Don’t Look Now, But The Indians Defense is Actually Great

There’s a new vibe to the Cleveland Indians this season, and it’s really not hard to miss. When most people are clamoring for more offense or praising the rotation for how great it is, and rightly so, there’s one aspect of the Indians’ makeup that has improved vastly and is a good part of the reason why the Indians are actually still in contention for a Wild Card spot in late September.

At the end of 2014, the Indians finished the season with 116 errors, and a DRS of -75. Both being dead last in their respective categories. It easy to see that the defense was beyond horrendous last year. The biggest contributors of the poor defense were not easy to miss either:

Asdrubal Cabrera: DRS -7, 14 errors

Lonnie Chisenhall: DRS -12, 18 errors

Nick Swisher: DRS -4, 9 errors

Michael Bourn: DRS -6, 2 errors

Jason Kipnis: DRS -11, 6 errors

Among others, but these guys were the biggest contributors. Knowing this in the offseason, the Indians should have had one thing on their mind to improve upon coming into 2015: improving the defense. What moves, or changes, did they make to correct these horrendous numbers though?

They added Jerry Sands, Brandon Moss, Jose Ramirez, continued to play Chisenhall at third base, and decided it was a good idea that Mike Aviles see center field time this season.

While Ramirez proved to be sufficient enough in the second half of 2014, he struggled mightily at the plate, and in the field as well as he posted a DRS of -2 and had 8 errors at shortstop this season. Sands is just as poor defensively as Ryan Raburn, and should be subjected to mostly DH time.

Even though the Indians defense had been so poor last season, and they did almost nothing to improve it coming into 2015, they knew that they had capable gloves in waiting at Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron. With Bourn thought to be going nowhere at the start of the season, Tyler Naquin at Double-A was guaranteed to not see any playing time in 2015, even though he’s a defense first center field prospect with a capable lead off bat, but nonetheless we were stuck with Bourn. The outfield fielded the same as 2014, with Michael Brantley in left, Bourn in center, and had the addition of Moss in right with David Murphy and Raburn supplementing him from time-to-time.

Chisenhall worked diligently on his defense during the offseason, and it was more capable this year as he did have a DRS of 7 with only 5 errors at third before being optioned, but his bat wasn’t sustainable enough to keep him there.  This then opened space for the promotion of the gold glove caliber, defensive gem creator, right handed batter, Giovanny Urshela to man the hot corner. Along with Chisenhall, Ramirez had also been optioned. Eventually, this would open up a spot for the Indians top prospect at the time, Francisco Lindor.

At the trade deadline, the Indians also made a move to send Marc Rzepczynski to the San Diego Padres for Abraham Almonte, who was then optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Along with trading Moss to the St. Louis Cardinals for minor league pitcher Rob Kaminsky. Shortly after though, the Indians pulled off a mega trade to send Bourn and Swisher to the Atlanta Braves 1B/3B Chris Johnson. While Swisher hadn’t been playing much this season anyway, moving the two of these players opened up opportunities for other players to get more playing time. Most of all, to show how the Indians defense can actually become something worth watching.

So to start off the season, the Indians started Chisenhall at third, Bourn in center, Ramirez at shortstop, and Moss in right field.

Chisenhall: DRS 7, 5 errors

Bourn: DRS 3, 1 error

Ramirez: DRS -2, 8 errors

Moss: DRS -4, 4 errors

After these moves occurred, the Indians have had one of the best defenses in the MLB. Urshela and Lindor manning the left side of the infield has been a dream come true for the Indians. Together, they have a DRS of 9, and have committed 13 errors. They bring something to the team that the Indians haven’t seen in quite some time: effortless defense. They make every play seem easy, and give it all they can in each play. Lindor especially has been a special addition to this lineup, and has been the best defensive shortstop for the Indians since Omar Vizquel manned the position.

Almonte has proved to be a nice addition to the lineup as well, as he’s played centerfield almost every day since his promotion to the Indians. He’s posted a DRS of 4 and has yet to commit an error this season. He brings the ability to play all of the positions in the outfield, but right now he’s just fine in center.

One of the more surprising developments with the Indians defense is that Chisenhall has become the everyday right fielder, and is playing the position like a gold glover. He was named August’s Defensive Player of the Month by ESPN, recently had a game where he provided three outfield assists to help his team to a win. He’s been incredible out there, and his situation resembles Alex Gordon’s of the Kansas City Royals when he moved to left field.

Kipnis has also been outstanding at second base this year, as he’s posted a DRS of 3 with 7 errors. Obviously the oblique injury affected his playing ability, which doesn’t seem to be hindering him this year.

Right now, the Indians currently have a team DRS of 19, and are ranked sixth among all thirty teams. The changes that they’ve made to their everyday lineup have been so helpful for a team that could barely field a routine grounder last year. If this team hopes to make it to the playoffs this year, and for years to come, they’ll need to continue to pump out this type of defensive playing each and every night.

Some people say that pitching wins baseball games, but I tend to disagree. While pitching may win games, a pitcher can’t win a game with a poor, untrustworthy defense behind him. Defense wins games.

Photo: Matt Brown/Getty Images

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