What's wrong with the Cleveland Indians?

Jonathan Daniel

A look at the (many) things that have gone wrong so far in 2014

The Indians are now one third of the way through their 162-game schedule. A record of 24-30 isn't awful, but it's a lot closer to awful than it is to good. They're in last place in the AL Central, and they're only two games ahead of HOuston, who has the worst record in the American League. Considering that the team won 92 games last season, even those who expected downwards regression weren't things to be this bad.

What's gone wrong?

Well, a lot. We could list things all day, but to keep this from turning into the Iliad of baseball blog posts, I'll limit this to what I see as the five most problematic aspects of the Tribe season to date:

5) Nick Swisher looks finished

Swisher was a mild disappointment in 2013. A strong September lifted his overall numbers, but he still finished with far lower offensive numbers than in any of his four seasons in New York. That's true even when you account for the difference in ballparks (Yankee Stadium favors hitting, Progressive Field favors pitchers), as Swisher's wRC+ was 116, after he averaged a 128 for the previous four years.

This year it's all the way down to 83, second worst among the 27 qualified first basemen around MLB. He's hit 20+ home runs for nine consecutive seasons, but is on pace for only 9 of them this year. His defense has been probably the worst of any first baseman, as he has very poor range and is tied for the MLB lead with 6 errors at the position. He's on the DL right now with a hyperextended knee.

It's hard to believe he hasn't entered the steep decline phase of his career, which means we could be in for another 2.5 years of this. "This" being replacement (sub-replacement, actually) production from the team's highest-paid player.

4) Justin Masterson's walk year

I was among those who thought the Indians were making a mistake by not accepting the 2-year, $34-million extension offer Masterson reportedly offered to take, but every time he pitches, the Tribe's decision seems to look better. His ERA is 5.21, which would be a career worst. His FIP is a more respectable 4.07, but even that figure isn't good. He's walking a ton of batters and his velocity is down ~3 MPH per pitch from a year ago, which makes me think something is wrong with him physically.

Whatever the case, he isn't making the kind of walk-year push we were hoping for, and the team is really missing his productivity, what with the disappointing seasons by Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco already weighing the rotation down.

3) Carlos Santana's slump

Santana was the team's best hitter last season, and there was some thinking that, no longer collecting as much wear and tear defensively, he could be even better in 2014. Instead he's sitting on a batting line of ..159/.327/301, which gives him a wRC+ of 89, a far cry from the 135 he put up a year ago. That OBP is actually above league-average, because Santana is better at drawing walks than maybe any player in the American League, but that batting average is second-worst in the AL. Some of that is due to some bad luck, but he also isn't hitting nearly as many line drives as he has in the past.

Carlos had a great 4-game series against Baltimore, going 4 for 12 with 6 walks, hitting a home run and two doubles. On Sunday (while filling in at catcher to give Gomes a day off) though, he took a foul tip off his mask, and he's now on the DL.

Santana hasn't been the team's worst player, but given the expectations for him, he has been the most disappointing.

2) The inability to hit lefties

The Indians are hitting right-handed pitchers very well, but against lefties it's a different, much darker story. They're sporting a team batting average of .228 against southpaws, which is the worst in the American League. They haven't hit them for any power either, posting an ISO of just .103 (league average is .141) and a slugging percentage of just .331, which isn't just the worst in baseball this season, it's the worst in baseball by any team since 1992.

Michael Bourn (.484 OPS against lefties) has been the worst offender, but David Murphy, Mike Aviles, Jason Kipnis, Ryan Raburn, and Nick Swisher are all below .600 as well.

Every time the opposing team has a lefty starter on the mound, it feel like the Indians are headed for defeat. Even with more righties than lefties out there, this problem is sinking the offense.

1) The defense

If you're game for using good old-fashioned errors, the Indians rate as the worst team in baseball. They've already made 54 of them, far more than any other team. One a game also puts them on pace for 162 of them for the season. No MLB team has made that many since the 1993 Colorado Rockies, who at least had the excuse of having been an expansion team. Tribe third basemen (Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana, mostly) have already made 16 errors, putting them on pace for 48. No MLB team has had that many miscues at the hot corner since the 1973 Los Angeles Dodgers.

The newer, more advanced metrics don't like the Indians nay better, as they rate as incredibly bad no matter how you crunch the numbers. The Indians are hitting and pitching like a team that would win 84 or 85 games, but the defense has them on pace for only 72 wins instead.

-   -   -

There are problems this list doesn't touch upon, but I think these are the worst. How about you, what's got you most down about the 2014 Indians?

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