2016 World Series: Cubs vs. Indians, position-by-position breakdown

Who has the edge at each position in this year's World Series matchup? Breaking down how each of Chicago and Cleveland stack up ahead of Game 1 of the Fall Classic.
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Watch the historic 2016 World Series live on Fox, starting with Game 1 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.

The World Series begins tonight between the Cubs and the Indians. To see how each team compares, check out our position-by-position breakdown, as Jay Jaffe (Cubs) and Jeremy Fuchs (Indians) break down the starting lineups, rotations, bullpens, benches and managers for each club. They then decide who has the edge at each spot in the Series.

David Ross

Roberto Perez

AVG: .229 | OBP: .338 | SLG: .446
HR: 10 | RBIs: 32

AVG: .183 | OBP: .285 | SLG: .294
HR: 3 | RBIs: 17

DAVID ROSS: The Cubs are the rare team to carry three catchers, and manager Joe Maddon has found spots to use each of Ross, Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero in this postseason. All three backstops have hit big home runs in October, and each has at least one starter he works with regularly. Ross, who has caught all three of Jon Lester's starts plus John Lackey's Division Series outing, is the team's 39-year-old elder statesmen and the best defender of the group according to Defensive Runs Saved (an eyebrow-raising +13 in only 58 games), though he only threw out 27% of would-be base thieves.

Contreras, 24, is the best hitter of the group (.282/.357/.488 with 12 homers, plus 8-for-20 in postseason), the best against the running game (37% caught stealing) and the most versatile. In addition to catching all three of Kyle Hendricks's starts plus one of Lackey's, he’s come off the bench five other times, variously pinch-hitting and staying in the game via a double-switch, sometimes even spotting in leftfield. Montero, 33, the lefty of the group, has fallen off both offensively (.216/.327/.357) and defensively (11% caught stealing, -1 DRS). He's worked Jake Arrieta's two starts and pinch-hit three times, bopping a grand slam in the NLCS opener against the Dodgers that broke an eight-inning tie.

ROBERTO PEREZ: ​Perez has always been a decent backup catcher, but after starting just 53 times during the regular season, he has caught every inning of Cleveland's postseason journey. He's provided hitting that has been both consistent—a .269/.348/.617 line that represents significant improvement over his career averages—and timely, as he hit a crucial home run in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox and drove in the only run in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays. His biggest impact, though, has been behind the dish: In eight playoff games, he’s called three shutouts, and the Indians’ ERA is just 1.77, with a 81 strikeouts against 19 walks. The ALCS MVP, Andrew Miller, praised Perez after the Toronto series.

“The constant behind all that is Roberto Perez,” Miller told reporters. “I think having him back there, having him put down the pitch that I had in my mind gave me a lot of confidence to just execute and trust [my] defense.” Cleveland will take his average offense, so long as it has his above-average pitch calling skills behind the plate.

EDGE: Cubs

Anthony Rizzo

Mike Napoli

AVG: .292 | OBP: .385 | SLG: .544
HR: 32 | RBIs: 109

AVG: .239 | OBP: .335 | SLG: .465
HR: 34 | RBIs: 101

ANTHONY RIZZO: Rizzo is not just one of the Cubs' top players, but also one of the best in the National League. Offensively, he was among the league’s leaders in on-base percentage (.385, 10th), slugging percentage (.544, seventh), home runs (32, eighth), RBIs (109, second), OPS+ (146, fifth) and Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (5.7, fifth). Defensively, he led all major league first basemen with 11 DRS, including +2 against bunts alone, and knows his way around foul territory. A lefty swinger, he holds his own against same-side pitching (.261/.366/.466 with eight homers in 205 plate appearances this year) but is stronger against righties (.305/.393/.577 with 24 homers in 471 PA). After starting the postseason in a 2-for-26 funk, he went 7-for-14 with two doubles and two homers over the final three games of the NLCS.

MIKE NAPOLI: In his first season in Cleveland, the soon-to-be 35-year-old Napoli set career highs in home runs, RBIs and total bases. He hasn’t been great in this year's postseason—batting .233 with one home run and two RBIs—but he has lots of playoff experience, including his years with the Rangers and the Red Sox, and his .896 OPS in World Series play is his best in any postseason round.

