Last week, the team at FanGraphs began the ambitious project of power ranking all 30 MLB teams at each position on the diamond based on ZiPs performance projections and the writers’ own estimates about defensive ability and playing time. Now that all the lists have been unveiled, let’s see how things came out for the Cleveland Indians.
Things started off well for the Tribe as they came in at No. 3 at catcher, thanks to Carlos Santana (4.5 projected wins above replacement)—”a stud,” Eric Seidman writes. Only the Twins and Braves were ranked ahead of the Indians, and neither Joe Mauer nor Brian McCann, respectively, are sure things to outplay Santana.
Cleveland came in at just No. 19 at first base, as Matt Klaasen doesn’t have much faith in Casey Kotchman (1.1 projected WAR). It’s hard to argue that the Indians should have ranked much better there.
The Indians appear at No. 19 at second base too, but this time I take issue with it. Chris Cwik’s lack of confidence in Jason Kipnis‘ (2.5 projected WAR) ability to keep up his torrid pace from 2011 is understandable, but I’d definitely give the Tribe the advantage at the keystone over teams like the Cardinals (No. 15), the Cubs (No. 14), and the Astros (No. 13).
Cleveland got a more generous ranking at shortstop, as Bradley Woodrum slots Asdrubal Cabrera (3.0 projected WAR) and the Indians at No. 11. Interestingly, Woodrum suggests that the Indians might turn to Cord Phelps if Cabrera’s defense doesn’t improve—hard to see that happening, but it is food for thought.
The Indians rank in the top half at third base, too. Eno Sarris sees Lonnie Chisenhall (2.5 projected WAR) winning the starting job and holding off Jack Hannahan and Jason Donald all year, though having Hannahan as insurance is important. It’s a “boom-or-bust” situation, Sarris writes, “but when you’ve got good glove behind you, the bust just won’t hurt as much.”
Things take a pretty dramatic turn for the worse in the outfield. J.P. Breen puts the Indians at No. 30—dead last—in left field. Part of the problem is that Breen projects Aaron Cunningham to be the Tribe’s primary outfielder while Grady Sizemore is out, with Fred Lewis as the second in line; Shelley Duncan is probably the better choice to fill in in left. You can quibble with the specific ranking, but it’s hard to see left field as a strength heading into 2012.
The outlook isn’t much brighter in center field, where Wendy Thurm has the Indians at No. 29. That seems a little low considering Thurm has Sizemore and Michael Brantley combining for 2.0 WAR in center, but again this isn’t anything for Tribe fans to get excited about.
Jack Moore has a sunnier disposition when assessing Cleveland’s right field situation, putting Shin-Soo Choo (3.5 projected WAR) and the Tribe at No. 8. It’s nice to see a Top 10 finish, but it’s somewhat disappointing considering that the Indians would have easily ranked in the Top 5 a year ago.
The Indians got shafted somewhat at designated hitter, where Paul Swydan ranked them No. 11 (out of only 14 teams), putting Travis Hafner (0.5 projected WAR) behind names like Kendrys Morales, Adam Dunn, Raul Ibanez, and Edwin Encarnacion. “About the only thing you can count on from Travis Hafner these days is that he will be injured at some point during the season,” Swydan writes—apparently he hasn’t noticed that Hafner has OPSed .811 or higher three years in a row.
The best news for the Tribe came in the rotation: Dave Cameron ranked the Indians’ starting pitchers—Justin Masterson (5.0 projected WAR), Ubaldo Jimenez (4.5), Derek Lowe (2.5), Kevin Slowey (2.0), and Josh Tomlin (1.5)—fifth in baseball, behind only the Angels, Phillies, Rays, and Tigers. The ZiPs projections, Cameron writes, sees Cleveland’s as “a strong, deep rotation with two really good horses up front.” Well that’s a morale booster.
Unfortunately, the good news can’t last. Looking at the pitchers who he expects to see the most high-leverage innings out of the bullpen, Carson Cistulli ranked the Tribe’s relief corps No. 27 in baseball. Seems a little low to me considering that the Indians have great pitching depth and that the bullpen was a real strength in 2011.
Where does this leave us? Taking the average ranking (with the starting rotation being weighted five times more than other positions and DH getting a half weight), Cleveland comes out at No. 13.5—indicating that the Indians are a slightly above-average team. That’s probably about right for an expected value, but don’t forget that this team has quite a bit of upside. A lot of these rankings could end up looking quite conservative in a few months.