Corey Kluber won the Cy Young Award in 2014. He came in third in voting for the award in 2016. We watched, with baited breath and white knuckles, as he single-handedly carried the Tribe’s starting pitching staff to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
And, yet, he isn’t the Tribe’s best player.
Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians’ big free-agent splash, has averaged nearly 40 home runs and an OPS of .912 over the last five years. But, would you say he’s one of the Tribe’s top three players?
What about Andrew Miller? The most unhittable pitcher in MLB? Where does he rank? Or Jason Kipnis, with his back-to-back seasons of 4.0+ wins over replacement? Does he crack the top five?
Maybe no exercise better illustrates the depth and talent of this 2017 Indians team better than trying to rank them. Did you remember that guy who finished third in MVP voting just three years ago? What about that guy who would be the ace for nearly any other pitching staff?
The staff at WFNY took a stab at their own rankings, and then we scored the lists to see where everyone averaged out. There’s a few surprises, and no two lists look the same, but below is a synopsis of each person’s list and a quick explanation on their most controversial ranking.
Please note that the WFNY staff was directed to rank the players for how they perceived their value for the 2017 season only.
On having Carlos Carrasco ahead of Corey Kluber:
It’s probably insane to put anyone ahead of Corey Kluber, on any list, based on just how fantastic he’s been over the past three seasons, and Carrasco has had his issues, whether it was his 2015 bullpen stint, or these random injuries that have held him back. But, if we’re just talking about this year, a healthy season from Cookie means he’s the best pitcher on this team. Since 2015, Carrasco has incorporated one of the best sliders in baseball (a 24.88% whiff rate), to go with three other plus pitches (his four-seamer, his change and his curveball). Oh wait, I forgot about his near 95 MPH sinker. His upper velocity is is at least a MPH more than Kluber, and his three off speed pitches rank at the top of the game (the curve has a 23.79% whiff rate since 2015). What’s my point? He really could have the best stuff. STAY HEALTHY COOKIE!
On including Trevor Bauer in his list:
Trevor Bauer is the most under-appreciated player on the Cleveland Indians’ 25-man roster. Such a statement seems bold on the surface for a player with an ERA above 6.00 in 2017, who has also never held down an ERA below 4.00 in his three full seasons with the Tribe. It is also true. As noted last Friday, Bauer’s 6.1 fWAR since 2014 is a steady drum beat good enough to be the 60th best starting pitcher in that timeframe. Moving forward, he has the upside of a 26 year old who can continue to improve with such performances as the one against the Minnesota Twins, while as little risk as possible he will become injured due to the amazing amount of time, work, and research he dedicates to arm care. Bauer isn’t likely to ever win the AL Cy Young Award (unlike the possibility of three of his counterparts on this staff), but he reliably will log 200 innings with another 3.0+ in WAR. Cody Allen has never approached such a value, Jason Kipnis has already missed a month and might take a bit to ramp back into form, and it is doubtful Lonnie Chisenhall can keep a 170 OPS+ for an entire season (though it would be great fun).
On having Jason Kipnis as the second best player on the Tribe:
In all likelihood, Jason Kipnis will not lead the Tribe in homers, RBI, or “I can’t believe it” defensive plays. He may lead the club in heart though. Scoff if you like, but after reading his Players’ Tribune piece in March I came to fully appreciate Kip’s role as a leader on the Indians. At 30 he is by no means a token old guy(.811 OPS in 2016), but he can serve as a rallying force for younger players like Jose Ramirez or Frankie Lindor. More importantly, Kipnis broke in with Cleveland in 2011 so he has seen the team at both its nadir and peak. Of the 25 men on the roster he may be the one who wants to win the most. That attitude combined with little things like legging out a double, getting dirt on the jersey defensively, or simply showing up early can set the tone for a strong contending team. Basketball teams like to throw around the term “glue guy.” Kipnis is more like cement; he holds it together and serves as the foundation.
On not including Edwin Encarnacion:
Though the early increase in strikeouts is concerning, omitting Encarnacion is largely due to the fact that he is a 34-year-old designated hitter with minimal defensive or baserunning value (and because of how thorough the roster is), not two weeks of games. Frankly, though, Kipnis, not Encarnacion, was more difficult to leave off, but his injury provides uncertainty. Because pitching is so integral (especially as home runs are being hit with nearly-unparalleled frequency), I had to include one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, whom I also believe could be a near-average hitter with regular plate appearances.
