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Ranking the 2014 roster at the stretch run, part one

Young players starting to contribute highlight part one of the rankings

Ranking the 2014 roster at the stretch run, part one
Roberto Perez leads the postgame handshake line (David Richard/USA TODAY Sports).jpg
September 1, 2014
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Though there have been ups and downs this season, Cleveland's 70-64 record has them on the fringes of playoff contention and in the thick of things as the calendar turns to September. Despite some definite disappointments, there are still plenty of bright spots on the team this season.

With the season heading toward the stretch run, it is once again time to rank the roster. These rankings represent a snapshot of each player's performance to date and does not account for bad luck, coming regression, etc. Players with more playing time are given some preference to those with less, though in this edition of the rankings, I am giving it a little less weight.

For previous editions of the rankings, click the links below:

In-text photos from ESPN

#43 Ryan Raburn, OF (Previous Rank: 16, 24, 25)

Ryan Raburn (Photo: ESPN)With -1.2 fWAR and -1.6 rWAR in 70 games, Raburn qualifies as one of the worst players in the majors this season, a result that follows Raburn's strange pattern of performance. With -1.5 fWAR in 2012 and 2.4 fWAR in 2013, Raburn oscillated between extremes over the last three years. As for what is wrong this year, the combination of injuries, a low .239 BABIP, and the evaporation of his power (.085 isolated power) and walk rate (5.9 percent) are to blame. Raburn's $2.5 million contract for 2015 likely means he will be on the roster next year, and given his recent performance swings, who knows what to expect.

#42 Elliot Johnson, INF/OF (Previous Rank: 24, 33, 39)

Cleveland acquired some intriguing depth pieces like Johnson who can play all over the diamond in recent years, but the 30-year-old's bat prevented him from adding any value to the major league club. Johnson has been better in Columbus, but he is still hitting below the International League average for the Clippers.

#41 Jason Giambi, DH (Previous Rank: NR, 32, 37)

Giambi stuck around on the roster last season as a mentor, but this year was mostly spent on the disabled list (whether those injuries were 100 percent real or not is up to you to decide). The 43-year-old struggled at the plate when he was in the game and is probably nearing the point when he will be an official coach instead of what amounts to a player-coach.

#40 Justin Sellers, INF (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 34)

On a team that did not have the middle infield depth that Cleveland has, Sellers could have a shot at hanging onto a major league roster spot as a utility player. Unfortunately for Sellers, Cleveland has more middle infield depth than they know what to do with and the 28-year-old has not hit well enough to force his way into the picture.

#39 Mark Lowe, RHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 38)

Lowe's brief time in the majors did not go well (3.86 ERA, 7.70 FIP, 6:6 SO:BB in 7.0 innings), which saw the right-hander sent down to Columbus to serve as depth for the rest of the season. The 31-year-old pitched decently while with the Clippers, but the organization has other relief options ahead of him right now.

#38 Nick Swisher, 1B (Previous Rank: 9, 20, 24)

Nick Swisher (Photo: ESPN)Given Swisher's consistency throughout the years, seeing every part of his game bottom out all at once lends some credence to the idea that injuries were a large part of his 2014 issues. Swisher walked at the lowest rate of his career, struck out more than he ever has, and saw his power disappear, leaving him with -1.6 fWAR and -1.2 rWAR. There is a chance Swisher's surgery on both knees corrects the problems, though even with some positive gains, it is also possible the 33-year-old is simply on the downside of his career.

#37 Jesus Aguilar, 1B (Previous Rank: NR, 31, 32)

Though Aguilar's eight-game major league debut did not go well, the fact that he has spent the 2014 destroying International League pitching is an encouraging sign. Aguilar will probably be more of an average first baseman than an elite one when he finally gets an extended shot in Cleveland, but one thing that is for certain is the 24-year-old deserves the chance.

#36 Austin Adams, RHP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 42)

Like Aguilar, there is only so much we can do with Adams' 3.1 major league innings this year. When looking at what the right-hander could offer down the stretch and beyond, paying attention to his well-above-average performance in Columbus makes more sense. Once he is called up again, Adams will be an interesting guy to watch, as he throws in the upper 90s and improved his control this season.

#35 Blake Wood, RHP (Previous Rank: 25, 29, 35)

Wood is still trying to get back on track since rejoining the Royals' organization, with the 29-year-old laboring down in Triple-A. There is a chance Wood can put things back together, but given Cleveland's right-handed relief depth, it is not surprising the organization let Wood go.

#34 Vinnie Pestano, RHP (Previous Rank: 22, 30, 31)

Pestano falls in the same category as Wood, as the organization has enough interesting right-handed relief arms that there was not much need to wait on the 29-year-old anymore. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are now looking for the right-hander to regain his former glory, though it is starting to look like the 2011 version of Pestano is not coming back.

#33 Zach Walters, OF/DH (Previous Rank: NR, NR, NR)

Zach Walters (Photo: ESPN)It has only been a handful of games, but so far in Walters' Cleveland career, he is showing the big power and frequent swing-and-miss that characterizes him as a player. His BABIP will not stay well under .200 in the long term, but his isolated power will also probably come down in time as well. Time will tell if Walters' aggressive approach will play in the major leagues (and where he will play defensively), but for now, he is certainly an intriguing player to get in return for two months of Asdrubal Cabrera.

#32 Tyler Holt, OF (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 41)

Considering Holt's BABIP in the minor leagues this season was over .370, it should be expected that his offense will regress back down in time. But even without hitting at a high level, Holt's great defense and ability to play all three outfield spots should make him a prime candidate to at least be Cleveland's fourth outfielder and spot starter for the next few years.

