The Indians capped off an exciting offseason — perhaps the busiest in team history, at least in many fans’ memories — by swooping in and signing Michael Bourn, a coup d’état of sorts, the perennial smaller midmarket team flipping the free agent world upside down by signing two of its premier players.
With the inclusion of Bourn much of the talk has been about the Tribe’s run prevention, particularly in the outfield where the club now sports an elite defensive player in center field (Bourn), another potentially elite defender in right (Drew Stubbs), and an above-average left fielder (Michael Brantley).
And with so many question marks swirling around the rotation — queries ranging from potential bounce back of years Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Scott Kazmir, as well as adding aging veteran Brett Myers to the puzzle — it made perfect sense. Strengthen the pitching staff by fortifying the defense. The ballclub went from having one solid-average defender in the outfield in 2012 (Brantley) to potentially the best in baseball this season.
But, really, does everyone’s expectations on the defensive front need to be tempered — even just a little bit? After all, outfielders run down fly balls and this pitching staff is built more on generating worm-burners and to some extent missing bats.
Let’s look at a how the Indians pitching staff will likely look come Opening Day, thanks, of course, to Stephanie who put what should be the finishing touches on the team’s roster.
The five spots in the rotation are finally locked in: Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, Zach McAllister, and Scott Kazmir. And the dust on the seven bullpen spots seems to have settled to: Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Nick Hagadone, Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers, and Cody Allen.
First, the rotation:
Masterson is one of the game’s preeminent groundball pitchers, inducing GBs 56.0% of the time since 2008, about 12 percentage points higher than the MLB average, which typically hovers around 44% or so. Not only that, but the Jamaican-born right-hander also strikes out batters close to the league average mark as well.
Before the wheels completely fell off the Jimenez’s career last season, he, too, used to rely heavily on both generating groundballs (48.2% in his career) and missing a lot of bats (8.05 K/9).
Myers, who was converted back from a full time reliever for the third time in his career, typically gets a lot of action on the ground (47.7% in his career) , though his K-rate declined noticeably last year.
McAllister, however, relies heavily on the fly ball (40.5% GB last season), but he missed an above-average amount of bats last season though, at 7.90, and there’s reason to believe that he should be able to at least post an above-average total this season.
Kazmir, the recently crowned fifth starter, is, well, a complete wild card. He used to miss a lot of bats at one point in his career, but also showed a disdain to the groundball too. Who knows what we’ll see?
Finally, Carlos Carrasco, who’s likely the team’s sixth starter if an injury strikes, is very similar to Masterson: a ton of groundballs with an average-ish K-rate. And for those asking, Trevor Bauer has posted a GB-rate of 43% in his minor league career to go along with ridiculous punch out totals.
So, out of the team’s top seven starters, two — McAllister and Kazmir — put the ball in the air a lot of the time.
Now, the bullpen:
Smith (58.7%), Shaw (57.5%) and Albers (50.7%) have generated a ton of action on the ground throughout their respective careers. Pestano (11.04 K/9), Perez (8.68 K/9), Hagadone (10.2 K/9 in the minors), and Allen (11.8 K/9 in the minors) all should strikeout about one batter per inning this year.
Oh, yeah, for whatever inexplicable reason Progressive Field tends see an ever-so-slight uptick in groundballs as well, sporting GB park factors (from FanGraphs) of 101 over the past three seasons.
So, is the new and improved outfield defense going to help? Absolutely. Actually, without question. But it’s probably not as much as we all expected from the get go.
And as far as other contributing factors outside of range, Stubbs is probably the one sporting an above-average arm too.
For prospect analysis, check out Joe’s site: ProspectDigest.com.