Recapping 2018: Cleveland Indians Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Cleveland Indians Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason. Here’s the final results:

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM TBR COL PHI

10 – 1: MIL TOR STL WAS OAK CLE

Much like the last team covered, the Oakland Athletics, the Cleveland Indians seek to pick their battles. Generally ramping up expenditures during successful runs, while cutting things to the bone every few years as something of a hard reset. Additionally, they have no problem trading present for future if the team looks like a non-contender. Pegging past opening day payroll figures to 2018 dollars, you can see that this past season was their relatively highest payroll in the last roughly twenty years. These past two stand out with the only real comparison back at the start of this time frame when they were also pretty dang good.

In between you an see a good deal of success to go with quick retools as the team is amongst the best in the game at player evaluation. This often is reflected in trades of their aging, expensive players in downer years for quantity over quality packages where it seems one guy usually becomes a start to go with some other useful stuff. Three of their four best pitchers came via trade, though their best two hitters, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, were international signs that the team groomed to become amongst the best players in the game. The Indians fell back a step from the previous two years as the stars and solid started to segue into stars and scrubs. This offseason has seen several lineup linchpins spun off with previous little present talent coming back in return. Despite the recent success the Indians have their work cut out for them to keep the window open a bit longer.

Going back to Cali, or rather, Oakland, for a second. We saw that the A’s were a very lopsided team with the best hitting in the game to go with bad, albeit, not horrific pitching. The Indians were the most balanced team in the game with just over ninety runs above average from both major facets. However, it was the hitting that was slightly ahead, and that which we’ll cover first. They settled in as a well above average crew by mid-season with some early volatility that saw them pushing higher at times, but also deeper forays into the netherworld. Of concern was the late-season skid that could have been a product of letting guys get some rest in a division that was never competitive. They got it back going over the final weeks before never getting it going in their lone playoff series. Cleveland ran one of the best everyday top of the lineups in baseball with star-level hitters led by two of the best in the game. The bottom of the order was more patched together, though the team was able to superglue some above average performance out of a cast of guys with question marks. The team did well to keep the samples smaller on the very worst hitters mitigating some of their giveback, and attempting to put those guys in favorable matchups as often as possible.

Most teams would be happy to see their good-glove shortstop hit around league average, but Tribe fans are spoiled getting to watch one of the better hitters in the league also be a reliable defender at the toughest non-catcher position. Francisco Lindor is a good hitter because of his average walk rate, while striking out well better than his peers. What makes him a great hitter is that he does that with above average production on contact, too. The huge workload doesn’t hurt in pushing him to the second tier of superstars around names like Anthony Rendon and Alex Bregman. Oh and he’s a true switch hitter capable of hitting both sides at a well above average clip. While the performance over the course of the season was stupendous the finish hints at a guy maybe playing hurt or perhaps looking to pad the stats a bit. It looks like he might have gotten a bit more aggressive with his walk rate looking like it was hit by a Demi 2 ability. This had little effect on his exit velocity or launch angle, but the lost walks pushed his contributions down below the average for the only time that season. A just-announced calf injury will lead to a lost spring training, and comes as a massive blow to the team that has put so much responsibility on the young man’s shoulders.

Francisco Lindor

The second star hitter in the Indians sky was mostly third-basemen Jose Ramirez. The switch hitter fared better against righties, but both sides paled in comparison to his actual results. You can see the two massive gaps that turned a good hitter into a great one in the box score. It wasn’t fully sustained as there was better overlap in the middle of the year, but this much overperformance from a player lends credence to the ability to outperform expectations.  Considering that he almost never strikes out with plenty of speed that can help turn singles into doubles and outs into singles there is good reason to believe Jose Ramirez can continue to perform better than the very good expectations. He put the ball in the air a ton with more pop ups than you would like to see, but also ideal angles in the nitro zone and valley above where damage can happen when they fall in or get out. We have seen harder contact, but his ability to generate loft likely allow so much of his good performance. A late-season swoon, much like Lindor, crippled the Indians during their lone playoff series. Exit velocity decline over the second half looks like a symptom, but the cause could have been fatigue from the long season, playing through a nagger or simply facing a clump of outstanding pitchers.

Jose Ramirez

Whipping through the rest of the above average to very good other players that will not be back in 2019 you can get a sense for just how much offense the team has set themselves up to need to replace. Only Michael Brantley became a free agent of this group with Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso each moving on by choice. Encarnacion was the best hitter of the bunch looking like a consistently above average to good performer, but seeing a couple stretches where he failed to get to all of those lofty expectations. Considering his lack of athleticism this shouldn’t be a total surprise, but the fact that the other half of the season fell completely in line at both very good and merely above average levels should give confidence he can mostly keep up. The last two months were down from the earlier production, though he got to a lot more of it so maybe not all bad. A lot of this was due to the exceptional walk rate, and his zone awareness went even further with his strikeout rate better than average for long stretches.

