Revisiting Preseason Predictions for the 2013 Indians

Jason Giambi

Before every baseball season I like to make a bunch of predictions and fake prop bets about the upcoming year, and after each year ends, I like to circle back around and check on how I did.

This is a somewhat excruciating exercise for at least two reasons.  First, I’m not very good at gambling, and these follow-up posts serve as evidence to be used against me anytime my wife and I find ourselves in Vegas and I ask for permission to sit at a table for an hour.  Second, I’m reminded of how silly predictions are at all.  Below, you’re going to read about a bunch of things that I  thought would be keys to the 2013 season.  And somehow, you’re not going to read a whole lot about Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn, two of the team’s four most valuable players.  That’s the nature of prognostication, I suppose.  Not just that we’ll be wrong about the answers, but that we’ll have been so wrong about the questions.

None of this, by the way, will prevent me from doing this all again, ad infinitum, until the warm earth receives me.  Below are the bets and how we did.

OVER 169.5 HRs – You might not remember how execrable the 2012 Indians were at hitting home runs, so let me refresh you.  That squad hit 136 taters—only five ahead of the last place Royals—and was losing nearly 30 long balls with the departures of Choo and Hafner.  I predicted that the club would more than offset those losses, and increase their total by 35 home runs or so.  Here was the reasoning:

Of course, there is some reason for optimism.  The team has added Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and a full year of Lonnie Who Loved Baseball in lieu of Jack Hannahan, Casey Kotchman, and Vinzequiel Damuncan; all of these replacements have the ability to hit more than the team-leading 18 home runs that Carlos Santana swatted last year.  Add that to some power development from Jason Kipnis, reasonable pop from Drew Stubbs, a motivated Asdrubal, and some clutchety-bench bombs from Jason Giambi and you can see a legitimate case that this team will have some real power.

Do I know how to set these lines or what?  The Indians hit 171 home runs in 2013.  Thanks for the breathing room, Matt Carson!

Name HR
Nick Swisher 22
Carlos Santana 20
Jason Kipnis 17
Ryan Raburn 16
Mark Reynolds 15
Asdrubal Cabrera 14
Yan Gomes 11
Lonnie Chisenhall 11
Michael Brantley 10
Drew Stubbs 10
Mike Aviles 9
Jason Giambi 9
Michael Bourn 6
Matt Carson 1

What is interesting, of course, is that 10 players had double digit home runs for the team, while no one player was truly a “deep threat” (Ryan Raburn led the team in slugging percentage).  I think I take this well-roundedness as a good sign, though I’m still nervous to think that the Indians haven’t had a player hit 30 home runs since Grady Sizemore’s 2008 campaign.  Perhaps we’ll make this into a prediction for next season…

Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brett Myers will combine to win fewer than 32.5 games – A great example of how poorly we go about setting these questions up sometimes.  Did you remember that Brett Myers opened the season as the ostensible third starter?  Sometimes, the best laid plans are pretty horribly laid.  Anyway, here was the reasoning:

The question here then is really twofold: (1) Do I think the Indians will be a decent-to-above-.500 team; and (2) Do I think that the top three arms in the rotation will have much to do with it?  As you’ll see below, I think the answer to the first question is a mild “yes”, but I’m not so sure about the second.  I’m taking the under; I just don’t see all three of these guys pitching effectively for the whole year.  At some point, I think either Ubaldo or Myers “gets hurt” in order to infuse some new blood into the rotation.  I sure hope I’m wrong, but if these guys manage to average more than 10 pitcher wins, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Name W
Justin Masterson 14
Ubaldo Jimenez 13
Brett Myers 0

I win again, but throw pretty much any other starter in there and I lose this bet handily.  Masterson and Ubaldo combined for 27 wins.  Kluber had 11; Kaz had 10; McAllister 9.  Which means that even though I won the bet, I lost the larger argument.  I thought we’d have a mediocre rotation, a good bullpen, and a good lineup.  But that wasn’t the case at all.  We had an average lineup, a really good rotation, and an average-ish bullpen.  The reason we played in October wasn’t a soft schedule or Giambi’s walkoffs or Ryan Raburn’s resurgence as much as it was a steady group of young starters who had, collectively, career years.  The Indians rotation ranked sixth in the league in ERA, second in FIP and xFIP, sixth in GB-rate, and second in HR-rate.  And that’s including seven combined starts from Trevor Bauer and the flaming corpse of Brett Myers. Speaking of which….

