Clevinger expected to miss 6-8 weeks with meniscus injury
The Indians rotation had already taken a step since the start of 2019 with the trades of Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. It took a further hit this weekend when Mike Clevinger was diagnosed with a partial tear to his left meniscus for which he underwent surgery and is expected to keep him out for 6 to 8 weeks. Here is a closer look at the Indians rotation and how it will be affected by the Clevinger injury.
Mike Clevinger, SP, CLE
While every injury is different, at least it's good to know that Clevinger recovered quickly and successfully from the back injury he suffered early last season. After missing most of the first half of 2019, Clevinger was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the season's second half. From July 1st and on, he posted a sparkling 2.17 ERA, 3.12 xFIP, 11.54 K/9, and 2.26 BB/9 across 17 starts. In terms of his overall production, Clevinger didn't pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, but among pitchers with at least 100 IP, he finished 2nd in FIP (2.49), 4th in xFIP (3.09), 6th in ERA (2.71), 7th in K/9 (12.07) and SwStr% (15.2%), and 14th in Hard%. One area that we can expect some regression is with homeruns - his 9.7% HR/FB was third lowest in all of baseball - but that shouldn't take him out of the ace-tier. Before his injury, Clevinger was being drafted as a top-10 SP and while I probably wouldn't take him there at this point, he could end up being a steal a few rounds later if he ends up meeting or beating his current timetable.
Shane Bieber, SP, CLE
With Clevinger looking like he won't be ready for Opening Day, Beiber looks like the favorite to be the Indians' Opening Day starter this season. Bieber came out of the 2018 season with an uninspiring 4.55 ERA, but his excellent 3.30 xFIP and 118:23 K:BB over 114.2 IP indicated that better days were to come. That was indeed the case in 2019 as his 3.23 ERA matched his peripherals thanks to a drop in BABIP from .356 to a more normal .296. He even increased his K% from 24.3% to 30.2%, good for 10th in MLB. Let this be another win for looking at xFIP over ERA when projecting future performance. It doesn't matter which one you look at for Bieber heading into 2020; either way you can expect Bieber to have another excellent campaign, although he won't be a bargain like he was in 2019 drafts.
Carlos Carrasco, SP, CLE
The Indians claim that Carrasco is healthy heading into the 2020 season after being diagnosed with leukemia last summer, and they hope that he will carry a regular starter's workload. Carrasco's 5.29 ERA and 1.35 WHIP across 23 appearances (12 starts) last season were quite ugly, but aren't much of a concern for me considering he posted a solid 3.50 xFIP, along with an elite 96:16 K:BB across 80 IP. That makes 6 straight seasons with an above 25% K% and below 6% BB% for Carrasco, and those number weren't simply boosted by his stint in the bullpen; his K% and BB% were actually both slightly better as a starter last season. His .354 BABIP and 22.2% HR/FB% from a year ago are both due for regression, which should bring his ratios down. The biggest concern for me with Carrasco is how he will respond to a return to the rotation after not having started a game since last May. But that's a risk I'm willing to take in the 12th round for a pitcher who has been a borderline ace for the past 6 years.
Aaron Civale, SP, CLE
Even before Clevinger's injury, Civale seemed to have an inside track to land one of the Indians' rotation spots this spring thanks to his impressive 2.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP across 10 starts last season, and now his rotation spot seems even more guaranteed. Fantasy drafters are not buying in though(264 ADP on Fantasy Pros) and they shouldn't be; Civale's 7.18 K/9 and 4.61 xFIP were mediocre and his .250 BABIP and 6.6% HR/FB are almost certainly headed for significant regression over the course of a full season. Optimism isn't completely unwarranted considering the Indians' success in developing pitchers in recent years, but the 2.34 ERA is about as smoke and mirrors as it gets. There are several other SP's I would consider over Civale at the end of drafts.
