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ZiPS projects mediocrity at best for Cleveland in 2021

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If you like pitching and nothing else, you’re in luck

American League Wild Card Game 1: New York Yankees v. Cleveland Indians Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Thanksgiving was about a week ago, but I still feel like a turkey. As I sit at home waiting for some baseball news, my neck is out, just waiting for the blade to come down and sever Francisco Lindor from Cleveland. The pace of news these days makes things even more agonizing. As information trickles out it’s all small and mid-size market teams shedding payroll like antigens and making the market for Lindor’s services seem even more paltry.

Then Dan Szymborski does his thing and drops the 2021 ZiPS projections at FanGraphs and reminds me of my misery anew.

Now, this is not Szymborski’s fault, but as he accurately notes in his preamble, Cleveland has made it abundantly clear that Lindor will be wearing another jersey come March, despite the fact that he’s a superstar entering the prime years of what could be a Hall of Fame career. In a bit of good news(?), Lindor is not projected by ZiPS to be the best Cleveland batter, an honor that belongs to José Ramírez.

Despite a Hall of Fame comp to Chipper Jones, Ramírez alone does not an offense make, and the next five batters (including Lindor at number two) are not likely to be in Cleveland next year either. After Lindor, Nolan Jones is the next-best projected batter, at 2.3 fWAR, but as he has yet to bat above the Double-A level it’s a bad bet to expect him to crack the Opening Day roster. The likes of Yasiel Puig, César Hernández, and Carlos Santana come in at fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively, but the chance that any produce their projected >1.8 fWAR in Cleveland is slim to none. The best hitters that will likely suit up for the Tribe are Franmil Reyes (1.8 fWAR), Jordan Luplow (1.7), and Roberto Pérez (1.2). It’s worth noting (or worth nothing, IDK) that Owen Miller is also projected to compile 1.2 fWAR despite not playing above Double-A.

And with the dearth of offensive production projected around Ramírez, Szymborski is right to conclude that trading him could be logical. As good as Cleveland’s pitching is projected to be, it won’t paper over a replacement-level offense. Thus, sending Ramírez’s owner-friendly contract out would yield the team quite a bit of talent that would not hit the bottom line for many years (by which time they’ll be traded or non-tendered anyway).

Despite the issues on offense, the pitching really is special. Shane Bieber has long been a ZiPS favorite and is projected to follow up his Cy Young campaign with 4.6 fWAR, comparable to Roy Halladay. Carlos Carrasco is pegged for 2.7 fWAR and comparable to Orel Hershiser, which ain’t too shabby. The rest of the rotation is considered average, but many teams would kill for an average back end with the likes of Zach Plesac (2.0 fWAR), Aaron Civale (1.5), and the combination of Cal Quantrill (1.0), Joey Cantillo (0.7), Jean Carlos Mejía (0.7), Adam Scott (0.7), Jefry Rodriguez (0.6), Eli Morgan (0.6), or Triston McKenzie (0.6). In the projections, ZiPS seems to be a fan of the Tribe bullpen as well, with big expectations for Emmanuel Clase (0.9 fWAR) as he comes back from suspension and a solid sophomore season for James Karinchak (0.9).

With so much potential from the pitching factory, there exists a timeline in which the Indians retain Lindor and Ramírez and push the chips in for 2021 by acquiring more competent bats. But as seen with the waiving of Brad Hand (fifth-best pitcher on the Cleveland list at 1.2 fWAR), the appetite for wins in Cleveland is dwarfed by the desire to save money.

The full projections and Szymborski’s text are well worth your time, just don’t expect to be pardoned a trip to the chopping block.

So I wait, turkey that I am, for the blade. At least these ZiPS projections have made it pretty clear what is coming so it will not be a surprise when it finally does fall.