2020 Fantasy Baseball: Cleveland Indians Team Preview

Full fantasy baseball stat projections for Indians hitters and pitchers. What to expect from Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Mike Clevinger and more.
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Cleveland Indians

The Indians missed the playoff in 2019 despite winning 93 games, which ended their postseason streak at three years. Since 1995, Cleveland reached the playoffs 11 times with three World Series appearances (all losses). Over their 119 year history, they’ve made the playoffs in 14 seasons with two World Series titles (1920 and 1948).

The strength of their team continues to be their pitching staff (3.76 ERA – 4th), which led to 16 shutouts and 42 saves. The Indians ranked 16th in runs (769), 16th in home runs (223), and 17th in RBI (731). They scored 49 fewer runs than they did in 2018 (818).

Cleveland signed Cesar Hernandez to take over at second base. They traded Corey Kluber to the Rangers for RP Emmanuel Clase and OF Delino DeShields. In a minor deal, the Indians added C Sandy Leon for SP Adenys Bautista. They moved on from 2B Jason Kipnis while failing to retain OF Yasiel Puig. OF Domingo Santana signed a minor league contract in February to compete for playing time in the outfield and DH.

When looking at Cleveland’s batting order, it has a couple of talented bats (SS Francisco Lindor and 3B Jose Ramirez) while lacking overall depth to match some of the better teams in the American League. The front of the pitching staff has three strong arms (Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, and Carlos Carrasco) with some upside in their depth. CL Brad Hand is a stable ninth-inning arm, while Emmanuel Chase should develop into a closing-type option soon.

I see a competitive team with winning experience, but they look to be trending backwards offensively. Their starting rotation has talent, upside, and depth, plus the bullpen should be improved in 2020.

Starting Lineup

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1. SS Francisco Lindor

Lindor started 2019 on the injured list for three weeks with ankle and calf issues. After a slow start over 11 games (.214 with three HRs and six RBIs over 42 at-bats), he played well over his next 79 games (.319 with 55 runs, 15 HRs, 37 RBI, and 16 SBs over 335 at-bats). His season ended with 40 runs, 14 home runs, and 31 RBI over 221 at-bats, but Lindor only hit .244.

He had most of his success against right-handed pitching (.298 with 24 HRs and 50 RBI over 400 at-bats). His approach showed strength in his strikeout rate (15.0) with some regression over the past two years (12.9 and 14.4). Lindor had an uptick in his contact batting average (.340) while repeating his value in AVH (1.824) for the third straight season. He did take fewer walks (7.0 – 9.4 in 2018 and 8.0 in his career). His hard-hit rate (40.4) came at 148th while ranking high in balls hit 95 MPH or more (205 – 14th).

Settling into a floor of a 30/20 player with an excellent chance at 200 combined runs and RBI with a full season of at-bats. I expect a push in batting average in 2020. Priced as a first piece to the puzzle (ADP of eight).

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2. OF Oscar Mercado

Mercado ended up being a good waiver wire find for fantasy teams after being called up on May 15th. His bat was quiet over his first 61 at-bats (.262 with one HR, four RBI, and two SBs). Over 23 games in June, he hit .347 with 15 runs, three home runs, 13 RBI, and four steals over 95 at-bats. His batting average (.227) dropped over his next 184 at-bats, but he was serviceable in runs (26), home runs (6), RBI (19), and stolen bases (6).

Mercado didn’t have a top-of-the-order walk rate (5.8) but he did control the damage in strikeouts (17.4 percent). He’s getting strong based on the growth of his AVH in the majors (1.644) and the minors (1.686) in 2019. Over seven seasons in the minors, Mercado hit .254 with 33 home runs, 218 RBI, and 210 steals over 2,403 at-bats.

Developing power with plus underlying speed, but I can’t see him keeping the second slot in the batting order. An outside chance at a 20/35 season with a favorable ADP (126). A workable piece to a fantasy team, but I would be careful not to overpay for his short resume of success.

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3. 3B Jose Ramirez

After Ramirez had a big season in 2018 (39 HRs, 105 RB, and 34 SBs), regression was expected. He gave away the first 34 games (.197 with two HRs, nine RBI, and nine SBs over 127 at-bats), plus he lost a month late in the year with a broken right hand that required surgery. His bat looked sharp over 43 games (.326 with 15 HRs, 45 RBI, and six SBs over 172 at-bats) starting in early July. Ramirez continues to have a low strikeout rate (13.7), but he failed to match his elite walk rate of 2018 (15.2 – 9.6 in 2019).

For the second straight year, his contact batting average (.301 and .313) restricted his ability to hit for a higher average. His swing path delivered a high number of fly-balls over the past two seasons (45.9 and 46.5), which leads to some easy outs. Ramirez doesn’t have an edge in his hard-hit rate (35.7 – 260th).

Great approach while doing a good job with runners on base. His batting average could pop, but it may come at the expense of home runs via a bump in his line drive rate. Torn between his price point (ADP of 18) and his true value. If you believe in a .300/30/100/30 season, he will be a bargain while being an edge in speed at third base. Ramirez does have a high floor due to his value in five categories.

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4. 1B Carlos Santana

After underachieving in batting average for his first ten years in the majors despite a winning approach at the plate (strikeout rate – 15.7 and walk rate – 15.7 in 2019), Santana set a career-high in his batting average (.281). His push came from a jump in his CTBA (.346 – .274 in 2018 and under .315 in most seasons). He hit the best versus lefties (.324 with 11 HRs and 40 RBI over 185 at-bats) with two poor months (July – .229 with five HRs and ten RBI over 83 at-bats and September – .219 with three HRs and 11 RBI over 96 at-bats).

