It's a double dose of the AL Central! Please welcome the Cleveland Indians to the Post-Mortem arena.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
The Indians played above their heads last season before falling off late and finishing just two games under .500. The same thing happened this year….but to an even more extreme degree. After the All-Star Break, the bottom completely fell out from the Indians year, and they've peeled off an impressively awful 16-45 record. There are some bright spots, but the negatives completely outweigh them.
What Went Right: Well…let's see here. The team has some great, cost-controlled, young talent up the middle in center fielder Michael Brantley, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, and catcher (and also part-time first baseman) Carlos Santana. Santana leads the team with 15 homers, and Cabrera and Kipnis are both right behind him with 14. Kipnis also leads the team with 27 stolen bases. Shin-Soo Choo rebounded after a poor, injury-plagued 2011 season and is on the doorstep of a 20/20 season. Cleveland's bullpen possessed a pair of great relievers, in the outspoken (and probably soon to be traded) Chris Perez and the strikeout machine that is Vinnie Pestano. The lone bright spot in the rotation has been rookie Zach McAllister.
What Went Wrong: Pretty much everything else. Cleveland's starting rotation has been a disaster all season, and not even ace Justin Masterson was exempt after his ERA ballooned to nearly 5.00 after a 3.21 mark last year. Derek Lowe walked more than he struck out, and was released. Ubaldo Jimenez's ERA actually got worse in his first full year in Cleveland. Josh Tomlin's ERA jumped by more than two runs, and he underwent Tommy John surgery last month. Grady Sizemore didn't play an inning after yet another injury. Veteran Johnny Damon, signed to try to patch the offense, had nothing left in the tank and was released after just 64 games. Casey Kotchman turned back into Casey Kotchman and has rewarded the Indains with a -1 win year.
Most Surprising Player: I'm going to take the easy way out and say Chris Perez. While Perez's ERA has actually slightly rose from 2011 to 2012, his strikeout rate has gone up by 5.5 batters per nine innings, and he's cut his walk rate in half. While Perez's peripherals have always been terrible and not in line with his ERA, they've actually matched up pretty well this year, and he's become an actual good pitcher as opposed to a guy with a low ERA. His fWAR for this season is higher than his fWAR for his first four seasons combined.
Most Disappointing Player: I think this has to be Justin Masterson. He actually increased his strikeout rate this year and his groundball rate stayed constant, but his walk rate jumped by a batter per inning and his homer rate nearly doubled. That led to an ERA increase of more than 1.50, and a FIP increase of more than a run. Just not a step in the right direction, especially in a year where he was supposed to be mentored by Derek Lowe, another ground ball monster.
Prospects Up: 18-year old Francisco Lindor, the eighth overall pick in last summer's amateur draft, made his full season debut and held his own considering his age. He walked nearly as much as he struck out, stole 27 bases at a nearly 70% clip, and bashed 24 doubles. 2012 first round pick Tyler Naquin walked at a double digit rate in his brief debut season, but hit for disappointing power. 22-year old Jesus Aguilar was very impressive in high-A Carolina, and performed even better after a promotion to AA Akron in the season's final month.
Prospects Down: Nick Hagadone threw 25 1/3 innings in the majors, struggling with control and breaking his arm in July. Lonnie Chisenhall has had a solid year, but missed half the season with a broken arm. 2011 second round pick Dillon Howard got obliterated in the AZL, posting a 7.90 ERA thanks to an insane .411 BABIP. Jason Knapp, the key piece in the Cliff Lee trade to the Phillies in 2009, was released ater not throwing a pitch in 2011 and 2012. 2010 second round pick LeVon Washington continued his never-ending injury struggles, playing just 13 games over the season.
The Future: It would be mean for me to say that the Indians are an awful franchise with no hope, but they really need to do something with the rotation before they're able to contend in the AL Central. The White Sox and Tigers both possess extremely talented staffs, and that's the main issue plaguing not only the Indians, but the Royals and Twins as well. They're very strong up the middle, and will continue to be for the next few years, but this team really needs a capable starter past Masterson. Also, they haven't had a legitimate first baseman since Jim Thome left town, with the exception of part-time roles for Victor Martinez and Carlos Santana. The Indians will have a lot of payroll to play with too, with options on Roberto Hernandez, Travis Hafner, and possibly Ubaldo Jimenez ripe for declining, and the arbitration-eligible Choo and Perez emerging as solid trade chips this winter. The 2013 Indians team will likely be a complete departure from the 2012 team, and after this year, that's something this franchise desperately needs.