The Indians’ Strange, Strange Season

Last season, a lot of thing went right for the Cleveland Indians. They won 92 games, appearing in the wild card game against Tampa Bay. Justin Masterson assumed ace status, winning 14 games and posting a 3.45 ERA; Corey Kluber enjoyed a breakout year with 11 wins and a 3.85 ERA; and Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir returned to their old forms in the relatively low-pressure environment at Cleveland. Jimenez and Kazmir were both allowed to walk over the offseason due to the presumption that flamethrowers Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco could step in and contribute. However, things have not gone quite as planned. The Indians currently sit at 24-30, dead last in the American League central division. The record may not be all that bad, but it’s been the performance of some key pieces that has been most distressing for Indians fans.

Instead of thriving as the ace of the staff, Justin Masterson has gotten hammered for a 5.21 ERA in 67 innings, with an alarmingly high 1.54 WHIP. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco have been about as bad as they can be, with a combined record of 1-7 in 76 innings. Instead of carving up batters with an electric fastball, Salazar has gotten hit for 5.53 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP, while opposing batters have hit an eye-popping .301 against him. Tired of seeing batters tee off against him, the Indians front office sent Salazar down to AAA in mid May. Carrasco’s numbers were very similar to Salazar’s before he was delegated to a bullpen role, where he’s enjoyed some success. In light of the above, the one might say that Indians are very fortunate to have a 24-30 record. On the bright side, Corey Kluber has established himself as a very reliable starter, and perhaps even an All-Star. Also, significant contributions have been made by some unlikely sources: Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Scott Atchison, and Josh Outman, keeping the team ERA at only 4.06. The question is: can the Indians still compete?

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Danny Salazar

The Indians have been pretty middle of the pack offensively, which is a plus considering they’ve had almost zero contributions from Jason Kipnis (whom they expected to be a 30-30 kind of hitter), Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Nick Swisher (pictured at the top). Expect Kipnis to bounce back; he has dealt with injuries and has still contributed more runs than league average. Cabrera’s days as an offensive threat appear to be over, while Swisher and Santana are the wild cards. Across the board, Swisher’s contact numbers are virtually identical to last year’s: his line drive/fly ball/ground ball rates are the same as well as his swing rates. The main difference; his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is down to .263, mainly accounting for the discrepancy in batting average. BABIP is one of the most unpredictable stats in baseball, so it very well could jump back up and take batting average with it. Santana has a .171 BABIP, so it’s no wonder that Santana’s average is so low. The alarming thing about Santana is that he’s not hitting with any authority at all; his line drive rate is a meager 11%, while he’s hitting ground balls 50% of the time.

Despite the very low numbers of some of the premier players on the team, the Indians can still contend. The offense will be just fine, but the pitching will have to improve to match the arms of the Tigers and the Royals. Danny Salazar is the X factor; if he pitches well the Indians should have at least 3 very solid starters: Kluber, Masterson (I’m trusting his experience in predicting that he will bounce back) and Salazar. The stem of Salazar’s problems is his velocity; last year his average velocity was a blazing 96 mph, while it has dropped all the way down to 93 this year. Without possessing a great secondary pitch, Salazar is seeing his fastball get annihilated by profession hitters. Indians fans can hope that the diminished velocity was a product of the still relatively cold weather, but we won’t know for sure until he gets called back up.

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