the Indians Reach the Next Level?
On December 11, 2012 the Indians acquired Drew Stubbs in a three team exchange that also netted the Tribe top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, and relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers. At the time it seemed as though Stubbs was just filler in the trade, someone the added just to get the deal completed, but fans hoped his defense and his speed would lead to good season. While his numbers were not all that pretty, he was a big part of playoff team in Cleveland. Stubbs is now eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career, and the Indians have a decision to make.
MLB arbitration can be confusing on the surface, but it is really very simple. Basically, a player is not able to become a free agent until he has six years of service time. Arbitration prevents a team from paying league minimum to a young, high performance player. Once a player reaches a minimum of three years of service time, he is eligible for a salary raise. A team can either tender a contract to their player and agree on a deal, or the two sides cannot agree and the case goes to an arbiter. The arbiter hears the team present their case and their salary offer, then listens to the players case and his counter. He then decides which of the two salaries’ to award the player. Looking at Stubbs, his case seems to be fairly straight forward.