Trevor Bauer makes fewer than 9.5 starts – I’m on a roll, as he started only four times in 2013.  Although again, my reasoning was flawed.  I figured that Bauer would be behind both Carrasco and Kluber coming out of Spring Training, but that wasn’t the case at all (though perhaps it should have been):

Call this a hunch, but I’m betting that Carrasco is first in line, and after him I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn to Corey Kluber before Bauer.  Remember that Bauer just turned 22 this winter, and is only a few months into re-jiggering his mechanics.  I think I have to take the under.  This isn’t to say I’m rooting for it—I really can’t wait to see him live—but I’m not going to be surprised if we don’t see Trevor Bauer until September.

Bauer made his first start just one week into the season, on April 6.  So again, I win, but I feel like I was way off on this.  But I should have been right, as Kluber was clearly the better pitcher.  Screw it, I’m keeping my fake money from this bet.

OVER 1300.5 team strikeouts for Indians batters – A few points of reference, before diving in.  In 2012 the Indians struck out 1,087 times.  The 2012 League average was 1,187.  The Indians have never struck out more than 1,300 times in a season.

So I was predicting some major whiffs.  Here was the takeaway:

To strikeout 1,300 times, you have to have some windmills in the lineup, and boy do the Indians have that.  For his career, Mark Reynolds has struck out in an astonishing 32.6% of his plate appearances.  For perspective, Carlos Santana—no stranger to the strikeout—has averaged a K-rate of 18%.  On top of Reynolds will be Drew Stubbs (29.3%), Nick Swisher (21.3%), and Lonnie Chisenhall (20.3%).  We’ve got the horsepower to set some strikeout records, and for that reason, I’m taking the over here.

The Indians struck out 1,283 times in 2013, just 17 away from the “goal”.  I would say that I still feel pretty good about this bet, despite losing it, for a couple of reasons.  First, I didn’t think they’d DFA Mark Reynolds, who’s continued employment would surely have pushed the group over the finish line.  Second, I made a few assumptions about playing time that just didn’t pan out.  I didn’t factor in that Mike Aviles (and his 10.4% K-rate) would get nearly 400 plate appearances.  I didn’t assume that Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley would strikeout less frequently than their career averages would suggest.

We came close on this one, but not quite.  The first loser on the slate.

UNDER 84.5 team wins – Here’s where you can really beat me up.  I pegged the Indians at 83-79—they outplayed my prediction by nearly ten games.  There was certainly some kismet here: the team’s Pythagorean record—what you’d expect their record to be based on how many runs they scored and allowed—was 90-72.  In other words, they may have “lucked” into a few more wins than losses due to sequencing and better outcomes in close games than would be expected.

But there’s really no doubt about it: this team played much better than I thought they would, and almost all of that excess was attributable to the team’s ability to prevent opposing runs.  Consider this: the Indians scored 745 runs in 2013, good for fourth in the AL, but that’s a little deceiving.  Look at this chart and you’ll that they were really just a tick above average (click to enlarge):

Jon Indians 1

But their run prevention skills (which of course includes pitching and defense), was phenomenal.  Same scale here, and look how much better they look:

Jon Indians 2

Say it with me now: starting pitching wins championships.  Masterson and Ubaldo had terrific years, but let’s not forget that Kluber was huge in the middle of the season, and Kazmir was better than even I could’ve hoped (and I hoped pretty high).  Even Zach McAllister pitched better than most teams’ number five starter.  Oh yeah, and that Salazar kid was pretty ok too.

I’m not sure if the Indians will be able to have another year next year like they did in 2013.  But the more I think about it, it’s going to come down to the contributions they get from guys like Kluber, McAllister, Salazar, Bauer, Carrasco, etc.  If a few of those guys step up the way a few did in 2013, the playoffs are a completely reasonable outcome to expect.  If we end up giving starts to the Brett Myerses of the worlds?  We’ve seen how that story ends.

