Rotation worry at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario?

With news of Cody Anderson missing the 2017 season making the rounds this weekend at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, I couldn’t help but feel slightly concerned about this year’s Cleveland Indians’ rotation.

I know… it’s insane.

Cody Anderson may not have even been a starter this year.

Even if Anderson was a starter, he was the seventh or eighth guy in the conversation.

I get it. Worrying about the Indians’ rotation on March 20th, two full weeks before the season even starts, is a testament to having too much time on your hands, and not much to talk about. This is the benefit of this years Indians’ roster. It’s stacked… even without Anderson for the season, or potentially Jason Kipnis on the DL for a month. Hell, it’s even stacked if you take into account Michael Brantley not being a lock for Opening Day, even though he’s slated to make his first start on March 20th.

The Indians have a deep roster, and the rotation is no exception.

But, Anderson’s Tommy John surgery brings back the all-too-fresh memories of the 2016 MLB playoffs, and the injuries that prevented Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco from making a playoff start.1 Sure, the Carrasco injuries last year were of the random variety, and you can add Trevor Bauer’s drone-woes to that as well, but Salazar’s arm soreness has been a worry since his very own Tommy John surgery in 2010, and we all know how the random knicks and dings can come when you least expect them.

The Indians do have a bit of a luxury though. While I’ve already documented the issues with three of their top five starters, Corey Kluber has been a true innings-eating ace, with three straight 215+ innings seasons. Josh Tomlin also had a sneaky 174 inning season, and Trevor Bauer pitched in 190 innings. Past that, the Columbus Clippers are ripe with depth, with a couple of interesting names bouncing around in Akron as well. No, there doesn’t appear to be a high upside guy waiting in the wings2, but there does appear to be some guys that can fill in at the big league level for short and appropriate bursts.

So, why can’t I get this concern out of my head? Why am I worried that bringing in a guy like Tim Cooney isn’t enough?3

Why can’t I be happy?

The Columbus Rotation

Without Cody Anderson, there are still a whole bunch of interesting guys here. The likely No. 1 starter for the Clippers is Mike Clevinger, and that’s a really good thing. WFNY’s Michael Bode gave us the skinny on Clevinger, and his upside is clear. He has ace-like velocity, and while his velocity and stamina are a question, this is the year we’ll find out how real Clevinger is.

Ryan Merritt is likely the #2 guy in Columbus, and will forever be grateful to the Indians’ fans for decimating his wedding registry after his 4 1/3 innings out of nowhere in Game 5 of the ALCS, against the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s much like Tomlin, with less velocity, but he knows how to work, and knows how to locate. As a lefty, he could be an interesting spot starter, especially if those knicks and dings find their way into Cleveland.

Adam Plutko was a fellow Bruin at UCLA with Trevor Bauer, and like Bauer, he was a dominant college starter. Much like Merritt, Plutko is about location and pitch mix, and while his velocity isn’t going to turn anyone’s head, his fastball/curve/changeup mix is second-to-none. In the middle of fireballers, Plutko could be interesting.

Shawn Morimando and possibly Rob Kaminsky will likely round out the rotation, and both have there value. Morimando is a lefty that has improved nearly every year, and Kaminsky is another guy that pitches to contact, and is often rated far too high for my liking, but still will likely see big league time.

Tim Cooney is out, but he could prove to be interesting, although he’s missed substantial time already. That said, most of my Cardinals friends were pretty damn irritated when the Indians claimed him during the Rule V draft.

Worry Factor (out of 10): 2

I love our depth, but with Cooney and Anderson already out for substantial portions of the season, this number could grow considerably. Look for at least two of these guys to make a substantial impact this year.

#5 starter–Josh Tomlin, RHP

Let’s start with Josh Tomlin, who is manning the No. 5 slot after becoming the poor man’s Corey Kluber in the playoffs. It’s easy to overlook how brilliant Tomlin was in the early rounds of the playoffs, when it seemed as though the decimated rotation was going to be the end of an already glorious season. Tomlin clearly isn’t going to overmatch anyone with his velocity, and he does have a tendency to give up fly balls. But when he’s on his game and hitting his marks, there isn’t smarter starter on this rotation. When you combine that baseball IQ with his tenacity and work ethic, there isn’t anything you’d want more in a fifth starter than Tomlin.

