Ranking the Cleveland Indians’ Roster at the 40-Game Mark
By Jim Piascik
May 21, 2012
Here we are, on May 21st with the Cleveland Indians leading the AL Central at 23-18, 3 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers and 2.5 ahead of the Chicago White Sox. Things have not gone perfectly in Cleveland; the starts of Casey Kotchman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, and Johnny Damon are testament enough to that. Yet, despite many things not going as planned, the Indians are looking alright a quarter of the way through the season.
The Tribe will need some major improvement in different areas as the season goes forward if they want to remain in 1st place, but for now, let’s rank the players that have gotten them to this point. We’re up to 29 different players on the Indians’ active roster, so the rankings have gotten a little bit longer. If you want to see where players were ranked before the season, click here. Otherwise, let’s get going on ranking the Cleveland Indians’ roster at the 40-game mark:
#29 Jason Donald, INF (Previous Rank: 16)
Heading into the season, I thought the Indians were blessed having Jason Donald on the roster. In my opinion, he could capably play second base every day (if not for the presence of a certain Jason Kipnis) and would give the Indians good production as a utility infielder. Well, either we all collectively overrated him or Donald isn’t mentally ready to handle a bench role. After posting a rough .178/.188/.178 slash line and .178 wOBA in 16 games, Donald is down in AAA to try to put it back together again.
#28 Dan Wheeler, RP (Previous Rank: 23)
I still maintain that signing Wheeler to a minor league deal in the offseason was a good idea – just one that didn’t work out as planned. There was no reason to believe that Wheeler was about to fall off the proverbial cliff (8.76 ERA, 7.51 FIP, 6.79 xFIP, 1.46 SO/9, 5.11 BB/9, 2.19 HR/9 in 12.1 innings) and end up back in AAA. He’s down in Columbus now trying to regain the form that once made him one of the more effective relievers in the Majors, but I wouldn’t count on him getting it back.
#27 Jeremy Accardo, RP (Previous Rank: NR)
Jeremy Accardo is a very recent callup to the Indians, which is why he is rated so low for now. He hasn’t pitched enough since his callup to really get a read on him (2 earned runs allowed in 2.2 scoreless innings, 2:1 SO:BB), but he pitched pretty well at Columbus (2.76 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 8.82 SO/9, 3.86 BB/9 in 16.1 innings). In time, Accardo could easily move up in these rankings, but for now, he gets the equivalent of an incomplete.
#26 Lou Marson, C (Previous Rank: 14)
What on Earth do we do with Lou Marson? He is a top defender at a very important position, but there have always been questions about his bat. Marson has done nothing to assuage those questions this year, posting a very weak .074/.242/.148 slash line, .210 wOBA, and striking out 24.2% of the time. Granted, as long as Marson is only the backup catcher, you can deal with some offensive struggles. If Marson continues to struggle this much, however, he will soon become expendable, despite his defensive prowess.
#25 Shelley Duncan, OF/1B (Previous Rank: 15)
We’ve reached the disappointment portion of these rankings, where these next two players have underachieved greatly to date this season. As for Shelley Duncan, any disappointment is probably the byproduct of dreaming too much on him. There is a reason Duncan was yet to establish himself as an everyday player headed into his age-32 season and it has been on full display this year. He’s nothing much as a defender and has posted a rough .198/.317/.337 slash line, .293 wOBA and 28.8 K% so far this year and has been generally exploited. He’s still a nice option to have on the bench, but we should be past the point of deluding ourselves that he will be anything more than that.
#24 Casey Kotchman, 1B (Previous Rank: 9)
Casey Kotchman has been heating up of late, but it has done little to affect his season line. Owning a .208/.291/.320 slash line and .281 wOBA wouldn’t cut it at any position, but it’s even worse at first base. No matter how much he adds to the team on defense, those numbers at the plate are unacceptable. I don’t know if the Indians are ready to pull the plug on him just yet, but his leash must be getting short. I’m not sure if Matt LaPorta would be any better, but we’re almost to the point where it can’t be any worse.