The big question for the Indians is who will play first base when the series shifts to Wrigley Field for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5. Napoli and Carlos Santana platooned when playing in National League parks this season—in some series Napoli would play two out of three games, while Santana would do so in others. Napoli is a well-below-average fielder, with an Ultimate Zone Rating of -4.4. Even though Napoli has hit better than Santana this year, he might have to be replaced for the three NL games.

EDGE: Cubs



AVG: .273 | OBP: .314 | SLG: .423
HR: 14 | RBIs: 59

AVG: .275 | OBP: .343 | SLG: .469
HR: 23 | RBIs: 82

JAVIER BAEZ: The 23-year-old Baez has been the postseason's breakout star thanks not only to his bat (.342/.366/.526 with one homer) but also his legs (2-for-2 in steals, after going 12-for-15 during the regular season), his glove and his high baseball IQ. He's been at the center of so many big plays that he's overshadowed the more accomplished Rizzo and NL MVP favorite Kris Bryant. Baez has tremendous power, but he's quite a free swinger; this year, he struck out 108 times in 450 plate appearances and walked just 15 times. Versatile enough to have seen substantial time at every infield position during the regular season, he's started every postseason game at second base—where he compiled 11 DRS and 5 UZR in just 59 games this year—and made late-inning shifts to shortstop and first base.​

JASON KIPNIS: Kipnis made his first All-Star team in 2013 but fell off the map in '14, with career lows in home runs (six) and in all three slash categories (.240/.310/.330). In 2015, his homers didn’t increase much (he hit just nine), but his slash line jumped to .303/.372/.451, and he went back to the All-Star Game. Then this season, his power spiked, as he hit 23 homers, but his slash line regressed again, to .275/.343/.469. In the postseason, he’s hit just .219, but contributed two home runs and four RBIs.




AVG: .238 | OBP: .321 | SLG: .417
HR: 21 | RBIs: 95

AVG: .301 | OBP: .358 | SLG: .435
HR: 15 | RBIs: 78

ADDISON RUSSELL: Russell, 22, may not hit for average, but he's a fielding whiz with pop. On the defensive side, his 19 DRS—matching his total from 2015—tied Brandon Crawford for the NL lead, and his 15 UZR was second only to Brandon Crawford. On the offensive side, his .417 slugging percentage and .179 isolated power both ranked third among NL shortstops, and his 95 RBIs were first. Russell was also a particularly pesky hitter with men on base (.265/.342/.458). Wrigley Field has propped up his offense, as he’s hit .266/.335/.467 at the Friendly Confines in his two-year career compared to .216/.296/.346 elsewhere. Like Rizzo, he got off to a dreadfully slow start in the postseason (1-for-24 through NLCS Game 3) but was 6-for-13 with two homers and a double afterward.

FRANCISCO LINDOR: ​Guess which players are responsible for the following four slash lines: .238/.321/.417; .308/.365/.512; 274/.361.451; .301/.358/.435. The first one is Russell's. The second is that of the Dodgers' Corey Seager, the likely NL Rookie of the Year. The third belongs to Houston's Carlos Correa, last year's AL Rookie of the Year. The fourth is Lindor's.

Of the rising young shortstops in the game, Lindor probably gets the least attention. He came to the majors right behind Correa and doesn't play in big markets like Chicago or Los Angeles. But with the exception of power, there’s a legitimate case to be made that Lindor was the best shortstop in the major leagues this year. The 22-year-old was the second-best fielding shortstop behind the Giants' Brandon Crawford (and played 55 more innings than his San Francisco counterpart), and his offensive numbers were at or near the top in every category. Simply put, Lindor is the engine driving the Indians, and he's their best player now and for the foreseeable future.

