It’s that time of the year again. Baseball is on a break, so the takes are out and hotter than ever as we all try to make sense of the wild first half of the season.
For the Cleveland Indians, that first half was a disappointment. With a few exceptions, most every player on the team came away with some kind of downturn in the first half of the season. There are the obvious ones like Francisco Lindor and Yan Gomes falling down an offensive hole, and there are the ones like Corey Kluber, who was amazing late in the first-half, but spent the first few months of the season dealing with a nagging back injury. Luckily, Kluber seems to be fully recovered, and there is plenty of time for the others to follow suit. But how likely are they to return to 2016 form in the second half?
To answer that, as we do at the halfway point of every season here at Let’s Go Tribe, we turn to our robot overlords. ZiPS and Steamer are two projection systems that update on the fly (and also happen to be conveniently at the bottom of each player’s FanGraphs page but that’s just a coincidence, I swear), so we’ll be looking at how they see the Indians squad doing from here on out.
One difference this year compared to the previous: Everything is going in this one super post. If you’re here now, congrats! You’ve found out 2017 midseason projections post. For a little peak behind the curtain, I used to spread these out over the All-Star break in multiple posts, but the first one would always get a lot of attention then the subsequent ones would go nowhere. To remedy that, it’s all going here, massive word count in one post be damned!
I’ll also be adding an Over/Under section just for funsies so I can give you my wrong opinion on if the players will over- or under-perform their projections in the second half.
The infield is home to Jose Ramirez, baseball’s Lord and Saviour and the angriest of the hamsters, but it’s also full of confusing first halves. Edwin Encarnacion had a streak of greatness there for a while in June, but he has cooled off as well.
And the rest of them? Eeeeehhhhhh...
Yan Gomes, C
Yan Gomes was great in April, let’s address that first. Congrats on the big month, Yan. Unfortunately, the rest of the season happened and he’s now a weakpoint in the Tribe lineup. Even his .222/.315/.365 slash does not fully reflect the pits of his offense right now, though he is still walking twice as much as he ever has in his career.
ZiPS and Steamer actually see him being worse in the second half, which is incredible in its own depressing kind of way. His walk rate is the only thing keeping him with an on-base percentage over .300 right now, and both projections have that regressing.
Over/Under: Sorry, Yan, but these seem about right. Nothing is good about his swing right now, though I think his newfound patience may be for real. I’ll take the over, just by a shade, and just because I think he can maintain his walk rate.
Carlos Santana, 1B
Like a large number of Indians players (HMMMMM), Carlos Santana had a newborn baby roughly 10 months since the Indians won the American League Championship Series, but I’m guessing it’s a wild coincidence. Maybe he struggled because of that, or maybe it’s something else, but either way he’s really hurting his own value heading into a free agent year. His 98 wRC+ would be a career-worst, as would his 12.7 percent walk rate.
Projections have both of those coming back to realistic levels, even projecting a second-half that would be better than some of his career years. Steamer is especially optimistic, giving him a .257/.376/.465 slash and a dozen homers. Neither projection gives him enough dingers to pass the 34 he hit last season, but 22-23 still isn’t bad for Santana, especially if he walks as much as both projection systems have him walking.
Over/Under: I’ve always been a Santana fan, so I’ll be a homer and say over. Dude is better than he has been hitting, we all know that. Maybe he absolutely goes off following a short break and (unfortunately) puts himself out of the Tribe’s price range in free agency.
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Jason Kipnis hasn’t had any children. He has also not been very good in the first half. The Tribe second baseman looked like he was finally getting on track in July, but a recent hamstring injury could sideline him for up to a month.
Of course, ZiPS and Steamer don’t know that, so they are just seeing a guy who is well under-performing last year and adjusting accordingly. Neither projection has him coming close to the 4.8 fWAR he put up last season, but that’s understandable given he was worth less than half a win in the first half. Curiously, they both have his strikeout rating going back up, instead of staying closer to the 17.0 percent he has now, or the 16.7 percent he whiffed in 2015.
Over/Under: I’m going to have to say under. Too much of Kipnis’ bad year is more than just random variance that will even out in the second half. I hope I’m wrong.
