We can’t put too much stock in spring training numbers, and we can’t judge a player—or even the team as a whole—from what we see over the span of a few weeks in February and March. However, from the brief glimpses we get from a player in the preseason we can sometimes find indications of how he will perform in the coming season—whether he has put the pitfalls previous season behind him or, in other cases, if he can build on his successes of the past.
It seems that the Indians’ fate this season is based on what-if’s and if-only’s. In a perfect world, all of the players on the roster will play to their full potential, which would certainly give Indians fans something to cheer for. That’s not realistic, though. We can hope that each player has a career year, but we can’t use it as a predictor of what is to come.
With just three days left before they report to spring training, let’s take a look at the pitching staff and what we should watch for from some of Cleveland’s hurlers this spring.
Ubaldo Jimenez: So far all of our judgment on Jimenez is coming from the half of a whirlwind season he spent with Cleveland in 2011 (4-4, 5.10 ERA). Jimenez wasn’t having the best season before coming over to the Tribe, but it wasn’t awful. His home debut in Cleveland proved to be one of his better outings of the season, and that’s a positive for us to look at. Now that he has had some time to adjust, we can hope to see signs that he will return to his former dominance.
Justin Masterson: 2011 was a breakout season for Masterson (12-10, 3.21 ERA). He led the pitching staff through most of the season, remaining consistent in the majority of his starts. He was impressive and his reliable quality starts were just what the Indians needed. During spring training, we should hope to see Masterson to show that he is continuing to build upon 2011.
Josh Tomlin: Tomlin’s numbers (12-7, 4.25 ERA last year) won’t blow anybody out of the water, but when you look a little deeper you’ll see a solid starter. He goes deep into games and doesn’t issue many walks. We can hope to see him pitching more like he did in the beginning of the 2011 season, before he cooled off and injured his elbow in the second half.
Derek Lowe: The Indians don’t need Lowe to be perfect. All they can reasonably expect from him is to be reliable. What we need to see is him emerging as a veteran presence amongst a young rotation. Aside from that, we can hope that we start to see Lowe put last season (9-17, 5.05 ERA) behind him and use 2012 as a fresh start.
Kevin Slowey: Slowey’s numbers from last season (0-8, 6.67 ERA) leave a lot to be desired. He started the 2011 season in the bullpen and was then sidelined for much of the season with an abdominal strain. Even in the past Slowey’s numbers haven’t exactly been impressive, but they are much better than what he showed last year. In spring training, we should hope to see that Slowey has moved on from last season. He’ll need to prove that in order to claim the last spot in the rotation.
David Huff: Huff dominated when he was first called up in July (1-1, 0.48 ERA in his first four outings), but cooled off a bit after that (1-5, 6.00 ERA in his last seven starts). He will be competing for a job out of spring training, and he will need to look like the Huff of July and early August in order to win a job.
Jeanmar Gomez: Gomez has proved that he can be an effective pitcher in the past (9-8, 4.58 ERA in 22 career appearances). He’s still young, so we can look for him to improve himself at the big league level. Gomez began to look better on the mound as last year progressed. We should be looking for him to continue to make progress. He will need to show that he is capable of handling MLB batters in order to contend for the final spot in the rotation.
Chris Perez: Perez has been dominant in the past and has shown that he is more than capable of filling the closer role. But there were times last season when he was shaky. During spring training we should hope to see him work on getting out of jams, and preventing inherited runners from scoring.
Rafael Perez: Last season was one of Perez’s best (3.00 ERA in 63 innings). He filled his role well and was a reliable left-handed arm out of the bullpen. Perez was a strong contributor to the “Bullpen Mafia,” and we can hope to see him build on last season in preparation for 2012.
Tony Sipp: Sipp put together a pretty good season for the Tribe in 2011 (3.03 ERA in 62.1 innings). He had a tendency to be off and on as the season wore on, which is something we can hope to see improve during spring training. He improved from 2010 to 2011, so we can hope to see him continue that trend heading into 2012. One important thing for Sipp to improve upon is the amount of home runs he gives up (1.5 career HR/9 rate). Spring training may not be the best judge of whether he makes progress, but that is something we can look at looking ahead to the season.
Vinnie Pestano: Pestano was dominant last season (2.32 ERA in 62 innings). He showed his power by leading the bullpen with 84 strikeouts in Pestano’s first season in the big leagues, which was hopefully a sign of what is to come. Heading into the season, we should look for Pestano to carry the momentum with which he ended 2011.
Joe Smith: Smith was one of the best and most reliable options coming out of the bullpen last season (2.01 ERA in 67 innigs). He went all of June and half of July without allowing a single earned run. He was dominant and in control on the mound, and we can hope to see him continue with that going forward.
Frank Herrmann: Herrmann struggled through much of 2011 (5.11 ERA in 56.1 innings). He has the potential to pitch multiple innings at once and control the damage of another pitcher. In spring training, we can hope to see that he has made some improvements after last season.
It has yet to be seen whether or not the pitching staff has improved from 2011, and our evaluation of them will be an on-going process throughout the course of the season. But spring training will be the first test, and it will be interesting to see how each of these names fares in the preseason.