August 26, 2014

Early thoughts on the 2014 Indians: WFNY Roundtable

Following Wednesday’s AL Wild Card loss to Tampa Bay, the WFNY staff was still giddy about the Cleveland Indians’ 2013 season. But, some were already not as optimistic about the picture for 2014. Here’s another look inside the WFNY email thread to see what we were talking about yesterday with regards to the Tribe’s future.

WFNY_roundtable

Jacob: From 1995-2012, 58 MLB teams had .600+ records in 1-run games. Of those 58 teams, 44 regressed the following season: 75.9% of teams. In total, those 58 teams regressed by an average of 5.8 wins/162 games the following season.

Sure, that’s probably just regular regression to the mean for good teams anyway, but still notable. I don’t think winning 1-run games is a skill however, unless you have Mariano Rivera. The Indians went 30-17 (.638) in one-run games this season, second in baseball to the Yankees: 30-16 (.652). Both could be prime candidates for 2014 regression.

Team-by-team leaderboard in seasons with .600+ winning percentages in 1-run games in the 19 seasons from 1995-2013:

NYY – 9; ATL – 5; ARI, SFG – 4; BOS, CHW, CLE, MIN, OAK – 3

I’m trying not to be really depressed, guys. In short, I’m just not that optimistic about the Indians. This projected 80-win team seems a bit closer to an 80-win team than a legit contender 92-win team.

Craig: I’m not depressed yet, Jacob. This team out-performed in the W/L column what their stats say they should have achieved. That’s fine. It’s the off-season. We know this team needs to address some needs and make some changes.

It won’t be easy. But as we learned from Road Trip regarding short cuts, if it was easy, it would just be “the way.”

Andrew: A lot probably depends on what offseason moves the team makes, no? If the Indians bring this team back and expect to replicate results, that might not work. But I think they certainly can get better.

Scott: I think they’ll get better too, but a lot of this goes back to a podcast I had with Craig way back when — you can’t discount the human impact of things as well. One-run games, etc can often boil down to such otherwise trivial things as tenacity, as silly as that sounds. I truly believe that Francona made a HUGE impact in that clubhouse. They could’ve easily folded up shop after the DET sweep—many fans did—but they didn’t. You can’t quantify that.

Jacob: They have a lot, a lot of holes and a gigantic offseason ahead.

But I really just stand by this comment: “And if you want to be frustrated with anything, be frustrated with bad drafting and prospect development that’s left the Indians in a peculiar win-by-2014-or-else state.”

I wouldn’t recommend for the Indians to necessarily break the bank to re-sign Ubaldo or Kazmir. Then, there’s also decisions on Joe Smith (FA) and Drew Stubbs (non-tender?), and 2014-impending calls on Asdrubal Cabrera (trade) and Justin Masterson (next year a FA). And at their 30-plus ages, it’s not like one-year downswings for Bourn and Swisher mean they’ll necessarily ever return to their career norms again.

A lot of things went really, really well for the Indians this season to win 92 games. I want to be happy, but I’m having trouble with that because it was so surprising so quickly. And although they had one good offseason, this front office hasn’t proven a consistent ability to be efficient long-term like the Rays or A’s.

Kirk: The 2012 Baltimore Orioles are the cautionary tale for relying on one run success.

Salazar for a full year, Bourn and Swisher (I still believe Swish played most of the season afflicted by that bum shoulder) performing closer to their expectations, and a lot of young bullpen arms have me hopeful.

If I were them, Cabrera and Perez are gone, throw money at either Ubaldo or Kazmir, and sign a power hitter for the middle of the order. Hopefully, Lindor can be the Cabrera ’07 or Salazar ’13 type burst late next year.

Bauer needs to take a huge step, Carrasco needs to settle into the back end of the bullpen, and Cody needs to close. A rotation of Salazar, Masterson, Kluber, Kazmir or Ubaldo, and Bauer could be really, really good still.

Jon: Agree with what Kirk said. All teams who win 92 games have a lot of things break their way. We’ll need it to happen again.

Kirk: Just think of the roster overhaul we undertook.

Trades: Gomes, Aviles, Stubbs, Shaw, Albers, Bauer
Signings: Bourn, Swisher, Raburn, Giambi, Kazmir, even Reynolds
Guys out of nowhere: Salazar, Kluber

That’s half the roster!

