2018 Season Preview: Cleveland Indians

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

102-60

108-54

107-55

818

564

The 2017 Indians were possibly the best team we’ve seen in a decade, maybe longer. With 102 wins apparently the result of bad luck, words like “led the AL in runs allowed” aren’t that surprising. “Led MLB in runs allowed” is pretty impressive, considering the league they play in, and “beat third place by nearly 100” is frankly somewhat terrifying.

So let’s run down the single-season records they set:

  1. Pitching WAR
  2. Strikeouts (first team to 1600 in a season)
  3. K%
  4. K/9 (first team over 10 K/9)
  5. K-BB% (first team over 20%)
  6. FIP- (beat 1996 Braves by five percent)
  7. xFIP-

Also, they were third in wRC+.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Yonder Alonso

Hmm. That’s a bit of a letdown, considering how much buildup there was. Kind of like the postseason for the Indians, actually. Alonso is possibly the poster boy for the fly-ball revolution, considering how incredibly mediocre he was prior to 2017. Last season he broke out with the A’s and nearly doubled his career HR and WAR totals. He’ll serve to replace one of the players the Indians lost, which is a much longer list.

Key Losses – Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Bryan Shaw, Austin Jackson, Joe Smith, Boone Logan

While Alonso likely won’t replace Santana’s incredibly consistent production (2-4 WAR and 140-155 games for each of the last seven years), it likely won’t be a significant dropoff. Bruce’s 2017 was a serious return to form, as 2.7 WAR was his best year since 2013. Either the Indians saw through him and Jackson’s elevated BABIP or they believe in the health of Michael Brantley as a nominal replacement. Or, like Santana, they didn’t have the money to compete with other offers even if they would have liked a reunion.

The bullpen took serious hits as Shaw, Smith, and Logan were obviously useful members of that awesome staff, and while Cody Allen and Andrew Miller keep the ‘pen formidable, depth is certainly a bit more of a question mark.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

96-66

93-69

96-66

Strong agreement that not only are the Indians one of the AL’s better teams, they should win their division by anywhere from fifteen to twenty games. With the Tigers in full tank mode and the Royals losing whether they want to or not, the Central should include three of the sport’s worst teams and the Twins, who likely are decent at best. Cleveland might clinch by mid-August.

Key Players:

After sticking in a utility role until 2016, Jose Ramirez continued his breakout and finished 8th among position players in WAR. Not only is he a generally strong defender who can play multiple positions, there was a two-pronged power breakout with 29 dingers accompanying a league-leading 56 doubles. If that’s who he really is – or the still-great 2016 version appears – it will go a long way to helping a merely good Indians lineup. On the pitching side, Corey Kluber is obviously the big gun, with 200+ innings and 5+ WAR each of the last four seasons, including two Cy Youngs. Turning 32 just a few days into the 2018 season, there are certainly long-term questions but no immediate worries. Fellow starter Trevor Bauer’s constant tweaking may be paying dividends, as he posted his first three-win season. Something happened at the end of July, as Bauer allowed only a 2.42 ERA and struck out 10.2 per nine from 7/27 through the end of the year. If that continues, the Indians won’t just have two of the best pitchers in baseball, they’ll have at least three.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

As much as can be said about the Indians’ pitching staff, their offense does leave something to be desired. Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are the humming engines, soon to be joined by Bradley Zimmer’s incredible power/speed combination. Contact is another question, though not for Francisco Mejia and wherever he plays, be it catcher or right field (third base seems to have been nixed). Like most of baseball, Mejia boosted his power in 2017 while carrying a sub-14% strikeout rate in AA; if he’s a catcher, that’s a future star, and he should be a key member of the offense sooner than later no matter what. Supplementing the pitching staff should be Triston McKenzie and his hilarious 6’5”, 165-pound build; Cleveland’s 4 and 5 starters are currently Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin, which is completely fine, but McKenzie could be that elusive fourth ace they’ve been needing all these years.

Future Outlook:

There are two questions surrounding the Indians’ future: how long will the rest of the A.L. Central be horrible, and how will Kluber and Carlos Carrasco age? Both pitchers are nearing 32, and with considerable mileage and a couple injuries under them, there could be a hard, quick fall in the near future. But there is a good amount of help coming from the farm in the next couple of years, and much of the core is already signed to team-friendly long-term extensions. If they can sort out the bullpen after the departure of Miller and Allen this winter – or even if they can’t – Cleveland shouldn’t be challenged until 2020 at the earliest.

