After an early season 30-15 run, the Indians’ season became a story not of “What if?” but what could of been. Injuries decimated the team at every position. The offense was inconsistent and unable to score runs, the defense was porous injuries was never able to get into sync, the starting pitching was unable to go deep into games and were marginal at best, and the bullpen which had been a bright spot during the first half of the season experienced a large drop off in the second half of the season.
In the offseason the Indians did not go out and acquire the big bat that the fans had hoped for, and this failure has been magnified with the loss of Grady Sizemore. They hope that full seasons from Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo, and Travis Hafner and further progress from Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana will provide an upgrade over the hodge podge lineups assembled during the second half of the 2011 season.
The Indians’ defense should be improved by having the same group of guys on the field together and having the corners of the infield anchored by two slick fielders in Casey Kotchman and Jack Hannahan. The team’s ability to properly defend will show up the most in preventing manufactured runs. A key component to that is to tether base runners to their bases and make them go station to station; Choo being back in right field will go a long way toward preventing runners from taking the extra base.
The Indians began to improve the starting rotation by trading for Ubaldo Jimenez last season and added Derek Lowe during the offseason. Like the injury to Grady Sizemore, the team lost a key member of the rotation (Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez) and will have to wait an undetermined amount of time before Hernandez returns from the Dominican Republic and rejoins the team. Jeanmar Gomez won the fifth starter’s job in spring training and will have an opportunity to show he belongs in the major leagues. In the meantime the Indians have Kevin Slowey, Scott Barnes, David Huff, and Zach McAllister lined up in Triple-A to take a turn in the rotation if the event of injury or poor performance.
The bullpen hopes to remain strong throughout the season. Part of this can be accomplished by the starting staff going deeper into games and part of it can be accomplished by adding some length to the bullpen with either Nick Hagadone, Jeanmar Gomez, or Kevin Slowey. The members of the Bullpen Mafia will hope to have an even larger impact on the 2012 season by having a greater amount of late-game leads to protect.
The Indians hope that having more durable and effective starting staff, reliable bullpen, and better defense that they can reduce the runs they allow. If they can diminish opponents’ scoring by a modest 5 percent they will allow 722 runs in 2012, while a 5 percent increase in their runs scored would mean that they’d cross the plate 739 times. Using Bill James’ Pythagorean Record formula the Indians will finish 2012 with a record of 83-79. That would mean we’d have a winning team in Cleveland once again.