The Cleveland Indians as a Fringe Playoff Contender

It’s been a disappointing year thus far for the Cleveland Indians. They are currently 42-46 heading into the All-Star Game, and are in 4th place in the competitive American League Central division. They are underperforming their BaseRuns projection by 4 wins, meaning the computers view this team as much more of a playoff threat than they actually have been thus far. Although they have the third-highest remaining projected winning percentage in the AL at .532, their rough first half has them only finishing with about 81 wins. As wide open as the wild card race is, a .500 finish would clearly not be enough. What has happened to everyone’s preseason sleeper team? Besides Sports Illustrated jinxing them of course.

Well as expected, they have had stellar starting pitching from the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar, and even have gotten good outings recently from under the radar prospect Cody Anderson. Everyone knew they had a bad defense, but many thought that the Indians’ offense could support the great starting pitching enough to propel them into the postseason. Thus far, however, that has not been the case. They are at league average or below in almost all offensive categories. They are not a power hitting team by any means, and have the 10th lowest FB% in the MLB, which makes sense seeing as to hit for power you need to get the ball in the air. However, they still run the 7th lowest BABIP in baseball, which insinuates that they have a lot of hitters who tend to roll over a lot. Lo and behold, they are 3rd in Pull %, and have a lefty heavy—heavy being an understatement—lineup.

Essentially, the Indians have amassed a lineup with a bunch of pull-happy hitters who don’t hit for much power, which doesn’t work in a league that nowadays uses the shift religiously. I think all Cleveland fans know where I’m going with this, because the phrase has been overused by Tribe fans for almost a decade now. Yes, Cleveland is lacking an impact right-handed bat. Brewer’s prized prospect Matt LaPorta was supposed to be that guy when the Indians traded C.C. Sabathia for him and others—including player to be named later Michael Brantley. However, his MLB career was as successful as Kim Kardashian’s first marriage. Ironically or not, Milwaukee has another player that I believe can push the Tribe over the hump; his name is Carlos Gomez.

The 29 year old native of the Dominican Republic, known for his fiery personality, has been extremely productive for the Brew Crew since 2011, racking up 18.4 WAR in that 4 year span. With Milwaukee sitting at the halfway point with the second worst record in all of baseball, they will most definitely be sellers at the trade deadline. I recently tweeted FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan asking him if Gomez would be dealt, to which he responded, “Gomez is probably moving. Lucroy not.” That doesn’t mean it is set in stone, but that shows that there is a decent chance he gets traded. Let’s just assume for arguments sake that the Indians and Brewers have mutual interest in being trade partners. Why should the Indians’ make the move?

One plus is that Gomez wouldn’t be a rental. He is under contract through 2016, and is only set to make 9 million dollars next year. If you consider 1 WAR to be worth roughly 7 million dollars, Gomez’s average of 6.6 WAR per year the last two seasons would be a huge bargain for the Tribe. With the contracts of David Murphy and Ryan Raburn likely to be coming off the books next year, an extra 9 million dollars on the payroll will be inconsequential for the notoriously conservative Dolan family. Gomez also would provide a major upgrade from primary Tribe center fielder, Michael Bourn. I have included a chart that compares their averages from the last two seasons. Why two seasons? Because that’s when Bourn signed with Cleveland, where he has not been the same player he once was.

Name Avg. WAR Avg. wRC Avg. RISP Avg. DEF Avg. ISO Avg. SLG Total PA
Bourn 1.3 53 0.298 -3.3 0.101 0.360 1,062
Gomez 6.6 93 0.298 17.2 0.208 0.492 1,234

 

It is easy to see who has been the more valuable player. The reason I included ISO and SLG was to demonstrate Gomez’s excellent power, not necessarily to compare it to Bourn’s (because that is not the type of hitter he is). Gomez would provide a major upgrade defensively – where the Indians struggle – and at the plate, where he is a key catalyst in manufacturing runs. Gomez has created almost 40 more runs per season than Bourn the last two years. If you take into account how every 10 runs scored or given up equates to a win or a loss, those extra 40 runs would essentially add on about 4 more wins to the Indians win total (assuming those averages hold up throughout the 2015 season). So that would take the roughly 81 win Indians and make them an 85 win team; better yes, but still not a playoff contender.

