With some nice pieces in place for the future, the Indians enter the season with the league’s youngest 40-man roster. Even though someone predicted that the Indians would win the AL Central last year, they didn’t come close to that benchmark and just missed the AL Central cellar. Going into 2011, they will need to improve both their hitting (75 runs scored below the league average) and pitching (36 runs allowed above the league average) without many additions to the team
1. Michael Brantley CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo RF
4. Travis Hafner DH
5. Carlos Santana C
6. Austin Kearns LF
7. Matt LaPorta 1B
8. Orlando Cabrera 2B
9. Jason Donald /Jayson Nix 3B
The Indians look to run out almost an identical cast of players compared to last year, which is not a good sign from a group of players that had the fifth least number of runs scored in the all the majors.
The heart of the Indians lineup is fairly decent and should be the major run generating portion of the team. The anchor of the lineup is Choo (generated 5.0 and 5.6 WAR the past two seasons). Even though Hafner doesn’t make it into the field anymore, he does provide nice protection to Choo in the lineup. Carlos Santana had a great rookie campaign and was available to post a 0.382 wOBA and accumulate 2.0 WAR in only 46 games. The one trait all three of these three have is the ability to take a walk (Choo – 13%, Hafner – 11% and Santana 19% in 2010). The key will be for another player or two on the team to step up and be able to get these guys home once they are on base.
The third base job is the major position battle for the team in 2011 with both Jason Donald and Jayson Nix vying for the job. It might have been nice to have a platoon situation at 3B, but both Ja(y)son’s are right handed so that will not happen. The Indians top-rated prospect, Lonnie Chisenhal, plays 3B and will get consideration for the position. He has only played at AA, and with the Indians probably not going anywhere this season, there is no real reason to rush his advancement.
Another player that could make an impact for the Indians, if he is able to play, is Grady Sizemore. He has relied mostly on his speed for his defense and hitting, but how much speed still exists will need to be determined with his new knee. He probably won’t be able to make the opening day roster, and, if I were the Indians, I would send him to minors to monitor his rehab. There is no reason to rush him back to the majors this season.
The team’s defense also looks to be below average this year. Last year, they were second worst in the league with -60 UZR, or 60 runs worse than the league average. They will probably not be as bad this year, but poor hitting teams tend to play decent defense. That comparison is not true with the Indians.
Though none of the starting pitchers look to make an All-Star game anytime soon, they are all young (none are over 27), serviceable starters. They should be able to keep the Indians in a few games, but it is not enough to put them into contention.
Similar in talent, Masterson and Carmona are probably the best pitchers on the staff. They are both projected to have FIPS around 4.00, with Masterson possibly being a little better. Talbot and Tomlim are both are projected to have FIPS in the 4.50 level. They both will run out there every 5 days, but not much can/will be expected from them this year. A possible bright spot in the rotation is 23-year-old Carlos Carrasco. Our own Zack Sanders ranked him the #16 best pitcher under the age of 25 in the 2011 Guide to Starting Pitchers.
By having the league’s fifth worst FIPS, the bullpen was a huge weakness for the Indians in 2010, generating only 0.8 WAR over the entire season. With generally the same crowd coming back for 2011, it should be another weak link on the team.
Chris Perez’s FIP (3.54) was more than double (and his xFIPS (4.30) was almost triple) his ERA (1.71) in 2010. Chris had incredible luck with a .222 BABIP, 86% strand rate and 5.5% HR/FB rate. His ERA probably won’t reach 2011 levels, but he is a serviceable closer.
Rafael Perez will probably be setting up C. Perez this season. Though a projected FIPs of 3.86 by Marcels is not ideal, it’s much better then the other options the Indians have in the bullpen. The rest of the bullpen projects by Marcels to have FIP’s of 4.00 or more. The bullpen may be called to put out several fires started by the starting pitchers, but this group may be carrying gasoline instead of water to the fire.
The Guy Who Matters
Two-thousand and eleven looks to be the season that the Indians finally decide if Matt LaPorta is going live up to his potential when he was aquired in the C.C. Sabathia trade. Is he going to be the guy that put up a 0.296/0.390/0.563 line in four seasons in the minors? Or the guy who posted a .232/0.307/0.388 line in two seasons in the majors? In 2010 the Indians were the 4th worst in the league with production from the 1B spot with 0 WAR and a wOBA of .305 (league average = 0.323). His wRC+ of 84 put him in the same league as Yadier Molina and Skip Schumaker in 2010.
Looking at 2011 projections for Matt, they show him doing better in 2011 with the current Fans voting putting him at 1.6 WAR for the season. With the Indians not looking to contend for a playoff position this season, it give them a nice chance to see if LaPorta will be their 1B for the near future.
There are a few bright spots like Santana, Choo and Carrasco, but as a whole, there is just not much talent on the team. The Indians look to be competing with the Royals to see who takes home the coveted 4th place finish in the AL Central in 2011.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.