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Orbiting Cleveland: The rotation has a huge hole

The internal options should not be used to fill the fifth spot in the Tribe's rotation

Orbiting Cleveland: The rotation has a huge hole
January 3, 2014
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Where is help when you need it?

That has to be a popular question amongst the Cleveland Indians front office right now.

After going 92-70 in 2013, the Indians are winners. Now how will they find a way to stay winners in the year to come?

That's not an easy task, and it becomes even more difficult when you realize what the team must replace. They've already lost left-hander Scott Kazmir to free agency, and it seems as if there's a good chance that Ubaldo Jimenez will be gone too.

That's not good.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Tribe cannot afford to lose Jimenez simply because of his contributions to the team last season. After all, who would want to lose a pitcher who went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA?

That issue is compounded by the fact that the Indians already lost Kazmir, who signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Oakland A's this past offseason. Kazmir was no slouch himself in 2013 and went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA.

It's not easy to replace performances like that, but it can be done, especially if a team has capable replacements available. Yet, that's where things get somewhat dreary when predicting a forecast for the Indians' 2014 season — the Tribe has nothing of the sort.

As it stands, the Tribe's starting rotation figures to be Justin MastersonDanny SalazarCorey Kluber and Zach McAllister. If all four of those pitchers stay healthy, that is a formidable bunch. Salazar and Masterson both have top-of-the-rotation upside while Kluber can be a competent third and McAllister is a solid four.

However, beyond those four pitchers, there is a gaping hole, and it's a hole that could prove troublesome for the Indians in 2014.

For now, it appears as if the fifth member of the Indians' starting rotation will be one of the following individuals: Josh TomlinCarlos CarrascoTrevor Bauer or Shaun Marcum.

I'll be blunt — that's a mistake.

There is no way that anyone can reasonably expect to replace 23 wins with the contingent of pitchers listed above. These pitchers might make good insurance policies should one of the main rotation members go down with an injury, but they should not be trusted to be in the rotation from Opening Day.

That's another concern that needs to be addressed — injuries. Three of the four starters penciled in to be a part of the 2014 rotation spent time on the disabled list in 2013. The other one is still basically a rookie. In other words, injuries could and likely will happen.

If Tomlin, Carrasco, Bauer and Marcum were just penciled in as possible injury replacements, then that would be fine. All of the four are probably more than capable of handling a spot start here or there.

Yet, one of these four pitchers is supposed to be counted on to fill a major hole in the rotation, and that's just not a sound strategy. All four of the pitchers have some concerns, and you just cannot count on one of them to step up and replace Jimenez's and Kazmir's production.

Take Josh Tomlin, for example.

Some may point to him as one of the best candidates to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. That seems to be a reasonable argument considering that Tomlin was solid in 2011 when he went 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA in 26 starts.

Yet, let's take a closer look at that season.

In the second half, Tomlin's numbers took a significant turn for the worse. His ERA ballooned to 5.26, and his home run to fly ball ratio rose to 14.1 percent after it was just 9.1 percent in the first half.

This has been an area where Tomlin has struggled significantly throughout his career. Overall, his HR/FB ratio is 11 percent for his career, but that number also seems somewhat distorted from his first half in 2011.

In 21 games and 16 starts in 2012, Tomlin posted a HR/FB ratio of 13.3 percent. Some will point out that he may have been injured during some of those starts, but the reality is that home runs have been a prevailing theme for Tomlin throughout his entire career.

Take a look at the graph below, which shows how Tomlin's HR/9 compares to the rest of league:

(Courtesy of FanGraphs)

For his entire Major League career, the right-hander has been serving up home runs left and right, and it's not a trend that should be expected to end, even if he is coming off of Tommy John surgery.

An average HR/FB ratio in the Majors is around 9.5 percent. In the best stretch of his career, Tomlin had a HR/FB ratio of 9.1 percent, so why should we expect that number to improve?

The reality is that Tomlin will always allow a great deal of home runs, which is going to affect his ERA. His average HR/FB ratio will probably hover between 12 and 13 percent and even in a good season, his ERA is not likely to be below 4.50.

That does not exactly seem like the type of arm that we should have replacing Jimenez and Kazmir, does it?

Unfortunately, there are other woes that surround the other starters as well.

Carrasco simply has done nothing of significance in every opportunity that he has had to be a capable Major League starter.

He has a great arm, and it seems as if he should be a capable starter, but the truth is that the numbers and performances have never supported that notion.

For his career, Carrasco has struck out just 6.2 batters per nine innings, and he also owns an ERA of 5.29.

This season, it appears as if Carrasco struggled with his pitch selection and relied too much on his fastball.