I’d say the culture change and heavy lifting overhaul is done. It’s fine tuning and finding the right 2-3 guys external now and having guys fill new roles (Salazar at front of rotation, Carrasco in bullpen, Cody or Shaw as closer).

A lot of things broke both for AND against them. I could see some of that just balancing out (the Detroit record and the Chicago record) and them not being so streaky next year. Time to gel and such.

TD: There is so much to love going forward. I can’t stand this negative narrative I am seeing/hearing from people. Did people forget that we lost 96 games last year? With Terry Francona on board, I can’t see them going backwards in a bad way. The decisions to be made with third base and right field and how they handle them will be huge. Would love to see them get a big outfield bat. A full year of a more developed Salazar will help. As will a healthy Kluber and Masterson pitching for a big contract. Pen should be loaded again.

One bad game shouldn’t change the narrative this much.

Asdrubal is a dog by the way. I said it the second he came up: “you know he is hitting into a double play here.”

Craig: We can drown out the “stupid” negative narrative. Not talking about Jacob’s stats concerns of course. I’m talking about the sports talk radio callers who will say this season is a failure or that what occurred last night doesn’t count as a playoff game.

It’s our narrative. We can do with it as we please. I saw three different people wearing WFNY t-shirts last night. I know that’s not on par with the goon squad shirts, but don’t forget it. Thanks to the hard work that our Tribe folks do all year long, we’ve got the ability to set our own narrative.

Kirk: I think removing the toxicity of Perez’s antics/gascannery and Cabrera’s lack of hustle and attitude could be worth five wins alone from a morale standpoint.

Jacob: I don’t really like talking about it. I’m just not optimistic about 2014. I’m not happy about saying that. And I’m not happy I’m bringing it up after making the playoffs (rabble rabble, Kenny Lofton).

Color me just much more pessimistic on the composition of this roster. Is Yan Gomes a 4-WAR player? Can Ryan Raburn post a .993 OPS with RISP in 88 plate appearances? Asdrubal Cabrera has contributed 20 WAR since 2006; that production isn’t easily replaceable. There are just so many flukey things in my mind.

Jon: Feels early to start rosterbating over next year, but I can’t help myself. I guess what I would underscore to people who are advocating for big additions/improvements to the roster: where would you add?

I see three potential places: 3B/DH (“a bat”), the bullpen, and the rotation.

Taking those individually, who is the bat you target? I haven’t scoured the FA market yet, but no one is immediately jumping to mind to fill that power-hitting corner guy role. If you go the trade route, I’d like to hear what value we’re going to get if we refuse to give up Lindor/Salazar. As for the pitchers, I think it would be nice to get better, but it’s a pretty tall order to just hold steady, considering that Kazmir, Ubaldo, and Joe Smith are all free agents, and we’re likely to let Perez go (he’s not great, but he’s certainly a useful arm).

In other words, I do think there are some internal improvements and developments that they’ll have to count on next year.

The good news is, to me, we don’t have to get that much better. After all, holding steady would mean winning 92 games.

Kirk: Devil’s advocate: how many teams survive losing their eighth and ninth inning guys like we did?

Will Bourn hit in the .260s and steal only 23 bases (12 cs) and Swish and Cabrera hit in the .240s? I expect Yan you regress a bit but remain an above average starting catcher. I think Raburn will play 4-5 times a week as a super sub again and perform (not as clutch).

Jacob: To add to Jon’s comments, which I’d agree with and would say cause signs for at least mild regression, I’d just argue: Is that the efficient way to construct a baseball roster?

In a perfect world, we’d be New York or Boston with an unlimited maximum payroll. We could go out and sign a $10 million bat to bolster the lineup, a $10 million starter (such as Jimenez) and other big money to replace Cabrera, Kazmir, Smith, Perez, etc.

But we don’t have that money (see here). If somehow magically the Indians decide to boost payroll up from $80ish million, then sure, we can talk about inefficient cosmetic free agent shopping. I just don’t see that coming, even after they say revenues were up this year. They won’t be up by $10 million.

If I were the GM, would I spend money like that (or even on Swisher or Bourn)? Hell no. This year was fun and I give credit to Dolan for letting them do these moves. But they weren’t efficient. They weren’t Rays-like. And the Indians put themselves in this precarious situation with their piss-poor drafting and development. Brad Grant hasn’t changed much.

TD: I think Asdrubal is close to immovable. $10 million for a lazy past his prime shortstop. I think they are stuck with him and hope he somehow finds himself.

