Optimizing the Indians ALDS Roster

Despite the Indians 21-game win streak a few questions have been raised about how to best construct the postseason roster. There are two key flashpoints.

First, who should play centerfield in the post Bradley Zimmer world?

Second, will the Indians keep Yandy Diaz or Giovanny Urshela to play third base in the playoffs?

With Jason Kipnis transitioning to center field in a slapdash attempt to solve the problem, it is easy to understand that one decision could impact the other. With that in mind, it is time to establish some parameters.

While the Indians regularly carry 12 pitchers, the postseason alters the combinations. If Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, and Clevinger are all healthy, those will be the Indians four starters for the ALDS. Then the bullpen will carry Miller, if healthy, Allen, Smith, Shaw, Salazar, and Olson. Those 10 should be sufficient but if one wanted to add Goody or Tomlin, so be it. Goody makes sense to get to 11. The pitching staff should be shallower in the postseason for a couple of reasons with the most important being that they have more days off and you want to leverage your best arms with greater frequency. Therefore, Tomlin, Otero, and McAllister types become superfluous.

Time to transition to position players. The locks are Gomes, Perez, Santana, Encarnacion, Ramirez, Lindor, Chisenhall, Guyer, Jackson, Bruce. This places the postseason roster at 21 with the following position players in the mix: Allen, Diaz, Urshela, Kipnis, Brantley, and Gonzalez.1

The question’s raised are guided by what the organization will prioritize. Center field then becomes a more compelling question. On the surface, there is a strong argument for going defense first in center field, which would make Greg Allen an absolute must. He is the best defender in center field currently healthy by a decent margin.  For a team carrying the scar tissue of a Tyler Naquin center field meltdown in the World Series, a proclivity towards defense first is to be expected. However, considering the pitcher-defense interaction may challenge this assumption. The pitching and defense have interplay which combined speak to a teams larger run prevention skills. While Zimmer offered exceptional value in terms of outfield defense, the Indians are a team which may be least influenced by the value of outfield defense.

The Indians do not allow many fly balls in the center field zone for a few different reasons.

First, the Indians have the highest strikeout rate in baseball at 27.4%. In the playoffs, with your best pitchers pitching a higher proportion of inning this will likely rise.

Second, the Indians have the 8th lowest fly ball rate in all of baseball.

Third, the Indians have the sixth highest infield fly ball rate in Major League Baseball. Thereby a significant amount of fly balls against do not even enter the outfield’s zone of responsibility.

Finally, as players and teams become more pull side dominant, center field zone becomes less frequent.

In totality, the Indians demand for above average defense in center field is possibly the lowest in baseball. This is not to diminish the value of good center field defense which is a nice advantage but to note that the Indians pitching staff limits usage and responsibility of the center fielder.

With this background, the Jason Kipnis experiment makes a bit more sense. A center fielder who can post average defense and lineup depth is entirely useful. Of course, as WFNY scribe Michael Bode has pointed out, Kipnis is not particularly fast and despite his experience, running routes in center field takes an adjustment period. Thus, expectations should be set low.

However, these decisions must also weigh platoon splits and opponents. As previously detailed, a series with the Red Sox heavy rotation would dictate certain decisions. First, Kipnis is poor against left-handed pitching. Thus, starting him in center field against Boston would be foolish. If the Indians face a more balanced rotation in New York, Minnesota, or Houston, Kipnis makes much more sense. His offensive upside seemingly covering the defensive risk.

Where Kipnis would be diminished in value against Boston, Yandy Diaz would become more valuable as an assassin of left-handed pitching. Boston is the simplest series to lay out in terms of the back end of the roster.

In brief closing, here are my suggestions regarding how the final four slots should shake out. First, I do not expect Michael Brantley to be healthy enough to be relied upon in the division series, and with left-handed hitting outfielders Bruce, and Chisenhall on the roster, there is no need to force Brantley into this spot. Second, I do not believe Giovanny Urshela should be on the postseason roster. Urshela is a plus defender at third base and no where else.  Further, Diaz is an average defender and not a bad one. Urshela is awful offensively, perhaps the worst bat on the 40-man roster with a lack of plate discipline, below average power, and little contact authority in general. Erik Gonzalez is the better or equal defender to Urshela at second base and shortstop as well as holding a much higher offensive ceiling. Finally, any idea of Urshela being a defensive replacement at first is horrendous. Santana is a competent defender and the Indians cannot afford to pull a Santana or Encarnacion level bat for Urshela in a close playoff game.

The roster survivors are Diaz, Kipnis, Gonzalez, and Allen. Allen makes sense as a speedy pinch-runner and defensive substitution who can also handle the bat well enough to put the ball in play in a pinch. There is plenty of time for the roster to change based on injury and opponent but for now obsession over center field defense is picking nits on a loaded squad.

  1. Tyler Naquin as well though he is a longshot []

  • jpftribe

    Why is Allen’s weak bat and exceptional defense any different than Urshela’s? Has Allen made even 10% of the exceptional plays in CF that Urshela has made?

    Allen is a AA rookie, who clearly wasn’t ready for MLB in Spring, and still isn’t close today. Urshela is a two year veteran with 13x the number of MLB games than Allen.

    Yandy’s bat did nothing yesterday, and his arm cost two runs. Urshela made yet another incredible play (the 7th game changing one I’ve tabbed) and actually made the throw to first for the final out of the inning to kill the rally.

