Ranking the 2012 Cleveland Indians’ Roster, Part 2
By Jim Piascik
November 1, 2012
On Monday, I unrolled part one of my 2012 Cleveland Indians end of the year rankings. Now for your enjoyment, here is the top half of the roster, ranked from 24th to first.
Just a quick note: I tend to favor players with more playing time than those whose playing time was limited. The rationale for this is that if a major league team has chosen to give this player significant action, it must value him on some level.
Basically, if the Indians keep running a player out there, despite what the statistics available to me say, they must know something I do not. I find it hard to believe the front office is incompetent (despite what some may think) and defer to them.
Previous ranks are their rank before the year, followed by at the 40-game mark, followed by at the All-Star Break, followed by in late-August.
#24 David Huff, SP (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, NR)
It feels weird putting David Huff this high, but the truth is I am intrigued by his 2012 season. Huff was downright awful in AAA all season (4.97 ERA, 5.45 FIP in 134.0 innings), but his 26.2 major league innings were surprisingly good. Huff appeared in six games, starting four, and posted an unexpected 3.38 ERA and 19:5 SO:BB.
Huff's issues with home runs still remain (five in those 26.1 major league innings, 27 in AAA), but he has never struggled this much with the long ball in the past. I do not think Huff is anything more than a depth starting pitcher, but I wonder if his stuff would play up a little in the bullpen. Using Huff as a long-relief pitcher could give him some value while giving the Indians another left-handed reliever.
#23 Chris Seddon, RP (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, 33)
Chris Seddon had a slightly more effective season than fellow left-handed swingman Huff, but I think I like Huff more going forward. Seddon was much better at AAA (3.44 ERA, 3.84 FIP in 123.0 innings) and had solid showing in the majors (3.67 ERA, 3.94 FIP in 34.1 innings), but I think he overachieved quite a bit.
For his career, Seddon only has 44 strikeouts in 74.0 innings, while walking 28 and owning a 5.48 ERA. Just because Seddon was surprisingly solid in 2012 does not necessarily mean he has turned the corner. I would not be against bringing Seddon into Spring Training next year, but I would want it to be on another minor league deal without him being on the 40-man roster. His style is a dime a dozen and he does not need roster protection all offseason.
#22 Russ Canzler, 1B/OF (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, NR)
Russ Canzler may have been an improvement over what was being run out there every day in left field, but in all actuality, he was a little below-average. Canzler's high strikeout and low walk totals (22:4 SO:BB in 97 plate appearances) severely limited his ability to get on base (.299 on-base percentage).
Adding in the fact that Canzler did not show much power at the big league level (.129 ISO), I am not a believer in Canzler long-term. He has never been on a team's top-30 prospect list according the Baseball America and the Rays practically gave him away last offseason. If the Indians enter 2013 with Canzler as their starting left fielder or first baseman, something went really wrong in the offseason.
#21 Tony Sipp, RP (Previous Ranks: 20, 17, 26, 17)
Now that he is 29-years old, I think that we have to accept that Tony Sipp is what he is. Sipp has shown an inability to keep the ball in the ballpark (36 home runs in 220.1 career innings), offsetting much of what he brings to the table. The strikeout and walk rates are decent (8.35 SO/9, 3.76 BB/9 in 2012), but given his struggles with home runs, Sipp just cannot be trusted.
Sipp is eligible for arbitration as a Super-Two player, which will likely double his salary from the minimum to $1 million. That difference probably is not enough for Cleveland to non-tender him, as left-handed relievers with Sipp's stuff are valuable. I think the Indians may be best served moving on, even if we are only talking about a difference of $500,000. Is he really that much better than Huff and Seddon, the two relievers right behind him in these rankings?
#20 Derek Lowe, SP (Previous Ranks: 12, 4, 9, 25)
By no means was Derek Lowe's production this year above-average. While he was still in a Cleveland uniform, Lowe posted a 5.52 ERA and 41:45 SO:BB in 119.0 innings. Note that he had more walks than strikeouts. Lowe started off well enough, but it quickly became clear that he was not good enough to keep around.
