Cleveland Indians 2020 Season Preview 2.0

       Entering 2019, the Indians were the favorites for the AL Central title. They saw the Twins surprise them, and run away with the division. The Indians were forced to settle for a wild card race, except they missed the playoffs entirely. The Indians finished three games back of the Rays, and four back of the A\’s for both spots. The Indians traded away Trevor Bauer at the deadline, and
two time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in the offseason. Superstar Francisco Lindor is a free agent in two seasons, and the Indians seem more likely to trade him than pay him. Things in Cleveland can blow up very fast.

       Offseason additions: IF Cesar Hernandez, OF Domingo Santana, OF Delino DeShields Jr., RHP Emmanuel Clase, C Sandy Leon, RHP Dominic Leone, C Cameron Rupp.

       Offseason subtractions: RHP Corey Kluber, OF Yasiel Puig, RHP Tyler Clippard, 2B Jason Kipnis, OF Leonys Martin, C Kevin Plawecki, LHP Tyler Olson, RHP Dan Otero, RHP Nick Goody, RHP AJ Cole.

Mike Clevinger missed the beginning of 2019, but he dominated when he returned. He struck out 169 batters in 126 innings with a 2.71 ERA. His 1.056 WHIP and 2.49 FIP were career highs. He had a .206 expected batting average. Shane Bieber broke out in his second season, winning all-star MVP, and finishing 4th in AL Cy Young voting. He struck out 259 batters in 214.1 innings with a 3.28 ERA. His 1.7 BB/9 was the best in the league. Bieber\’s problem is that he allows very hard contact, with an average exit velocity against of 90.4 miles per hour. Carlos Carrasco had an emotional return from leukemia in September. He acted mainly as a reliever after his absence. He will be a starter again in 2020. Even though he had a bloated 5.29 ERA, he still had a 10.8 K/9, tying his previous career high. Carrasco allowed 277 less batted balls than he did in 2018 because of his absence, but he allowed just one less barrel than the previous season. Zach Plesac debuted with a 3.81 ERA in 115.2 innings. His 6.8 K/9 was low, but he had a very good 7.9 H/9. His change-up, curveball and slider all had exit velocities against of under 86, but his total number isn\’t good because of the fastball\’s exit velocity against of 92.7 mph. Aaron Civale\’s debut was only 10 starts, but he had a 2.34 ERA. He also is not a strikeout pitcher, with a 7.2 K/9. He had a 6.9 hits per nine ratio. He had an elite xwOBACON of .313. Swingman Adam Plutko was mainly a starter last year. He had a 4.86 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 109.1 innings. Plutko\’s most impressive pitch is the pitch he throws the least, his curveball. The pitch has a .166 expected batting average and a 2886 rpm spin rate.

