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View from the Porch: Bold Predictions for the 2015 Cleveland Indians Season

(photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)
(photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

As you may have noticed, Jeff Nomina did an excellent job earlier this week compiling staff predictions for the 2015 Cleveland Indians season. If you follow Fangraphs or read any of their things, their staff is releasing a series of bold predictions for the fantasy baseball season this week. It’s just that time of year for the glass half full approach to the season. Safe to say that the glass is certainly half full, or possibly overflowing, for some of the staff here at EHC regarding the Indians.

With that in mind, it’s a good time for me to step up and make some bold predictions for the 2015 Cleveland Indians season. There’s no point in stepping on what Jeff put together, so I won’t be making the same bold predictions that I made regarding the questions he posed like the team’s record or how far they will go in the playoffs. Instead, I’ll focus more on individual players and look at some of the personal accomplishments that they may enjoy in 2015.

Let’s start with my biggest one, Carlos Santana will hit 30+ home runs. Since 2005, the Indians have had two players with 30 or more home runs in a season. Travis Hafner did it twice in 2005 and 2006, including a 42-homer campaign in just 129 games in 2006, and Grady Sizemore hit 33 round-trippers in 2008. Santana hit 27 last season to match his career high. It’s not a coincidence that 2011 and 2014 were Santana’s highest seasons by FB% outside of his 46-game 2010 debut season.

In that 2011 season, Santana hit 22 of his 27 homers from the left side. In 2014, it was a 19/8 split. It’s worth noting that Santana had a really inconsistent season outside of his walk rate. He entered June with six home runs and doubled his season total and hit .308 that month. He hit eight home runs and batted .313 in July. In August, Santana hit just two home runs and drove in only 13 runs with a .208 batting average. To hit 27 home runs and be that inconsistent means that big things are coming in 2014 for Santana. Playing full-time at first base completely changes the complexion of his offensive profile because it’s easier on his legs than third base or catching and the legs are a big part of generating power.

This one may be a stretch, but stick with me on this one. Danny Salazar will have a higher WAR than Carlos Carrasco. I know what you’re thinking. If you know how pitcher WAR is calculated, I really know what you’re thinking. One of the main components of calculating pitcher WAR is using FIP. FIP encapsulates strikeouts, walks, home runs, and hit by pitches. Salazar struggles on the home run front and also can have a hard time on the walk front. Allow me to explain why I think this is possible. Salazar experienced triceps soreness early in the season that hurt his preparation for the season and also zapped some of his velocity. The end result was ugly. Salazar hung a 4.71 FIP in his first 40.2 innings.

After a trip to Columbus and some tweaks to his pitching mechanics, Salazar returned to post a 2.83 FIP over his final 69.1 innings. Salazar’s HR/FB% was cut by more than half from 14.8 percent to 6.6 percent over the course of the season. His K% rate remained consistent at 25.5 and 25.2 percent. His walk rate dropped by three percent in the second half of the season to a well above average rate of 6.2 percent.

I’m a believer in these improvements and it’s a big reason why I’ve been so high on the Indians in the lead-up to the season. The mechanical change, better health, and vastly-improved fastball command led to the total package from Salazar and that should be sustainable. This is no knock on Carrasco, but the incredible 5.5 percent walk rate over the entire season and the ridiculous 4.6 percent from the second half will be tough to sustain. If the home rate rises, and it likely will, Carrasco will still be a great starter, but the gap between him and Salazar won’t be that big.

Earlier, I mentioned that Carlos Santana will hit 30 or more home runs. In that same breath, Brandon Moss will hit 30+ home runs. Moss has one 30-homer season to his credit, back in 2013 in the cavernous O.co Coliseum as a member of the Oakland A’s. From 2012-14 as a member of the A’s, Moss hit 76 home runs. Of those 76 home runs, 45 were hit on the road. Assuming that Moss can sustain his average of 15 road home runs per season, the massive improvement from O.co Coliseum to Progressive Field for a left-handed hitter cannot be ignored.

Moss averaged a little over 10 home runs per season at home. Last season, Progressive Field was 21 percent better than O.co Coliseum for left-handed hitters looking to hit the ball out of the park. A 20 percent increase to Moss’s would add, at a minimum, two home runs to his home total. That brings us to 27. However, Moss spent the second half of the 2014 season dealing with a torn labrum in his hip. Moss hit 21 of his 25 home runs in the first half and he was limited to 179 plate appearances in the second half.

How far did his power drop? His ISO (isolated power is Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average) dropped from .262 to a ghastly .101. His HR/FB% dropped from 18.8 percent to seven percent. He’s a buy-high bounce back candidate and a guy that has 30+ home run potential without a doubt.

This isn’t the boldest of predictions by any means, but it’s worth taking a look at. I’m not big on pitcher wins, but the Indians will have five pitchers with at least 10 wins this season. Pitcher wins don’t tell me a whole lot, but the Indians have not had five pitchers with at least 10 wins since 1961. That list was Gary Bell, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry, Barry Latman, and Frank Funk. Funk picked up 11 wins pitching exclusively in relief.

