Indians

Early results not good for Indians defense: Between Innings

Statistics in small samples can be dangerous. Because Baseball is a phrase that reminds us that wonky things happen constantly. Figuring out the difference between new trends and statistical outliers remains an issue until a large enough swath of data is accumulated. The importance of noting items to track though remains such as the early overall poor play of the Indians defense.

The Tribe has thus far been ranked as the 26th team in the defensive component of fWAR, 20th in defensive rating, 27th in UZR/150 though a hearty 12th in DRS. Some of the components of these measures are luck such as having enough balls hit just within the zone of the player so that they can add to their range score. Some can spike early in the season as a single error can be a higher percentage of overall plays. The team-wide poor rating though indicates a malaise early in the season. After Jose Ramirez’s amazing 46.4 UZR/150 score at third base, the next highest rank on the team (minimum of 50 innings) is Brandon Guyer at 9.1 in right field. Heck, due to already having three errors, Francisco Lindor sits in the negative (-0.6).1

The infield defense has been teetering around league average with an upside of being quite good. Yandy Diaz and Ramirez held down third base (4th overall in MLB). Lindor’s errors haven’t stopped him from being useful (16th), and anyone who has followed the Tribe the past two years understands the defending gold glove winner should rank near the top by season’s end. Jason Kipnis and Ramirez combine for a decent second base (15th) option. Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion are more bat than glove, and it should be expected to continue (21st).

The bigger issue is in the outfield. No player among Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Austin Jackson, Abraham Almonte, Tyler Naquin, or Brandon Guyer is considered an above average defender. Many of them would embrace being called league average there. So far the metrics agree with the perception, which agrees with the eye test. The Indians rank last in defense in right field (Guyer and Almonte), last in defense in center field (Chisenhall, Naquin, Jackson), and 19th in defense in left field (Brantley). There is some hope that Chisenhall can improve his rating given he is learning the position on the fly. Perhaps Almonte is not quite as wretched as he has shown in the field thus far. However, the outfield is fortunate it contains four of the top six hitters (Brantley, Jackson, Chisenhall, Almonte) through 27 games to help mask their issues catching the ball.

The internal options of Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen are not quite ready to show their wares at the MLB level, so gauging the trade market might be the way to go if the bats cool off and the Tribe wants to improve their defense. Burning River’s Gavin Potter was the latest to recommend finding a way to land Kevin Pillar in a Cleveland uniform:

One quality option would be reaching out to former Indians’ President Mark Shapiro in Toronto to inquire about Kevin Pillar. The Blue Jays are 9-17 in the AL East, and seem to be prime candidates to enter a rebuild phase. If Pillar – one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball – is made available, the Indians should have no reservations about pursuing him. At 28 years old and controlled affordably through 2021, Cleveland could afford to (and would have to) give up some quality prospects.

The Indians can assume the infield defensive issues will sort themselves out as Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis are under-performing their historical metrics. The outfield defense though is behaving only a bit worse than expected, and there is no guarantee it gets much better. For a World Series contending team, it seems worth pushing for an upgrade.

  1. It should be noted that UZR/150 does not track catchers and the Indians have two positive contributors to their defense in Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez behind the plate. []

  • Natedawg86

    So what would it look like to acquire him Mike?

  • mgbode

    I had discussed this item awhile back.

    http://waitingfornextyear.com/2017/01/cleveland-indians-outfield-trade-options-mlb-rumors/

    Here’s the guts on Pillar to save you a click (there are other options for OF if you do though):

    a trade of Kevin Pillar for Greg Allen and a B-level prospect makes sense for both sides. Toronto is not competing this season2 and would do well to gain a player who is close to MLB-ready and might end up being better than Pillar (and controllable for more years). The Indians fill their center field gap with a fantastic fielder who is proven at the MLB level.

  • Natedawg86

    I do remember it from before. Keirmaier not doing anything with his bat so far. The have been giving a little more time to others in CF. Should be interesting to see what TB does. They are currently .500, but have to contend with BAL, BOS and NYY. I don’t know that their roster can do that now or in near future. 32-44 last year vs east, and so far 8-12 vs east this year. They only won 68 games last year and to think that they have a chance to get ahead of all teams in East would be a stretch.

  • mgbode

    I would be quite surprised to see the Rays make a run at the postseason this year.

    Lots of options for the Indians. Will be interesting to see if we are still in acquiring mode or the FO wants to let it ride.

  • Steve

    Just like the FAs, I don’t see how Pillar makes sense. Too many years. Zimmer will be here soon enough that it doesn’t seem wise to me to commit as much as it would to get 3.5 years of Pillar, which I think is much much more than Bode suggests.

