Special Addition; Cleveland Indians Article, Written By Andy Wolf

It isn’t too hard to know where your favorite team in the stages of winning a championship. A lot of teams have been hovering around the same phase for the past few years looking for one more piece to put them over the edge. Whether it is constant rebuilding or constant contention, the main difference between contention and mediocrity is simply getting team-wide contributions at a high level. It’s easy to point to any championship winning team and find at least three key components of their successful run. Most of the time it can take years to assemble the right parts to even make a run. It’s a constant 30-team battle in the MLB in which a 162-game schedule really does separate the pretenders out from the mix.

There is definitely more patience in the MLB I think than other sports. Most often guys will get multiple chances with many teams and still can’t solidify a spot in the roster or rotation. Teams able to consistently fill these spots obviously contend. It’s why the Red Sox and  Yankees are in the mix every year and the Royals and Pirates aren’t. Sadly some teams are handicapped by the limitless salary cap which doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. The Cleveland Indians are definitely one of those teams. Over the past decade, the success of the Indians has been limited with a few bright spots. Only three seasons, 2005, 2007 and 2011 showed the Tribe threaten to make a playoff appearance, only to achieve this in 2007.

Still they didn’t have enough to overthrow Boston in a seven-game ALCS. Now with everything said of assembling the right pieces, the Indians have been constantly shuffling pieces. Our team in 2007 is nowhere near the team we have now. The MLB rebuilding process doesn’t take too long, but a whole new team will find its stride in a few years.

For this season, there are plenty of uncertainties for Cleveland. Last year was very unexpected and perhaps a stepping stone onto greater things. They are definitely on the upswing however unlike the top teams, they aren’t certain on the type of their production from a large percentage of their roster. Considering their run they took last season, I believe it is possible for a run at the AL Central. We’d need help with a struggling Detroit but anything is possible in the MLB (okay maybe not Pittsburgh and Kansas City).

I might be an optimistic Indians fan, but I’ll attempt to analyze the World-Series winning rosters of the past five years in order to determine what we have, who needs to step up to where, and the reality of making a run this season. In my MLB preview I mentioned the Tribe competing in the odd years since I was born. Hopefully they can make an exception for me this year.

I’ve sampled the 2007 Boston Red Sox, the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies, the 2009 New York Yankees, the 2010 San Francisco Giants, and the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals to get the most accurate representation of a World-Series caliber team. I realize that these five teams are not the best representation, as plenty of other teams have these characteristics too.

In the regular season, the five teams amassed an average of 94.6 wins, a solid number that usually wins the division (the 2011 Cardinals were last year’s Wild Card).  Last season the Indians bolted out of the gates with optimism, a year away from a 69-win season. They held the AL Central lead for most of the season but couldn’t sustain it against a stellar second-half push by the Tigers. A leap from 80-82 to 94 wins isn’t out of the realms of possibilities just yet. In a minute we’ll figure out if we’re expecting too big of things from unlikely people but first let’s find out what is pretty consistent from the World-Series winning team.

Some teams are simply labeled as pitching teams or hitting teams. It’s not uncommon to excel at one, or even just be very solid at both. The Indians are easily playoff-caliber if they can do most of these. From there it’s really a crapshoot on who wins. But I feel most of these apply to (x) playoff team.

1. 162 regular season homers. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but each of the teams averaged at least one home run per game (Bos 166, Phi 291, NYY 244, SF 162, STL 162). Now in those seasons, the Phillies and Yanks were regarded as offensive powers, obvious to see why. Even the pitching-prowess Giants and Cardinals managed this feat because of having enough players in double digit homers which leads me to my next point.

2. Multiple 20+ home run hitters. By no means is 20 homers intimidating, but it takes a well-rounded power approach for instant offense. Enough of this can be deadly instead of relying on consecutive and timely hits.

