Let’s Argue: Tribe’s Biggest Strength

Welcome to Let’s Argue, your weekly opportunity to be #MadOnline. The premise is simple: WFNY’s Mike Hattery and Jeff Nomina will present arguments — maybe just a question or a deep stat dive or a good old fashioned hot take. Then, they will either argue with each other or invite you to come argue with us. This week, Mike and Jeff are starting the argument, but don’t let that stop you for joining in the comment section or coming at us 140 characters at a time on Twitter @SnarkyHatman & @SportsNom.

Jeff: It’s incredible how much can change in the span of one season. The Indians’ rotation was considered their only major strength heading into 2016. Yet it was their bullpen and a surprisingly potent lineup that led them to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series. Since then, the Indians have added slugger Edwin Encarnacion and reliever Boone Logan. Do you think those units have caught up to or passed the rotation in terms of ranking the team’s strengths?

Mike Hattery: In terms of the Indians units I have them ranked in the following order: 1. Bullpen 2A. Lineup 2B. Rotation. The rotation is somewhat over-rated now. In 2016, the Indians ran a 4.05 FIP (4.08 ERA) and were somewhere in the 6-10 range among big league rotations.  The Indians bullpen was 5th in FIP (2nd in xFIP) with only half a season of Miller. Then there is the recent addition of Boone Logan. While I have not written my monthly Andrew Miller piece, I will continue to emphasize that he is the best reliever in baseball paired with Allen (Top 20 reliever) and Shaw/Logan/Otero who are set to anchor medium leverage appearances.  The bullpen’s second half xFIP was 3.30; brilliant production. Further, the rotation enters 2017 with Corey Kluber carrying a ton of regular season and postseason innings, Carlos Carrasco trying to remain healthy, Danny Salazar’s arm a giant hazard sign, Trevor Bauer being tortously enigmatic, and the inevitable Josh Tomlin injury. There is little depth outside a new to his arsenal Cody Anderson and Mike Clevinger a man with little command who Fangraphs noted loses two miles per hour on his fastball late in games. The Indians rotation is good and above average, but it has significant risk markers. The pen is simply elite. Tell me why I am wrong….

Jeff: Oh, are you saying that pitchers are massive health risks? Thanks for that breaking news.

Why do you hate Carlos Carrasco? Is he too perfect? Do you just walk around trying to destroy everything beautiful that crosses your path?

Yes, there are questions about the rotation and their ability to stay healthy. But the upside is ridiculous. It wouldn’t be surprising for any of Kluber, Carrasco, or Salazar to win the AL Cy Young Award. Hell, Kluber nearly won his second Cy Young last year. Danny Salazar was an All-Star. Carlos Carrasco put up his third consecutive season of 3.6+ wins above replacement. I understand they were in the 6-10 range among big league rotations last year, but that’s with Carrasco and Salazar having multiple trips to the DL. There is so much elite talent at the top of this rotation. The bullpen is great, but they are a Miller or Allen injury away from being average. The rotation took hits to two of their top three last year and was still a weapon.

Even beyond the top-end guys, Trevor Bauer has established himself as league-average innings-eating starter with upside in that 26-year old arm. Josh Tomlin as a fifth starter is hardly a concern. They lack of depth behind those five, but, with three elite starters, “depth” doesn’t need to be high-end guys. We’ve seen Ryan Merritt, Cody Anderson, and Mike Clevinger. Adam Plutko is an interesting arm. With the Tribe’s Big 3 in the rotation, they’ll likely only need to cycle through serviceable guys to deal with injuries.

I just wonder if we’re so excited about our new toys we’re ignoring just how great the rotation is.

Mike: Anytime someone uses a delightfully precise cut-off of 3.6 WAR, you know they are trying to gerrymander something. I certainly expect Carrasco to pitch more in 2017 and pitch well to earn the league wide status he deserves. Salazar’s arm health is a huge concern as was the massive command regression he experienced in 2016 though less so. When attempting to be pursuasive we are often caught justifying things we would never agree with in normal discourse. Things like showing confidence in the stability of Trevor Bauer, acting like Clevinger can command the strike zone, considering Merritt as anything but Aaron Laffey, or calling Adam Plutko interesting.  Plutko is useful depth in that he throws a lot of strikes, but he appears to be a poor man’s Tomlin which is nothing more than depth.

We are talking about the rotation being a weapon versus being better than the bullpen. The rotation is not bad, but I submit that it is above average, which is not the heights we once dreamed it could be. Salazar could certainly make the leap; I hope he does. How long can Kluber match this dominance? Josh Tomlin just threw the most innings of his career and is loaded with injury risk. The Indians are an injury away from Clevinger or Anderson every fifth day. The rotation is good, while the bullpen may be the best in MLB. We built a mythos around our rotation in 2014-2015 because the rest of team was underwhelming. Now the roster is loaded, and it simply is not our best unit anymore.

Jeff: First off, cutting off at 3.6 WAR is what all the kids are doing. You’re just not hip. Second, we’re over 1,000 words and you’ve spent all of three sentences actually arguing in favor of the bullpen. The rest just against the rotation. That should tell you something.

Yes, the bottom of the rotation is weak. As is the bottom of the bullpen. Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are spectacular, and probably the best bullpen duo in baseball. Shaw has been great, but his arm could fall off from overuse at any minute. Logan is a solid LOOGY addition. Otero is interesting. And beyond that there’s a bunch of question marks. It’s almost identical to the rotation. Two top-end guys, another high-end arm with injury risk, and a bunch of mediocrity.

All else being equal, I’ll put my faith in Klubot, Cookie, and Salazar.

So what do you think? What is the Tribe’s biggest strength going into 2017? The rotation? The bullpen? Or are we both wrong and the lineup will be what carries the team this year?

Let us know in the poll below, in the comments, or come yell at us on Twitter.