Weekly Wroundtable: Is Cleveland’s Pitching a Strength?


It’s early yet, but the Indians’ projected pitching staff is unlikely to change too much between now and Opening Day. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez will front the rotation, followed by Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona, and Derek Lowe, and most of the Tribe’s lights-out 2011 bullpen will be back for 2012.

With five experienced starters backed by a solid relief corps and plenty of backups waiting in the wings, Cleveland’s staff would seem to be in good shape. But each hurler comes with some questions and some cause for uncertainty, and MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian recently declared that the rotation was one of the roster’s “holes.”

In this edition of the Wahoo’s on First Weekly Wroundtable, we ask: Do you see the Indians’ pitching staff as a strength or a weakness for 2012? In addition to Geordy and me, this week we feature responses from SABR Tribe‘s David McGarry and Bleacher Report‘s Jim Piascik. Thanks so much to David and Jim for taking the time!

David McGarry: Despite Indians’ starters winning back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2007 and 2008, the 2012 pitching staff is poised to be the best of recent memory. This isn’t to say that I expect anyone to reach CC and Lee’s degrees of excellence, but rather that the 2012 pitching staff looks to be even better than the 2008 staff did coming into the season. 

Upon entering the 2008 and 2012 seasons, both rotations had two front-of-the-rotation starters (CC and Carmona then, Jimenez and Masterson now), two young middle-of-the-rotation starters (Sowers and Lee, Tomlin and Carmona) and a veteran innings eater (Byrd, Lowe). Modern day skeptics may highlight the inflated ERAs of Jimenez, Carmona and Lowe, but their expected ERA metrics suggest significant improvements going forward: Jimenez (4.68 ERA/3.71 xFIP/3.74 SIERA), Carmona (5.25 ERA/4.17 xFIP/4.18 SIERA) and Lowe (5.05 ERA/3.65 xFIP/3.75 SIERA). The 2012 rotation also has quality bottom-of-the-rotation depth and a potential impact starter in the minors (Scott Barnes).

In addition to eerily similar rotations, the 2008 and 2012 teams also had seemingly devastating bullpens. It is easy to assert that that Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Rafael Perez and Chris Perez will not simultaneously implode like Rafael Perez, Rafael Bentancourt, Jensen Lewis and Joe Borowski did in 2008, but the real distinction between the two staffs is depth. Unlike the 2008 team, we have a stellar collection of major-league ready relievers, including C.C. Lee, Josh Judy, Zach Putnam, Cory Burns, Bryce Stowell and Rob Bryson, who could all step up in case disaster strikes again.

Jim Piascik: As of right now, I see the Indians’ pitching staff as a relative strength. Not many teams can boast nine pitchers who could feasibly pitch in the majors leagues right now. The depth on that list, which includes Jimenez, Masterson, Tomlin, Carmona, Lowe, Gomez, Huff, McAllister, and Barnes, will serve the Tribe well. As we all know, pitchers tend to break down or forget how to pitch at unpredictable times, so there is definite strength in numbers.

My only issue with the Indians’ pitching staff is the lack of top-of-the-rotation talent. Every pitcher I listed projects to me as a fourth or fifth starter. Having Jimenez and Masterson atop the rotation is nice, but I would feel much better if there was a better pitcher to slot behind them.

Lewie Pollis: Our rotation doesn’t stack up with the Phillies’ or Giants’ or Angels, but the Tribe’s pitching staff won’t be anything to worry about, and at the very least there’s immense value in reliable adequacy.

You needn’t be biased by your fandom to project each of the Indians’ projected starting five—Masterson, Jimenez, Tomlin, Carmona, Lowe—as average pitchers for 2012; Masterson is an ace, at least a couple others are likely to be above-average as well. Even in case of injury or breakdown David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez are much better than most teams’ insurance policies to keep Cleveland in the game before handing the ball off to the lights-out bullpen.

It’s not exactly Spahn and Sain and two days of rain, and it’d be nice if Masterson had a deputy lieutenant who we could count on to perform at his level. But our pitchers will give us a good chance to win every day, and for a small-market team like ours that’s as much as we could possibly ask for.

Geordy Boveroux: While many consider pitching the one part of the team without question marks, there still are a lot of things that can go wrong. There’s a lot to like for the Tribe’s starting rotation in 2012, but these five guys haven’t had steady production that suggests they can be trusted. Jimenez looked terrible last year, while Masterson and Tomlin really only have one strong season in the majors. Lowe is aging and Carmona is still Carmona.

So can they all really be trusted? There aren’t many options in case one of the aforementioned starters fail. Huff has shown a little promise, but he’s shown more failure. Zach McAllister is another choice, but he hasn’t shown anything at the Major League level yet, leavingGomez as the best backup plan around. That won’t help me sleep safe at night knowing he could take the hill the next day.

It really comes down to your outlook on it all. If you’re a renewed and optimistic Cleveland fan, you have every right be to excited for this upcoming year. If you’re still the prototypical pessimistic Cleveland fan, things could get rough. But for a pessimist, I’m pretty optimistic.

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