CHICAGO, October 3, 2013 — Last year the Cleveland Indians went 68-94 and finished fourth in the AL Central. With the addition of Manager Terry Francona and a handful of players, Cleveland improved to 92-70 finishing one game behind the Tigers for the division while claiming the first AL Wild Card. Unfortunately, they lost the Wild Card game and, thus, it is time to say, “Better luck next year,” to the Cleveland Indians.
What Went Right: Jason Kipnis ascended to an elite second baseman this year, claiming a spot alongside Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist and Ian Kinsler in the AL (Wow, second base in the AL is loaded). Kipnis posted a .284/.366/.452 line with an OPS+ of 133 while providing 5.8 WAR.
Carlos Santana posted a .268/.377/.455 line, good for an OPS+ of 137 while providing 4.4 WAR. With two young superstars at up the middle positions the Indians are a step ahead of most teams going forward.
In addition, the Indians got great contributions from a couple of players who filled part time roles for the Indians. Yan Gomes spent time at catcher and first base with a .294/.345/.481 line providing 4.0 WAR, which is astounding considering he had just 322 plate appearances. Ryan Raburn posted a .272/.357/.543 line with 2.1 WAR. Getting those types of contributions from role players helps to balance out a team if players the team planned on do not provide the expected levels of performance.
Ubaldo Jimenez reemerged to log 182.2 innings with an ERA+ of 114. While not back to the lofty levels Jimenez was at in 2010, some of his peripherals are encouraging as he struck out a career high 25.0% of the batters he faced while walking 10.3%. While the walks are above league average, they are the same as he posted in 2010.
The Indians’ farm system entered the year ranked 20th by Baseball America. Number six prospect Danny Salazar emerged as a potential number one or two starter as he made 10 starts in the majors logging 65 innings, striking out 30.8% of the batters he faced while walking just 7.1%. Number four prospect Cody Allen had a great year in the bullpen and may find himself as the Indians closer next year. Allen threw 70.1 innings, striking out 29.2% of the batters faced and walking 8.9%.
What Went Wrong: Michael Bourn waited seemingly forever in the offseason for a contract and finally got a four year $48 million contract from the Indians. Bourn struggled in his first year with the Tribe, posting a .263/.316/.360 line with just 23 steals in 35 attempts. The 23 steals are his lowest in a full season in his career, while the 66% success rate was far from ideal as well.
The Indians also took shots on cheaper short term contracts with Jason Giambi and Mark Reynolds. While the organization credits Giambi with his presence in the clubhouse, he struggled at the plate, posting a .183/.282/..371 slash line although he did hit a game-winning homer to help the Indians secure their playoff berth.
Mark Reynolds received 384 plate appearances for the Indians posting a slash line of .215/.307/.373 line which was good for a 94 OPS+, but the Indians parted ways with Reynolds in early August.
Trevor Bauer, the third overall pick in 2011, was acquired in a three-way trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Bauer struggled in his four starts with the big club logging just 17 innings while striking out 13.6% of the batters he faced and walking an astounding 19.8% of batters faced (versus the league average of 8.1%), although it is obviously a very small sample size.
Finally, the Indians’ bullpen posted a 3.62 ERA, good for 19th in MLB. In particular, Rich Hill, Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano had difficult years. Hill had 63 appearances with an ERA+ of 60, striking out 28.0% of the batters he faced, but he struggled with his control and walked 15.9%.
Pestano was viewed as a potential successor to Perez as closer, but did not help his cause this year with an ERA+ of 93, striking out 23.3% of batters faced. Pestano also struggled with his control and walked 13.2% of batters faced.
Chris Perez also struggled with control, walking 8.6% of the batters he faced, striking out 22.2% and converting just 25 of his 30 save opportunities before being removed as Indians closer last week.
What to Look for in 2014: The future seems bright for the Indians as they have a couple of impact players, Santana and Kipnis, in their prime with pieces around them. While there will be decisions to make in the offseason with a variety of free agents it seems that they have righted the ship and should contend in the AL Central again next year.
Free Agents/Options: Ubaldo Jimenez, Joe Smith, Matt Albers, Rich Hill, Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi, Scott Kazmir, Mark Rzepczynski, Drew Stubbs, Jason Kubel, Kelly Shoppach
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