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Cleveland Indians Series Preview: And we’re back

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It’s been 10 months since the Royals played baseball, and they’ll start the season on the Cuyahoga with a shallow rotation and a likely bottom of the division finish awaiting. So yeah, not much has changed.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Almost exactly four months later than we expected, the Major League Baseball season is underway and the Royals start their abbreviated schedule with a trip to Cleveland for three games against one of the three expected contenders in the American League Central. Just to refresh what the Indians did this winter, they acquired Sandy Leon to be their backup catcher, traded longtime stalwart Corey Kluber to the Rangers for Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields, signed Cesar Hernandez to play second base after they let Jason Kipnis walk and signed Domingo Santana to likely play left field for them. They obviously did more, but those are the big moves. I’m not sure they got better, but they’re still a good team because they’re just so deep in starting pitching and they have star power in their lineup to make up for some of their deficiencies. Are they better than the Twins or the White Sox? That much I don’t know, but I do have a pretty good idea they’re better than the Royals.

Note: All stats are from 2019. Usually I go three or four weeks into the season using 2019 stats, but that’s like 35% of the year right now. So I’m not going to use them for too long, but they’re all we have now.

Royals vs. Indians 2019 Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Indians
Category Royals Indians
Winning % .364 .574
Team wRC+ 84 94
Team xFIP 4.98 4.30
Run Differential -178 112
Highest fWAR Jorge Soler, 3.6 Shane Bieber, 5.6

Indians Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Cesar Hernandez 2B 667 .279 .333 .408 6.7% 15.0% 92 1.7
Jose Ramirez 3B 542 .255 .327 .479 9.6% 13.7% 104 3.3
Francisco Lindor SS 654 .284 .335 .518 7.0% 15.0% 114 4.4
Carlos Santana 1B 686 .281 .397 .515 15.7% 15.7% 135 4.4
Franmil Reyes DH 548 .249 .310 .512 8.6% 28.5% 109 1.0
Tyler Naquin RF 294 .288 .325 .467 4.8% 22.4% 101 1.5
Oscar Mercado CF 482 .269 .318 .443 5.8% 17.4% 95 1.7
Roberto Perez C 449 .239 .321 .452 10.0% 28.3% 98 3.0
Bradley Zimmer LF 14 .000 .071 .000 7.1% 50.0% -89 -0.3

Indians Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Sandy Leon C 191 .192 .251 .297 6.8% 24.6% 40 -0.2
Christian Arroyo INF 57 .220 .304 .380 8.8% 31.6% 86 0.0
Yu Chang INF 84 .178 .286 .274 13.1% 26.2% 50 -0.2
Mike Freeman INF/OF 213 .277 .362 .390 10.3% 28.6% 99 1.0
Jordan Luplow OF 261 .276 .372 .551 12.6% 23.4% 137 2.2
Greg Allen OF 256 .229 .290 .346 4.3% 20.7% 63 0.1
Domingo Santana OF 507 .253 .329 .441 9.9% 32.3% 107 0.0
Daniel Johnson (AAA) OF 380 .306 .371 .496 8.9% 20.8% 120 ---

Indians Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Brad Hand 60 57.1 6 4 35.4% 7.4% 3.30 3.41 1.6
Nick Wittgren 55 57.2 5 1 25.5% 5.2% 2.81 3.98 0.4
James Karinchak 5 5.1 0 0 15.1% 7.3% 1.69 2.27 0.1

Pitching Matchups

July 24, 6:10pm CDT - Danny Duffy vs. Shane Bieber

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Danny Duffy 23 130.2 7 6 20.7% 8.3% 4.34 5.14 1.3
Shane Bieber 34 214.1 15 8 30.2% 4.7% 3.28 3.23 5.6

Bieber has quickly evolved into the staff ace for the Indians, and would likely have been their best pitcher in 2020 even if they had elected to keep Kluber for one more season. He doesn’t throw especially hard, but he misses bats like crazy, ranking in the 81st percentile in whiff percentage last year. He’s sort of interesting in that I wasn’t sure how well his strike throwing game would play in the silly ball era, but he really didn’t get dinged too terribly much, relatively speaking. He had no discernable platoon splits last year and actually is one of those rare pitchers who gets better as the game goes on. A lot of that is likely that he doesn’t have to deploy his third and fourth pitches too early because his fastball and slider are enough to get through a lineup at least once. He’s a very good pitcher, but it is maybe a little worth noting that the Royals hit .279/.364/.397 off him. Of all teams to walk, the Royals working the most walks off Bieber last year of any team might be one of the more underrated weird stats of 2019.

This start likely would have gone to Brad Keller had he not tested positive for COVID-19 early in summer camp, but since he did and he’s not quite ready to go, Duffy gets the call in the hopes of pitching a full season for the first time since 2016. After a rough go in 2018, there were signs that Duffy was getting back to being a slightly above average starter last year. His walk rate dropped back from over 10 percent to around eight percent, which is a big change and he just generally had better results. He still can’t find that fastball velocity from his magical 2016, and at this point, he likely never will. But he can still be effective. He had whiff rates of over 30 percent on both his slider and changeup last year and he’ll likely be in shorter starts for the first two or three times through the rotation as he continues to build up, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get off to a fast start in 2020.

