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IBI's 2013 Cleveland Indians Starting Rotation Preview

IBI's 2013 Cleveland Indians Starting Rotation Preview
Ubaldo Jimenez (Photo: Cleveland.com)
February 15, 2013
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Editor's Note: In the interest of keeping things fresh and not bland here at IBI, Jim Piascik and Steve Orbanek decided to preview the 2013 Cleveland Indians in an unconventional way. Steve and Jim sent e-mails back in forth over the past few days -- a la Bill Simmons -- hashing out what they thought about the team in the upcoming season.

Up today, the starting rotation.


Jim Piascik:

Well, onto e-mail chain number three. And they haven't stopped us yet. So there's that. 

So now with the infield and the outfield out of the way, we're moving onto the starting rotation. 

So I've got a serious question. What was the bigger black hole for the team in 2012: left field or the starting pitching? Left field originally looked like the biggest flaw, but I think you'll agree that by the end of the year, the rotation was the biggest mess. 

We really could start anywhere, but let's get it going with the Opening Day starter in 2012, Justin Masterson. The dropoff in stats was staggering: 

2011: 3.21 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 3.64 xFIP, 4.7 fWAR

2012: 4.93 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 4.15 xFIP, 2.3 fWAR

So, what are your thoughts on Masterson?

Steve Orbanek:

I have to say that I was really disappointed with Masterson's performance in 2012. I'm not saying I expect a repeat performance, but I certainly expected something that was a lot better than what we got last year.

I can't really explain what happened last year, but it did at least appear as if command was once again an issue for Masterson. We had seen that earlier in his Major League career, but he seemed to have corrected it during the 2012 season where he walked just 2.7 batters per nine innings. But last year, the walks spiked again, and Masterson issued 3.8 free passes per nine innings.

Considering that 2011 was really the only season where Masterson was able to control his walks, I have to say that I'm somewhat worried moving forward. Let me ask you this Jim. Are you ever worried that Masterson may be too nice? I know it sounds somewhat silly, but he just does not seem like the type of pitcher capable of pitching with a chip on his shoulder. With his stuff, size and makeup, he has everything necessary to be an above-average starter in the Major Leagues. Now, if he could just pitch angry on the mound...

Jim:

I'm not sure how worried I am about how angry he is when he pitches, but the point is 2011 looks like the outlier right now. That was the only year as a starter that his ERA was in line with his peripherals, a worrying trend going forward.

Typically when a pitcher's FIP and xFIP and things like that are lower than his ERA, we can bet on some regression. More often than not in Masterson's career, however, his ERA is significantly higher than his peripherals say it should be.

2009: 42 games (16 starts), 4.52 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 4.00 xFIP

2010: 34 games (29 starts), 4.70 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 3.87 xFIP

2011: 34 games (33 starts), 3.21 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 3.64 xFIP

2012: 34 games (34 starts), 4.93 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 4.15 xFIP

For his career, Masterson has a 4.17 ERA, 3.92 FIP, and 3.94 xFIP. It's not a pronounced effect, but in three out of the last four years, it has predominantly been there.

In the end, I see Masterson as a 4.00 ERA mid-rotation workhorse pitcher. Which is not a bad thing at all, especially after watching the 2012 rotation...

(And, proof that we're doing this live: Michael Bourn! I don't know what to say. Other than our outfield preview just got wildly outdated...)

Steve:

I tend to agree with you Jim. It's amazing to think of how valuable even a 4.00 ERA would have been to last season's rotation. Masterson will certainly be one of the more interesting players on the Indians to follow this year. As long as he does not give us a repeat performance of last season, he could be one of the better members of the 2013 rotation.

Moving on, why don't we talk a little Ubaldo Jimenez. I know it can be painful, but we have to do it sometime, and now seems like as good of a time as any.

But with that being said, where do we begin? Jimenez was not just bad last season - he was horrendous. He led the American league both in losses and wild pitches with 17 and 16 respectively, he allowed a career-high 25 home runs and his ERA of 5.40 was less than spectacular.

He also walked 4.8 batters per nine innings. That's just downright awful. Also, his FIP of 5.06 and xFIP of 4.98 may suggest that his performance should have been a bit better, but not much better. So, where do we go from here? Any hope for Jimenez is 2013?

Jim:

Well, sure there's hope. As in there's hope I can go out and win the lottery later tonight. Expecting that the happen, though, is unlikely.