EDGE: Indians



AVG: .292 | OBP: .385 | SLG: .554
HR: 39 | RBIs: 102

AVG: .312 | OBP: .363 | SLG: .462
HR: 11 | RBIs: 76

KRIS BRYANT: No sophomore jinx here. Bryant followed up his NL Rookie of the Year season in 2015 with one that may win him MVP honors in '16, as he led the league in WAR (7.7) and runs scored (121), ranked third in homers, fourth in slugging and OPS+ (149), sixth in RBIs and ninth in on-base percentage. Meanwhile, he trimmed his strikeout rate from 30.6% to 22%. Defensively, while he made 48 starts in the outfield during the regular season, he's been at third base for every game of the postseason; he's above average there according to both DRS and UZR (+4 and +5 runs, respectively). He's got just one homer in this postseason, but he's been stinging the ball and has quietly hit .333/.409/.538 in the postseason.

JOSE RAMIREZ: ​In his first full season as a starter, Ramirez played a more than respectable third base, and his offensive numbers are way above any he’s shown in backup duty the past two-plus years. In fact, as the ostensible replacement in the lineup for injured outfielder Michael Brantley (last year's primary third baseman, Lonnie Chisenhall, moved to the outfield), Ramirez has actually come pretty close to matching the former MVP candidate’s numbers, hitting .312/.363/.462 with 11 homers and 76 RBIs. The 24-year-old cooled off after his sizzling to start in the ALDS, where he went 5-for-10; in the ALCS, he had just one hit in 17 at-bats. But his strong performance overall in 2016 suggests that he’ll be a factor in the World Series..

EDGE: Cubs



AVG: .272 | OBP: .386 | SLG: .446
HR: 18 | RBIs: 76

AVG: .231 | OBP: .302 | SLG: .397
HR: 13 | RBIs: 55 (A's and Indians combined)

BEN ZOBRIST: Though he started 113 games at second base during the regular season compared to just 29 in the outfield corners, Zobrist has been put out to pasture, so to speak, by Baez's play at the keystone. He's started nine out of the Cubs' 10 postseason games in leftfield and the other in rightfield, shifting to second late in the game a couple of times because Joe Maddon loves his moving parts. A switch-hitter, he's slightly stronger against lefties (.826 OPS career, .856 this year) than righties (.775 career, .823 this year), and he’s patient, ranking fifth in the league in walks (96), eighth in OBP and 11th in pitches per plate appearance (4.15).

Zobrist has been slumping in the postseason, going 6-for-36 with three doubles overall and just 2-for-17 in his last five games. His history against the Indians' pitchers isn't good (9-for-65 with a .530 OPS), so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Maddon try someone different—Jorge Soler, Albert Almora Jr. or Chris Coghlan—in left at some point in this series if Zobrist doesn't heat up.

COCO CRISP: Coco Crisp played just 20 games and picked up only 11 hits for the Indians this year after being brought over in an August trade from the A's, but in his second stint with the team, he has been better than his numbers suggest. Including the postseason, he has hit four home runs for Cleveland, the last three of which came in clinching victories: his homer on Sept. 26 at Detroit helped clinch the AL Central division title; his two-run shot in ALDS Game 3 helped the Indians sweep the Red Sox; and his solo homer in ALCS Game 5 was part of a 3–0 win that wrapped up the pennant. Crisp is not the same player he was in his prime, but at age 36, he remains a valuable contributor whose speed, defense and timely hitting have made Cleveland a better team.

EDGE: Cubs



AVG: .276 | OBP: .393 | SLG: .447
HR: 13 | RBIs: 48

AVG: .296 | OBP: .372 | SLG: .514
HR: 14 | RBIs: 43

DEXTER FOWLER: Fowler has come into his own this year, setting career bests in OPS+ (126) and WAR (4.2). A switch hitter who's stronger against lefties (.876 OPS this year, .835 career) than righties (.827 OPS this year, .770 career), he's an outstanding leadoff hitter thanks to his .393 on-base percentage (sixth in the league) and patience (4.4 pitches per plate appearance, second) as well as his speed (13-for-17 in steals, +4 base-running runs). Hated for years by defensive metrics, which penalized his shallow positioning because of the cost of so many extra-base hits over his head, he's much improved this year thanks to deeper positioning; after averaging -11 DRS/-10 UZR from 2012 to '15, he was at +1 via both measures this year.

