Indians

Let’s Argue: Tribe’s Biggest Strength

let's argue
Welcome to Let’s Argue, your weekly opportunity to be #MadOnline. The premise is simple: WFNY’s Mike Hattery and Jeff Nomina will present arguments — maybe just a question or a deep stat dive or a good old fashioned hot take. Then, they will either argue with each other or invite you to come argue with us. This week, Mike and Jeff are starting the argument, but don’t let that stop you for joining in the comment section or coming at us 140 characters at a time on Twitter @SnarkyHatman & @SportsNom.

Jeff: It’s incredible how much can change in the span of one season. The Indians’ rotation was considered their only major strength heading into 2016. Yet it was their bullpen and a surprisingly potent lineup that led them to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series. Since then, the Indians have added slugger Edwin Encarnacion and reliever Boone Logan. Do you think those units have caught up to or passed the rotation in terms of ranking the team’s strengths?

Mike Hattery: In terms of the Indians units I have them ranked in the following order: 1. Bullpen 2A. Lineup 2B. Rotation. The rotation is somewhat over-rated now. In 2016, the Indians ran a 4.05 FIP (4.08 ERA) and were somewhere in the 6-10 range among big league rotations.  The Indians bullpen was 5th in FIP (2nd in xFIP) with only half a season of Miller. Then there is the recent addition of Boone Logan. While I have not written my monthly Andrew Miller piece, I will continue to emphasize that he is the best reliever in baseball paired with Allen (Top 20 reliever) and Shaw/Logan/Otero who are set to anchor medium leverage appearances.  The bullpen’s second half xFIP was 3.30; brilliant production. Further, the rotation enters 2017 with Corey Kluber carrying a ton of regular season and postseason innings, Carlos Carrasco trying to remain healthy, Danny Salazar’s arm a giant hazard sign, Trevor Bauer being tortously enigmatic, and the inevitable Josh Tomlin injury. There is little depth outside a new to his arsenal Cody Anderson and Mike Clevinger a man with little command who Fangraphs noted loses two miles per hour on his fastball late in games. The Indians rotation is good and above average, but it has significant risk markers. The pen is simply elite. Tell me why I am wrong….

Jeff: Oh, are you saying that pitchers are massive health risks? Thanks for that breaking news.

Why do you hate Carlos Carrasco? Is he too perfect? Do you just walk around trying to destroy everything beautiful that crosses your path?

Yes, there are questions about the rotation and their ability to stay healthy. But the upside is ridiculous. It wouldn’t be surprising for any of Kluber, Carrasco, or Salazar to win the AL Cy Young Award. Hell, Kluber nearly won his second Cy Young last year. Danny Salazar was an All-Star. Carlos Carrasco put up his third consecutive season of 3.6+ wins above replacement. I understand they were in the 6-10 range among big league rotations last year, but that’s with Carrasco and Salazar having multiple trips to the DL. There is so much elite talent at the top of this rotation. The bullpen is great, but they are a Miller or Allen injury away from being average. The rotation took hits to two of their top three last year and was still a weapon.

Even beyond the top-end guys, Trevor Bauer has established himself as league-average innings-eating starter with upside in that 26-year old arm. Josh Tomlin as a fifth starter is hardly a concern. They lack of depth behind those five, but, with three elite starters, “depth” doesn’t need to be high-end guys. We’ve seen Ryan Merritt, Cody Anderson, and Mike Clevinger. Adam Plutko is an interesting arm. With the Tribe’s Big 3 in the rotation, they’ll likely only need to cycle through serviceable guys to deal with injuries.

I just wonder if we’re so excited about our new toys we’re ignoring just how great the rotation is.

Mike: Anytime someone uses a delightfully precise cut-off of 3.6 WAR, you know they are trying to gerrymander something. I certainly expect Carrasco to pitch more in 2017 and pitch well to earn the league wide status he deserves. Salazar’s arm health is a huge concern as was the massive command regression he experienced in 2016 though less so. When attempting to be pursuasive we are often caught justifying things we would never agree with in normal discourse. Things like showing confidence in the stability of Trevor Bauer, acting like Clevinger can command the strike zone, considering Merritt as anything but Aaron Laffey, or calling Adam Plutko interesting.  Plutko is useful depth in that he throws a lot of strikes, but he appears to be a poor man’s Tomlin which is nothing more than depth.

