The above numbers (Wins Above Replacement) are production compared to a “replacement” player, or the type of player that’s always available on waivers or on someone’s AAA roster. Good teams are able to fill out their roster without having much replacement-level production at any one position. As you’d expect with a 100-win team, the Indians have been able to accomplish this.
But the Indians have not only been able to avoid bad production, they’ve had outstanding production compared to their peers. Wins Above Average is the measure of player production compared to the average player (adjusted by position). Cleveland’s pitching staff has been 20.5 wins better than the league average, and 9.3 wins better than the second-best pitching staff (New York). Conversely, the Houston Astros’ position players have been 18.0 wins better than the league average, and 11.3 wins better than the second-best team (New York). Both the Indians and Astros are going to win 100 games, but the reasons for them attaining that elite record are wildly different.
In my mind, regular season success is based in WAR (filling a 40-man roster with better-than-replacement players), while postseason success is based more on WAA; a team only has to worry about their 25 best players, or more realistically their 17 or 18 best players. This year’s roster appears to be built to win in both types of rule sets, but the beauty (and brutality) of the MLB postseason is that anyone who makes it has a good chance of winning it all; it isn’t long enough to guarantee that the best team will team.
The ALDS Roster, Take 3
Last year, Terry Francona had to patch a pitching rotation together in the playoffs. This year it’s going to be the outfield that he’ll have to juggle. Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, and Michael Brantley may be available for the ALDS, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be 100%. Brantley has just started to run, Brandon Guyer is still dealing with wrist soreness (something not exactly conducive to swinging a bat), and the Indians have been extremely conservative with Chisenhall.
And there’s Jason Kipnis, who looks to be healthy but a fish out of water in center field. Terry Francona is going to channel his inner Earl Weaver in going with offense/no defense (Kipnis) to begin the game, then with no offense/defense (Allen) should the Indians pull ahead. Austin Jackson is the only real alternative to Kipnis in center field, and will play there against left-handed starters. Chisenhall may have been another, but his injuries seem to be limiting him to a corner position.
The other intrigue is who the fourth starter would be. Last week I assumed it would be Mike Clevinger (or there wouldn’t be a fourth starter), but not only has Clevinger moved into the bullpen, but there will also be a fourth starter. I disagree with this move because I think Clevinger is best used as a starter. Josh Tomlin also looks to be the favorite to get that final starter spot over Danny Salazar, which I also disagree with, but not as vehemently. As long as Salazar is on the roster, if not I’ll make that a vehement disagreement as well.
With all that said, here’s my new best guess for the ALDS roster:
Starters: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin
Relievers: Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith, Mike Clevinger, Tyler Olson, Danny Salazar (long relief)
Position Players (14):
Infielders: Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion (DH), Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela
Outfielders: Jay Bruce, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Austin Jackson, Greg Allen (PR), Michael Brantley (PH)
Catchers: Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez
This roster leaves off both Nick Goody and Dan Otero, but given that it’s only a 5-game series and there’s two off-days built in, I don’t see the need for more than an 11-man pitching staff. Salazar, even if he isn’t the Game 4 starter, should be on the roster in some capacity, even if it’s just as a backup plan. And the Indians actually need six outfielders, what with Kipnis’ defensive limitations and the physical limitations of Michael Brantley. I don’t see Brantley being much more than a pinch-hitter in a late-game scenario. Allen serves a couple purposes: if the team is ahead late, then he’s playing center field, and if behind he’s going to be a pinch-runner.