Analyzing Cleveland Indians Hitters For 2020

Daniel Port takes a look at Cleveland's lineup for 2020.

The Cleveland Indians were a tale of two halves last season. They struggled out of the gates offensively for most of the first half before finding their stride and becoming a middle-of-the-pack offense in the second half. A big part of that was getting Francisco Lindor back healthy after he missed the first 19 games of the season and Jose Ramirez finally getting it together. There was also a lot of dead weight that got replaced by the likes of Oscar Mercado, Franmil Reyes and Yasiel Puig.

So what do we make of the Indians offense for 2020? It will be interesting to see how the lineup comes together and how the team as a whole approaches hitting in the coming year. You notice a pattern among most of the hitters who played for the Indians last year, and that was an emphasis on going the other way with the ball more often. I suspect that this was a concerted effort to beat the shift. This makes sense as the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox all ranked in the top 15 for how often they used the shift. We’ll have to see if that trend continues in 2020 with Cleveland hitters, but if nothing else, you have to think with full seasons from Lindor and Ramirez combined with improvement from Mercado and Reyes and the steadiness of Carlos Santana that this has the possibility to be a top-10 offense in 2020 with plenty of fantasy riches to bestow upon us.

(Last Updated: March 5, 2020)

Roster Changes

 

 

Hitter Previews

 

Catchers

 

Roberto Perez (Catcher | Batting 8th)

2019: 27 Runs, 8 HR, 22 RBI, 1 SB, .265/.316/.754 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 31st

2020 ADP: Undrafted

 

Last year was Roberto Perez‘s first as the Indians’ full-time catcher, and he made the most of it. Not only did he lead the league in DRS while winning a Gold Glove, but he also put together a surprisingly impressive campaign in the batter’s box. Despite the .239 AVG, he put up a 10.0 BB% with 24 HRs and 98 wRC+. Those HRs came with a 28.2 HR/FB%, which is an astounding 11.2 points higher than his previous career high. So where did the HRs come from? I believe two major changes in his approach unleashed Perez’s power potential.

He radically changed his batted-ball approach this season. He’s an extreme ground-ball hitter, and when he came up in 2017, he was also an extreme pull hitter, a combo which in this Our Year of The Shift Two Thousand And Twenty spells doom for any hitter. Perez has slowly shifted his batted-ball tendencies.

Roberto Perez Batted Ball Trends

2019’s 30.4 Oppo% would have been the eighth-highest in the league if catchers got enough PAs to qualify. Why is this shift important? Because he’s a really good hitter when he is able to go the other way.

Roberto Perez Batted Ball Trends

When Perez pulls the ball he hits a ground-ball three-fourths of the time! So while he has a tendency to hit home runs when he does pull the ball in the air, it doesn’t happen nearly as often and he doesn’t get enough hits otherwise. That 8.3 LD% is gross. On the other side, though, the xStats say he got a bit unlucky when he pulled the ball as well, but the Exit Velocity and Launch Angle numbers tell me it’s still not in his best interest. Yet check out those oppo numbers! He hits it in the air half the time with an excellent HR/FB%. His OppoBA ranks in the top 50 among major leaguers, while his OppoSLG and OppowOBA both ranked in the top 25. That’s fantastic for a catcher. And look at those Exit Velocity and Launch Angle numbers! Those are elite. It’s unlikely that he can realistically he can raise that Oppo% too much higher (only 329 players EVER have finished a single season with a higher Oppo%), but if he just maintains it I can certainly see his 2019 numbers sticking around.

Strengths: PA/AB, HR, OBP (for a catcher)

Weaknesses: R, SB, AVG, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario 

 

Perez continues to mash the ball when he goes the other way, which when combined with a bit better batted-ball luck to the pull side sees the HRs stick around and the AVG rebounds to something closer to .250, which would like make him a top-10 catcher in 2020.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Perez falls back to earth, and while his defense will likely always guarantee him playing time as the Indians will always prioritize catcher defense, his AVG never recovers and the power falls back to earth with disastrous consequences. 