In June, for example, he made four starts to the tune of a 6.65 ERA. He also threw his fastball 57.7 percent of the time during that month.

It's hard to blame Carrasco for being so enamored with his fastball. After all, he has gained a few ticks since Tommy John surgery, and he can now touch the upper 90s with relative ease.

However, the reality is that he still needs to learn to be more of a pitcher than a thrower, and he has not yet taken that step. Part of the reason that Carrasco struggled so much in those four June starts is that he also only threw his slider just 5.1 percent of the time.

When Carrasco is at his best, the slider is a weapon for him; it's arguably his best pitch. In June 2011, Carrasco had the best month of his career and posted a 1.90 ERA. Is it no surprise that he also threw his slider 14.6 percent of the time during that month?

The stuff is certainly there for Carrasco to succeed, and it's hard to not like his upside. Nonetheless, it's clear that he's still not ready to be a rotation regular. He probably best fits into the bullpen, which is where he could find himself next season. Perhaps he one day does harness his potential and becomes a solid Major League starter, but the Indians should not be banking on that to happen at the start of the 2014 season.

This then brings us to the next candidate — Marcum.

Unlike Tomlin and Carrasco, Marcum does have a solid track level of Major League success.

From 2008 to 2012, Marcum posted an ERA of 3.70 or below for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Milwaukee Brewers.

Marcum struggled this past season with the New York Mets though and ultimately had season-ending right shoulder surgery.

Many look at the Indians' signing of Marcum as this year's version of Kazmir, and there are so similarities. Like Kazmir, Marcum is coming to Spring Training on a minor league deal, and there is a previous track record of success.

However, if the front office is expecting Kazmir-like results, then they're being foolish. What happened last season with Kazmir was the exception and not the rule. There are hundreds of minor league signings across the league each season, and the majority of them do not pan out.

Also, let's just compare Kazmir and Marcum for a moment.

In his prime, Marcum was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter in the Majors. In comparison, Kazmir was a former ace who led the American League in strikeouts. When it comes to the players'ceilings, there's really no comparison: Kazmir is in a league of his own.

It would be nice to see Marcum return to being a capable Major League starter, but it still seems risky to believe it can happen. Remember, he's in Spring Training on a minor league deal for a reason.

Yet, here's the crazy thing. Of the three pitchers mentioned (Tomlin, Carrasco and Marcum), Marcum is probably the most appealing option. Sorry, but it's never a good thing when a pitcher coming off right shoulder surgery and a 5.29 ERA suddenly starts to look good.

There's one other pitcher who was not mentioned, and that's because it's hard to believe that he will really be much of an option.

That person is, of course, right-hander Trevor Bauer.

He may have the biggest upside of the bunch, but who really thinks he would be ready for a rotation spot by Opening Day?

There have been some rave reviews coming out in regard to Bauer so far, but it's still too much of a gamble to pencil him into the team's rotation. He was at times not even a capable minor league pitcher last season, and that's not going to change overnight.

Ideally, Bauer will continue to work on his mechanics, and he could become an option sometime during the season.

So, what are the Indians to do?

The team is coming off a 90-plus win season, so they obviously want to do what they can to maintain the momentum. Can that really happen if one of the aforementioned players has an Opening Day spot in the rotation?

This is just further evidence as to why it is pressing that the Indians do what is necessary to bring Ubaldo Jimenez back into the fold. Even if that takes a financial commitment of $15 million per season, it's still something the team needs to explore.

Yes, the Indians can replace Jimenez with any of the four pitchers mentioned above. Still, it's highly doubtful that they'll receive a performance that is anything close to similar.

Remember, you get what you pay for, and the Indians should keep that in mind as Spring Training draws near.

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

User Comments

Hiram
January 4, 2014 - 3:11 PM EST
IMO, this was a jaded and poorly written article because it gives only one perspective in analyzing the starting pitching. Fine if you want to take the glass half empty approach but at least acknowledge the glass half full approach.

What fails to mention is that the guys last year who won all those games last year came into the season with even bigger question marks than the crew we have this year. Also, what he needs to realize is that because of the depth of the rotation the Indians didn't need to rush Tomlin or afford to give Carrasco consistent starts unlike '11 when both excelled. Marcum is a bit of a wildcard because if he is indeed healthy he can really help this team because he can flat out pitch. Has the track record to prove it. Trevor Bauer with his supposed new delivery will get a chance to prove it in ST and in AAA this year because we clearly see the talent.


