Monday, July 24, 2017

On Deck Circle 7/24/17: Solving The Indians Starting Rotation

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

Going into the season, starting pitching for the Indians seemed like a huge strength of the team. Corey Kluber is a top 3 pitcher in the AL, Carlos Carrasco could be the ace of many other staffs, Danny Salazar has been very solid for the past 2 seasons and Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin have been serviceable pitchers for end of rotation.

This season, Kluber and Carrasco are still performing well and to their norm, the others though…not so much. A team that went to the World Series last season and has expectations of being there again this season is currently underperforming and clinging onto a division lead in which they should be running away with and that is falling on the shoulders of the starting pitching.

So now with the trade deadline approaching and Danny Salazar returning from the disabled list, the big question is what the Indians should do with the starting rotation. Salazar’s return means that there are 6 starting pitchers on the roster so there will be one odd man out now and even then, most aren’t overly optimistic that going with the current starters on the roster will be enough to capture the AL pennant. So where do the Indians go from here and who should be the 5 starting pitchers?

First, let’s not even bother with talking about Kluber or Carrasco. Those 2 are the top 2 starters and won’t be moving at all from the rotation, so those spots are set.

Next comes Mike Clevinger, who started out on fire in triple A and has carried over his pitching performance to the big leagues. Clevinger is a smaller sample size than the others with only 12 starts this season, but his 2.73 ERA and 1.12 WHIP puts him right up there with Kluber and Carrasco and is a solid #3 starter. Him being the “new guy” with less time in the MLB than the others shouldn’t matter, he’s outperforming the other candidates for the 3 spot and should remain as the guy there, would be a huge mistake if experience trumps production in this case.

Before we continue on about current Indians pitchers, here’s where the potential for a trade comes in to play. I know many fans will be upset if the Indians do not make a move for a starting arm before the deadline(July 31st), but the reality of it is they are most likely not going to be...

Why? A number of reasons.

The first being that there’s not really a big market for available starting pitchers. The Rangers are shopping Yu Darvish but he comes with a monster price tag and is a rent-a-player, Indians won’t be re-signing him considering he will be an 100+ million dollar contract likely and the tribe will have their hands full with Francisco Lindor this offseason. The Rays would be insane to trade Chris Archer with the way he’s performed along with his money and years friendly contract, the Pirates just sprung right back into division contention so Gerrit Cole is off the trading block, so we are looking at Sonny Gray as the best available target out there as far as pitching goes.

Sonny Gray is a good pitcher, but that’s it. He would be a solid upgrade over whoever is the #4 starter, but he’s not an ace of a staff or anything as his 3.66 ERA and 1.18 WHIP shows. The biggest issue with trading for Gray is his price, especially when considering what the Cubs recently gave up for Jose Quintana (who Gray is better than.) The Cubs shelled out a top 10 prospect in Eloy Jimenez, a top 70 prospect in Dylan Cease and 2 other prospects for Quintana, so if the A’s are looking for that type of deal then the Indians most likely will not be in the running. They gutted the farm system a bit last season with the acquisition of Andrew Miller, and right now only have 3 prospects in the top 100. So Indians fans need to ask themselves if Sonny Gray is worth giving up both Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie for, or McKenzie and Bobby Bradley for, any combination of 2 of the top 3 prospects being involved in this trade.

Big deals in consecutive years are damaging to the farm, it’s just a matter of Sonny Gray being that guy that puts Cleveland over the top, like Miller was last season, and if not then they should pass on the deal.

For now, we will stick with who the Indians have in order to fill out the remainder of the pitching rotation, and what player should occupy the #4 spot. While he possibly may be having the worst season off all the starters on this team, this is where Danny Salazar fits in. He’s the best overall pitcher of what’s left and the 2 previous seasons his ERA has been under 4.00, so I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to him based on his track record. He’s just getting back from the DL and we can revisit this after his next few starts but right now, he has the best chance of turning it around and pitching well down the stretch.

So that leaves us with Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin for that 1 final spot. This is a tough call really, both have pitched poorly overall this season but Trevor Bauer should remain a starting pitcher, sending Josh Tomlin to the bullpen. This seems like it would be an unpopular pick as Bauer has fallen out of graces with many fans, partly due to his political views and overall attitude, but there are a few reasons why he should be the 5th starter over Josh Tomlin.

One of the worst things a relief pitcher can do is come out of the bullpen and walk guys, especially since there will be times he’ll come on in relief with men on base already. Bauer leads the team in walks and has a higher WHIP than Tomlin, I’d trust Tomlin to come out of the bullpen and shut down an inning before Bauer would, especially considering how different of a change it would be for hitters if Tomlin were to relieve Kluber or Carrasco. When splitting hairs over pitchers with similar stats, how they fit in to the bullpen should definitely be a factor, and Tomlin would make a better pitcher coming on in relief than Bauer would. He could easily smooth over the rockiness of Brian Shaw, where Bauer might just be another Brian Shaw out of the bullpen.

There’s also their overall stuff, and I know we’ve been hearing about Bauer having a ton of talent and just not producing but I’ll take a “hit or miss” 5th starter with the potential to throw a gem over someone with just decent stuff. We’re not asking either to be a top of the line starter, so the risk-reward with Bauer should come into play here.

And finally, and most importantly here, the mental aspect and personality is in play here. I don’t want to make this sound like Tomlin should be “demoted” for this while also making it seem that Bauer should just get what he wants, but Tomlin is one of those guys that wants to do whatever is best for the team and is willing to help out in any way that he can. Bauer, from the way he talks and portrays himself, doesn’t seem to be that type of player. The worry of sending him to the bullpen could cause a big rift overall, can see him being upset to the point where he blows up and it affects his pitching to the point where he is rendered useless and whether fans like it or not, Bauer will be on the roster this season and won’t be DFA’d or traded (unless the Indians can make him a part of a Sonny Gray deal) so the Indians need to find use out of him. Tomlin would take it in stride and say that he’ll do whatever is asked of him, it makes more sense just to keep things on an even keel here to move Tomlin around while keeping Bauer where he’s at.

So that’s what it should look like going forward barring any trades. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer as the starting rotation and Josh Tomlin in the bullpen. When you look at it that way, if Clevinger remains pitching the way he has and Salazar finds his groove and gets back to 2016 form, this rotation may be good enough for a pennant run after all.

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