Gerbs: While I fully expected a decent season out of the return of Los, I don’t think anyone could have predicted Carlos Santana to produce this well. A career-high walk rate, career-low K rate, the 14th best wRC+ of 180, Santana has never been this hitter in his life, and a BABIP of .455 means we are going to see some regression to the mean, but Santana has absolutely been the no doubt answer to “most pleasant surprise”.
Bode: Carlos Santana is just great and wonderful, so let’s go with Leonys Martin not only showing that his 2018 season pre-near-death was his new normal and increasing his power numbers so far. I’m not sure he didn’t go through a Captain America super-soldier process last August.
Jay: It has to be Carlos Santana. My favorite Los stat of the young season: his Bondsian .515 OBP. Apparently that’s what happens when you pair his routinely elite walk rate with a .455 BABIP. I don’t want to think about where this offense would have been without him through the first few weeks.
Chuck: I honestly could go either Santana or Martin here as both have stepped up when we needed them the most. Going to lean Carlos here as his return to Cleveland could not have gone better so far.
Poloha: This is an easy one like everyone has already mentioned. Santana has been one heckuva player so far. I know he won’t keep up this pace, but the fact that he usually starts slow in past years and then batting like this to start this season is awesome.
Gerbs: I am coming back from the edge on Jose, but Jake Bauers has been disappointing for me as well. The strikeouts have been low and the walks have been there, but a .300 slugging percentage is far from what he has done in the past and lightyears away from what I expected the heir to Michael Brantley’s throne to produce. It is early, the hitters below Bauers in SLG% are a mixed bag of underwhelming vets including Miguel Cabrera, Travis Shaw, Ryan Zimmerman and someone named Jose Ramirez, and few of those are cause for concern. But I really wanted more out of Bauers this season and haven’t seen it yet.
Bode: Ramirez getting some walks and showing better power lately definitely helps. He needs one of his customary flaming hot streaks to dig himself out of the hole he has dug for his season numbers though he should be OK moving forward. The fact the Indians have been able to stay near or at the top of the division despite not having Francisco Lindor or “the real” Jose Ramirez has been quite impressive.
Jay: I’m slowly but surely talking myself off the edge with Ramirez. As much as Santana has probably gotten lucky (.455 BABIP on a career-high 55.6% hard-hit rate), Ramirez has gotten equally unlucky (.155 BABIP on a career-high 39.0% hard-hit rate). Still, I’m growing less certain that we’ll ever see him replicate last year’s 8-fWAR season ever again. My fluke senses are tingling about that 15.2% walk rate from last season. Prior to that, he had never posted a full-season mark above 9%. He’s struggled to match even his career average in walk rate (9.5%) so far this year, posting a 5.3% mark through 75 plate appearances.
Chuck: Ramirez is showing signs of a combination of trying to do too much and flat out bad luck. Jay pointed out his paltry BABIP which is 120 points below his career average. He’s hitting the ball on the ground 11% less than career while hitting 9% more fly balls. The difference is his HR/FB is almost 8% lower than his career 11%. He’s hitting the ball hard and is also hitting to all fields – pulling the ball 15% less than career average. He appears to be adjusting to the shift and is struggling with it. I agree with Jay that 8 WAR is likely his high water mark but he will come out of this as an All-Star caliber player.
Poloha: I can’t wait until JRam regains his form. It’s bound to happen and when it does, he will completely change the top-end of the order.
Gerbs: Nick Wittgren coming up and blowing people away has been pretty fun thus far this year. Though it’s hard to wax poetic about a bullpen that blew a 7-3 lead Saturday night, they have been producing better than expected and Wittgren has been a steadying force in these few short weeks he’s been up.
Bode: I will go with a combination of Nick Wittgren and Adam Cimber. Having those two break out as reliable bullpen pieces takes a ton of pressure off Brad Hand to be over-extended and allows the rest of the pieces to be used in the limited roles they are meant to play.
Jay: I very much wish I was able to put Mike Clevinger’s name down here. He looked like an absolute ace through his first two starts (0 R, 2 H, 22 K in 12 IP). But, with him sidelined for at least the next couple months, I’ll turn my attention to Adam Cimber, who’s been nothing but a joy to watch so far. Through just over six innings of work, the submarine-style right-hander has allowed just two hits and one run while inducing weak contact from a vast majority of the hitters he’s faced. Still, just in his second major league season, the 28-year-old has a real chance to become an integral weapon to this bullpen moving forward.
Chuck: Nick Wittgren. Through 7 IP he has struck out nine walking zero en route to a .52 FIP. He has a 100% strand rate, holding all five runners he has inherited this season. The Tribe needs one of these pen arms to step up and so far Wittgren has shown a lot of promise.