The history of baseball is littered with the remains of pitchers who suddenly lost whatever it was that made them great. I don't know if Jimenez is secretly hurt, if he has lost his mechanics and can't fix it, or some other thing we're not even thinking about, but whatever it was that made Jimenez an elite pitcher simply is not there anymore.

My hope for Jimenez this year is similar to Masterson's. I want him to make 32 starts and I want his ERA to be in the low fours. If he can pull that off, I will be happy. There is a chance he could rebound back to the ace Cleveland thought they were trading for, but I find that highly unlikely.

There was a time that between Masterson and Jimenez Cleveland looked like it had two top-of-the-rotation starters. I don't think that will ever be the case. Hope for mid-rotation workhorses and nothing more.

And, since we're up against it time-wise, I'll throw it back to you to wrap up on Jimenez and move us along to our next pitcher.

Steve:

I agree with you Jim that the best case scenario is that Jimenez rebounds and becomes more of a middle-of-the-rotation type. Though, even that may be somewhat of a stretch.

If there is a positive in regard to Jimenez, it may be the fact that he still did show glimpses last season on occasion. For instance, consider his run of June 5 to July 7 last season. Over that span, Jimenez made seven starts, posted a 2.93 ERA in 46 innings while striking out 44 and walking 16. This was by far the best stretch of baseball for Jimenez at any time during the 2012 season. Now, if he can have even two months like that instead of one, Jimenez is that much more valuable to the Tribe. It's wishful thinking, but that's all we can hope for now.

Speaking of middle-of-the-rotation types, this seems like a good time to move on to one of the Tribe's free agent signings, Brett Myers. For much of his career, Myers has been an ideal workhorse type, but there are some question marks surrounding him now since he last pitched in the bullpen. So, Jim, what do you think of Myers and what can we expect this year?

Jim:

Well, the last time we saw Brett Myers the starter, he was throwing 216.0 roughly league-average innings with a 4.46 ERA. The year before that, he threw 223.2 innings of well-above average ball with a 3.14 ERA. So our most recent knowledge of Myers as a starting pitcher says decent things, though 2012 throws a monkey wrench in it.

All this referencing to the last time Myers was a starting pitcher would be better if he did not suffer a noticeable dropoff in 2012. Moving to the bullpen typically allows pitchers' stuff to play up, allowing them to rack up more strikeouts. Myers saw his SO/9 fall from 6.67 in 2011 to 5.65 in 2012.

Sure, Myers has his walks pretty well under control, but the lack of strikeouts is troubling.

Additionally, Myers has always had a problem keeping the ball in the park, allowing home runs on 14.2% of fly balls in his career (league average is around 10.5%). Combine a pitcher seemingly losing his strikeout stuff with an inability to keep the ball in the park, throwing in the fact that he is moving from the National League to the American League? Not a pretty combination.

I think that Myers could prove serviceable, eating innings at a roughly league-average level, but there are real warning signs. I loved Cleveland's offseason aggressiveness, but this move puzzles me. I really would have rather had Shaun Marcum at $4 million than Myers at $7 million.

Steve:

Yeah, I agree with you Jim. Not sure really what Myers brings to the table that Marcum does not. Or, do you think that the Indians may be regretting this move considering it's now February 14 and Kyle Lohse remains unsigned?

I like Myers somewhat, but I just do not know about this move. If he were just a couple years older and coming off a strong season as a starter, well, then I'd be all aboard. But as you already alluded to, we've seen his strikeout rate decrease in each of the past two seasons. I suppose I just do not see a pitcher worth $7 million.

However, if we take money out of the equation, I suppose we can conclude that Myers should do at least an average job. Really, I have as much faith in Myers as I do in Masterson, and I certainly have more faith in Myers over Jimenez at this point. Not saying that's a good thing, but it goes to show how Myers should still be considered an upgrade to this staff.

Moving on, I want to touch base on a player that I am actually very excited for heading into 2013: Zach McAllister. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with his 2012 campaign, and I'm looking forward to an even better 2013 season. Your thoughts, Jim?

Jim:

I was impressed as well. For all the well-deserved flack the front office gets over its track record at drafting, they are very good at trades. Casey Blake for Carlos SantanaBen Broussard for Shin-Soo ChooEduardo Perez for Asdrubal Cabrera, and Austin Kearns for Zach McAllister. I know the CC Sabathia trade didn't pan out as well as it could have, but the list is still impressive.

