When a team goes from a 94 loss season to a 92 win season there are going to be a collection of production increases at multiple positions. Today, in brevity I will be looking at the positional production team wide using surface statistics to show the difference from 2012 to 2013.
This is just a launching off point as I will spend much of the offseason in this column looking position by position to project 2014 production and to talk about what changes occurred for better or for worse in 2013. Trend Spotting will spend the rest of its time using analytics to evaluate any offseason acquisitions the Indians make and how they affect the 2014 season. This could be consuming as I expect this offseason to be a busy one.
Digressing, I will be laying out the 2012 and 2013 starters at each position as well as the overall positional WAR.
Starting with the catching position…
First there is a flaw with Fangraphs that assigns all of Carlos Santana’s WAR value to behind the plate not incorporating his other starts. However it is clear that he took a significant step forward, including a major stride in terms of his OPS. If you subtract Santana’s starts at other positions this season, combined with Yan Gomesincredible production, catcher still produced a WAR exceeding 5.5 which is obscene. A WAR befitting of all-star starter production. The one and a half win increase from the catching position was essential.
Talk about an upgrade, the Casey Kotchman to Nick Swisher transition has had an immense impact on the Indians. This is a position where Swisher was not flashy but comparatively it was like adding a star because of the horrific production preceding his addition. This shows how adding complimentary pieces can upgrade a team in a huge way.
During the final months of the season, Jason Kipnis‘ offensive struggles became oft-criticized and as an anchor to this lineup, it is entirely understandable. However, that has probably created an unfair cloud over a wholly impressive season. Kipnis took a gigantic step forward, and leapt into the category of elite second baseman. Once again showing the Indians improvement rested on a balance between young players stepping forward and major upgrades to previously abysmal positions.
The first step back, lying under the control of a single player. Asdrubal Cabrera’s regression this season has escalated the importance of Francisco Lindor’s development as well as being one of the Indians only bad moves this season. Cabrera’s trade value has declined faster than the Roman Empire after Nero assumed power. The indicators were there and our front office waited it out instead of dealing him. As to solving the Cabrera issue this is a road many of us will take over the next six months in far more detail.
Absolutely shocking that as much as he underperformed, Lonnie Chisenhall was an upgrade at third base for the Indians. On Wednesday evening we saw Chisenhall at his best, hitting line drives against right handed pitching. Indeed his platoon potential is great; one could see the Indians add a right handed hitter with great splits against left handed pitching, in which case third base could produce 2.5 WAR for a relatively reasonable price.
It is incredible how a modest, solid season by Michael Brantley represented a three win improvement over last year’s production from that position. It speaks to the idea of depth of a lineup. Merely creating a lineup nine deep and improving all three negative war positions the Indians took a huge step forward. It is not always about signing a 3-5 WAR player but rather avoiding giant pitfalls in your lineup like Shelley Duncan or Jack Hannahan.
Michael Bourn was actually a step down compared to Brantley? Yes. Granted it is probably fairer to compare him to Duncan because really he is replacing the left fielder but starting in center. This also displays how much respect Brantley deserves for being willing to move off center field for Michael Bourn. Granted Bourn was expected to perform better but Brantley’s value as a centerfielder is so far beyond his value as a left fielder that his willingness to move will have a huge effect on his contract value. The real concern is that Bourn’s speed and defense has regressed immensely. To the point that it feels as if his decline is upon us. Whether or not this is true we don’t know but next season is a pivot point for him and one could see the Tribe moving him in order to avoid a rapid devaluation akin to Asdrubal Cabrera’s.
Drew Stubbs was the starter for the majority of the year, drawing the ire of many a Cleveland fan. Should Stubbs have been started more sparingly in the middle of the season? Probably. Is Stubbs the ideal fourth outfielder? Yes. His speed and defensive versatility makes him an asset who is paid adequately for his contributions.
As for the positional WAR gap, that comes from Ryan Raburn. Yes a player signed on a minor league contract offered more value in platoon opportunities than Shin-Soo Choo did over the entirety of a season. Raburn is a brilliant case study of the value of a versatile platoon bat. People often criticize how few starts he received without understanding that in each start he was given the greatest possible opportunity to succeed. Tito played matchups with Raburn better than any other player on this roster. What happened? Tito got incredible production out of a bench player by using him to perfection.
Unfortunately for Stubbs he received less favorable matchups because his splits are akin to Raburn’s but less extreme so his offensive production was deflated because of Raburns other worldly success against left handed pitching. If the Indians could find a Raburn-esque platoon complement for Chisenhall at third base it would be a huge step forward at a sustainable cost.
Lastly, I will not be including the starting pitching in this version but among the position players it is easy to see how they were capable of taking such a large step forward.
Unfortunately, one cannot calculate a WAR for managers but I assure you Terry Francona would win without a doubt. Francona got improved production out of Santana, Gomes, Raburn, and Brantley because of his ability to use them effectively and in different situations. As well as being the key attraction point for Swisher and Bourn who also added large value as upgrades both directly and indirectly in Bourn’s case.