The 2021 Cleveland Indians will be better than the 2020 team

Starting pitcher Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Starting pitcher Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The 2021 Cleveland Indians will be better than the 2020 team

Despite losing a handful of pieces, the Cleveland Indians will be better during the 2021 season than they were during the 2020 campaign. On the surface this seems like a reach, but when you dive into the stats, it seems more than possible.

Like most smaller market teams in baseball, the Indians use a “Moneyball” like approach that relies on analytics and stats to help make roster decisions among other things. When you break down the team, especially the offense, in this regard you can start to see where the Indians might be an improved team in 2021.

If you’ve watched the movie Moneyball or followed the Oakland A’s during the process, then you’re familiar with the barriers that team faced in losing some of their top players due to money concerns. Thanks to some key moves that relied on analytics, the A’s were able to assemble a roster that shocked everyone. The 2021 Cleveland Indians could be in the exact same boat.

The losses of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Carlos Carrasco, Brad Hand and Tyler Naquin have left Indians fans scrambling for some sort of positive news. Well, here it is. I think that there is a high likelihood that the 2021 Cleveland Indians will finish better than the 2020 edition of the franchise, and here’s why.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Indians essentially lost three positions. Santana left first base vacated, Lindor short and Naquin right. Now, others left as well, but these three were the most influential departures at the plate.

Both Santana and Lindor played all 60 games last year while Naquin played 40. When you take a deep dive into the season, the three combined for the following stats: 79 runs, 131 hits, 28 doubles, one triple, 20 home runs, 77 RBI, six stolen bases and 76 walks. There’s no questioning that those stats are important to the season and hard to replace, but the Indians front office has managed to do just that.

Now, the Moneyball strategy isn’t to replace each player with an identical player, but rather to break down everything loss and add it all back amongst various pieces. The Indians can’t replace Lindor, but they can find players to cover the above stats lost from the trio of Lindor, Santana and Naquin.

The process began with the addition of Andres Gimenez through the Lindor trade. In the field, Gimenez will most likely take over shortstop while offensively he becomes part of the puzzle to replacing what was lost.

During the 2020 season, Gimenez played in just over 49 games, meaning his stats should closely resemble the percentage that Naquin accounted for in the overall picture. Over those games, Gimenez put up the following stats: 22 runs, 31 hits, three doubles, two triples, three home runs, 12 RBI, eight stolen bases and seven walks.

The next step was adding Eddie Rosario through free agency on a cheap deal, think a younger David Justice from the Moneyball team. Rosario fills the spot in the field left behind by Naquin and will take care of a large chunk of the offensive production.

During the 2020 season, Rosario played in 57 games and was able to put together a rather complete stat line that was as follows: 31 runs, 54 hits, seven doubles, 13 home runs, 42 RBI, three stolen bases and 19 walks.

When you add together the stats that have been added through Gimenez and Rosario the stats needed from whoever plays first base seems much easier to find. If the Indians want to replace the stats exactly, then you need someone who over 60 games puts up a stat line similar to this: 26 runs, 46 hits, 18 doubles, four home runs, 23 RBI and 50 walks.

Now, some of those stats are more achievable than others, but nonetheless the task of finding that player becomes far less daunting. In fact, there’s two players in-house who might be able to do just that.

We’ll start with the Scott Hatteberg of the operation, a player trying to learn first base. Nolan Jones. Putting this together was a bit more difficult, but I took Jones’ 2019 season and adjusted the stats to be a 60-game representation. However, it’s important to remember that these stats come mainly from Double-A.

Anyway, Jones’ stats still translate into more than enough for what the team needs. His adjusted stats are: 41 runs, 58 hits, 11 doubles, one triple, seven home runs, 31 RBI, three stolen bases and 48 walks. Those stats meet almost all the “requirements” leaving just seven doubles and two walks unaccounted for while adding 15 runs, 12 hits, a triple, three home runs, eight RBI and three stolen bases.

Again, those stats are probably a little pie-in-the-sky given that they are based on his Double-A performance. Luckily, he isn’t the only candidate. Bobby Bradley has a much bigger sample size at the Triple-A level and while he might not do what Jones would, he makes up for the stats just the same.

If you take Bradley’s stats from Columbus in 2019 and adjust them to a 60-game schedule they come out to look like this: 33 runs, 53 hits, 12 doubles, 17 home runs, 37 RBI and 23 walks.

It still remains to be seen who will play first base. It could be Jones, it could be Bradley, it could be someone entirely different that we haven’t even considered yet. No matter how you look at it, the bar is set rather low in terms of making up for the lost stats.

When you consider what the Cleveland Indians lost this offseason, it seems like a lot on the surface. However, when you break it down the stats are much more replaceable than they seem. Rosario will play a big role in that, but the Indians shouldn’t miss a beat moving forward. In fact, they might be a better offensive team in the 2021 season than they were in 2020.

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