Before the first games of the 2016 season were played, the BurningRiverBaseball staff tried our best to predict the future. The crystal ball might have been a little cracked, but was appropriately mended, as not all our guesses were far from reality.
This season for the Cleveland Indians has been one for the positive record books. A 14-game win streak, going an entire regular season without losing more than three games at a time, and finishing with the most walk-off wins (11) in the AL are just a few of the reason why we are still watching meaningful games in the middle of October. Joseph Coblitz, Mike Melaragno, John Hutchison, Kevin Gall, Caitlin Boron (me), Justin Lada, Gavin Potter and Baseball & Brews’ Brad Wojdyla took all this sugar, some strikes and every sacrifice into account when coming up with our award picks. Take this article as a reminder of our laughable attempt at predicting and a reminder at how amazing this season truly was.
Before getting into the fun of our awards, let’s check out the triple crown guys. We looked at batting average, home run totals and RBIs for the bats, and for pitching, ERA, wins and strikeouts.
Going back to 2012, LF Michael Brantley was the average leader on the Indians, and after batting a .310 in 2015 we all assumed that 2016 would be no different. Kevin, John, Gavin and I all put our chips on the Smooth square, leaving Joe (2B Jason Kipnis) Justin and Mike (SS Francisco Lindor) on the outside. I feel that if the present staff told the past staff who the batting leader for the Indians would be we wouldn’t have believed ourselves. The Heat-Miser himself, Jose Ramirez, finished the 2016 regular season with a .312 BA (7th in the American League), just a few points higher above second place stud Lindor (.301).
When talking about the biggest bomber on the squad, the votes swayed in favor of 1B/DH Carlos Santana, who just like Brantley, had a few seasons under his belt holding his title. It was a safe assumption to put his name down, and technically the few of us who predicted SLAMtana to hold his crown, weren’t wrong. The few of us who also said new addition Mike Napoli 1B would steal the crown weren’t wrong either (Sorry Mike, Lonnie Chisenhall only hit eight). The kingdom of Progressive Field (ehem…The Jake) shall be shared for this season between the two, with 34 HRs a piece, both achieving career highs in the process. These two heavy hitters also came up 1 and 2 with RBI’s, Napoli with 101 and Santana with 87. John and Justin seemed to foresee the potential #PartyAtNapolis as they both picked him to lead the pack, with Joe, Mike and Kevin on team Santana. Gavin and I gave a valiant effort setting our sights on Lindor and Brantley, Lindor finishing 4th in line with 78.
The offense has been more than mind-blowing this season from lead off to the nine-spot, finishing the year second behind the Boston Red Sox in overall average, .262 to .282. Normally, second place is the first loser BUT the Tribe came out on top during the ALCS in a complete sweep of the Bosox and their 7 runs to Cleveland’s 15. Honestly, who saw that coming? Not TBS!
Now that we’ve covered the offense, let’s talk about pitching. The Indians pitching staff came out of the gate on fire, and the only thing keeping them from getting burned was the fear they put into other teams. Even through the rough patches in the second half, the Tribe and it’s arms continued to dominate the uphill battles. Sometimes in a season, you will see moments of brilliance from a player or two, but to see a season long era of brilliance from the starters to the pen is almost unheard of…until now.
|ERA (162 IP)||Kluber||Carrasco||Kluber||Carrasco||Kluber||Carrasco||Kluber||Carrasco|
Let’s call it a sweep of all our pitching categories for Indians Ace Corey Kluber. His job as ace is to lead the team to victory with dominance and confidence and he did just that. Kluber finished 2016 with numbers similar to those of his Cy Young season. His ERA was the lowest among Tribe starters with a 3.14 (maybe not so similar). His 18 wins trump the win totals of not only the Indians but most of baseball as a whole, coming up solidly in third in the AL and tied for fifth with Johnny Cueto and Jake Arrieta in all of baseball. Lastly, his strikeouts, something Kluber has been known for, topped out at 227 in 2016, putting him in the top ten among all starters in baseball (a single K from Red Sox southpaw David Price for seventh).