 

2020 Projection: 41 R, 15 HR, 42 RBI, 1 SB, .219/.303/.702

 

Infielders

 

Carlos Santana (First Base | Batting 3rd)

2019: 110 Runs, 34 HR, 93 RBI, 4 SB, .281/.397/.911 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 8th

2020 ADP: 107.7 Overall ( Position Rank) 12th

 

I have written a ton about Santana for Pitcher List. He might be one of my favorite players ever and to watch him become the deadly hitter he was in 2019 was such a joy. To try to avoid being redundant, here’s the excerpt from my draft recap piece on Santana that perfectly sums up how I view him:

He’s been such a steady contributor for so darn long that I have a good idea of what his floor is going to be. At the very worst, you can expect a .250-.260 average with around 25 home runs and a healthy dose of RBI, as he’ll be the cleanup hitter for the Indians and will have Lindor, Oscar Mercado and Jose Ramirez batting in front of him. The questions that remains are, after putting up a career year at age 33, what is left in the tank for Santana, and can he possibly repeat his best season as a pro?

First, his batting average. If you read my piece on him from earlier in season, Santana has largely been an extreme (50% plus!) pull hitter for most of his career. This has always left him susceptible to the shift. For his career, Santana has been shifted on for 30.6% of the pitches he’s seen, which has suppressed his average (.238 lifetime average against the shift). In the first half of 2019, though, he saw a shift on 57.9% (!) of his pitches. This time he managed to hit .292 against said shifts. At first glance, that sounds like an outlier or just dumb luck, but I think there’s actually a solid explanation.

For the first time in his career, Santana made a concerted effort in the first half to go the other way when faced with the shift. During said first half, Santana registered 68 of his 93 hits while facing the shift. Of those, 12 of them (17.6%) were to the opposite field, and 39 of those hits went back up the middle (41.9%). For perspective, 91 of his 282 career hits (32.3%) against the shift prior to 2019 went to center field, and 52 went to the opposite field (18.4%). Prior to 2019, Santana had put 932 balls into play against the shift with 184 of them going to the opposite field (19.7%) and 299 to center field (32.1%). In 2019 he put 273 balls into play, with 58 of them going to the opposite field (21.2%) and 106 of them going up the middle (38.8%). That’s going help boost that average against the shift quickly.

What about the power? His 34 home runs averaged an insane 396 feet with only one home run going less than 350 feet. That’s earning your home runs. They also put up an average of 103.1 mph (with only six of them falling below 100 mph), and an average launch angle of 27.4 degrees (with only two of them falling below 20 degrees). Twenty-nine of them were barreled! Some of this is obviously due to the juiced ball, but Santana absolutely crushed his home runs in 2019, with almost none of them being cheapies or because of luck. This coincides with him raising his BBL% to a three-year high of 9.6% and a career-high exit velocity of 91.8 mph and 44.9 hard-hit percentage. This gives me a lot of confidence that much of the power should be here to stay. I wouldn’t be shocked at all by a .270 average with 28 or so home runs in 2020, and that will do just fine.

It’s also worth noting that with Lindor, Mercado and Ramirez hitting in front of him and with Reyes hitting behind him, I absolutely think Santana will come close to 200 combined Runs and RBI again, which should make him a stud First Baseman in fantasy at a great price. Also with a 15.7 BB% and 15.7 K% he is an incredible value in OBP and Points leagues. Get him everywhere in those leagues.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, HR, R, RBI, OBP, Points  

Weaknesses: AVG (maybe)

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Santana perfectly replicates his 2019 excellence and breaks the 100 mark in Runs and RBI.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Santana regresses in terms of AVG and HRs, falling back to something around a .240 AVG and 25 HRs with solid Runs and RBI numbers.

 

2020 Projection: 95 R, 30 HR, 90 RBI, 3 SB, .260/.375/.857

 

 

Cesar Hernandez (Second Base| Batting 6th)

2019: 77 R, 14 HR, 71 RBI, 9 SB, .279/.333/.741 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 18th

2020 ADP: 311th (Overall) 30th (Position Rank) 

 

2019 was a strange year for Cesar Hernandez. Normally one of the most reliable sources of OBP in baseball, Hernandez’s trademark BB% dropped nearly in half to 6.7%, while his O-Swing% leaped up 9.5% and his O-Contact% jumped 13.8%. Perhaps even more curiously, his Swing% followed suit by jumped a full eight points, his SwStr% stayed exactly the same and astonishingly his K% dropped to a career best 15.0%. It’s not typical to see a hitter’s O-Swing% go up and their K% go down. So what the heck was going on last year? I think Hernandez was simply trying to be more aggressive in 2019.

Hernandez has always been pretty picky in terms of what pitches he swings at having never topped a 46.0 Swing% in his career. In 2018 that took an extreme turn and plummeted to 37.6%. It’s entirely possible some of that was a byproduct of Hernandez playing through a broken foot for much of the season, but either way he was incredibly selective in what pitches he swung at, especially early in the count.