#23 Aaron Cunningham, OF (Previous Rank: 24)
I was an Aaron Cunningham defender coming into the season. I think that unless there’s something obviously wrong with a former top prospect, those are good people to take fliers on. At this point, though, the flier on Cunningham should be just about over. He hasn’t shown an ability to hit (.213/.315/.255 slash line, .250 wOBA) and is locked into a fight to the death with Johnny Damon for worst arm on the team. We may not be sure what Grady Sizemore will bring to the Indians, but it seems almost a lock that it’ll be more than what Cunningham is doing this year.
#22 Johnny Damon, OF (Previous Rank: NR)
So far, the great Johnny Damon experiment is not yet yielding fruit. He isn’t hitting (.172/.284/.224 slash line, .241 wOBA) and has played defense like a guy whose previous two teams regulated him to DH. I wouldn’t pull the plug on him just yet – mostly because the options in AAA aren’t all that appealing – but it wouldn’t shock me if the Damon signing ended up being a wash for the Tribe. It seems like other teams knew what they were doing when they passed him over all offseason.
#21 Jose Lopez, INF (Previous Rank: 22)
Jose Lopez is what he is. Lopez is a guy who can hit the ball hard (.213 ISO, 2 HR in 50 PA) but makes far too many outs to really be effective (.320 OBP, 6.5 BB%). There’s a reason Lopez has already been DFAed by the Indians this year and I don’t expect him to stick around through the end of the year. He’s a stopgap option on the bench that has next to no value to a Major League team. Once one of the Tribe’s other infield options at AAA solidifies themselves (Cord Phelps, Jason Donald, etc.), they should get a chance over Lopez.
#20 Jairo Asencio, RP (Previous Rank: 25)
For what the Indians look for Jairo Asencio to do, he has been very good this year. As the 7th guy in the bullpen, he’s simply supposed to eat some innings and not blow up. Asencio has filled that role perfectly, going 22.2 innings with a 4.43 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 3.62 xFIP, 7.66 SO/9, and 2.82 BB/9. He’s still not anything special out there, but considering the Indians acquired him for cash a week before the season, the Indians have gotten a good return so far this year.
#19 Ubaldo Jimenez, SP (Previous Rank: 5)
Ugh. That’s all I have to describe Ubaldo Jimenez this year. Jimenez spat in the face of regression and peripheral stats by having his mechanics go completely out of whack, making people like me expecting at least a very good Ubaldo look stupid. He’s been downright abysmal this year (5.48 SO/9, 6.26 BB/9, 5.09 ERA, 5.60 FIP, 5.60 xFIP), but there still has to be hope. This is still a guy who dominated the league in 2010 – that Ubaldo is still in there somewhere. Hopefully Jimenez can work through his issues and come out better for it. That’s a big if right now for the Indians, but they need him to right the ship if they want to be playing in October.
#18 Rafael Perez, RP (Previous Rank: 21)
Rafael Perez is on the DL right now, and hopefully that will fix his declining velocity problems. From 2008 on, Perez’s fastball velocity has gone from 90.0 MPH to 91.0 MPH to 90.5 MPH to 89.2 MPH to 85.9 MPH this year. In corresponding fashion, Perez’s SO/9 has dropped from 10.14 to 6.00 to 5.31 to 4.71 to 4.70 in the same timeframe. Perez was nothing special before he went on the DL (3.52 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 5.10 xFIP, 4.70 SO/9, 4.70 BB/9) and will need to impress after his DL stint if he wants to remain a key part of the Bullpen Mafia.
#17 Tony Sipp, RP (Previous Rank: 20)
The curious case of Tony Sipp: His ERA and BB/9 leave plenty to be desired (5.65 and 4.40 respectively), but his SO/9 (10.67), FIP (2.97), and xFIP (3.30) point to a reliever having a pretty good season. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, thus Sipp’s middle of the road ranking. I don’t like Sipp as a key member of the Bullpen Mafia, but I think he’s a good guy to have around and generally benefits the Tribe. If he can corral his walk rate, he has the chance to be a top reliever. For now, he’s doing decently but is capable of more.
