Cleveland Indians 2014 vs. 2013: The Rotation

Jason Miller

Part three of a four-part series comparing the 2014 Indians to their 2013 counterparts. This week we'll explore the starting rotation.

Two weeks ago, we started comparing the 2013 Indians to the projected 2014 Indians by looking at the infield. Last week, we covered the outfield and DH. Today, we move from the position players to an area that - at least in my mind - is of the greatest concern: the starting rotation.

While the lineup is remaining mostly the same, save for a full season of Yan Gomes and the addition of David Murphy, it also offers some upside. Bounce backs from some (Nick Swisher for example) will balance out regression from others (Ryan Raburn, for one) and a repeat offensive performance with perhaps some improved defense could be in order. There is some upside if Michael Bourn can return to form, Lonnie Chisenhall can break out, or if Jason Kipnis maintains rather than settling in.

But the rotation is a different story. Ubaldo Jimenez is gone. Scott Kazmir is gone. And while Danny Salazar figures to replace about 100 of the 340.2 IP lost with those two, there isn't exactly a great path to replacing the other 240 IP.

For this comparison, I looked at 2013 ERA, K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 compared to the same ZiPS-projected stats for 2014. The IP projections for 2014 are a combination of ZiPS (for the top four) and my projections (for the rest). I selected these so that we can see what kind of production to expect (via ERA) while also have a basis to understand where ZiPS sees a given pitcher struggling.

A small but important note - my IP projections for the potential fifth starters are not based on what I think will happen, but on what I think would happen if the ZiPS projections were accurate. For example, I am optimistic that Trevor Bauer will pitch decently this year, but ZiPS is not. If ZiPS is right, Bauer won't cross 50 IP. If I am right, he'll get closer to 100. But for these purposes, I am assuming ZiPS is on the money.

With that, the comparison:

Pitcher

'13 IP

'13 ERA

'13 K/9

'13 BB/9

'13 HR/9

'14 IP

'14 ERA

'14 K/9

'14 BB/9

'14 HR/9

Justin Masterson

189.1

3.52

8.94

3.57

0.62

195.1

3.78

8.25

3.32

0.69

Corey Kluber

142.1

3.92

8.28

2.09

0.95

161

4.02

8.29

2.13

0.76

Danny Salazar

52

3.12

11.25

2.60

1.21

153

3.71

9.53

3.24

0.88

Zach McAllister

134.1

3.75

6.77

3.28

0.87

153.1

4.05

6.63

2.58

0.76

Shaun Marcum

96

4.29

7.12

2.58

1.09

Josh Tomlin

69.1

4.71

5.16

1.57

1.23

Carlos Carrasco

33

9.00

5.18

3.55

1.09

60

5.07

6.63

3.36

1.17

Trevor Bauer

17

5.29

5.82

8.47

1.59

45

5.82

7.47

6.97

1.29

Ubaldo Jimenez

182.2

3.30

9.56

3.94

0.79

Scott Kazmir

158

4.04

9.23

2.68

1.08

Brett Myers

16

6.75

4.50

2.81

3.94

Total

924.2

3.92

8.56

3.24

0.94

933

4.16

7.01

2.71

0.82

AL Average

955

4.15

7.20

2.86

1.09

ZiPS, as you can see, is projecting significant drop-offs in ERA and K/9, from well-above-average to just-about-average. BB/9 and HR/9 get a bit better, but apparently not enough to off-set other issues.

This likely doesn't leave you brimming with optimism, but there is clearly potential for the Indians to outperform this. Only one of Marcum, Bauer, Carrasco, and Tomlin has to pitch well for this projection to look significantly better. Assume, for a moment, that Bauer's positive off-season translates to an ERA around 4.00 instead of almost 6, and that he therefore throws more like 120 innings, with those innings replacing innings from Carrasco and Tomlin. That moves the team ERA all the way down to 4.00. Huge shift.

ZiPS sees a decline for Masterson, despite very little change in his underlying performance. His ERA was actually better than his FIP last year, suggesting that he wasn't lucky. If he wasn't lucky and his underlying stats don't change, there is good reason to think he can beat this projection. He's also projected for just 195.1 IP, but the last three seasons, he has thrown 193, 206.1 and 216. Another 10-20 IP from him and not from the bottom of the rotation (maybe he makes 33 or 34 starts instead of 30) would be another boost.

There are similar cases for Kluber and McAllister, but the other guy I want to talk about is Salazar. I am sure some of your will be disappointed with his projection, considering the ridiculous numbers he posted last year, but his age, inexperience, and injury history suggest that we should be thrilled to get this line from him in 2014. There is a lot of volatility - he could be a legit ace, and he could cap out at 80 IP - but I think ZiPS might be slightly optimistic.

What is missing here, is what could happen in the next 2-3 weeks. Jimenez still doesn't have a home. Matt Garza is still out there. Masahiro Tanaka is still out there. So are Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo. The Indians have shown no sign that they are going to go out and grab one of these guys, but they haven't outright said no, either, and I don't think any of us expected to see Michael Bourn roaming CF until it actually happened. There are so many question marks at the bottom of this rotation - and there are real concerns about Salazar's work load, Kluber's ability to repeat his 2013, etc. - that I imagine the front office is tracking all of those starters very closely.

Next week we'll finish up with a look at the bullpen, but for now, what do you think about the rotation?

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