The (Mostly) Exciting Indians Rotation

Last year, I was optimistic about Indians pitchers given that the team had a very speedy outfield to gobble up fly balls. But alas, the pitching staff allowed a .302 BABIP, eighth highest in baseball and the defense compiled a weak -4.5 UZR/150, ranking 26th overall. Although the defense will mostly be the same, so that won’t be one of the reasons to like the pitching staff, it’s an exciting group despite the potential lack of help from the fielding unit.

Justin Masterson takes on the ace role after a major rebound from his disappointing 2012 performance. What his 2013 season did was validate that his 2011 wasn’t a complete fluke. The extreme ground-baller managed to increase the use of his slider at the expense of his fastball, yet his ground ball rate wasn’t affected. He enjoyed a major strikeout rate spike, but with only a marginal increase in SwStk%, you wonder what the driver was. The answer is that his looking strike rate surged to a career high. That looks completely unsustainable as his pitch mix (sinker/slider) isn’t typically conducive to looking strikes. So expect his strikeout rate to ball back to pre-2013 career norms, but for Masterson to remain a solid pitcher.

Taking the ball after Masterson is the man who inspired an entire society. I am of course talking about the one and only Corey Kluber, who I discussed about a month ago. I concluded that he’ll go either one of two ways – continue throwing his sinker frequently and inducing tons of grounders, perhaps at the expense of some strikeouts, or return to throwing his excellent slider and changeup to rack up the Ks and fantasy value. As fantasy owners, we’d prefer the strikeout machine, rather than the ground ball one, but either version should still be in line for a strong follow-up to his semi-breakout 2013.

Danny Salazar, wow. It’s hard not to get super excited about him. He averaged 96 with his fastball, which generated a ridiculous 13.3% SwStk%, and he complemented it with an insane changeup and solid slider. Oh, and he throws strikes too. Batters almost quit before walking to the plate, complaining that it’s simply not fair. One potentially serious issue is that he averaged just 5.2 innings per start. Yes, he was on a 75 pitch count for several of those starts, but he allowed a higher than average foul ball rate which kept at-bats alive. He threw 145 frames last year, so around 170 innings this year would make for a reasonable estimate. Don’t go overboard here, but damn is he going to be a fun one to watch.

Remember the (mostly) part of the title? That refers to the next member of the staff, Zach McAllister. While his 2013 ERA of 3.75 might convince some unsuspecting fantasy owners of drafting him, you know better than to look past his low HR/FB rate due for regression and 4.49 SIERA. He features a collection of meh pitches, the only one that generated a SwStk% above just 9.4% was his barely used splitter. He’s a fly ball pitcher with average stuff and average control. Sounds like Average McAverager. No thanks, move along.

After the top four, the drama will unfold. It’s going to be a good old-fashioned battle for the fifth spot! Your contenders: grizzled vet and free agent signee Shaun Marcum and a pair of disappointing young former prospects in Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco.

Marcum is solid when healthy, but he’s only pitched about 200 innings over the last two years. Health is the key and you could probably completely ignore his surface results last year. Bauer is the one-time elite prospect whose lack of control has been his bugaboo. There’s also the fact that his strikeout percentage has declined in a straight line at every stop since his debut in 2011. Apparently he has made some mechanical tweaks over the offseason, but who knows whether that will be the cure for all that ails him.

Carrasco is perhaps the most intriguing of the trio. It should surprise no one that I like him. I commanded you readers not to sleep on him last year and then two months later recommended him in a deep league waiver wire piece. Obviously, his performance made me look silly, as he posted a 6.75 ERA. But, his fastball velocity surged, he still has that devastating changeup (20.7% SwStk% last season!) and he threw a higher rate of strikes, though that somehow didn’t translate into a good walk rate. Oh, and he’s a ground ball pitcher too. He’s one of my top deep sleepers this year. Unfortunately, I have no idea how the organization is going to decide who wins the spot or who that may be. Whoever does though should have value in AL-Only leagues at the very least.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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8 years ago

I’m downright giddy about Salazar. Followed him diligently since Cistulli pointed him out in his fringe five, and am now fully part of the fan club. He really has special stuff, and could take over that ace role easily.

Not many guys can breeze through AA, then breeze through AAA, then pitch with pretty much the same results in the Majors. The only guys I remember making that kind of rapid move are guys like Hamels, Latos and Garza, and none of them were as dominant at the big league level as Salazar was last year.

You’ve been warned people — this guy is special.