On June 20, closer Brad Hand had an ERA of 0.86. He struggled the rest of the year, ending with a 3.30 ERA. That was his highest ERA since he was a Marlins swingman in 2015. He struck out 84 batters with a career high 34 saves in 57.1 innings. His K% stayed above 30% for the 4th season in a row. Nick Wittgren\’s first year with the Indians was very good, with a 2.81 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 57.2 innings with four saves. Another former Marlin, Wittgren struggles with allowing soft contact, with a bloated 92 mph exit velocity. James Karinchak had a 2.67 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 30.1 MiLB innings, for a whopping 22 K/9. However, he still had a 5 BB/9. He was a September call-up, striking out eight in 5.1 innings, allowing one run. He throws two pitches, including a high 90s fastball. Submariner Adam Cimber\’s first full season in Cleveland did not go well. He had a 4.45 ERA with a 6.5 K/9 and 8.9 H/9. He pitched in just 58.2 innings despite playing 68 games. Cimber\’s expected ERA skyrocket from 2.71 in 2018 to 4.11. He will be one of the few right handers affected by the three batter limit rule. Another player affected by the rule will be lefty Oliver Perez. He had a 1.39 ERA in 2018, but regressed with a 3.98 ERA in 2019. He struck out 48 batters in 40.2 innings over 67 games. Perez\’s pitch percentage has drastically changed over the years. When he was a starter with the Mets in 2008, he threw his fastball 67.8%, his slider 27.1% and his sinker 1.3% of the time, with a change-up and curveball mixed in there as well. Now, Perez has not thrown his curveball since 2009 and the change-up since 2013, and his fastball percentage has decreased to 14.7% in 2019, with a 49.2% use of his slider and the remaining 36% of pitches being the sinker. Emmanuel Clase was a disappointing return for Corey Kluber in the eyes of many fans. It got even worse when Clase was suspended 80 games for the use of PEDs and will miss the year. He possesses a 102 miles per hour fastball. Hunter Wood came over from the Rays midseason. He had a 2.98 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 45.1 innings combined. Wood\’s fastball has a spin rate of 2492 rpm, better than his curveball\’s 2328. The final two spots are up in the air for when roster\’s revert to 26 men. Plutko can get one as a swingman when Clevinger returns. That would leave Logan Allen, Phil Maton and James Hoyt up for the final spot. They combined to play in just 18 games for the Indians last year. A former top prospect for the Padres, Allen is a lefty starter that would move to the pen. Acquired midseason for Trevor Bauer, Allen played in one game in Cleveland, striking out three in 2.1 innings, not allowing a run. Maton and Hoyt are standard relievers. Maton had a 2.92 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 12.1 innings, while Hoyt had a 2.16 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 8.1 innings. Maton is a very interesting pitcher because of the spin he puts on the ball. His fastball has a 2583 rpm, but lower than his curveball (2764 rpm) and cutter (2844). The cutter is the big takeaway here, with horizontal movement of 7.6 inches more than average, the most in the league. Hoyt has a 56.7% whiff rate on his slider. He allows hard contact, with an exit velocity of 92.5 mph. He threw just 15 pitches in the majors in 2018, but nine of those pitches were fastballs. However, he only threw eight fastballs in 2019, out of 123. Jefry Rodriguez is another long reliever option, and had a 4.63 ERA in 10 games (8 starts) after coming over from Washington for catcher Yan Gomes.

Roberto Perez had a big breakout year in his first season as a full-time starter. He hit 24 home runs, crushing his previous career high by 16. He also had a .774 OPS, and won his first career Gold Glove. Perez was helped out by a barrel percentage of 11 percent, raising his career average up to 8.3%. Sandy Leon hit .310 with an .845 OPS for the Red Sox in 2016, but has regressed offensively since. He hit five home runs with a .192 average and .548 OPS in his last of five seasons in Boston. With a 23.5 ft/s sprint speed, Leon is one of baseball\’s slowest players. The Indians acquired Leon in a trade, but not for former backup Kevin Plawecki, who signed in Boston.

The Indians will have something that is very, very rare. They will have an all switch hitting infield, not including backups. In his return to Cleveland, Carlos Santana tied his career high in home runs with 34, while walking 108 times with a .281 average and .911 OPS. He won a Silver Slugger and was 16th in MVP voting. Santana hit the ball hard, with a 91.8 mph average exit velocity. The Indians signed Cesar Hernandez after the Phillies non-tendered him. He has hit for power, average and has stolen bases, but never all at the same time. He stole 15+ stolen bases a season from 2015-2018, but stole just nine in 2019. He hit .294 in both 2016 and 2017, but that lowered to .279 in 2019. He hit 14 home runs, one off of his career high 15 set in 2018. Hernandez is fast, with a 28.7 ft/s sprint speed, but that has deteriorated over the years. Superstar Francisco Lindor won his second Gold Glove. He finished 15th in MVP voting, which was actually his worst ranking since he didn\’t receive a vote in his rookie season. \”Mr Smile\” hit 32 home runs with 22 stolen bases with a .284 average and an .854 OPS. He has two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, but he has never won both of them in the same year. He had 11 outs above average last year. Jose Ramirez finished third in MVP voting in 2017 and 2018. He started off slow, with a .198 average and a .586 OPS on June 12. He went on a tear in the second half, finishing with 23 home runs and 24 stolen bases. His .806 OPS might seem low, but it is a huge improvement. Ramirez had a 13.7% K rate, which is really good. However, it is also his worst in a five year stretch. While outfield auditions will go on, the Indians will likely carry just one backup infielder. That could be former top prospect Christian Arroyo, acquired from Tampa Bay in the same midseason trade as Hunter Wood. Arroyo has played in just 70 career games, with six home runs, a .215 average and a .622 OPS. He did not play for the Indians after the trade.

