Proceed With Caution When Reading Preseason Predictions

You might not even want to take them with a grain of salt.

With less than a month until Spring Training camps open, preseason predictions will begin to surface and post from now all the way until Opening Day. With Sabermetrics and statistical analysis that’s better than ever, predictions have more hard data than ever to try and make them more reliable.

And while most predictions are doomed to fail, predicting the Cleveland Indians could be even more difficult of a task than most teams. A year ago most Sabermetricians felt the Indians were between an 80-82 win team. It was widely accepted that the Indians were much improved coming in to 2013, but most felt they still were not a playoff contender.

But who could have predicted the emergence of Corey Kluber as a mainstay in the rotation, the rebirth of Ubaldo Jimenez as a front line starter or the second half surge provided by Danny Salazar? Who could have predicted the Goon Squad of Jason Giambi, Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes would all fill part time and platoon roles perfectly when they were called upon? Who could have predicted the Indians bullpen would be rattled by struggles of Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano, yet filled by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski down the stretch?

A year ago the Indians entered the season believing their starting pitching was a weakness. Now, with nearly all the same starters, most believe the rotation to be a strength. The newly remade bullpen—likely with at least three new members—will the question mark as the 2014 season opens.

A season ago weaknesses became strengths, and vice versa at times. If just one season ago the rotation was perceived as a weakness, can one be so sure it will still be strong this year after Jimenez and Scott Kazmir sign with different teams? Just as predictions a year ago didn’t give Kluber and Zach McAllister credit as solid, middle of the rotation pitchers, we are now very quick to assume the same production as 2013. Both are still young. They could continue to grow and make the rotation stronger, or regress and open a major hole. Same can be said for the new expectations placed on Salazar for 2014, after just 10 big league starts.

Offensively, the Indians have just as many questions that will make the predictions seem very gray. Will Lonnie Chisenhall finally emerge as an every day third baseman, or will Carlos Santana transform into the Indians’ newest third sacker? After a limited winter season, with less than stellar results, how big of a project are the Indians taking on while trying to contend for a division crown?

Santana will be pushed from out behind the plate because Indians manager Terry Francona has stated Gomes will become the regular catcher. A year ago, Francona optioned Gomes to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training and stated that they still needed to see if he could be an every day catcher. Defensively, he’s a major upgrade from Santana, but no one can be positive that he will continue to produce with the same offensive production as he did in 2013.

Raburn had a big turn around season in 2013 and now will likely see more time on the field as he platoons with David Murphy who is coming off a struggling year. Many assume Murphy will bounce back to the offensive production he had in 2010-2012 when he turned down a four-year contract extension from the Texas Rangers. What if Murphy doesn’t rebound like so many think he will, or what if Raburn regresses to his 2012 season with Detroit?

This doesn’t even take into account down seasons in 2013 from Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera. What if they bounce back, or continue to decline even further?

The point is, coming off a 68-win season in 2012, few analysts or statisticians were ready to predict the Indians would win 90 games or more. Most did not give the Indians enough credit. They felt they had too many questions. Now, after exceeding expectations in 2013, the expectation becomes the same 90+ wins as a year ago. Don’t be surprised if some give them more credit than they might deserve for all their pending questions heading into 2014.

It’s nice to be optimistic and have pennant aspirations. Just remember, the favorite in March isn’t normally the favorite in October.

Photo: Getty Images

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