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2006 Team Previews: Cleveland Indians, Positional Players

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The Cheat of South Side Sox: I heard the Indians are raising the AL Pythagorean Championship banner at the home opener this year.

And there you have the Indians 2005 season in a nutshell, straight from the fingertips of our resident White Sox fan. That quote came straight from the Indians portion of the American League Central roundtable that I moderated. The more complex version is that the Indians started out extremely poorly, and eventually turned it on, becoming the best team (statistically) in the major leagues. They missed out on the playoffs after threatening the eventual World Champion White Sox divisional stranglehold, and then proceeded to lose their best pitcher during the offseason, as well as overhaul a few portions of the roster.

  • Acquired
  • Todd Hollandsworth
  • Lou Merloni
  • Einar Diaz
  • Eduardo Perez
  • Jason Michaels
  • Kelly Shoppach
  • Andy Marte
  • Lost
  • Juan Gonzalez
  • Jose Hernandez
  • Coco Crisp
  • Josh Bard
With the exception of Andy Marte and Jason Michaels, all of the positional player pickups were for the sake of shoring up the bench and creating a few more options on platoons and days off. As far as the deductions from the roster go, Coco Crisp was dealt away and Andy Marte was acquired, with Jason Michaels brought on board to take over for Crisp, most likely for roughly the same production. Kelly Shoppach and Josh Bard swap spots as backup catchers; Shoppach as more of a hitter, and Bard as more of a defensive player. Jose Hernandez should be replaced by Eduardo Perez and Lou Merloni, and Juan Gonzalez will have his single plate appearance taken by someone else in 2006.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

Catcher
2005: Victor Martinez .305/.378/.475; +21.19 pNRAA; +31.14 pNRAA/GP

2006: Victor Martinez .276/.351/.436; +18.21 pNRAA; +24.58 pNRAA/GP

For some reason, PECOTA sees Victor Martinez settling in at a line that looks like this projected one for the next 4-5 years. His 75th and 90th percentile projections look a great deal like his 2005 season though. The Indians are obviously set with Martinez at catcher; even when projected to be worth less than in the previous season, he is one of the highest ranked catchers in the game.

First Base
2005: Ben Broussard .255/.307/.464; -13.64 pNRAA; -19.37 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jose Hernandez .231/.277/.338; -22.54 pNRAA; -18.94 pNRAA/GP

2006: Ben Broussard .261/.330/.460; -2.65 pNRAA; -2.81 pNRAA/GP
2006: Eduardo Perez .270/.370/.475; +6.68 pNRAA; +2.67 pNRAA/GP

Broussard was terrible in 2005, and his platoon partner Jose Hernandez was even worse. He was completely incapable of hitting lefties, which was sort of his only job. Eduardo Perez should solve that problem: .286/.395/.556 against southpaws in 266 at-bats from 2003-2005, as well as .255/.366/.518 in 2005 alone. Broussard on the other hand has hit .242/.300/.421 against lefties over the same span, and an even more anemic .225/.250/.412 in 80 2005 at-bats. A shrewd pickup by Mark Shapiro to fix a serious production situation. Considering Broussard's production against righties isn't equal to Perez's production against lefties, getting him a platoon partner who can hit is necessary.

Second Base
2005: Ronnie Belliard .284/.325/.450; +11.71 pNRAA; +16.98 pNRAA/GP

2006: Ronnie Belliard .267/.323/.399; +0.49 pNRAA; +0.58 pNRAA/GP

Belliard goes from one of the top players on the roster to one of the average players, for two reasons. PECOTA expects him to lose .051 points of slugging percentage, which is a considerable drop, although it does expect some of his plate patience from 2004 to come back. Also, his defense, which was at +11 Fielding Runs Above Average in 2005 (read: not historically consistent with Belliard's fielding statistics) is expected to drop to league average, knocking down his value significantly. Basically, you can tack a run on to his pNRAA for each FRAA you think Belliard will get. If he can match his low projection, the Tribe needn't worry, as they should gain at a few other positions.