As for McAllister, I really liked him going into 2012 and he didn't really disappoint. With a 4.24 ERA, 4.24 FIP, and 4.11 xFIP in his first full season, McAllister was arguably the best starter on the team last year. Yet, I am not all-in on him going into 2013.

Advanced stats for pitchers are forced to make some assumptions that likely aren't totally true. FIP, for example, probably puts too much blame on defenses when some should be given to the pitcher. In McAllister's case, his peripherals look good, but I wonder about his inability to stop the bleeding after errors.

With 19 of his 78 runs allowed last year being unearned, McAllister really got off easy. If you look at his ERA with those unearned runs added in, it bloats up to 5.60. Now, I don't believe all of those unearned runs should be counted against him, but at some point, the pitcher needs to shut it down.

I really do like McAllister, but to me, he's another back-of-the-rotation inning-eating workhorse. Which really is the theme of the rotation this year. If McAllister can follow the last few guys and post an ERA around 4.00 and pitch 200 innings, I'll be happy.

I don't see any of these four pitchers pitching like top-of-the-rotation guys, but maybe Cleveland can get by if they all are close to average.

Steve:

I hear what you're saying in regard to McAllister, and I also agree that he is ultimately nothing more than mid-rotation guy. However, I also think he can be a great middle-of-the-rotation type. 

His peripherals suggest that his year last season was in line with what should have been suspected, and I think that alone is a pretty good sign. A low 4.24 ERA may not seem like much, but it was especially nice on last year's club. However, let's move past peripherals for a moment and touch on this guy's pure stuff. It's good. Real good.

Perhaps it might be nice to see a little more movement on his fastball but for a guy that was thought to be nothing more than backend guy, McAllister can really bring some heat. On many occasions, I saw him top 96 mph last year, and his fastball seemed to sit between 92-94 mph. However, the most encouraging part of McAllister's game is the fact that he struck out 7.9 batters per nine innings in 125 1/3 innings of work. Overall, McAllister recorded 110 strikeouts and 38 walks.

Personally, I think this is an area where we can see continued growth this year. Remember, this is not Josh Tomlin we're talking about. McAllister is a big strong guy, and he knows how to reach back and dial up the velocity. I really think we could be looking at a guy who could post a 3.70-4.00 ERA this year with 200 innings and 175 strikeouts. That's one heckuva middle-of-the-rotation type and certainly a nice gain from the Kearns trade.

Moving on though, I suppose it's time we touch on the final member of our rotation. But the question remains: Who is going to win the spot? As of now, it seems as if Carlos CarrascoTrevor BauerDaisuke MatsuzakaScott KazmirCorey Kluber and David Huff (not really) are in the conversation. So, who do you give the edge to?

Jim:

I know that the prevailing thought right now is that it will be Bauer or Carrasco, but I'm going to go the opposite way. I think that it'll end up being one of the non-roster invitees, either Kazmir or Matsuzaka.

I know it's not the sexy choice, but that seems to be the way things typically go in Cleveland. Bauer can certainly use more seasoning in AAA to refine his delivery and command, so I do think he starts the year in the minors. Carrasco has a good shot at the Opening Day rotation, yet I can't shake the feeling that Cleveland finds some way to bring him along slowly.

As for Kazmir and Matsuzaka, neither of them have any recent success, but one of them could get a chance to recapture their magic. Kazmir reportedly has regained his velocity, which could fix the issues that nearly drove him from the game. Matsuzaka looked bad last year, but he'll be even more removed from Tommy John surgery in 2013, bringing hope that he will pitch better. He'll also be reunited with Francona, for whatever that's worth.

My money's on Matsuzaka out of the gate right now, though I do think it's an open competition. So I took the retreads; do you want to take the sexier options?

Steve:

Well, at this point I think I have go with Carrasco simply for the fact that the Indians made it clear that he would be unrestricted this spring. Though I also tend to agree that the Indians may ultimately decide to bring him along slowly. However, at this point, I'll take the team's word for it, which is why I'm going with Carrasco.

So, what can we expect from Carrasco? Well, in 2011, before undergoing Tommy John surgery, Carrasco posted   a 4.62 ERA in 124 2/3 innings of work to go along with 80 strikeouts and 40 walks. The numbers are not perfect by any means, but his peripherals were a bit better (4.28 FIP, 4.07 xFIP), and I certainly think he seemed to be a pitcher that was becoming more confident as the season wore on.