    Urshela is the ONLY guy to play every game in the streak. IMO, he is vastly undervalued by the sabr crowd, for which defensive metrics are sadly lacking. Virtually every Fangraphs defensive metric comes with a less than 3 year SSS disclaimer.

    I sat through all those lousy defensive games in the first half of this year where Bauer was trash, Kluber doesn’t get the run support, we needed another starter, another RH bat. What we really needed was defense. Once Zimmer was called up, Kipnis and Brantley hurt, we magically started playing great defense, and won baseball games.

    Finally, here’s two slash lines:
    .228 / .285 / .409
    .231 / .297 / .281

    One is a below average 2nd baseman, who may be playing CF for the first time in a decade. The other is the best defensive third baseman that’s worn an Indians uniform. I know which one I’m playing.

  • jpftribe

    I see no reason to carry Gonzalez, McAllister and Otero on the PS roster.

  • jpftribe

    Why is it when it’s defensive it’s completely guessing, and when it’s hitting it’s bad sequencing? SO it’s completely acceptable for Yandy to hit worm burners for singles that mean ultimately nothing, but a game saving defensive play that very few, if any, MLB players can make is random luck and unlikely to happen.

  • Chris

    Career WAR by Scouting Director’s Draft Picks. What a damn good way to quantity that. Never thought of that, but it makes all the sense in the world (once normalized for the director’s longevity, MLB service time for the draft picks, things like that).

    Anything ready-made like this for the Tribe?

  • tsm

    Then he will bunt for a base hit. 🙂

  • paulbip

    What has Kipnis done this year? Rally killer.

  • AuroraRefugee

    I disagree on the number of pitchers. Tito will use 3 in an inning. I’d grab an extra pitcher rather than agonize over Gonzalez and Allen. No point debating Kipnis. Tito loves him some vets, even the slow, no thrown’, not hittin’ kind.

  • Steve

    I think we’re on slightly different pages here. We can’t know in advance whether Diaz’s singles mean nothing and Allen’s diving grabs will save games, so we’re always guessing to some extent.

    But you have much more control over when and how Guyer/Chisenhall (a better comparison than Diaz, considering, like Allen, one will be on the bench and used to fill a specific role later in the game) can affect a high-leverage situation. We can have a much better idea of when to use a pinch-hitter than when there will be a ball to the gap that Allen can get but Kipnis/Chisenhall/Jackson can’t.

  • mgbode


    RHP: Lonnie, Kip, Bruce
    LHP: A-Jax, Allen, Guyer

  • Steve

    Please just be playing it very slow with Brantley.

    Edit: apparently not

    Francona said Brantley still can't run, seeking another opinion on ankle injury. #Indians— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) September 14, 2017

  • mgbode

    I’m working on something for tomorrow that hits on our 40-man but not nearly that detailed. Now y’all are just going to be disappointed in me.

  • mgbode

    Thank you for sharing.

  • MartyDaVille

    I’ve been thinking about this and you guys are right.

    I read that story about a week ago. I kept meaning to mention it and kept forgetting. So by the time I did mention it, whatever problem there appeared to be initially had been quickly resolved.

    My bad.

  • Steve

    What Kipnis has done at the plate so far is not really helpful when trying to figure out how he’ll play going forward.

    As far as Allen vs Urshela, I think there are a couple points in Allen’s favor that leans toward picking him before Urshela. Allen represents a likely elite baserunner. A guy who can fill another specific niche. Urshela is below-average there. Allen plays a more premium defensive position. More runs can be saved in CF than at 3B. And the difference between Urshela and Diaz (a not great but acceptable defensive 3B) is likely less than Allen and Kipnis or Chisenhall.

  • mgbode

    all good. 21 game win streaks cure all and such.

  • mgbode

    His specific quote (acquired by WFNY’s Gerberry) was that when he went to the bullpen earlier this year, the daily workload made his hurt arm worse.

    It will be interesting to track to see if that reoccurs or if his arm is in better health now.

  • mgbode
  • mgbode

    Yandy has been elevating though- please have him keep it up.

  • mgbode

    Bruce is the same speed as Kip/Lon (they have it measured now). Not sure on the routes, but his range is supposedly better. There’s a new stat though OAA that is harsh on him. I need to dig and understand it more still.

  • mgbode


  • jpftribe

    Valid points on baserunning and CF being higher defensive premium.

    I really think the Kipnis in CF experiment is going to work itself out. We’ll all see first hand how that goes.

  • CBiscuit

    As a general point: You seem really unhappy. How can we help?

  • CBiscuit

    Yeah, I’ll defer to you on the stats, but the eye test tells me Bruce takes odd routes and doesn’t have good, fluid reads. Ex: two days ago, there was a shot to right by Castellano, and Bruce started in and right and had to retreat back and to the left. Back and to the left. Back…

    Anywho, I don’t know. It’s fine. We live with it because of the power, and he’s not the worst. Yet, in the playoffs, with all the pressure, shaky OF work can kill you (see Naquin)

  • mgbode

    When he came to the Tribe, I remembered his Cinci days when I disliked his defense a great deal. I have been pleasantly surprised but TV doesn’t often show the full routes. We’ll see what playing all these different OFers does for us.

  • CBiscuit

    Ugh. On cue…ugly 6th inning for Bruce and Almonte out there tonight

  • mgbode

    Bruce made up for it 😉

  • CBiscuit

    The 8th inning foul out stranding the runner on 3rd had me really goat’ing him. Then, redemption!