2018 Season Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

 

2017 Review

Record Pythag Record BaseRuns Record Runs Scored

Runs Against

80-82

80-82 87-75 694

704

Stuck in a perennial holding pattern after a shocking leap into contention followed by six strong seasons and no movie (yet), the Rays left 2017 as they entered: an okay team without any particularly good reason to believe something more or less is coming in the near future.

Despite numerous question marks in the lineup, the Rays’ pitching staff seems to be getting younger. Top prospects Blake Snell and Jake Faria showed they don’t really need more time in the minors, and fellow arms Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon should be right behind them. With staff ace Chris Archer leading the charge and solid vet Jake Odorizzi behind him, a few upgrades or strong debuts for an Evan Longoria/Steven Souza/Corey Dickerson-led offense might let Tampa Bay ride a strong staff to their first playoff appearance since 2013.

Oh, dammit, Rays.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Carlos Gomez, C.J. Cron, Christian Arroyo, Anthony Banda, Daniel Hudson

That’s a fine list of players. Not really great, but you can see where the Rays could use a decent outfielder, a bench bat, a couple MLB-ready young guys, and a solid middle reliever. Especially considering the combined 2018 salary of these players is around $12 million, they are fine supplements to a strong core of players. Good thing the Rays have that.

Key Losses – Evan Longoria, Steven Souza, Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Brad Boxberger, Tommy Hunter, Denard Span

Well, shit. The Rays hit 228 homers last year, sixth in MLB, and their top four sources of power will be playing elsewhere next year. Morrison, Souza, Dickerson, and Longoria were their only 20+ HR bats, combining for 115 of those bombs. You’ll notice that’s more than half! Don’t worry, though, they’ve also lost another four of their top ten that aren’t even listed up there. Yes, eight of the top 10 power threats from Tampa are gone. Next season’s team leader is a tie between Cron and Kevin Kiermaier.

As much as it’s worth continuing to complain about incredibly light returns for Souza, Dickerson, and Odorizzi, Longoria deserves his own paragraph considering what he means to Tampa. The first of two franchise icons that would eventually reach San Francisco, Longo’s 49.6 career WAR is tops in Tampa Bay franchise history with thirteen wins. He won the rookie of the year in 2008, the franchise’s first postseason appearance, and an extension on top of an extension that ran until 2022 at least suggested he might be a lifelong Ray. While the return for him wasn’t terrible – you will notice Span is listed amongst the losses because he is a negative value player – in retrospect, it was a pretty clear sign that the Rays were about to blow up. They probably need to, but it doesn’t make Longoria’s departure any less frustrating. Sometimes it’s okay to make a bad decision for good reasons.

2018 Projections

ZiPS Steamer

Pecota

79-83

80-82

83-79

The Rays are what they are. A good pitching staff will be crippled by the AL’s worst offense, and like hell if reinforcements are coming to save the day. Strong transitions by a few top prospects might let Tampa stick in the race for a little while until the heft of their perennial bullies in New York and Boston is inevitably brought to bear.

Key Players:

There is a surprising amount of individual talent in Tampa Bay, starting with staff ace Chris Archer, who broke out in 2014, burned down the house he broke out of in 2015 and has been rebuilding that safe hidey-hole for two years since. Archer’s a true No. 1 when he’s right, he just needs to return to an era with an 11% HR/FB, and it seems likely a strong start to 2018 leads to him getting moved. That will put youngster Blake Snell in the pole position, and which is completely fine even if he doesn’t use the potential he’s got left. Defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier leads a moribund offense, with only five players projected for at least 1 WAR – he’s arguably the best hitter on this team despite a career .324 wOBA and 106 wRC+.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Middle infielder Willy Adames is the short- and middle-term solution for the Rays at SS  (because long doesn’t exist), and will be in the majors for most of 2018. Almost exactly the same thing could be said of outfielder Jake Bauers, and good debuts from the two of them could suddenly manifest a reasonably productive offensive core alongside Kiermaier. With the Rays going to a four-man rotation through April and possibly well beyond, Yonny Chirinos could be a surprisingly valuable piece, contributing multiple innings out of the bullpen on a regular basis.

