Indians

Rotation worry at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario?

With news of Cody Anderson missing the 2017 season making the rounds this weekend at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, I couldn’t help but feel slightly concerned about this year’s Cleveland Indians’ rotation.

I know… it’s insane.

Cody Anderson may not have even been a starter this year.

Even if Anderson was a starter, he was the seventh or eighth guy in the conversation.

I get it. Worrying about the Indians’ rotation on March 20th, two full weeks before the season even starts, is a testament to having too much time on your hands, and not much to talk about. This is the benefit of this years Indians’ roster. It’s stacked… even without Anderson for the season, or potentially Jason Kipnis on the DL for a month. Hell, it’s even stacked if you take into account Michael Brantley not being a lock for Opening Day, even though he’s slated to make his first start on March 20th.

The Indians have a deep roster, and the rotation is no exception.

But, Anderson’s Tommy John surgery brings back the all-too-fresh memories of the 2016 MLB playoffs, and the injuries that prevented Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco from making a playoff start.1 Sure, the Carrasco injuries last year were of the random variety, and you can add Trevor Bauer’s drone-woes to that as well, but Salazar’s arm soreness has been a worry since his very own Tommy John surgery in 2010, and we all know how the random knicks and dings can come when you least expect them.

The Indians do have a bit of a luxury though. While I’ve already documented the issues with three of their top five starters, Corey Kluber has been a true innings-eating ace, with three straight 215+ innings seasons. Josh Tomlin also had a sneaky 174 inning season, and Trevor Bauer pitched in 190 innings. Past that, the Columbus Clippers are ripe with depth, with a couple of interesting names bouncing around in Akron as well. No, there doesn’t appear to be a high upside guy waiting in the wings2, but there does appear to be some guys that can fill in at the big league level for short and appropriate bursts.

So, why can’t I get this concern out of my head? Why am I worried that bringing in a guy like Tim Cooney isn’t enough?3

Why can’t I be happy?

The Columbus Rotation

Without Cody Anderson, there are still a whole bunch of interesting guys here. The likely No. 1 starter for the Clippers is Mike Clevinger, and that’s a really good thing. WFNY’s Michael Bode gave us the skinny on Clevinger, and his upside is clear. He has ace-like velocity, and while his velocity and stamina are a question, this is the year we’ll find out how real Clevinger is.

Ryan Merritt is likely the #2 guy in Columbus, and will forever be grateful to the Indians’ fans for decimating his wedding registry after his 4 1/3 innings out of nowhere in Game 5 of the ALCS, against the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s much like Tomlin, with less velocity, but he knows how to work, and knows how to locate. As a lefty, he could be an interesting spot starter, especially if those knicks and dings find their way into Cleveland.

Adam Plutko was a fellow Bruin at UCLA with Trevor Bauer, and like Bauer, he was a dominant college starter. Much like Merritt, Plutko is about location and pitch mix, and while his velocity isn’t going to turn anyone’s head, his fastball/curve/changeup mix is second-to-none. In the middle of fireballers, Plutko could be interesting.

Shawn Morimando and possibly Rob Kaminsky will likely round out the rotation, and both have there value. Morimando is a lefty that has improved nearly every year, and Kaminsky is another guy that pitches to contact, and is often rated far too high for my liking, but still will likely see big league time.

Tim Cooney is out, but he could prove to be interesting, although he’s missed substantial time already. That said, most of my Cardinals friends were pretty damn irritated when the Indians claimed him during the Rule V draft.

Worry Factor (out of 10): 2

I love our depth, but with Cooney and Anderson already out for substantial portions of the season, this number could grow considerably. Look for at least two of these guys to make a substantial impact this year.