TYLER NAQUIN: Naquin, Cleveland's first-round draft pick in 2012, had a fine rookie season at age 25, but some of his drawbacks—like his propensity to strike out too much—has forced him into a platoon with Rajai Davis, who will come in for defensive purposes and started two games this October against lefties. But even if Davis gets the start in Game 1 against Chicago southpaw Jon Lester, Naquin should see plenty of action against righthanders Arrieta, Hendricks and Lackey. Terry Francona would love to see at least one member of his platoon start hitting in October: Naquin is 3-for-16 in the playoffs, and Davis is 0-for-12.

EDGE: Cubs



AVG: .230 | OBP: .306 | SLG: .325
HR: 7 | RBIs: 49

AVG: .286 | OBP: .328 | SLG: .439
HR: 8 | RBIs: 57

JASON HEYWARD: The $184 million man was dreadful at the plate this year, his swing a mess. He set across-the-board lows in slash stats and is 2-for-28 in the postseason, hanging on in the lineup thanks to his still-stellar glove (18 DRS this year). It wouldn't be a surprise if Maddon shuffles the deck to put Heyward on the bench and Almora or Soler in the lineup, particularly against lefties, against whom he had a .586 OPS in 161 plate appearances this year; he's a more garden-variety drag on the offense against righties (.647 OPS).

LONNIE CHISENHALL: Chisenhall rebounded from a down 2015, with some of the best numbers of his career, though he did struggle at times defensively in his first full season in the outfield, posting a -2.6 UZR. Chisenhall has been one of Cleveland's most consistent hitters during the postseason, with a .296/.385/.681 line.

EDGE: Indians



CUBS DH/BENCH: As a rookie in 2015, Kyle Schwarber batted .246 with 16 home runs, 43 RBIs and an .842 OPS in just 273 plate appearances. But the 23-year-old lefty swinger tore the ACL and MCL of his left knee in this season's second game and hasn't played in the majors since. That will change in Game 1 of the World Series, as he's been added to Chicago's roster after healing quicker than expected and taking six at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. When fully healthy, he's got light-tower power, but he may well be rusty, and as a liability against southpaws (8-for-56 with a .481 OPS last year), he’ll be targeted for lefty-lefty matchups late in the game.

Contreras or righties Soler (.238/.333 /.436 with 12 homers) or Almora (.277/.308/.455 with three homers) are also good options off the bench. Both were more effective against lefties this year, albeit in small sample sizes against lesser pitchers. The lefty-swinging Coghlan (.252/.391/.388 in 128 PA after returning from the A's) is a likely pinch-hit candidate. Speed is not a weapon the Cubs have on the bench unless Heyward starts the game there, though Almora did swipe 10 bags in 13 attempts at Triple A Iowa this season.

INDIANS DH/BENCH: In his first season as primarily a DH, Santana set personal bests with 34 home runs and 87 RBIs and continued his high walk rate, although he also continued his habit of striking out a lot. He still logged plenty of time at first base, however, and is a better fielder than Napoli. That will come in handy for Francona at Wrigley Field, especially because the rest of the bench is so unreliable. Backup catcher Yan Gomes has battled injury and ineffectiveness all season and hasn't seen the field yet this October. Davis has been relegated to a role as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Brandon Guyer has also yet to be used in the postseason despite hitting .333/.438/.469 after being acquired from the Rays during the regular season. If Naquin and Davis continue to struggle, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Francona move Crisp to center and insert Guyer in left.

EDGE: Indians



CUBS STARTING PITCHERS: Chicago had the majors' stingiest rotation, with a 2.96 ERA, 0.64 runs per nine lower than the next-lowest team. For the postseason, the club's pitchers have been even better, clamping down to a 2.56 ERA with just over a base runner per inning, albeit with a modest 6.7 strikeouts per nine. The Cubs' four postseason starters all had ERAs of 3.35 or lower during the regular season, led by the NL's top two, Hendricks (2.13) and Lester (2.44). The latter will start Game 1, and while the Indians are better equipped to run on him than the Dodgers were, they've still got to put runners on base, which has been a tall task for opponents. The 32-year-old lefty has allowed just 14 hits, two walks and three runs in 21 postseason innings, adding to an already-glowing October resumé.

