Spring Training Is More Important For Which Cleveland Indians Starter?

Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians pitcher Danny Salazar throws against the Chicago Cubs in the fourth inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians pitcher Danny Salazar throws against the Chicago Cubs in the fourth inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

Cleveland Indians pitchers reported to Spring Training on Feb. 12. How much does Spring mean to each starter? Factory of Sadness writer Joe Russo examines…

Make no mistake, the Cleveland Indians will only go as far as the starting rotation can take them. As pitchers and catchers reported on Sunday, some pitchers need a strong camp more than others. From least to most important, we’ve got a look at which starters need to perform well in Goodyear.

8. Corey Kluber

7. Josh Tomlin

These two are last because you know exactly what you are getting from both Kluber and Tomlin. Kluber will be a Cy Young contender right out of the gate and will start on Opening Day. Tomlin will be a low innings, low walks, high home run type just like he has been. The only thing of note for Tomlin is that I am convinced he made a sacrifice to Jobu to keep his arm together all season in 2016.

6. Carlos Carrasco

The first of the injured starters to appear on the list, Carrasco could not have had worse luck at the end of the year. If not for an Ian Kinsler line drive, Carrasco would have been a postseason force that would have kept Corey Kluber from pitching three times in seven World Series games.

But there is also more for Carrasco to look at than just health. His 2.47 ERA before the All-Star break was balanced by a 4.17 mark afterwards over the same amount of innings. Carrasco also had an imbalance in his home / road splits. Away from Progressive Field, his ERA sat at 2.40. But at home? That number jumps over two runs up to 4.29.

5. Mike Clevinger

4. Ryan Merritt

3. Adam Plutko

It’s impossible to separate the three at this point of their careers. All three starters are young and could potentially make a break through in 2017 or 2018. While Clevinger saw a handful of starters during the season and Merritt’s postseason exploits earned him random wedding gifts from Tribe fans everywhere, Plutko is still only a AAA arm.

All three, however, are blocked from making the majors while the Indians current rotation remains healthy. Plutko has a high ceiling, but didn’t impress in Columbus last season with a 1.34 WHIP and a 4.10 ERA at AAA. However, he had not had an ERA that his in any start since his first professional seasons.

Clevinger can throw some real heat, but control issues limited him to 5.3 innings per start over 10 starts. Part of the problem is the walks (29) and high contact (50 hits allowed). He is only 26, so if the big league experience helps him make the jump, Clevinger could be an easy fill in for the rotation.

Merritt is just as unlikely as Plutko to make the majors out of camp. He started one regular season and one postseason game for the Tribe, but was also arguably the best pitcher in Columbus last season. He’s more of a command pitcher in the Josh Tomlin mold, so major league hitters might adjust faster without overwhelming stuff. Regardless, a 3.39 ERA in the minors with a 1.19 WHIP point to his stuff being just good enough.

2. Trevor Bauer

His off season has not been great, given the over active social media and the way he hasn’t handled his viewpoints well on Twitter. Personally, I don’t care at all. But for a pitcher who is universally described as “mercurial” or “emotional”, it does matter to the powers that be in the Tribe front office.

On the field, Good Trevor Bauer has arguably the best curveball in the American League. All you had to do was watch the World Series to see how even the Cubs lineup struggled to hit it. In general his ERA has improved each season and so has his control with fewer walks and more strikeouts. Sometimes it is that simple.

Bauer did allow batting averages of .316 in the ALDS and .343 in the World Series. You cannot win with that batting average allowed. Like in years, past, he fell apart in the second half with an ERA split of 3.30 to 5.36 and a home / road split of 4.73 to 3.67, the same confusing type of split we see with Carrasco.

It all comes down to a season where we will either learn who Bauer is or who he isn’t. Will he avoid the drone injuries and make some real progress or will the quirks in his preparation continue the Good Bauer/Bad Bauer act we’ve seen the last few seasons? The stuff is there. There just needs to be a complete season to put it all together. Stop if you’ve heard this before, but this spring is big for Trevor Bauer.

1. Danny Salazar

Bauer may be inconsistent, but he’s stayed healthy over most of his career. Salazar has yet to make it through a season Salazar missed time in 2014 and 2016 due to arm issues. Oddly enough, 2016 was the 2nd most innings Salazar has thrown, with the 137.1 innings in 2016 only being beat by 185 in 2015.

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Salazar looked like the best pitcher in the AL heading into the All-Star game only to be derailed in the second half and be knocked out for the playoffs. Salazar is still only 27 and owns a career 3.72 ERA, impressive for the arm problems Salazar has experienced. The numbers are there to support a Kluber-Carrasco-Salazar trio as the best in the AL.

But for Salazer, this spring is more than improving his stats. He has to prove that he can stay healthy and avoid arm issues that knock him out of the rotation for an extended period of time.

Carrasco’s injuries were at least a result of bad luck. For Salazar, it’s just a matter of fatigue and soft tissue injuries. Can Salazar prove in camp that his stuff is still there without taxing his arm?

Next: How Many Projected Wins For The Tribe?

Will Mickey Calloway work his magic to find a way to streamline Salazar’s delivery to lessen the stress on his arm? Who knows, but 2017 camp will answer a lot of those questions.