Then why is Lowe ranked 20th? There are two reasons. First, even if Lowe was pitching basically at replacement-level, it still takes some talent to make it through 119.0 innings. Second, it is not like the Indians replaced Lowe with better starting pitchers. Lowe was designated for assignment on August 2, yet Cleveland pitchers still owned a 5.83 ERA after that move. The Indians simply were not very good, allowing a not very good pitcher like Lowe to rise this far in the rankings.
#19 Ubaldo Jimenez, SP (Previous Ranks: 5, 19, 14, 22)
The same rationale above for Lowe applies here for Ubaldo Jimenez, namely that Cleveland starting pitchers were so bad that these normally terrible statistics end up this high. Nobody is looking at Jimenez's 5.40 ERA and 5.06 FIP as good, but making it through 31 starts and 176.2 innings has its merits.
As for Jimenez going forward, anyone who tells you what to expect is lying. Jimenez could show up in his dominant 2010 form or in the unwatchable 2012 version we suffered through last season. I am in favor of bringing him back, just in case he figures it out again, but I am not too hopeful. The best-case realistic scenario in my opinion is Jimenez pitches somewhere around league-average and he is not the ace the Indians traded for, but he is competent. But really, who knows with Jimenez?
#18 Corey Kluber, SP (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, 21)
Corey Kluber only threw 63.0 innings, but I am giving him the nod over Lowe and Jimenez because I honestly think he significantly outpitched them. Ignore his 5.14 ERA for a second and look at Kluber's peripherals: a 7.71 SO/9 and 2.57 BB/9 show a pitcher with strong command of the strike zone, while his .342 BABIP points to some bad luck on balls in play.
Assuming Kluber's inflated ERA is a coincidence - which is not a foregone conclusion - his FIP and xFIP (4.29 and 3.99 respectively) point to a player ready to be a major league starting pitcher. I think that Kluber's ERA does not tell the whole story this year and he was much better than it looks like at first glance. I would not hand Kluber a rotation spot in 2013, but I think he could win one in Spring Training.
#17 Jack Hannahan, 3B (Previous Ranks: 10, 5, 16, 20)
At this point in his career, everybody should know what to expect out of Jack Hannahan: below-average offense with above-average defense. Hannahan's .244/.312/.341 line simply is not high enough to be of note at third base and there is only so much that his defense can do to fix that.
I like what Hannahan brings to a team off the bench, but I am not sure if he fits with the 2013 Indians. This team has so many holes needing filled that I find it hard to pay him the $1.5 million he is estimated to earn in arbitration. That may not be much, but every dollar needs to be stretched to its limit if Cleveland is going to compete in 2013. In my opinion, spending three times the minimum on a bench player is not something the front office can afford to do.
#16 Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, 22, 16)
It is too bad that Lonnie Chisenhall missed the majority of the year with a fractured right ulna, as he looked pretty good in 2012. Chisenhall's .268/.311/.430 line and five home runs in 43 games give him a strong base going into 2013, but it would have been much better for him and the Indians if he received more reps after the team dropped out of contention.
Chisenhall still needs to work on his consistency against left-handers, as he only owns a .227/.253/.443 line against them in the majors, but it is time to sink or swim with the former first round pick. The Indians do not have money to fill all their holes this offseason and will need players like Chisenhall to step up from within.
#15 Ezequiel Carrera, OF (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, 15)
Like Canzler, Ezequiel Carrera looks really good next to the Damons and Duncans of the world, but not as good compared to the rest of the majors. Carrera's offensive game revolves around getting on base, yet he only had a .312 on-base percentage and eight walks in 158 plate appearances this year. On the whole, Carrera was a decent replacement for the Indians - his .272/.312/.395 line was best among 2012 Cleveland left fielders - but I do not know if that will hold going forward.
