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by user Timothy Moreland
C.C. Sabathia begins this well-balanced staff without a surefire ace. Over the last three years, Sabathia has improved upon all of his numbers, except ERA. His K rate has improved substantially, while his BB rate has dipped a miniscule amount and his HR rate has stayed the same. I guess hitters are just getting hits at the right time. This year, expect his ERA to drop down to the high-3.00's. Cliff Lee broke out last year and at 27, could take another step up this year. The breakout last year was driven by two factors, HRs allowed, down from 30 to 22, and BBs, down from 81 to 52. If Lee maintains these improvements and bumps his K rate back up to where it was in 2004(7.4/9 v. 6.4/9 in 2005), then he could be the ace of this staff. Paul Byrd is the wise veteran of this staff, at 35-years-old. Over the past three years, Byrd has consistently posted a high-3.00s ERA, which he can probably do again, if not for 200 innings this time. Jake Westbrook's 3.38 ERA in 2004 was driven by a low BA on balls in play, which rebounded to a more normal rate last year. This resulted in a jump in ERA to 4.49, closer to his career mark of 4.40. A low-4.00s ERA seems to be Westbrook's established level, which will suffice from a mid-rotation starter. Jason Johnson has lost his decent strikeout ability over the last few years but has countered that by honing his control. Expect an ERA in the mid-4.00s that will fluctuate according to how well he can stop his sliding K rate. Jason Davis can spot start without them losing too much ability. The Indian's bullpen runs deep, which is good considering who their closer is. Bob Wickman, at 37 and not far removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, will most likely miss some time in the closer role. Luckily, Cleveland can throw in young flamethrower Fernando Cabrera or consistent Rafael Betancourt. As a lefty setup man, they have Scott Sauerbeck and his 3.74 career ERA. By the way, Guillermo Mota can help out a little too.
<stats> Player=C.C. Sabathia Type=Pitching Years=2004,2005 </stats>
SP Cliff Lee
<stats> Player=Cliff Lee Type=Pitching Years=2004,2005 </stats>
SP Paul Byrd
<stats> Player=Paul Byrd Type=Pitching Years=2004,2005 </stats>
<stats> Player=Jake Westbrook Type=Pitching Years=2004,2005 </stats>
<stats> Player=Jason Johnson Type=Pitching Years=2004,2005 </stats>
At leadoff, the Tribe has one of the brightest young stars in the game, Grady Sizemore. Last year, at the age of 22, he burst onto the scene with a combination of power (22 HRs) and speed (11 3B/ 22 SB). Next, Jason Michaels moves out of a platoon role in Philly to become a starter in Cleveland. No one can doubt his offensive and defensive ability; however, one must wonder if he can produce at those rates for a full year. A year with 15 HRs and an OBP around .280 does not seem like too much to ask. Michaels may quickly make Coco Crisp a forgotten man in Cleveland. Add SS Jhonny Peralta to the list of future stars in the Cleveland lineup. In Peralta's first season, he slugged 24 HRs with an impressive .292/.366/.520 line. Add his gold-glove caliber defense to the mix and Peralta may arguably be the best at his position. This will only be Travis Hafner's third full year, but he is already twenty-nine. Still, anyone who has put up lines of .311/.410/.583 in 2004 and .305/.408/.595 in 2005 will receive nothing but praise from me. Hafner was one of the top 10 hitters in the majors last year and shows no signs of not repeating again this year. If it weren't enough, Victor Martinez joins Sizemore and Peralta as guys who could be the best at their position as soon as this year. Kelly Shoppach will be used to relieve Martinez and keep him strong down the stretch and into the playoffs. After Martinez, the lineup trails off for the remaining four spots; although, none of the last few batters are gaping holes. Ben Broussard has had two disappointing years sandwiching an impressive 2004 season. Based on his track record, I would expect numbers more in line with last year than 2004. Ron Belliard puts up a respectable, yet not outstanding, OBP every year with double digit power. His fielding shows up some years and he leaves it at home others. At 3B, the Indians must decide between consistently average at best Aaron Boone and top prospect Andy Marte. The Indians should hand the position over to Marte, who has 30 HR upside and should not perform any worse this year than Boone's established level. Unfortunately, it looks as if Marte will begin the year in the minors competing for Boone's starting spot. Casey Blake concludes the lineup with decent power (23 HRs) but little else (.308 OBP). At 32, he won't be improving anytime soon.
Projected Batting Order
<stats> Player=Grady Sizemore Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
<stats> Player=Jason Michaels Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
<stats> Player=Jhonny Peralta Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
<stats> Player=Travis Hafner Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
<stats> Player=Victor Martinez Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
<stats> Player=Ben Broussard Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
2B Ron Belliard
<stats> Player=Ron Belliard Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
3B Aaron Boone
<stats> Player=Aaron Boone Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
RF Casey Blake
<stats> Player=Casey Blake Type=Batting Years=2004,2005 </stats>
Projection: 94-68 1st in the AL Central...This is a young team that could create a monopoly on AL Central crowns.
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Mon 03/27/06, 12:35 pm EST