Although Bourn and Gomez have been equally as good with RISP, this season has been a different story; Bourn is hitting .216 in 68 PA and Gomez is hitting .381 in 65 PA with RISP. The Indians have the 7th worst average with RISP this season at .230, with the MLB average being .255. For a team that struggles to score runs, this would be a huge difference. Slotting Gomez in the lineup everyday behind a guy like Michael Brantley would also take a ton of pressure off of him to carry the team day in and day out.

So what does this all mean? Could Carlos Gomez really propel the Tribe into October baseball this season? Probably not. Here are their season splits against teams above and below .500.

               Wins Losses Winning Percentage
Teams ≥ .500 24 32 0.429
Teams < .500 18 14 0.563

 

They struggle against good teams, and beat bad ones. That is not the mark of a playoff team. In the last 74 games of the season, the average winning percentage for teams they play is .515. While I fully believe the team could make a strong second half push – I actually believe they will make the playoffs – it is not likely. Still, a trade for Carlos Gomez would not only aid them in the second half of this season, but for next season as well. Clevelanders are sick of hearing “we’re building for the future.” The Indians have an extremely strong core, one that is young and locked into team-friendly contracts. It is time to win now, because they would hate to look back years from now like a reminiscent ex-lover and say, “That was the team that got away.”



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Joel Libava
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So, you just had to throw in the Sports Illustrated jinx…

Well, you’re right about it-and that’s obviously why you threw it in.

It’s pretty challenging being a Cleveland sports fan. Has been for DECADES.

I wonder if any of our teams will be #1-and win a championship of any kind.

Great article!

JML

Paul
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Paul

The Brewers have a plethora of legitimate outfield prospects at each level and I doubt the Indians would trade Bradley Zimmer, so the deal would probably have to include several B and B- type prospects. Maybe Justus Sheffield, Giovanni Urshela, and Francisco Mejia for Carlos Gomez.

Julie
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Julie

Great analysis re Gomez and Indians!

Yes, Bourn & Swisher have been big Zeros in more ways than one.

busy scouting t-ball
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busy scouting t-ball

Lindor shouldnt be in the 2 hole. Hes not up for offensive reasons right now. He needs to be down in the order.

tz
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tz

I totally agree that the Indians should be proactive in strengthening their team for the immediate future, especially with the AL Central contenders all looking very vulnerable. Gomez is a great idea; however he won’t be cheap because of his nice contract for 2016 and the likelihood that he would merit a qualifying offer, meaning a compensation draft pick if he leaves as a free agent.

The Indians shouldn’t sell low on Jose Ramirez, who’s raking again in AAA and is still just 22. A package of Roberto Perez, Sheffield and Mejia for Gomez would be reasonable (and just cross your fingers on Gomes returning to form). Cleveland should also consider tacking on trading Urshela or Chisenhall for the remainder of Aramis Ramirez’s season to give them another viable right-handed bat (I never realized how insanely lefty-dominated their lineup is).

Good stuff.

Paul
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Paul

I think there’s a very good chance the Brewers could do better than Perez, Sheffield, and Mejia.

For Aramis Ramirez, I have no idea what teams will think of his value. I don’t think it would be very high, but I’m unsure. I would be surprised if the Brewers would turn down a Urshela for Ramirez trade, and they might accept Chisenhall instead.

Tribe Fan in SF
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Tribe Fan in SF

I think there might be an error in the math though. You say “…those extra 40 runs would essentially add on about 4 more wins to the Indians win total (assuming those averages hold up throughout the 2015 season). So that would take the roughly 81 win Indians and make them an 85 win team…” but you’re getting those numbers from full-season averages. We’re more than half way through the season though. So, actually, based on these averages, we’d only be getting about 17 more runs this year (based on how far we are through the season). Even if we round that up to 20 – for 2 wins – we’re talking about even less impact. While I think it would be a great move (dependent on what they gave up to get Gomez), it would still be more about 2016 than this season I think.