There are a few things I need in order to really feel ready for the start of a new baseball season. One of them is the new annual from the fantastic team at Baseball Prospectus. I'm clearly not the only one who looks forward to it around this time every year because last week my Twitter feed was filled with folks celebrating the arrival of their copy. Apparently the mail moves slowly in my neck of the woods, and so my jealousy grew as I waited and waited. When I came home from work yesterday, though, there was a package on my steps.
You should go and order your own copy right now. No, not after you read this, right now. I'll wait...
Okay then. As you count down to book's arrival, here's but a sampling of what you can learn from it about the Indians:
The Indians were the youngest team in the AL Central last year
The average age of Tribe position players in 2015 was 27.9 while the average pitcher was 27.3. Both of these figures rate as the youngest in the division and as the sixth-youngest in all of baseball. We're looking at a team that is collectively entering its prime.
Carlos Santana is projected to be the Tribe's best returning hitter
Are you as excited about another year of arguing the merits of Lando Carlossian as I am?! If Santana can put up the numbers PECOTA project him to have (.246/.364/.429), we won't have to argue anymore, except with the mouth-breathers who still can't get past batting average. His projected True Average (TAv for short, it's BP's catch-all hitting metric) of .283 is higher than Brantley, Kipnis, or anyone else from last year's team, and places him in the top 20 hitters in the league.
Notice I said Santana might be the Tribe's best returning hitter
There is one player on the roster with a projected TAv higher than Santana's. That would be Mike Napoli, whose figure is .284. That would represent a big bounce back from his career-worst numbers last year, and if he provides that level of production in 120+ games, his signing will have worked out very well. He's also projected to lead the team with 26 home runs.
The Tribe's other big (okay, let's say medium) offseason addition may not work out
Rajai Davis, 35, looked to be in decline last year, and BP sees the most likely course to be a continuation of that. His projected OBP of .299 doesn't belong in an MLB lineup unless paired with excellent base running and defense, but those things have gone from once very good to now just okay. Feel better soon, Michael Brantley.
Progressive Field has turned into a hitters' park
For years the stadium's park factors favored pitchers, but that has shifted, likely in part because of the changes made last offseason. (Though it should be noted that the park factors I'm referring to are three-year factors, which means they also include two seasons played before those renovations.) For run-scoring, Progressive has a factor of 106, which is the highest in the division. All five AL Central stadiums are above average, though, which makes the impressive pitching numbers we saw last season even more impressive.
Francisco Lindor is probably going to regress... but still be very good
Lindor hit .313/.353/.482 last year, good for a TAv of .286. His projected batting line for 2016 is a more modest .273/.327/.406, with a TAv of .255. That's roughly average, though a bit better than average for a shortstop. Lindor's calling card isn't his bat though, it's his glove, and his defensive projection is very strong, and while Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Correa are projected to be the class of the American League at shortstop, Lindor is in the mix for 3rd. Not bad for a 22-year-old.
Yan Gomes is poised for a big rebound season
Gomes suffered an injury early last season, and while he had some good stretches after his return, he never really got things going entirely. His projected for a line of .263/.309/.442, with a TAv of .262 and plus defense behind the plate. Putting that all together, he's projected for 3.4 WARP, which is the highest of any player on the team. That would be an improvement of 3.0 WARP from last year, which is the third-biggest projected improvement for any player in MLB.
The rotations's big three should continue to strike a ton of guys out...
Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are tied for second in the AL for projected strikeout rate, with 10.1 Ks per 9 innings. Danny Salazar is just behind them in 4th, at 9.9. No other team has three starters above a strikeout per inning. It's not just strikeouts either, as Kluber (3.10) and Carrasco (3.14) also rank 2nd and 3rd in the AL for projected ERA.
...but it's probably going to remain a big three, not big four
Trevor Bauer has a relatively high "Breakout" rate of 24%, which is to say there's a decent chance he's 20+ percent better this year than he's ever been before. He also has a relatively high "Collapse" rate of 19%. His comparables (there are three listed for every player in the book) are Gio Gonzalez, Josh Johnson, and Chad Gaudin, which is another way of saying "Who the hell knows?" Hold out hope for the breakout, but Bauer's actual projections are a 4.27 ERA, a 4.31 FIP, a 1.37 WHIP, and a season that isn't really any better than last year was.
Joba Chamberlain shouldn't pitch for the Indians
A projected ERA of 4.27 has no place in the bullpen. Keep Progressive Field a Joba-free zone.
The Baseball Prospectus annual is an excellent tool for getting yourself ready for the season. What I've presented is but a small fraction of the Tribe info, and the Tribe are but one of the thirty teams you can learn about. The team essays are uniformly strong, making the book worth its cost even without all the projections.
The book is the work of dozens of people. Deserving of special mention here: This year it was edited by Patrick Dubuque, Sam Miller, and Jason Wojciechowski, and the essay on the Tribe was written by Pete Beatty. If you're ever in any of their respective necks of the woods, you should buy them a drink.