#31 Chris Dickerson, OF (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 29)

Dickerson has now given Cleveland about a quarter of a season of replacement level production, not a surprising results considering the organization acquired him for cash (which is essentially the definition of a replacement level player; a readily available Triple-A player). The 32-year-old is a competent major league player, but he is also not really adding much to the team at this point. With the playoffs more of a pipe dream than a realistic outcome, giving more playing time to players like Holt and Walters probably makes more sense than starting Dickerson every day.

#30 Nyjer Morgan, OF (Previous Rank: 21, 15, 28)

Starting someone like Morgan, who was performing at a higher level before getting hurt, would make more sense for Cleveland. Unfortunately, Morgan's knee injury knocked him out for an extended period of time and led to his release in early August.

#29 George Kottaras, C (Previous Rank: NR, 27, 27)

Though Kottaras announced his presence in Cleveland in a big way, the fact that the catcher has bounced from Milwaukee to Oakland to Kansas City to Chicago to Cleveland to St. Louis to Toronto since 2012 tells you how major league teams value him.

#28 Josh Outman, LHP (Previous Rank: 20, 21, 26)

Josh Outman (Photo: ESPN)The walks and home runs really sealed Outman's fate in Cleveland (5.8 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9 in 24.2 major league innings), but Cleveland's numerous other left-hander relief options also played a part. With Marc RzepczynskiKyle Crockett, and Nick Hagadone all outperforming him and other left-handers like Giovanni Soto on the way up through the system, there really was not much room for Outman. Given his struggles and limited value, it was ultimately not surprising to see him traded for next-to-nothing this past week.

#27 C.C. Lee, RHP (Previous Rank: NR, 22, 30)

Lee's problems with home runs may be holding him back a bit, but the right-hander put together a solid debut with the big league club. The 27-year-old is not pitching like a back-end bullpen arm just yet, but considering he will likely end the season with around 40.0 major league innings, there is still time for Lee to continue adjusting to Cleveland and take another step forward with his results.

#26 Zach McAllister, RHP (Previous Rank: 10, 5, 19)

Looking at McAllister's 7.3 SO/9, 3.5 BB/9, and 0.9 HR/9 in 67.0 major league innings, nothing is too different from the right-hander's career numbers. That fits with McAllister's fWAR, which like his career stats, sits firmly at an average level. The problem is McAllister's 5.91 ERA, which is seemingly the byproduct of some nasty situational splits. McAllister allowed 0.2 HR/9 with the bases empty and 1.8 HR/9 with runners on base, which is either terrible luck or the byproduct of the right-hander struggling out of the stretch. The 26-year-old's strikeouts also disappeared with runners on (8.4 SO/9 compared to 5.8), so it is possible this is not all bad luck, but overall, it is hard to say a pitcher easily on the right side of 30 with a 4.04 FIP should not get another chance.

#25 John Axford, RHP (Previous Rank: 18, 26, 21)

Similar to Outman, Axford's time in Cleveland was marred by spotty control (6.2 BB/9) and problems with the long ball (1.2 HR/9), a combination that saw the right-hander lose the closer job and ultimately be given away to the Pirates. Axford represented one of Cleveland's bigger offseason investments, but as so often seems to happen, paying for relief pitching backfired on the team. Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but it turns out the organization would have been better off saving Axford's $4.5 million for some other acquisition and dipping into its right-handed relief depth from the outset of the season.

#24 Justin Masterson, RHP (Previous Rank: 4, 7, 14)

Justin Masterson (Photo: ESPN)Like Raburn, Masterson bounced between elite seasons and not-so-elite seasons, with 2014 proving to be another down year. The bad years for Masterson in Cleveland always came with good peripherals, but there is only so much value a pitcher can have with a 5.51 ERA. It is possible injuries really sapped Masterson's effectiveness and the 29-year-old will be fine in the long run, but with how rough this year was, acquiring James Ramsey for the right-hander's final two months under contract feels like an easy win. Even with his struggles this season, Masterson was very good throughout his Cleveland tenure and upon leaving, brought back a useful player who should be with the club for years to come.

#23 Roberto Perez, C (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 40)

Perez is similar to Holt in that both have great defensive reputations but are really hitting for the first time this season. Major league pitching has taken advantage of Perez to some extent in his limited time this season, though the job of a backup catcher is not typically to light it up offensively. Perez has a great defensive reputation -- one he lived up to in the majors -- and looks like someone who could be on the major league roster for years to come. Yan Gomes may be under contract at least through 2019 as the starter, but Perez figures to be a stellar backup option. 

#22 David Murphy, OF (Previous Rank: 12, 11, 22)

As expected, Murphy's BABIP went back up this year, but what was unexpected was seeing the 32-year-old's power fall off. The end result is a hitter who comes out around average, which does not play that well in right field. Murphy could get away with that, however, if  his defense did not grade out terribly. The outfielder has been decent defensively in the past, meaning he probably is just having a bad year in the outfield and his true talent level is higher, but there is no denying 2014 became a lost cause. He should be a decent player in 2015, but this season Murphy has been a slightly below replacement level player.

#21 Mike Aviles, INF/OF (Previous Rank: 14, 6, 16)

Mike Aviles (Photo: ESPN)Aviles continues to get quite a few plate appearances and not do very much with them. The 33-year-old followed up last year's roughly replacement level performance with another one this season, but all in all, that is what Aviles is. He is capable of filling spots all around the diamond but is not quite good enough to start at any one of them. It would be nicer if Aviles could hit a little more or add some extra value on defense, but the fringe value the utility man offers by backing up so many positions is something that gives Terry Francona roster flexibility and is not something explicitly accounted for in his WAR. It is not much, but it is something.

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. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

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