The 2017 Steamer projections are now out and, while no projection system is effectively accurate, these are generally close enough to be of some value. Boiling these projections down to their simplest point, both offensive and defensive performances are predicted for each player compared to the rest of the league. Rather than trying to guess who is going to play where and how often, they also have these numbers extrapolated to 600 plate appearances/142 games. Using these, we can see where the hitters expected to part of the Indians line-up in 2016 stack up.
With few positional battles in camp, assuming no injuries, the group charted above are most likely to be the Indians regulars with Yandy Diaz and Bradley Zimmer included mostly just for comparison’s sake. Unsurprisingly given the chart, Francisco Lindor is projected to lead the team in fWAR followed by Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis, the three players projected by STEAMER to have positive value both offensively and defensively. As expected, much of Lindor’s value comes defensively and he is currently expected to be the second most valuable defensive player in all of baseball behind fellow shortstop, Andrealton Simmons.
Assuming 142 games in the field, Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley project to be the Indians top three hitters, but all have a negative defensive stigma. The fact that one of those three will be DHing for the Tribe nearly every single game during the 2017 season, you can essentially zero out one more than 12 runs allowed from the trio as a whole.
As was the case last year, Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez project to be negative offensively, but huge bonuses behind the plate and the Indians should be just fine with that. With six hitters having lofty expectations, the Indians shouldn’t need an All-Star offensive performance out of their nine hitters and would prefer they focus on the pitching staff. The biggest surprise on the negative side is Lonnie Chisenhall, who was considered very highly in right field for his 2015 season, was closer to league average in 2016 and is now expected to see a huge drop off. This is the projection I agree with the least although I do expect him to be a slightly below league average bat.
Looking at the rest of the American League catchers, Perez and Gomes fit into the normal range as nearly all the top 30 are expected to be poor hitters and above average defenders. They range on the extreme of that group as far as positive defense goes, although not quite to the point of Detroit’s James McCann or Kansas City’s Salvador Perez. Expecting to build on his incredible second half in 2016, Gary Sanchez is expected to be one of few AL catchers to be a true offensive threat.
Combining the top 10 second basemen, short stops and third basemen (actually top 11 because of a tie) onto one chart, we can see how the Indians have a huge strength in the infield both offensively and defensively. While both Josh Donaldson of Toronto and Manny Machado of Baltimore lead the way as all around threats, considering his age and lack of Major League experience, Jose Ramirez is still very highly thought of. Kipnis also ranks among the top players at his position, particularly offensively. Houston particularly sticks out with this chart as both Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are expected to outhit their Indians counterparts, but the Indians players are expected to be better defensively while still providing above average offense.
To begin, this is Mike Trout‘s game and everyone else is just playing to keep things interesting. He’s projected to be worth 52.7 more runs offensively than average, more than 20 runs better than the next best player, Miguel Cabrera. For the sake of being able to see anyone else on this chart, he doesn’t fit in the parameters, but know that he’s way over to the right somewhere. The chart above includes all 63 AL outfielders that STEAMER projects would be worth at least one win if they played 142 games. Obviously this is impossible as many are part time players, but this is the most fair way to compare everyone.
This is the position the Indians look the worst, something we’ve all known for a long time. Furthering the issue with projections is the fact that Brantley is projected to be the team’s best hitting outfielder, something that will only happen if he actually plays a full season. If he doesn’t, relying on three outfielders on the negative side both offensively and defensively is a little scary. Austin Jackson could also be included in the chart, but he isn’t projected to hit 1 fWAR even if he plays out a full season.
Finally, looking at the Indians pair of first basemen, things are pretty positive. As mentioned, some of the negative defensive expectations will be ameliorated by Santana or Encarnacion playing DH. Also, as above with Trout, Cabrera is a chart buster so just picture him off to the right somewhere around 30. Incredibly, Jesus Montero, who didn’t play in the Majors last year, is the only first baseman expected to be of significant value defensively.
Looking specifically at offense, Santana and Encarnacion rank two and four in expected value with the Yankee’s Gregory Bird falling between them. At a minimum, it’s safe to say that the Indians are set at 1B and DH at the top level in the AL and they’ve done so for $30M total while Cabrera will earn $28M alone and Chris Davis $23M.