Jon: I think this is your point Jacob, but ALL MAJOR LEAGUE FREE AGENCY SIGNINGS ARE INEFFICIENT. Even the ones that work out.

That doesn’t mean all our FO moves were inefficient though. They got 10+ wins out of Raburn, Kazmir, and Gomes. That’s not nothing.

Overall, I think that you’re both right: Bourn and Swisher should probably be better next season than they were this (I can’t tell if you disagree with this, Jacob). Same goes for Asdrubal, if he’s here. On the other hand, Raburn will regress, as will Gomes. Who knows what we’ll have with Kluber and McAllister–they may largely determine this team’s fate.

Salazar, Bauer, Carrasco, Lindor, even Chisenhall, are all WCs that muck things up even more.

You can’t count on this team being as lucky as they were this year in sequencing (i.e. 1 run games) next season. You can’t expect Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes to OPS .900. But you also can’t expect that Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher will effectively be 2 win players after being 4-6 win type guys just because they’re in their 30s. You won’t expect that your bullpen will be the second worst in the league, ahead of only the Astros. I think the blade cuts both ways. It’ll be a fun season, which, as I’ve said a thousand times, is all I really want from them.

Jacob: I wouldn’t say all free agency signings are inefficient. Kazmir and Raburn were for pennies (Gomes was a near-throw-in as a non-prospect in the Jays system). That’s what the Rays do every year. They certainly don’t sign 29-yo-plus position players to four-year-deals at $10+/year.

My point on Bourn and Swisher is that a decline at age 30 and 32, respectively, doesn’t mean they’ll be better next season because of their previous career production. In fact, it could mean that’s their new normal. So I’m not that optimistic about them.

Our bullpen also was 19th in baseball with a 3.62 ERA, better than the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Angels, Mariners and Astros. Take away Rich Hill’s below-replacement 6.28 ERA, and the relievers’ mark drops down to a 3.41 ERA. The bullpen wasn’t bad; in fact, I think that’s one of the more concretely known entities entering 2014 with Allen, Shaw, Albers, Scrabble, Pestano, etc.

Kirk: Provided Vinnie isn’t on an operating table.

If THAT is the new Bourn and Swisher normal, then my optimism plummets. They NEED more from them. I’m not saying their All-Star years, but more in line with their track records accounting for an average drop in production factoring in age.

In the words of Fergie, “can you meet me halfway”?

Jon: I suppose it’s possible that’s their “new normal”, but it’s unlikely. Most people don’t age like Travis Hafner–good and then terrible. They’re called “aging curves” and not “aging cliffs” for a reason.

TD: I truly believe Swisher’s shoulder really hampered him most of the year. I think he will be better. Bourn worries me more. I really didn’t like what I saw from him, especially down the stretch, in terms of plate discipline.

I do agree with Jon – Kluber and McAllister are the key to the team next year. They have to take another step forward.

Kirk: Totally forgot about McAllister in my next year rotation! Yea, him and Kluber determine if this staff has 2-3 good arms or 4-5.

Both of those guys were never the same after their injuries. Another bad break. We probably overcome our crap record against Detroit and WIN the division if only one gets cut down.

Jacob: Also notable: I wouldn’t describe the mild regression from Bourn and Swisher as a cliff. See below.

Bourn from 2009-2012: 20 WAR, about 5/season. Bourn in 2013: 2.5 WAR.

His OPS dropped from .726 to .676. That alone doesn’t cut WAR in half. As Jon hasn’t written, a lot relates to his base-stealing efficiency (81% down to 66%). He also was merely average-ish defensively, not extraordinary.

He had his fewest PA in a season since 2008 this year. And some argue that athletic defensive-focused players do decline faster than the slugging types. I said differently in my February post in The Diff. But it’s possible. If that’s at all the case, uh oh for $40 million the next three years.

Swisher from 2009-2012: 11.5 WAR, about 3/season. Swisher in 2013: 3.9 WAR.

Do folks realize that Swisher’s 2012 WAR was 3.8 and his 2013 was nearly identical? Because, yeah. He also had 3.8 in 2010 and 4.5 in 2007, but usually he’s averaged about 3 WAR/season.

He played nearly all year (145 games), so the WAR might be a bit more about being above-average for a long period of time. His OPS regressed from .850 to .763, but he still was good offensively despite the shoulder issue.

  • http://www.twitter.com/dconeil Hamsterdam

    I’m confident about next season. I like this group of guys. They won two games in September former Tribe teams NEVER would have won. The Tuesday night game at Kansas City (biggest win of the season, IMO) and the Giambi game last week.