2007 Boston – Ortiz 35, Lowell 21, Ramirez 20 (missed 30 games),

2008 Phillies – Howard 48, Utley 33, Burrell 33, Werth 24.
2009 Yankees – Teixeira 39, Rodriguez 30, Swisher 29, Matsui 28, Damon 24, Posada 22
2010 Giants – Huff 26, Uribe 24
2011 Cardinals – Pujols 37, Berkman 31 Holliday 22,

3. At least three above-average hitters. I consider .280 to be above average in the MLB with 300 to be solid and anything else very reliable. The ideal composite team average will be much lower but obviously you’ll be led by your top sticks.  It plays into the team aspect and not relying on the top of your order.

2007 Bos – Youkilis (.288), Pedroia (.317), Lowell (.324), Ramirez (.296), Ortiz (.332).
2008 Phil – Utley (.292), Victorino (.293), Rollins (.277 but missed 30 games).
2009 NYY – Posada (.285), Teixeira (.292), Cano (.320), Jeter (.334), Rodriguez (.286), Damon (.282).
2010 SF – Posey (.305), Huff (.290), Sanchez (.292)
2011 Stl –  Molina (.305), Pujols (.299), Schumaker (.283), Freese (.296), Holliday (.296), Berkman (.301), Jay (.297).

4. Three starters with 10+ wins. It’s easy to have an ace to lean on, but consistent rotations get the job done considering you usually see your ace twice in the playoffs when it takes three or four games to win. Wins are typically hit or miss regardless of start.

2007 Bos – Becket 20, Wakefield 17, Matsuzaka 15
2008 Phi – Moyer 16, Hamels 14, Kendrick 11, Myers 10
2009 NYY- Sabathia 19, Pettitte 14, Burnett 13
2010 SF – Lincecum 16, Cain 13, Sanchez 13
2011 Stl – Lohse 14, Garcia 13, Westbrook 12, Carpenter 11 (Jackson 12 between CWS/STL).

5. Two starters with at least 150+ strikeouts. Usually the surest forms of outs on the mound, it’s sometimes best not to rely on contact or ground balls to end potential big innings. Often associated with elite pitchers.

2007 Bos – Matsuzaka 201, Becket 194
2008 Phi – Hamels 196, Myers 163
2009 NYY – Sabathia 197, Burnett 195
2010 SF – Lincecum 230, Sanchez 205, Cain 177, Zito 150
2011 Stl – Carpenter 191, Garcia 156.

6. Reliable Closer. It seems simple and really it is. Their job is to limit baserunners and get three outs as quick as possible. The number of saves aren’t normally indicative of their job, but its mostly the ERA and K’s per IP to look at. All five were dominant in this role.

2007 Bos- Jonathan Papelbon 37 SVs, 1.85 ERA, 58.1 IP, 84 K’s
2008 Phi – Brad Lidge 41 SVs, 1.95 ERA , 69.1 IP 92 K’s
2009 NYY – Mariano Rivera 44 SVs, 1.76 ERA 66 IP 72 K’s
2010 SF – Brian Wilson ,  48 SVs,1.81 ERA, 74.2 IP 93 K’s
2011 StL.  - Fernando Salas, 24 SVs, 2.28 ERA 75 IP 75 K’s, (became closer mid-season, previous set-up)

7. Two other lockdown bullpen arms. A quality start is defined as six innings and three runs. With your closer in the ninth, matchups are key in the seventh and eighth inning. I won’t get into all the logistics of certain relievers, but lockdown for your setup men should see at least two with a sub-2.50 era. or four with sub-3.33 era for depth.

8. Experienced Manager. All five managers had at least two years under their belt in the big leagues while averaging 15 years of experience per manager. Joe Girardi is an outlier of course, winning in his second year in NYY but did manage the Marlins in 2006. Francona (Bos), Manuel (Phi) Bochy (SF) and LaRussa (Stl) have all managed a different team for at least three seasons before. The Yankees might be the exception to every rule in baseball, but each manager had previous playoff success which pays dividends in the grand scheme.

9. Top-6 in MLB of ERA or Batting Avg. Each of these five teams have done it. Relying on offense or pitching isn’t uncommon and often you point to one or the other as the main reason for a team. Usually an average job in the other category is complimented.

2007 Bos – 2nd ERA 3.87; 6th BA .279
2008 Phi -6th ERA 3.88
2009 NYY – 2nd BA .283
2010 SF – 1st ERA 3.34
2011 Stl – 5th BA .274

10. Multiple All-Stars. Yes everybody gets one All-Star in the Majors, but each of the five teams have had multiple All-Stars while winning the World Series title. .