We are talking about the rotation being a weapon versus being better than the bullpen. The rotation is not bad, but I submit that it is above average, which is not the heights we once dreamed it could be. Salazar could certainly make the leap; I hope he does. How long can Kluber match this dominance? Josh Tomlin just threw the most innings of his career and is loaded with injury risk. The Indians are an injury away from Clevinger or Anderson every fifth day. The rotation is good, while the bullpen may be the best in MLB. We built a mythos around our rotation in 2014-2015 because the rest of team was underwhelming. Now the roster is loaded, and it simply is not our best unit anymore.

Jeff: First off, cutting off at 3.6 WAR is what all the kids are doing. You’re just not hip. Second, we’re over 1,000 words and you’ve spent all of three sentences actually arguing in favor of the bullpen. The rest just against the rotation. That should tell you something.

Yes, the bottom of the rotation is weak. As is the bottom of the bullpen. Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are spectacular, and probably the best bullpen duo in baseball. Shaw has been great, but his arm could fall off from overuse at any minute. Logan is a solid LOOGY addition. Otero is interesting. And beyond that there’s a bunch of question marks. It’s almost identical to the rotation. Two top-end guys, another high-end arm with injury risk, and a bunch of mediocrity.

All else being equal, I’ll put my faith in Klubot, Cookie, and Salazar.

So what do you think? What is the Tribe’s biggest strength going into 2017? The rotation? The bullpen? Or are we both wrong and the lineup will be what carries the team this year?

Let us know in the poll below, in the comments, or come yell at us on Twitter.

  • Hopwin

    None of the above. The true strength of the Tribe is clearly attendance.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5d38be0b59df09ed37eb8fcc8cb5055be562324c7bb0eb4c4ee40ea39468d551.jpg

  • Jeff Nomina

    Oh man how have we not done one of these about attendance yet

  • Mike Hattery

    Nom is not allowed to write attendance, it is a rule.

  • mgbode

    Corrollary – you can write attendance but only if you also talk about the thriftiness of the Dolans at local establishments alongside how terrible anyone is ever that suggests Spiders is an acceptable name/logo for any Cleveland sporting franchise.

  • Hopwin

    The Dolan’s are cheap where? I think I missed an article somewhere.

    Spiders are horrible.

  • Hopwin

    I am closer to Mike here. I think Kluber is way overdue to start showing the strain of the innings he has been carrying for the past three years and I have literally 0 faith in Danny. But I am much higher on Cookie.
    I would probably end up at Lineup, Bullpen then Rotation.

  • mgbode

    DOLANZ R CHEEP

  • scripty

    tito

  • Hopwin
  • Jaker

    Wrong. Their biggest strength is Terry Francona. He proved last year that the team is greater than the sum of its parts. Going into 2016, I would’ve said that we would need Brantley and Cookie to even think playoffs, yet this team didn’t miss a beat. That starts at the top. So whatever the strength appears to be, it isn’t a strength without him.

    No matter who goes down, as long as he is our Manager, I feel confident in the team’s abilities to make a run.

  • Steve

    Guffaw

  • Jeff Nomina

    Listen as long as we all agree that Carrasco is awesome we can all get along.

  • Jaker

    damn you and your one word, thunder stealing, beat-me-by-seconds comment. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a3f8e020cc4aceea17c63ab67ba7664753ffad2655f1ce53d5bd95c5894b4272.jpg

  • Steve

    ” In 2016, the Indians ran a 4.05 FIP (4.08 ERA) and were somewhere in the 6-10 range among big league rotations.”

    In what has become the best hitters park in the AL.

    The rotation was tied for fifth in league/park adjusted FIP, and third in league/park adjusted xFIP. But, that is with Fangraphs using a five year period to calculate park factors, which means it’s not picking up the full effect of the changes to Progressive this year. They probably should be somewhere in the top four in FIP- (and best in the AL) and tops in all of MLB in xFIP-.