#5 starter–Josh Tomlin, RHP

Let’s start with Josh Tomlin, who is manning the No. 5 slot after becoming the poor man’s Corey Kluber in the playoffs. It’s easy to overlook how brilliant Tomlin was in the early rounds of the playoffs, when it seemed as though the decimated rotation was going to be the end of an already glorious season. Tomlin clearly isn’t going to overmatch anyone with his velocity, and he does have a tendency to give up fly balls. But when he’s on his game and hitting his marks, there isn’t smarter starter on this rotation. When you combine that baseball IQ with his tenacity and work ethic, there isn’t anything you’d want more in a fifth starter than Tomlin.

Worry Factor (out of 10): 3

Tomlin is the fifth starter in a room full of cannons. While he filled in the gaps for 174 innings last year, it was a “he did what he had to do” sort of season. My biggest concern, outside of the fly balls, is health. Last year, the only thing everyone was talking about regarding Tomlin was the likelihood that he would revisit Tommy John. Well, I can’t get that out of my head, but in the end, he’s the #5 starter. We know he can give us 174 innings. We know he can be effective in big starts. He’s the icing on this cake.

Trevor Bauer, RHP

How many years are we going to hear “this is going to be the year” for Trevor Bauer? Many would say that 2016Β was the year, as Bauer raised his ground ball rate, lowered his ERA, xFIP and FIP, and logged 190 innings in a year in which he started as a reliever in the bullpen. His command was clearly improved, although you could still support the reasoning that Bauer’s numbers still haven’t meshed with his hype. What does he have to do this year? Continue to improve the command, and continue to leave all the extra stuff off the field. I’ll just leave it there, because there isn’t a smarter starter on this team one the mound. He understands how to pitch, and where to throw it, but he needs to stop always trying to thread the needle.

Worry Factor: 7

Look, the guy battles on Twitter, as much as he battles on the mound, and while the drone stuff didn’t bother a lot of people,Β it was during the damn playoffs. I only bring it up because it’s one of those things that you need to really curtail during the playoffs. You have one job on your off-days as a starter, and that’s protecting that right arm and hand.

Danny Salazar, RHP

In a moment, I’m going to talk about Carlos Carrasco as an ace. While I will taper that conversation regarding Salazar, I’ve walked down that path not too long ago, and have no problem doing it again when it merits it. Salazar has all the elite stuff that you can ask for, but his issues have come in the form of control and health. When Salazar has command of his stuff, he’s the best pitcher in the rotation. When he doesn’t, he’s not very good. It’s not rocket science. Until I trust him more, it’s hard for me to talk ace, but he’s showcased some of his upside recently in the spring. Perhaps this is one of those years that the focus is on Carrasco and Kluber, and it ends up on Salazar.

Worry Factor: 6

There’s not a Tribe writer as high on Salazar as I am, but boy, does he bring worry to the table. As I’ve already mentioned, he has to gain command, and he has to get up and over 150 innings consistently before we can take him seriously. 2016 was a year that Salazar was an All-Star, but he was also a playoff bust because of injury.

Carlos Carrasco, RHP

Carrasco’s stuff is elite, and vexing to opposing hitters. He can throw five pitches, a four-seamer, slider, sinker, curve and a change-up, but it really begins and ends with that magnificent slider, but also includes a plus (wickedly so) curveball, and a fun little changeup that he pulls out, to really make hitters look like idiots. Carrasco missed substantial time last year, all of May, half of September, and the entire playoffs. The injuries were odd, a hamstring in April, and a broken finger in September, but when he came up with swelling in his elbow this spring, the “odd” can turn “chronic” quickly, whether it makes sense or not. When you combine those arm issues with a bunch of flat pitches, the concern is real. Most projections have him sitting around 190 innings, but I can’t help but think that he’d be best served in the 150-to-170 inning realm, especially if there’s a chance at a playoff run. He’s making two starts this week, one in a minor league game, and one in a major league game, so we’ll know more later.

Worry Factor: 5

Carrasco is on the precipice of being the best pitcher on this team, and while the injuries have mounted, I just don’t buy into any pattern. That said, when you have an inflamed elbow in spring training, it’s hard not to wonder.

