The Cleveland Indians enter 2018 looking to continue their role as a dominant force in the AL. Last year, they won 102 games and lead the Yankees 2-0 in the ALDS and blew it and in 2016 they came within a win of a World Series ring. They had one of the best starting rotations and bullpens in the MLB and finished with a team .788 OPS. They are talented and deep all over the field. This year, the regular season should feel similar to the last two with the AL Central looking nothing like it has in the past decade. The Tigers, Royals and White Sox are all in rebuild with just the Twins looking to give the Indians any bit of trouble for a divisional crown.
Yonder Alonso, 1B
Jay Bruce, OF
Carlos Santana, 1B
Bryan Shaw, RHP
Joe Smith, RHP
Why they can win: They can win because very few teams are as deep as the Indians. They lost a little bit but Alonso pretty much replaces Santana and their bullpen will be just fine with Cody Allen, Nick Goody and Andrew Miller. Behind the Astros, they could have the best staff in the AL and maybe the best pitcher in the game in Corey Kluber. They hit for average, they get on base, they hit for power and they don’t let other teams score and the AL Central is not very good; that’s a pretty good formula for winning.
Why they can lose: They can lose because they have a few band aids on their roster. Jason Kipnis and Michael Bradley have struggled to stay healthy and Edwin Encarnacion is aging. Not a huge scare because they’ve won without big names out of their lineup before. Other than that, I don’t see the Indians having trouble making the playoffs in 2018.
Bottom Line: They should absolutely make the playoffs in 2018. The Twins have built a nice roster but it feels a tier below the Indians. They should win the AL Central again and sit right atop the AL with the Astros and Yankees. They have an awesome staff, they have young, electric talent in Lindor and Zimmer, they have good veteran talent and they know how to win. They have some good pieces in the farm and this feels like a team that will go and get something they need at the deadline to make them THE threat in the AL.
Major4 Numbers Game:
Stud: Corey Kluber, SP
The Klubot is a cyborg machine built to strikeout people, walks next to no one and induce weak contact. His counting stats are silly (265 Ks, 36 BB, 18-4 W/L, 2.25 ERA), and his advanced metrics support this: 2.50 FIP (fangraphs), 31.4 K%, 24.4% weak-contact rate are all top-5 in MLB rankings. This all comes out to an AL Cy Young 2017, and a 8.1 or 7.3 WAR (Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, respectively). The cherry on top is his extremely team friendly 5/$38M contract (with two team options). Last year his performance provided a surplus value on his $7.7 million salary of $58 MILLION (assuming fangraphs $9M/1 WAR approximation). That is just silly, and he shows no signs of slowing down entering his 31 year old season.
Sinkhole: Josh Tomlin, SP
The Indians are an extremely well-balanced team with few weaknesses. This isn’t an indictment on Josh Timlin, he just happens to be the least valuable player of the Indians. He does some great things (2.4 BB%, 3.5 BB% for his career). But his fastball is nearly 6 MPH below league average (87.8), gives up a ton of homers (1.45 HR/9), and doesn’t generate enough whiffs (8.4% swinging strike rate). He is a serviceable innings eater, but don’t expect him to sniff the Indians 2018 playoff roster.
Regression Candidate: Jason Kipnis, 2B/OF
Jason Kipnis is a 2x Allstar who battled the injury bug and poor performance last year. He posted a wRC+ of 81 (fangraphs) last year (in 90 games) well below his career average of 109. A player with his track record and talent level should regress towards is career averages. Kipnis had been a 3.4 WAR player in 3 of the 4 previous seasons. Shoulder injuries are notoriously difficult for batters to come back from during spring training, as they fail to generate the same bat speed they had prior to injury, and the timing that comes with regular at-bats. He was behind the eight-ball right from the start of the season. His soft-contact rate was the highest of his career at 22.7%, this is a bad thing. His fly-ball rate was actually a career high, but he couldn’t hit with authority due to his shoulder and hamstring injuries (no drive from his lower body). This injury is a one-off for one of the better well-rounded players on the Indians roster. Hot take: Kipnis bounces back and posts a WAR of over 2.5 and his wRC+ is over 115.
Impact Acquisition: Yonder Alonso, 1B
It was a tale of two halves for Alonso, as he was named an Allstar and hit a robust 20 home runs with a 146 wRC+, while dropping off to 8 homers and 115 wRC+ in second half. It all added up to very solid campaign for one of the poster boys of the flyball revolution. He increased his launch angle from 10.3 degrees up to 17.9 degrees (Baseball Savant) and hit 21 more HRs. He also increased his fly-ball rate by an incredible 10 points. He also graded out as a below-average fielder and base-runner by advanced metrics. All in all, it appears that Alonso is a slight downgrade from the underrated Carlos Santana at first, but his cheap contract (2/$16M+option) should provide a solid surplus value, should he even approach the levels he reached last year.
Major4 Prospects, (Top 100):
Francisco Mejia, C/3B (11)
Triston McKenzie, RHP (24)
Bobby Bradley, 1B
Willi Castro, SS
Why We Love Them: Because they’re back! It feels like a team really capable of winning a World Series and that’s exciting. They have their best roster since Willy Mays Hays, Ricky Vaughn and Jake Taylor donned the Chief Wahoo (Rest in Peace) lids. They have some real excitement and a “face of the league” type guy in Francisco Lindor and a CyYoung candidate in Corey Kluber. Terry Francona is a great manager and seems like an even better guy. Also congrats to Jim Thome on being inducted into the Hall; guy could mash!