One year ago today, I wrote an article right here called “The Indians Are Missing The Easy Ones,” which looked into just how awful the Cleveland defense had looked to that point. Though it included all the usual “it’s still early in the season” caveats, the simple fact was that the Indians had done little to help what had been (and would be) a fantastic young pitching staff with repeated miscues in the field, flaws that seemed obvious even in mid-April. (It was also a great excuse to have an article full of blooper GIFs. This is going to come up again.)
As it turned out, it wasn’t just a small sample size problem. The Indians went on to have the worst DRS in baseball at a shocking -75, and as Jeff Sullivan ably noted in August, the defensive gap alone was a huge component of what set the Indians apart from the Royals. If you buy into the idea that 10 runs equal a win, then DRS saw a difference of 11 wins between the two clubs on defense alone. Even if you don’t completely accept that full value as an accurate accounting, it’s pretty clear that poor fielding was a huge detriment to the 2014 Indians, and that’s a big deal considering that they missed the wild card by just three games.
So! Now it’s 2015. With somewhat of an inflexible roster, management was limited in the moves they could make, so while things look similar, they aren’t identical. The Carlos Santana third base experiment is long over. Asdrubal Cabrera’s adventures at shortstop are now Tampa Bay’s problem, with Jose Ramirez presenting a far superior defensive option. Yan Gomes’ second half looked a lot better than his first half. Nick Swisher’s achy knees haven’t yet appeared in a game. Tyler Holt showed defensive value as a backup outfielder late in the year. Jason Kipnis swore he was healthier after oblique and hamstring issues helped to tornado his 2014 season.
Story after story after story came up about the team’s focus on it this winter. This was never going to be a good defense, not with so much of the same cast and crew, but maybe enough had changed to think, okay, maybe this won’t be so bad. So how’s that going? Read the rest of this entry »