Cesar Hernandez Early Count Swing Rates

This chart shows how many pitches over the last two years that Hernandez saw with the fewer than two strikes or three balls, what percent that made up of his total pitches, and finally what percent of them he swung at. So in 2019 Hernandez saw a greater percentage of his pitches early in the count and swung at a higher percentage of those pitches. The thing is when switching your approach to attacking the ball early in counts it’s not uncommon for you to see a drop in BB% and K% simply because if you’re making contact with more pitches early on in the count than you’re not getting into the two-strike or three-ball counts that result in walks or strikeouts.

Why would he choose to do this, though? It’s worth noting that he put up career highs in ISO, HRs, and 2Bs. Perhaps we’re just seeing the midpoint of a shift in approach that will lead to more gap-to-gap power for Hernandez as well. That being said, his calling card his entire career has been his ability to get on base at an elite level. I suspect it had something to do with where he was hitting in the Phillies order last season. In the most common Philly lineups he hit either sixth or seventh with Maikel Franco and the pitcher hitting behind him. I could easily see how a hitter would shift his focus from drawing walks and getting on base to driving in runs and putting the ball in play when that’s who is hitting behind him.

Roster Resource has Hernandez playing a similar role in Cleveland, but he’ll have better hitters behind (plus no pitcher) him, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him take more walks this season. If stays in the sixth slot, that means he will have Lindor, Mercado, Santana, Ramirez and Reyes hitting in front of him, so you have to think 100 RBI is within reach for Hernandez if the ends up being his spot in the order. Indians Manager Terry Francona loves high-OBP guys and tends to emphasize taking walks, so it wouldn’t shock me if he ends up in the No. 2 slot either. We’ll know more as we get closer to the season.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, RBI, OBP, Points

Weaknesses: HR 

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Hernandez continues to make strides toward becoming a more lethal power hitter to go with his contact skills and ends up somewhere just above 90-100 RBI on the season. We get a line around a .270 AVG with 30-40 2Bs and like 15-18 HRs. His BB% rebounds to double digits again

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Age and injury catch up with Hernandez and his numbers continue to drop until he’s really not an upgrade from Jason Kipnis.

 

2020 Projection: 72 R, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 9 SB, .277/.333/.699

 

Jose Ramirez (Third Base| Batting 4th)

2019: 68 R, 23 HR, 83 RBI, 24 SB, .255/.327/.806 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 12th

2020 ADP: 17.2 (Overall) 4th (Position Rank)

 

Lots of folks are going to tell you that they don’t know what to do with Ramirez in 2020. He was legitimately awful at the end of 2018 and throughout the first half of 2019 before catching fire and having an incredible second half last year. When he’s hot there isn’t a hitter in baseball you’d rather have in your lineup. The first thing you’ll need to accept if you’re going to draft Ramirez is that he is one of the streakiest hitters in baseball and you have to be willing to ride the highs and the lows. Why is he so streaky, though? My belief is that it’s mechanical. Sitting at 5’9″ and 190 pounds, Ramirez is a hitter who has to swing really hard to generate the sort of power he gets when he hits the ball. This YouTube video is a pretty good breakdown of Ramirez’s swing.

The video walks through how his swing can lead to struggles against breaking balls, but the key to remember is that this approach is designed to crush fastballs, and normally that’s exactly what Ramirez does.

Jose Ramirez Fastball Pitch Values

For reference, these pitch values are essentially the hitter equivalent of pVAL. It’s essentially how many runs the hitter generated when facing that pitch. Anything over 10 is considered above average. Above 20 is elite. In 2018 Ramirez ranked fifth in the league against both four-seamers and two-seam fastballs. That pretty darn good. The thing is hitting a fastball is all about keeping up with it, and so if your timing is off you’ll struggle. A small nagging injury can throw off your mechanics and keep you from hitting those fastballs.

Was this the case with Ramirez? I believe so. During the last few days of spring training, Ramirez fouled a ball off his knee that was so bad they had to bring the cart out to get him. Diagnosed with a bone bruise in his knee he was starting less than a week later on Opening Day. Since the legs often act as the timing mechanism in a swing, that’s exactly the type of injury that can throw off your mechanics. It was clear during much of Ramirez’s early-season PAs he was pressing and trying to swing his way out of the issue but couldn’t.