Arrieta, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, will start Game 2. He was not as dominant this year as last, with a 3.10 ERA and 3.52 FIP; though he struck out 23.9% of all batters (8.7 per nine), his 9.6% walk rate was the NL's fourth-highest among qualified starters.

Hendricks, who came into the year as the team's fifth starter, enjoyed a breakout season. His changeup is his best pitch, one that batters whiff on 24.5% of the time, and he's gotten stronger with each postseason outing; he now has a 1.63 ERA in 16 1/3 innings. As for Lackey, he's coming off a solid season (3.35 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 8.6 strikeouts per nine) and has 25 career postseason appearances with a 3.26 ERA under his belt, but he's been on a very short leash this fall, with a pair of four-inning starts.

It’s worth noting that all of the Cubs' pitchers owe a significant amount of credit to their defense, which had a .728 defensive efficiency rate, 26 points better than the second-best team (the Giants) and 41 points better than league average. In fact, Chicago's Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of 6.38 (that's percentage above average) was the majors' best since at least 1950, as far back as Baseball Prospectus' data goes.

INDIANS STARTING PITCHERS: Whether Trevor Bauer and his bloody finger are able to start a game in the World Series remains to be seen. But whether he does or not, the Indians' chances for a quality start will basically begin and end with Corey Kluber. The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner went 18–9 this year with a 3.14 ERA and 227 strikeouts. He’s been strong in the postseason as well, posting a 0.98 ERA in 18 1/3 innings. His only loss came in ALCS Game 4, his first career start on three days' rest, when he gave up two runs in five innings to Toronto.

Francona may have no choice but to give Kluber the ball on short rest again, given the mixed bag that is the rest of his pitching staff. Both Bauer and Josh Tomlin have shown bouts of brilliance, mixed with equal spans of mediocrity. In June, Tomlin went six or more innings in all six of his starts, giving up no more than three runs. In August, he went six innings just once, giving up an average of just under six runs per start. Bauer, meanwhile, had to leave his most recent start—ALCS Game 3 in Toronto—during the first inning because a gash on his throwing hand (caused by a mishap fixing a drone) opened up, causing him to gush blood all over the mound. On the positive side, he is well rested.

ALCS Game 5 starter Ryan Merritt delivered 4 1/3 scoreless innings against the Blue Jays but was pulled as soon as he gave up a single to Russell Martin in the fifth inning. Expect Merritt to be on a similarly short leash in the World Series, if he even gets a start​.

EDGE: Cubs



CUBS BULLPEN: While the Cubs' starters have been exceptional in the postseason, the bullpen has been spotty, posting a 3.53 ERA with just 7.3 strikeouts per nine and a 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. During the regular season, Chicago’s relievers posted a 3.56 ERA that ranked fourth in the league, and their 9.9 strikeout-per-nine rate was tops. The unit was even more dominant in the second half, after the additions of Aroldis Chapman (pushing Hector Rondon into a setup role) and Mike Montgomery, posting a 3.11 ERA (second) and 10.6 strikeout-per-nine rate (tops). Chapman, after returning from his suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy, posted a 1.55 ERA with 1.40 strikeouts per nine for the Yankees and Cubs, saving 36 games in 39 chances. He's done very well when used in an inning-at-a-time mode during the postseason, less so when being brought in with men on base in the eighth, having allowed four of six inherited runners to score.

Maddon hasn't shown a ton of confidence in Rondon (who pitched to a 3.53 ERA with 10.2 strikeouts per nine in the regular season), Pedro Strop (who missed six weeks due to arthroscopic knee surgery late in the year but whiffed 11.4 per nine overall) or Justin Grimm so far in the postseason. In 13 appearances, that trio has combined for just 9 2/3 innings and been charged with six earned runs, striking out only five batters. Instead, the Cubs have relied upon lefties Travis Wood (2.95 ERA, 6.9 strikeouts per nine), Montgomery (2.52 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine between the Cubs and Mariners) and righty Carl Edwards Jr. (3.75 ERA and 13.0 strikeouts per nine).

