2017 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Chronicles – Cleveland Indians
We must be nuts to look at fielding on a fantasy site, but fielding has a bigger impact on the fantasy side of the game than we realize. First, it directly impacts the success or failure that pitchers have. Secondly, it can even impact offense in an indirect way. Successful fielders tend to play more often and therefore can put up more counting numbers. Unsuccessful fielders often struggle to get on the field when push comes to shove.
From a team standpoint, fielding has a dramatic impact on the success or failure of a team behind the scenes. The Indians were a somewhat surprising team last season, but when you chart the fielding numbers from the last three seasons you can see why their fortunes have gone from mediocre to within one out of the World Series title.
We are using defensive runs saved from the Fielding Bible to evaluate fielders individually and the team as a whole. Billjamesonline.com has numbers for both. Zero represents average fielding on both counts. Additionally, they give us information on advanced shifting. We also will include baseball-reference’s defense efficiency rating. That provides a simple calculation of the percentage of balls in play that get converted into outs.
Rarely does one fielder ever have a dramatic impact on the fortunes of a team, but it happened with the Indians. The infield defense has gone from a horrible weakness to a great strength with a change at shortstop. The DER is the ultimate judge of the defensive prowess of a team, but DER is partially luck based. Still, when you combine the improvement in shifting with the improvement of individual fielders magic can happen.
The Indians have a talented rotation and bullpen, but the fact remains that they are bolstered by the fielders around them. When teams are smart enough to pair pitchers to the strength of their defense they can have tremendous success. We certainly can’t predict ultimate success with the amount of luck that enters the equation, but the Indians are certainly on the right track.
There can be little doubt that this is Francisco Lindor. Lindor has combined for plus 27 runs in less than two full seasons. He turned in 17 runs last season alone. Unfortunately, he will likely never be a true Gold Glove winner with Andrelton Simmons in the same league, but he has thrown in his hat into the debate over the top all-around shortstop in the league and he is only in his second full season.
Tyler Naquin certainly contributed a lot on the offensive end during his rookie season, but his minus 18 run finish was alarming in a little more than a half season. Fortunately, most players don’t repeat seasons like that with the glove. We could make all kinds of excuses, but a level like that means that the Indians may limit his exposure some and that will hurt his ultimate fantasy value.
There is only one truly new face in Cleveland and that is Edwin Encarnacion. His ratings have been neutral the past two seasons, but that’s a bit misleading. He spent most of his time at DH the past two seasons. Carlos Santana has that spot officially, but it isn’t hard to imagine the Indians going back and forth in an effort to find the player that is the least objectionable. Mike Napoli was passable at first last season, so it is likely a net loss either way.
Michael Brantley returns to left field on a full time basis, so that will be a change over last season, but we have enough of a track record on him to predict the future. He is fairly close to neutral. Lonnie Chisenhall was above average in right field last season, but the overall outfield will be below average in all likelihood.
With the exception of first base, the rest of the infield is pretty strong. So, ground ball pitchers will find more success than their fly ball counterparts. That means that Carlos Carrasco is the most likely pitcher to benefit if he can keep himself off the disabled list. He has averaged a 52 percent ground ball rate over the past three seasons (44 percent is average). His ground ball rate is considerably higher than the rest of the staffs.
Josh Tomlin has a 41 percent ground ball rate over the past three seasons, so he would be the obvious candidate to struggle. The good news is that he had a 45 percent rate last season. The bad news is Terry Francona pulled him from the rotation at one point last season. He was only a pick in deeper leagues, but some might be tempted to add him on the waiver wire. I would resist the temptation for now.