Future Outlook:

There are three highly valuable prospects in Tampa’s pipeline, with Adames and Bauers likely joined by possible two-way player Brendan McKay in the somewhat near future. Considering their wealth of MLB-ready arms, even after Honeywell and De Leon were lost to Tommy John, you would think the Rays have the pieces in place for a legitimate run as soon as 2019. It’s just hard to love again.

2018 Season Preview: Kansas City Royals

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

80-82

72-90

72-90

702

791

Two years removed from what might be the densest dynasty ever (the Royals have two championships and four pennants in nine total playoff appearances), the Royals entered 2017 with vague hopes of competitiveness and left the year a clear rebuilding team. Their record masked a bottom-10 collection of talent that was staring down the barrel of free agency for more than a few of its best players.

It’s a good thing flags fly forever.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Lucas Duda, Trevor Oaks, Wily Peralta

Things aren’t going well when Duda is your biggest free agent acquisition, but that was true before he came to town. Both he and Peralta are bounce-back candidates, though Duda’s reasonably consistent offense will likely make him a better bet than the oft-injured and kinda-bad-anyway starter. Peralta will be used out of the bullpen, where his intense stuff will play up further, and the Royals do have Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, and Mike Minor as recent post-conversion success stories. Oaks was the main piece coming back for lefty Scott Alexander and should be in the majors for a questionable rotation.

Key Losses – Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas, Mike Minor, Scott Alexander

Welcome to Reasons for the Rebuild, Lessons A-E. The Royals had an incredible exodus of talent thanks to free agency, and while the cumulative 2017 production of that talent wasn’t necessarily great, the top five names snagged nearly $275 million in combined contracts this offseason. That’s especially significant considering the remaining unsigned free agents, and while nobody will ever explain why the Padres signed Hosmer, stripping three of the seven 2+ WAR players from a bad team isn’t going to help anything. Alexander was the first domino to fall as a result, heading to the Dodgers for Oaks.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

65-96

66-96

66-96

There’s very little chance the Royals don’t end up with a top three pick in the 2019 draft, as the projections uniformly see them tying for the second-worst record in even optimal scenarios. If anything, it’s a bit surprising they aren’t projected lower considering they beat their expected record by eight games in 2017 and lost a huge portion of that team. Projections are notoriously conservative, of course, so it’s forgivable to take the under here.

Key Players:

The Royals are looking at everyone on their roster through trade-colored eyes for the next several seasons, and that starts with catcher Sal Perez, whose terrible plate discipline is made up for by back-to-back-to-back 20-homer seasons and a very team-friendly contract. He’s 28 in May and staring down multiple contenders who could use an upgrade behind the plate. Starter Danny Duffy is also affordably locked up through 2021, though he typically plateaus at about 25 starts a season, and could be a solid mid-rotation option for a team like Milwaukee. In the current relief market,  Kelvin Herrera represents a legitimate closing option, which has a ton of value. He’ll need to bounce back from a rough 2017, and as yet another pending free agent,  perhaps Kansas City can get more than compensation picks this time.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The main piece in the Alexander trade, Trevor Oaks cannot be kept in the minors long with names like Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy, and Nate Karns expected to occupy slots in the rotation. Oaks’ projections make him the second-best pitcher on the team after Duffy with something close to a full season. 3B/1B/OF Hunter Dozier was a borderline top 100 prospect after 2016, reaching AAA and combining solid power with acceptable K/BB rates, but spent most of 2017 injured and has no positional home, particularly after the signing of Duda. Legacy Adalberto Mondesi (née Raul) is toolsy and probably a middle infielder, though slightly blocked with Alcides Escobar returning to short and Whit Merrifield entrenched at second.

Future Outlook:

The Royals’ 2011 best-farm-system-in-history resulted in only two playoff appearances, but they sure made ‘em count. Trouble is, there were quite a few 90-loss seasons (and for a while those were the good years) before that, and at the moment Kansas City is a franchise captured as it flies off the embankment but hasn’t started falling into the ravine below. They’ll get there.