ESPN’s Olney high on quintet of Tribe players

Brantley

ESPN Insider Buster Olney has completed his annual positional rankings, and Indians players fared well: Michael Brantley was the top-ranked left fielder, while Yan Gomes, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber and Cody Allen also rated highly. (Olney factored in more than just the 2014 season, hence Kluber’s ranking.)

Since Olney’s blog is an Insider blog, some Tribe fans may not have access to it; here’s a link and Olney’s reasoning behind placing our guys where he has:

Left fielders

No. 1 — Michael Brantley: He was a working definition of consistency in 2014, with 200 hits (Jose Altuve was the only other player to reach that mark), 67 extra-base hits, 52 walks and 56 strikeouts, plus 23 stolen bases in 24 attempts. His OPS before the All-Star break was .901, and afterward it was .876. In September, when the Indians were making one last push for the postseason, he posted a 1.022 OPS. The only position players who scored higher in Fangraphs’ WAR last season were Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. Brantley finished third in the AL MVP vote, exactly where he should’ve finished.

Starters

No. 8 — Corey Kluber: He doesn’t have the long track record of other starters on this list, but it’s hard to overstate how dominant he was last season, with a breaking ball that confounded hitters who were so often behind in the count. Check out these highlights — the run of his fastball, the spin of his breaking ball — from a start he made in July. After the All-Star break, hitters had a .555 OPS against Kluber, third-best in the majors.

Catchers

No. 7 – Yan Gomes: Gomes is perhaps the majors’ most underrated catcher, and Indians GM Chris Antonetti deserves a ton of credit for making a deal with the Blue Jays for him. The 27-year-old product of Brazil took over from Carlos Santana in the summer of 2013 because of what he can do defensively, and Gomes is really good offensively as well, having posted an .826 OPS in 2013 and .785 last season.

Gomes scores well in the pitch-framing numbers, and deserves a share of the credit for the staff-wide improvement of the Cleveland hurlers.

Relievers

No. 9 — Cody Allen: A big swing-and-miss reliever, Allen held opponents to a .601 OPS last season. He’s entrenched as the closer in the Indians’ bullpen.

Second basemen

No. 6 – Jason Kipnis: There’s no getting around it: Kipnis had a terrible season in 2014, posting a .240/.310/.330 slash line, and his extra-base hits plummeted from 57 to 32. But we’re giving him a mulligan, given his age (27) and the fact that he suffered an early-season oblique injury that seemed to put him in a hole from which he never climbed out. Maybe he got caught up in the effort of trying to make up for lost time and simply fell into bad habits. Justin Havens sent along these notes:

In 2013, Kipnis posted a .754 slugging percentage on fly balls, with 14 home runs and 9.5 percent of his fly balls turning into homers. Bizarrely, in 2014, he slugged just .301 on his fly balls, with only 4.3 percent (5) of them going for a home run. Perhaps most telling, his average fly ball distance dropped from 290 feet in 2013 to 270 in 2014. How good Kipnis is centers largely around which performance against left-handed pitchers is “real.” See below (chase rate is defined as percent of pitches out of the strike zone that result in swings):

2014: .208 batting average, .244 slugging, 30.1 percent chase rate
2013: .308 BA, .480 slugging, 18.8 percent chase rate
2012: .215 BA, .282 slugging, 21.2 percent chase rate

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