Previewing the Cleveland Indians | The Process Report

Previewing the Cleveland Indians

Halfway through a productive road trip the Rays will turn their sights westward to take on the defending pennant winners the Cleveland Indians. The Indians continue to boast one of the most well-rounded teams in the league despite a couple of recent injuries that leave them without one of their aces and less depth than they would like in the outfield. Former Ray, Brandon Guyer, is one of those that is hobbled, but he was unlikely to make a positive impact anyway as he is one of the worst hitters on their team. I remember when people were literally crying when he was traded at peak value. Haven’t heard from those folks much this year.

The Rays have made tremendous strides the past two trips through the rotation to climb the ranks of the pitching leaderboard. They haven’t quite caught up to the Indians, but they’re firmly in the middle of the pack to this point. With the Rays brutal schedule I’ve found it interesting of late to see how much other teams have had to play. You can see between rain outs and assigned offdays the Indians have faced amongst the fewest batters in the game. The rest has probably done them well. The Rays will get their fourth baseball-free day of the year following this series, but can’t rest on their laurels quite yet.

I have highlighted the guys that are expected to start in this series. Tonight’s game will feature two true aces as Archer takes on Carlos Carrasco with Odorizzi and Salazar squaring off in the middle, and finally Cobb and Tomlin to close the series on Wednesday. Looking at results on balls in play show that Carrasco has been very good, but that his actual performance outstrips his expectations by a high amount. Regression comes steadily, but the Rays would stand to benefit immensely from Carrasco not having quite such good fortune when a batter does manage to make contact. Salazar and Tomlin are closer to their expected level, but both are a massive step down from Carrasco’s ability to generate weak contact.

Including walks and strikeouts shifts things slightly as Carrasco is disgusting, and one of the best pitchers in the game. Archer isn’t quite to that level, but he has been serviceable and is coming off of his best start of the year. Salazar struggles with the walk, but gets tons of strikeouts to help offset, though that absurdly hard contact means he might be ripe for a beating. Tomin goes the other way as a control artist that doesn’t overwhelm with the strikeouts, but does pair the control with a decent ability to limit hard contact. Odorizzi has been a better version of this type of pitcher all year, and Cobb has been rounding into form of late. Cobb is amongst the league leaders in total number of balls in play, but he has worked hard to limit the veracity with which these balls are struck. He needs to get on top of his walks, but everything else looks very nice.

Then we get to the bullpens where the Indians have several very good options. Shaw, Miller and Allen get the lion’s share of the accolades, but Nick Goody has been just as good as those guys this year. They also have McAllister to give length and Logan for the lefties. The Rays have a couple of very good relievers in their own right led by Alex Colome. Farquhar has been mostly death to lefties and Jumbo gives you a guy for righties. They’re best when paired. Jose Alvarado has been an early revelation, and the team is stacked to the gills with longer guys in Erasmo, Whitley and Hu. Coming off of his debut there has to be hope that Stanek can contribute in any way. I’m not so sure he can.

We see more separation between these two clubs when we start to focus on the bats. The Indians have a top-10 offense while the Rays continue to trudge along in the bottom-five. Tampa Bay has no problem hitting the ball hard, but they’re just not putting enough in play as the historic strikeout rate has placed a bottleneck on anything resembling a coherent offense. The league-leading walk rate helps, but a walk will only ever give you one base. We prefer hits here. The Indians have hit the ball even harder, while having one of the lowest strike rates in the league and a good number of walks. This is a complete offense.

While the Rays have over-performed expectations on balls in play as a team the Indians have seen plenty of misfortune on their own side. Leading the way is slugger Edwin Encarnacion who has actually hit like a league average guy despite expectations that put him near the top of the league. Carlos Santana is in a similar regression boat without anywhere near the scale.

Looking at all plate appearances and not just balls in play is much more insightful so let’s spend more time here. The Rays are led by LoMo with a few other guys chipping in some good production. The Indians have their own version of Lomo, but then they also have a second one as Francisco Lindor is a terror, and one that goes about his business differently than Encarnacion, which gives their offense a good bit of diversity. Then it keeps going. Santana and Ramirez have been sensational. Platoon bats Brantley and Chisenhall have also contributed mightily. At the bottom you see Jason Kipnis who might finally be starting to get his timing back after a late start due to shoulder concerns. On the bright side, Kevin Kiermaier is now the second worst hitter in baseball instead of the worst, thanks Alcides. Getting his bat going would help substantially as he is a complete drag on the team offense to this point in the season. Being an everyday player makes that hurt even more.

The Indians are a masterfully built ball club with few weaknesses. Like a Boa Constrictor they seek to choke off your air supply slowly and steadily while giving nothing away. It will be important to jump all over their starters early, both in the game, and in the series. If the Rays can split the first two while laying into their good bullpen it could force Tito to have to rely on weaker matchups in a hypothetical rubber match. That should be the goal. Wear them out on offense and try to shield our bullpen as much as we can. Having the three best Rays pitchers going in this series should help shift the balance away from a rout and back towards something entertaining.

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