  • dchabz

    In my opinion, the Tribe’s biggest concern next year is getting a solid slugger to bolster the lineup. It showed in a big way this year “that guy” is not in this lineup right now. Does Santana become “that guy” next year? Maybe! But, I’d rather assume Santana remains equal to this year and add an extra bat in the lineup that is intentional walk type material in late inning situations in a close game. I believe if that guy was here this year, we’d still be playing right now.

  • cmm13

    While I agree that “that guy” is needed in this lineup..

    “That guy” doesn’t erase our 1-3 hitters going 0-fer in the wildcard game which is why we aren’t playing right now.

  • Steve

    I have a small quibble, but I think it needs to be taken into account – how much of a pitcher’s park Progressive has become. The rotation may have been 6th in ERA, but they were 9th in ERA-, which takes into account the park factors. I think we need to give the lineup a bit more credit than just being “average”.

  • nj0

    The Indians and every other team in the league.

    In baseball in the 10’s, pitching dominates and there just aren’t that many “solid sluggers” out there and those that are usually don’t hit the free agent market. When they do, there’s usually about a dozen teams in the running. Two players hit more than 40 HRs this year. Ten years ago, that number was nine. For the Indians to get one in FA is highly unlikely imo.

  • Steve

    Morales, Beltran, Cruz, and how do you feel about Byrd, and the Cuban guy Abreu? Choo and Napoli are FAs as well, but I don’t think there’s a chance the Tribe is in on either.

    There’s a lot of risk in that market. I’d like to see one come here, but would have no problem with the team passing on a guy at the prices they’ll likely command.

  • Jason Hurley

    That’s an interesting point. I took a quick look, and baseball reference has them as a remarkably similar team on offense, home or away.

  • Jason Hurley

    That’s an interesting point. I took a quick look, and baseball reference has them as a remarkably similar team on offense, home or away.

  • Steve

    Looking at team splits, they had a .736 OPS at home, .737 on the road. Yes, remarkably similar. But if we look at the sOPS+ column, which compares that particular split to the league average, we see they were 103 at home, and 109 on the road. This makes sense as we’d expect teams to do better at home than on the road, so if one specific team was performing equally well at home and on the road, they’d look comparatively better on the road.

    As for the pitching, the team allowed an OPS that was 20 points higher away from Progressive. The sOPS+ numbers are pretty much equal, 98 and 99 for both home and away, so they performed just about average in both circumstances, but again, as we expect teams to do better at home, and that difference seems to be about 20 points of OPS.

  • Steve

    I’m confused just reading that, and I wrote it. Maybe I can make it simpler.

    This year, the Indians put up a .737 on the road, while the average AL team put up a .714 on the road. At home the average AL team gained 20 points of OPS, for a .734 mark. But the Indians didn’t gain any, which suggests that their park hinders offense. If Progressive was a neutral park, we’d expect them to maintain a level about 20 points above league average.

    Pitching-wise the team allowed a .718 OPS on the road, compared to a league average of .730. At home that OPS-allowed fell to .698, compared to a league avage of .717. Their numbers dropped 20 points compared to a league average drop of just 13. So the pitchers gained more than most teams by coming back home.

  • mgbode

    it is likely Morales gets that qualifying offer from Seattle. Texas is rumored to be doing the same with Cruz. so, unless you feel like giving up a 1st round pick for them, they are off the table.

    Beltran? he’s 36yo, he has hit over 30HRs once since 2007, and let’s not forget that he has rebuffed the Indians in FA and rumored to refuse a trade here too.

    Abreu – no clue. also, not entirely sure how the Int’l market works with the new CBA and the cap on signing.

    Choo/Napoli – agree that they will command more than we will pay.

  • nj0

    It’s a question of price/years on all of them. But none are really the big slugger, 30+ HR guy that I think most fans want us to get. Like I said, there are so few of those guys and basically attainable through FA.

