Projecting the Tribe’s 2014 offense

BPSThere are less than five weeks remaining until the Indians’ pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. That makes this a good time to dive into my annual projections for the club.

Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti hasn’t said he’s done tweaking his offense, but it looks pretty set, barring an unexpected trade. I’m going to stick with the hitters for this post, because I’m not as certain that the Tribe’s pitching staff has taken its final shape.

I did this exercise last offseason with varying levels of success when the ’13 season was all said and done. No projection method is without its flaws. Looking at statistical trends can’t predict the shoulder injury that plagued Nick Swisher, or that Michael Bourn’s steady stolen-base numbers would take a nose dive in the American League. It can’t predict the out-of-nowhere seasons of guys like Ryan Raburn or Yan Gomes, neither of whom were in my projections last winter.

All of that said, I’ll stick with a similar approach as last year, averaging the past three years of production against last season’s performance for each player. In a few cases — bench guys or players with thin career samples — I took some liberties to try to get as accurate a projection as possible.

I won’t go deep into the details, suffice to say the numbers I arrived at run similar to many of the projections you might find on fangraphs.com or other sites. At the bottom of this post, I’ll note the projections from last season and compare it to the actual production turned in by Cleveland’s players. Let’s run through each player one by one (I did 12 this time) with a comment on the numbers.

2B Jason Kipnis
Slash: .277/.355/.447/.802
Stats: 157 H, 34 2B, 4 3B, 18 HR, 82 RBI, 88 R, 29 SB, 69 BB, 137 K

Comment: Kipnis’ otherworldly June last season gave his overall numbers a decent boost. It’s fair to assume that, without the assistance of that kind of incredible spike over a brief amount of time, the second baseman’s overall showing will suffer a slight dip over 2013. Still, having a middle infielder with an .800-plus OPS to go along with 15-plus homers, 80-plus RBI and around 30 stolen bases is a luxury for the Tribe.

CF Michael Bourn
Slash: .270/.328/.374/.702
Stats: 153 H, 24 2B, 8 3B, 6 HR, 51 RBI, 82 R, 33 SB, 47 BB, 137 K

Comment: It’s hard to know what to make of Bourn’s showing in 2013. He didn’t take advantage of his stolen-base chances as much as in the past, but that could change with more experience in the AL. Bourn also dealt with hamstring woes late in the year. Given his production over the past three years combined, it’s fair to assume there will be an uptick in performance by Bourn in ’14. He’ll certainly be motivated to return closer to his career norm.

1B Nick Swisher
Slash: .252/.350/.440/.790
Stats: 137 H, 29 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 72 RBI, 76 R, 2 SB, 80 BB, 137 K

Comment: Swisher downplayed how much his injured shoulder hurt his offense last season, but there is no denying it was a factor. If he stays out of the outfielder (except for on occasion) and is healed up after the offseason, the switch hitter should see improvement over last year’s numbers. Barring injury, you can usually book Swisher for 20-plus homers, 70-plus RBI and 80-plus walks. Keeping Swisher out of the cleanup spot could help, too.

LF Michael Brantley
Slash: .283/.333/.399/.732
Stats: 152 H, 28 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 67 RBI, 65 R, 16 SB, 41 BB, 67 K

Comment: The slash line is nearly identical to what Brantley posted for the Indians last season, but the left fielder is also arguably the most consistent hitter on the team. It’s tempting to predict more power, but Brantley is a safe bet to continue on as a gap-to-gap hitter who can steal a few bases and drive in runs while bouncing up and down the lineup. He has one of the top contact rates in the Majors, giving Cleveland a solid protection hitter.

C/1B Carlos Santana
Slash: .261/.372/.454/.826
Stats: 140 H, 37 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 76 R, 4 SB, 94 BB, 113 K

Comment: Knowing that Santana might see more time in the field this season actually makes me want to assume the slash line will be even better. He hit much better last year when he wasn’t catching, and Gomes will be taking over as the starter behind the plate. Santana is always a good bet to walk 90-plus times and his breakout showing in 2011 makes 25-30 homers seem possible, if he finally puts the whole package together.

SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Slash: .254/.313/.417/.730
Stats: 135 H, 35 2B, 2 3B, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 70 R, 11 SB, 40 BB, 113 K

Comment: I think the Indians would be thrilled if Cabrera returned to this type of production. Last season was discouraging for the shortstop, but he’s not being counted on to carry the lineup and he’s entering a contract year. That could be the kind of situation that helps get the most out of Cabrera, who has the ability to be the team’s best overall hitter. That said, a third straight tank job in the second half is a bad trend. Cleveland needs more from Cabrera in ’14.

C Yan Gomes
Slash: .284/.337/.474/.811
Stats: 130 H, 27 2B, 3 3B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 67 R, 3 SB, 29 BB, 110 K

Comment: Gomes’ brief career and outstanding showing in 2013 inflates this projection, in my opinion. He’ll be dealing with the learning curve that goes along with being a starting catcher in the big leagues for the first time. Yes, he did that in the second half last year, but this is from Opening Day on. There will likely be wear and tear, so I’d expect the average and slugging to drop some more. That said, Gomes has a funny way of proving people wrong.

3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Slash: .235/.277/.409/.686
Stats: 106 H, 26 2B, 1 3B, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 49 R, 3 SB, 24 BB, 90 K

Comment: The problem with this projection is that it assumes 450-plus at-bats. If Chisenhall is hitting around .230 with a sub-.280 on-base percentage, I doubt he’s going to get that many at-bats in the big leagues. The Indians might also use him primarily against righties, which has the potential to boost the slash line. I agree that Chisenhall is capable of 15-plus homers, 25-plus doubles and 50-plus RBI over a full season, but he needs to earn that full season.

RF David Murphy
Slash: .244/.308/.401/.709
Stats: 106 H, 25 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 53 R, 4 SB, 39 BB, 62 K

Comment: Murphy has the ability to hit for a higher average and on-base percentage than this projection, especially if Cleveland limits him primarily against right-handed pitching. That said, last season’s rough showing really drags the numbers down when trying to predict performance. Being in a new offense and in a platoon role could benefit Murphy, who has hit .300 in the past, but it’s just hard to project that kind of rebound at the moment.

INF Mike Aviles
Slash: .251/.300/.385/.685
Stats: 94 H, 18 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 51 R, 10 SB, 16 BB, 48 K

Comment: Aviles garnered 361 at-bats in 2013, which included a stint as the starting shortstop when Cabrera was injured, and this projection is based on around 375 at-bats in ’14. That seems like a fair range (he’s averaged 386 at-bats over the past three years) and the projection looks about right to me. Aviles isn’t going to be an on-base machine, but he’s an adequate hitter capable of spelling starters at multiple positions.

UTIL Ryan Raburn
Slash: .251/.325/.466/.791
Stats: 86 H, 24 2B, 1 3B, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 49 R, 1 SB, 31 B, 96 K

Comment: This projection assumes a jump of roughly 100 at-bats for Raburn over his 2013 showing. He enters the year as the right-field platoon partner for Murphy, and could see time at other spots (DH, third base, second base). His incredible showing last season, which earned him an extension, will likely lead to increased playing time. More playing time will likely cause Raburn’s numbers to lag some compared to last year.

DH/PH Jason Giambi
Slash: .199/.305/.410/.715
Stats: 32 H, 7 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 19 R, 0 SB, 22 BB, 49 K

Comment: Big G isn’t on the roster at the moment, but he wasn’t on the roster when Spring Training began last season, either. With the versatile Raburn and Aviles still in the fold, and a catching alignment that could mean the Tribe doesn’t have a true backup catcher on the bench, Cleveland appears to have room to carry Giambi again. He’d fill the same pinch hitter/DH role as last year and these numbers look about right to me.

