Scoring More Runs a Key for the Indians to Be Better in 2021
In the American League, you have to score runs to win. In the last five complete regular seasons, if you don’t rank among the top six teams in the league in scoring, you don’t make the playoffs.
The only exception? Tampa Bay in 2019 ranked tied for 7th in the Junior Circuit in runs. The other two teams they tied with were Cleveland and Los Angeles, neither of whom made the post-season.
Again, we are talking about complete 162 game schedules. That’s why we think had the 2020 campaign been played fully, it would have been difficult for the Indians to get beyond the regular season.
Cleveland ranked 13th in the AL in runs in the 2020 season. Could they have turned it around in an extra 102 games? Perhaps, we would never say never, but it would have been difficult.
Pitching may be the key once a team advances, but during the regular season, you have to be able to score.
The Tribe’s peripheral numbers were not good either. They were 13th in OPS, 14th in OPS+, 13th in slugging percentage, and last in home runs. And while they were 9th in on base percentage, they were still below the league average at .317 (the league had a .319 mark).
So, president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff have their work cut out for them this winter. The task is simple, they have to overhaul the offense.
Complicating the situation is the probability that two of their four best offensive players, Francisco Lindor and Cesar Hernandez, may not be with the team in 2021. It seems like a daunting task.
Could the improbable happen and a bunch of young players come up from the minor leagues and become lineup presences or some of the guys who disappointed in ’20 rebound to have much, much better seasons?
Anything is possible, but the likelihood of that occurring would be low.
We know many people are banking on the potential trade of Lindor to help balance out the lineup, but we feel most fans are overestimating the return the Indians will get in a deal. Using the Mookie Betts deal as a model (and we know Betts is a better player than Lindor), you can figure Cleveland will get a player who isn’t as good a hitter and some prospects.
While that may solve one of the outfield spots, you then have to replace the guy you just traded, and we don’t see anyone in the system who can or will be more productive offensively.
And if Hernandez walks, you have to find a second baseman too.
We believe you need to have at least six solid bats in a contending lineup, maybe seven. Let’s say the Indians don’t think they will get enough of a return (history shows they won’t) for Lindor and keep him for one more year.
Josh Naylor arrived in the Mike Clevinger deal, and he will be in the lineup somewhere, be it at 1B or LF, and we believe he will be a good offensive player.
That means they need to improve at two or three spots. And remember the Tribe values defense first and foremost at catcher, so either Roberto Perez and/or Austin Hedges is locked in there.
At best, they get one rebound year (Mercado, Zimmer, Luplow), and either Daniel Johnson or Nolan Jones comes out of the farm system to claim a regular job. However, you still need a contingency plan.
We understand many people think going with the youngsters is the way to go, but if you aren’t going to move Lindor, then banking on young, unproven talent with the pitching the Indians possess and a core of Jose Ramirez and Lindor seems less than optimal.
On the other hand, if they aren’t going to spend money (and every signal the front office sends says they aren’t), then Antonetti and Chernoff are kind of stuck in no man’s land.
That’s the conundrum the organization is in this off-season. What can be an acceptable plan to contend in 2021.
Either way, the Cleveland Indians have to figure out a way to score more runs in ’21 to get in the playoffs. That could be easier said than done.