2007 Bos – 1B David Ortiz, SP Josh Beckett, RP Hideki Okajima, CP Jonathan Papelbon, 3B Mike Lowell, OF Manny Ramirez (this team was loaded).
2008 Phi – 2B, Chase Utley, CP Brad Lidge
2009 NYY – 1B Mark Teixeira, SS Derek Jeter, CP Mariano Rivera,
2010 SF -SP Lincecum, CP Wilson
2011 STl – C Yadier Molina, OF Matt Holliday, OF Lance Berkman
Other things to consider are experience and the past season. Each of these five teams had plenty of players around 29 years of age, which is considered your prime years in baseball. Young teams lack this inexperience as it would take a rare group of talented youngsters to go all the way. Another fun factoid is that all five of these teams had at least 86 wins the season before. While the Indians had only 80 last season, injuries toward the end derailed their chances of competing with the same team from the first half of the season.

As for the Indians chances of making the playoffs, the obvious choice seems to be through the division. the AL Central has been the weaker division of the AL in the past, with only one wild card winning team (13 by the AL East, 3 by AL West).

Assuming that a division title is the best way, let’s remember those five World Series Champions averaged 94 victories. In comparison, the past five AL Central champions have only averaged 92 wins, the AL West 95.4 and the AL East 97.8. I think that’s enough proof.

So for the Indians to take a 12-game leap into the 92-game territory, it’s time to examine my “common 10″ in application to the Indians.

1. Average one home run per game – That’s 162 homers in 162 games again. In 2011 the Yankees led with 222 homers while the Padres only belted 92 homers. Right in the middle was Cleveland at 154 home runs. Only eight off the pace is not bad at all. Consistent hitting for average can overcome this, as St. Louis and San Francisco each had exactly one per game at 162 in 2010 and 2011.

2. Multiple 20+ home run hitters – This is something the Indians did achieve despite not being an intimidating longball team. Carlos Santana led with 27 while Asdrubal Cabrera cranked out 25. The upside is Shelly Duncan hitting 11 home runs in 74 games, which projected out to a 140 game season could mean 22 this year. He’s off to a great pace already. Then there’s Jason Kipnis, with 7 home runs in just 36 games. Assuming he plays in 144, it projects out to 28 home runs, which is more than we expect from Kipnis. Travis Hafner easily has 20-homer power, with 13 bombs in 94 games last season. Take into account Choo’s full-health this season after playing half of last year, 20 homers is not out of the question with his solid contact. I don’t see Hannahan, Brantley, LaPorta, Kotchman Marson or Donald reaching these numbers, so we’d most likely need the 2010 Giants approach without a HR leader over 30 total. The consensus, plenty of candidates, half should get there in a full season. Johnny Damon is the X-factor and might have some say about it too, but only three career 20+ homer seasons.

3. At least three above-average hitters. This also worries me. We weren’t a good offensive team last season, but still middle of the pack at .251. Cabrera led all qualifying hitters with 273 while Hafner did hit .280 in 94 games. Choo being a career 290 hitter allows me to say he will reach this even if it is at 285. He has three seasons of hitting 300 for Cleveland and was regaining his stroke before injuring his hand last year. Jason Kipnis is one to seem to do a little of everything offensively, and can easily find a 280 stroke. He’s still very young however. I like Duncan’s power more than his average but he’s not all pop. Brantley will hover around that average maybe but I still think he’s a year away. Kotchman has four seasons having reached this mark, especially with last season hitting an even 306 in 146 games. Santana needs to stop trying to crush the ball in able to reach this mark. But if all we need is three, I’ll put my money on Cabrera, Choo and Kotchman, with good chances from Kipnis, Hafner and Duncan. I forget about Johnny Damon, who should do this once settled in. Three is possible, but more is certainly merrier

4. Three starters with 10+ wins. Countless rotation problems led to only Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin recording 12 wins each. Only Carlos Carrasco and Fausto Felix Roberto Hernadez Sanchez Romero Heredia started more than 20 games, combining for 15 wins. I feel Masty is a lock for at least 13 wins regardless of how many starts the Tribe wastes. Tomin in the No. 4 starter role can repeat on his success from last year, even if he still wins 12-14 games.