  • mgbode

    What do you think it takes to obtain Pillar?

  • Steve

    McKenzie or Bradley, plus a low level lottery ticket. Some of this may be our differing opinions on how valuable Allen is.

    What would it take to get Kipnis from us? He’s not quite as good as Kipnis, but hes younger and cheaper. Three years of cheap team control after this season is incredibly valuable.

  • tsm

    We need to pull the trigger on a trade similar to this. Our window is now. We will lose control of our top pitchers in a few more years, and thus must win in the next 2 or 3. Unless a prospect can contribute during our window, it makes more sense to deal him for someone who can help us now – see Cavaliers, Cleveland.

  • Steve

    Unfortunately, baseball, especially a smaller market, has much more of a balancing act. We found this cycle of success by developing prospects into gold.

    Maybe I’m just not sure why you guys don’t think we’re going to win the division by ten games anyway.

  • tsm

    It’s world champs or bust -ever hear of the phrase “all in”?

  • mgbode

    Yeah, I think it might be a difference of opinion on Allen, which is fine. Our FO should know how Atkins/Shapiro rate our farm system.

    Getting Kipnis from us is sort of folly though because we are competing now, and they are not (as much as their fans like to pretend).

  • mgbode

    We should win the ALC with relative ease, which is why I was so happy they put Kluber on the DL at the first sign of an issue (rather be cautious with him).

    The problem is that we spent the whole 90s w/o a WS ‘ship. I want one. We lose Santana after this year, Brantley after next. It’d be nice if we fixed our biggest obvious hole to be as strong as we can be.

  • Steve

    Unlike the NBA, MLB playoffs are a crapshoot. You can’t build yourself much past a 90% chance of winning the division.

  • mgbode

    To a point. If you have an obvious hole, then you can fix that hole and it has less probability of biting you in a game that matters a bunch. You know, like a center fielder watching a harmless pop up fall in front of him and having the right fielder need to jump in front of him on another. In the World Series.

  • Steve

    I’m all for making this team better. I would rather see a cheaper, one year rental and pave the way for Zimmer next year.

  • Steve

    Sure, but by that measure, we should have bought a couple more SPs, another reliever to use instead of Shaw in extras, and another 1B bat when Napoli lost his swing. There’s a lot of things that may go wrong.

  • tsm

    You should have used an example that actually had a chance of happening, instead of this preposterous one!

  • mgbode

    There is no chance a MLB team would allow a defender that inept to play CF in the World Series, so you are correct that we don’t need to worry about such things.

    If it did, then I’d blame the Ghost of Jose Mesa:
    http://waitingfornextyear.com/2016/11/illustrated-man-cleveland-indians-world-series/

  • jpftribe

    I’d bring Zimmer up before I would trade prospects for Pillar. Especially when names like Zimmer, Bradley and McKenzie are coming up. No thanks.

  • jpftribe

    No, it would take more, and no I wouldn’t trade Allen /Bradley for him. Zimmer can play now. They are holding him down there for reps while they see how AJax shakes out. I’m sure they would love to get away with stashing him a whole year. For sure they’ll wait past Super 2, whenever that mythical date is.

  • mgbode

    Zimmer is not ready.
    .264 .327 .495 while striking out 30% of the time. He just needs more time at this point, and there are reports that CF will not be his spot. The question is doing something for this year because we have an obvious need.

    Bradley & McKenzie are a ways off. Not for the Santana-Brantley window.

  • mgbode

    I don’t know that Zimmer is ready. He’s striking out a ton and that would only get worse up here w/ better breaking stuff from MLB guys.

  • jpftribe

    I don’t think the difference between Zimmer and Pillar is worth the top pitching and slugging prospects we have. Not even close. Bradley is probably not worth as much in a trade as he is for his potential here, and I’m not trading McKenzie unless we get an absolute stud in return.

    I’d put Lonnie in full time against lefties before I made that trade. Not like our lefty lineup is blazing trails.

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  • mgbode

    McKenzie is untouchable. You just mentioned him as “coming up” but felt we needed to level-set that won’t be for awhile.

    B.Bradley is a hit-or-miss prospect (and that can be used as a pun too). I personally love his potential, but there is a ton that can go wrong and there’s a reason those types of hitters haven’t been highly sought on the market the past couple years.

    Some rumblings we might bring Yandy back up for those LHP lineups, which is interesting.

  • jpftribe

    We agree on McK and Bradley. My point with Bradley is he will not be the centerpiece of a deal, so I’d rather keep the upside than trade it away.

    The Yandy thing is really interesting considering his splits are better with righties. In my own land of make believe, I picture Antonetti and Chernoff sitting down with Francona saying, “About that 25th roster spot…….”