#16 Justin Masterson, SP (Previous Rank: 3)
2012 was certainly supposed to go much differently for Justin Masterson. After a 2011 campaign that saw him post an impressive 3.21 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and 3.64 xFIP, Masterson has struggled to a 5.04 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 4.33 xFIP, 6.18 SO/9 and 4.72 BB/9. Masterson’s not a big strikeout guy, so he really can’t afford to walk as many guys as he is. Many people thought Masterson was becoming an ace after last year, but those dreams have obviously been put on hold. I still have faith that Masterson will get it together as the season rolls on, but at the moment, he’s been the Tribe’s least effective starter not named Ubaldo Jimenez.
#15 Nick Hagadone, RP (Previous Rank: NR)
Thank goodness that it appears Nick Hagadone’s spot in Cleveland is secure and we won’t have to see him toil away in Columbus anymore. After all the calls I was wrong on throughout the offseason, I’m very glad to have my calls for Hagadone to make the Opening Day bullpen look smart. Hagadone has struck out more than a batter per inning (9.24 SO/9), limited his walks (3.55 BB/9), and has just generally been effective (2.13 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 3.72 xFIP) in 2012. He has been called the closer of the future by many, but for now, I’m content with Hagadone being another dominant piece of the Bullpen Mafia.
#14 Zach McAllister, SP (Previous Rank: NR)
I was a Zach McAllister fan coming into this season, but even I didn’t expect success on this level. It’s only been 3 starts, but McAllister has looked very good (9.16 SO/9, 2.89 BB/9, 4.34 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 4.02 xFIP). It’s a good sign for the Tribe’s season that McAllister has outpitched Justin Masterson through 40 games and they are still in 1st place, but that’s no slight to McAllister. He’s made the most of his opportunity and is making his case that he should remain in the Indians’ rotation. I don’t expect him to post a sub-3.00 ERA like his FIP suggests, but over the season, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think he’ll be a good innings-eating 3.50-4.00 ERA guy.
#13 Joe Smith, RP (Previous Rank: 18)
Joe Smith isn’t an overpowering reliever, but he’s the sort of decent middle-relief cog that keeps the Bullpen Mafia running on all cylinders. His walk rate is a little troubling (4.58 BB/9), but every other part of his game is looking good (7.64 SO/9, 3.06 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 3.81 xFIP). There are many places the Indians could look to upgrade their roster, but Joe Smith’s spot is one that is locked down pretty well.
#12 Michael Brantley, OF (Previous Rank: 13)
40 games into the season, and I’m still not sure where I stand on Michael Brantley. His offensive numbers haven’t been good (.255/.294/.360 slash line, .280 wOBA) and he isn’t walking enough (5.3 BB%), but he’s also been a bit unlucky. He’s controlling the strike zone better than in the past (8.8 K%) and, in theory, could see his BABIP (.281 this year) approach his minor league level (.329). To me, Brantley remains a question mark, somewhere between every day starter still improving game by game and 4th outfielder masquerading as a starter. I hoped these first 40 games would answer my question, but, to me anyway, Brantley remains an enigma.
#11 Chris Perez, RP (Previous Rank: 17)
After the doom and gloom that Chris Perez’s 2011 peripherals foretold (5.88 SO/9, 3.92 BB/9, 4.27 FIP, 5.01 xFIP) and his nasty Opening Day blowup, who would’ve thought that Perez would be holding down the fort as the closer of the Bullpen Mafia? He’s still a far cry from dominant, but there’s no complaining about 12 saves, a 3.52 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, 7.04 SO/9 and 3.52 BB/9. I’d still like to see him strike more people out and get closer to his 2009 form (10.74 SO/9) in that regard, but this has been a very good first step for Perez. He may not be happy with the fans and their booing, but maybe Cleveland fans need to start giving him a break. He’s been much better this year.
