Hey, it's Election Day, and isn't it appropriate that today's featured team come from the swing state of Ohio?
The Indians lost 94 games, but looking at their final numbers, it's amazing they didn't lose a lot more. The team ranked 13th (out of 14) in the AL in runs scored, and were dead last in ERA. Naturally, their run differential indicated a 98-loss team, so it could have been even worse. They've been in rebuild mode ever since they squandered a 3-1 series lead in the 2007 ALCS, but they've pretty much spent the majority of that time whizzing on the wheels of progress.
The team's utter failure to get a decent return on stars C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee has set them back for years. The best player they received from those two deals was Michael Brantley, and he was a player to be named later. Ugh. Otherwise, they've just sat there, being bad, offering a decent prospect once in a while as they mostly just inhabit their own cold, obscure hole near the bottom of the AL Central.
Best Fantasy Hitter: Carlos Santana
Santana's season was generally seen as a disappointment due to the substantial drop in home runs, but a catcher who walks 91 times and OPS's .785 is nothing to sneeze at. The rise in his batting average was also encouraging, though at .252, it still wasn't great. As for the dip in home runs, he wasn't hitting a substantial amount of balls on the ground; it's just that the balls he hit in the air weren't going out like they were the year before. That could simply be a fluke that an age-27 season could correct. More encouragingly, Santana hit .281/.389/.498 with thirteen home runs in the second half, looking more like the power hitter of yore.
Honorable mentions also to Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera. Kipnis disappointed with a low batting average, but he shocked the masses by stealing 31 bases. If his power continues to develop, he could be a 20-homer/30 steal guy, which would put him right at the top of fantasy shortstops.
Cabrera's season was seen as a letdown after his awesome 2011, when he hit 25 home runs. He wasn't bad, though, and he only lost 30 points in OPS (and just six points in OPS+, to give it some perspective). He may not ever match his 2011 numbers, but even at his 2012 standards, he's a very good fantasy player at a weak position.
Best Fantasy Pitcher: Chris Perez
Just like the Rockies, the Indians had no true quality fantasy starter. Not one. You could argue Justin Masterson, but even though he threw 200 innings and struck out 159, an ERA close to 5.00, a WHIP of 1.45, and 15 losses is a fantasy drain. Behind Masterson, you had a whole bunch of nothing. Of the five starters besides Masterson who made ten or more starts for the Indians, only one had an ERA under 5.00. And it wasn't like this staff was made up of a bunch of struggling prospects getting their feet wet in the majors. Both Josh Tomlin and the remains of Derek Lowe combined to pitch more than 220 innings and were absolutely awful. At least 26-year-old Corey Kluber offered some hope with a decent strikeout rate.
Meanwhile, when he wasn't vomiting all over the mound, Chris Perez actually had a very good year as the team's closer. Before the season, I expressed skepticism about Perez after his strikeout rate tanked in 2011, but he remembered how to miss bats again this year struck out 59 hitters in 57.2 innings. His 39 saves ranked him sixth in the majors, making him one of the better closers in the league in 2012. Now if someone could just get him some Tums...
Top Overachiever: Zach McAllister
One of the reasons the Indians were so bad is that they didn't really have any players who having career years or who were playing above their heads. Most good teams get a guy or two having a fluke year that propels them over the top. Just look at the World Champion Giants. They got four months of Melky Cabrera having the season of his life. Then, after Cabrera got busted, they rode to the title behind Marco Scutaro, who finished with the best two months of his life.
The closest I can come up with for an overachiever here is McAllister, who is a soft-tossing righty who achieved modest success in 125 innings despite middling stuff and less-than-inspiring minor league strikeout rates. McAllister profiled as a ground ball artist in the minors, but he was nothing of the sort in his time in the big leagues. His control is pretty good, but if he continues to give up home runs at the rate he did in 2012, even his 4.24 ERA may be a tough one to repeat.
Biggest Disappointment: Ubaldo Jimenez
In an article that I wrote in February, I tabbed Jimenez as the top pitcher to avoid in fantasy leagues, and for once I was absolutely right. The decrease in fastball velocity he suffered in 2011 got even worse this season, and that, coupled with the move to the DH league, spelled death for his fantasy value. Jimenez also lost all semblance of command, walking a career-worst 4.8 batters per nine innings and unloading sixteen wild pitches. He led the AL in losses and probably would have been the worst pitcher in the junior circuit if Jonathan Sanchez didn't exist. With strikeout numbers trending downward and dwindling stuff, it looks like Jimenez's 2010 season was a miracle never to be relived.
Top 2013 Sleeper: Thomas Neal
I'm going to go deep sleeper here. The Giants decided they needed Orlando Cabrera to torpedo their long shot pennant chances back in 2011, so they traded Neal to the Indians to get him. Neal has always been a decent prospect and he's put up good minor league stats (though he's usually been old for his levels). However, given a full time job as the left fielder, he has the skills (moderate power, good speed) to be an across-the-board fantasy contributor. As it stands now, the Indians are set to go into 2013 with Ezequiel Carrera as their starting left fielder. If you don't know who that is, don't worry; neither do I. Watch and see if there's a battle at this position in Spring Training, because Neal could be a decent bargain pick if he wins the starting job.
2013 Saves Report:
When Perez whiffed a measly 5.9 batters per nine innings in 2011, it looked like he might be losing his hold on the closer job. Fast forward a year, and he's regained a stranglehold on the ninth inning. Barring an injury, he's going to be the Indians' closer and should be pretty good if he can keep his strikeout rate at this level.
It's possible the Indians could cash in on Perez's magic "C" label and trade him for prospects at the deadline. If that happens, you'll want to nab Vinnie Pestano, who has been rock solid as a setup man for two years running (11.0 K/9 in his career), and I have little doubt he could step in and do a very good job in the ninth inning.
2013 Fantasy Outlook:
For a crappy team, the Indians actually have a very good set of players up the middle. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis are solid fantasy options, Carlos Santana is one of the top fantasy catchers, and Michael Brantley (son of Mickey) could blossom into a viable fantasy player if he remembers how to steal bases again. It's just everything else that blows.
Shin-Soo Choo is a former star and an okay five-category guy, but he's never been the same after blowing a ridiculous 0.20 on a DUI stop 18 months ago. Matt LaPorta is a perennial disappointment and all of their top prospects are several years from making an impact. The Astros might be the ultimate dead zone for fantasy owners, but the Indians are second in the running.