The year, climate, or standing in Major League Baseball is always irrelevant: the Cleveland Indians are a year-round pitching factory.
Kluber was a perennial American League Cy Young Award winner; Carrasco was a consistent top-of-the-rotation force; Bauer was a deceptive right-hander starter; Clevinger was putting the pieces together, pitching like an ace. The four starters became the first pitching quartet in MLB history to individually total 200-plus strikeouts in 2018.
Looking to sport a manageable payroll, the Indians began to wheel and deal from their core last season; they traded Bauer, a free agent after 2020, in July 2019 to the Cincinnati Reds and traded Kluber, who was coming off a season where he broke his arm, in December 2019 to the Texas Rangers.
Meanwhile, Carrasco and Clevinger have each struggled to stay on the field due to injuries in recent memory. For most, if not every team in the sport these collective developments would mark the end of their rotation’s reign. For the Indians, it has sparked a new beginning.
Bieber was a backend starter in 2018. Last season he turned a corner. Recording a 3.28 ERA and 259 strikeouts, Bieber was a force to be reckoned with. He throws an overpowering fastball, gets considerable movement on his curveball, pitches deep into games, and is living up to his top-prospect label.
Across his first two starts of the 2020 season (14 innings), Bieber has surrendered zero earned runs and eight baserunners while striking out 27 batters. He’s the Indians’ new ace.
Plesac wowed with his craftiness last season. He induced weak contact by means of relying on off-speed pitches at a high rate and not giving into hitters. Plesac posted a 3.81 ERA across 21 starts and showcased the ability to take the hill every five games and give the Indians a fighting chance.
In his first start of 2020 Plesac tossed eight scoreless innings while totaling 11 strikeouts and surrendering just three baserunners.
Civale was a late-season development for the Indians, entering manager Terry Francona‘s rotation after Bauer’s departure; Civale thrived. Across 10 starts he recorded a 2.34 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP while pitching through the sixth inning six times.
In a season that has seen starting pitchers take on lesser workloads, Civale’s 12 innings pitched across his first two starts is impressive.
By the way, when healthy, Clevinger and Carrasco are dominant, hard-throwing starters who are ace material; Clevinger has recorded an ERA no higher than 3.11 across a full season in his MLB career; Carrasco provides length and does an exceptional job of keeping runners off the basepaths.
Heck, we could go back to the decade of the 2000s. CC Sabathia was one of the best starters in baseball with the Indians; Cliff Lee gradually grew into one of the most devious pitchers in the sport; Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez was a vibrant starter early on in his MLB career.
Pitching coach Mickey Callaway left the Indians after 2017 to become the manager of the New York Mets. This past offseason Matt Blake, a pitching coordinator and eventual assistant director of pitching development for the Indians, left to become the pitching coach of the New York Yankees. Neither departure has impacted the final score for Cleveland.
The Indians are unique in that they’re rebuilding and competing at the same time. Over the last two years they’ve been gradually trading and/or losing vital players to free agency, both position players and pitchers. Concurrently, some core pieces remain (Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez), and Francona has up-and-coming young players by their side coming off a 93-win season where Kluber and Bauer either weren’t at their best or absent for a prolonged period of time.
Bieber and Plesac are the new Kluber and Bauer. Maybe Civale can mold into some combination of the “veterans” on their staff (Clevinger and Carrasco)?
With great starting pitching comes the chance to compete. Complement that unit with a well-rounded offense and you have a ballclub that can contend for the playoffs even if a big name or two is traded in the regular season (Lindor and Clevinger have come up in trade rumors in recent memory, as they each hit free agency over the next three years).
The Cleveland Indians continue to do what they do best: develop young starters. A trio of 25-year-olds is the new spectacle.