When four of a team’s five starting pitchers start at least 30 or more games and compile at least 170 strikeouts, it’s facile to conclude that the team was genuinely healthy and performing well. Both applied to the Cleveland Indians last season; however, the Indians were overlooked and seemingly misplaced during many conversations pertaining to the top starting rotations in baseball.
Cleveland’s starting rotation is captained by 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, thrower of 222 innings in 2015. A unique characteristic of Kluber is his heavy pitch arsenal, which includes a four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, breaking ball, and changeup. Kluber’s breaking ball (some call it a curve, while others call it a slider) is flat-out nasty. He registered 95 strikeouts with the pitch last year, allowing just a .139 batting average against the pitch. Kluber led Cleveland’s staff with 245 whiffs last season and ranked third in the AL.
Carlos Carrasco would be the frontline starting pitcher on many other major-league pitching staffs, and he certainly possesses the tools it takes to be one. Of the 730 batters that Carrasco faced in 183.2 innings last season, 216 were struck out. Carrasco maintained a 1.05 WHIP that ranked him fourth in the AL in that department behind teammate Kluber, Marco Estrada, and Dallas Keuchel.
Similar to Carrasco, Danny Salazar could be the number-one man for many teams’ starting rotations. He, too, has the tools to do that. Opponents batted .226 off of Salazar last season, just nine points higher than the collective .217 batting mark that Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young Award recipient, held his opposition to. Salazar began the 2015 season in Triple-A before being recalled in mid-April, though being that he made 30 starts in the majors last season may persuade you from the fact that he spent the season’s first couple of weeks in the minors.
The fourth spot in Cleveland’s rotation belongs to Trevor Bauer. In 2015, his second year as a full-time starter, Bauer’s walk rate and the total of home runs he allowed trended in an unfavorable direction. In 23 more innings than the previous season, Bauer surrendered nineteen more walks and seven more home runs. Nevertheless, not all things went south with Bauer. He allowed 152 hits in 176 innings of work last season — one more hit than he allowed in 153 innings in 2014 — and upped his strikeout total from 143 to 170.
The fifth and final spot in Cleveland’s rotation is currently up for grabs. Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson are the leading contenders for the job. The 31-year-old Tomlin posted a 0.84 WHIP in 65.2 innings last season, and Anderson, 25, went 7-3 in his first fifteen career starts. T.J. House and Michael Clevinger are also options.
Perhaps this offseason allowed the game’s spectators a chance to observe Cleveland’s rotation more in-depth than they might have in the midst of the 2015 season. Shall the Indians flirt with the postseason for the first time since 2013, it will likely be the result of their starting rotation taking their collective game to an even higher level. That could make this stellar rotation impossible to ignore for much longer.