Undoubtedly the biggest area of need for the Cleveland Indians this past offseason, the outfield is not looking so great next season. The Tribe did make several additions, but most of them will be bench pieces (and thus come in a later post). The big name they did add, Rajai Davis, is not an everyday outfielder. Instead, he will see most of his playing time while Michael Brantley nurses an injured shoulder post-surgery, then as more of a fourth outfielder once Brantley returns.
Speaking of Brantley and his shoulder, ZiPS does not account for such injuries. Because Brantley did not miss significant time in the past for a shoulder injury, ZiPS does not care that the Indians already confirmed he will be out for at least a month to start the season. As such, Brantley is projected to have 600+ plate appearances in the table below, which will almost surely not happen.
That oddity aside, let's see how ZiPS sees the rest of the Tribe outfield performing when they all come together in 2016, starting with their biggest free-agent acquisition of the offseason.
ZiPS sees Rajai Davis getting significant playing time in 2015, but still not an everyday player, which seems about right. As I said in the opening, most of the time on the field Davis will see in 2016 will be early on in the year. The 25 stolen bases are encouraging, as it bucks the downward trend Davis has been on in the past five seasons. Hitting that mark would mean he passes the 18 swiped bags he had in 2015.
Unfortunately, the rest of the ZiPS projections have Davis continuing his decline. It is nothing out of the ordinary for a 35-year-old, though. In Davis' case, the biggest drop-off is slugging percentage, which takes a .038 hit compared to the .440 he slugged last season. His approach at the plate remains mostly the same in these projections, hardly deviating from the 5.9 walk rate and 20.5 strikeout rate he carried in 2015.
Similar to the issue of projecting injuries. ZiPS does not care that Lonnie Chisenhall has all but locked down the Indians right field. Because he played most of his last three seasons at third base, ZiPS is projecting him as a third baseman. You can partially disregard his zWAR because of this, but his offensive stats should not change whether he plays third base or outfield.
In Lonnie's case, that offense is a mixed bag. The .310 on-base percentage projected by ZiPS is a step up from the .306 clip he was getting on base in 2015, but not quite the .320 he put up in 2014, or a higher total that most Tribe fans would like to see out of Lonnie Baseball. Lonnie's projected .406 slugging percentage is considerably lower than the .440 he carried in 2015, but it is closer to his career average .387 slugging percentage.
Maybe I am looking through Lonnie-tinted glasses, but I would not be surprised to see Chisenhall outperform this entire projection, save for maybe home runs (12 would already be a career high for Lonnie). Something clicked when he got work in Triple-A and made the move to right field, and hopefully it continues for the foreseeable future.
As previously stated, you can mostly ignore Brantley's counting stats here. ZiPS is blind to Brantley's offseason shoulder surgery and loss of playing time. There may also be some lingering effects that last after he returns from his injury, but for now let's be as optimistic as ZiPS and assume he is healthy right out of the gate.
Optimistic maybe is not the right word, because ZiPS sure is not optimistic about Brantley. Even without accounting for an injury in his performance or playing time, ZiPS has Brantley taking a decline from last season. The dip is not too drastic, but his slash is worse all around (.310/.379/.480 in 2015), and he is projected to take fewer walks (10.1% walk rate in 2015).
Even though ZiPS is not taking the injury into account, if Brantley comes back from torn labrum surgery in May and puts up these numbers for the rest of the year I would be pretty happy.
ZiPS projects Almonte to account for 533 plate appearances, which would be a career-high. Given that the Indians did not sign a true, everyday center field replacement, this estimation seems pretty spot on. The rest of Almonte's projection are worse than the year he had last year, but not nearly as bad as his first full season in 2014 when he slashed only .230/.275/.333.
The 10 home runs projected by ZiPS would be a nice boost for the Indians lineup, and could be just enough to keep Almonte in center field assuming his defense can stay above average. Almonte will likely be looking over his shoulder at Tyler Naquin all season, however, so he may not even play enough to get these 533 plate appearances. It should be his job to lose out of Spring Training.