Could a Shortened 2020 Season Play in Favor of the Indians Strong Starting Rotation?
As Major League Baseball and the players union continue their discussions this week to try and get the game back on the field in July, the thought of playing an 82-game season might be appealing to some, while others feel it will somewhat cheapen whatever team winds up hoisting a World Series title this year.
There is no question that playing basically half of a normal schedule is going to put everyone a little bit out of sorts, but the abbreviated 2020 campaign would almost certainly benefit the Cleveland Indians.
Their starting pitching is already their strong point and is the best five-man rotation in the American League Central. Those five pitchers—Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale—are capable of paralyzing an opposing offense on any given night. The impact of such a staff is only enhanced in a shortened season.
Some have said it’s unfair for fans and the organization to expect so much from Plesac and Civale, who have combined to throw 31 games thus far in their Major League careers. Make no mistake, though: it’s the sudden and somewhat unexpected success of these two pitchers that gave the Indians confidence that trading starters Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber was the right move over the last 10 months.
Clevinger, Bieber and Carrasco are a solid starting three to kickoff the rotation, and some have mentioned Clevinger as a possible AL Cy Young award candidate for 2020.
Last season, despite missing time early in the season due to injury, Clevinger was among the better pitchers in the league, going 13-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 21 starts.
Bieber’s season has been well documented. In addition to going 15-8 with a 3.27 ERA in 33 starts, Bieber won the 2019 MLB All-Star Game MVP award at Progressive Field, his home park.
The story of Carrasco is one that most Indians fans know, as the Tribe veteran had to miss a good portion of the year dealing with leukemia, making an inspiring comeback in September to throw out of the bullpen.
Carrasco is penciled in the rotation if he can stay healthy, and the team is hopeful that he will have a season more like 2017 or 2018 when he won a combined 35 games with an ERA in the threes.
So how exactly does a short season give this starting five an edge? Simple, they won’t be as taxed to throw close to, or in some cases over, 200 innings.
Carrasco could benefit the most from half of a season. He threw exactly 200 innings in 2017 and 192 innings in 2018, putting a lot of stress on his arm and body.
Cut that number in half and by mid- to late-September, with the Indians hopefully still in contention, you have a fresh and effective pitcher due to throwing fewer innings.
As far as the two second-year pitchers go, last season Plesac threw 115.2 innings in his 21 starts, while Civale in 10 starts threw 69.1 frames.
Those two numbers are very manageable for Plesac and Civale, and each could approach that in a shortened season, with both still being effective as they do.
When Clevenger was healthy two years ago, he threw exactly 200 innings, going 13-8 with a 3.02 ERA. Cutting that in half should keep him even more fresh down the stretch, something that can only help the Tribe.
Another element in the mix is that with a shortened season the team could even skip a start or two if one of the Tribe throwers is struggling, as there won’t be that grind of knowing there’s not six months of a schedule ahead for the team.
Having a solid starting rotation is something that is a luxury that many teams around the league cannot boast.
For the Indians if a 2020 season gets decided upon and played, it could be a major reason they are in the thick of a race for either the AL Central title or a wild card spot in the American League.