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2006 Team Preview: The Cleveland Indians
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
February 26, 2006



 
Travis Hafner 
2005 Record: 93-66 (2nd Place AL Central)

2005 Runs Scored: 790

2005 Runs Allowed: 642

Pythagorean 2005 Record: 96-66

The Indians were my pick for the AL Central last season, and I am picking them again this season. Frankly, the White Sox over achieved last season while the Indians under achieved. The Indians are young and exciting, and look to only improve upon their 93-69 finish in 2005.

Catcher

 
Slow Start, Still A Stud 
2005 Starters:
Victor Martinez

Projected 2006 Starters: Victor Martinez

Victor Martinez finished with 305/378/475 last season, with an OPS+ of 132. This is really excellent for a catcher, but particularly great considering the nasty start he got off to. On June 30, he was 242/321/401, which means he was just blistering in the second half of the season. For the second year in a row, he put in over 500 at-bats, and if he can put together 500 consistent at-bats this season, he should be something special.

First Base

2005 Starter: Ben Broussard, Jose Hernandez

Projected 2006 Starters: Ben Broussard

Kind of Haf to wonder if Travis Hafner's first base days are over. If he is healthy, he may see some time over there. Broussard was Kingman-esque in 2005, with 19 homers but 255/307/464. He struck out three times as much as he walked, and he didn't score or drive in many runs. His defense was solid, but first base is not a position for offensive liability. Had a .370 on-base percentage two years ago, and needs to get back there to help the club.

Second Base

2005 Starters: Ronnie Belliard

Projected 2006 Starter: Ronnie Belliard

Just an exciting player - good defense, scrappy offense. Surprisingly hit 17 homeruns last year, but walked less than the previous year and hit 12 fewer doubles. His power numbers were surprisingly up last year, but don't expect 20 plus homers out of this 5'8" 180 pound infielder. Is a good second baseman and fits well on this team.

Third Base

2005 Starters: Aaron Boone

Projected 2006 Starters: Aaron Boone, Andy Marte

 
Should Be Better, But Will It Matter? 
Boone was pretty much not good after missing all of 2004 with a stupid injury. Couldn't get the average over .250, or the OBP over .300. He is a year removed from the injury, so we'll see, but the Indians have no shortage of options at third. Marte comes over in the Coco Crisp deal after being one of the 7 first year guys to see action with the Braves last season. His numbers were not good, indicating that he may be a year away. If Boone is in fact a year too old, and Marte is a year too young, there are other options. If Hafner can play some first, then Ben Broussard can play some outfield and Casey Blake can play some third. Indians also have Brandon "any day now" Phillips and Jake "the Snake" Gautreau in the system.

Shortstop

2005 Starters: Jhonny Peralta

Projected 2006 Starter: Jhonny Peralta

Jhonny "Jah-Honny" Peralta gets the "That's My Dawg" Award for last season. Jhonny put up a 139 OPS+ with 24 homeruns and a .292 average while scoring 82 runs in 504 at-bats in his first full season in the bigs. His fielding was not too shabby either. Jhonny may suffer through a sophomore slump this season, but his numbers are actually consistent with what he did in the minors the in 2003 and 2004. If he can reproduce, or improve on, his 2005 numbers, look out.

Outfield

2005 Starters: Grady Sizemore, Casey Blake, Coco Crisp, Jody Gerut

Projected 2006 Starters: Grady Sizemore, Casey Blake, Jason Michaels, Jason DuBois.

I am not sure why, but Jason DuBois has gone from future Cubs All Star to low-man on the Indians depth chart. Go figure.

In Grady Sizemore and Jason Michaels, the Indians have two of the most underrated outfielders in the American League. Michaels was a part-timer with the Phils last season, putting together a .399 on-base on top of a .304 average in 105 games. If he gets a full season in Cleveland, he should be a productive addition

Grady Sizemore is one of the exciting young players in baseball. The centerfielder lead-off man, at the age of 22 he hit 22 homeruns and stole 22 bases! He also had 81 RBI and 111 runs scored and hit .289 in his first full season. His 37 doubles and 11 triples were very impressive. He also patrolled centerfield, committing only three errors with an above average range factor. He does has some rough spots - 132 strikeouts, 52 walks, 17 GDPs. No worries. Look for bigger and better things from him in 2006.