On June 26, though, the Indians put Ramirez on the paternity list for four days. When he returned on the 30th he played in seven games leading into the All-Star break, when he got five days off. Once he got back from the break, he took off and never looked back.

Jose Ramirez Post All-Star Numbers

That’s insane output. Unfortunately he missed the last few weeks of the season with a broken hamate bone, but for just over two months there wasn’t a better hitter in baseball. That’s the Ramirez we know and love. Did he get his timing back? If you break down wFA per 100 pitches you can see how it matches up with his previous numbers.

Looks like he’s back, baby! Now there is obvious cause for concern thanks to the hamate bone injury, as they can certainly linger, but Ramirez showed that when healthy he’s as good a hitter as they come. I think that if he recovers fully you can safely bet on him returning to near-MVP form in 2020.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, HR, RBI, R, SB, Points 

Weaknesses: OBP

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

We get the Ramirez of 2018 and joyfully watch as JRam puts together another 30 HR/30 SB campaign and challenges for the AL MVP. True top five player in fantasy potential here.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Ramirez never recovers from the hamate injury and struggles with his swing again, putting up something closer to a 20/20 season again with a 2.50 to .260 AVG. Still a solid fantasy player but not at the price he’s going.

 

2020 Projection: 97 R, 31 HR, 102 RBI, 24 SB, .277/.361/.884

 

Francisco Lindor (Shortstop| Batting 1st)

2019: 101 R, 32 HR, 74 RBI, 22 SB, .284/.335/.854 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 7th 

2020 ADP: 7.7 (Overall) 1st (Position Rank)

 

Long live Lindor! Sign him for life. Build that man a statue! While I wish Cleveland would hold on to Lindor, we don’t know if this is where he will be playing when the season starts in March. He’s easily one of the, if not the greatest player to don the Indians uniform and is the ever smiling face of the franchise. In the same article I covered Santana I also wrote about Lindor. Given that it’s the offseason, my take on him hasn’t changed much, so again I’m going to quote my own piece:

“You would be forgiven if you thought that 2019 represented a down year for Lindor, and in many ways, you would be correct. Last year he put up a career-low in BB% (down to 7.0% from 9.4% in 2018), his worst K% since 2015 (it’s still pretty good at 15.0%). And for the first time his xStats tend to indicate he got a bit lucky (.270 xBA, .443 xSLG, 7.5 BBL%, all down from 2018) in 2019. Despite all that, there’s plenty that makes me think Lindor will rebound next year.

Take a look at his plate appearances. You’ll notice he had about 91 fewer plate appearances in 2019 than in 2018. Traditionally, you’d find Lindor’s picture in the dictionary next to the word “workhorse,” as he rarely misses games. Unfortunately, Lindor suffered a severe calf strain in spring training and then while on rehab assignment managed to sprain his ankle. All in all this cost him 19 games at the beginning of the season. If you were to prorate his stats to include those 19 games, you’d end up with 36 home runs, 114 runs, 84 RBI, and 25 steals, which is in line with the numbers from his MVP-caliber 2018.

It’s often kind of hard to say something poignant about Frankie. He’s one of the best players in baseball, and we should absolutely expect another season of 700+ PAs with .275 AVG with 30+ HRs, 20+ SBs and 200+ Rs and RBI combined. Take him in the first round of your drafts and reap the sweet five-category rewards.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, AVG, HR, R, RBI, SB, OBP, Points

Weaknesses: None

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Lindor repeats his 2018 MVP-caliber season but keeps the AVG improvements as well so we see a .280+ AVG to go with the usual 30+ HRs and 20+ SBs.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

It’s hard to really put out a worst case, but I could see the AVG dropping back to the .270 range and maybe the HRs could drop into the 25 range with below 20 SBs.

 

2020 Projection: 106 R, 34 HR, 94 RBI, 20 SB, .288/.335/.884

 

Outfielders

 

Greg Allen (Right Field| Batting 9th)

2019: 30 R, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 8 SB, .229/.290/.636 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 150

2020 ADP: Undrafted (Overall) Undrafted (Position Rank)

 

So before we dive too much in to Greg Allen, let’s chat about the Indians outfield as a whole. There’s really only one spot in the OF that is surefire full-time thing, and that is Mercado as the center fielder. Outside that, nobody has any clue who is going to be playing in the grass in Progressive Field come late March. Further mudding the water, Cleveland loves a platoon.

