The 2015 season will go down as another playoff-less year for the Cleveland Indians, but there is still hope for the future. In large part, that hope comes from established, record-setting pitching, as well as some young hitting that helped the Tribe slide into a winning record to finish the season.
Three Indians starting pitchers finished the season with over 190 strikeouts. Danny Salazar finished with 195, Carlos Carrasco with 216, and Corey Kluber with 245. The only starter to not make the cut, if you could not tell from his absence on the list, is Trevor Bauer, who only finished with 170 strikeouts due to the wheels falling off towards the end of the season.
Carlos Carrasco set a franchise record with his 29.6% strikeout rate, 0.5% better than Sam McDowell’s previous franchise record set in 1965. Danny Salazar came just five strikeouts short of giving the Indians three starting pitchers with 200 K’s each, a feat that only two teams – the 1967 Twins, the 1969 Angels, and the 2013 Detroit Tigers – have accomplished.
All three of the Tribe’s "big three" pitchers finished the season striking out more than a batter per inning (Carrasco 10.58 K/9, Kluber 9.93 K/9, Salazar 9.49 K/9), which is the first time that has happened in Major League history.
Even outside of those big three, the Indians still have Trevor Bauer who, assuming he can ever keep it together for a full season’s worth of starts is easily a number two starter pitching as the Tribe’s fourth option. The Indians also have a couple of young arms with fourth or fifth starter potential in Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson.
Hitting was not always pretty for the Tribe in 2015, but they do have young talent that sets them up in crucial positions. The first is obvious. Francisco Lindor could potentially win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and he was one of the best players period in the second half of 2015. Lindor finished 2015 with a .313/.353/.482 slash, complete with an unexpectedly high 12 home runs and 12 stolen base. Throw in his other-worldly defense and a smile that could end wars and it becomes clear: Indians are set at shortstop for a long while.
Not quite on the skill level of Lindor is Jose Ramirez, another young player who proved again late in 2015 that he could have what it takes to be a solid utility infielder, with or without his helmet attached. And depending on how far we want to stretch the label of "young" the Indians also have Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley, and Jason Kipnis who will all be under 28 when 2016 starts. Brantley and Kipnis are obvious cornerstones of this offense, and Chisenhall is a potential candidate to stick at right field, assuming his bat picks up where it left off in 2015.
I hate to use the phrase "wait until next year" that has become such a punchline in Cleveland, but at the very least, we should not be left completely disappointed in 2016 depending on what the new front office decides to do. Chris Antonetti is known as a general manager that made few moves, but we still have no idea what the new potential GM will be up to (assuming Antonetti is promoted to club president). With the building blocks that are in place and well established in the league, a few correct gambles could be huge.