Zach Plesac, SP, CLE
Like Civale, Plesac's successful 2019 (3.81 ERA in 21 starts) has put him in a good position to land one of the final rotation spots for the Indians this spring. But also like Civale, Plesac well outpitched his peripherals as he posted an ugly 5.06 xFIP thanks to a subpar 6.85 K/9 and 3.11 BB/9. Plesac did have a nice 31:3 K:BB in 26.1 AAA IP last season, so perhaps some of that will translate to the majors at some point. But for now, we have to expect some regression to his .255 BABIP, as well as to his ERA.
Adam Plutko, SP, CLE
The pitcher who is most likely to benefit from Clevinger's injury is Plutko who appeared to be on the outside looking in regarding for a rotation spot after having been outperformed by both Aaron Civale and Zack Plesac last season. Now he would seem to have a good shot at cracking the Opening Day rotation although possibly only temporarily. Plutko has not been very good in parts of three seasons with the Tribe, posting a combined 5.08 ERA and 5.53 xFIP across 189.2 IP. His career 6.69 K/9 is similarly poor, and perhaps even worse are his 29.3% GB% and 50.4% FB%. This FB tendency has led to 44 HR's allowed across those 189.2 IP. Even if Plutko cracks the Indians' rotation, he is not a fantasy option.
How will Domingo Santana signing affect Indians outfield?
Domingo Santana, OF, CLE
Santana officially signed with the Indians on Friday, and considering his bad defensive metrics, he will likely spend a good amount of time at DH. This presents a bit of a problem for the Tribe who also employ Franmil Reyes, another power bat who is more suited to hit than to play in the field. The Indians will probably try to get both of them in the lineup as much as possible, but if neither shows competency in the field, that may have to change. Santana has some pop - he reached 30 HR's in 2017 and hit 21 in 121 games last season - but he also strikes out a ton with a career 32.0% K%. He has managed to maintain a respectable BA (career .259) thanks to a consistently high LD% (26.6%), but there's more risk of the BA to go down than up. He's a later rounder selection even if he were guaranteed full-time at bats, but unless we here confirmation that he'll be playing every day, I would probably opt for a steadier option or one with more upside.
Franmil Reyes, OF, CLE
Reyes spent nearly all of his two months with the Indians last season hitting out of the DH spot, but with the defensively-limited Santana now also in the fold, there's a good chance Reyes will find himself more frequently in the outfield - if he shows he can handle that role. The Tribe will likely to do what they can to keep Reyes' bat in the lineup after he hit 37 HR's with the Padres and Indians in 2019. Reyes' HR pace dipped slightly after joining the Tribe last summer, but he still hit 10 HR's in 51 games. His .249 BA may also see some positive regression as he had a .279 BABIP despite a 47.2% Hard%, but his high K% will likely prevent too much improvement in that area. Expect Reyes to contribute in power in 2020 but not much in other areas.
Delino DeShields, OF, CLE
DeShields may be the best defensive OF the Indians have but his bat is one of the weakest. If Reyes does indeed spend more time in the outfield, the Indians could have Oscar Mercado as the primary CF with Reyes and Jordan Luplow as the primary corner options. DeShields only fantasy appeal is his steals; he has stolen at least 20 bases in 4 of the last 5 years, but he has also recorded over 390 PA's in each of those seasons. Even those desperate for SB's will want to wait to see how often DeShields is being inserted into the Indians' lineup.
White Sox Notes
Who will start at 2B?
Leury Garcia, OF, CWS
Garcia mostly played in the outfield this season, but with the addition of Nomar Mazara and expected debut of Luis Robert, Garcia may be slated to start the season as the White Sox second baseman. And he may not remain there the whole season as prospect Nick Madrigal is expected to be promoted and take over the second base job sooner rather than later. From a production standpoint, Garcia scored an impressive 93 runs last season, but the rest of his profile was quite average. He has managed to hit between .270-.280 for three straight seasons, but he has a total of 23 career HR's in 464 games and he has never had a Hard% above 30%. The run total will also be hard to replicate as his .310 OBP was nothing to write home. The distinct possibility of losing playing time this season reduces what was already limited fantasy appeal.