Encarnacion might have strictly been a good bat, but Michael Brantley was not far off the pace at the plate while giving adequate defense at the low-bar left field. The tails of his season were better with a lull in the middle that floated around the average, but showed up a bit below in actuality. That gap was persistently wider prior, and not all that surprising for a player with such a sordid history of injuries. He was another low-strikeout type who walks at an average or better clip while spraying liners all over the place. The over the fence power was spotty, but he’s a good bet to continue to spray singles and doubles all over the field. He hit righties well, and mostly hold his own against lefties, but lost virtually anything resembling pop against them. The split for Yonder Alonso was just as pronounced, but at a lower level against each. A second straight year with a poor finish after a strong first half he has since been traded to the Chicago White Sox. He’s a fine and useful player when the exit velocity is up, but he seems like a guy that wears down over the course of the year.

Edwin Encarnacion

Michael Brantley

Yonder Alonso

Yet two more players that need to be replaced next year are Melky Cabrera and Yan Gomes. Cabrera was a late sign, and failed to get to a lot of his above average performance early. However, from there on things got in line or better as one of the steadiest hitters in the game. His expectations hardly moved, though his was a contact-driven profile where he infrequently struck out, walked around the average and hit almost nothing in the nitro zone. Instead, you see a ton of liner contact across the various velocities, and mostly in good places that lead to singles and doubles. Not the kind of guy that can carry a lineup, but a great choice to thicken one up. He just signed a Minor League deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier today. Yan Gomes had a bounceback season after missing some time the past few with an assortment of injuries. Mamas, don’t let your kids grow up to be catchers. The past season likely led to the Indians management to see a good sell high position on a player they had likely grown frustrated with, though asking Kevin Plawecki to be a lion’s share starter seems like a fool’s errand. High whiff rates early came with the bonus of hard contact, but each mellowed over the course of the season. He put the ball in the air a ton including a large parcel of no doubters that helped keep him around the average as a hitter, and well above that for the position.

Melky Cabrera

Yan Gomes

In the penultimate year of his extension Jason Kipnis hit righties pretty well, while offering very little against same-handed lefties. He fell well short against everybody early on despite pretty solid expectations, but the rest of the season showed tighter gaps between expected and actual. Time was spent above and below the average, but generally not to far from it, and despite the big split saw everyday work to rack up 600 plate appearances. It is odd for one of the more platoon-friendly teams in the league to not use a player screaming for that treatment in that way, but managing the game is more about egos than talent, I suppose. Perhaps, in what could be his final season in Cleveland the team might be less interested in keeping the player happy, but it is hard to see the team simply eating the last $14.5 million in any case. He has tailored his game to the park where lefties can see the ball really fly out to right field, and he’ll hit enough of them up that way to aggregate some numbers if he is allowed to run that line out all season.

Jason Kipnis

The last hitter worth covering is the outfielder Greg Allen. He looks like a switch-hitter in name only as both his usage and production show a guy better against righties than lefties. Still, stealing 21 of 25 bags in less than half a season should turn some heads, and the team will have opportunity for a guy a solid outfielder that can hold down the long side of a platoon. He didn’t look capable of that over the first half of his season, but more careful management of playing time, and finally showing any effort to walk, allowed him to have a pretty strong close to the season. His good play is masked in his overall line due to how legitimately bad he had been, but there is upside here for fantasy leagues where stolen bases carry disproportionate impact compared to the real game. Simply maintaining something around the average would be absolutely fine. However, if Allen is able to maintain the better walk rate to complement his spray and pray approach then he’ll find himself on first quite a bit more often. Thhen perhaps on second within the next few pitches.

Greg Allen

The numerous deep troughs hint at why the Tribe pitchers were able to put up such dominant numbers, but the dips worse than average are likely what kept them from being amongst the very best in the game. This was very much a traditional pitching staff with several workhorse starters that could shoulder the load. The bullpen was another story with even the good performers prone to shakiness even after a mid-season reload that saw the team add Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. They were more good than bad over the rest of the season, but with few additions this winter the onus will once again be on the starters to go as deep as possible every fifth day, and hope the offense can put up enough to weather the bullpen struggles.

Of the four horseman, Trevor Bauer saw the lightest workload due to the first stint on the Infirmary List in his seven-year career. Though not as silly as cutting a pitching-hand finger playing with a children’s toy days before the biggest starts of his life, the injury was just as fluky as a comebacker caught his ankle full flush causing the veteran starter to miss a little over a month. Despite the missed time he was far-and-away the best starter on the staff due to his starter-high strikeout rate coming with averagey walk rates, and suppressing production upon contact better than any of his illustrious teammates. The punchouts peaked in the middle, but sat fixed around the 30% level for much of the season. He limits hard contact, and despite a smattering of nitro zone pokes he mostly does a good job of avoiding productive contact. The cerebral assassin gets a lot of deserved credit for his ability to make adjustments on the fly, but it belies just how very good he is as a pitcher. These aren’t gimmicks, but nasty stuff, which the numbers back as very much likely to continue.

Trevor Bauer

The second best pitcher on the team was Carlos Carrasco who has put a couple of injury-shortened seasons in the rearview mirror after back to back huge workload years. He strikes out oodles of batters while showing a much better walk rate than the aforementioned Bauer. Unlike Bauer’s ability to generate a plethora of pop ups, Cookie hardly sees any of those, while doing a great job of keeping his contact down. Avoiding the good areas for hitters meant suppressed production on contact, which is something that looks to have gotten even better as the year went along. Add in the strikeout to walk ratio and you’re looking at one of the best pitchers in the game even if he rarely gets included in those conversations. The former looks likely to continue so hopefully at some point the talking heads will catch up to an absolute stud.

