The month of May has always been an arbitrary starting point of sorts in the baseball community for years. Yes, the season starts in April (or March this year), but May 1st has long had some significance in terms of what’s real or what’s not. Many an April breakout has fallen back crashing to earth, just as many slumps that seemingly signaled the end of a career were broken at the pulling off of a satirical joke from your Far Side desk calendar.
Suddenly teams that had playoff aspirations in Arizona or Florida are looking up from the bottom of the standings and taking stock of who they can cut bait on to replenish farm systems.1 Similarly, teams that might be a year or two ahead of their “road to a contender” schedule are calling around, checking in on the status of impending free agents.2
Just as there are good and bad with regards to hot streaks ending and slumps breaking, there have been almost as many good as bad outcomes for your Cleveland Indians in 2018. A team literally at 18-18, a 50/50 split, it seems almost poetic that they are so evenly great and horrible at times. A team that when it’s good…it’s good, and similarly, when it’s bad…it’s god awful. I want to take a look at the good news for Indians fans from this year, while also taking stock of the bad news as well.
Good news: the starting pitching has been amazing
With four starters in the top 27 in fWAR, Cleveland has quietly reminded Major League Baseball that they have the best rotation in baseball.3 Corey Kluber has had a penchant for giving up home runs in the early going and is pitching better than his numbers might indicate highlighted by WFNY’s Michael Bode a week ago, but nobody is doubting The Magic Man’s abilities. Carlos Carrasco just pitched a complete game with 14 strikeouts while knocking in his own run support and is sporting the lowest walk rate of his career.
Trevor Bauer, when not picking fights on Twitter with the Houston Astros starters about pine tar or getting into an online Twitter diss battle with rotation mate Mike Clevinger,4 has been lights out. Clevinger has been the best of the bunch by fWAR standards, securing a spot in the Rotation of Domination for the foreseeable future and ensuring this Twitter take.
The Indians have 4 aces. Don't @ me.
— Cole Lopez (@ColeLopez77) April 21, 2018
Even Adam Plutko has impressed in a spot start on the bottom half of a doubleheader, throwing 7.1 innings of a quality start and saving some innings for a beleaguered bullpen (we will get to them in a moment). Josh Tomlin has been, well, Josh Tomlin and could see some time on the disabled list for an inflamed ERA sooner rather than later, hopefully allowing the Little Cowboy some time to get right.
Bad news: the bullpen has been a dumpster fire
When the front office failed to make any kinds of moves to shore up the free agent loses of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith, you knew we were going to be in for a long season. Hopeful additions of Cody Anderson and even possibly Danny Salazar have both been moved to the 60-day DL, Salazar recently needing to be shut down for a PRP injection.
Andrew Miller should be returning from the disabled list this weekend, but his presence has been sorely missed as a solidifying source. Cody Allen and Tyler Olson and his amazing technicolor arm slots have been decent but not as dominant as they have been in the past. 2017 revelation Nick Goody has been…not…Goody…
Dan Otero and Zach McAllister were expected to fill the holes left by Shaw and Smith but have been knocked around and left out for longer than anticipated at times due to there being nobody else to turn to. Matt Belisle, Evan Marshall,5 Ben Taylor, Alexi Ogando, something called a Jeff Beliveau…these are all names of real people who actually exist, not just fake names Captain America and Falcon used when hiding out from Tony Stark between Civil War and Infinity War. They have all been used and abused by manager Terry Francona this season to varying degrees of success and suckiness with only *squints* Oliver Drake as an incoming life jacket. Please, Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff, be bold and make some moves sooner rather than later to get some help.
Good news: Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez play for us
A recent Player of the Week award and owner of a new haircut, Francisco Lindor has been reminding people that he is the face of baseball and Jose Ramirez is doing more than just keeping up with him. Over the last 14 days, Lindor has hit seven home runs, 13 RBI and has an OPS of 1.290, numbers that are Trout-esque. Over the same span, Ramirez has eight doubles, three home runs, 10 RBI and an OPS of 1.091. The duo has been carrying the offense for the better part of the season, alongside my arch nemesis Michael Brantley. With hitters like these terrorizing opposing pitchers, it will make the MVP race interesting. Have there ever been two finalists from the same team?
Bad news: The rest of the offense is dangerously hot and cold
It is hyperbole to say that the entire rest of the team has been bad, as there have been great performances and the team as a whole has outscored last year’s at this point in the season last year, 136 in 2017 to 164 thus far in 2018. However, there are stretches where this team is borderline unwatchable.
The first base/designated hitter tandem of Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion have eight and nine home runs, respectively, but both have strikeout rates over 20%, with Encarnacion’s nearing 30%. Yan Gomes has shown flashes, a wRC+ of 104 is fifth on the team (I’m omitting Erik Gonzalez’s wRC+ of 163 as he doesn’t have enough plate appearances to have much effect and his production on the year was mostly over two games where he forced the team’s hand in keeping him over a rehabbing Gio Urshela), but Gomes also has a 35.4% strikeout rate, and Bradley Zimmer’s is higher still at 36.8%.
Tyler Naquin has done such a great Lonnie Chisenhall impersonation that I sometimes forget the latter is still on the roster. Naquin has a wRC+ of 115 on the season as a whole but handedness splits that make you remember why he’s a platoon bat: .838 OPS versus RHP and .500 OPS versus LHP. Jason Kipnis has been making a lot of loud outs, with a career-high hard-hit rate at 38.5% but they are still outs nonetheless. However, it must be mentioned that WFNY’s Gage Will recommends buying up Jason Kipnis stock at bargain basement prices. And who can forget the fact that Rajai Davis remains on the roster, despite a wRC+ of 41? His presence on the roster and starting lineups over players like Greg Allen is a bridge too far for me. Nostalgia be damned, it was a great home run, but cut him loose and bring him back as a special assistant to the manager.
Good news: this team plays in the AL Central
It has long been argued that Cleveland lucks out by virtue of divisional separation. While the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox beat each other’s brains in 18 times a year, Cleveland has the good fortune of going through the baseball equivalent of the candy cane forest Buddy The Elf traversed on his way to the Empire State Building. The Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox all are in various levels of rebuilding, and while they may be dangerous in years to come, they are pushovers on the way to a division title for Cleveland. Minnesota offers a seemingly formidable adversary for the Indians but as once and always WFNY and The Athletic’s Mike Hattery pointed out using FanGraphs season projections, the Twins 75th percentile projections do not out-win the 25th percentile projections for the Indians.
— Mike Hattery (@snarkyhatman) May 10, 2018
What does this all mean? Is Cleveland destined to be baseball’s version of Harvey “Two-Face” Dent? Or are they more Jekyll and Hyde? Time will tell which side of the coin most of these samples will go. Regression will bear out and bad starts will fade away and the high’s won’t be as high. As of now, Cleveland is poised to be in the playoff picture, warts and all, and that’s the best news to glean from the beginning of the season.
- READ: the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers. [↩]
- Atlanta and Philadelphia were not supposed to be this good this early. [↩]
- No team has more than three in the top 30, not even the spin rate warrior Astros. [↩]
- Seriously, this Twitter thread is amazing. [↩]
- If he sticks around, I really need to figure out if I want to call him “Dear Evan Marshall” or “Forgetting Evan Marshall”. Decisions, decisions. [↩]