Cleveland Indians: 3 things that derailed the 2021 season

A general view of Progressive Field home of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
A general view of Progressive Field home of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Indians, Owen Miller
Owen Miller #6 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Indians derailment factor #2: Ty Van Burkleo

Cleveland already addressed this particular dumpster fire on October 6 when the team announced that hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo would not return as part of the coaching staff in 2022. Van Burkleo, 58, was somehow the longest tenured hitting coach in baseball with seven seasons in the Tribe dugout. It would appear from the outside looking in that Cleveland’s player development department has a hitting regiment in place that they really like, in which a significant amount of the team’s promising position players outperformed their offensive scouting grades and climbed to higher ranks of the farm system than some imagined possible in 2021.

It seemed consistently, and this year was no exception, that top offensive talent would perform extremely well in Triple-A, then die on the vine in the majors. Look no further than Owen Miller this season, who could not be stopped in Columbus, slashing .297/.374/.489 in 48 games in Triple-A, including hitting .408 in May, but managed just a .204/.342/.309 line in 60 games with Cleveland. It wasn’t just the youngsters either, as the offense has underperformed each season since 2017 under Van Burkleo’s tutelage. Here are Cleveland’s team batting average statistics and league rank under each of Van Burkleo’s seasons:

  • 2013) .255 (13th)
  • 2014) .253 (13th)
  • 2015) .256 (11th)
  • 2016) .262 (6th)
  • 2017) .263 (5th)
  • 2018) .259 (2nd)
  • 2019) .250 (15th)
  • 2020) .228 (23rd)
  • 2021) .238 (21st)

There are outliers to every list, and this one isn’t special, but Van Burkleo was phenomenal at just how inept he could guide an offense to be, and there have been red flags for several seasons leading up to his termination. In 2021 the Cleveland Indians were no-hit a major league record three times in one season, four with the asterisk of a seven-inning doubleheader performance down in Tampa Bay.

Back in May of 2019, Lucas Giolito of the White Sox commented to the Chicago Sun Times after a dominant outing against the Indians that he and his catcher James McCann noticed Cleveland hitters could not, and would not, adjust to his changeup, which sparked a conversation between Van Burkleo and The Athletic’s Zack Meisel in which Van Burkleo stated “I haven’t changed anything in seven years.”

Van Burkelo will not be missed, especially by this writer who has been calling for his head for over three seasons, and it’s apparent the team wants to move in a new, likely younger, direction with the prospects on the verge of breaking into the majors. He has been one of the most consistent plagues of the Indians for several seasons, and I look forward to finding out who will guide the young bats moving forward.