    I’d love to get Choo back (but he’s pedestrian against lefties), but don’t see that happening. Beltran in right would be awesome, but he has made it clear he doesn’t want to play for us. Byrd had a great 2013, but he’ll be 36 next year and I really don’t want to be paying him $10M+ at 38. Same with Napoli.

    Most likely I wouldn’t want any of them at the price/years they’d demand. Nothing against any of them, but they’re all 30+ and, as you say, a lot of risk.

    As much as I’d like a lineup improvement, I would be more than okay to see us return the same everyday eight in 2014. Even the bench (minus Giambi, sorry pops).

    I think our team is composed in such a way that we don’t need to target one position or say we need a player who does X. Instead, I think we should see what the market is offering – starting pitching, bullpen, everyday guy – and take the best thing out there that makes sense.

  • mgbode

    the issue with the above analysis is that it doesn’t take into effect the unbalanced schedule. it’s not quite enough to just look at league averages because we play more games in division (so those park factors skew our road numbers).

    agreed that the metrics have shown Progressive to be more of a pitchers park though.

  • nj0

    Napoli is actually younger than I thought. But I don’t see us outbidding teams on him.

  • nj0

    How about Matt Laporta just gets healthy and becomes the player we expected him to?

    As an aside, Andy Marte played 26 games for the Angels AAA club this year and hit .362/.398/.574.

  • Steve

    Right, this is quite the simplification. BB-ref does a much better job than what I threw together in a few minutes. But it’s a good surface look at the difference the team sees at home and on the road.

  • Steve

    Right, like I said, a lot of risk. I’m not particularly enamored with the cost (including the draft pick) it will almost certainly take.

    I believe there is no cap on signing international players over age 23, so Abreu can get every last dollar he can command on the FA market.

  • nj0

    I’ve read that the knock on Abreu is that he is one-dimensional (just power) unlike Cespedes who has multiple tools. So basically if Abreu’s power doesn’t translate he’ll be a flop. Seems like a large risk for the money he’ll most likely command.

  • Steve

    Well, Cespedes just put up a year with a sub .300 OBP, and, is trending more DH than CF, but his power, even with that park, still makes him a decent enough player. I’d say he’s still worth that contract. I’d give the same to Abreu.

  • Steve

    In fact, I think Abreu is the best choice on the market for this team, and by a lot. He’s still 26, so there is less worry about aging curves, and he’s probably the best bet to get that 30 HR mark that people are craving.

  • nj0

    If you buy the scouts that I’ve read, Abreu very well could hit for an even lower average than Cespedes. Whether that’s true or not, who knows? Their point was that he is basically a one tool guy.

  • nj0

    I really don’t want to invest $35M over multiple years on a guy who hasn’t played American ball and who appears to be a one tool player, regardless of age. That said, the comments I’ve read from undisclosed scouts could be way off. I’m not against it completely, just very risk averse for a team like the Tribe. And like I said, I think other teams will outbid us.

  • Steve

    It’s a big risk, but he’ll still (probably) come for less than $10M/year and you’ll get his prime years. I’d much rather have that than whatever it will take to get Byrd.

  • nj0

    Though I don’t have the multitude of options in front of me, I’d most likely spend the $10M else where.

    Here are qualifying 1B in 2013 who were 26-28. Not sure where Abreu would land, but outside of Davis none are world beaters. Two are solid additions at $10M. Three are not.

    Knowing so little about Abreu, I wouldn’t know where to put him, though it does show that just hitting 20-30 HRs at first without having other tools doesn’t make you all that valuable.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=1b&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=26,28&filter=&players=0&sort=5,d

  • nj0

    All that said – yes, if were going to drop $30M/3 years on one of the players you mentioned (and whom we could get at that price), I think Abreu is by far the clear choice.

    Go big, go long, go home (a that maxim I find often applies to occupying foreign countries as well as building a baseball team)

  • Steve

    I’d guess that Carter would be good comp, but Fangraphs is docking him 13 runs for baserunning and fielding. If Abreu was just average in those categories (a big if, I admit) then we’re in the ~$10M/year range.

  • The Astute Linguist

    WARNING-this is off topic- what’s the % chance Giam-bomb is back next year?