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Get Lucky: The 2013 Cleveland Indians year-in-review

Using Daft Punk's Get Lucky to put the year in Cleveland baseball in perspective

Get Lucky: The 2013 Cleveland Indians year-in-review
January 1, 2014
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What Cleveland fan is not happy about the way 2013 turned out? Going from a 68-win mess in 2012 to a playoff-bound 92-win team in 2013 was nothing short of amazing. A series of great moves in the offseason spurred the turnaround, but with any change that big, a little luck comes into play.

Last year, I used Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon to recap 2012. This year, we're going more modern with Rolling Stone's #1 single of the year, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky."

It takes some luck to win 92 games. It never feels like it in Cleveland (paging the Three Stooges), but in 2013, the baseball side of things got lucky. So sit back, enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Like the legend of the phoenix

How many different ways could we describe this 2013 team as a phoenix?

  • Going from 68 wins to 92. That's a big one. 
  • Scott Kazmir rising from the ashes of the Sugar Land Skeeters to 158.0 innings of major league pitching with a 4.04 ERA, 3.51 FIP, and 2.5 fWAR. 
  • Jason Giambi going from someone on his way out of the league to an elder statesman and clubhouse glue guy. His stats on the year weren't all that good, but he did electrify Progressive Field. 

There are more, but we'll save those for later.

All ends with beginnings

Straight from the beginning, Nick Swisher set the tone for the season with his introductory press conference. What a way to start the season.

The other way of looking at the phrase "all ends with beginnings" is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • At the beginning of 2013 the Asdrubal Cabrera trade talk was in a high fever pitch. Granted, it was less than before the Trevor Bauer trade, but it was still there. Fast-forward to today, and after a rough .242/.299/.402 season with 0.6 fWAR, fans still want him gone.
  • Speaking of Bauer, last year all fans were waiting for Bauer to step into the rotation and be the ace Cleveland needed. This year, everyone is still waiting on Bauer to be a major-league pitcher. The right-hander overhauled his mechanics last year, something that hopefully will be better in year two.
  • Same goes for Carlos Carrasco. Cleveland is still waiting for him to establish himself as a major-league pitcher.
  • Another young player expected to establish himself in 2013 was Lonnie Chisenhall. As it turns out, the third baseman struggled to a .225/.270/.398 line and 0.5 fWAR, leaving the position still up in the air. Carlos Santana is experimenting at third base in winter ball, which is all you need to know about the state of the position.

What keeps the planet spinning (uh)
The force of love beginning

What kept the Cleveland baseball planet spinning more than Terry Francona? The connection (force of love?) between Francona, Chris Antonetti, and Mark Shapiro was the core of 2013's turnaround. Francona's addition to this team really set the organization on a good path, something that was ultimately acknowledged with Francona winning the Manager of the Year award.

The offseason hasn't been very eventful so far, but I know I expect Francona and company to make it work. Just like last year.

(Look)
We've come too far to give up who we are

This one goes out to the spring training Harlem Shake video. Personally, I think that the clubhouse chemistry aspect of building a team is a little overrated -- it is more important to get good baseball players -- but having that chemistry does help. Clearly this team liked each other…

So let's raise the bar and our cups to the stars

Who raised the bar in 2013?

  • Jason Kipnis for sure. Nothing like your first All-Star appearance. 

  • Justin Masterson turned himself into one of the best pitchers in the American League following a so-so 2012 season, also earning an All-Star nomination.
  • And, certainly, Ubaldo Jimenez. His insane stretch in the second half carried the team while Masterson was on the disabled list. Jimenez is still a free agent and could find his way back to Cleveland, but if he does make his money elsewhere in 2014, he certainly raised his game and was a key factor in getting Cleveland into the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

She's up all night 'til the sun
I'm up all night to get some
She's up all night for good fun
I'm up all night to get lucky

Back to the luck theme.

You can't tell me anyone knew how good Yan Gomes was going to be in 2013. In only 88 games, Gomes posted a .294/.345/.481 line with a 131 wRC+ and the second-highest fWAR on the team at 3.7. Sometimes things work out better than you had any right to expect. That was Gomes' 2013 season in a nutshell.

We're up all night 'til the sun
We're up all night to get some
We're up all night for good fun
We're up all night to get lucky

Michael Bourn did not have the best season, but even getting someone with that ability took luck. It took a new Collective Bargaining Agreement creating the qualifying offer that stifled Bourn's market, a protected pick for Cleveland, and a willingness to take a leap of faith on a speedy outfielder with some strikeout issues. We will see how Bourn bounces back in 2014, but either way, he was a decent player in 2013 that Cleveland needed some luck to get.

