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Cleveland Indians midseason projections: Starting pitchers

"Corey Kluber has been pretty great in 2016... let's make him BETTER." -- ZiPS

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians outfield and infield are relatively surprising, but the starting rotation being excellent should come as a shock to no one. At least four of the pitchers -- Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer -- were thought to be in various levels of trade talks during the offseason, especially at the Winter Meetings in January. Nothing came of it, and we should all be happy about that.

As they sit now, the Indians feature one of the best rotations in the entire league -- easily the best in the American League, at least. Most of their production comes from the "big three" of Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar as expected, but a couple surprises have pushed this rotation into excellence.

Namely Trevor Bauer, who the Indians traded for prior to the 2013 season, is finally living up to the hype and has become one of the most consistent pitchers on the Indians since playing his way out of a bullpen role earlier in the season. Josh Tomlin's first half got a little rocky towards the end, but Little Cowboy has proved himself worthy of a fifth spot in the rotation, if not higher on most other staffs.

The starting pitchers have been phenomenal in the first half, but how will that translate to the second half? Let's find out.

Corey Kluber, RHP

2016 First Half 18 122.0 9.00 1.99 0.74 .268 3.61 2.95 3.3
ZiPS 14 94.0 9.59 2.06 0.79 .316 3.31 2.94 2.6
Steamer 15 97.0 9.28 2.01 0.92 .286 3.11 3.22 2.3

For all the moaning and groaning from certain sects of Indians fans, Corey Kluber has had a great first half. Maybe not the best stretch of games over the brilliant last couple years of his career, but enough to warrant the term "ace" and an All-Star appearance.

Even with all that... ZiPS actually has him getting better. The difference is marginal, only 0.01 better in regards to FIP, but he is projected to strike out 0.59 more batters per nine innings and his ERA drops to a more reasonable 3.31.

One weird thing about Kluber's season so far is that he has definitely been unlucky with the defense behind him and occasionally giving up bloop hits, but his overall batting average on balls in play is a low .268. ZiPS and Steamer both correct that, with the former being a little more dramatic than the latter. Even with the increased BABIP, both projections systems know that Kluber's strikeout per inning and excellent walk rate mean he probably will not give up so many runs over the final 14 or 15 starts he makes in 2016. Let's hope they're right.

Danny Salazar, RHP

2016 First Half 17 104.2 10.15 3.96 0.77 .269 2.75 3.39 2.4
ZiPS 14 82.0 10.05 2.99 0.99 .307 3.57 3.45 1.8
Steamer 13 80.0 9.73 3.15 1.01 .282 3.45 3.61 1.6

Danny Salazar is having an equally strange season as Kluber, but his results are going in the opposite direction. The 2016 All-Star has been walking more batters than he ever has in his career, but he still has a career-low 2.75 ERA. Most of that can be attributed to his incredible 10.15 strikeouts per nine and a relatively low BABIP.

Both ZiPS and Steamer lower his walk closer to his 2.97 career average. Both systems also keep his strikeout rate high, although the 9.73 K/9 projection from Steamer would be below the 9.82 Salazar put up in 2014.

Despite a mere 0.06 point bump in FIP, ZiPS sees Salazar giving up a lot more runs in the second half, presumably because he will not be able to strikeout his way out of poor situations game in and game out like he has so far. I have to admit I am on the side of the projections on this one. Salazar has put himself in a ton of bad spots in the first half. And, while he has managed to wiggle his way out of most of them, those are going to come back to haunt him later in the year if he keeps doing it.

Carlos Carrasco, RHP

2016 First Half 12 73.0 8.88 2.47 1.36 .262 2.47 4.02 1.0
ZiPS 12 73.0 9.93 2.17 0.93 .315 3.46 3.11 1.8
Steamer 14 86.0 9.48 2.45 0.83 .291 3.17 3.18 2.1

As always, when a player misses time due to an injury, the projection systems do not really know what to do. Did the injury cause some real issues with the player going forward? Who knows, but he missed some time so they account for that.

In Carrasco's case, his injury-shortened first-half ended with a high FIP, but a great ERA. ZiPS and Steamer even them both out, although Steamer still sees Carrasco walking a lot of batters. If everything goes according to Steamer's plan, Carrasco would finish 2016 with his highest walk rate since he walked 3.47 batters per nine innings in 2013. Luckily, both systems also have Carrasco's strikeout rate on the rise, closer to the 10.58 K/9 he had last season and the 9.40 K/9 he put up in 2014.

Trevor Bauer, RHP

2016 First Half 13/20 101.0 8.11 3.12 0.71 .279 3.30 3.56 1.9
ZiPS 12/14 77.0 8.76 3.80 0.99 .310 4.20 4.06 1.1
Steamer 12 70.0 8.43 3.79 1.12 .283 4.09 4.32 0.8

Projection systems don't care about Trevor Bauer's offseason work with Driveline Baseball, projection systems don't care about Trevor Bauer's potential as a star pitcher, projection systems don't care about Bauer's newfound connection with Chris Gimenez. Projection systems only see fluky-looking numbers and kill.

Trevor Bauer is in the midst of a breakout season, but ZiPS and Steamer both see it as a fluke, instead. They both have him walking a lot more batters in 2016, allowing almost a full extra run per nine innings, and a FIP increase of 0.50 or more.

Needless to say, I disagree. This is a breakout season for Bauer and I expect him to see it through. Maybe a bit of regression from a bad game here and there, but nothing to the tune of a 4.20 ERA. And I cannot imagine what kind of apocalyptic scenario would have to happen for him to pitch two games out of the bullpen again. Two more 19-inning games, perhaps?

Josh Tomlin, RHP

2016 First Half 16 100.0 6.12 0.99 1.89 .259 3.51 4.94 0.5
ZiPS 9/10 51.0 7.00 1.28 1.70 .305 4.90 4.57 0.5
Steamer 11 67.0 6.77 1.15 1.43 .285 3.97 4.32 0.8

Eventually, the world is just going to have live with the fact that Josh Tomlin is always going to have a huge gap between his ERA and his FIP. He will not walk anybody, he will not strike out many, and he will give up a lot of flyballs. Humans are beginning to understand these universal truths, but our robot overlords refuse to accept them.

ZiPS is downright brutal with its ERA regression, tagging Tomlin with an increase of 1.39 to his earned run average, despite his strikeout rate rising and his home runs per nine decreasing. The big difference here is BABIP, which ZiPS has increasing nearly .50 points.

Steamer is a bit nicer, but still has Tomlin sliding closer to his 4.46 career ERA with a lower strikeout rate.