As Carrera is not well-regarded in the outfield, I think he is limited to being a fourth outfielder/depth option on a contending team. Add in that Carrera is another left-handed hitter and I find it hard to believe that Carrera has a legitimate shot at playing left field for the Indians in 2013.
#14 Lou Marson, C (Previous Ranks: 14, 26, 11, 14)
Lou Marson's 2012 campaign was surprisingly good, even though it is does not look like it superficially. Marson drew a surprising amount of walks (15.3 BB%), limited his strikeouts (18.7 K%, down from his 21.7 K% career mark), thus raising his on-base percentage to a very good .348.
The downfall with Marson remains his utter lack of power. Marson did not hit a single home run in 70 games last year and only posted a .062 ISO. Even Ichiro, famous for being a slap-hitter, posted a .107 ISO last year. As long as Marson's offense lacks power, his overall worth is limited. Marson is a decent backup catcher, but I am not comfortable with him as an everyday starter.
#13 Cody Allen, RP (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, 13)
Cody Allen became the second member of the entire 2011 Draft class to make it to the majors - only behind the Arizona Diamondbacks' Trevor Bauer - and quickly established himself as an important bullpen piece. Allen had some issues with walks, but his fairly high strikeout rate offset some of it (27:15 SO:BB in 29.0 innings).
Cleveland fans should get excited for Allen's future, but it is important to remember he is not a finished product. Those walks will come back to hurt Allen if he does not get them under control, as his ERA and FIP (3.72 and 3.68 respectively) are already on the higher side. Still, what Allen accomplished this quickly points to a pitcher who will be a key contributor for years to come.
#12 Travis Hafner, DH (Previous Ranks: 8, 7, 12, 11)
It is not a popular notion, but I really feel like Travis Hafner is still a valuable major league bat. Yes, he has issues staying healthy, but Hafner is still capable of above-average offense while he is on the field. Hafner hit 12 home runs in 66 games last year and, despite the low batting average, had a decent overall line (.228/.346/.438).
Now, I am not saying the Indians should have picked up his $13 million option, as he is not worth nearly that much. But, on a one-year, $3 million deal with the understanding he will sit against some left-handed pitching, Hafner could be a tremendous value. Some writers like Fangraphs' Dave Cameron have speculated that Hafner will be the best value-sign this offseason (go to 12:27); it might make sense for Cleveland to bring Pronk back one more time.
#11 Esmil Rogers, RP (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, 18, 12)
For those who complain about the dumpster-diving the Indians do, look at Esmil Rogers. The Indians acquired him on June 12 for cash after he posted an 8.06 ERA in 25.2 innings for Colorado. Once he got to Cleveland, Rogers pitched in 53.0 innings with a 3.06 ERA, 3.13 FIP, and 54:12 SO:BB. The Indians managed to turn a scrapheap pickup into a viable, dominant middle relief option.
There is plenty of reason to believe Rogers will regress back to the guy who has a career 5.95 ERA, but it is also possible Rogers turned a corner moving from Colorado to Cleveland. I do not want to put too much trust in him going into 2013, but as long as he is kept in a middle relief role, the Indians could do much worse.
#10 Joe Smith, RP (Previous Ranks: 18, 13, 13, 10)
Joe Smith was not as overpowering as he was in 2011, but he was still very good in 2012. Smith held down a 2.96 ERA and 3.50 FIP this year and was a key contributor to the Bullpen Mafia. The starting rotation may not have given the bullpen many leads to protect, but Smith was a key part of holding the few leads it got.
I am not a fan of paying relief pitchers vast sums of money, but it seems like Smith's estimated $2.7 million will be a necessary expense, especially if Cleveland trades Chris Perez due to his high cost. Smith is a consistently good relief pitcher and will be a key piece in the Bullpen Mafia in 2013.
#9 Zach McAllister, SP (Previous Ranks: NR, 14, 10, 8)
In a year characterized by disappointing starting pitching, Zach McAllister stands out as one of the few bright spots. McAllister's 4.24 ERA may not be particularly impressive, but it was easily the best on the team among starting pitchers (barring David Huff, who only threw 26.2 innings).
