Indians Playing Time Battles: Pitchers

We’ve started our annual Depth Chart Discussions, re-branded as Playing Time Battles for 2016. You can catch up on every team we’ve covered in the Playing Time Battles Summary post or follow along using the Depth Chart Discussions tag.

The Indians pitching was the team’s strong point in 2015 by leading American League in strikeouts, HR/9, and FIP. With all of the major players from the 2015 staff returning, the team has high expectations going into 2016. Even though the top spots in the bullpen and rotation are set, some interesting battles exist further down the roster.


Usually, team defense should be considered too much when looking at pitching, but the Indians made a significant change a third of the way through the ’15 season. Mid-June, they added Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela to the left side of the infield. Before the pair arrived, the Indian’s pitchers posted a .326 BABIP. After the pair took over, the value dropped to .277. The Indians should continue to have low BABIPs with defensive minded Juan Uribe taking over at third. Indian pitcher experienced some higher early season ERAs and they may see their ERAs drop even more.

Starting Pitchers

The top three starters, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar, are set. The fourth and fifth starters look to be Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin to lose.

My issue with the pair is playing time. One of the pair will be the 5th starter and get a few starts passed over as the Indians will attempt to maximize the starts from the top three. I feel both should make the starting rotation out spring training if healthy. Tomlin does have one factor working against him is that he still has waivers left and can be sent back to the minors.

As a whole, the Indians rotation is stacked and is probably one of the best in the majors. With that said, every starting pitcher has 40% of going on the DL at some point, so some other starters will need to step in at some point during the season. Here are the leading candidates.

Cody Anderson: He had a nice shiny 2015 3.05 ERA which was suppressed by a .237 BABIP. There is not much else to like with a 4.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. Of the 148 pitchers with 90 IP, his 5.5% K%-BB% was the 6th lowest.

T.J. House: After some signs pointing in the positive direction in 2014, injuries derailed his 2015 season. I will be watching him closely this spring and I like him (and his 60% GB%) as a bargain buy during the season.

Mike Clevinger: Right now Clevinger has the best traits of Anderson (health) and House (talent). I think he is a nice safe play if the Indians call him up.


The top two spots in the Indians bullpen seemed to be settled with steady Cody Allen as the closer and Bryan Shaw being the setup man. I think Allen’s job is safe unless he gets injured or completely implodes (probably because of injury). After the first two, the Indians bullpen hierarchy get a little murkier with roles being tough to define.

Zach McAllister should be a setup man, but the Indians are giving him the chance to start. I expect him to be back in the bullpen, but maybe the stretching out to be a starter will make him the long guy.

Jeff Manship and Dan Otero are OK bullpen arms, but probably don’t have the stuff (sub-8 K/9) teams are looking for in a closer.

Shawn Armstrong should be on people’s radar, especially in dynasty leagues who posted a 14.5 K/9 in AAA and 12.4 K/9 in eight MLB innings. He is projected to “only” have a 10.7 K/9, which is in line with Allen’s strikeout rate. I would not be surprised if Armstrong is Allen’s setup man by the season’s end. Right now he seems to be on the outside looking in for even Hold chances, but bet on the talent.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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