Cleveland Indians 2014 ZiPS projections released

Jason Miller

It's a mixed bag for the Tribe, who project to hit, but not pitch especially well.

ZiPS is one of the best-performing player-projection systems in baseball, and today its numbers for the 2014 Indians have been released. I'll run through some of the major points, but you really should give the full forecast a look.

Among the starting pitchers, Justin Masterson is projected as the biggest contributor, with a 3.78 ERA and a league average 100 ERA+, and a staff-leading 2.4 WAR, followed by Danny Salazar at 2.1 (with better rates than Masterson, but fewer innings pitched), then Corey Kluber at 1.6, and Zach McAllister at 1.4. Those four are all fairly close to league average in the projections, which is solid for a #4 starter, but leaves something to be desired from a #1 or 2.

Ubaldo Jimenez projects to be better than any of them, but he's almost certainly not coming back. For anyone interested, ZiPS is not high on Scott Kazmir, seeing him as below average in terms of run production and also projecting him for only ~90 innings (probably to be expected from a computer program for a player who was out of MLB entirely in 2012).

The team's other options look about as poor as I expected. Josh Tomlin projects for an ERA+ of 80, Carlos Carrasco is at 74, and Trevor Bauer is at 65. I continue to hope the front office will bring in another more bonafide arm to join the rotation instead of relying on any of those three.

The bullpen doesn't look great either. Cody Allen leads the way with a projected ERA+ of 111, followed by Bryan Shaw at 109. Every bullpen will have players who far exceed their projections (and others who fall short), so I think we can expect someone to put together a better year than those figures show, but no one player looks especially likely to breakout.

The lineup looks quite a bit better (no surprise). Carlos Santana projects as easily the team's best hitter (despite the desire of so many Tribe fans to see him traded), with a line of .258/.370/.455, good for an OPS+ of 133, far ahead of Jason Kipnis' 114 and Nick Swisher's 113, which rank 2nd and 3rd. Michael Bourn is the only player expected to start for the Indians whose OPS+ projects as below average (he's at 90). That means ZiPS sees solid improvement from Lonnie Chisenhall, who's at 102. Michael Brantley is projected to lead the team in batting average, at .278, while Santana is at the too for home runs, with 21.

Factoring in base-running and defense, Kipnis projects as the team's best overall player (as he was in 2013), with 4.0 WAR. Santana is next at 3.1, tied with Yan Gomes and just ahead of Michael Bourn (2.9) and Asdrubal Cabrera (2.8), who ZiPS is projecting a nice rebound for. Chisenhall and Swisher are both at 2.1, Brantley is at 1.8, and David Murphy is at 1.7 (while being projected to play ~75% of the time). That's a very solid group, with everyone at least league average. Few teams have a lineup without anyone below average.

Interestingly, based on his minor league performance, ZIPS projects that Francisco Lindor would be league average if he spent 2014 with the Indians, with below-average hitting (an OPS+ of 80), but very good defense.

I expect many of you find the projections for the starting pitchers to be too weak, especially for Masterson. I would like to think he'll be a solid step above average in 2014, as he was in 2013. It's important to note though, that 2011 is the only season of his career in which his ERA+ was better than 109. He's been a solid innings-eater, but he's not among the select group of pitchers who should really be considered an ace. Meanwhile, given that no one but Masterson on the team has ever thrown even 150 MLB innings in a season, I think league average production is a reasonable forecast. Salazar and Kluber certainly have the talent to exceed that, but we should wait until we've seen a bit more from them before we expect it.

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