Let’s Argue: Is it OK to panic about the Indians?

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.

Cody Anderson, Tommy John Surgery.

Jason Kipnis, out for at least a month.

Tyler Naquin and Carlos Carrasco, both nursing minor issues.

At what point do we begin to note that Cleveland’s dynamic advantage in the American League Central may be narrowing? The Indians remain one of the best teams in the American League, but the margins are thinning and in a variance driven sport, how nervous has the Indians tumultuous spring training made you?

Nom: Nervous? About what? That we might go 161-1 instead of 162-0? This team is stacked. If Brantley is out, we have the third-place finisher in Rookie of the Year votes to take his spot in Naquin. If Naquin is busy in center field we have a top-30 prospect in Bradley Zimmer raking in Spring Training. If Kipnis is out, we have Yandy Diaz who already profiles as a plus bat. Pitching depth is obviously a concern, but a concern in the sense that it may go from a huge strength to a slight weakness. We’ll still have the best bullpen in baseball. Edwin Encarnacion will still be mashing the ball on what was already a potent offense. I’m more worried about the long beer lines at The Corner than I am anything on the field.

That being said, we need to be honest: The gap is closing in the Central. The Indians came in as huuuuuge favorites and when you factor in these injuries, they’re likely only huuuuge favorites.

Do you disagree? Can you lay out a scenario where the Indians don’t make the postseason?

Mike Hattery: I am taking this side so I can get #twitterlit. A rotation with Salazar, a huge injury risk, and Carrasco’s soreness while losing its No. 7 starter is particularly nerve-racking on its own. Then add in an injury to your multi-time All-Star second baseman and all of the sudden the risk mounts. Kipnis is a 4 WAR player and as much as I like the concept of Jose Ramirez at second and Diaz at third to cover, I am not sure the Indians ultimately do the logical thing. Further, the time missed is not the only cost of injury. While the Brantley news is positive there is this expectation that players return to form upon reappearance from injury. The reality is, we have no idea what type of player Michael Brantley is anymore or whether Kipnis can come back close to form. We have watch Kipnis play through an oblique injury in 2014 and be a shell of himself, not convinced we will not see the same in 2017.

All the Indians need to be around 85 wins is a Carrasco/Salazar injury, and Kipnis being 2014 Kipnis.  While the central is thin, the Tigers 80th percentile outcome is 85-plus wins. The Indians have some super cool depth but that rotation depth is thin and losing an All-Star caliber second baseman for an early chunk of the season is actually a pretty big deal. How is this not a big deal? The Indians are loaded but not “have significant injury concerns about two 4 WAR guys” loaded. Is that a fair scenario?

Nom: It’s fair. And the sort of nebulous information we have about Salazar’s sore arm last year or Carrasco’s this year is certainly cause for some alarm. But to my earlier point, this team is stacked. The advantage they have is the ability to likely coast a bit during the season and give these guys the time they need to get fully healthy. If Kipnis misses a month, it’s not the death knell it would’ve been in 2014. If Carrasco doesn’t make a start until late April, the team can likely maintain. So until these bumps and bruises turn into breaks and tears, I just don’t think they make a drastic change in this season’s projections.

What do you think is the biggest potential hit this team could take? Is it the combination of all of these smaller injuries? Is it the thin rotation depth? You obviously aren’t predicting the team will struggle, but if they were, what would be the culprit in your mind?

Mike: The rotation is the highest volatility portion of this team. The rotation’s 95th percentile outcome can get this team to 100 wins and their 50th percentile outcome is probably around 86 wins. Expecting Salazar or Tomlin to exceed 150 innings feels like a fools errand let alone the injury risks to them and other starters. Which means the Indians are going to trust Mike Clevinger or Ryan Merritt with a substantial innings responsibility. Clevinger has huge command issues and Merritt does not have the arsenal to be more than a five-and-fly guy. I think this team will be really good and has phenomenal position player depth but one key rotation injury will have a major impact and the Kipnis injury certainly has not helped their margins. On a 1-10 panic scale, I am probably a 3 but two months ago I was a 1 which makes me nervous.

So tell us what you think. Are the Indians in a precarious position? How nervous have these spring training injuries made you?

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