Indians Rotation: Depth Chart Discussions

There are many ways to express how bad Cleveland’s rotation was in 2012. Their staff was 3rd worst in ERA, WAR, xFIP and SIERA. They were 29th in K% and 28th in BB%, which left them tied with the Twins for the worst K%-BB%. Their “best” pitcher was Zach McAllister who gave them 125.1 innings of 4.24 ERA ball. Ubaldo Jimenez continued to see his velocity decline, and his ERA was over 5.00 as a result. The man who is likely to pitch in their 2013 season opener, Justin Masterson, posted the worst ERA of his career (4.93). They had three other pitchers who threw more than 80 innings, Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez, and none of them had an ERA below 5.50.

Thankfully, it would be almost impossible for their staff to be much worse.

Early Depth Chart:

Justin Masterson
Zach McAllister
Ubaldo Jimenez
Brett Myers
Corey Kluber
Carlos Carrasco
Trevor Bauer

Of the three returning starters, Masterson, Jimenez and McAllister, Masterson seems to have the most potential to bounce back. He has been top seven among qualified pitchers in ground ball rate in each of the last three years, and, as a result, he has also been top 20 in ISO allowed in those three years. That ability to prevent hard contact and extra base hits is probably one of the three most important run prevention skills. As for the other two, the ability to strike batters out and the ability to avoid putting them on base for free, Masterson has about a league average strikeout rate for his career, but his ability to limit free passes has been below average as his career BB% is 9.2% (3.58 BB/9).

The reason Masterson makes an attractive sleeper option for fantasy owners is that we’ve seen what he can be when he keeps the walks under control. He cut his walk rate down to 7.2% in 2011, and his ERA was an impressive 3.21. His SIERA and xFIP were both in the mid-three’s, but with his ability to induce weak contact, Masterson can outperform the ERA estimators when he limits the walks.

Jeff Sullivan wrote a piece last week about how Masterson has faced the tightest strike zone of any starter with 200+ innings since 2008. Jeff theorized that catcher framing might have something to do with it, but unfortunately for Masterson, Cleveland has the same catching duo of Carlos Santana and Lou Marson this year. What it may take is a shift back toward Masterson’s pitch mix in 2011. Below is a table of his pitch mix in the last three seasons courtesy of Brooks Baseball.




















As you can see, he threw fewer sliders and sinkers and more four-seamers in that season with the improved control. It makes sense; throwing fewer pitches that are intended to dart out of the zone late would seem to lead to a lower walk total. Whether he will go back to that approach is unknown, but if he does, the potential for a nice season is there.

The other two returning starters, Jimenez and McAllister, could be the beneficiaries of Cleveland’s new and improved outfield defense. With Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, and Drew Stubbs manning the outfield, Cleveland essentially has three center fielders out there. They are sure to cover more ground than most outfields and this can’t be a bad thing for McAllister and Jimenez who had fly ball rates of 40.5% and 38.2% last year, respectively. Ubaldo is probably a stay away because of the above referenced decline in velocity, but McAllister could have some value. He posted above average strikeout and walk rates last year that led to a solid K%-BB% of 13.3%. He faded down the stretch and got killed by home runs (12.1% HR/FB; 64.7% LOB%), but if he can keep the ball in the park, he could be useful outside of ten and twelve team leagues.

Cleveland also made two acquisitions to bolster their staff. One of them, the signing of Brett Myers, is wholly unexciting. Myers’ fastball velocity dropped in each year from 2007 to 2011, and he ended up in the bullpen in 2012. His fastball ticked back up in the ‘pen, but he is likely to lose the velocity he gained once he is back in the rotation. Unless Chris Perez has a long term injury and Vinnie Pestano also suffers an injury that leads to Cleveland moving Myers to the closer role, his fantasy value is limited.

Cleveland’s other acquisition was much flashier. In a three-team swap, Cleveland acquired the #3 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Trevor Bauer. Bauer is likely to be in a three-way battle for Cleveland’s final rotation spot with Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber. Carrasco and Kluber likely have the leg up on Bauer because they are much more seasoned at this point. Bauer has made 18 starts above AA, but Kluber spent most of the last two years at AAA and Carrasco started 21 games for Cleveland in 2011. Bauer’s pedigree obviously makes him a name to know and a guy to watch, so keep an eye on his walk rate in the minors. The sooner it becomes respectable, the sooner he’ll get the call.

To be honest, both Kluber and Carrasco might be better options for the rotation than Myers. Carrasco missed the entire 2012 season thanks to Tommy John surgery, but before that injury he showed an ability to keep balls on the ground with a 50.4% ground ball rate in his first 190 or so innings. His upside is probably limited, but if he can get his strikeout rate up around 20%, which is where it was in the upper levels of the minors, he could be an adequate staff filler. And Kluber had an impressive 10.7% SwStr% in 12 starts last year that led to a solid K% of 19.2%. He also displayed good control (6.4% BB%), but that wasn’t a skill of his in the minors, so we probably shouldn’t expect that to hold up immediately.

Ultimately, the Cleveland rotation will be better than they were last year, but that’s not necessarily saying much.

We hoped you liked reading Indians Rotation: Depth Chart Discussions by Brett Talley!

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Interesting to see you use K%-BB%… I’m used to seeing K/BB (of course McAllister was fine by that metric too, with a 2.89). I guess the advantage of your approach is that if you are in a league that rewards Ks, it will value guys with a 9 K/9 and a 3 BB/9 over guys with a 6 K/9 and a 2 BB/9.