Nick Madrigal, 2B, CWS
Madrigal may very well start the season at AAA, but there's a very good chance that he spends most of the season as the White Sox second baseman. He has not shown any power in the minors, but he did hit over .330 in AA and AAA last season while striking out just 2.8% of the time! He also chipped in 33 SB's in 120 total MiLB games last season. I'm not big into holding onto minor league players at the beginning of the season, but when Madrigal does get the call up, he should be a good source of BA and steals.
White Sox awaiting Kopech's return
Michael Kopech, SP, CWS
After missing all of the 2019 season following TJS in September of 2018, Kopech is back on the mound and looks like he will be ready to go at the start of the season. Indications are that he will likely begin the year at AAA but expect to see Kopech with the big league club sooner rather than later. The White Sox will probably have Kopech on an innings limit but he should still be on the fantasy radar due to his top of the rotation potential. It was a small sample size, but in 4 MLB starts in 2018, Kopech had an excellent 15:2 K:BB in 14.1 IP but was doomed by 4 HR's thanks to a 45.7% FB%. He is someone to keep an eye on for when he does rejoin the big-league club.
Around the League
Alex Verdugo, OF, BOS
It seems that Verdugo is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day due to a back injury he suffered last season. Verdugo had a solid rookie season with the Dodgers in 2019 hitting .294 with an .817 OPS across 106 games. His BA should remain high due to his excellent contact skills (13.0% K%, 6.6% SwStr%) but he didn't contribute much in other areas last season. He only hit 12 HR's despite a nice 43.7% Hard%, mostly because he didn't enough FB's (28.7% FB%). If he starts putting more balls in the air, he can become a star.
Cavan Biggio, 2B, TOR
Biggio didn't get as much hype as his fellow rookie, son-of-former-MLB-players, teammates, but he actually had a solid 2019 recording 16 HR's, 14 SB's, 66 runs scored, a 16.5% BB% and a .364 OBP across 100 games. He showed a ton of patience at the plate with a 15.8% O-Swing%, 2nd lowest in MLB (min. 300 PA's), which allowed to him to get on base and score runs at an excellent rate. He also hit a ton of FB's (47.0% FB%) which bodes well for maintaining a solid HR rate. The .234 BA was low thanks to a bloated 28.6% K%, but Biggio was actually a very good contact hitter with a mere 8.7% SwStr%. There's an excellent chance that his strikeout rate improves next season which could make Biggio into an all-around fantasy asset. His current ADP of 137 seems like a bargain.
Lance Lynn, SP, TEX
Lynn enjoyed a career year in 2019, posting career bests in K/9 (10.63), BB/9 (2.55) and SwStr% (12.5%), all significantly better than his career averages. I was never a huge fan of Lynn - until last season when his 21.4% K-BB% ranked 13th in MLB among qualifying pitchers. Lynn finished 2019 with a solid 3.67 ERA, and it may not be fair to expect much better than that, as regression to his 9.9% HR/FB% could offset whatever gains he makes on last year's .322 BABIP. But for a guy who pitches a lot of innings, he should get plenty of wins and K's to go along with solid ratios. With a current ADP of 135, Lynn looks like he could be a steal.
Sonny Gray, SP, CIN
Gray had by far the highest strikeout rate of his career in 2019 when he racked up 10.52 K/9, which along with his typically excellent 50.8% GB% propelled him to a sparkling 2.87 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. It's fair to expect regression from Gray; he did have a 3.65 xFIP, .255 BABIP, and a subpar 3.49 BB/9 in 2019. But a pitcher with 200 K's and an ERA in the mid-3.00s would still be a good get outside of the top 100 picks (106 ADP).
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