Worry Factor (out of 10): 3

Tomlin is the fifth starter in a room full of cannons. While he filled in the gaps for 174 innings last year, it was a “he did what he had to do” sort of season. My biggest concern, outside of the fly balls, is health. Last year, the only thing everyone was talking about regarding Tomlin was the likelihood that he would revisit Tommy John. Well, I can’t get that out of my head, but in the end, he’s the #5 starter. We know he can give us 174 innings. We know he can be effective in big starts. He’s the icing on this cake.

Trevor Bauer, RHP

How many years are we going to hear “this is going to be the year” for Trevor Bauer? Many would say that 2016 was the year, as Bauer raised his ground ball rate, lowered his ERA, xFIP and FIP, and logged 190 innings in a year in which he started as a reliever in the bullpen. His command was clearly improved, although you could still support the reasoning that Bauer’s numbers still haven’t meshed with his hype. What does he have to do this year? Continue to improve the command, and continue to leave all the extra stuff off the field. I’ll just leave it there, because there isn’t a smarter starter on this team one the mound. He understands how to pitch, and where to throw it, but he needs to stop always trying to thread the needle.

Worry Factor: 7

Look, the guy battles on Twitter, as much as he battles on the mound, and while the drone stuff didn’t bother a lot of people, it was during the damn playoffs. I only bring it up because it’s one of those things that you need to really curtail during the playoffs. You have one job on your off-days as a starter, and that’s protecting that right arm and hand.

Danny Salazar, RHP

In a moment, I’m going to talk about Carlos Carrasco as an ace. While I will taper that conversation regarding Salazar, I’ve walked down that path not too long ago, and have no problem doing it again when it merits it. Salazar has all the elite stuff that you can ask for, but his issues have come in the form of control and health. When Salazar has command of his stuff, he’s the best pitcher in the rotation. When he doesn’t, he’s not very good. It’s not rocket science. Until I trust him more, it’s hard for me to talk ace, but he’s showcased some of his upside recently in the spring. Perhaps this is one of those years that the focus is on Carrasco and Kluber, and it ends up on Salazar.

Worry Factor: 6

There’s not a Tribe writer as high on Salazar as I am, but boy, does he bring worry to the table. As I’ve already mentioned, he has to gain command, and he has to get up and over 150 innings consistently before we can take him seriously. 2016 was a year that Salazar was an All-Star, but he was also a playoff bust because of injury.

Carlos Carrasco, RHP

Carrasco’s stuff is elite, and vexing to opposing hitters. He can throw five pitches, a four-seamer, slider, sinker, curve and a change-up, but it really begins and ends with that magnificent slider, but also includes a plus (wickedly so) curveball, and a fun little changeup that he pulls out, to really make hitters look like idiots. Carrasco missed substantial time last year, all of May, half of September, and the entire playoffs. The injuries were odd, a hamstring in April, and a broken finger in September, but when he came up with swelling in his elbow this spring, the “odd” can turn “chronic” quickly, whether it makes sense or not. When you combine those arm issues with a bunch of flat pitches, the concern is real. Most projections have him sitting around 190 innings, but I can’t help but think that he’d be best served in the 150-to-170 inning realm, especially if there’s a chance at a playoff run. He’s making two starts this week, one in a minor league game, and one in a major league game, so we’ll know more later.

Worry Factor: 5

Carrasco is on the precipice of being the best pitcher on this team, and while the injuries have mounted, I just don’t buy into any pattern. That said, when you have an inflamed elbow in spring training, it’s hard not to wonder.

Corey Kluber, RHP

When you build a rotation, Kluber is the perfect ace. He’s healthy, has IQ, velocity and stamina. He eats innings, and can carry a team. What more do I need to say here that you don’t already know. I don’t worry about Corey Kluber, other than the normal “please don’ts.”

Worry Factor: 1

C’mon, I had to put something there. If you talk to a pitcher, they’ll tell you they’re always hurt on one level or another.

Danny Salazar said earlier this month that “we (Cleveland) have the best rotation in baseball.” You really could make a case, on paper, that a healthy and complete Tribe five can compete with any other rotation in the league. The problem?

What’s on paper in March, is rarely on paper in October. Thankfully, the Indians have the depth to battle the inevitable injuries that hit every team throughout the season.

If only I could make it through spring training, without losing my damn marbles.

Other 2017 Cleveland Indians Preview Articles

  1. Salazar was able to eventually pitch in some games as a reliever []
  2. although Michael Clevinger does have some upside, even if he struggles with control []
  3. It doesn’t help that Cooney is out for three months, with a strained forearm []