More Love for Cleveland’s Rotation

It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

According to WAR, FIP and xFIP, the Indians rotation was one of the three best in the league last year, which is kind of amazing considering Trevor Bauer had the second highest innings total on the staff. But it certainly didn’t hurt that they had a guy with a 4.30 ERA as a starter prior to 2014 who more than delivered on the promise indicated in his peripherals by winning the AL Cy Young award. But one pitcher does not a good rotation make. In addition to their Cy Young winner, they got sub-3.00 ERA ball from another starter for just over 90 innings, and they had five starters throw at least 90 innings with an xFIP of 3.50 or lower. Assuming everyone is healthy come Opening Day, two of those five don’t figure to crack the rotation. I dare say this rotation might be good again.

The Cy Young winner is obviously Corey Kluber. You can take issue with the fact that Kluber wildly overperformed anything he’d ever done before last year, but these things do happen. I remember trading Cliff Lee for Chase Utley midway through Lee’s breakout 2008 season thinking I had sold high to the highest degree. Lee finished the year with a 2.54 ERA and started a string of four straight seasons with 6.5+ WAR, which is a number Kluber eclipsed himself last year. And it’s not like you couldn’t have seen a significant-yet-not-Cy-Young breakout coming for Kluber. The love for Kluber around these parts in 2013 bordered on obscene.

Put me firmly in the “Kluber can do it again” camp. If you use our auction calculator to create values from the Steamer projections, you’ll see that Kluber is projected to be the eighth most valuable fantasy starter. If you run the Pod Projections through the z-score method, Kluber projects to be the seventh most valuable starter. According to Eno’s Arsenal Score, Kluber has the fourth best arsenal in the game. I also like to look at K-BB/TBF (h/t @MichaelSalfino), and Kluber ranked seventh in that stat last year.

By any metric I like to look at, Kluber is a top eight starter, and he’s going eighth among starters. If you want to take a pitcher in the first three rounds of a 12-team mixed draft, Kluber is appropriately priced. I prefer to wait a bit on pitching but have no problem with Kluber around pick 30 if that’s your thing.

As much as was written about Kluber last year, we’ve written almost as much about Carrasco. In fact, Ben Duronio recently theorized that Carrasco could be the next Kluber, which is not an observation he alone has made. In that post from Ben there is a link to Jeff Sullivan’s take on Carrasco. As Ben pointed out, Jeff concluded that it’s unlikely Carrasco was able to be as good as he has been without being at least close to that good in reality. Jeff heaped some more praise on him here, and Josh Shepardson drooled over him here.

The Steamer projections have Carrasco 28th among starters, and Pod’s projections are more optimistic slotting him 20th. But you can certainly make the case for ranking him higher. His Arsenal Score was the third best last year, and he came in ninth in K-BB/TBF. Based on the weights I give each of those factors, Carrasco comes in 15th in my personal rankings. He’s going 28th among starters and just outside the top 100 overall, so you don’t have to pay a top 15 price to get him. I’d target him around the time the 20th starter or so goes to get a little value but also to limit the chances another fan boy snipes him.

The Fangraphs fetishization of Cleveland starters does not end with Kluber and Carrasco. It is also well documented that Danny Salazar was thought to be a breakout candidate in 2014 who busted hard early in the season and returned from a stint in the minors later in the year to pitch like so many thought he would to being with. Pod covered that here, and August Fagerstrom outlined it in Salazar’s FG+ profile.

That said, Salazar only ranks 53rd when you run Pod’s projections through the z-score method. Steamer is much more bullish as he ranks 29th among starters. Arsenal Score has him with the 41st best arsenal. And despite the horrendous first eight starts of 2014, Salazar ranked 25th among starters in K-BB/TBF. According to the most pessimistic factor, Salazar is a borderline top 5o starter. He’s going 57th among starters, so even if you’re pessimistic, he might be worth drafting. But if you’re at all optimistic, Salazar looks like a potentially great value.

This concludes the portion of the program where we fawn over Cleveland starters. As of now, Trevor Bauer and Gavin Floyd are projected to fill out the rotation, but T.J. House, Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister could be in the mix.

As mentioned, only Kluber threw more innings for the Indians than Bauer last year despite the fact that Bauer had an ERA of 4.18 and xFIP of 4.14. On the plus side, Bauer’s strikeout rate was safely above average, but his walk rate was easily below average. Given his strikeout rate last year, his age and his velocity, it’s easy to dream up a bit of strikeout upside for Bauer, but it’s hard to feel any confidence in a breakout coming.

The Steamer and Pod projections don’t see it happening as he ranks 110th and 101st according to those projections, respectively. Arsenal Score and his K-BB/TBF indicate that he could beat the projections, but with an ADP of 85 among starters, he’s not as big of a value potential as I would have hoped. You can get him in the last round of a mixed league, but there are better upside options available in those spots. In AL-only leagues you’ll likely have to take him as your fourth starter, and I’d prefer him to be going as more of a fifth starter.

Floyd on the other hand can be had late enough in AL-only drafts to be worth it. Nicholas Minnix did a nice job breaking down Floyd’s recent history and current situation, but the short version is that Floyd has the potential to pitch well enough to be relevant in mixed leagues as a spot starter. That makes him more than worth it as someone to fill out the back end of your AL-only staff, injury issues or not.

As for the three starters on the outside looking in, House is by far the most appealing. Last year he posted a 3.35 ERA, 3.10 xFIP and 13.6% K-BB% in just over 100 innings. He’s 53rd in Arsenal Score and ranked 62nd in K-BB/TBF last year. The projection systems have him ranked outside the top 100, but that’s mainly due to conservative innings projections. If House ends up with a rotation spot, he’s a good middle-of-the-rotation guy in AL-only leagues and a viable spot starter in mixed leagues with a chance of being consistently relevant in shallower formats.

You can find more of Brett's work on or follow him on Twitter @TheRealTAL.

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Paul Sporer

Honestly, I think you sold the fawning short! Bauer and House are deserving of adoration, too! And if Floyd had any chance at staying healthy, he is still pretty good, too.

The only reason Carrasco can’t be Kluber 2015 is because he already costs 10x more than Kluber did last year. Kluber had his believers (Doug and I were really high on him in the SP Guide), but he still wasn’t costing much. Carrasco is being drafted around the top 20 of SPs. But the overarching point that he can beast out like Kluber did in 2014 is apt. Good work, Brett.

Cason Jolette
Cason Jolette

Who is your 2015 Kluber then, Paul? Maybe Shoemaker or Salazar?

Emcee Peepants
Emcee Peepants

Hutchison has been getting a lot of breakout hype but is still cheap and I could see Pomeranz being in the conversation as well.