  • Steve

    Except when they didn’t have a Proven Clubhouse Leader (TM) in Giambi or Napoli in 2015 and went .500.

  • mgbode

    SIERA has the Indians 4th in MLB for 2016 & 1st in AL.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=sta&lg=all&qual=0&type=1&season=2016&month=0&season1=2016&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=20,a

    It is park-adjusted & also gives credence to the Indians staff attempts to go heavier on GB rates.

    Craziest part of SIERA is looking at the AL Ranks and noticing the East:

    1. Indians
    2. Yanks
    3. Rays
    4. Red Sox
    5. Blue Jays

  • jpftribe

    Nailed it.

  • jpftribe

    They turned the corner about 3 weeks after Lindor was called up. Much different team in September than in April. I think that was also around the time Shapiro told Dolan he was talking to TOR.

  • Steve

    I believe it uses the Fangraphs five year park numbers as well, which means that it still underestimates how good Indians pitchers were in 2016.

    The rotation is right there for best in MLB.

  • Mike Hattery

    It was nice to see the Indians bullpen built so well in late 2016 that Francona could not get in the way.

  • Jaker

    That team from early 2015 BL (before lindor) is worlds different than the one we see today, and the landscape of the AL Central is completely different too, so I don’t like the comparison for this argument… The way they have come together, I know isn’t just Francona, but it starts with him. He gets too much high praise from everyone on the team to ignore that. And yes, Napoli is gone, and this team really rallies behind a Club Leader like that, but I am pretty certain Kipnis is more than ready to fill those Leadership Shoes.

    Bottom line is that if we lost just one individual this season, I think Francona would be the one that would hurt the most.

  • Steve

    They hit their low point, 10 games under .500, on August 7, almost two months after the Lindor call up.

    My point still stands. Francona gets tons of credit heaped upon him when things are going right, and none of the opposite when they aren’t. I think he’s a good manager, and I’m glad to have him with this team as long as he wants to be around, but we don’t get to treat him like Churchill when we win without asking where that type of leadership is when we don’t.

  • Steve

    “That team from early 2015 BL (before lindor) is worlds different than the one we see today”

    Isn’t this the whole argument against Francona? Without superstar talent (here or Boston), his teams are mediocre to decent. You give a Lindor and Kluber to Manny Acta, and even he can find a way to scratch out a bunch of wins.

  • scripty

    They shipped out Bourne and Giambi, and Tito told Brantly/Kipnis/Kluber they need to start leading now instead of deferring.

    Players grew up and he challenged them. It was organic. If they didnt struggle early in 2015 and make those choices, then maybe 2016 doesnt play out.

    Everything isn’t absolute and under just one area of responsibility/blame

  • Jaker

    If we lost Francona on October 1st 2016, I don’t think we make the WS, let alone win 3 vs Chicago. But if we lost Kipnis? or Kluber? I still think we find a way. The way he managed the pen was insane, and it nearly won the World Series, we just ran out of gas.

    We obviously disagree here, which is fine. And I see your point about when things go South. I for one don’t let him off the hook for that, I just think times are different now.

  • Steve

    “Tito told Brantly/Kipnis/Kluber they need to start leading now instead of deferring.”

    Shouldn’t a great leader of men cultivate this type of thing before things head south?

    “If they didnt struggle early in 2015 and make those choices, then maybe 2016 doesnt play out”

    This is batshit to me. Now, even when they play poorly, it’s a plus to Francona.

  • Jaker

    Yes I love the way our bullpen is built, its a good thing Francona used it the way he did. I don’t think we come that close to winning the WS without his extended use of certain guys that other managers wouldn’t have done

  • scripty

    think you’re making some broad leaps. I’m not saying he’s infallible. sounds like you have some jaded view of Tito, when’s he widely viewed as a fringe HOF type manager.

    I dont think it’s a bridge too far to say his credibility and experience has been the biggest boost to the org the past 3-4 years and will continue to do so. I’m not denigrating the players at his expense.

  • Hopwin

    PECOTA has our backs:
    http://www.letsgotribe.com/2017/2/7/14533486/cleveland-indians-pecota-projection-brantley-lindor-kipnis-santana-free-yandy

    PECOTA believes the Indians will score the most runs in baseball, driven by the highest OBP and SLG in the league.

