The Cleveland Indians’ offense was inconsistent at best last season. They finished in the top half of the American League in runs scored (7th), but they scored three runs or less in exactly half of their games, going 25-56 when that occurred.
This means when they reached four runs, their record was 60-21, an outstanding mark. So, if the Tribe can cut back on some of those games where they score under four runs, their record should improve.
As a comparison, the Indians’ main rivals in the Central Division, the Detroit Tigers, scored three runs or less in 63 games, 18 less than Cleveland. The AL West champs, the Angels had this occur 65 times.
Kansas City, who most think have a mediocre offense, couldn’t get to the four run mark 79 times.
How do the Indians improve the scoring? Well, we are sure they are hoping for Brandon Moss, acquired from Oakland this winter, will help by providing more pop, having hit 25 home runs in ’14 and 30 dingers in ’13.
However, the key to the Tribe scoring more runs in 2015 is Jason Kipnis.
In 2013, Kipnis made his first all-star game appearance, hitting .284 with 17 homers and an 818 OPS. Last year, he got off to a slow start and battled injuries, his numbers dropped to just .240 with six home runs, none after the end of July.
In fact, in the season’s last two months, Kipnis batted a paltry .235 with only five runs batted in. Despite that, Terry Francona showed a lot of confidence in him by continuing to put him in the middle of the lineup.
Obviously, the Indians need the soon to be 28-year-old to be more like the guy who played in 2013 if the offense is to improve. And at that age, he should be in the prime of his career, plus his new six-year, $52 million contract kicks in this season, so Cleveland owes him a lot of cash over the next five seasons.
To make it simple, if Kipnis isn’t an above average offensive player over the next three to four seasons, the Indians will be in a lot of trouble.
He got paid off of the ’13 season, but his second season in the big leagues (2012) wasn’t outstanding either, as his OPS was just 714. His average was .257 and although he did bang 14 long balls, he only had 40 extra base hits. He accumulated 57 in 2013.
So, there should be some concern that last year wasn’t a total fluke.
Kipnis walked 76 times in ’13, but just 50 times last season, and the injuries shouldn’t be an excuse there, unless something was wrong with his eyes. He swung at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone and struggled with men on base, hitting just .221 with runners on. He hit .300 in this situation the prior year.
He also struggled at Progressive Field, batting just .218 there last season, compared to .288 in ’13.
Many fans talk about Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn as players the Indians need to be productive to make a run in 2015, but the simpler answer is a return by Kipnis to something close to his 2013 numbers.
If he can, Francona’s lineup should be much more productive. If he can’t, the Tribe will need to do something about a guy they owe a lot of cash to in the coming years.