INDIANS BULLPEN: Andrew Miller’s postseason run is becoming the stuff of legend. In 11 2/3 scoreless innings, he has given up just five hits and two walks and struck out 21 batters. He’s gone more than an inning in every appearance, and in the clinching Game 5 of the ALCS, he got eight outs. His overpowering performance is reminiscent of the work Mariano Rivera used to deliver for the Yankees in October and, like Rivera, Miller is comfortable pitching multiple innings and could even be used in that role on back-to-back days if necessary.

Also like Rivera, Miller has plenty of help elsewhere in a bullpen that is chock full of quality arms. Closer Cody Allen also has yet to allow a run this postseason, striking out 12 batters in 7 2/3 innings. When Francona had to go deep into his 'pen to cover the 8 1/3 innings still left after Bauer's injury forced him out of ALCS Game 3, he got shutdown work from Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw before turning the game over to Allen and Miller. The Indians need to get just five innings each game from their starters before turning things over to a parade of relievers and counting the outs to victory.

EDGE: Indians



JOE MADDON: Maddon is one of the majors' most popular managers, and with good cause. Not only is he a media darling, but he's also a players' manager who has helped his club survive under the microscope that comes with the impossibly high expectations of trying to do what no other Cubs team has in more than a century. While the big-picture stuff is important on this big stage, it doesn't necessarily translate to tactical genius, so it's worth looking beyond the wins column.

During the regular season, the versatility that the Cubs have cultivated within their roster—Baez, Bryant, Contreras and Zobrist are all able to man multiple positions—allowed Maddon to keep his regulars and reserves fresh and to chase favorable matchups that went beyond simple left-right platooning. While that flexibility has come in handy for a few postseason double-switches, he's largely gone with a set lineup except at catcher and a few times benching Heyward, preferring instead to tinker with the batting order. It's worked well enough for the Cubs to average 4.8 runs per game, but 23 of those 48 runs came in the last three games of the NLCS, largely against the Dodgers' lesser pitchers. All of which is to say that he could stand to be a bit more active in shuffling his lineup in response to matchups. He could also stand to be more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to his bullpen; if you're going to commit to six outs worth of Chapman, giving him a clean sheet is probably wise, especially because the Indians are a team that will test his ability to hold runners.

Tactically, the Cubs don't do much small ball. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cubs led the NL in squeezes (eight) but otherwise ranked 10th in position player sacrifice bunts (14), 11th in stolen base attempts (100), 13th in pinch-hitters (a testament to the starters' stamina) and dead last in intentional walks issued (24). While they were just 10th in hit-and-run attempts (264), they tied for third in hit-and-runs executed (93 balls in play). During the postseason, they've got just one sacrifice and three steals, and the vast majority of their pinch-hitting has been related to the pitchers' spot. Still, it's not like Maddon doesn't think outside the box; here's hoping we get to see Travis Wood shuttle between the mound and the outfield before the series ends.

TERRY FRANCONA: Terry Francona has an 8–0 record in the World Series—two appearances, two sweeps, two championships. It’s unprecedented in baseball history.

But Francona’s two Red Sox title teams—in 2004 and ‘07—are remarkably different than the ‘16 Indians. Both of those Boston clubs needed major rallies to advance to the World Series. The ‘04 team was down 3–0 to the Yankees in the ALCS, and three years later, the Red Sox had to dig out of a 3–1 series hole against the Indians. Both times they used that momentum to ease through the World Series.

The 2016 Indians are riding a different wave, having lost just once in the postseason. They were dominant in sweeping the Red Sox in the ALDS and nearly as unbeatable in the ALCS against Toronto. Francona has managed his pitching staff, in particular his Miller-led bullpen, masterfully so far.

It’s not a traditional bullpen. Instead, it is one based on situation, a rejection of history and an embrace of leverage. It’s something that other teams will surely try to copy, although it remains to be see if teams without a chess piece like Miller can do it.

Francona has one great starter, Kluber, to work with. He has an offense that relies heavily on the home run and very little on sustained rallies (11 home runs, just a .208 average and a .256 on-base percentage). Francona’s genius has been in realizing his strength and sticking with it.

There’s no question that Francona will manage his bullpen in a well-constructed way in this World Series. What is in question is what will happen if Miller finally proves human.