The 2012 Cleveland Indians had a lot of faults, but none seemed as problematic as the starting rotation. It was statistically the worst in the American League, and one of the worst in all of baseball. The Indians spent the last month or two of the season cycling pitchers into the rotation from Triple-A – names like David Huff, Corey Kluber, and even Chris Seddon took a turn on the mound for the Tribe. Did the Indians do enough this offseason to shore up the rotation? If not, are there any viable options that remain as we are less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting?
First, let’s look at who is part of the projected rotation, barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances:
Justin Masterson – He was the opening day starter in 2012 and the “staff ace.” Unfortunately, I’m forced to put “staff ace” in quotes, because he certainly didn’t pitch like one in 2012. His performance was extremely erratic – one day he’d be lights out, the next he’d surrender seven runs by the fifth inning. Masterson finished the season 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 159 strikeouts in 206.1 innings pitched. He also surrendered 18 home runs, which was the same total that the Indians team leader in home runs, Carlos Santana, hit. I honestly don’t think the 2013 Indians will succeed without significant improvement from both Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. Masterson needs to return to his 2011 form; hopefully the offense will provide more run support than it did two years ago.
Ubaldo Jimenez – There’s still a part of me, deep down, that wants to think THIS is the year that Jimenez turns it around. I’m not going to even wish for that anymore, because continuing to think that gives me the same sensation that I get when I slam my head repeatedly into a wall. In 2012 Jimenez went 9-17, with a 5.40 ERA, a 1.61 WHIP, and 143 strikeouts in 176.2 innings pitched. If you thought it was bad that Masterson surrendered 18 home runs, Jimenez was even worse – he gave up 25 home runs in 30 fewer innings pitched. There were times that Jimenez still managed to show flashes of brilliance, but they were so few and far between it didn’t really matter anymore. You dreaded the days he started, and just hope that he minimized damage and the offense had a good day. When the Indians picked up his option this offseason, it pretty much guaranteed him a spot in the rotation. No matter how much we may hope otherwise, I don’t think there’s a chance he isn’t in the rotation on opening day, barring injury. Even marginal improvement from Jimenez would go a long way toward helping the rotation.
Brett Myers – Signed a couple of weeks ago to a one-year deal, the Indians plan to move Myers back to the starting rotation from the bullpen. Even though he hasn’t pitched as a starter since 2011, I like this move. The Indians need a veteran presence that can eat innings; think Derek Lowe circa the first half of 2012. I don’t think Myers will be a Cy Young candidate by any means, but I think he will more than adequately serve his purpose.
Zach McAllister – It sounds as if McAllister is all but assured a spot in the rotation at this point. It’s still pretty amazing that the Indians were able to acquire McAllister when they flipped Austin Kearns to the Yankees for a half season. Toward the end of 2012, he became one of the more reliable pitchers in the starting rotation – overall he went 6-8 with a 4.24 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 110 strikeouts in 125.1 innings pitched. He surrendered 19 home runs; as you can see, keeping the ball in the park was a big problem for Indians starters last season. It’s one way a game can quickly get out of hand; walk a few people or give up a base hit or two, then let a player take you deep. McAllister was also the victim of errors – there were times that he looked fine until someone committed an error, then everything seemed to spiral out of control rather quickly. McAllister is never going to be your staff ace, but he can be a solid guy in the back end of your rotation.
The fifth starter will likely come from this collection of players:
Carlos Carrasco – He had some bright moments in 2011, but is attempting to recover from Tommy John surgery. He was pitching in the minors by the end of 2012, and should be ready to go by spring training. He’ll be an interesting player to watch, because it’s unclear how he’ll perform coming off surgery.
Trevor Bauer – The centerpiece of the Shin-Soo Choo trade, Bauer is just 21-years-old. It’s possible the Indians decide he needs a bit more seasoning at Triple-A. It’s also possible he storms into spring training and claims the fifth spot as his own.
Scott Kazmir – Kazmir hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011, but he did have a pretty good performance in winter ball. His velocity has returned, and he could manage to stage a comeback with the Indians. This isn’t someone I’d count on for the rotation with 100% certainty, but he could definitely make his presence known this spring.
Corey Kluber – Even though he struggled a lot once he was called up late last season, he managed to turn it around some before the end of the year. Overall is 2-5 record and 5.14 ERA, and 1.49 WHIP is uninspiring, but it’s possible that he could blossom into a starter at the back end of the rotation.
David Huff – I know this seems petty and mean, but no. Just…no. I know he’s a former first round pick and you hate to give up on him completely, but I just don’t see anything changing here. He looks great at times, until he’s unable to locate his fast ball and becomes extremely predictable. Then it’s like opposing teams are batting off a tee against him. Maybe he’d benefit from a role change – a move to the bullpen, perhaps?
Do you feel comfortable heading into spring training with these options, or would you prefer the Indians sign other pitchers, or perhaps trade for someone? While I don’t feel fully comfortable at this point, I do feel better than I did a few months ago. The problem is that I don’t see many remaining options for the Indians at this point – I think that Kyle Lohse and Shaun Marcum will come at too high of a cost (at least as far as the Indians are concerned). I have to say that despite his injury issues, I liked Jeff Karstens. I thought he’d make a great fourth or fifth starter, and could always move to long relief if necessary. Unfortunately, he signed a deal today to return to the Pittsburgh Pirates next season. One pitcher that I haven’t heard much about this offseason is Jair Jurrjens. He struggled in 2012, but also dealt with injuries. He’s just a year removed from a 13-6 record, a 2.96 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP, plus he’s just 26-years-old. If you can sign him to a low cost deal, he’s no more of a gamble than Kazmir. He may not be someone you can count on 100%, but it couldn’t hurt to give him a chance. For the budget conscious Indians, this seems like the type of gamble they like to take.
Slightly off-topic: Jon Shepherd, from the SweetSpot’s Orioles affiliate Camden Depot, looked at Lofton’s snub from the Hall of Fame. It’s a good analysis of Lofton’s statistics compared to other HOF outfielders, and also provides an alternative perspective from the fan of an opposing team.