Also, maybe we can now expect Carrasco to come back better than before. We have seen so many instances where a pitcher gains more velocity following Tommy John surgery, and it would be great if that were the case with Carrasco. While he's not there yet, I think most fans ultimately hope that Carrasco can eventually develop into a No. 2 starter. This season may be an important one to determine if he's up to the task.

So, with that said, it seems as if we're kind of starting to wrap up this rotation preview (unless of course the Indians pull a fast one on us and sign Kyle Lohse). So, what do you think Jim? What can we expect from this rotation moving forward?

Personally, I think the rotation is still the obvious weakness of this club. If Masterson and Jimenez rebound, then the entire complexion of the rotation changes, but that's a big if. I think more and more about this rotation and this is what I realize. At this point, I have the most faith in Zach McAllister. While it's nice that I think so highly of McAllister, I also realize that this is almost assuredly not a good thing...

Jim:

I agree. It's likely a rotation of decent pitchers, but without much real upside. Ideally, the rotation won't lose the team too many games, but it won't win too many either.

People can complain, but I'm glad the front office did it this way. Free agent pitching is typically a much worse investment than free agent position players. The offense/defense was upgraded immensely; now we just hope the rotation can improve enough to not ruin everything.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

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

User Comments

Jwahoo
February 16, 2013 - 3:41 PM EST
You know the biggest upgrade to our Pitching Staff this season was actually a combo of Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, and Mike Aviles.

These guys should have a significant impact on the defense. The new outfield should really help Ubaldo and Meyers. I would start Aviles at SS when Masterson is on the mound.

The Tribe also improved the bullpen this offseason and I think having a deep and talented bullpen can take ALOT of pressure off of a rotation. Here are some names Perez, Hagadone, Smith, Peastano, Huff, Barnes, Shaw, Albers, Capps, Lee, Allen, Hermann, Kazmir, Hill, Wood, Langwell, Adams and Bryson. Deep bulllpen that should help make up for a suspect rotation.

Then the roation itself has been upgraded. I think Masterson will pitch better this year and will be helped by adding Aviles. I think Ubaldo will pitch better as well and be aided by the very strong outfield defense. Then you add in anther guy like Brett Meyers who could be a Dave Burba or Jake Westbrook type. That gives us 3 starters who can be middle of the rotation types. Plus, like the article said Zach McCalister could be ready to turn into a very good mid rotation starter himself. So basically we could have 4 mid rotation starters.

That leaves one open spot with some interesting names to fill it. Carrasco is the best option as he has the stuff to be a front of the rotation guy. Trevor Bauer also has the stuff to be a top front of the rotation starter. Scott Kazmir used to be a FOR starter and is said to feel like he is back on track. Having him actually pitch like he used to would be HUGE. Carrasco could then just take over for whoever in the rotation is not working out.

There are a few other depth names out there as well. Dice K might be able to pitch like a middle of the rotation starter now that he has healed from TJ. Corey Kluber, David Huff and Josh Tomlin offer other depth options that could fill the 5th rotation slot if need be.

Seth
February 15, 2013 - 1:42 PM EST
It's not surprising that Masterson's ERA is consistently worse than his peripherals with the defense he's had behind him. When he was with Boston, his ERA was better than his FIP. With Cleveland, it's been worse. Cleveland has been one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. Last year, Masterson's velocity was the main factor, I think. He didn't have a normal offseason with the left shoulder surgery and was coming off of a big innings increase, hopefully without these factors the velocity and results bounce back.

Myers was the one signing this year that I disliked at the time and I still dislike it. Seemed like an overpay at the time and now seems like an even bigger overpay. Hopefully he can at least earn his contract by being an "innings eater."
James
February 15, 2013 - 1:12 PM EST
I think the FO is building for next year. I think the line-up and bullpen are ready to compete for a playoff spot (probably wild-card) but we are at least 2 and possibly 3 starters away as of today. They completed the line-up this off-season then can sort out what we have in our starting pitching this season and fill in the rotation gaps either mid-year or in the off-season. I like it though, I see a direction and reason for hope and if things break our way (Baeur, Masterson) maybe we only need one or maybe 2 starters. And I can't wait to watch this outfield play defense.

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