Let’s make this a little bit more special. The Indians will have five starting pitchers with at least 10 wins this season. That has not happened since 1955 when Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Herb Score, Mike Garcia, and Art Houtteman accomplished that feat. Houtteman made 12 starts, so I’ll give him the starting pitcher label. Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Herb Score is a pretty decent top three, no? A side note about the 2014 Indians rotation. They finished with three pitchers in the single-season top 10 in K/9 in Indians history. Kluber was third at 10.273, Salazar was fifth at 9.818, and Carrrasco was 10th a 9.403. The highest, in case you’re wondering, is Sam McDowell’s 10.714 in 1965. It’s hard to see that record falling this season, but it could.

The Indians will have at least two players with 30+ stolen bases. Since 2005, Grady Sizemore and Jason Kipnis are the only two Indians to take 30 or more bags in a season. The last time the Indians had two players with 30 or more swipes was 1998 when Kenny Lofton took 54 bases and Omar Vizquel grabbed 37.

The Indians have three candidates in this area. Jason Kipnis would seem to be the most reliable player to do it. Kipnis took 31 in 2012 and 30 in 2013. Even with how little he got on base in 2014, Kipnis still managed 22 steals. Michael Bourn should be the next candidate, but who knows how those legs will hold up throughout the season. Bourn did take 23 bases in 2013, so the potential is there for him to get up into the 25 range and it wouldn’t take much more beyond that. The guy I really like to do this is Jose Ramirez.

The Indians have made it very clear that they are not going to rush Francisco Lindor to the Major Leagues. If Jose Ramirez performs, Lindor may spend the entire season in Triple-A. Between Triple-A and the bigs last season, Ramirez took 29 bases in 128 games. He stole 38 bases in Double-A in 2013. As he learns the pitchers and figures out the right spots to steal, he’s going to be a very good base stealer. Because of Ramirez’s defense and bat-to-ball skills, I think he’ll be the shortstop for the majority of the season and that means he’ll have an excellent shot at this benchmark.

A darkhorse is Michael Brantley, who stole 23 bases last season. He’s not a big speed guy and he’s a middle of the order hitter so he’s less likely to take off. Brantley’s 95.83 percent success rate last season was the third-highest single season rate in Indians history. The highest single-season stolen base success rate belongs to…Albert Belle. Belle was 11-for-11 in 1996. For what it’s worth, the Indians have not had three guys with 20 or more stolen bases since 2000 when Roberto Alomar, Kenny Lofton, and Omar Vizquel all had 22 or more. That could happen this year as well.

Nick Hagadone will be a top-five left-handed reliever in the American League. This is a bit more subjective because it can be difficult to accurately evaluate pitchers that appear in 70+ games with less than 50 innings pitched, but I’m extremely high on Hagadone this season.

Hagadone spent part of the offseason working with Kyle Boddy at the Driveline Baseball Academy in Puyallup, WA, near his hometown. Another client of Boddy’s is Trevor Bauer. High-speed video analysis and mechanical study are a big part of the development process at Driveline and Hagadone has looked sharp during the Spring, including a new cut fastball to bury in on righties.

I’ve often said of Hagadone that I’ve never seen a pitcher so inconsistent from pitch-to-pitch. The raw characteristics are all there – size, velocity, and left-handed. Learning how to pitch and repeating his delivery are two things that have plagued Hagadone throughout his career. Assuming those things have been corrected and simplified, he’s going to be a major weapon in what has the potential to be the American League’s best bullpen.

Speaking of the bullpen, I’ll borrow from Paul Sporer of Fangraphs and agree that Cody Allen will lead the American League in saves. This bullpen is good, the offense is good, and the starting rotation should turn it over with a lot of leads. Allen should get plenty of save chances and he has two elite-level pitches. I won’t spend too much time on this because it’s not my idea, and I’m not a big proponent of the save stat, but it’s worth a mention. Allen could very challenge the Indians record of 46, held by Jose Mesa in 1995.

How’s this for bold? Nick Swisher will post a .250/.325/.400 slash line. Yes, it’s a bit of a long shot, considering that Swisher is returning from double knee surgery on the wrong side of 30 coming off of the worst season of his career. Humility was not a characteristic that Nick Swisher possessed entering last season. After spending significant time injured and/or on the disabled list for the first time in his career, Swisher’s perspective has changed. Initially, Swisher was trying to muscle up on everything and validate his contract with power. Now, the approach should be simplified after some time to reflect and some heart-to-hearts with Terry Francona.

Swisher completely changed his approach at the plate. He became a guess hitter and a cheater. A 91/21 K/BB ratio from the left side was previously unheard of in his career. Everything snowballed right from the start for Swisher and the end result was a disaster. Would .250/.325/.400 validate his contract? No, but it would be a big step in his return. Francona will do everything he can to get Swisher in the lineup to try and prove himself and that slash line should be considered a success. It should be one hell of a season at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario this year.

What are your bold predictions for the season? Post them in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter @EvrybdyHatesCLE or shoot them over to me @SkatingTripods. I’ll give the best (and worst) a shout out in next week’s column.
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