Like their Ohio rivals, the Indians have way too many outfielders. Unlike the Reds, Cleveland is without three clear candidates for an outfield spot. The only lock to start is Oscar Mercado. The now 25-year-old center fielder played in 115 games, hitting 15 home runs and stealing 15 bases with a .269 average and .761 OPS. Mercado goes under-the-radar with his speed of 29.5 ft/s. He finished 8th in Rookie of the Year voting. Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs in 2017 before regressing in 2018. He was traded to Seattle before last year. He hit 21 home runs with a .770 OPS and 108 OPS+. Santana is an awful fielder, with -13 outs above average last year. Tyler Naquin should be good for Opening Day after tearing his ACL late last year. He hit 10 homers with a .288 average and a .792 OPS in 89 games. Jordan Luplow had a good first season in Cleveland. He hit 15 home runs with a .923 OPS in 85 games. Luplow hit .341 versus fastballs. If Naquin is healthy then either Jake Bauers or Delino DeShields Jr. will lose their roster spot. Coming over for Kluber, DeShields is a great fielder with 106 stolen bases in 539 career games. However, he also has a career OPS of .668. Bauers hit 12 home runs last year, but struck out 115 times and had a .683 OPS. Greg Allen and Bradley Zimmer have outside chances at a spot. Allen is a speedy outfielder who stole 21 bases in 91 games in 2018. However, he is also a bad hitter, like DeShields. A former first rounder, Zimmer has a .652 OPS in 144 career games. Franmil Reyes will likely be regulated to DHing duties. He hit 37 home runs for the Indians and Padres last year, with an .822 OPS. Reyes crushes the ball, with a 93.3 mph average exit velocity.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
CF Oscar Mercado (R)
SS Francisco Lindor (S)
3B Jose Ramirez (S)
1B Carlos Santana (S)
DH Franmil Reyes (R)
RF Domingo Santana (R)
2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
LF Jordan Luplow (R)
C Roberto Perez (R)

       Projected Rotation
Mike Clevinger (R)
Shane Bieber (R)
Carlos Carrasco (R)
Zach Plesac (R)
Aaron Civale (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Brad Hand, closer (L)
Nick Wittgren (R)
James Karinchak (R)
Oliver Perez (L)
Adam Cimber (R)
Adam Plutko (R)
Phil Maton (R)
Hunter Wood (R)
James Hoyt (R)
Logan Allen (L)
Jefry Rodriguez (R)

       Projected Bench
C Sandy Leon (S)
IF Christian Arroyo (R)
OF Tyler Naquin (L)
OF Delino Deshields Jr. (R)
1B/OF Jake Bauers (L)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
58-29 record, 1st in AL Central
Most home runs: Franmil Reyes (23)
Highest batting average: Carlos Santana (.314)
Highest OPS: Carlos Santana (.931)
Best ERA, starters: Shane Bieber (3.23)
Best ERA, relievers: Nick Wittgren (2.45)
Most innings pitched: Shane Bieber (125.1)
Most strikeouts: Shane Bieber (126)
Best K/9: James Karinchak (15.1)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 30-30
2018: 32-28
2017: 31-29
2016: 34-26
2015: 28-32

The Indians aren\’t great at the start of seasons, as you see by their record through 60 games recently. Their division is tougher now that the White Sox are competent, and they are playing a tough division in the NL Central. The Indians will still do fine, and finish 2nd in the AL Central. However, I think that they will be outside of the playoffs once again in 2019. 

Published by carterhud SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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