Guide Preview: Cleveland Indians

The Indians come next in our guide preview trip through the AL Central. For six of the seven years between 1995 and 2001, Cleveland was the class of the division, winning the division in each of those years. Since then, though, the team has had some troubles maintaining a winning club. They went into the season last year with high expectations, but struggled so much early on that, come July, there was already no doubt that they would be trading ace CC Sabathia rather than trying to compete for the division title later in the season. With the troubles of last year hopefully in the past, the Indians expect to compete again this year.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…

Cleveland Indians
Last Year: 81 – 81, 3rd Place, AL Central

Predictions Since 1999
This Year Last Year Avg Pred. Avg Finish
Sporting News 2 2 2.375* 2.375*
Athlon 2 2 2.125** 2.375**
Lindy’s 2 2

* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008

Team Notes

The Indians had a hard time living up to their expectations last year. They suffered some serious injuries, endured some tough times by their best player, and played some uninspiring ball through the first half. All in all, it added up to another season in the “every-other-year trend”.

“The Indians have been riding a roller-coaster in recent years. In 2005, they exceeded expectations by winning 93 games and almost reaching the playoffs. One year later, they finished a distant, disappointing fourth in the American League Central. They rode a rebuilt pitching staff to within one game of the World Series in 2007, but then the every-other-year trend continued last season, as Cleveland fell out of the race early and traded CC Sabathia on July 7.

Many contributors from 2007 spent significant time on the disabled list in 2008: catcher Victor Martinez, designated hitter Travis Hafner, closer Joe Borowski, and starters Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook. Yet the season ended with optimism. The Indians had a winning record after the Sabathia trade and the most victories of any team in their division after the All-Star break (40). Cliff Lee won the American League Cy Young Award. Grady Sizemore had his best season yet, establishing career highs in home runs (33), RBIs (90), and stolen bases (38). And the prospects acquired for Sabathia and third baseman Casey Blake should help the club quickly. (Lindy’s)”

Cleveland’s story last year was almost entirely focused on their pitching. From the early struggles and eventual departure of CC Sabathia to the dominant season of Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, it really was all about the Indians’ rotation. They can only hope that it will be the same this year.

“Lee and Fausto Carmona are the top starters. Lee, who won 22 games last year, has gone from No. 5 in 2008 to lead dog this year. The Indians don’t expect him to repeat last year’s performance, but they need him to come close. Carmona won 19 games in 2007 and eight last year after missing two months with a hip injury. All Carl Pavano has to do is stay healthy and a spot in the rotation belongs to him. The Indians needed a veteran to stabilize the rotation and they’re gambling that Pavano, who missed most of last season because of Tommy John surgery, is the guy. (Athlon)”

But the biggest question, and the one that weighs most heavily on their fans’ minds, has to do with Travis Hafner’s health. The $57 million man missed most of the season last year and batted only .197 in the 57 games he played in. If he can return to health this season, the Indians’ optimism rises substantially.

“Limited to just 57 games last season, Hafner batted a paltry .197 and had only five home runs and 24 RBIs. A feared and relentless slugger from 2004-06, the designated hitter has seen his numbers decline in each of the past two seasons.

The drop-off in 2007 was a mild concern, but ‘Pronk’ was then sidelined for three months last year with a sore right shoulder. He had arthroscopic surgery at season’s end and no major damage was discovered.

Hafner is supposed to be ready to go this year, and the Indians need his big bat in the middle of the lineup after a disappointing 81-81 finish. (TSN)”

Spotlight Quote

Athlon’s “Final Analysis” of the team shows one reason why the Indians have high hopes for the 2009 season:

“The Indians are fortunate to be playing in the AL Central, where quick rebounds are possible. They’re being outspent by Detroit and Chicago, but talent-wise they’re in position to win the division as long as their key players stay healthy and they get their infield and rotation aligned. Last year was disappointing but beneficial, because young players such as Choo, Francisco, Cabrera, Shoppach, Perez, Peralta, and Lewis were exposed to pressure situations. That will only help them in 2009.”

Commentary

I said before that there are some teams that I just don’t have much to say about, and I think the Indians are one of those clubs. I know that they were expected to do well last year, with the likes of Sabathia and Sizemore and Hafner and Carmona, and that things conspired to keep that from happening (Sabathia’s poor start, Hafner’s injury, etc.). Eventually, they pulled things together enough to finish with a perfect .500 record, and Cliff Lee seemed to come out of nowhere to win the Cy Young award.

As they head into the season, all I can figure is that they should be back near the top of the division. The only significant loss to the team was CC, but they had nearly three months to get used to that. They bring Sizemore and Lee back, and Hafner should be healthier. I just don’t see them falling into the same traps as last year and, with no clear front-runner in the division, they have every chance at the crown.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.

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