Allen is likely the first of those platoon players. Blazingly fast and a good defender, Allen might have the greatest avenue to playing time simply because of his glove and solid arm in RF. The problem is he can’t hit a lefty to save his life, so he’s stuck in a platoon. Despite his southpaw troubles, though, is there a change Allen can make to take the next step, become relevant and hold on to the job? Allen really, really struggles against breaking balls to the tune of a .167 AVG against them. He didn’t do a ton better against fastballs as he hit a sorry .243 against them as well. The thing is he had a .281 xBA against FAs. This is fascinating because we already have an idea of what it might look like if he hadn’t gotten so unlucky.

Greg Allen Success Against FAs

Notice how close Allen’s PAs were in 2018 and 2019? Now compare his xBA against FA from both years. So if he had gotten better batted-ball luck against the fastball, he might have gotten probably like six to eight more hits, which could easily lead to a handful more stolen bases. As you can see, the last time he got that many hits off fastballs he ended up stealing 21 bases, which is always worth keeping an eye on. If he ends up getting more like 350 to 400 PAs (essentially a full season of being the strong-side platoon) and gets back to running at his 2018 pace, I could see him swiping 20+ bags again, which can be relevant in 15-team roto leagues, AL-only leagues and the like. It could be well worth keeping an eye on Allen in spring training. Who knows, he’s only 26, it might all still click in place for him, but for now we’re just here for the potential stolen bases.

 

Strengths: SB

Weaknesses: AVG, Runs, RBI, HR, OBP, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Allen holds the RF platoon all season and even fills in at CF and LF to get up to 400 or so PAs. This results a season along the lines of a .250 AVG with 20-25 SBs and negligible counting stats thanks to hitting so far back in the order.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Allen struggles too much to make his defense worth it and he ends up a AAAA player for life, eternally shuttling back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus in a vicious cycle.

 

2020 Projection: 36 R, 5 HR, 32 RBI, 12 SB, .246/.310/.778

 

 

Oscar Mercado (Center Field| Batting 2nd)

2019: 70 R, 15 HR, 57 RBI, 15 SB, .269/.318/.761 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 43rd

2020 ADP: 129.5 (Overall) 35th (Position Rank)

 

Last season, right around the middle of May, the Indians offense sat mired in the muck. They couldn’t muster runs to save their lives and desperately needed a spark. That catalyst was Mercado. Called up on May 14, Mercado proceeded to light the AL Central on fire from his call-up right on through the All-Star break.

Oscar Mercado First Half

OK, so maybe not like completely on fire, but it was still pretty darn good and Mercado quickly hit his way into the No. 2 spot in the Indians lineup. When you’re hitting right after Lindor and right before Santana and Ramirez you know the counting stats are going to be there.

The second-half production, though, had a few interesting twists.

Oscar Mercado Second Half

 

Oscar Mercado Second Half

What we see here is essentially two Mercados. In the first half is the standard speedster who uses his speed to generate his hits. His 9.7 InfieldHit% (30th best over that stretch), and that would help explain the separation between his AVG and his xBA since the latter statistic would dismiss them. We also see him steal six bases in 187 PAs, which comes to a stolen base every 31 PAs or so. For perspective, if extrapolated to 650 PAs, this pace would come out to 13 HR, 21 SB with 100 R, 59 RBI and a .281 AVG. That’s a very valuable fantasy player for sure.

What we see in the second half is a different hitter with seven more HRs and three extra SBs. Perhaps more interestingly, we see an 8.4-point increase in his FB% with a 6.6-degree increase in Launch Angle and a 9.7% drop in GB. We even see a rise in his BB% and a drop in his K% as well. To make the comparison, if you stretched this Mercado out over a full season of 650 PAs, you’d get 24 HRs and 20 SBs with 90 Rs, 81 RBI and a .262 AVG.

So which Mercado are we likely to see in 2020? We have a larger sample (almost half a season) of the higher-power, lower-AVG Mercado, and it certainly feels like a deliberate change in approach so I’m inclined to believe that sample. It’s also worth noting that his second-half average was skewed by a godawful .219 AVG in August when he put together a 44 wRC+, a .104 ISO, and a .262 xBA. He rebounded in September to hit five HRs in 26 games while batting .265, so he definitely ended 2019 on a high note with this approach. All in all I feel like expect Mercado to put together at least a 20 HR/20 SB season with somewhere between a .260 and .270 AVG, excellent run totals and potential for a whole lot more.