Overall slash line: .260/.328/.423/.751
Overall stats: 1,428 H, 314 2B, 30 3B, 176 HR, 712 RBI, 745 R, 116 SB, 532 BB, 1,159 K

Comment: Obviously, injuries are going to be a part of the season. There’s no avoiding that, so this perfect-world projection of these dozen players amounts to roughly 5,500 at-bats (a tick under average for  American League teams in 2013). It doesn’t account for the 300-500 at-bats that unlisted players will probably fill in the coming season. The projection is an improvement on last season’s offense nearly across the board, but with the same amount of runs scored. So, essentially, we’re looking at nearly an identical offense for ’14, a year after it was a Top-five offense in the AL.

Last winter’s projections and actual results

1B Mark Reynolds
Projection: .217/.331/.440, 27 HR, 25 2B, 1 3B, 75 RBI, 71 R, 3 SB, 75 BB, 174 K
Actual: .220/.306/.393, 21 HR, 14 2B, 0 3B, 67 RBI, 55 R, 3 SB, 51 BB, 154 K

2B Jason Kipnis
Projection: .259/.335/.391, 15 HR, 24 2B, 4 3B, 77 RBI, 86 R, 30 SB, 64 BB, 110 K
Actual: .284/.366/.452, 17 HR, 36 2B, 4 3B, 84 RBI, 86 R, 30 SB, 76 BB, 143 K

SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Projection: .272/.336/.421, 17 HR, 33 2B, 2 3B, 69 RBI, 72 R, 11 SB, 49 BB, 102 K
Actual: .242/.299/.402, 14 HR, 35 2B, 2 3B, 64 RBI, 66 R, 9 SB, 35 BB, 114 K

3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Projection: .264/.303/.426, 17 HR, 24 2B, 2 3B, 53 RBI, 57 R, 6 SB, 24 BB, 97 K
Actual: .225/.270/.398, 11 HR, 17 2B, 0 3B, 36 RBI, 30 R, 1 SB, 16 BB, 56 K

C Carlos Santana
Projection: .250/.364/.432, 20 HR, 30 2B, 2 3B, 75 RBI, 74 R, 4 SB, 93 BB, 106 K
Actual: .268/.377/.455, 20 HR, 39 2B, 1 3B, 74 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB, 93 BB, 110 K

OF Michael Brantley
Projection: .280/.337/.390, 6 HR, 34 2B, 5 3B, 58 RBI, 67 R, 14 SB, 50 BB, 67 K
Actual: .284/.332/.396, 10 HR, 26 2B, 3 3B, 73 RBI, 66 R, 17 SB, 40 BB, 67 K

OF Drew Stubbs
Projection: .226/.294/.357, 16 HR, 16 2B, 3 3B, 47 RBI, 80 R, 31 SB, 47 BB, 171 K
Actual:  .233/.305/.360, 10 HR, 21 2B, 2 3B, 45 RBI, 59 R, 17 SB, 44 BB, 141 K

OF Nick Swisher
Projection: .273/.365/.476, 24 HR, 34 2B, 1 3B, 90 RBI, 78 R, 2 SB, 76 BB, 136 K
Actual: .246/.341/.423, 22 HR, 27 2B, 2 3B, 63 RBI, 74 R, 1 SB, 77 BB, 138 K

INF Mike Aviles
Projection:
.260/.292/.390, 13 HR, 27 2B, 2 3B, 59 RBI, 61 R, 16 SB, 24 BB, 76 K
Actual: .252/.282/.368, 9 HR, 15 2B, 0 3B, 46 RBI, 54 R, 8 SB, 15 BB, 41 K

Overall projection: .251/.325/.404, 280 2B, 28 3B, 169 HR, 679 RBI, 756 R, 141 SB, 575 BB, 1,304 K
Actual production: .255/.327/.410, 290 2B, 23 3B, 171 HR, 711 RBI, 745 R, 117 SB, 562 BB, 1,283 K

Note: At the time of the projections last season, Bourn and Giambi weren’t in the fold and no one knew Raburn or Gomes were going to play such an important role during the season.

I’m going off the grid during the upcoming week, but keep checking Indians.com for updates on the club.

–JB

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