Corey Kluber, RHP

When you build a rotation, Kluber is the perfect ace. He’s healthy, has IQ, velocity and stamina. He eats innings, and can carry a team. What more do I need to say here that you don’t already know. I don’t worry about Corey Kluber, other than the normal “please don’ts.”

Worry Factor: 1

C’mon, I had to put something there. If you talk to a pitcher, they’ll tell you they’re always hurt on one level or another.

Danny Salazar said earlier this month that “we (Cleveland) have the best rotation in baseball.” You really could make a case, on paper, that a healthy and complete Tribe five can compete with any other rotation in the league. The problem?

What’s on paper in March, is rarely on paper in October. Thankfully, the Indians have the depth to battle the inevitable injuries that hit every team throughout the season.

If only I could make it through spring training, without losing my damn marbles.

Other 2017 Cleveland Indians Preview Articles

  1. Salazar was able to eventually pitch in some games as a reliever []
  2. although Michael Clevinger does have some upside, even if he struggles with control []
  3. It doesn’t help that Cooney is out for three months, with a strained forearm []

  • Hopwin

    Interesting. I am nowhere near the same page πŸ™‚

    Pitchers I am worried about in order of most to least:

    1. Kluber
    2. Salazar
    3. Tomlin
    4. Carrasco
    5. Bauer

  • jpftribe

    March is not the time to worry about the rotation. May, on the other hand…….

  • Greg Popelka

    How close were they to trading Carrasco at the deadline in 2015?

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  • Steve

    As much as any team listens to trade offers about their star players. You can’t just blow off fellow GMs, just ask for the moon and stars.

  • Steve

    This is an interesting order, I want to hear how you get to it. It’s not a list of most important to least, nor a highest injury risk to lowest.

  • Steve

    July really. It will be darn tough to get a guy in the rotation before the deadline with so many teams usually in contention. We’re going to have to get by on the Morimandos and Plutkos if things go real sour.

  • chrisdottcomm

    Bauer is at the absolute top of my list for rotation worries at current. He’s set himself at odds with the fanbase over the last year or so but it really went south a few months ago.

    He’ll get no love from the home crowd the second he looks like he doesn’t have it in a game.

    He’s got enough head issues as it is and I’m not sure he’s wired to handle that.

  • Steve

    He’s gotten no love, and partly in thanks to the sacred cow of Hamilton, and stuck through it. I have little doubt he’ll block out anything necessary just as he always has.

  • jpftribe

    Bauer is going to be Bauer. More good than bad with bizarre twists and turns along the way.

  • chrisdottcomm

    He’s gotten no love due to his trigger finger on anyone who says anything negative about him or in disagreement.

    There will be a bigger, more rabid fanbase all season down at the Jake this year than he’s dealt with in years passed.

    I know his calling card is to work out of jams often, but no teammate needs to be dealing with rogue dude making statements in declaration of everyone else.

  • jpftribe

    If he posts W’s, he can say anything he wants on Twitter.

  • mgbode

    I think you misread him. He thoroughly enjoys playing with internet trolls. He went too far in the episode you are discussing & on a sensitive subject at a sensitive time, which had it blow up on him. It was dumb, I hope that he recognizes it (seems the case due to his account since).

  • jpftribe

    Based soley on a week’s worth of AZ inputs into the jpf between-the-ears compulator, I would flip Salazar and Carrasco. Salazar seemed to be in a good place on and off the field, and started to introduce his breaking stuff.

    I watched Carrasco warm up before his start, and man he looked good. Painting corners and locating pitches. I was literally 5 feet above Gomes, and he looked pretty happy. Then he gets bombed and can’t make it out of the inning throwing nothing but fastballs.

  • Steve

    Bauer has had quite a lot said negatively about him, far more than is deserved, and far sooner than it was earned. I have little problem with any athlete not putting up with that, but Bauer especially so. He’s a pain in the rear for sure, but baseball teams have survived and many have thrived for over a century with pains in the rear. And besides, we’re not talking about Billy Martin or ’70s Bronx fans here.