But despite that positive note, there is a dark side to McAllister's season. McAllister allowed 19 unearned runs last year, showing a tendency to let things get out of hand when the defense let him down. This could be random noise, but it could also turn out to be a real problem for him going forward. McAllister has the looks of a good back-of-the-rotation starter, but only if he can limit the damage and not allow so many unearned runs.
#8 Justin Masterson, SP (Previous Ranks: 3, 16, 4, 9)
So, how does Justin Masterson and his 4.93 ERA end up ahead of McAllister? Well, I just do not think Masterson was that bad in 2012. Masterson's 4.16 FIP points to a pitcher who was nearly a run better than his ERA, plus he managed to log 206.1 innings. I know they were not great innings, but someone had to take them.
Something to keep an eye on with Masterson in 2013 is his left on base percentage (LOB%). An interesting trend has emerged, where Masterson outperformed his peripherals accompanied by a high LOB% (2008 and 2011), while he was significantly worse than his peripherals in years where his LOB% was much lower (2009, 2010, 2012).
Now, this is basically intuitive: if a pitcher strands runners, he has a better year. However, what I am interested in is if Masterson cannot strand runners for some reason. LOB% tends to be random, but some players simply are bad about it. Masterson's career LOB% (70.0%) is below average, so he might just be a pitcher who lets in more runners than he should. If that is true, then 2011 might be the mirage, with 2012 showing us the true Masterson.
#7 Chris Perez, RP (Previous Ranks: 17, 11, 6, 6)
Love him or hate him, Chris Perez really showed up on the mound for the Indians in 2012. It is hard for relievers to rack up much value with how little they pitch, but in Cleveland's case, Perez felt much more important than his 0.8 fWAR. Without Perez and his 39 saves, the Indians likely would have blown a few more leads, pushing them closer to the 100-loss threshold.
Now, going forward, the Indians should sell high on Perez while they can. Having a top-flight closer is nice, but it is a luxury the Indians cannot afford. Perez will likely make $7.2 million in arbitration, effectively pricing himself out of Cleveland's range with the number of holes on the roster. If last offseason is any indication (Andrew Bailey-for-Josh Reddick, Mark Melancon-for-Jed Lowrie), the Indians may be able to fill one of those holes right away by trading Perez.
#6 Vinnie Pestano, RP (Previous Ranks: 7, 8, 5, 5)
While Vinnie Pestano was not quite as good in 2012 as he was in 2011, there is no denying that he remained a dominant back-end arm. The drop in strikeout rate could hurt going forward (dropping from 12.19 to 9.77 SO/9), but as Pestano's 2.57 ERA shows, he continued to shut down opposing lineups quite well.
One of the big questions for Cleveland in 2013 is whether or not Pestano is ready to be a major league closer. I come down on the side of yes. I really do not believe the Indians can successfully operate payroll-wise while paying big money to bullpen arms, so for better or for worse, it is time to sink or swim with Pestano. He has shown the proper shutdown mentality so far in his major league career; he should be able to translate it to the ninth inning.
#5 Michael Brantley, OF (Previous Ranks: 13, 12, 7, 7)
All throughout last offseason and the first half of 2012, I was trying to decide if Michael Brantley was a legitimate major league starter or a fourth outfielder. After 2012, it is time to declare Brantley a big league outfielder capable of nailing down center field. He may not be flashy, but Brantley's .288/.348/.402 line, strong strikeout and walk rates (56:53 SO:BB in 609 plate appearances) and solid defense make him an above-average player.
Even more exciting for the Indians, Brantley is only entering his age-26 season and still has his prime in front of him. It is reasonable to expect that after posting a 2.7 fWAR in 2012 that Brantley has a few 3+ win seasons ahead of him in center field. That is not always an easy position to fill and Cleveland has a key up-the-middle piece in Brantley on the upswing and under team control for the next four years.