We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky

Last one for now: much like Gomes, Corey Kluber was a fringy starter and depth option heading into the season. Now he is a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter with some potential upside. Kluber's 3.10 xFIP is significantly above-average and could be pointing toward an even better 2014. Obviously Kluber put the work in to get better like that, but in terms of Cleveland's improvements, it was also lucky that it worked out as well as it did.

The present has no ribbon

Cleveland's July trade acquisition and free agent signings this offseason have not knocked anyone's socks off (aka have no ribbon), but they all have some pretty decent upside.

  • Left-hander Marc Rzepczynski owned a 7.84 ERA in 10.1 innings with the Cardinals, but his 4.02 FIP foretold better results in Cleveland. Rzepczynski owned a 0.89 ERA in 20.1 innings down the stretch, which solidified the bullpen and gave Francona a southpaw option in relief.
  • Signing David Murphy to a two-year, $12 million contract could end up paying off as the outfielder replaces Drew Stubbs in right field. Murphy had a down 2013 season, but that looks more like a blip than a real decline. Given the inflation of salaries, a $6 million annual average value for a solid outfielder is not all that bad.
  • John Axford looks a little bit like Chris Perez 2.0, but he could be another bounce back candidate. Plus, Axford has three years of team control ahead, throws hard, and was relatively cheap; what more could you want out of a free agent reliever?
  • Shaun Marcum could ultimately be the second coming of Kazmir, though it is important not to assume success from minor league signings. A few years ago Cleveland never seemed to hit on these fliers, but now that Kazmir worked so well, I think a signing like Marcum's is being overvalued a little bit. Still, this is the kind of high-upside, no-risk deal that could really help Cleveland in 2014.
  • Another not-so-shiny trade that could pay dividends was the Stubbs-for-Josh Outman swap. Outman has the look of a classic LOOGY, but given the state of left-handed relief in the organization, that could end up being quite useful for a contending team in 2014. Stubbs had not proven to be anything but replaceable -- in fact, the front office did replace him with the Murphy signing -- and was traded for something instead of being non-tendered. Another small but practical acquisition.

Your gift keeps on giving,

What do I consider the gift that keeps on giving? How about those consistent players that day-in and day-out, season-in and season-out, turn in reliable performances that made this 2013 team successful.

  • The biggest player in this category would be Carlos Santana. Even beyond the .268/.377/.455 line with 3.6 fWAR, Santana moved aside when Gomes took over the catching job and continued to hit while shifting to first base and designated hitter. Then he volunteered to hone his third base skills in winter ball to continue to help the team. Not only does Santana have the on-base ability to be valuable anywhere, no one can accuse him of being selfish or not a team player. Santana is absolutely one of the best players on this team.
  • Michael Brantley spent 2013 continuing to build his perfect brand of productivity. Brantley really is just an average hitter (his slash line normalized, with 100 as average, was 112/104/100 and his wRC+ is 104), but that has so much value in the majors. A player like Brantley lets a team just lock in one position and not have to worry about it. Cleveland has needs this offseason, but left field is definitely not one thanks to Brantley.
  • Mike Aviles suffered through some bad BABIP luck in 2013 (.257), but with a strong ability to avoid strikeouts, the utility infielder should rebound in 2014. He is still best served coming off of the bench, but in that role, Aviles has real value to this team.

What is this I'm feeling?
If you wanna leave I'm ready (ah)

A few players were ready to leave Cleveland following the season. No one should blame the front office for letting Joe Smith sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; a small-market team cannot really spend that money on a reliever.

The contract Kazmir signed was potentially more acceptable, but ultimately that is a lot of money for someone who was out of baseball in 2012. Kazmir is not a guarantee, and while he would have looked good in the 2014 rotation, he felt ready to leave.

Cleveland willingly let a few other players go throughout 2013, including Brett Myers (8.02 ERA, -0.7 fWAR in 21.1 IP), Mark Reynolds (who cooled down after a hot start to end with a .215/.307/.373 line and a -0.3 fWAR before being released), and Jason Kubel (who posted a .167/.348/.222 line and -0.1 fWAR in eight games after being acquired for Matt Langwell in an August trade).