#10 Jeanmar Gomez, SP (Previous Rank: 19)
I don’t think Jeanmar Gomez can remain a top-10 player for the Indians throughout the year, but to this point, he has earned this spot. Like Tomlin last year, Gomez isn’t overpowering hitters (4.75 SO/9), but he’s limiting his walks (2.75 BB/9) and getting the job done. His 3.75 ERA, 3.64 FIP, and 4.21 xFIP are pretty indicative of him being the 5th starter that he is right now, but there is no denying he is an effective Major League pitcher. Gomez still has room to grow (this is only his age-24 season), but he is still useful to the Indians this year.
#9 Josh Tomlin, SP (Previous Rank: 11)
With Josh Tomlin, I think it all comes down to his ability to get strikeouts. He really struggled in that department last year (4.84 SO/9), leading many (including me) to expect some regression this year. He’s responded by upping his SO/9 to 7.01 so far this year, while maintaining his tremendous control (1.82 BB/9). Tomlin’s 4.67 ERA this year is deceiving; he’s actually pitched quite a bit better (3.23 FIP, 3.52 xFIP). If Tomlin’s ERA starts falling like it should and he finds a way to keep striking people out, there’s a chance Tomlin could develop into a No.3 starter for the Tribe. I would’ve given Tomlin no chance of achieving that role before the year, so you’ve got to be encouraged by what he’s managed to do so far in 2012.
#8 Vinnie Pestano, RP (Previous Rank: 7)
At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if Vinnie Pestano is a machine. He’s recorded a strikeout in every one of his 18 appearances this year and has been downright dominating. His 2.87 ERA, 3.35 FIP, and 2.92 xFIP may not be the best in the league, but with Pestano backing it up with a 12.64 SO/9 and 3.45 BB/9, I have faith. Many people want Pestano to be the closer, but I’m actually the opposite. I’d like to see Chris Perez continue to hold onto the closer role so the Indians can use Pestano is high-leverage situations and not have him tied down to 9th inning situations alone. To me, that’s the best way to use your most effective reliever: to put out fires whenever they occur.
#7 Travis Hafner, DH (Previous Rank: 8)
Luckily for the Indians, Travis Hafner avoided a DL stint after taking a pitch off of his hand Thursday. Hafner has been hitting very well this year, posting a strong .238/.380/.421 slash line and .353 wOBA. Even more impressively, Hafner has drawn as many walks (15.8 BB%) as strikeouts (15.8 K%). Hafner will never be the Pronk of old that garnered MVP votes and deserved a $13 million salary, but if he keeps producing like he has through 40 games, the Indians will take it.
#6 Shin-Soo Choo, OF (Previous Rank: 4)
It will be interesting to see where Shin-Soo Choo goes from here. He struggled early on in the year, but he seems at home in the leadoff spot in the lineup and has actually had a decent year. He isn’t back up to the numbers that made him one of the most underrated players in all of baseball, but a .267/.385/.389 slash line, .356 wOBA, and 6 steals is nothing to sneeze at. With time, the Indians need Choo’s power (.122 ISO compared to .179 for his career) to get better, but the first 40 games last year (.239/.322/.368 slash line, .309 wOBA, 1 DUI arrest) were certainly worse for Choo than this year’s first 40 games.
#5 Jack Hannahan, 3B (Previous Rank: 10)
I don’t think that Hannahan will remain this hot for the full season, but he’s certainly earned a top-5 ranking for how he’s played so far this year. I don’t think he’ll keep it up, but there’s no denying how well he’s played through 40 games. Hannahan’s .287/.365/.436 slash line and .348 wOBA is reminiscent of the .260/.355/.427 slash line and .352 wOBA start he had through 34 games last year (before crashing down with a .246/.321/.371 slash line and .309 wOBA the rest of the way), so I’m hesitant to fully buy into him at this point. He could keep this up all year, but that isn’t the safe bet right now.
