Strong Core Could Lead to Great Results for Starting Rotation
There has been a great deal of angst in the media about the fact that the Indians have lost forty percent of their starting rotation. In fact, it is the main reason given as to why they will not return to the playoffs in 2014.
For some reason, I have not shared in their angst. This may be due to what I have seen from the collection of pitchers vying for the two openings in the starting rotation. It may be because there is ample reason to believe that the offense or the bullpen will improve enough to offset a drop-off in the performance of the starting rotation. Or it may just be that I am irrationally optimistic and would predict a World Series trip if Brett Myers was starting on Opening Day.
Let’s do some math. The Indians need to replace 32 starts by Jimenez, who had an ERA of 3.30 last year. We could debate whether that is an accurate reflection of his contribution, but let’s just go with ERA to keep it simple. It is reasonable to believe that, should he stay healthy, the Indians will get an additional 21 starts this season from Danny Salazar whose ERA last year was 3.12. If Zach McAllister (3.75 ERA, 24 starts) and Justin Masterson (3.45, 29) each make their 32 scheduled starts in 2014, the Indians would replace Jimenez’ starts with pitchers whose aggregate ERA for those starts would be 3.31. Even to a stathead, that’s a wash
The Indians also need to replace 29 starts by Scott Kazmir, who posted an ERA of 4.04. There is not a clear candidate for this spot, but there is enough depth that it is reasonable to think somebody will emerge. The reality, though, is that the Indians are not replacing only the 29 starts by Kazmir, they are replacing a total of 43 starts made by Kazmir, Trevor Bauer (5.29 ERA) , Carlos Carrasco (6.75), and Brett Myers (8.02).
If you combine the stats of those four pitchers you get 243 innings and an ERA of 5.00. That makes it seem a bit easier to fill the gap. For example, if Corey Kluber stays healthy and matches his 2013 performance he would make eight additional starts and post an ERA of 3.85. It’s impossible to predict who if anyone can make the other 35 starts and if they will equal the performance from last year, but let’s just suppose Josh Tomlin can match his 2011 stats (26 starts, 4.25 ERA). Suddenly the Indians have a starting rotation that not only matches, but surpasses, the 2013 group.
Of course, things seldom go this smoothly. It is important to remember, though, that at this time last year we were expecting nothing from Kazmir and that Jimenez was coming off a year where he was measurably the worst pitcher in the American League. Not only that, but there was really no backup plan if they had failed, at least until Salazar emerged.
This year, the Indians have four spots nailed down by pitchers who performed well enough last year to propel the team to the playoffs. Not only that, there are enough candidates for the fifth spot that it is difficult to imagine that no one will emerge and perform at least at league-average levels, which is all the Indians should need to be as good as last year in their starting pitching.