Aside from a 4-3 vote on ERA that swayed in favor of Carlos Carrasco, Kluber was pretty much assumed to take pitching as a whole and run with it. Of course, I had to be the one odd man out in the votes for K’s and predicted that Danny Salazar would take home the strikeout trophy.
|All-Star||Kluber, Lindor & Salazar||Lindor||Lindor||Lindor||Brantley||Lindor||Kluber||Carrasco|
And now for the fun part, the BurningRiver awards (for explanations and voting, check out the original article from last week). Where the staff tossed the ideas around our noggins on things like who would be the top rookie, who could step up as the MVP or the nastiest arm out of the bullpen. Looking back at where our minds were just a few months ago and seeing how wrong and right we ended up being tells a lot about this season and how successfully upside down everything was. For example, Most Improved was predicted to be anyone from catcher Yan Gomes, to 3B Giovanny Urshela with a mix of other picks in between. The real pick at the end of the season was unanimously Jose Ramirez, who deserves the sash for Most Improved and then some. He stepped up to fill the cleats, left corner of the field, batter’s box and role as dominant bat when word came out that Brantley wouldn’t return. I look at it as a Simba-Mufasa moment, with JRam taking his rightful place at Tribe Rock.
For hottest rookie, the end of season votes were a landslide for CF Tyler Naquin, but the predictions were not as 100%. Joe and Mike guessed flamethrower Mike Clevinger, who did put together a good rookie season and ended up on the postseason roster. Kevin figured RHP Jeff Johnson, who didn’t even start his rookie season (maybe next year?). Justin picked pen arm Shawn Armstrong, who finished the 2016 regular season with a 2.53 ERA in 10.2 IP and only 3 earned runs given up. John, Gavin and I picked our winner! Naquin has not only forced his way into the ROY conversation, but arguably had the biggest hit of the season for the Tribe on an inside-the-park home run WALK OFF against the Toronto BlueJays. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m questioning your fandom really hard…
For Top Reliever, almost everyone, but myself who picked southpaw T.J. House, predicted star closer Cody Allen. The actual award winner? The new Tribe member with a slider that makes even the males in the stands weak at the knees, Andrew Miller. Cleveland traded for Miller on deadline day from the New York Yankees and since then we’ve been drunk on #MillerTime. Just talking about Miller on the mound gives me chills. Go watch him, you’ll understand. I also voted for him for the award of Best Pitcher (overall), against everyone else’s opinion that leaned Kluber. The predictions also swayed in favor of Kluber (4 votes) over Carrasco (3 votes).
The predictions for Top Defender came down to Francisco Lindor (6) and Chisenhall (1). Both guys have taken this season and completely ran with it, but Lindor has been hands down the defensive MVP of the year. For example, in game one of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, Lindor set up a flawless double play to the point where even ESPN and MLB Network were still talking about it the next morning. His first full year in the bigs after a rookie season to envy has been nothing short of astonishing and has created the building blocks for a Tribe leader for seasons to come.
Finally, the last of the position-type awards, the Best Hitter for the season. In March, most of the staff assumed that it would either Brantley or Napoli, with a Kip and a Chiz thrown in the mix. As it turns out, the best hitter is the guy who discovered his talents for leading off by hitting a bomb in Detroit his first at bat doing so, Mr. Leadoff Los SLAMtana. His 34 home runs, team leading .366 OPS, 99 walks and 87 RBIs are only a few of the stand out reasons why he deserves this award. He’s grown up before our eyes at the plate, and for whatever reason, has become the hitter that fans have been hoping for.
Last, but not least, the MVP and All Stars (All Stars obviously not awarded by us). Our predictions for MVP were pretty much all over the place. Brantley, Kluber, Chisenhall, Carrasco and Lindor were the ballots cast, and yet the votes for the actual award were just as scattered, but came down to our winner of Most Improved, Jose Ramirez! As we all know, the all stars this season were Kluber, Lindor and Salazar (and I suppose you could count Miller too?), and all but John and Gavin named one of those three to represent the Tribe during the ASG.
BurningRiver took a complete shot in the dark at the start of a ridiculous season, and came out of it with a plethora of differing results. Now, we’re currently in the thick of the postseason, with every advantage to make it all the way. The guys named above were the standouts for the season, but wouldn’t have been half as a amazing without the support from the team as a whole. We’ve seen them all become a family, and work as a single unit to get the job done, and I say it with great pride that they are my home team.