On deciding between Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion:
Hattery stole much of my thunder with his terrific piece on the calculation of WAR and true value to a team, but this can be blamed on you for not beating him to the punch with this feature (editors note: In my defense, I’m really lazy). For me, if we are to assume Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion will both finish this season with a WAR between 4-5, the tiebreaker goes to the guy who can not only play multiple positions, but not force someone else to a different position due to weaknesses elsewhere. If Encarnacion could still play third base, we may have a different discussion. But given that he will play a smattering of first base and designated hitter, this equivocally reduces the flexibility elsewhere. It’s why Carlos Santana has to hope balls don’t get his his way when he’s in left field; it reduces the opportunities for Terry Francona to put Michael Brantley or Jason Kipnis—two bats you want in your lineup, but two men who need rest—in the DH slot without hindering defense. With Jose, you have a guy who can be deployed in any situation, at any position. In a way, he’s the Indians’ LeBron James, a Swiss Army knife who makes everyone else’s life much easier.
On putting Jose Ramirez third overall:
I put him too low, he should probably be second on this list. Ramirez offers the Indians all star caliber production at mutiple positions which he defends as average to above average. Further, he is simply lethal with runners in scoring position because of his plate discipline and elite contract rate. Ramirez is adding power to a profile that produced roughly five WAR in 2016 best among all position players outside Lindor. Further, Ramirez plays every day, his WAR total will be comparable to Kluber or Carrasco except Ramirez will be impacting the game every day. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez would be the best up the middle combo in baseball but Ramirez plays well out of position to fit Kipnis’ bat in the lineup, that is true value.
On putting Jose Ramirez second overall:
Although it’s only April, if this season is any indication thus far, 2016 wasn’t a fluke for J-Ram. Is there any other player in the MLB – let alone the Indians – that can literally be a Gold Glove candidate at multiple positions around the diamond? While his defense has been magnificent for quite some time, his versatility means so much to this team. If a player, like Jason Kipnis, goes down, Ramirez can step right in and the team won’t lose a step. Add in the fact that he has become a great hitter and J-Ram has shown why he is one of the best players on this team.
On why he ranked Andrew Miller higher than any of his fellow WFNYers:
You may think that having a relief pitcher as the third best player on a team is pretty crazy, because it kind of is, but Andrew Miller is just that good. For one thing, positional value is important, and in my opinion, Miller is the best reliever in baseball, making him the most valuable, so I feel obligated to slate him pretty high. While a relief pitcher is never going to finish a season with a 4+ WAR, as some of the players behind him on this list may, you cannot limit his value to just that one stat. Andrew Miller is going to have an impact on 60-70 games this season, dozens of which will probably be make-or-break situations for the Indians. So while he may only pitch an inning or two at a time, it’s important to not take for granted the dominance that he will display when he pitches. Getting out of a bases loaded, one out jam with a one run lead may not count as a whole point towards his WAR total, but we can still credit Miller with winning those types of games for the Tribe. It’s also just nice to have a guy that can take the mound late in a close game, and you don’t have to hold your breath for 15 minutes.
Disclaimer: It sounds like I’m bashing WAR above. I’m not. I love WAR (not war). I’m not Jensen Lewis.
As for me:
I found it incredible that it was so easy to leave off Michael Brantley. Injuries are terrifying, but it was just 2014 that he finished third place in MVP voting. His 7.0 WAR that season something we hope Lindor can reach. And yet, look at those names on the list. Who do you remove to make room for Brantley? It says something to the front office’s ability to bring in talent that Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley, an MVP candidate and Silver Slugger in 2014, aren’t even among the 10 best players on the 2017 squad. In the past, losing players like that (ahem, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner) would bury the team. But this current squad has a perfect mix of veterans and younger players, with a farm system that is finally able to fill in the gaps as guys move on.
So you’ve now seen the individual ranking, but where did we net out when averaging the scores? I present WFNY’s Top Tribe Top 10:
Let’s hear from you; who was too high or too low, who was snubbed? What does your top 10 look like?