 

Strengths: PA/AB, R, SB

Weaknesses: RBI, AVG, OBP, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Mercado manages to get a few more speed-based hits to go along with the improved power potential and we see him creep up into the .270+ range with 25 HRs and 25 SBs and turns into Baby Yasiel Puig.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

While trying to adapt to his new approach everything gets all out of wack for Mercado much like it did last August. His defense keeps him in the CF role, but he drops way down the lineup and never recovers.

 

2020 Projection: 71 R, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 23 SB, .255/.313/.714

 

 Domingo Santana (Left Field| Batting 7th)

2019: 63 R, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 8 SB, .259/.329/.441 | Position Rank (per FG wOBA) 93

2020 ADP: 290.5 (Overall) 67th (Position Rank)

Domingo Santana has always had a bunch of power but has never been able to quite take advantage of it because of his propensity to whiff. He signed with the Mariners last year on a one year pillow contract but ultimately performed pretty much as he always has. The dingers were there, and so were the near-double digit walk rate and a K-rate above 30%. He signed with Cleveland after lingering on the free agent market until early February; the destination was one that seemed terribly obvious for a team that has skimped on the outfield and would definitely seek such a player.

Santana will slot likely slot into the lower third of the order and will replace Jordan Luplow. Despite his flaws, he’ll be a sizable upgrade for a team struggling to cling to contention after injuries and attrition. He’ll provide stability there, and, if you draft him, will probably do the same for your team. He’ll play most of 2020 at age 28 and likely is what he is at this point. You could do worse when making a pick in the reserve rounds.

Strengths: HR, RBI

Weaknesses: R

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Santana cuts down on his whiffs and buoys himself further with more walks. The bat is alive all year and he’s a plus asset who provides an easy if not game-changing profit for your squad.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

He gets hurt and/or whiffs more than ever, making him a straggler who’s in and out of the picture. He probably doesn’t do enough to be rostered on a regular basis.

 

Jake Bauers (Outfield| Bench)

2019: 46 R, 12 HR, 43 RBI, 3 SB, .226/.312/.638 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 136

2020 ADP: Undrafted

 

Many of us had high hopes for Jake Bauers coming into 2019, myself included. Unfortunately, he failed to meet pretty much all expectations. There is still some reason for keeping the faith with Bauers, though, and seeing if he still has that leap in him.

For one thing he’s still a baby by major league standards. He just turned 24 at the end of October. It’s not unreasonable that he struggled.

I sound like a broken record, but it appears that he might be in the middle of an approach change. Starting in 2018 with the Rays AAA affiliate, Bauers became an extreme pull hitter, something that carried over to his major league debut that year as he posted a 51.1 Pull% over 388 plate appearances. Once he was traded to the Indians last offseason I had assumed they would have him continue that trend especially given that they had found success in the past with Lindor and Ramirez by turning them into extreme pull hitters with increased launch angles. If you recall from my opening paragraph, we saw many of the Indians hitters making a concerted effort to go oppo more, and Bauers was no exception as he saw a 10.3-point increase in his Oppo% from 2018 to 2019. It isn’t uncommon for a young player to overcompensate or struggle when making such an extreme change to their approach, and I suspect that happened to Bauers.

The other thing I noticed about Bauers from watching a lot of his at-bats is that he might be seeing too many pitches. Bauers has a decent eye at the plate as evidenced by his 10.4 BB% and 25.6 O-Swing%. I wonder if he is being too picky with his pitches. His Swing% in 2019 was 41.9%, which would have been 15th-lowest in the league had he qualified, and his Z-Swing% of 65.7% would have the 22nd-lowest. Those aren’t necessarily bad numbers by themselves, but I think he is putting himself in a place to fail. Bauers saw 29.5% of his pitches with either two strikes or three balls. This led to 210 of his 423 PAs (49.4%) ending on such pitches. In those PAs he batted .162 with a 54.3 K%. That’s not good. Nearly half of his plate appearances ended in such counts, and he struck out in at least half of them. It’s that terrible average that bothers me the most, though. In all other possible counts he performed better, hitting .317 with a .331 wOBA. Bauers needs to be more aggressive early on instead of waiting for the perfect pitch and digging himself a hole that he can’t climb out of. Sure it would reduce his walk rate, but it could also go a long way from cutting down on his sky-high 27.2 K%.

