The Cleveland Indians played the 41st game of the season yesterday against the Boston Red Sox, and are now one-quarter of the way through the season. While there is still plenty of baseball to play, we can make some early assessments of the team and its players.
Most Valuable Player: Francisco Lindor
Until this afternoon, I think a convincing argument could be made in Danny Salazar's favor. However, after posting his worst outing of the season (which wasn't all that terrible) the needle ticks toward Lindor. Here are Lindor's numbers so far this season:
I don't think there's anything to not like here. The most delightful thing is the steep decline in sacrifice bunts this season. Last year, Lindor lead the American League with 13 total sacrifice hits. There is no reason Lindor should ever sacrifice bunt, and lightning should strike the ball before it reaches the plate if he ever tries to do it again. It's like the E-Street Band telling Bruce to play the tambourine and sing backup on Thunder Road.
Projecting statistics is dicey business, but this OPS+ almost perfectly matches Lindor's 2015 mark of 121. We also have 140 regular season games to draw from now, giving us close to a full season. What were some other shortstops up to at about the same age?
The first: Derek Jeter's age 22 season. The second: Nomar Garciapiarra's age 23 season. That Francisco Lindor is hitting about as well as two of the best offensive shortstops at the same age ought to terrify the rest of baseball.
Most Disappointing Player: Yan Gomes
It feels wrong to write this considering that Gomes is tied for the league lead in RBIs among catchers. The feeling slowly subsides when I stare at his slash line: .185/.220/.387. This is not where you want a man who plays every day to be. This is firmly in not-so-good-at-baseball territory. If anyone is waiting for 2013 Yan Gomes to suddenly reappear, they are doomed. I do not think that bat is ever coming back.
That being said, Gomes is really-quite-competent-at-baseball. His .193 BABIP so far this season suggests that he breaks eleven mirrors underneath a dozen ladders while wearing a coat made from black cats before every game. Over the last week, Gomes hit .294, and he appears to be a bit more confident at the plate. I think we'll see the numbers slowly recover, but expect to see a fair bit of Roberto Perez in the mix once he returns from the disabled list.
Most Surprising Player: Josh Tomlin
A lot of discussion surrounded the back end of the starting rotation at the beginning of the year, as Cody Anderson left Spring Training with the fourth spot in the rotation, and Trevor Bauer shifted (temporarily, it seems) to the bullpen. Then, baseball reminded everyone that plans are stupid and hopes shouldn't be pinned to a dead-straight fastball. While Anderson has — and I think I'm being kind describing it this way — failed every time he touched a baseball this season, the Indians have won every game Tomlin has started. He leads the league with one walk allowed per nine innings, and has not given up more than four runs in a start.
I don't expect him to stay on pace and record 24 wins. The Indians offense has scored five or more runs in all of his starts but one, giving him the ninth highest average run support in all of baseball. Still, for a guy who some thought would return to the bullpen or languish in Columbus for a significant chunk of the season, he's been a fantastic success, and the numbers do not indicate that a complete collapse is imminent.
Player Most Likely to Crash into a Wall: Tyler Naquin
The Indians may need to extend the warning track in center field or else accept that a Naquin-shaped hole will eventually emerge. This is also not a new problem for Naquin. Is this something that coaching or training can even help? I appreciate the hustle, but it honestly looks like Naquin assumes he's roaming around the Polo Grounds every day.
Player Most Likely to Hit 30 Home Runs: Carlos Santana
Nobody panic, but Santana slugged his eighth home run on Saturday. The man is on pace to hit 31-32 home runs, and I encourage everyone to hang a picture of him in their home if he does so. You may even put it in the dining room, replacing the painting of Jesus. Nana will understand.
Prospect Most Likely to Make an Impact: Mike Clevinger
This is a bit of a no-brainer since he's currently in the rotation and slated to start in the first game today, but an effective Mike Clevinger will provide a tremendous boost over the next month. Carlos Carrasco is likely sidelined for another two weeks while he rehabs from his freak hamstring injury, and with Cody Anderson's banishment to Columbus (except for game two of tonight's doubleheader...) the stage is set. Clevinger pitched effectively in his first start, and allowed his fourth run only after leaving the game in the fifth.
While pitching for Columbus this season, Clevinger went 5-0 in seven starts, posting a WHIP of 1.262. Walks have been a thorn in his side this year, as he allowed 4.3 per nine in those starts. Unless he starts striking every other batter out like Salazar, that kind of walk rate generally doesn't lead to success against the AL Central. If he can keep his command in check, Clevinger can use this opportunity as a fantastic early-audition to the Tribe roster next season. I expect that Bauer will slide into the five spot after Carrasco returns, and the Clevinger will return to AAA. Note that I am often wrong and stupid, as you are about to see.
Dumbest Thing I've Predicted: 500+ plate appearances for Lonnie Chisenhall
Yeah, I wrote it. Given his likely spots in the batting order, Chisenbat would need to start pretty much every day in right field for the rest of the season to have a realistic chance. Lonnie will need to Chisencrush everything thrown at him to command that sort of playing time. Even with Marlon Byrd beginning to slow down, it's just not going to happen. The sixteen home runs I predicted also looks fairly ridiculous now. Whoops.
I'll chime back in at the halfway point as well. In the meantime, do you think Jose Ramirez or Danny Salazar has been the most valuable player? Is Clint Frazier a candidate for impact prospect? Throw out some of your own quarter-season thoughts in the comments.