July 25, 4:10pm CDT - Brady Singer vs. Mike Clevinger

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brady Singer (AA Stats) 16 90.2 7 3 22.1% 6.8% 3.47 3.78 ---
Mike Clevinger 21 126.0 13 4 33.9% 7.4% 2.71 3.09 4.5

On May 7, 2017 when the Royals were trying to make one last spring to the postseason, the Indians called up Clevinger to pitch after starting the season very effectively in AAA. To that point, he’d posted a career big league ERA over five with a ton of walks and not that many strikeouts. He gave up one hit over 5.2 innings and I remember thinking we might be seeing the next Corey Kluber that the Indians were producing. Since and including that start, Clevinger is 38-18 with a 2.96 ERA and 513 strikeouts in 447.2 innings. He had some health issues last season that limited him to just 126 innings and would have started this season on the IL if it had started when scheduled, so that’s his biggest weakness right now, but the guy throws hard, gets good spin and gets a lot of strikeouts. Like Bieber, he didn’t really show much of a third time through penalty last season, which is pretty scary for opponents. His biggest weakness in his splits is that he walks a fair amount of lefties and gives up some extra base hits to them when they are able to hit him, but that’s about it. He’s quite good.

This is it. This is the debut of the pitcher who has been the face of the college pitcher revolution inside the Royals organization. He’s not their best pitching prospect (that’s Daniel Lynch, in my opinion). And I actually don’t think he’s second or third best either (that’s Asa Lacy and Jackson Kowar, also in my opinion). But he is the first. And he had a solid spring and a very good summer camp in which many big league hitters were impressed by his stuff. Where he’s second to none is as a competitor, which is what will likely determine whether or not he can pitch in the top half of a rotation or ends up as a back-end starter or even a bullpen piece. His fastball is a mid-90s offering with life. His slider is also an above average pitch. If the changeup can come around, the competitiveness won’t be quite as important in determining his future. This is an interesting first matchup for him because the Indians will likely come at him with a lineup featuring four switch hitters at the top, so they’ll be hitting lefty and then just one lefty in their bottom five. If he can find a way to navigate the top and not have too much trouble with their left-handed bats, he has a chance to have a nice debu, but it won’t be easy with that top of hte order.

July 26, 12:10pm CDT - Mike Montgomery vs. Carlos Carrasco

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Montgomery 33 91.0 3 9 17.2% 8.5% 4.95 4.61 -0.2
Carlos Carrasco 23 80.0 6 7 28.2% 4.7% 5.29 3.50 0.9

Carlos Carrasco is an inspirational story if there ever was one. He was struggling through a rough start to the season last year when he was found to have leukemia. He battled and even made it back to the big leagues, working in relief in September. Obviously the results are secondary to his health, but he struggled. He’d only thrown two innings in Arizona before the shutdown, but now he looks like he’s good to go to start for the Indians this season. From 2014 to 2018, Carrasco was criminally underrated. He went 68-43 with a 3.27 ERA and way more than a strikeout per inning. It’s hard to know exactly what Carrasco is going to bring to the table this season, but he is healthy and that’s the most important thing for him. I know this is meaningless as well, but I had to point out that the Royals hit .857 with a 1.714 SLG against Carrasco last year in their one time facing him. I only point that out because I’m pretty sure the six hits they had against him are more than they had against him from 2015 to 2018. Maybe.

Mike Montgomery is part of a Royals Opening Day rotation for the first time, which sounds like something we should have said in like 2013, but, well, you know the rest. When he came over from the Cubs for Martin Maldonado, the Royals immediately put him in the rotation and his first start came in Cleveland. And he was bad. That’s not entirely true. He was fine in the first two innings, but then came unglued in the third. He also hadn’t thrown in two and a half weeks. From that point forward, he was actually pretty good, making 12 more starts and posting a 4.09 ERA. The peripherals point to some fluke there with 72 hits allowed in 62 innings and just 50 strikeouts, but he had his moments and will get the chance to prove his worth to bridge the gap to the next group of pitching prospects who are currently in the spot he was a decade ago. We’ll see how it goes.

Prediction

The Indians have the pitching edge in all three games, but their lineup is no guarantee for success. Plus in these early season games with the weather so cold...oh wait, sorry, that’s habit. Yeah, the Indians are better. The Royals are going to have to hit the long ball if they want to get to Bieber and Clevinger and Carrasco is a bit of an unknown right now, so I guess we’ll find out what he can do. I think the Royals start off by dropping by two of three, which is really like losing 5.4 out of 8.1.

Poll

Who wins the opening series?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Royals Sweep
    (13 votes)
  • 20%
    Indians Sweep
    (15 votes)
  • 18%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (13 votes)
  • 43%
    Indians Win Two of Three
    (31 votes)
72 votes total Vote Now