    These guys now feel different. I can’t wait for next season to start. Going to be fun. I’m confident. I highly doubt this “negative” culture from fans anymore. This core group can and will win.

  • boomhauertjs

    As much as I hate to say it, they should probably keep Asdrubal. His trade value is an all-time low, so you just have to hope his impending free agency will motivate him next year.
    I wouldn’t go crazy to keep Ubaldo. I just don’t have faith that he’ll be able to replicate his success over a long-term contract. Kazmir on a short deal might be worth the risk.
    Doesn’t sound like there are any big bats out there in FA, so I’m not sure where that extra power is going to come from. Maybe Dolans will take on some more money by taking another team’s big contract.
    They can’t make the mistake they did after 2005 and 2007 when they basically stood pat and paid the price for it.

  • Steve

    Despite the great W/L record in one run games, and Craig’s suggestion otherwise, the numbers still suggested a 90 win season. I don’t think this team is closer to 80 wins than 92, though it’s a close call.

    Most of what we understand to be the unsustainable success in W-L record in one run games is a couple elite pen arms. There’s still a lot of noise that we haven’t quite figured out, and the numbers are suggesting that they actually didn’t all go the Tribe’s way. Also, anecdotally, the pen seemed to be turning 3 run leads into 1 run leads more often than turning 1 run deficits into one run leads. They’re not going to have as great a record in one run games, but they won at an 87 win clip in the other games, and the stats in those suggest they might have deserved a bit better record.

    I think Ubaldo is going to get a crazy deal somewhere, but I think the Indians can hold on to Kazmir. As said yesterday, I’m very concerned about the pen. Yes Kluber and McAllister coming back strong is the biggest key to the season, but I think hitting the right notes when it comes to fixing the pen will be a big make-or-break for the team as well.

    I’m confident in the offense, it’s good, not great. I think it’s going to be solid again. Bourn isn’t getting moved out of the leadoff spot, so he’s got to get on base a few more times. The only “big” bat that may be in our price range is Cruz, but I think some team throws a few more years at him than is worth it. Save the dollars and lock up Kipnis and Brantley, and if you get really lucky, Masterson.

  • jamick6000

    “Swisher from 2009-2012: 11.5 WAR, about 3/season. Swisher in 2013: 3.9 WAR.”

    Fangraphs has Swisher’s WAR at 2.4 this year. Not sure where the 3.9 is coming from

  • ThePhoenix

    Baseball Reference

  • WFNYJacob

    It’s from Baseball-Reference. The two sites differ often, as Jon wrote so eloquently with his jWAR average here: http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/2013/01/mlb-statistics-advanced-news-tools/

  • jamick6000

    ah thanks. I always thought the differences between the two were generally pretty minor, but that’s a big difference for swish….

  • Steve

    4 run difference at the plate (seems a bit higher than we should expect, considering the common knowledge about evaluating hitters), 6 runs in the field, 2 runs from positional value, and 1 from replacement level, that’s pretty much your 1.4 difference.

    B-ref loves Swisher at 1B, and thinks he’s fine in RF, Fangraphs thinks he’s fine at 1B was lousy in RF this year, but normally fine there.

    Interesting to see that Swisher’s batting runs at Fangraphs fell off a lot more than at B-Ref. I wonder if Fangraphs isn’t picking up enough of the difference in park effects between Yankee Stadium and Progressive.

  • jamick6000

    interesting. tbh i’ve never dug into how it’s calculated. just from looking at a few different players today, the WAR from Fangraphs vs. Baseball reference doesn’t just vary in magnitude (id expect that), but also direction (a lot of times one site says a player’s WAR increases 2012 vs. 2013, while the other says his WAR decreased) … seems pretty dubious, but like i said i don’t know much about it.

  • Dirtyalaskan

    Geez. Just took a look at the free agent list and my goodness it isn’t pretty for a team needing to sign a bat as the Tribe needs to. I say go all in on Jose Abreu at first, put Swish in the OF and have Santana and Gomes alternate at C and DH. If that doesn’t happen, then we’ll definitely have to trade some top prospects.

  • Dirtyalaskan

    I agree. Just need to add another bat and they’ll go deep into the playoffs.

  • WFNYJacob

    Jose Abreu?

  • Dirtyalaskan

    Cuban free agent. Sorry, should have been more clear…