Ubaldo Jiminez and Derek Lowe are still question marks but enough to provide optimism here. Ubaldo did win 10 games between Colorado and Cleveland. Lowe had a stretch of nine straight 10-win seasons come to an end, with a 9-17 record and an ERA at 5.05 last season in Atlanta. The Tribe are more of a pitching team than a hitting team but the rotation needs to improve by far. I think win totals of Masterson 15, Ubaldo 14, Lowe 12, and Tomlin 12 can be plausible regardless of how Jeannmar Gomez does. Since we only need three, I’ll say it will happen, but we could still be a disaster even if it does.

5. Two starters with at least 150 strikeouts. Masterson accomplished this at 158 but in 216 innings of work. Not a dominant strikeout pitcher, but he is our ace and not primarily a groundballer. Josh Tomlin is out of the question for this. I like him alot, but at 165.1 IP last year, it’d be a remarkable jump from 85 to 150 K’s. Ubaldo’s past four season totals in this however have been 172, 198, 214, and 180 – an easy accomplishment. Assuming the rotation stays intact, the average starter gets 32 starts per season. Even lowering it to about 30 starts per, averaging five strikeouts per start is never unlikely.

In his prime, Derek Lowe has had strikeout seasons of 146 (2005) , 147 (2007) and 147 (2008) for his top-three totals. He has started at least 32 games in the past 10 seasons with at least 180 innings in those. Still strikeout pitchers are not in a high quantity, as the Indians could easily do what St. Louis did last season – Carpenter 191, Garcia 156, Lohse 111, Westbrook 104. All recorded at least 11 wins. If the Indians contend towards the trade deadline, they could easily add either a 10-game winner or a strikeout pitcher. They could also with a Doug Fister-eqsue 14 wins and 146 strikeouts under the radar, instead of investing multiple top prospects.

6. Reliable Closer. Well. To be honest, Chris Perez is not there yet (being put nicely). He is most certainly getting there however with a 2.99 ERA in a Cleveland uniform. I don’t think the number of saves are an issue, but more of his ERA and K’s per. Too often he’s a contact pitcher, but he doesn’t need 1+ K per 1 IP to be effective. Essentially, all closers blow saves. It’s just a part of the game. He is our definite closer for now and much better than Joe Borowski in 2007. The 2007 ALCS wasnt lost because of Borowski, thus I don’t feel Chris Perez will be a liability in 2012.

7. Two lockdown bullpen arms. They aren’t called the Bullpen Mafia for nothing.  One of our strengths last year, Joe Smith (2.01) and Vinnie Pestano (2.32) were lights out while Tony Sipp (3.00) and Rafael Perez (3.03) make for a very sexy bullpen. Not very common do you have four pitchers in your pen with a better ERA than your closer C. Perez (3.32). I’m not worried about them at all. Too many quality arms to be weak even if one implodes to around a 5.00 ERA

8. Experienced Manager. I will say based on last season, I am very confident in Manny Acta. Much more confident than Eric Wedge who I questioned at times. Acta had the team playing with confidence that lasted longer than I expected. Regardless of win total, they far exceeded expectations with a 11-win improvement – 69 in 2010, 80 in 2011. It’s easy to regress back in the 70s range, but taking the next step to 92 wins will take much more. His tenure with the Nationals doesn’t reflect his abilities as a manager. No one could have done exponentially better with Washington’s talent in his tenure. Maybe I am overrating him a bit, but fact is, he’s settled in at Cleveland giving fans some hope this year. He has no experience in managing in the playoffs, which could really prove to be fatal. I use Mike Scioscia as an example for hope however. In his first two seasons in then Anahiem, he won 82 and 75 games before turning them into a 99-win and World Series winning team. There’s a difference of 8 wins between those two years for Scioscia and Acta, so 99 down to 91 seems all more possible.

