The Cleveland Indians were 80-82 this season. It was the first time they have been under .500 since 2012. Not much was expected and having Shane Bieber, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner, for only five starts after the end of May, it was an uphill battle. Pitching wasn’t the strength Cleveland thought it would be and the hitting was mostly inept.
On July 29, the Indians were 50-49 but not in a position to truly contend so they unloaded some of their pieces. Cesar Hernandez, Jordan Luplow, Phil Maton, and Eddie Rosario were all sent to other teams before the deadline. While Cleveland didn’t get a massive haul, they picked up some players who could make an impact. Let’s take a look back at how 2021 went down for the Indians.
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Manager: Terry Francona
Position: Second in AL Central
Postseason: Missed Playoffs
Their lineup was led by Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes who were really the only two to do any damage this year. Ramirez is a stud and Reyes hit 30 home runs despite playing in just 115 games. Amed Rosario acclimated himself fairly well to the AL and Bobby Bradley hit 16 bombs in his first taste of major league action since 2019.
On the pitching side, not having Bieber was a huge blow to the staff. Zach Plesac took a step back and Aaron Civale, while decent, is not an ace right now. Sam Hentges, Logan Allen, and J.C. Mejia combined for 34 starts and none of them had an ERA below 6.00. This wasn’t a recipe for winning and the fact that Cleveland finished near .500 is amazing.
Most Valuable Player and Best Hitter of the Year: Jose Ramirez
Ramirez is a well-rounded player as he had a 6.3 Bsr, 35.4 oWAR, and 5.8 dWAR according to Fangraphs. He has a shot to win the Gold Glove this season as he did finish tied for first this year with Matt Chapman in DRS (10). Ramirez also finished fourth in stolen bases with 27. Offensively is where he is truly special. He posted a .372 wOBA and had a wRC+ of 137 while keeping his strikeout rate below 14 percent.
Ramirez was one of only five players this season to have 100 runs, 100 RBIs, 20 HRs, and 20 SBs. He also did all of this while getting somewhat unlucky with a .256 BABIP. At 29 years old, Cleveland’s superstar is one of the best players in the league and was even named to their All-Time Roster already.
Starting Pitcher of the Year: Cal Quantrill
After starting the season in the bullpen, Quantrill made 22 starts. In those games, he had an impressive 3.12 ERA and was 8-2 while allowing just a .676 OPS to opposing hitters. He also pitched at least six innings in 13 of his last 16 starts. Bieber probably would’ve been here but Quantrill earned his spot and Cleveland has another arm in the rotation looking forward to next year.
Relief Pitcher of the Year: Emmanuel Clase
Clase is the easy choice here. In just 69.2 innings he finished second among the pitchers with a 2.2 fWAR. Bieber had a 2.6 and threw 27 more innings. The Indians closer saved 24 games and had a minuscule 1.29 ERA. He gave up a run in just seven of his 71 appearances and allowed just two home runs all year and those were in back-to-back games in July. The 23-year-old also had an excellent 20.8 percent K-BB rate and when he wasn’t striking out batters he got them to ground out at a 67.6 percent rate.
Best Fielder of the Year: Austin Hedges
Hedges may have had a forgettable year at the plate with a .227 wOBA and a wRC+ of 40. However, behind it, his defense was excellent and could possibly win him the Gold Glove in the AL. The 29-year-old had 12 DRS which led American League catchers and was second in the majors behind Pittsburgh’s Jacob Stallings (21). Hedges also helped his pitchers with 5.8 framing runs. His defense was so good that he had a 0.1 fWAR despite his awful offensive season.
Comeback Player of the Year: Bryan Shaw
Shaw hasn’t had a sub-3.50 ERA since 2016. Between 2018-2020, the right-hander had a disappointing 6.17 ERA and 1.621 WHIP while walking over 10 percent of the batters he faced. What helped this year as opposed to the last few years is that Shaw had a LOB percent of nearly 80. Over the last three-year stretch it was an abysmal 64.3 percent. He also appeared in 81 games which led the American League this season.
First off, this is the end of the Indians’ moniker. Next year they will be known as the Cleveland Guardians. After finishing over .500 for eight straight seasons, Cleveland just missed the cutoff in 2021. Luckily, they get to keep their superstar with club options for 2022 and 2023. In addition to building some sort of a lineup around Ramirez, the Guardians will have to hope for health, bouncebacks, and improvements from their staff.
A healthy Bieber and a bounceback from Plesac will be important. Improvements from Triston McKenzie and Civale will round out the rotation along with Quantrill. They do have a young lineup as none of their current regulars are over 30. There is plenty to build on and a few key moves could go a long way to getting Cleveland back on the winning side of the ledger.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images