The biggest release, however, came in the form of former closer Chris Perez. Perez may have saved 25 games in 2013, but he owned a 4.33 ERA, -0.9 fWAR, a well-publicized marijuana arrest and conviction, and was ultimately given a pink slip following the season. The release was largely based on how much Perez would have made through arbitration, but given his decline throughout the season, Cleveland might not have wanted the right-hander back regardless of cost.

We've come too far to give up who we are

As a whole, the fanbase does not know the names of Austin AdamsJesus AguilarErik GonzalezCarlos Moncrief, and Bryan Price, but these five minor leaguers were added to the 40-man roster following the season. All of them (save maybe Gonzalez) could play a part in Cleveland during 2014, but so far, they are relatively unknown. For most, these five will be a surprise when they are called up midseason, much like Danny Salazar in 2013.

So let's raise the bar and our cups to the stars

Overall, the 2013 season comes back to soaking in that this team made the playoffs one year after looking completely lost. Sure, it did not end well, but why not raise a cup to how the fanbase felt during the start of the playoff game? Listen to the roar during the first inning:

What a feeling. No matter what happens in 2014 and beyond, Cleveland will always have the 2013 season, which involved hosting a playoff game. Even if the game ended with a loss, that is still much better than 2012.

She's up all night 'til the sun
I'm up all night to get some
She's up all night for good fun
I'm up all night to get lucky

To wrap up this piece, let's end with a few more "lucky" events from 2013.

First, the hiring of pitching coach Mickey Callaway and what he accomplished. Callaway has a "pitcher whisperer" reputation now -- which is probably a little extreme -- but he did do an amazing job last year. He is credited with fixing Jimenez, which was no small job considering the right-hander's 2012 season and the state of his mechanics. Maybe he will continue fixing pitchers in 2014, but either way, hiring Callaway -- who was not Francona's first choice -- was definitely a stroke of luck for Cleveland.

We're up all night 'til the sun
We're up all night to get some
We're up all night for good fun
We're up all night to get lucky

As someone who covered the Akron Aeros (now the Akron RubberDucks), the emergence of Danny Salazar was not a surprise to me. Since most people do not closely follow the minor leagues, however, Salazar becoming a sensation upon being called up amazed the fanbase. You never know how a minor leaguer will respond to the big leagues, but Salazar clearly took a liking to it.

Sure it ended poorly, but very few pitchers strike out Miguel Cabrera, the two-time reigning AL MVP. I will take that as a win overall and a sign of what to expect from Salazar going forward; he has the makings of an ace.

We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky

Ten-game winning streaks do not happen without a little luck. Since Cleveland avoided the play-in game by one game, I would say that 10-game winning streak to end the season was pretty lucky. Obviously Cleveland was a good team, but the timing was absolutely perfect.

(We're up all night to get
We're up all night to get
We're up all night to get
We're up all night to get)

(We're up all night to get (together)
We're up all night to get (let's get funked again)
We're up all night to get funky
We're up all night to get lucky)

Cleveland's depth in recent years has been suspect, but the Goon Squad made sure that was not the case in 2013. The bench filled in well all year as Aviles, Giambi, Gomes, and Ryan Raburn all performed well. It takes a little luck to put together a good bench -- by definition these guys are not the best as they are not good enough to be full-time starters -- but the front office pulled it off last year.

(We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky)

Raburn, in particular, was especially lucky. Detroit let him go following a .171/.226/.254 line and -1.5 fWAR in 2012. Cleveland picked him up and got a .272/.357/.543 line and 2.5 fWAR. And this highlight.

Raburn was rewarded with a two-year, $4.75 million extension midseason. That is good money for a bench bat for both sides and should allow Francona to continue putting Raburn in positions to succeed in 2014.

(We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky)

Matt Carson was a depth outfielder in Triple-A all year, but after getting a September callup, his walk off single against Houston kept Cleveland winning down the stretch. It takes luck to make the playoffs and Carson's walk off is a prime example of that.

We've (we're up all night to get lucky)
Come too far (we're up all night to get lucky)
To give up (we're up all night to get lucky)
Who we are (we're up all night to get lucky)
So let's (we're up all night to get lucky)
Raise the bar (we're up all night to get lucky)
And our cups (we're up all night to get lucky)
To the stars (we're up all night to get lucky)

The bullpen was not an overall strength for Cleveland in 2013 and including struggles from Vinnie Pestano, the heir apparent to the closer role, but the triumvirate of Smith, Cody Allen, and Bryan Shaw did quite well. Smith may be gone, but Allen and Shaw both seem likely to continue dominating in 2014. Building a bullpen takes a ton of luck, but Allen and Shaw are good pieces to have in place.

