Possible ALDS matchups: Cleveland

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve done a lot of hand-wringing here at AN so far about how the A’s matchup with Detroit. That is arguably the most likely ALDS opponent, but there is a decent chance the A’s end up with the AL’s best record and play the wild card play-in game winner. Here, I profile one of the two top teams in that race as it stands right now.

First, a check at the MLB.com postseason probabilities page does confirm that Tampa Bay and Cleveland are the most likely wild card play-in game candidates, with Texas falling behind at 42.2% chance to make the postseason.  Not impossible by any means, especially considering they will play the Astros for the next three games, but not in their favor, either.  What's more, given the number of times the A's have played them, it's a fair guess that we already know the matchups.  It's worth re-visiting Tampa and Cleveland to see what they have considering the dearth of opportunity the A's have had against them.  Today I'll write about Cleveland; Tampa Bay will follow in the coming days.

Rotation:

Starters, by ERA and FIP

Player

ERA-

FIP-

Justin Masterson

91

89

Corey Kluber

94

85

Ubaldo Jimenez

88

94

Scott Kazmir

108

95

Zach McAllister

101

106

Danny Salazar

80

83

When you wonder how the Indians are in control of the second wild card spot right now, look no farther than their rotation.  If you look at their second half ERA- and FIP-, the Indians starters have put up an impressive 83 and 80, respectively.  That handily outpaces the A's 89 and 103 for those same stats in the second half.

The above chart spells out their potential playoff rotation in one of two ways.  The top 3 of Masterson, Kluber, and Jimenez are obvious.  The question is whether they go with Kazmir, who has the defensive-independent stats in his favor, or Salazar, who is kind of their Sonny Gray.  He's a young guy who has been impressive in 9 MLB starts and strikes out over a batter an inning, but he's young.  It's clear that the A's will need Gray in the rotation, but it's not clear how the Indians plan to play this.

Bullpen:

Relievers, by BB/9 and HR/9

Player

BB/9

HR/9

Cody Allen

3.46

0.93

Bryan Shaw

3.38

0.50

Joe Smith

3.26

0.74

Matt Albers

3.30

0.30

Rich Hill

6.87

0.71

Marc Rzepczynski

2.60

0.52

Nick Hagadone

6.03

1.15

Chris Perez

3.59

1.37

Vinnie Pestano

5.35

1.53

I wouldn't say they have a Team A and Team B like the A's have, but they do have some guys that can maybe suppress the home run, which has been the A's main offensive threat in the second half again.  Hagadone is September callup fodder, so he would probably be off their playoff roster, but any of the others are potentially in play.

If you rank their relief corps, as a whole, they do not fare incredibly well.  While they can strike out a decent number of batters (8.53 K/9), they walk far more than a contending team ought to at 3.91 per 9.  Only the Rays bullpen (amazingly), walks more batters as an AL contender; the A's, on the other hand, walk the fewest among the AL contenders.  This isn't a soft bullpen underbelly scenario - they have gotten this far, after all - but it is definitely fair to say bullpen appears to be the Indians weakness

Offense

Hitters, by wRC+:

Player

Position

wRC+

PA

Ryan Raburn

OF

160

258

Yan Gomes

C

134

297

Carlos Santana

C/1B

132

615

Jason Kipnis

2B

125

631

Nick Swisher

1B/OF

115

606

Michael Brantley

OF

101

583

Asdrubal Cabrera

SS

97

536

Michael Bourn

OF

89

562

Lonnie Chisenhall

3B

86

305

Drew Stubbs

OF

84

468

Mike Aviles

2B/SS/3B

84

371

Jason Giambi

DH

78

210

Like the A's, they are a relatively balanced offense.  Of the regulars, Carlos Santana is their best hitter and best overall player.  Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes are stand outs, but in a reduced role, and probably a lot of sample size-itis.  It does not appear that they are platooning team, with Chisenhall, Aviles, Stubbs, and Raburn the moving parts.  Gomes and Santana alternate at the catching position, with Swisher slotting in at 1B and OF depending on the OF alignment.

That said about platoons, the lack of an LH starter could hurt the A's here.  Santana, Kipnis, Brantley, Swisher, Cabrera, and Bourn would all have the platoon advantage against a potentially all-RH A's starting staff (with Giambi lurking off the bench).  Would the A's roll the dice with Anderson in Game 1 and/or Milone in Game 2 if they do match up against the Indians?  I don't know, but I might consider it.


Baserunning/Defense:

If you like defense, the Indians are not your team.  Aside from Yan Gomes' absurd 12.1 runs saved from FanGraphs and Michael Bourn's 1.5, everyone else is below average.  UZR generally agrees, and has them as -38.8 on the year (compared to -0.2 for the A's).  As far as Defensive Efficiency Rating goes (BP), which is essentially percentage of balls in play made into outs, the Indians are  at .701 compared to the A's .723.  On the other hand, by DRS, the Indians are a -40, which handily outpaces the A's -55 mark.  Pick you metrics as you wish.

As far as baserunning is concerned, the Indians do have some base stealing threats.  Jason Kipnis and Michael Bourn are legitimate speedsters, with 28 and 23 stolen bases, respectively.  They are followed by Drew Stubbs with 16 and Michael Brantley with 15.  If you believe in baserunning runs, they are sixth best in majors at 6.9, with the A's at 2.0.

Bottom line:

If you think Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez are more than mirages, this could be a tough potential matchup for the A's.  When the Indians get on base, they are running threats, which could put pressure on someone like Stephen Vogt to really step up his throwing game.  Indeed, none of the A's starters are incredibly adept at holding runners on.  What's more, their offense is just a step below the A's in total, at 106 wRC+ to the A's 109, and their starting pitching might be better.  The A's do have a defensive edge, definite bullpen edge, and would hold home-field advantage in an ALDS matchup.

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