Ranking the 2014 Cleveland Indians opening day roster: Part one
Cleveland deep with intriguing options in the bullpen, on the bench
With a new season upon us, it is once again time for me to rank Cleveland's roster from bottom to top. Many of the names are familiar from last year's 92-win playoff season, but there is some new blood (and a noticeable lack of Chris Perez).
Today includes players ranked #25 to #13, which means a lot of players projected to receive less playing time (see: relievers and bench players). But Cleveland has assembled an interesting bench and bullpen, rendering this exercise less tedious and boring than a few years ago. An example is the first player, who despite being ranked 25th, is still an intriguing player.
In-text photos from ESPN
#25 Blake Wood, RHP
Given that Wood is listed at 6'5", 240 pounds and has a fastball that can push triple digits, there is a good chance that Wood will not be ranked last throughout the season. Wood has the raw stuff to make some noise in the bullpen, but for now, he does not have the past performance to back it up. Some of that stems from injury, as Wood underwent Tommy John surgery and missed most of 2013, but the right-hander also had not done all that much at the major league level. Before getting hurt, Wood posted a 4.25 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 0.2 fWAR in 120.2 career major league innings. There is talent here, but before ranking Wood higher, he needs to find success in the majors.
#24 Elliot Johnson, INF/OF
It is a good that Johnson plays well on defense, because his offense leaves quite a bit to be desired. Though lastyear's struggles are related in part to a dip in BABIP, Johnson's .218/.273/.341 career line demonstrates that the infielder just does not have the bat to play regularly at the major league level. Johnson strikes out 26.2 percent of the time, does not draw enough walks to support his on-base percentage (6.7 percent), and lacks much power (.101 career ISO). But Johnson has played every position on the diamond but pitcher and catcher -- and plays them well. This flexibility gives Johnson value as a bench option, but if he is starting regularly, something went wrong.
#23 Scott Atchison, RHP
Atchison made the team at least in part because of his veteran status, though the 38-year-old reliever does have some real success in the recent past (1.58 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 0.9 fWAR in 51.1 innings in 2012). The right-hander was probably helped by pitching under Terry Francona in Boston, but ignoring any potential favoritism and seniority factors, Atchison should be a competent bullpen arm. Would I personally have rather seen C.C. Lee in this spot? Yes, of course, because Lee is a tremendous talent. But is Atchison undeserving of being on the roster? No, he earned the spot. Atchison could be an injury-risk at some point -- he avoided surgery with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in 2012 -- but made it through 2013 despite the injury.
#22 Vinnie Pestano, RHP
After posting 2.4 fWAR between 2011 and 2012, Pestano reminded us of the volatility of relievers in 2013, as we watched his results crater to a 4.08 ERA, a 5.03 FIP, and -0.4 fWAR in 35.1 major league innings. Pestano had some elbow concerns early in the season, continued to see his fastball velocity decline, allowed far too many walks, and saw hitters chase fewer pitches out of the zone while making more contact in the zone. So basically, all of the wheels came off for Pestano in 2013. There is some hope for a comeback -- that pitcher from 2011-12 is probably still in there -- but there are a lot of things Pestano needs to improve on to get back to that level.
#21 Nyjer Morgan, OF
As an unabashed Morgan fan, I am more than excited to see the outfielder (and his alter ego, Tony Plush) make the opening day roster. Of course, it is important to temper expectations, as there is a reason Morgan spent last season playing in Japan. The outfielder has never hit for power or walked much, leaving his offense very reliant on BABIP. When the BABIP is up, so is Morgan (2009: .355 BABIP, 5.0 fWAR; 2011: .362 BABIP, 3.6 fWAR). And when the BABIP goes down, so does Morgan (2010: .304 BABIP, 0.6 fWAR; 2012: .296 BABIP, 0.1 fWAR). Morgan is still a good defender in the outfield and has value (enough to do a decent Michael Bourn impression while he is out), but that value is probably best limited to being a fourth outfielder.
#20 Josh Outman, LHP
For the next two capsules, I basically threw out the overall projections in favor of past results against left-handed and right-handed batters. General projections do not account for someone being used in a platoon-type situation, something both left-handers in the Cleveland bullpen should be a part of. For Outman, he shut down lefties in 2013 while righties hit him pretty hard (left-handers: .539 OPS, .249 wOBA; right-handers: .882 OPS, .387 wOBA), putting forth a strong argument he should be limited to a LOOGY role in 2014. Only being able to face left-handed batters limits Outman's value, but there is something to be said for dominating one facet of the game. No, Outman will not turn into an ace setup man or closer, but he will get lefties out.
