D.J. Short

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Team Roundup: Indians

Saturday, November 11, 2017


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Cleveland Indians
2017 Record: 102-60
First Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 3.39 (1st)
Team OPS: .788 (2nd)

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What Went Right

The Indians won 102 games with a record-setting 22-game winning streak along the way, so naturally a lot of things broke right here. Corey Kluber appears to be the favorite for the AL Cy Young Award after posting a league-best 2.25 ERA with a 265/36 K/BB ratio in 203 2/3 innings over 29 starts. The Indians’ ace led the majors (tied with the Twins’ Ervin Santana) with five complete games and three shutouts. After a breakout season in 2016, Jose Ramirez emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate by batting .318/.374/.583 with 29 homers and 17 steals while playing excellent defense. Francisco Lindor was one of the league’s most valuable all-around players once again, but this time he surprised by slugging 33 homers. The bullpen, led by the likes of Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Zach McAllister, and Bryan Shaw, was the best in the majors. Carlos Carrasco reached the 200-inning mark for the first time, posting a 3.29 ERA over 32 starts. Shaking off a slow start with his new team, Edwin Encarnacion still managed 38 homers and an .881 OPS. Trevor Bauer showed signs of progress with a 3.01 ERA after the All-Star break. Carlos Santana had a quiet first half, but he mashed 13 homers with a .906 OPS during the second half. Mike Clevinger emerged as a solid rotation piece with a 3.11 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 121 2/3 innings. Lonnie Chisenhall and Austin Jackson were valuable contributors in the outfield and Jay Bruce had seven homers with an .808 OPS in 43 games after being acquired from the Mets.

What Went Wrong

Regular season success guarantees nothing in the postseason and that’s exactly what we saw with the Indians’ exit from the ALDS at the hands of the Yankees. Jason Kipnis was probably the biggest in-season disappointment, as he struggled with a .705 OPS over 90 games and missed time with shoulder and hamstring injuries. The 30-year-old played some center field down the stretch and doesn’t have a set position at this point. Michael Brantley made it back from all of his shoulder issues and was pretty good when healthy, but he appeared in just 90 games due to an ankle injury which required surgery last month. The Indians picked up his 2018 option after the season, but his role is unclear. Offseason addition Boone Logan appeared in 38 games before suffering what turned out to be a season-ending lat injury in July. After being a key part-timer down the stretch in 2016, Brandon Guyer posted a .654 OPS in 192 plate appearances and missed significant time with a wrist injury. Tyler Naquin was demoted after poor start to the season and barely sniffed the majors the rest of the way. Highly-regarded pitching coach Mickey Callaway left to take the Mets’ managerial vacancy after the season.  

Fantasy Slants

**Jose Ramirez had some doubters coming into the year, but he blew his breakout season out of the water and finished as one of the most valuable hitters in the fantasy game. After hitting 11 homers in 2016, he exploded for 29 homers this year while batting .318/.374/.583 with 83 RBI, 107 runs scored, and 17 steals. In addition to the uptick in power, he showed improved patience while displaying an elite contact rate. He’s the real deal as a five-category stud. With eligibility between third base and second base, Ramirez deserves to be selected within the first two rounds in most mixed leagues.

**Hey, remember when Francisco Lindor was often mentioned as the kind of prospect who would be better in real life than in fantasy? Well, now he’s perhaps the most appealing fantasy shortstop outside of Trea Turner and Carlos Correa. After hitting 27 homers in 257 games through his first two seasons in the majors, he blasted 33 homers this year while batting .273/.337/.505 with 89 RBI, 99 runs scored, and 15 steals. Yes, he gave up some batting average for the power, but fantasy owners can live with that. And there’s reason to believe in it, as his fly ball rate jumped from 28.4 percent to 42.4 percent, per FanGraphs. We might have to readjust our expectations for him moving forward.   

**This was an unbelievable year for offense around the game, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at Corey Kluber’s numbers. The Indians’ ace managed career-bests in ERA (2.25), ERA+ (202), WHIP (0.87), strikeout percentage (34.1 percent), walk percentage (4.6 percent), complete games (three), and shutouts (five). He was untouchable after returning from a back injury at the beginning of June, posting a 1.62 ERA over his final 23 starts. Look for him to secure his second career AL Cy Young Award later this month. As for his fantasy standing going into 2018, he has a strong case to be the second starting pitcher off the board behind Clayton Kershaw.

**Has Trevor Bauer finally arrived? We’ve been teased by him before, but I’m optimistic. After switching up his pitch mix to rely more on his excellent curveball, Bauer posted a 3.32 ERA over 21 starts and one relief appearance from June 1 on. With a boost in called strikes, he posted the highest strikeout percentage of his career. Perhaps most importantly, he also displayed the best control of his career. If he can do this for a full season, we could see another level here. He’s probably a mid-to-late round selection in most mixed league drafts next year.

**We briefly saw top prospect Francisco Mejia down the stretch, but what role does he have on the major league roster next year? The Indians still have Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez locked in behind the plate, so we could see more of Mejia at third base. It’s worth noting that he has played the hot corner during his time in the Arizona Fall League. If anything, the Indians are keeping their options open. Depending on what the Indians decide to do with Jason Kipnis for 2018, Yandy Diaz and Giovanny Urshela will also be in the mix at third base. Either way, the switch-hitting Mejia is worth watching in most fantasy leagues. He batted .297/.346/.490 with 14 homers over 92 games at the Double-A level this season.  

**Does Jason Kipnis deserve something of a mulligan for his disappointing 2017? The 30-year-old got a late start on the season due to a shoulder injury and missed most of the second half with hamstring issues, so his .232/.291/.414 batting line must be put into context. Kipnis has been a high BABIP guy during his career, but he was at .256 this year. He lofted the ball more often, but he also had the highest soft contact rate of his career, per FanGraphs. This also translated to a decrease in exit velocity. Perhaps improved health will get him back on track? The big question is where Kipnis will play next year. After Bradley Zimmer went down with a broken hand in September, Kipnis found himself in center field for the first time since Low-A ball in 2009. Zimmer should be back in center field to begin 2018 and the Indians seem content with Jose Ramirez at second base, so something will have to give here.

Key Free Agents: Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Bryan Shaw, Austin Jackson, Joe Smith, Boone Logan

Team Needs: The Indians need to figure out their first base situation, whether that means bringing back Carlos Santana or going in another direction. They have a lot of moving parts. The outfield also carries question marks, with Jay Bruce in free agency and roles for Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley in question. Brantley could be part of the solution at first base. 



D.J. Short is a Rotoworld senior baseball writer and hosts the Rotoworld Baseball Podcast. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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