  • Hopwin

    For shame…

    One is the inclusion of the Bronnie Chisener nickname for the right field platoon, courtesy of Michael Bode at Waiting for Next Year.

  • Steve

    “If we lost Francona on October 1st 2016, I don’t think we make the WS, let alone win 3 vs Chicago”

    This is going to sound rude, but, okay I guess? Without some sort of evidence, this is kind of useless. MLB playoffs are crapshoots. Sometimes Tomlin throws a decent ballgame in a bandbox like Fenway, sometimes he gives up eight runs.

    And the way he managed the pen is how those sabermetric nerds have been suggesting for years. I just kind of laugh when I see it called genius by mainstream analysts. And of course it worked because Allen and Miller were not just their usual selves, allowing two runs per nine innings, but, apart from Miller’s blowup in game seven, they allowed just one run in 31 innings. Again, Manny Acta can look like Earl Weaver with that kind of performance from his players.

  • Jaker

    I like London Guyenhall instead

  • Steve

    The broad leaps are the assumptions of what and when he told Brantley/Kipnis/Kluber and that choices during a rough stretch were responsible for success later on.

    I’m more baffled than before. It’s not just a one way street regarding Francona, there are some serious blinders in this town.

  • Jaker

    By that point Most of this comment section is useless. Trying to ever predict what we would’ve done with Brantley is useless too. Anything that starts with “What if” or “Should’ve” or anything like that is useless. So yea, maybe my comment is useless, but that’s why this is an opinion piece where we argue what we think is the team’s biggest strength, rather than a “let’s just state facts” piece which requires no opinions and thus, no comments.

    My main defense of Francona has nothing to do with numbers, or star power or records or whatever. It has everything to do with what his players say about him. And I think that leadership has reflected well onto his players. Everything I say from here on out is my personal opinion on how highly Francona is regarded and how his personality affects his team. There are no numbers to represent leadership.

  • jpftribe

    Lindor was called up Jun 6th. Indians went 35-41 prior to July 1st and 46-39 after. They blew their playoff chances on the big homestand against KC and Chicago in late July.

  • mgbode

    Haha, thanks for letting me know. Hadn’t gotten to Matt’s article yet but he does good work. Glad to be included.

  • mgbode

    I tried to find it but couldn’t. Not sure what park factors it used.

  • Steve

    I find a significant difference between bringing fact-based evidence to a discussion than to just throw out a counterfactual and run with it.

    Players say nice things about their manager when he plays cards with them, or lets them bring chicken and beer into the clubhouse. They like the carrot. Sometimes they need the stick though.

  • Steve

    He first played on June 14, and they went 20-27 from then through August 7. Lindor put up a .676 OPS through that date, and then .977 OPS the rest of the way. They turned the corner in large part to Lindor going from being a crappy bat to Mike Trout.

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  • Jaker

    Coaching/Management is hardly a counterfactual. I understand that there aren’t any stats there aside from record. But this is an opinion piece and my opinion is that Francona is great. And his .545 win percentage since being here is a solid number.

  • Steve

    “If we lost Francona on October 1st 2016, I don’t think we make the WS, let alone win 3 vs Chicago.” is as counterfactual as it gets.

  • Greg Popelka

    They nosedived when Gomes went down, IIRC

  • Steve

    He was back before the end of May, after which they still played mediocre for quite a while, but a not-100% Gomes certainly hurt the cause as well.

  • Jaker
  • Steve

    I’m sorry that you didn’t like your argument getting critiqued. If you just want to roll your eyes at the other view, no one is making you click “Reply”.

  • Jaker

    lol not true. I love a good back and forth argument, its why I come to this site (that and the easily uploaded gifs).. however this has felt like its gone nowhere. I’m rolling my eyes because I should’ve known better than to comment on the “Lets Argue” segment. I think Tito is a strength. You don’t. And that’s fine.

    Also, you are WAY WRONG. Someone is making me reply! Jason Kipnis has been standing right behind me, making me defend Tito’s honor! I can’t disobey him and his perfectly trimmed facial hair!