#19 Marc Rzepczynski, LHP
As good as Outman was against left-handed batters, Rzepczynski outdid him in 2013 (left-handers: .480 OPS, .217 wOBA; right-handers: .859 OPS, .368 wOBA). For their careers, the order shifts in regard to the domination of left-handed hitters (Rzepczynski: .587 OPS, .267 wOBA; Outman: .523 OPS, .237 wOBA), but right now Rzepczynski has the edge. The left-hander showed his value to the team down the stretch after being acquired at the trade deadline, posting a 0.89 ERA and 3.05 FIP in 20.1 innings. He probably will not keep that pace up over the entire 2014 season, but at least for the time being, Rzepczynski is at the head of Cleveland's left-handed relief options.
#18 John Axford, RHP
Maybe all the talk of Axford correcting his issue with tipping pitches will see the right-hander return to something resembling his 2010-11 peak (2.19 ERA, 11.07 SO/9, 3.6 fWAR, 70 saves in 131.2 innings). Or maybe Axford is still the guy he was in 2012-13: a home run-prone sub-replacement level reliever. The projections have him splitting the difference, essentially hedging their bets between the two extremes Axford has shown in the last four years. Provided the right-hander can start keeping the ball in the park, he should be able to find success in 2014. But after the past two seasons -- which saw Axford allow 1.34 HR/9 -- it will probably take more than simple regression for him to limit those home runs.
#17 Carlos Carrasco, RHP
Carrasco has been around forever, making his major league debut way back in 2009, yet he only has approximately one full season of innings in the majors (238.1 innings). The results have been less-than stellar (5.29 ERA, 4.48 FIP), though the raw stuff continues to get Carrasco chances. The right-hander is still waiting for his strikeouts to match that stuff (something John Grimm wrote about recently), though as he is, Carrasco does get groundballs and his walks are not completely out of control. After seeing some real velocity gains following Tommy John surgery (from an average fastball velocity of 92.6 miles per hour in 2011 to 95.1 in 2013), now Carrasco just needs to put the pieces together and let his ability shine through. Of course, that is easier said than done.
#16 Ryan Raburn, OF
Raburn was downright terrible in 2012, posting 27 wRC+ and -1.5 fWAR in 66 games. He improved by four wins in 2013, posting a 152 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR in 87 games. Part of that improvement was seeing Raburn's BABIP bounce back from .224 to .311, but it was also a power surge that saw Raburn have real value in 2013. While he would be hard-pressed to repeat his .272 ISO again in 2014, Raburn has always had decent pop in his bat. Regression is all but a certainty this year, but as long as Francona continues to spell Raburn against tougher right-handed pitchers, there is no reason to think he cannot add value off of the bench.
#15 Bryan Shaw, RHP
A rise in strikeouts took Shaw from being a mediocre reliever to back-end option in 2013 (6.22 SO/9 in 2012, 8.76 SO/9 in 2013). How well the right-hander maintains that increase will go a long way in determining how successful Shaw is this year. That strikeout spike was likely influenced by Shaw increasing the use of his slider, which when combined with his go-to cutter, led to hitters chasing pitches out of the zone more than ever before. Strikeouts are not everything to a pitcher, but they are a big part of what makes a reliever dominant. Shaw was decent before 2013, but provided he sustains last year's growth into this season, he can continue to be one of the better relievers in baseball.
#14 Mike Aviles, INF/OF
Given a starting job, Aviles would likely be decent, though he would not turn any heads. But coming off of the bench in a regular role, Aviles really makes a team better. He has the ability to play second base, shortstop, and third base -- and even has spent about half of his time this spring in the outfield -- which when combined with Johnson and Raburn gives Francona an insanely flexible bench. The raw stats are not sexy with Aviles (he has posted three consecutive on-base percentages in the .280-.290 range), but his ability to fill in the cracks make him important. Cleveland may be better off with Aviles coming off of the bench, but not declaring the utility man a starter is far from an insult.
#13 Cody Allen, RHP
Knowing what we know about the volatility of relievers (see: Pestano, Vinnie), Allen's dominance in 2013 could easily fade to black in 2014. But there is no reason to believe this will happen to Allen (beyond his being a pitcher), and despite Axford being the "closer," the right-hander is the best reliever in the bullpen. His 2.43 ERA, 2.99 FIP, and 1.0 fWAR in 70.1 innings rank him near Shaw as one of the better relievers in baseball, though there are still improvements for Allen to make. He could use some work on limiting walks, for example, but such improvements would push Allen from great to elite. Allen is already great; if he does not improve, then there is nothing wrong with that. If he takes the next step, however, even better.
Up next: Part two, in which I rank #12 through #1.
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