Plus, Allen gave us the Rally Chicken. Which may or may not have snapped the team out of a slump. Okay, it was almost certainly a coincidence, but it was still fun.

She's up all night 'til the sun
I'm up all night to get some
She's up all night for good fun
I'm up all night to get lucky

Like Carson and Salazar, Jose Ramirez's callup was not expected to give a massive spark to the team, but Ramirez just could not help himself in his first start.

I followed Ramirez at Akron all year and was at his first big league. He is not a big guy and does not have the prototypical tools of a major leaguer, but Ramirez makes things happen. Like in that clip above.

We're up all night 'til the sun
We're up all night to get some
We're up all night for good fun
We're up all night to get lucky

It does not feel lucky to have two starting pitchers -- Kluber and Zach McAllister -- suffer finger injuries, but given that both came back to pitch in the same season, I am putting them here. The jury is still out on if their long-term futures were affected by the injury, but for now, it is better than Adam Miller's outcome. Those finger injuries are both scary, yet with Kluber and McAllister both finishing the year on the mound, it could have been much worse.

We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky
We're up all night to get lucky (x2)

Our final "lucky" event was the drafting of Clint Frazier. Sure, we will not know for many years whether or not Frazier will make it or if he was the right pick, but it was still a pretty shocking selection. Many expected Cleveland to get conservative with its pick -- something that might have contributed to the poor drafts of the mid-2000s -- but the front office got aggressive with Frazier. IBI's fearless leader Tony Lastoria believes in Frazier and thinks he is the real deal, and if Frazier becomes everything he is supposed to be, his selection might be the luckiest event of 2013.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@kent.edu

User Comments

Jim Piascik
January 2, 2014 - 8:34 AM EST
Thanks Tony! This was fun to write, just like the Dark Side piece last year. :)

As for Asdrubal, I feel like the opposite is actually true. I'm in the camp of thinking 2013 was a down year and an outlier for him and wrote as such recently.

http://www.indiansbaseballinsider.com/blog/asdrubal-cabrera,-plate-discipline,-and-bouncing-back-59074

Most fan comments and reader mailbag questions I've seen, though, deal with getting rid of Cabrera. That was what I based it off of. I also stuck on the Jimenez bandwagon until April (right before his turnaround, of course. Lol) and still see the upside in Bauer and Bourn.

I think the statistical, sabr-type thinking sometimes gets too much of a bad rap. Sure, the goal is to be grounded, but most of us (and I think all of us at IBI) build in the proper skepticism of the numbers and allow for upside (and downside). Everyone who deals with these stats understands that projections are the most likely outcome, though that outcome comes with massive error bars.
Norm
January 1, 2014 - 11:24 PM EST
Enjoyable column Jim but a little off base with the comments about AsCab from my perspective. Citing "Cleveland Indian fans" is rather pointless since 2013 demonstrated very clearly that Cleveland has very few fans who buy tickets. It also demonstrated that he was easily in the top half of SSs in ML baseball with his bat by any measure. Mostly, it is IBI who is so upset by AsCab just like they were with UJ. Sometimes you have to accept that players will have "down" years but that does not necessarily mean they are bad players. IBI seems to have lost the ability to evaluate players by talent and upside and seems to have settled for an attempt to evaluate by statistical measures only. That only works if you understand the relevance and limitations of that approach which seems so be missing in the evaluations of UJ, AsCab, Bourn and others. It seems a shame since those "lucky" picks like "frazier", "lindor" and the "bauer" trade may be the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time and assessing the potential accurately.
Tony
January 1, 2014 - 11:11 PM EST
Incredible piece Jim. I was gone all day and did not read your piece until now. Wow! You may have outdid yourself after last year's very impressive Dark Side of the Moon effort!
DJ
January 1, 2014 - 1:40 PM EST
Jim, that was great. Very creative. Hopefully, your look back on the 2014 season is set to the classic anthem "Cleveland Rocks" !
Jim Piascik
January 1, 2014 - 12:07 PM EST
Thanks for the kind words shy. :) Happy New Year to you too!
shy
January 1, 2014 - 11:53 AM EST
Wow !!! Uniquely inspired effusion of music/culture baseball revelry- it just grabs you and takes you. I can't remember ever having so much fun reading a baseball column, and I go all the way back to Hal Lebovitz. Legacy type production Jim. Thank you sooo much! Happy New Year everybody!

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