Third Base
2005: Aaron Boone .243/.299/.378; -10.22 pNRAA; -14.61 pNRAA/GP

2006: Aaron Boone .257/.310/.409; +0.46 pNRAA; +0.51 pNRAA/GP

Yes, Boone's projected pNRAA is much better looking than last season's, but honestly, is that all you want out of your third basemen, when this is potentially in your sights...

Andy Marte .254/.335/.445; +5.17 pNRAA; +6.41 pNRAA/GP

And that is with his conservative weighted mean projection; if he could come out of the gate hot and major league ready, say, at his 75th percentile, his pNRAA would look be +14.18. Now, to be fair, I don't know if Marte would do that, but the fact that his mid-range projections are greater than Boone's and his potential for improvement is that much higher, I say give it to. Considering Boone's numbers over the course of the 2005 season...

  • Month by Month Splits
  • APR .123/.198/.301
  • MAY .188/.224/.225
  • JUN .272/.341/.506
  • JUL .311/.357/.422
  • AUG .322/.372/.437
  • SEP .220/.286/.360
I'm not sure I'd stick around to find out. Let's remember that Boone was never that much to write home about in the first place, so a few months of solid production bookended by months of ridiculously poor production is no reason to stave off the promotion of Andy Marte. David Gassko's Runs Above Average system has Boone ranked 12th among eligible third basemen defensively, while David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range has Boone 26th of 40. You won't lose that much defensively going to Marte, who BPro stats expect to be a tad below average.

Shortstop
2005: Jhonny Peralta .292/.366/.520; +33.02 pNRAA; +46.56 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jhonny Peralta .274/.345/.462; +21.71; +27.36 pNRAA/GP

Peralta's projection seemed a tad low to me...I figure that is due to his poor 2003-2004 showings in the big leagues. If he replicates his 2005 season (which looks like it should land somewhere in between his 75th and 90th percentiles), Peralta will be the best player on the Indians...again. I know a lot of ink (memory?) is given to Grady Sizemore, but Peralta is my pick for top Indians youngun'. That is, if BP's fielding stats are accurate for him. They rate him as exceptional at short; Gassko has him below average, and Pinto's various tables show Peralta anywhere from middle of the pack to somewhat below league average. So...how the hell do I work with that kind of info? Does anyone have the Fielding Bible yet? Want to drop me a hint as to how Peralta fares? Someone? Anyone have another stat that they would like to use?

Left Field
2005: Coco Crisp .300/.345/.465; +6.22 pNRAA; +9.02 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jason Michaels .279/.367/.431; +12.22 pNRAA; +10.75 pNRAA/GP

Using pNRAA, it looks as if Michaels is the better option. A few things work against this theory though. First of all, Coco Crisp was considered the top left fielder in baseball defensively by David Gassko's Fielding Runs Above Average, and by a healthy margin of almost 10 runs. Rate does not give Crisp that sort of credit, expecting him to be 3 runs above average per 100 games, as opposed to the 33.6 RAA in 138 games that Gassko credits him with. David Pinto's PMR shows that Crisp was one of the top five range wise, and saved the second most runs per 27 outs.

Of course, I wouldn't want to leave Michaels out of this discussion too much. His projected Rate is 103; in 2005, it was 116, and for his career in left he is at 107. Using that figure, Michaels projects to 16.22 pNRAA, which may make the swap work a little more in Cleveland's favor. Not to mention that they dealt Crisp to receive Andy Marte. Those who read this site know that Michaels is one of my favorites; he's an excellent defender at all three outfield positions according to Rate (and better than Aaron Rowand in center according to PMR), and he can hit well; extremely well against lefties. Over the past three seasons, he he mashed lefties to the tune of .323/.426/.483...versus righties, a less impressive but manageable .278/.361/.411. Why should the Indians deal with those lower numbers? Because if Michaels is as good defensively as the numbers show, then the other team is the one missing out on runs, aren't they?