Francisco Lindor, SS
For the first time since he debuted, Francisco Lindor has made a believer of projection systems. Both want to believe that Frankie can be a sleeper MVP candidate by the end of the season, or at least make Indians forget about his disappointing first half. If Lindor can reach the home run mark set by either system, it would be a career-high at 23. To be fair, just two more and he’s already over the 15 home run mark he set last season.
Over/Under: Under, but not by much. Frankie eventually figures out his new uppercut swing and doesn’t hit fly balls nearly 50 percent of the time. I think the projection of him striking out 13 percent of the time going forward is accurate, as is the nine home runs.
Jose Ramirez, 3B
Jose Ramirez has had an incredible first half of the season. The most amazing thing is, it almost looks sustainable. ZiPS and Steamer won’t believe it, because they are pessimistic robot overlords, but his BABIP isn’t particularly high, and he’s simply doing so well while making great contact and not striking out. Maybe he won’t hit another 17 home runs (the seven or eight projections make sense), but he can easily be a .300 hitter with a high on-base percentage based on the lack of strikeouts.
Projections have him striking out even less, in fact, but his wRC+ plummets due to less power and a lower BABIP. But Jose is all hustle, so I see no reason why he can’t sustain a higher-than-normal batting average on balls in play.
Over/Under: Fuck it, we’ll do it live, I’m going over. I’m going pretty much all-in and saying Jose sustains this crazy power for most of the second half and earns himself a MVP vote or two. A wRC+ of 160 or more is not out of the question.
Edwin Encarnacion, DH
Patient Edwin, that’s what they always called him. Power has always come second in EE’s game. Wait a minute, none of that is true, but it’s the way he’s been playing lately. with 18 home runs, a 14.2 percent walk rate and a 22.3 percent strikeout rate, Edwin Encarnacion looks like the boogeyman Three True Outcome Player in the first half. Both his walk and strikeout rates are the highest they’ve been since his rookie year.
Projections have him falling a bit short of doubling his home runs, but 15 in the second half, 33 total, would be worth the price of admission on a 34-year-old slugger. ZiPS has his wRC+ going up by a point, while Steamer has it dropping ever so slightly.
Over/under: I’ll take the over, sure. Edwin’s current numbers are boosting by a crazy couple weeks in June, but they’re also slumped by his slow start. Maybe he’s somewhere inbetween and ends up closer to his 2016 wRC+ of 134. Let’s dream bigger.
While there is no Jose Ramirez to make the outfielders look like superstars as a whole, Lonnie Chisenhall is having a hell of a season, and Bradley Zimmer might be one of the most exciting young players in baseball with his mix of Freeze-defying speed and power. And the fact that’s seven feet tall and covers the outfield like a roaming giraffe.
Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
Lonnie Baseball! The greatest nickname in baseball (if only because so many people hate it) and right now one of the game’s hottest hitters. If Lonald David Chisenhall can continue the kind of hitting he sustained in the first half of the season, his 148 wRC+ would be a career-best by a mile and a half. His 12 home runs is one run shy of the career mark he set in 2014, and he is walking more than ever before.
Predictably, ZiPS and Streamer bring him to the ground, hard. They go right past 2014 Lonnie, who was above-average, but not an All-Star, and throw him into the pits of 2016 Lonnie, who was inconsistent and forgot how to draw walks. Neither has him getting to 20 home runs, instead falling just shy of the mark.
Over/Under: I’ll take the over, but just barely. I don’t think Chis is a 140 wRC+ hitter, but I do believe his offense has turned a corner, as long as he can keep making solid contact.
Bradley Zimmer, CF
Speaking of great nicknames, Bradley Zimmer is producing a bunch of them. Braddy Long Legs, Zim Shady, Invader Zim, and my personal favorite, White Lightning. The last makes so much since because Zimmer is so damn fast, and there’s a chance he’ll eventually lead the majors in stolen bases. Maybe not this season, but eventually Zim will be topping stolen base leaderboards.
As it is now, he’s swiped nine and both projections systems have that going up. Where I think ZiPS and Steamer fall short here is his power. Even if it’s not raw, destroy-baseballs-like-Edwin power, Zimmer is going sneak a lot of extra-base hits with nothing but his speed. Does that left fielder think he can snag Zimmer at second base? Not so fast.