Last season, Santana did lose some loft off his swing (career-high in his ground ball rate – 45.2), but he made up for it with the highest HR/FB rate (19.3) of his career. His hard-hit rate (44.9) came in at 57th in the majors with a ninth-place ranking in balls hit over 95 mph (209). With an ADP of 151 in early January, Santana is more than viable for a fantasy owner that cheats first base. Possible 100/30/100 season with some follow-through in batting average.

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5. OF Franmil Reyes

Over seven years in the minors, Reyes hit .268 with 84 home runs, 429 RBI, and 34 stolen bases over 2,625 at-bats. He flashed in 2018 with the Padres (16 HRs and 31 RBI over 261 at-bats) while adding more power last year (37 HRs and 81 RBI over 484 at-bats). His strikeout rate (28.3) remains high in the majors with more success in the minors (20.9) while his walk rate (8.6) is slightly better than league average.

Reyes did most of his damage before the All-Star break (.253 with 25 HRs and 42 RBI over 277 at-bats) with the Padres. His hard-hit rate (51.2) was the seventh highest in baseball with a godly HR/FB rate (31.1 – 29.6 in 2018). He did improve his swing path (fly-ball rate – 34.5 – 29.8 in 2018) last season. Monster of a man with exceptional power. The ability to play DH will remove the liability of his defense. Next step: 40-plus home runs with growth in runs, RBI, and batting average. His ADP should be around 162 in 2020.

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Pitching Staff

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SP1 Shane Bieber

When building a top pitching staff, controlling WHIP is the first order of business. Bieber came into 2019 with a great foundation in his command, which in turn led to him blossoming into an ace arm. He led the American League with the lowest walk rate (1.7), helping Bieber boost his strikeout rate (10.9) well above his minor league career (8.4) and success in his rookie season (9.3). Over three seasons in the minors, he went 16-6 with a 2.24 ERA and 270 strikeouts over 277 innings. His best stat coming into the majors was his 0.6 walk rate in his minor league career.

With the Indians last year, Bieber was much tougher to hit (.230 BAA - .285 in 2018), but he did allow a few too many home runs (1.3 per nine). His arm had almost the same value against righties (.231) as it did against lefties (.228) while posting an ERA under 3.70 in each month. He allowed two runs or fewer in 22 of his 33 starts. In the majors, his HR/FB rate (12.1 in 2018 and 16.1 in 2019) was much higher than the minors (8.8 or lower in each season). Bieber has a major league average fastball (93.4) that is tough to hit (.229 BAA). Both his slider (.203 BAA) and curveball (.213 BAA) grade well while his show-me changeup (.309 BAA) still needs work.

I can’t expect a repeat in strikeouts, but he’ll throw plenty of strikes. His ERA should push under 3.00 with plenty of chances at wins by pitching deeper in games due to his ability to keep pitch counts low. Last year, he pitched into the seventh inning in 19 games, and he had five other starts with six innings. Bieber has an ADP of 32 in the early draft season. His floor looks to be 15 wins with a 3.25 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 200 strikeouts.

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SP2 Mike Clevinger

The only disappointment fantasy owners had with Clevinger in 2019 was his 12 missed starts due to a back injury. His season started with two electric games (no runs over 12 innings with two hits allowed and 22 Ks). When he returned to the mound on June 17th after missing 70 days of action, Clevinger struggled in his first two starts (12 runs and 14 baserunners over 6.1 innings with nine strikeouts). Over his next 16 games, he allowed two runs or fewer in 14 games, leading to a 1.76 ERA and 134 strikeouts over 102 innings. Clevinger ended the year with a poor outing (six runs and nine baserunners over 5.2 innings with four Ks).

He had the best walk rate (2.6), strikeout rate (12.1), and first-pitch strike rate (65.8) of his career with batters only hitting .209 against him. His stuff had the most growth against right-handed hitters (.198 with nine walks and 95 Ks over 222 at-bats). Clevinger issued 28 of his 37 walks to lefties while holding them to a lower batting average (.219). His AFB (95.6) was the best of his career and 1.3 MPH better than 2018 (94.3). Hitters struggled to make contact with his four-seamer (.200 BAA) and slider (.176 BAA), but his curveball (.271 BAA) and changeup (.304 BAA) lost value. Late developing arm with an ace ADP (26). Over the past three years with Cleveland, he went 38-18 with a 2.96 ERA and 513 strikeouts over 447.2 innings. If his command repeats, sub 2.50 ERA with a run at 250-plus strikeouts.

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CL/RP Brad Hand

Based on final stats, Hand finished with a productive season while showing improved command (2.8 walks per nine). His strikeout rate (13.2) has been special over the previous two years. Hidden behind his numbers was a couple of bad months of pitching. From June 25th to August 21st, Hand had an 8.10 ERA, 2.160 WHIP, and four home runs allowed over 16.2 innings. Over this period, he blew five of 12 save tries. His season started with an electric 34.1 innings (1.05 ERA, 50 Ks, and 22 saves), but ended with arm issue in September (only pitched 2.1 innings – 7.71 ERA). 

On the year, Hand had regression against right-handed batters (.258 – .226 in 2018). His AFB (92.9) was down about 1.3 MPH with more erosion for his sinker (about two MPH). His best pitch remains to be his slider (.200 BAA). I’d like to know why his arm lost value in 2019. Without a corrected injury, he may still have an underlying issue. Hand has an ADP of 105 in the early draft season. Possible 40-plus saves and 100-plus strikeouts with an edge in ERA or a season-ending elbow injury. I need to see positive reports in Spring Training before adding him to my fantasy rosters.

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Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription. Shawn Childs is a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ. Gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.

READ MORE: 2020 Cleveland Indians Team Outlook

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