This leads to Bauers’ main weakness. He strikes out far too often. This doesn’t seem to line up as he doesn’t chase pitches out of the zone and his SwStr% of 9.2% isn’t half bad either. He puts himself in bad situations for a hitter with a major hole in his swing. He cannot handle the high heater. Against the 152 four-seamers he saw up in the zone he batted .152. He saw 45% of these pitches when he had two strikes. When facing a heater up in the zone, his SwStr% jumps all the way up to 18%. You combine this with his propensity to work deep into counts so often, and it’s a weakness that opposing pitchers can easily exploit. Until he either gets more aggressive at the plate or learns how to handle the high fastball I’ll have a hard time believing in Bauers this season.

 

Strengths: None

Weaknesses: AVG, Runs, RBI, HR, OBP, Points 

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Bauers starts to figure things out and he holds on to the LF gig all season. We end up with something like a .265 AVG with 20+ HRs and 10-15 SBs.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Bauers continue to flounder and finds himself back down in AAA early on in the season.

 

2020 Projection: 36 R, 10 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB, .242/.333/.750

 

Franmil Reyes (Designated Hitter, Outfield| Batting 5th)

2019: 69 R, 37 HR, 81 RBI, 0 SB, .249/.310/.822 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 51

2020 ADP: 154.7 (Overall) 44th (Position Rank) 

 

There’s a couple of reasons to be very excited about Reyes in 2020. While he only spent the latter part of the year with the Indians, he now gets to play in a league with a DH, which could be a huge boost to his PAs in 2020. Reyes by no means a good outfielder, and so the Padres were reluctant to play him full time out there, especially among their already crowded outfield, but that doesn’t matter anymore now that he plays for a team with a DH.

A quick look at Reyes’ game logs from 2019 show that his defense likely cost him at least 80 PAs with the total probably ending up closer to 100. Reyes clubbed a HR nearly every 15 PAs, so that could mean a potential five to six HRs added to his already impressive 37. 42 to 43 HRs, which would have bumped him up from 17th-most in the league to seventh-best. That’s a heck of a jump. It’s also worth noting that according to Baseball Prospectus, Cleveland’s Progressive Field had a much better Home Run Park Factor for RHB (108) than San Diego’s 97. That’s a big boost. If his power holds, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Reyes could challenge for the league lead in HRs next season.

It’s also worth talking about Reyes’ RBI. While Reyes sometimes hit in the cleanup role for the Padres, he mostly hit in the No. 2 slot. This by itself would be a hinderance to his RBI numbers, but the Padres didn’t help things. Incredibly he only saw 75 PAs with runners in scoring position and drove in 46 runs in total during his time with the Padres in 2019, while in just 41 games with the Indians he saw 56 PAs with runners in scoring position and put up 35 RBI in all situations. Ramirez batted primarily in the fifth spot in the Indians lineup for most of last season and saw 144 PAs with runners in scoring position. Despite the few opportunities Reyes had to drive in runs with the Padres he still managed 81 RBI on the season. Is it possible that with additional RBI opportunities he could approach 100 RBI? It’s certainly possible. I wouldn’t rule it out especially with the extra PAs we expect the DH role to provide for him.

 

Strengths: HRs, RBI, Points

Weaknesses: AVG, Runs, OBP 

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Reyes continues to bash the ball at an elite rate while managing to improve his AVG a bit to get above .250 with close to 45 HRs and close to 100 RBI with Ramirez, Mercado, Lindor and Santana hitting in front of him.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Reyes doesn’t adjust to not playing in the field (it happens) and the AVG disappears. He might still hit 30+ HRs but the AVG drops to a point where you can’t afford to roster him.

 

2020 Projection: 82 R, 36 HR, 95 RBI, 0 SB, .259/.329/.845

 

Other noteworthy players

 

Jordan Luplow (Outfield)

2019: 42 R, 15 HR, 38 RBI, 3 SB, .276/.372/.923 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 108

2020 ADP: Undrafted

 

I could give you three guesses to take a stab at Jordan Luplow‘s 2019 wRC+, and you’d never get it. Heck, I watched practically every single Indians game last year and I would have gotten it wrong. It was 137. Don’t worry, I double-checked it before I typed it in; that number is very real, and in case you don’t think his counting numbers aren’t that impressive, keep in mind he did all of it in a mere 261 PAs! The problem is he probably won’t get too many more than that. Unfortunately, Luplow is a stone-cold leftie specialist, and so expecting more than about 400 PAs for him could be dicey. The thing is they have a pretty good shot at being really good PAs.

