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February 25, 2014 posted by Chuck Anderson

2014 Fantasy Baseball Top Five Questions: Cleveland Indians

2014 Fantasy Baseball Top Five Questions:  Cleveland Indians
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Cleveland’s Fighting Franconas made a surprise run to the playoffs in 2013.  They complimented a talented young core with some veteran additions and it all came together with a 21-6 September record.  Individual Indians will be hotter properties in fantasyland this year, here are the top five issues for owners to consider:

1)  How hard should you go after the sleeper starters, Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber?  If Salazar pitched 200 innings as well as he did 52 in 2013 he would be a top five fantasy SP.  Something obviously happened between 2012 when he struck out 17.4% of Double-A batters and 2013 when he whiffed 38.4% at the same level.  It translated well up the ladder though, his fastball had the best whiff rate of any major league starter.  That will probably drop with more exposure, and since he works up in the zone he is prone to giving up extra base hits.  His 13.7% HR/FB was probably not a fluke.  His control is historically solid, so that mitigates the downside.

Kluber’s numbers are more stable given his 147 IP sample size.  He has an above average strikeout rate, gets plenty of ground balls and his control has improved over the years.  The indicators believe his skills are stable, and he makes a good draft day target at his current ADP.

2)  Is Jason Kipnis worth a first round pick?  Considering he finished eighteenth on ESPN’s Player Rater in 2013 and is in his prime it is not an unreasonable thought.  He has some backers too, he went thirteenth in one ongoing industry mock and sixteenth in another.  By NFBC standards, that basically fits in round one.  Some signs point to a slightly worse 2014 however.  His BABIP jumped over 50 points to .345.  His ISO increased 40 points but his fly ball rate only rose 2%.  His strikeout rate went from 16.2% to 21.7%.  He is properly ranked as the #2 second baseman but drafting him in the top 24 is putting too much weight on positional scarcity.

3)  What happened to Michael Bourn?  At the plate he set a career high in strikeout rate and a career low in walk rate.  Dragged down by these factors, his .338 BABIP only led to a .316 OBP.  Maybe the NL-AL adjustment was especially rough or maybe his lacerated finger from the spring bothered him all year.  On the bases he only had a 66% success rate en route to a pedestrian total of 23.  A little bit of positive regression is likely in order, but draft him for 30 steals and take anything more as gravy.

4)  Who closes?  John Axford currently leads the race, but walks and home runs each of the last two years undid him.  After landing in St. Louis he apparently changed his mechanics.  He eliminated a tell in his delivery and also regained some steam on his fastball as the year closed.  While that limited sample is promising, Cody Allen should still be one of the first non-closers selected.  He finished 2013 with a 2.99 FIP and 3.38 K/BB.  A 45.3% fly ball rate shows he could have home run issues too, but his control is better than Axford’s and he could easily see some closing duty.

5)  I have Carlos Santana in a keeper league.  Will he retain his catcher eligibility beyond this year?  Presently he and Yan Gomes are the only catchers on Cleveland’s 40-man rosterMatt Treanor and Luke Carlin are the non-roster invitees to training camp with big league experience, but considering the size of bullpens these days it is hard to imagine either one being a fixture on the active roster.  Those playing Yahoo (five game eligibility) should worry not and even those with a 20-game cap have a reasonable shot at slotting him behind the dish in 2015.

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