Editors note: the introduction from the first post of this series regarding the use of projection systems is reused to provide the proper context.
As one begins to prepare for the Indians reporting to spring training, a mere 38 days away, position depth and overall expectations regarding the upcoming season’s roster become increasingly important. Perhaps the Indians have stunning trade left in them but the reality is that limited financial flexibility intimated by the organization suggests that what is currently on the roster is likely what fans will see when opening day comes. With this realization, evaluating positions, playing time issues, and growth/decline expectations become an important consideration, if only to aid in the construction of one’s fantasy baseball team.
In the vein of considering organizational and positional talent, projection systems are a strong place to start. There is both a lot of unearned criticism of projection systems as well as over-reliance on them. For a moment, a discussion on the manner in which projections should be considered. Projection systems, like Steamer which will be used later in this piece are integrated statistical models including numerous inputs like age, past production, and other factors. The projection is imperfect and is not meant to be relied on for exact truth but as the most probabilistically likely outcome among a diverse range of outcomes. In this sense, projections are a delightful benchmark, and because they lack the biases of those who watch a player or team constantly, they are important to challenge pre-existing assumptions. This is not to say that projection systems do not have a bias but rather that those biases or flaws are likely different than those exhibited by the eye test.
Therefore, surprising projections for Indians players from Fangraphs Steamer projection system for the Indians are detailed below. But first a final caveat, Steamer/600 is utilized which assumes a full season sample for each player. This is different than nob/600 projections which integrate playing time projections. I find playing time projections noisy, and ultimately assert that one wants to know the quality of play projected rather WAR totals in playing time projections which can fluctuate. Part one of this two part series will focus on the position player projections.
Below are projections for all Indians pitchers over 0.2 WAR in full time pitching usage. These are courtesy of Fangraphs and can be accessed here.
*Duke Van Schamann, Bruce Chen, Boone Logan, and Perci Garner are no longer pitchers in the Indians organization*
Corey Kluber: Projection systems are generally conservative regarding a players future performance and Kluber’s projection is a function of conservatism based on age expectations. Largely, Steamer sees a roughly 30 strikeout reduction, and corresponding strikeout rate reduction leading to a FIP spike. This will be Kluber’s age 32 season therefore, a level of skepticism or decline is a reasonable projection but Kluber has shown an innate ability to adapt to fastball velocity decline and multiple plus pitches suggest brilliance continued. Bet the slight over on this projection.
Danny Salazar: The key decline for Salazar is the projection of use as a full-time reliever rather than a full-time starter. The FIP and underlying component projections are ultimately the same just limited to a bullpen role, thus diminishing WAR value. This projection is not necessarily faulty but Salazar would seem to project best in a role of modernity, high leverage multi-inning killer. The reality is Salazar will likely never pitch 200 innings but what he will do is provide 100-140 really good innings for very cheap. If the Indians can shift Salazar to a Chris Devanski role, it would be ideal. But the Indians will need 20 starts plus from Salazar, and he will give them 15 really good ones.
Shane Bieber: The Indians fourth highest pitcher projection is for a guy with just 54 innings above single-a. This would be surprising for most teams but one with the Indians pitching talent is shocking. Bieber is no doubt an interesting product, with expectations being that of a rich man’s Josh Tomlin. Bieber has similarly exquisite control but with the added bonus of better velocity. With velocity sitting 90-94 in 2017, and ground ball inducing skills, Bieber is polished and ready to contribute. While not a sexy top end arm, Bieber is affordable back end pitching, and real substantive depth for this Indians team.
Julian Merryweather: Despite a fairly inane projection, Merryweather is mentioned because the projection is positive and places him in the right role. Merryweather leapt forward in 2017, with excellent fastball velocity. Merryweather has decent secondaries but needs them to leap forward to play as a starter. In the pen, with additional velocity Merryweather could add significant value in medium leverage.