Center Field
2005: Grady Sizemore .289/.348/.484; +9.04 pNRAA; +14.28 pNRAA/GP

2006: Grady Sizemore .286/.350/.467; +13.55 pNRAA; +20.05 pNRAA

This projected growth seems about right for Sizemore at age 23. The Indians should lock him up through his arbitration years, and knowing the way the organization is run, they most likely will do that soon. Rate shows Sizemore to be a tad below average, while Gassko's fielding system finds him to be a smidge above. PMR has him ranked 18th in range and 5th in Runs Saved per 27 outs. Oddly enough, Jason Michaels is third overall in centerfield range. With the way I reference these three defensive systems, maybe adding on additional stats and the Fielding Bible's knowledge isn't a good idea. By not a good idea, I mean I need it to happen.

Sizemore has a capable bat for centerfield; considering the league average EqA for center was .261 in 2005, and Sizemore's was .298, I think we can safely classify him as one of the best at his position. if not now then after this season. I still have love for the slick fielding Peralta though. If those allegations are true anyways.

Right Field
2005: Casey Blake .241/.308/.438; -6.40 pNRAA; -9.40 pNRAA/GP

2006: Casey Blake .254/.322/.432; -4.11 pNRAA; -4.64 pNRAA/GP

Well, the 2005 Blake and the 2006 Blake look a great deal alike. Here are my thoughts, neatly packaged in regards to Blake: I drafted him for third base last year in my fantasy league, against the warning of PECOTA and BP 2005; I refused to cross PECOTA drafting in one of my leagues the other night, in fear of retribution and continued punishment for my miscast pick of yesteryear. Not upgrading here is one of my few complaints with this roster. Maybe Brad Snyder (graded B by John Sickels will be able to contribute at some point in the season. The other well-rated outfielders in the system are all recently drafted, and therefore most likely not going to contribute as of yet, leaving Blake to play. In fact, PECOTA projects Snyder to hit .251/.318/.422 as of now, with slightly above average defense. Considering he's 24, I say give him a shot. His projected line is basically equal to Blake's (.267 EqA in comparison to Casey's .270), and his defense will most likely be better, considering he is coming over from center (he actually had 5 FRAA at AA Akron in right in 2005). And hell, they would have three centerfielders in the outfield at once. Who doesn't want that sort of situation when all of them seem capable of swinging the bat effectively enough?

Designated Hitter
2005: Travis Hafner .305/.408/.595; +29.26 pNRAA; +40.09 pNRAA/GP

2006: Travis Hafner .286/.389/.553; +27.20 pNRAA; +38.35 pNRAA/GP

Hafner was a legitimate MVP candidate last year, although I felt Rodriguez certainly deserved and earned his award. PECOTA seems relatively pessimistic towards Hafner, not that a .286/.389/.553 line is anything to wave off or anything, but his past two years were better, and this year he hopefully won't have the various problems that limited him to 138 games. I'm not worried.

For this review, let's try something a tad different. I'm going to plug in the Indians expected lineup versus the lineup I would use, and we'll see the differences.

  1. Projected Lineup
  2. Grady Sizemore
  3. Jason Michaels
  4. Jhonny Peralta
  5. Travis Hafner
  6. Victor Martinez
  7. Ronnie Belliard
  8. Ben Broussard/Eduardo Perez
  9. Casey Blake
  10. Aaron Boone
This lineup is expected to score 5.254 runs per game, or 851 runs for the season. Now using the players I'd substitute...
  1. Marc's Lineup
  2. Sizemore
  3. Michaels
  4. Peralta
  5. Hafner
  6. Martinez
  7. Broussard/Perez
  8. Brad Snyder
  9. Belliard
  10. Andy Marte
This lineup would produce 5.334 RPG (864 for the season) and would have better defensive play in the outfield. If Marte reaches higher than his weighted mean, even more offense. I may swap Michaels and Sizemore in the order, which would change the RPG to 5.358, or 868 runs for the season. A miniscule change, more for purposes of having a higher OBP in the one hole and a higher SLG in the two hole, although against lefties Michaels would be superior in both categories.

Overall, I expect the Indians to be able to compete for the playoffs and possibly a World Series berth in 2006. They certainly have the hitting and the defense (both which could be better, cough cough) and the pitching staff will be analyzed relatively soon here at BtB.

By the way, I will be out of town for the next few days, so I won't be writing anything. I will be able to check in via hiptop though, but not often.