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: 


  • DP Roberts says:

    I’ve been wondering when someone was going to make that point. When the Indians signed Casey Kotchman last year, many people mentioned how important it was to have a really strong defensive infield, since we had so many ground ball pitchers. Now, this year, it’s he outfield that’s suddenly important, with (as you described) no real change to the pitching staff, at least in terms of ground balls induced.

    • no1ever says:

      Yes, Kotchman and Hananhan were supposed to help the pitching staff. Bottom line is that line drives are going to kill you no matter what. Pitchers have to make Pitches. Pitchers love Pitches.

  • nikki says:

    The outfield also does track down ground balls too — ones that make it through the infield. I get the point that’s being made with what our pitching staff is prone to induce, but an outfield with enough speed to cut off balls in the gap will give up fewer doubles and triples.

  • Joseph Werner says:

    I agree with you, Nikki, at least to a certain extent. Doubles and triples of the groundball/line-drive-type that happen directly over one of the corner bags are either going to roll to the wall, or get cut-off right before the wall by Brantley/Stubbs. At that point it seems pretty unrealistic to think that either one throws out the runner or limits them to a single.

    As for balls in the gap, yes, that will certainly come into play. But, again, arm strength is going to play into it.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Time will tell. Thanks for reading!

  • medfest says:

    Joe Smith had 212 batters put the ball into play last year,122 hit ground balls,89 hit fly balls or line drives.
    That’s 84 times(-infield pop ups) a better outfield had the chance to help him make an out or save an extra base taken,a not inconsiderable number for an overwhelming groundball pitcher.Since the number will be higher for almost all of the rest of the Tribe’s pitchers you can see where a large number of plays will be influenced by outfield play.

    As pointed out, the outfield also has to catch all those ground balls that get through the infield and especially the ones that go into the corners.A sound, speedy outfield saves extra bases and runs all the time.

    The Indians are going from the worst fielding outfield in baseball(based on their own in house metrics) to one of the better ones,if not the best.The difference will be huge and almost immediately seen,six to seven more wins during the course of the season will not be surprising.

    Are we overvaluing the outfield defense?Not at all,in fact so many Tribe fans are used to the dreck they’ve been rolling out there they may have a hard time comprehending what they are seeing….actual major league quality outfield play.

  • Joseph Werner says:

    Well, again, I’m not arguing that they won’t be improved. But how many of those fly balls Joe Smith, or any other pitcher for that matter, are out of the ordinary or “un-routine”? And how many were uncatchable by anyone?

    I think a six- to seven-win improvement is optimistic at best due to the outfield defense.

    Sporting the games premier defenders at their respective positions(Bourn and Heyward) as well as an above-average left fielder (Prado), the Braves OF defense saved about 46 runs more than the average MLB OF.

    While the new Indians and last year’s Braves have the same CF, there’s no way Stubbs outplays Heyward and Brantley, up to this point in his career, has been average at best in the OF.

    More likely than not, you’re probably looking at a three, maybe four, win improvement on the OF defense from last season.

    • medfest says:

      I totally agree with you about fielding metrics.But the eye doesn’t lie,and I’ve seen Little League outfield play at Progressive Field for far too long.

      Remember, the Indians are going from worst to first, not from average average to first so if you double the runs saved by the Braves’ 2012 outfield(26 of those fielding runs came from Bourn btw) and thus double your expected wins you actually are in complete agreement with my assessment.

      Stubbs as a defender is better than Heyward,he carried a gold glove quality glove in center,is faster and has the arm to translate to rightfield.Brantley as an average centerfielder will be an above average leftfielder at minimum.

      I think a six to seven improvement in wins is realistic and it could be a lot more.

  • Joseph Werner says:

    The truth is no one really knows how to quantify defense. It’s all so fluid, and there’s really no single reliable metric for it.

  • Swift says:

    Will this outfield be an improvement, both for defense and offense – there seems no doubt about that. Will it magically fix all our woes – absolutely not. It is an improved piece, and there are lots of pieces.