Turning The Also-Rans Into Playoff Teams: Cleveland

Between the playoff teams and the rebuilding teams there lie another category of teams, the also-rans. They won’t make the playoffs, but they’re close, often on the edge of the race until the final week. How do we turn those teams into playoff teams?

One caveat, if they have injured players, I’m going to assume they’re going to return to health, so they won’t count as one of the “steps” in the process.

First up are the Cleveland Indians. They currently sit in third place in the American League Central division, five games behind Detroit. As for the wild card, they’re three and a half games behind Kansas City for the second one, so unless a miracle occurs (which, since it’s baseball, is always possible) they’re on the outside looking in this year.
The Indians already have a good foundation, with a solid rotation headed by emerging ace Corey Kluber, a deep bullpen, and three 20 home run hitters in the lineup.

Here are 5 ways to improve the team for next year that might push them over the edge.

1) Cut bait with Nick Swisher and find a real DH.

a. The DH position has been a black hole thanks to Swisher. He hit .208 with a .331 slugging percentage, as well as striking out 111 times in 360 at-bats. Replacing him with a DH who provides even average production out of that spot would be a major improvement.

2) Give Kyle Crockett a more prominent role in the bullpen.

a. Cleveland’s bullpen is deep, but Crockett, a rookie, has been phenomenal. In 28 innings (admittedly a small sample size) the 22 year old has a 1.93 ERA, 25 strikeouts and a 1.214 WHIP. I’d give him a chance to be the eighth inning setup man.

3) More production from the shortstop position.

a. Jose Ramirez is currently hitting .251 with a .293 OBP. He did, however, hit over .300 in the minors, culminating in a .302 BA with a .360 OPB at AAA Columbus, so he has some hitting skills. He also has a better glove than the man he replaced, Asdrubal Cabrera. Given those things, perhaps all Ramirez needs is more time. He’s a rookie after all, and we often forget that it often takes time for rookies to develop at the major league level. A veteran backup shortstop wouldn’t hurt though.

4) Get more production out of CF and RF.

a. Both Michael Bourn and David Murphy hit around .260 with about a .320 OPB. Add to that minimal power and you have below average offensive production from both positions. Bourn hit for a similar average in 2013 while Murphy’s average has actually increased about 40 points from his previous year. Chances are neither will improve on this years’ production. There’s some talent in the minors, such as James Ramsey and Carlos Moncrief. I’m not sure when they’ll be ready to contribute though, so the Indians may need to look outside the organization.

5) Find a platoon partner for Carlos Santana.

a. Santana has hit .271 versus lefties and .215 versus righties. His OBP and Slugging are also higher versus lefties. Yet the majority of his at-bats have come against righties. He needs a partner who hits right handers, which would increase the overall production from first base.

These changes, combined with a rebound season or two, could easily push the Indians over the edge and into a division title. At the very least they’ll be an improved team with more flexibility.

As always, thanks for reading.

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