Who is really the best baseball team in the majors? I honestly don't know but I try to figure that out by using basic and advanced statistics. I live for talking about baseball, it's my biggest drive in my life and I will jump on the opportunity to talk baseball with anyone, even with people who I don't really like. For me, Baseball is a piece of art that sits in my mind all day, ready to be painted on at any point of the day.

Monday, February 28, 2011

30 Teams: Cleveland Indians

By Mike Moritz

By no means am I expecting a play off appearance this year from the Cleveland Indians, but I do like their team for the future. In 2007, the Indians made the ALCS against the Red Sox but blew a three games to one lead and Boston went on to win the World Series. And since, the Indians have been on a downward spiral and won just 69 games in 2010. But they have a few prospects that you should keep your eye open for. This post is not so much about what their free agent and trade pickups and losses mean for the Indians (not that Cleveland made any huge moves), but rather what the future holds in store for the tribe.

But first: the biggest signing that Cleveland made was Orlando Cabrera. He was signed to a one-year deal worth $1 million and will probably be used as the primary second baseman but also as a utility infielder. Cabrera last year hit .263/.303/.354/.292 and just four homers. He has never been a get-on-base guy (career: .320 OBP) nor has he been a good BABIP guy (career: .286). This is a nice pickup though nothing huge about it. Expect about the same year but perhaps around eight homers since his HR/FB rate was a little low to his career: 4.3% to his 2010: 2.4%.

Michael Brantley was drafted in the 7th round of the 2005 draft by the Brewers but was traded in 2008 in the C.C. Sabathia trade. In the minors, Brantley's career slash line is .313/.406/.377. But he does more than just hit. He has never posted a walk rate below 10.4% in the minors. Overall, Brantley has very little power and his highest ISO in the minors was a mere .107 and currently has a just a .068 career mark. But that is perfectly OK because his job is to get on base, move up and score runs. His speed makes up for the loss of power, in his most recent full season in the minors, 2009, he had 46 steals in 51 chances. Brantley should be a good hitter in his career and should lead the Indians running game in years to come. His decent fielding and left handed pitching struggles are the only big things that are holding his value lower.

I can not say enough the young catching phenomenon Carlos Santana. The switching hitting catcher has power, plate discipline and should hit for a good average. In all of Santana's stops in the minor leagues, he posted an ISO under .212 just twice. Perhaps his most awesome stat from his minor league resume was the fact that he did not post a walk rate below 10.3% (shedding his two games in AA in 2008). It seems as though he took yet another leap in that stat catagory in 2010 in AAA where he posted his bested walk rate of an astonishing 18.3% before getting the call up to The Show. How did that translate into major league action? How about a 19.3% walk rate? Although he had just 192 PA, which I would not neccisarily consider a "small sample size", I can not reiterate how amazing that is. To back that up, also showed good pitch selection with a mere 22.4% O-Swing%. In case you were wondering, that absurd. Amazing. The one thing that even comes close to giving me a worrisome attitude toward Santana is his Contact% which was about 3% below the average at 77.3%. But honestly, that really should not mean anything and should improve with age, I don't see how it can't improve unless he just stops practicing. This is a special kid, simply put. For this year, I could see a .280 average or there about with about 25 homers and easily an OPB over .380. That is a ballsy projection for his OPB but I truely think that he can do it at his young age, 25, with his great plate discipline. Santana is coming off knee surgery to repair a torn LCL on his left knee that he suffered on a play at the plate in early August and went under the knife on August 6, 2010. This should not be an issue moving forward in his career, though.
Already one of my favorite players: Carlos Santana

It took a little while before Shin-Soo Choo could really get his career onto the band-wagon as he was hampered by injuries early in his major league pursuit, more specifically, his elbow. He had Tommy John surgery on September 25, 2007 and did not come back until May 31, 2008. No, Choo is not a pitcher, he is a right fielder who was signed as an amateur free-agent back in 2000 and was traded to the Indians in July of 2006 along with Shawn Nottingham for Ben Broussard. Choo then came back in 2008 for a slash line of .307/.397/.549/.402 with a .240 ISO, 11.9 BB%, 14 homers and 28 doubles in 370 PA. His first full season in the majors was great, .300/.394/.489/.389, 20 homers, 21 stolen bases and 38 doubles for a total of 5.0 WAR. But there was one problem that seem to hurt him in both 2008 and 2009: his strike out rate in 2008 was 24.6% and it rose in 2009 to 25.9%. But those strike out issues were dispelled in 2010 when he put his strike out rate down to 21.5% as Contact%, O-Contact% and Z-Contact% all got better signifying an improved plate discipline that was good to begin with. That should bode well for Choo. But for this year, I am not that high on him: since 2008, his LD% has gotten worse for three straight years; his GB% has been on the rise for, again, three years; his speed score (by Fangraphs) dropped from 6.1 in 2009 to 4.6 last year; his O-Contact% was up (2010: 62.5%, 2009: 54.3%) and with that, his O-Swing% was also up to 26.8% after 2009s 22.3% mark which means that if those two stats stay high, then he would just have weak hits. And that brings me to my last point (sorry to bore you), his strike out rate improved but his batting average did not and that is because his BABIP was .347. This was after 2008s .367 BABIP and 2009s .370 BABIP. At some point, even for hitters who have high BABIPs through their careers, a BABIP that high is likely to regress to the mean. It is so rare for a hitter to constantly hit for a BABIP around .370 and the .347 from Choo from last year started to show regression and I believe, also from looking back at the stats that I just mentioned, that Choo is due for a down year. Just my belief.

And let us not forget Grady Sizemore! He is two years removed from his most recent and "Grady-like" season and has since suffered multiple injuries including the big blow on his knee in May of last season. It is in question as to weather or not he can bounce back to All-Star status. If you would like to know more on Sizemore and where his career might take him from here, check out my post on him by clicking here.

Alex White is really the only young pitcher/pitching prospect that I like but I am not a HUGE fan of him (but I do like him, don't get me wrong), and, no offence, I basically have no faith Carlos Carrasco.

Some other players to keep an eye on are Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Nick Weglarz and Matt LaPorta. All of whom could be impact players in the future.

But for this year, the Indians should do the same, 70 wins is my projection.

And lastly, congratulations to Fausto Carmona! He was just named the opening day starter for the tribe. This will be his first opening day start.

Feel free to share your comments down below by posting a comment.

(Statistics in courtesy of: fangraphs.com, espn.com and baseballinjurytool.com)

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