Poloha: If only Clev didn’t get hurt. His start was Cy Young-esque. I like what Wittgren has brought to the bullpen, it will just be interesting to see if he can keep it up.
Gerbs: How can this not be Corey Kluber? When the staff ace (a title Trevor Bauer isn’t done fighting for yet) was bandied about in trade talks over the winter, Tribe fans went from anger he was being discussed to anger he wasn’t moved, and now many are wringing their hands that we failed to get surplus value for a what has been a worse-than-league-average start. A drop in velocity, an inability to get hitters out on his secondary pitches and an insistence on nibbling the corners when “old Klubes” would be burying knuckle curves to batters have all started me worrying too.
Bode: Nothing is more disappointing than having Mike Clevinger come out as the most dominant starter in our rotation only to injure his back and possibly be out until August.
Jay: Neil Ramirez hasn’t done much for me — or anyone — so far this year. Three bombs allowed in his first 8.2 IP ain’t gonna cut it, no matter how enticing his strikeout rate might be (10.97 K/9 for his career).
Chuck: Going to go with Kluber here. It’s a five start sample, but his walk rate of 4.15/9 coupled with a 4.88 xFIP and 5.88 ERA are concerning. The k’s are there and he has suffered a little bit of bad luck in the BABIP department, but he’s also being hit harder than ever while trading ground balls for fly balls to the tune of 8%. I believe there is more left in the tank with Kluber, but he’s got to be able to control the baseball much better.
Poloha: Kluber and Cookie. Like JRam, I can’t wait until they regain their form. Hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later.
Gerbs: With the addition of Carlos Gonzalez (and subtraction of Hanley Ramirez) the outfield has been better of late, and I’ve already touched on the brilliance of the bullpen, but I would not be surprised to see an addition of a bat in this lineup. Moving Hanley out and seemingly installing Jake Bauers as DH helps create a spot for Greg Allen or Oscar Mercado to come up and produce, but if neither can fit the bill, I definitely expect an addition there. Leonys Martin hitting the way he has thus far has made all the difference in what can be expected out of this outfield, however, and we all couldn’t be happier.
Bode: Bauers hasn’t been what was expected of him yet, which is hurting the outfield despite Martin’s continued breakout. Right field continues to be a mess with Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, and others showing some promise but also lots of issues. Oscar Mercado should get a chance there soon.
Jay: For all of the risks that the Indians’ front office took with relief pitching this past offseason, it seems like the majority of them have come to fruition so far. Cimber looks a lot better, Wittgren has a chance to be a focal point and Hand has been his rock solid-self. These developments make it clear that outfield will be the top priority on the trade market.
Chuck: Going into the ninth inning of Saturday’s game the bullpen had only surrendered one lead all season. Saturday and Sunday did a number on the group, but there is still a lot to like. The outfield has more variables at this point. There are options in Columbus, but none are a slam dunk. The front office likely tries to improve both in July, but the outfield is most pressing.
Poloha: I agree with everyone else. There are still plenty of holes, obviously, but the Indians are working their way through it and I’m sure there will be a trade or two prior to the deadline.
Gerbs: I’m so excited to have Lindor back. As I said on Twitter: if you told me that the Tribe would not have Lindor for the first 19 games, they would lose Clevinger for two-to-three months, JRam would be hitting as horribly as he has been, and we would still be 12-7…I’d kiss you on the mouth.
Bode: The fifth spot in the rotation could not only hurt the rotation’s strength but force more usage out of the bullpen and needs to be tracked. While the offense should be better with Lindor returning, giving up on catcher production means that black hole in right field needs to be addressed. If no one will step up, then a trade needs to happen. Otherwise, the season has started off relatively well given the injuries. It has to be disheartening for the rest of the division to have so much gone wrong early for the Tribe, yet not be able to take advantage.
Jay: So after two straight years ranking atop the league in fWAR, the starting rotation is leading the MLB once again with 2.9 fWAR, small sample sizes and all. The offense can get frustrating, yes, but don’t ever take this starting rotation for granted. It’s historically good.
Chuck: As frustrating as the past two weekends have been, to be sitting 12 and 9 having been without Lindor, Ramirez dramatically under performing, Clevinger on the shelf and a mixed bag from Kluber and Carrasco feels pretty good. We have two positional players outpacing expectations with the bulk below. This season will continue to hinge on the starting rotation and we will need more consistency from Kluber and Carrasco. We need a corner outfield bat to step up or the front office will have to acquire one.
Poloha: Enjoy them.