Over/Under: The over, for sure. I’m impressed that both systems have his BABIP as high as they do, because I think he can clearly keep that up with his raw speed. I do think they are underestimating his new approach at the plate that has led to fewer strikeouts, however. They both have him striking out in a third or more of his at-bats, but something around 26-28 percent isn’t out of the question.
Brandon Guyer, RF
Brandon Guyer’s season has been a trainwreck and he doesn’t even have a cool nickname. Partially because of injuries, Guyer is slashing a career-worst .197/.274/.288, even while being platooned perfectly against left-handed pitchers.
ZiPS and Steamer show a little humanity here by bringing Guyer’s season totals way up. Not quite the phenomenal campaign he had with the Tribe in 2016, but much better than his first half.
Over/Under: Under? Sadly? Maybe just by a little bit. I love the enthusiasm, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Guyer be a little disappointing this season.
Michael Brantley, LF
Michael Brantley is back! Considering there was a time when it looked doubtful that he’d play for part of this season, it’s amazing to see him out there nearly every day. On top of that, he’s quietly having a great season for a guy who didn’t play for over a year.
Projections have him right along the path he is now, maybe striking out a bit less and being a bit less lucky with his BABIP, but basically a repeat of what we’ve seen in the first half. Nothing to complain about there.
Over/Under: I’ll say over. He’s getting healthier and his contact rate is still great. Get it, Doctor Smooth.
The Indians starting rotation was supposed to be a strength coming into the season, and for the longest time it was their biggest weakness. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco have helped turn it around lately, as has the emergence of Mike Clevinger, strikeout machine.
Corey Kluber, SP
A series of back injuries slowed Corey Kluber’s start to the season, but he’s been on fire since his return, including a franchise-record five-straight games of 10 or more strikeouts. The streak was snapped Sunday, but even then he whiffed eight in five innings. Corey Kluber is on such an ascension that he earned an All-Star nod after being awful for a month, and he just might wind up in Cy Young conversations.
ZiPS and Streamer, perhaps jealous of Klubot’s rightful title as Most Successful Robot, have him slipping a bit in the second half. By “slipping” I mean going from Cy Young front-runner to guy who is still really good, but still. Screw you robots.
Kluber is striking out more batters than ever before, and both systems have him continuing to do so, just at a slightly lower rate. ZiPS even has him walking fewer batters in the second half.
Over/Under: Under, in the good way. As in his ERA will be under what ZiPS and Steamer say. Mark this down as the first year Corey Kluber finishes with a sub-3.00 ERA since his Cy Young season.
Carlos Carrasco, SP
Carlos Carrasco is having another fantastic year, and projection systems see him continuing to do so. Not a ton to say here, but it’s interesting that ZiPS has him striking out over 10 batters per nine.
Over/Under: Projections nailed it here. Carrasco is good and continues to be good.
Trevor Bauer, SP
Trevor Bauer always executes his pitchers. At least that what he’ll tell you after every start, even if he struggles and leaves a flat meatball over the plate to be crushed. To Trevor’s credit, he has struck out a ton of batters this season, raising his K/9 from 7.96 last season to 10.00 so far in 2017.
Steamer has Bauer coming out of the ‘pen for two games and his K/9 still dropping a full strikeout. ZiPS has him falling even further to 8.81 K/9 while his walks rise.
Over/Under: Over, as in his ERA will be over the projected 4.30. Just by a little.
Josh Tomlin, SP
Except for a start here or there, Josh Tomlin has had an awful first half. ZiPS and Steamer both have him getting better and giving up fewer runs, but at this point I don’t know if that’ll happen.
Over/Under: Over, I don’t see his ERA getting below 5.00 if he’s in the rotation for the full season.
Mike Clevinger, SP
Mike Clevinger has been a gem for the Indians in the first half. His walk rate is still off the charts, and he’s not getting the ball on the ground, but he’s striking out over a batter per inning and his ERA is 3.00, as a result of his wipeout stuff.
ZiPS and Steamer, the true haters of fun, bring him back down to earth with an ERA north of 4.30. ZiPS is especially harsh, puttnig him at 4.63 with a 4.41 FIP.
Over/Under: Under, I think Clevinger can keep an ERA in the high 3.00’s or low 4.00’s.
Danny Salazar, SP?
Danny Salazar throws baseball, sometimes they do things they are supposed to, sometimes they don’t.