Jordan Luplow 2019 v. LHP

Great Googa-Mooga. If I’m in a daily league (or DFS for that matter), I will be paying close attention to Luplow, and if he continues to crush lefties at those rates he could end up being well worth a spot on your bench. The Indians certainly have plans for him; he can play any outfield position and he could end up having a much bigger role if Bauers flames out, but I still expect something around 400 PAs for him, and that could be useful for your team in the right leagues.

 

Strengths: (Against LHP) HR, AVG OBP, Points

Weaknesses: PA/AB, R, RBI, AVG

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Luplow continues to mash southpaws and gets better against RHP, so we see him seize the full-time LF job and 500+ PAs. He ends up with something like a .270 AVG with 20-25 HRs with solid counting numbers and five to 10 SBs

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Luplow’s numbers against lefties come crashing down around his ears and he ends up riding the pine all season.

 

2020 Projection: 37 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 12 SB, .250/.333/.782

 

Delino DeShields Jr. (Outfielder)

2019: 42 R, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 24 SB, .249/.325/.672 | Position Rank (per ESPN Player Rater) 78th

2020 ADP: Undrafted ADP (Position Rank)

 

Delino DeShields Jr. came over (I don’t wanna talk about it) in the (nope, don’t wanna talk about it), Corey Kluber (I miss you Corey!) trade.

I’m handling the trade well.

Anyways it isn’t DeShields’ fault that he came over in a trade for MY FAVORITE PITCHER EVER. Or that once when I was kid heckled his dad at Cubs game in PNC Park so much that he actually glared at me and gave me the “I’ve got my eyes on you kid” two fingers to the eyes motion. DeShields could actually be an interesting part of the Cleveland OF. Remember when we talked about Allen earlier in the preview? If you recall, he can’t hit a LHP to save his life. You know who can, though? That’s right Delino DeShields Jr.!

Delino Deshields Jr. 2019 v. LHP

He obviously doesn’t have Luplow’s power against southpaws, but for the most part it’ll get the job done. For fantasy purposes, the big number to point out is those stolen bases. He managed nine of them against LHP in just 134 PAs. If he can put together another 400-PA season one way or another you could be looking at another 20+ SB season, which is certainly valuable. Though, like Luplow I mostly will be keeping an eye on him in daily leagues or AL Only leagues where I need SBs.

 

Strengths: SBs, AVG against LHP

Weaknesses: PA/AB, R, HR, RBI, AVG (overall), OBP, Points

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

DeShields steals the full-time job from Allen and gets enough playing time to replicate 2017’s 29 SBs. It’s worth noting that he stolen over 24 bases in three of his five seasons with only one of them having over 450 PAs, so it’s certainly possible.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

He only gets playing time on the short side of the platoon and doesn’t get enough PAs to be relevant.

 

2020 Projection: 27 R, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 11 SB, .232/.313/.653

 

Playing Time Battles

 

The Indians are kinda a weird team as far PT battles go. They love a good platoon, and so it’s less about players battling for a full-time role than it is about securing their part in the platoon, especially in the outfield. One name to keep an eye on in spring training is Daniel Johnson, who blew up AAA last season, but I would be shocked if we see him before the Super Two given the Indians’ stingy ways. Nolan Jones could make a push as well with a strong spring for the second base position, but again I’d be shocked if it’s before the Super Two.

 

Projected Lineup

 

 

 

Cleveland Indians Projected Lineup vs. RHP
Cleveland Indians Projected Lineup vs. LHP

Conclusion

 

The Indians lineup is stacked one through six but thins out after that for fantasy purposes as it descends into platoons and mediocre players. That doesn’t mean shy away from those six players as they are all studs both in fantasy and real life. If the platoons play out or young players make the leap they might have a real shot at being a top-10 offense and will only boost the value of those players first six spots in the lineup.

Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire) | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Daniel Port

Daniel is a Fantasy Baseball writer, Brewer, and Theatrical Technician, located in Denver, Colorado. A lifelong fan of baseball and the Cleveland Indians since before Albert Belle tried to murder Fernando Vina, he used to tell his Mom he loved her using Sammy Sosa's home run salute, has a perfectly reasonable amount of love for Joey Votto and believes everything in life should be announced using bat flips. If you want to talk baseball, beer, or really anything at all you can find him on twitter at @DanielJPort !

  • Avatar Derrick says:

    Re: Jose Ramirez — it’s worth noting that he returned from the hamate bone injury for the final three games of the season and hit three home runs. Certainly a small sample, but I think it likely indicates that the injury didn’t/won’t sap his power.

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