Carlos Carrasco

A relatively newer entrant to the Indians’ rotation, Mike Clevinger has battled the walk at times to become another quietly very good starting pitcher in a game where teams have found it harder and harder to produce these types. The walk rate is closer to Bauer than Carrasco, and the strikeouts didn’t get eye-popping outside of a few spurts, but they were still at a strong level. Comparing Clevinger to his stupendous teammates might make him look pedestrian, but compared to the rest of the league he looks like one of the best up-and-comers around. There were a couple spikes in his production around one of his better periods, which may be an indicator of adjustments being made, but the last third of his season shows a guy that was completely dialed in and mowing down opposition batters. With relatively clean recent health history there is little reason to believe Clevy cannot continue to make the adjustments necessary to pitch at the highest level making him a fantastic young player to follow going forward.

Mike Clevinger

On most teams Corey Kluber would be the best pitcher on staff. On the Indians he was fourth best. Saying the Indians have good starters is like saying the ocean has some water. Kluber showed a couple of blips with one early on and one more in the middle, but was otherwise a solidly better than average pitcher. His strikeout rate got rather disgusting down the stretches, but was more often in the average or a little better area. He still doesn’t walk anybody with one run where that was actually true, and he is still very good at suppressing hard contact. When it does come it’s more on the lower trajectories, though like each of these guys the shorter velocity part of the nitro zone did get filled up a bit. It looks like he might have fiddled with more of a pitch-to-contact, sinker-driven approach early on that led to lower launch angle and few walks, whild coinciding with one of his best extended runs. He reverted back to his more standard approach from there, but might be something he messes around with in the future as Klubot might start showing some rust at some point.

Corey Kluber

Late acquisitions or missed time for injury kept the ball in play samples from getting to a graphable level for otherwise stout relievers like Oliver Perez, Brad Hand, Tyler Olson, Andrew Miller and Adam Cimber. Part of that was driven by those pitchers running strikeout rates of 30% or higher aside from Cimber. Their lack of inclusion here does not mean they were not strong contributors, but merely that they did so in smaller samples. However, closer, now Angel, Cody Allen endured a bit of a rocky road mostly due to walking so damn hard. He was never below league average, though consistently not all that far above. That wasn’t much of an issue early on as he was still striking out enough to bail himself out, but later on the walks climbed even higher with a dip in the punchouts. With a third of his plate appearances ending in a walk to first or the dugout he didn’t allow a ton of balls in play, but those he did led to plenty of pop ups. Unfortunately there were also a disproportionate number of pokes and a scattering of balls all over productive liner angles. The actual contact came in a little harder than expected, but not egregiously so. After being well-worn over these past few years Allen looks much more like an average reliever than the fireman he once resembled.

Cody Allen

After repeating AAA to start the season, Shane Bieber eventually made his 2018 debut in the Show, and went on to be a fairly effective starter. The average or better strikeout rate ramped up over the course of the season to solid levels, and he did what he has always one at every level by hardly walking anyone. If it sounds familiar, he’s essentially on the Corey Kluber path including having a less than great fastball that he is able to mask with an ability to pound the zone with good command of several secondaries. Like Kluber, he is likely to continue to improve his pitch usage and getting more selective in the zone so that he doesn’t have to avoid the walk simply by tossing it in there so much. The wonderful gap in strikeouts and walks came at a price, afterall, as his contact allowed was worse than average by a large margin. This manifested as some no doubters, but also a raft of extra base hits between and over outfielders. A more progressive team might view him as a prime candidate for the quick hook to help him dodge those later, tougher matchups, but with how much priority Cleveland puts on having workhorse traditional starters it is likely they let him go to hopefully learn how to be more effective third time through. The division continues to be an absolute dog so there should be little harm in trading some efficiency for life lessons.

Shane Bieber

The bottom two guys were another reason the team stayed out of the upper echelon of pitching units as their giveback essentially nullified the contributions of Carlos Carrasco. Adam Plutko might be able to carve out something of a swingman/spot starter role after mixing some bad with some average last year. The strikeouts aren’t really there, and the walks were around the average, but where he really shined was continually decreasing his exit velocity, which came with a ton of balls in the air. That meant pop ups, good, but you can see the lower bound of the nitro zone well-filled with justified shots. The best thing you can say is that he might be a better version of Josh Tomlin who has since moved on. Tomlin has long varied from acceptably good to cover-your-eyes bad, and this past season was no different. The start was horrific, though things settled down to mostly a little worse than average from there. Plutko looks like a better version of this type of pitcher, and whether that is true or not he will definitely cost less so you can see their decision tree taking shape.

Adam Plutko

Josh Tomlin

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Tyler Naquin

Brandon Guyer

Roberto Perez

Rajai Davis

Neil Ramirez

 

 

 

Dan Otero

 

Zach McAllister

 



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