Are these guys sure things -No but over the course of the season talent wins out. Look at how many questions the Red Sox had with their rotation going into the season last year. Please stop with this stuff that everyone has to be proven in order to get favor on not being bad because if you don't have a budget of 150 -200 M then it's not going to happen. Teams have a farm system for a reason and that's for cost control and to help in depth purposes. Time for some to understand that and time for the Indians to show it too.
Ben
January 4, 2014 - 7:08 AM EST
Salazar will cover Jimenez's 13 wins. That leaves Tomlin, Marcum, Carrasco, and Bauer to cover Kazmir's 10 wins.
Chad
January 3, 2014 - 11:41 PM EST
I expect Ubaldo's asking price to come way down because there is no team in the league, IMO, that would be willing to pay him 18-20 mil a year based on 3 months of success. Not to mention the draft pick that the team has to give up. Up until last May or June we all wanted rid of Ubaldo and I thinks teams realize that. That said I think there is reason for optimism that he can be had for 13-14 mil/yr.
Chip
January 3, 2014 - 7:42 PM EST
I look for Carrasco to surprise people. I think his stretch in June 2011 prior to his injury shows his true potential. His breaking pitches and control will come back as he is further removed from TJS. I'll put my head on the chopping block and say he will pitch better than McCallister this season, and I'm a fan of McCallister.
Salazar replaces Kazmir in my opinion as Kazmir did not throw that many innings. Marcum and Tomlin are depth starters at best. I look for Marcum to exercise his out clause before the season starts. If Bauer "puts it together" along with Carrasco, then this rotation could be the best I've seen in my 43 years. Sure would be nice to see Austin Adams put back into a starter's role. He could be the next Salazar. Cody Anderson has the makings of another Kluber at the very least. There is reason for optimism, but it would have been nice to see Kazmir back on a 2/22 deal. It would have bought them some time.

On a side note, if signing Jimenez interferes with resigning Masterson, then please don't waste those recources.
Michael
January 3, 2014 - 7:25 PM EST
Rick, I understand your distinct emotional attachment to Tomlin as I believe many of us share the same emotion. Tomlin is the type of guy it is impossible not to root for a competitor who has constantly overcome expectations but in all honesty his ceiling has been reached.

If you want to toss out his 2012 numbers because of injury that is absolutely fine.

Yet his best season was one in which his E.R.A. and FIP both sat at 4.25. Which is a tick worse than league average. These included an absurdly low BABIP against, which protected his strand rate.

Limiting the damage to solo homers has more to do with luck than actual pitching skill but that is not necessary to address.

Another note that speaks to his stuff, Tomlin is incredibly effective when teams are unfamiliar, however during his first full season, as teams began to face him for the second and third time he became much less effective.

2011:
1st Half ERA: 3.81
2nd Half ERA: 5.26

I think he would make a terrific long man and may have a career in that role or as a sixth starter but he is not a five starter on a legit contender.
Willie
January 3, 2014 - 5:49 PM EST
As for Cody Anderson and TJ House I think either may be ready mid to late next yr. But the impact that Salazar had is scarce. The one arm that could have that kind of impact is Trevor Bauer. Bauer will only be 23 this season, BTW, he's a full yr younger than Danny Salazar.
Willie
January 3, 2014 - 5:45 PM EST
Tomlin is a pitch ability righty. So is Marcum for that matter. As Tribe fans I think we've seen a few of those succeed over the yrs it's been a while (2yrs) since we have really seen a healthy Tomlin. I'm not a fan, but if he works, he works. I don't care how he gets it done as long as he logs his innings and keeps the Tribe in the game.

As for Trevor Bauer, I'm not sure what to think...I like Bauer, have since his days at UCLA. There have been several reports / articles re: how good he looks this fall. That goes with the same old..."he is in the best shape of his life" line. Results matter, it sounds encouraging, but until he takes the hill again and again, and proves it, I'm not sold.

Carlos Carrasco has a load of talent, but his star has faded. Ultimately I think he ends up a bullpen arm.

As far as I am concerned unless this team adds a SP or two, they are not a playoff team next yr unless everything goes right. This said, I think they have to either sign a FA (Garza, Jimenez, Arroyo, Malholm and Hammel) and sign a few more minor league / low level signings like Scott Baker, Tommy Hanson, Yuk-Sin Moon, Clayton Richard and Chris Capuano. I'm confident they will do something, but I'm concerned they'll settle.
Rick
January 3, 2014 - 4:58 PM EST
Steve I'll be Blunt - NUMBERS ARE NOT EVERYTHING.

You are wrong wrong wrong to just look at Tomlin and write the Lil Cowboy off like this is robotics and the MLB is a Sci-fi Channel re-run of WEST WOLRD.

I've seen this here time and time again. Ballplayers are People. They are not Robots. And when managing people - people skills matter too, not just numbers. A lot of things matter, besides just numbers.

