Pressing Fantasy Baseball Questions: The 2018 Cleveland Indians

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The Cleveland Indians lost their way during the Eric Wedge and Manny Acta eras, but happy times returned when manager Terry Francona was hired in October of 2012. The Indians have three playoff trips in the last five years, including last season’s 102-win cruise. Cleveland was upset by the Yankees in the ALDS, but that doesn’t dim the brightness of this franchise. The Tribe is on the short list of 2018 favorites, for the pennant and for the championship.

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Fantasy owners know what to do with the big names, the Klubers, the Lindors, the Ramirez. Let’s dig a little deeper and try to find some logical value plays.

Q: Is it time to jump back on Jason Kipnis?

A: Probably. The price is right, and the upside is obvious.

Nothing fell right for Kipnis in 2017. He dealt with hamstring, neck, and shoulder injuries, and the Indians — for some reason — tried to make a center fielder out of him, an experiment that failed miserably. Kipnis is healthy again for 2018 and clobbering the ball in Spring Training — six homers in his first 17 plate appearances. Even if you don’t care about March stats in make-believe games, it is encouraging to see Kipnis hale, and back at his familiar second base.

We can’t be sure Kipnis won’t migrate back to the outfield — Michael Brantley isn’t a sure thing — but if the Tribe leaves Kipnis alone at second base, I’ll be chasing this one. Kipnis is currently outside the Top 200 in Yahoo ADP (in other words, the flier rounds), and he was a robust .275-91-23-82-15 asset as recently as two years ago. Once you get late in your draft, swing for the fences.

Q: Is Andrew Miller still a mid-round target without a closer gig?

A: I definitely think so. Miller’s shutdown innings played in most formats last year — 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 13.6 K/9. Although he was kept out of save situations, he was probably unlucky to finish with just four wins (and zero saves) over 57 appearances. Heck, down the stretch in 2016, he grabbed four wins and three saves in just 26 Cleveland assignments.

[2018 Fantasy Baseball rankings: Overall | H | P | C | 1B | 2B | 3B |SS | OF | SP | RP]

I’m not saying you attack Miller with the idea that he’ll get a bushel of decisions on his ledger. But he probably ran unlucky in that area last year. Cody Allen is a good value, too, if all you care about is saves and solid ratios, but I’d be shocked if Miller didn’t see a boost in his result lines. He’ll work plenty of high-leverage situations for a team that’s pegged for 94 victories; by accident, he’s likely to intersect with more wins and saves. And the lockdown innings are projectable at this stage of his career.

Q: Is Mike Clevinger’s ADP too high, too low, or just right?

A: Clevinger is currently just outside the Top 200 in Yahoo leagues, which sounds right to me. His strikeout numbers jump off the page (27.3 percent, 10.1 K/9), but often times his control deserts him (4.44 B/9). The Indians handled Clevinger carefully last year; he only recorded eight outs after the sixth inning (for his 21 starts), and he never threw more than 108 pitches in any turn. The club generally liked to get 15-18 outs from Clevinger, then turn things over to the bullpen.

That’s a reasonable blueprint, if the 2018 Indians play like last year’s model. Cleveland was fifth in runs scored and first in bullpen ERA; Clevinger doesn’t need to be an innings workhorse to help us. And if he trims some walks off that control rate, maybe we’re looking at something special. When you’re trying to find upside for the second half of your starting staff, Clevinger makes sense, heading into his age-27 season.

The Cleveland staff should feast on the AL Central schedule; Kansas City, Chicago, and Detroit all had mediocre offenses last year, and no one in that mix looks notably improved. Progressive Field played as a relatively neutral park last year, after being a run-scoring float in the two prior seasons.

Q: Have the Regression Police gone too far on Yonder Alonso?

A: It appears so. Alonso is coming off a surprising 28-homer breakout, though it was partially shielded in a year filled with power surges The Indians signed him to a two-year contract, plus an option.

Alonso’s OPS dropped 160 points in the second half, and he fell from a .562 slugging (with 20 homers) to a .420 slugging (with eight homers). On the plus side, Alonso is finally back in a park that helps left-handed power. After starting his career with a brief Cincinnati stint, he’s since been on a parade of hitter graveyards: San Diego, Oakland, Seattle. Death Valley Days.

Progressive Field has boosted left-handed average by 14 points over the last three years, and it’s been a 10-percent float for lefty power. Alonso currently has a scant 261 ADP in Yahoo leagues, behind some pedestrian names. Even if he gives back a chunk of last year’s launch-angle gains, he’s well slotted for profit.

Prospective Cleveland Lineup

SS Francisco Lindor

2B Jason Kipnis

3B Jose Ramirez

DH Edwin Encarnacion

LR Michael Brantley

1B Yonder Alonso

RF Lonnie Chisenhall

C Roberto Perez

CF Bradley Zimmer

Prospective Cleveland Rotation

SP Corey Kluber

SP Carlos Carrasco

SP Trevor Bauer

SP Mike Clevinger

SP Josh Tomlin

CL Cody Allen

RP Andrew Miller

RP Nick Goody