9. Top-6 in ERA or BA. In 2007, the Tribe won the AL Central, just inside the top 10 in runs scored but near the middle of the pack with a .268 average. Still a 4.05 ERA was good for 5th in the league. We have enough quality starters and bullpen help to accomplish this. How’s this for a shift in numbers, the Tribe’s 2007 ERA of 4.05 (ranked 5th) would have been worse than 18 teams in 2011. It’s clearly developed into a pitching league. Last year’s ERA of 4.23 is respectable by figure but not compared to the rest of the league. Half of the teams last year (15) compiled an ERA under 4.00. That number is up from 11 in 2010, 6 in 2009 while just two teams did it in 2007 (Padres 3.70 & Boston 3.87). This year’s target goal is 3.54, the same as 2011′s Dodgers (ranked fifth). It is definitely a stretch beyond our pitching capabilities, but we’re lucky to face a soft-hitting AL Central.

10. Multiple All-Stars. The Indians have had some trouble getting All-Star players, but for the most part getting multiple All-Stars isn’t hard. You really can’t put much weight into this one. The fans will never vote in an Indians player unless one is having redonkulous numbers, even then I’m still mad Travis Hafner still lost a fan vote. Most teams’ number of All-Stars are proportional to their record at the break. Usually more players for more wins. A 47-42 record at 2011′s All-Star break led to two all stars in Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez. Both are good candidates this season while I put high value in Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis. It’s mostly due to lack of position depth but if Santana can hit for average, his power will be there as catchers lack in the AL nowadays. If they aren’t relevant at the break, they won’t be worrying about how many All-Stars they have.

Let’s remember, not all ten things are necessary to win the World Series. But it seems likely since there are some commonalities in the winnign teams.

Reasonable player expectations to win the AL Central:
Brantley, 265 BA, 50 RBIs, 15 SB’s. 10 HR’s.
Cabrera, 285 BA, 95 RBIs, 24 HR’s, 18 SB’s.
Choo, 295 BA,  90 RBIs, 23 HR’s, 20 SB’s.
Hafner, 275 BA, 90 RBIs, 25 HR’s.
Santana, 260 BA, 28 HRs, 85 RBIs.
Duncan, 275 BA, 25 HR’s (he’s one of our biggest power bats).
Kipnis, 270, 18 HR’s, 20 SB’s 80 RBIs.
Kotchman, 290 BA, 55 RBIs.
Hannahan, 250 BA, 15 HR’s, 50 RBIs.

Masterson, 15-10, 3.25 ERA. 220 IP, 170 K’s.
Jimenez, 14-13, 3.78 ERA, 215 IP , 180 K’s.
Lowe, 12-8, 4.20 ERA, 200 IP.
Tomlin. 11-7. 4.33 ERA. 185 IP 97 K’s.
(x) 5th man. 8-8. 4.61 ERA. (I really look at what Scott Elarton did in 2005 for us. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Besides, whose fifth man is putting up Ubaldo or Big Masty type numbers?)
C. Perez,  30+ saves. Not urgent, but ERA sub 3.00.
Bullpen Mafia. Somewhere around 3.33 for an ERA sounds fine for me. Anything else is excess. We were 15th in ERA from relievers at 3.71, our starters 23rd at 4.51. The pitching isn’t atrocious but needs to improve by far.

Overall, our inconsistencies can be ironed out to improve on last year’s 11-win improvement. The difference of 69 wins to 80 wins is not as easy as 80 wins to 92 wins, or even to 86 wins. Doable? Yes. Likely? Maybe. Even taking Detroit out of the equation, we’re still battling a rebounding/underachieving CWS team that was hot on our heels last season. KC looks to finally have a chance to make some noise, and Minnesota, well who knows with Minnesota. I did predict the Tribe at 500 again in third place. I guess that means I don’t think a division title will happen.

The bottom line is everything that buried us last season needs to be ironed out. We need to hit and pitch on a consistent and nightly basis at an above-average level. I stick by my prediction of 80 wins again, until I am proven that every player is going to improve from last season. Too often players regress more than improve. I hoped you enjoyed the read and most importantly I appreciate your patience throughout the article (even if you skimmed to this part). Regardless of everything, I’m still looking towards this 2012 MLB season.

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