One reason I love Tomlin is everybody told this guy since he was six years old that he couldn't pitch. He couldn't pitch in weenie league. He could pitch in Jr High. So it was cruel to ever let his momma think he could get a scholarship...bla bla bla.

This guy has be making fools of people telling him - and anyone else - what he can't do. His whole life. What makes you so all that and more that you know now?

With the kind of 'stuff' he has - he will ALWAYS give up home runs. But if he can get back to being the kind of fearless surgical strike throwing machine he was ... who made it a good habit to limit the damage to solo shots....?

... BEFORE HE WAS PITCHING HURT - WHICH HE CERTAINLY WAS FOR THE 2ND HALF OF THE THROW AWAY YEAR THAT MANNY ACTA AND WHOEVER WAS FILLING IN AS A PITCHING COACH THREW HIM OUT ON THE BUMP....!!!!...as a sacrafical arm....!!!!

Yes, he will be a successful pitcher in the bigs. I hope it is still with the Tribe. But it wouldn't surprise me much if his agent is moving heaven and earth to get him into another org - given how this one treated him like meat on the hoof.

What he will never be is a sexy sabermetrics fantasy babe. What he is is a winner. He throws strikes with fearless abandon and some of them get slammed. So what.

If Carasco had half his moxie and a third his brains he would be Cole Hammels by now.

Any pitcher that comes up to the Tribe out of nowhere and sets a franchise mark for quality starts - only to falter WHEN PITCHING HURT BEFORE TOMMY J SURGERY - WELL...

That talent gets a full shot on the field...

Unlike the blogger who takes tainted info and decides to do the write off.
Kenneth
January 3, 2014 - 4:56 PM EST
What JeffP said. Salazar has already replaced one of Jimenez/Kazmir. What we have to do is to find a dozen or so wins (if we're stuck with that stat) from Carrasco, Bauer, Tomlin, Marcum, et al, to fill in for the other.

Salazar is special. No, I don't see either Anderson or House as being remotely in the same league.
Norm
January 3, 2014 - 4:23 PM EST
I think the Indians are well aware that you get whatyou pay for. The big question in my mind is if Cleveland understands it. Does IBI?
Dennis
January 3, 2014 - 1:53 PM EST
Can Cody Anderson or TJ House be this years Danny Salazar?
Walter
January 3, 2014 - 1:36 PM EST
If the rotation for 14 has huge hole than the rotation going into spring training in 13 had a huge crater. Masterson and Jimenez coming off bad 2012 season. Everyone was lol the signing of Kazmir. Kluber and McAllister unproven prospects. Carrasco coming off surgery and we traded Choo for another high potential prospect in Bauer. Salazar was not even on the Indians radar last year.

If I remember correctly the Indians never had stud rotation during the 90's when they went to WS in 95 and 97. I believe the rotation back than had holes.
Daingean
January 3, 2014 - 12:13 PM EST
We could certainly use a southpaw......so Maholm or Chen.....while neither really excite me, Maholm can be effective....
Matthew
January 3, 2014 - 12:07 PM EST
I completely agree.

Fangraphs had a great piece up yesterday by Jeff Sullivan about the "myth of the 5-man rotation" Last year, on average, teams received 130 starts from their top 5 starters. That means, on average, 32 starts - equivalent to a full rotation spot - come from players outside the starting 5.

This means that, even in an optimistic scenario where one of Marcum, Tomlin, Carrasco, and Bauer steps up and provides some kind of consistency in a rotation spot, we can expect another 30 or so starts to come from that group on top of that.

Call me crazy, but if we end up with 60 starts from that group, I don't see us being a contender.

The $ and years are certainly a big risk for Ubaldo, but in 2014 there's an enormous hole in the rotation and in 2015 that will double with the loss of Masterson. Thanks to the draft pick comp attached, he's our last best hope to put together a rotation that can contend.
JeffP
January 3, 2014 - 11:44 AM EST
Ugh, they are not replacing 23 wins. They are replacing 10 or 13, depending upon whom you choose to cite, Kazmir or Ubaldo, as Salazar is technically replacing one of them. I'm certainly nbot against signing another starter but Ubaldo is a pipe dream with his asking price at this point, so who out there is a better risk than who we have? Their are a few I may look at(Scott Baker, Maholm, maybe even a Chen or Capuano as they can easily translate to the pen), but their is no way we're paying 15 million plus for a starter unless it's Ubaldo on a 1 year deal, and that's not likely. Eventually, Carrasco and Bauer have to step up or be phased out, and Marcum and Tomlin are decent rehad bets. You really want to waste money on someone like Jake Westbrrok, Joe Saunders, Jaqson Hammel? That's the type guy we're talking about

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