#4 Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (Previous Ranks: 2, 1, 3, 3)
Asdrubal Cabrera continues to do something few players are capable of: hitting at an above-average level while playing shortstop. By Weighted Runs Created Plus, only eight shortstops were above-average offensively in 2012 and Cabrera ranked fourth. His defense remains subpar and his conditioning has been questioned for the second consecutive year, but there is no denying Cabrera has real value in this league.
The interesting question is what to do with Cabrera in 2013. If Cleveland wants to contend, it will have to keep him, as there are no major league-ready alternatives in AAA. If Cleveland wants to rebuild, Cabrera could fetch a high price, especially from a shortstop-desperate team like the Arizona Diamondbacks. There has been plenty of trade talk surrounding Shin-Soo Choo, but in my opinion, Cabrera should be mentioned more.
#3 Jason Kipnis, 2B (Previous Ranks: 6, 3, 1, 4)
Some may remember Jason Kipnis' disastrous August slump (.180/.250/.281 line), but on the whole, Kipnis had a very successful season. 2012 served as Kipnis' first full season at the major league level and the 25-year old posted a .257/.335/.379 line, with 14 home runs, 31 stolen bases, and a 3.1 fWAR.
The fact that Kipnis was so successful in his first full season points toward a player who will improve and be even better in 2013 and beyond. Kipnis is already an above-average second baseman and it is not out of the realm of possibility he can earn a few All-Star berths in the years ahead. The Indians have a strong building block in Kipnis and should be set with him at the top of the lineup for at least the next five years.
#2 Shin-Soo Choo, OF (Previous Ranks: 4, 6, 2, 1)
2011 was a terrible year for Shin-Soo Choo, but he really turned things around in 2012. Choo was back to his normal self offensively, posting a .283/.373/.441 line with 16 home runs and 21 steals. The right fielder had a rough time against left-handers, struggling to a .199/.318/.286 line in 2012, but overall, Choo was an offensive force on an often punchless Cleveland team.
Choo was nominated for a Gold Glove after the season, but that is an absolutely ridiculous notion. Throughout the year, Choo's routes to balls were lambasted and advanced metrics had him as 17 runs below-average. Choo's bat made up for a lot of that, but his 2.6 fWAR shows the significant hit he took from his defense.
Since Choo will be a free agent after next year, there is plenty of talk that the Indians will trade him this offseason. They could wait until July, but thanks to the new compensation draft pick system, the Indians must do it in the offseason in order to get the maximum value. With no one to fill the right field hole, how the Indians handle trading Choo will be a window into the front office's thoughts. If they keep him, they are trying to win in 2013; if they trade him, they are rebuilding. It is as simple as that.
#1 Carlos Santana, C (Previous Ranks: 1, 2, 8, 2)
At times it seems that Carlos Santana is the player everyone loves to hate. That is wildly unfair to him, though, as he was the best player on the Indians in 2012. Santana led the team in home runs (18) and fWAR (3.4), while tying for the lead in RBI (76). He also added value by playing catcher, ranking 10th in baseball per Fangraphs.
It is very likely that Santana continues to improve next year, as it will be his third full season in the majors. We often do not see players make all the adjustments necessary to be great major league players in their first two seasons and, with the level of success Santana already achieved, it is quite probable he will be even better. I thought that Santana had a chance at breaking out in 2012, but I would venture a guess that 2013 will see him take the next step and become a star in the league.
It is a bold thought, but one Santana should be capable of backing up. He was already the best Indian in 2012 and he should progress even more in 2013.
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I think Cody Ross gets priced out of their range, but realistically, Jonny Gomes and Scott Hairston could be possibilities. I also would be intrigued by Shane Victorino (assuming his price is low), a switch-hitter who hits left-handers better.
Well, those guys and Melky Cabrera. But that was a topic for Part 1...
And yeah, the talent level on this contending team was interesting to say the least.