#4 Derek Lowe, SP (Previous Rank: 12)
Again, I don’t see Derek Lowe pitching this well for the rest of the season. If your ERA (2.15) and your SO/9 (2.30) look very similar, it doesn’t predict good things for the rest of your season. I know that Lowe is a sinkerball pitcher who is looking to induce groundballs, not overpower people, but that still doesn’t mean walking more people than you strikeout (15:18 SO:BB) is going to cut it. I love what Lowe has done for the Tribe, but don’t be surprised if he starts looking more like a 4.00-4.50 ERA pitcher (which his 3.87 FIP and 4.34 xFIP are predicting) in the near future.
#3 Jason Kipnis, 2B (Previous Rank: 6)
You’ve just got to love what Jason Kipnis brings to this ballclub. He’s on pace for a 20-20 season, has a good .256/.322/.427 slash line and .333 wOBA on the season, and always leaves it all out on the field. I maintain that I don’t think Kipnis is going to develop into an MVP candidate year-in and year-out, but that isn’t the fate for most players. Kipnis is one of those players that works hard and gets the most out of his abilities. The Indians are much better off with him and he should continue to hit the ball well for them the rest of the year.
#2 Carlos Santana, C/1B (Previous Rank: 1)
What Carlos Santana has done for the Indians this year has been stunning. He’s getting on base quite well and has shown some pop (.261/.379/.415 slash line, .349 wOBA). Yet, there’s reason to believe that there’s even more coming from Santana. His .155 ISO on the year is a far cry from the .255 mark he posted between AA and AAA and .215 mark he had in the Majors prior to this season. Even factoring in that you’ll see some regression after moving to the Majors, it’s clear that he has more power in his bat than has shown so far in 2012. Santana is one of the best players on the roster right now, but the award for best player must go to…
#1 Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (Previous Rank: 2)
I don’t think you can understate what Asdrubal Cabrera has done for the Indians this year. Even going past the very impressive .309/.404/.504 slash line and .392 wOBA, Cabrera’s changed approach at the plate is what has me stunned. For his career, Cabrera has a 15.8 K% and 8.0 BB%. Those are nothing to sneeze at, but they could certainly stand to be a bit better. This season, however, Cabrera has limited his strikeouts (7.5 K%) and really started drawing more walks (11.2 BB%). He may or may not be able to keep up these new rates, but there is no doubt he is seeing the ball well right now. Maybe this new-found plate discipline will allow him to sustain his early season success in 2012 like he wasn’t able to in 2011 (1st 40 games of 2011: .287/.348/.491 slash line, .354 wOBA, 14.4 K%, 6.4 BB%; games 41-162 of 2011: .268/.326/.449 slash line, .342 wOBA, 19.2 K%, 6.7 BB%).
Overall, the Indians have to feel pretty good about being 23-18 right now. So many things have gone wrong to date, and yet they are still in 1st place. It would be wrong to assume most of the Indians’ biggest worries – mostly players like Masterson, Jimenez, Kotchman, etc. who have at least some history of success – will all continue to struggle throughout the entire season. If those players improve like they should, then their improvements can counter the regression players like Lowe, Hannahan, McAllister, etc. are likely to have.
The Indians may not be perfect at the 40-game mark, but I’d have to think we should consider them a success to this point in the year. Here’s hoping they build on that success in the next 40-game segment (around the All-Star break – when I will re-rank the roster again.
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Patience can be a double-edged sword when taken to extreme, as I still think Brantley takes way too many hittable pitches. Santana could still benefit from increased aggressiveness too, and it seems Hafner has recently caught this disease too, where he takes pitches down the middle, gets in a two strike count, and is forced to swing at an off speed pitch out of the zone. He is really struggling, after being red hot to start the year. Makes me wonder how the old shoulder's holding up. It was a similar trend last year. Maybe some interleague rest will be good for Pronk.