The Indians finished their 2014 Spring campaign earlier this week with a win against the split-squad Diamondbacks in Scottsdale. Their final 19-8 record was one loss better than their previous best of 19-9 in 2010. With that record, the Indians not only lead all Cactus League teams, but finished in first in winning percent in all Major League Baseball (the Marlins lead the Grapefruit League in wins with 18). Of course, Spring Training wins are relatively unimportant, but it still says something about the depth of the Indians’ roster compared to the other teams in the Cactus League.
This success was largely due to a great month on the mound, although the pitching staff was considerably better during the first two weeks than the final two. Thanks to two losses against the Rockies and Athletics with a combined 27 runs allowed, the Indians ERA ballooned to 4.15, still the fourth best (of 15) in the Cactus League. The continued dominance of the staff is still the result of throwing good strikes, something that should continue into the regular season. Unlike chance influenced stats like batting average, wins and RBI, having command of the strike zone is more of a talent. The statistical recognition of this talent is shown in the teams K/BB rate and at 2.99, the Indians lead the Cactus League. This season, only the Cubs staff (5.48 ERA and 123 walks) struck out more batters (246), but they were considerably inferior to the Indians staff.
On an individual level, the Indians starters lead the way. Staff ace, Justin Masterson, lead the team with 25 strike outs in 24.2 innings, but the rest of the staff wasn’t far behind. Corey Kluber struck out 23 of his own, while Carlos Carrasco (16), Zach McAllister (10) and Danny Salazar (5) all had a K/9 around nine. In the bullpen, Blake Wood earned his roster spot by striking out 11 in 9.2 innings, behind only C.C. Lee, who was slightly less effective overall, in K/9.
Another reliever, Vinnie Pestano was a great example of why Spring Training stats can be misleading. Pestano struck out seven in 7.1 innings and allowed just 10 base runners and one home run over that span, but allowed six of those runners to score for a 7.36 ERA. While it can get dangerous to look too deep into any Spring Training situation, the game most of the damage was done against Pestano was that March 22nd blowout by the Rockies. In the eighth inning, Pestano gave up a walk, a single and a double to start the inning before striking out Paul Janish. Corey Dickerson hit a single to chase Pestano after giving up just two runs. Left-handed match-up man, Josh Outman, then came in with runners at first and third and immediately allowed a three run home run to Tim Wheeler, a left handed, AAA outfielder who has hit seven home runs in the last two minor league seasons. While Pestano got saddled with four runs (absent this outing he had a 2.57 ERA this Spring), it was actually Outman who was unable to do his job and cost the Indians three runs.
Spring Training is really just for pitchers to get ready for the season without hurting themselves, so little emphasis is placed on hitters, but the Indians seem to have a couple guys who will join the Tribe in April on a major hot streak. Michael Brantley’s .522 average was better than any qualifying hitter this Spring, although he only received 46 Spring at bats. He will likely be the starting center fielder on Opening Day, but the Indians preferred to give his at bats to players trying to make the team like Jeff Francoeur, who didn’t, and Nyjer Morgan, who did. Brantley didn’t just hit singles in 50% of his ad bats either as he lead the team with eight doubles and knocked in 12 runs.
In addition to Brantley, Elliot Johnson and Jason Kipnis each batted over .350 this Spring while Lonnie Chisenhall, Mike Aviles, Asdrubal Cabrera and Ryan Raburn each hit over .300 among the rest of those who made the roster. While these numbers are obviously inflated by playing against minor league pitchers in the dry desert air, it is still a positive thing for a team that hasn’t had a .300 hitter since Shin-Soo Choo in 2010.
With all that done, now is the time to forget it. After two more exhibition games against the Padres at the University of San Diego, the Indians will move on to Oakland to start the regular season. Brantley will have to start back at .000 and Justin Masterson will have to win almost every game he pitches over the first month to get back to his 4-0 start. The Indians had their fun in the sun. Now it’s time to get on with the real thing, first in California, then back to the cold confines in Cleveland.
The Indians won their final Cactus League game against the D-Backs
at Salt River Fields to end a fantastic Spring.