  • jpftribe

    I totally agree. We’re talking twitter and drones here. How would anyone like to have to try and rationalize rooting for Chapman? God rest their souls, Fernandez and Ventura had issues they dealt with that tragically cost their lives. Bauer stuff is a nuisance at worst.

  • Hopwin

    I am very worried about the workload that Kluber has been carrying for… (4?) seasons now.

    Danny’s mysterious arm ailments are a mystery to me which is disconcerting.

    I don’t worry about Tomlin cause he is the number 5.

    I don’t worry about Bauer because as pointed out above, Bauer gotta Bauer.

    I think Cookie is going to be high up in the conversation for the Cy Young by July.

  • Chris

    We better get more than 190 pitches out of Carrasco this year or we’ll be knee-deep in something, and it won’t smell pretty.

    πŸ™‚

  • mgbode

    I certainly hope we get more than 3 starts out of Cookie.

  • Chris

    “Most projections have him sitting around 190 pitches”

    Oh look, here come the bus… ***shove***

  • jpftribe
  • chrisdottcomm

    I’ve followed him plenty in the past and agree that he enjoys toying with people who go “fan” on him.

    His too far reach for me was beginning to speak for his teammates on the subject.

  • scripty

    I have very little worry about Bauer. He’s young, asccending and in impeccable condition and didnt pitch as much as others in OCT. His top 10 games arent level of Kluber-Carrasco but I think he’ll be sturdy workhorse with a few twitter spats.

  • chrisdottcomm

    I was/half still a fan of Bauer. I loved his imperfections, his long toss routine stubbornness, his resiliency, etc.

    I just find myself sliding more to the camp of “look my dude, we’re competing for a World Series and the whole team could use your head fully in the game”

  • scripty

    “He’ll get no love from the home crowd the second he looks like he doesn’t have it in a game.”

    Think you’re confusing a few angry haters on Twitter with a largely contented fanbase that cares more about winning and health.

  • scripty

    I would never let Salazar get over 100 pitches and have him miss 1 start ever 1.5 mos. His body isn’t built to last, I’d like no more than 180 innings from him this reg season.

  • chrisdottcomm

    Maybe so.

    I see the Indians having done the absolute best job at fan involvement via Twitter building a huge group of interactive discussions/followers.

    It’s not just a “few haters”… it’s the entire Right Corner.

  • chrisdottcomm

    False.

  • mgbode

    Understood and I duly noted he went too far. I think he realized it but too late as it so happens.

  • chrisdottcomm

    I cite your duly noted with a confirmation.

  • scripty

    sound like great “fans” lol.

  • mgbode

    Stamped confirmation (sorry, I’m not a notary – we’ll have to check with Garry)

  • chrisdottcomm

    YAH I KNOW RIGHT I MEAN HOW COULD ANYONE JUST NOT FAWN OVER EVERY SINGLE PLAYER ITZ CRAZY.

  • mgbode

    I don’t know what you are talking about. You might want to re-read πŸ˜‰

  • mgbode

    There’s a follow up noting he reached his pitching maximum as the reason for the stop, not anything physically.

  • scripty

    wait, so where are you going? You honestly think these people that are out hunting for Bauer on twitter and feeling the need to engage him politically are “fans”? They are keyboard warrior lowlifes, mostly, not interested in any meaningful dialogue but just screaming into a digital void.

    I’m sure the Tribe will suffer when they refuse to come to the games that Bauer pitches.

  • mgbode

    Man, just Cookie already having issues has him high on the worry list for me. In their best health, Kluber / Carrasco / Salazar are all Cy Young candidates. Hope we see that health from them.

  • Garry_Owen
  • jpftribe

    Colour me not worried, until his next outing.

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  • Steve

    I know his routine is publicized more than just about anyone else’s, but I’m not sure there is a pitcher out there who works harder on his game.