Much has been made of the Coco Crisp deal, and it is unclear why. Crisp has hit for average each of the last two years, but does not get on base very well, and does not hit for much power. He increased both his walk total and his strikeout total last season. He hit 42 doubles, impressive for sure. The bottom line on Crisp is that he reminds me a lot of Milton Bradley and Matt Lawton - solid outfielders with whom the Indians have parted and not regretted it.

Pitching

2005 Front Three Starters: Kevin Millwood, Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia

Projected 2006 Front Three: C.C. Sabathia, Paul Byrd, Cliff Lee

I like C.C. Sabathia for the same reason I like Bartolo Colon - he is big and soft. When I look at these guys, I never get the feeling something is about to rip, or tear, or sprain. They are big, sturdy, soft guys, and they will throw and throw. Now, for what it is worth, it is an illusion - Sabathia has thrown 200 innings once, four years ago. But I digress.

Sabathia is turning 25 this year, and coming off another average season. He is certainly valuable at 15-10, 4.03, 161/62, but he is still waiting for his breakout year. No reason to think this won't be it. For the most part you know what you get from C.C., and you know it will be solid.

Cliff Lee was quite a surprise last year. He ended up finishing second in the MVL race (Most Valuable Lee) after Carlos faded. His 18-5 record did not accurately represent the season he had, as he had an ERA just below league average and wasn't dominant. But Lee improved his walks, ERA, and homeruns while reducing his strikeouts, indicating a more cerebral approach to his pitching, and pitched over 200 innings for the first time. Should be solid again in 2006.

The Indians essentially swapped Millwood for Byrd, and while losing the league ERA champ is never great, this is a good move. Byrd is certainly older, but he is also more consistent, and makes less mistakes than Millwood - fewer homeruns per inning, and only 28 walks in 204.3 innings last season. Millwood is good for one good season every five years, and he just had one in 2005.

Other 2005 Starters: Jake Westbrook, Scott Elarton, Jason Davis

Other Possible 2006 Starters: Jake Westbrook, Jason Johnson

Jake Westbrook was one of the guys I thought would take the Indians all the way last season. Given that Westbrook's ERA jumped from 3.38 to 4.49 (134 to 91 OPS+), and his W-L record went from 14-9 to 15-15, and the fact that the Indians lost the AL Central by 6 games, it is entirely possible that, had Westbrook been on last season, the Indians would have won the division. The good news for JWB is that he walked fewer batters and struck out more batters in 2005 than in 2004, and pitched over 200 innings for the second straight year. Still, he needs to return to his 2004 form to help the Indians. Jason Johnson steps in for Scott Elarton on the 2006 Indians. Scott Glab was uber-stoked when Johnson joined the Tigers in 2004 - Johnson went 8-15 and 8-13 with ERAs above 4.50 in each season in Detroit. At 32, his best years may be behind him, but this year he will be on the best team he has ever been on, and will be the fifth starter. In a different environment, he may be great. Okay, not really. But he should be solid.

2005 Top Relievers: Bob Wickman, Rafael Betancourt, Bobby Howry, David Riske

Projected 2006 Top Relievers: Bob Wickman, Fernando Cabrera, David Riske, Rafael Betancourt, Steve Karsay

I promise, these young hot shots named Cabrera are not all related. In 15 games last season, Fernando Cabrera struck out 29 guys in 30 innings and had a 1.47 ERA. Solid. Bob Wickman comes off his best season in four years, but is also 37. The Indians lost overrated Bobby Howry in the off-season, but have no shortage of setup options in Rafael Betancourt, who has struck out over a batter per inning for his career, David Riske, and Steve Karsay. Danny Graves is in camp with the Tribe, but the less he gets the ball, the better.

Final Word:

This team got off to a slow start in 2005, and in the end their strong second half came up just short. It is easy to forget just how far ahead of the Indians the White Sox were at mid-season - that the Indians finished 6 games back of the Sox says a lot about Eric Wedge's team, and obscures the fact that the Tribe actually pulled even with the Sox with seven games to go. This team has got to be more consistent this season. They are, for the most part, a young team, and should be ready to turn the corner this season. Expect big things from the Indians this season, especially with the Twins fading, the White Sox returning to earth, the Tigers not quite being ready, and the Royals being the Royals.






Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher B. Chancey resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.




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