Offseason Grades: Cleveland Indians

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Credit: Jason Miller / Getty Images

Category: Starting Pitching

Grade: A

Starting Pitching is clearly the Cleveland Indians’ strength. If the season were to start today, the five-man rotation would be Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Cody Anderson. Josh Tomlin would be the first man up should a player get injured. Last year, Tomlin pitched 65.2 innings, had a 3.02 ERA and struck out 57 batters in 10 starts. The real strength for Tomlin was his WHIP though, which was 0.87. Allowing less than one base-runner per inning in Major League Baseball after missing the first half of the season with a shoulder injury–that’s pure dominance.

Tomlin, who’s 31, is the oldest starter out of the six named for the Cleveland Indians. The bottom of the rotation is riddled with young talent. Bauer is just 24 and Salazar and Anderson are both 25–meanwhile Kluber, 29, and Carrasco, 28, are in their prime at the top of the rotation.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Kluber won the Cy Young in 2014, but dropped off in 2015. He finished the year at 9-16 after going 18-9 and logged a 3.49 ERA the year after having a career-low 2.44 ERA. These numbers really don’t say everything about Kluber’s performance last season though. Kluber logged a quality start in 19 of the 32 games he started and had a WHIP of 1.05–.04 lower than his Cy Young-winning season. In fact, Kluber had more quality starts than starts where he pitched less than six innings, he only went under six, six times, two of which came directly after returning from the DL in mid-August.

Carrasco pitched his first full season for the Indians and maintained a high level of success. He finished 14-12 with a 3.63 ERA and struck out over 200 batters for the first time in his career. Opponents hit .228 against him and he was able to maintain a 1.07 WHIP. Although he threw more than 800 pitches more than his previous career high, Carrasco showed that he finally had the ability to make it through an entire season with a blistering August where he pitched 30.2 innings and maintained a 1.47 ERA–one of the top ERA’s in the league that month, near Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta. Carrasco’s greatest attribute over the course of the season was his pitching on the road, where the Indians won more games than at home. Carrasco was 9-4 in 15 games started while notching three complete games, one shutout and a 2.49 ERA. He also limited opponents to a .179 batting average while maintaining a 0.87 WHIP.

 On the other end of the spectrum, Salazar was electric at home. The fireballer went 7-2 in 12 games in front of the fans at Progressive Field. He struck out 85 batters compared to allowing just 61 hits in 76 innings pitched. Salazar’s average four-seam fastball came across the plate screaming close to 96 miles per hour according to MLB.com, although he has cleaned up his throwing motion since entering the league two seasons ago, he has not sacrificed velocity. Expect velocity to continue to increase as Salazar continues to reach his prime. Not only will velocity increase, but the young player has grown exponentially mentally. He has overthrown the ball significantly less in tight scenarios and statistically has improved, throwing 65 percent of his pitches for strikes, which was two percent higher than 2014. In 2014 when runners were in scoring position, Salazar allowed 23 hits with opponents batting .288 against him, which resulted in 42 earned runs in 22.1 innings pitched. In 2015, he was in the situation more, pitching 30 innings with runners in scoring position, but allowed one less hit, 22, struck out 36 batters compared to 22 and held opponents to 40 earned runs while batting just .204.

One of the most intelligent young pitchers in Major League baseball tends to beat himself by trying to do too much. That pitcher is Bauer. In a career-high 176 innings pitched, Bauer struck out 170 batters and kept a near-.500 record. Bauer’s problem came near the end of the season. In September, he pitched in four games, three of which he started, and made it through only 12.1 innings. Bauer surrendered 16 hits and nine walks and 13 of those would come in to score, thus leading to a 9.49 ERA for the month. Entering June, Bauer had a sub-3.00 ERA through 63.2 innings pitched and had a 4-2 record to go along with a 1.3 strikeout to hit ratio. Bauer will start 2016 deeper in the rotation with a stronger line-up behind him. If he can make it through the mental grind of a 162-game season, he can be a star–particularly for a fourth rotational pitcher.

Despite all the great story lines in the Indians rotation, the most intriguing pitcher in the rotation has to be Cody Anderson. Anderson graduated from a junior college as a reliever, who had a 2.21 ERA through 25 games and was picked up by the Indians after committing to Texas Christian University. He became a mid-season all-star for the A-affiliate of the Indians, the Lake County Captains in 2012. Fast-forward to 2014. Anderson was called up to the Akron Rubber Ducks, a AA-affiliate of the Indians and he finished 4-11 with a 5.44 ERA.

In 2015, Anderson started 10 games for the Rubber Ducks, compiled a 3-2 record to go along with a 1.73 ERA before he moved up to AAA with the Columbus Clippers. Anderson didn’t stay in Columbus long, he pitched three games and made his major league debut June 21 with the Indians. His first two games were against the Tampa Bay Rays and he pitched 15.2 innings, struck out six batters, allowed eight hits and only one run. That run came off of a Grady Sizemore home run to break up a perfect game for the rookie in the bottom of the seventh inning. Anderson struggled with injuries in the middle of the season, but finished strong starting six games in September. In that month, he compiled a 5-0 record to go along with a 1.38 ERA in 39 innings pitched. His performance in the month was overshadowed by Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, who had a historic month, starting five games and allowing just two earned runs in 40 innings pitched while guiding the Cubs to a wild-card berth in the playoffs.

The individual pieces are there, but this rotation’s success was part of an outstanding group effort. The Indians led the league in complete games with 11. The next closest teams were the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants, all of whom had seven. Cleveland finished third in major league baseball in quality starts with 91, behind The White Sox and Houston Astros, who had 98 and 94, respectively. As a team, the Indians had a 1.19 WHIP in 2015, which is 0.10 lower than the average MLB team. Finally, the team is exciting to watch. Cleveland had a 3.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio and averaged 8.84 strikeouts per nine innings, which are 0.61 and 1.08 above the league average. If Cleveland is successful in 2016, it will all start with the rotation.

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