Is there any reason to believe that last year's big free-agent signings -- Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher -- will improve next season after their disappointing 2013 campaigns?
-- Austin H., Akron, Ohio
At the end of this past season, Indians manager Terry Francona and general manager Chris Antonetti both said they felt Bourn and Swisher tried to do too much in 2013. That has certainly been the case countless other times for players fresh off signing a big contract with a new team. There are pressures that go along with signing a lucrative deal that can't be quantified.
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I prefer to look within the stats for signs that Bourn and Swisher can turn things around.
Bourn's high strikeout rate and low walk rate -- both career worsts -- were definitely discouraging, as was his inability to get his running game going in terms of stolen bases. There are signs, however, that the center fielder can bounce back. For starters, his 22 percent line-drive rate (per baseball-reference.com) was the second highest of his career, and his .338 batting average on balls in play (BAbip) was nearly in line with his career mark (.342).
Defensively, Bourn turned in a UZR/150 (ultimate zone rate per 150 games) of -0.9 as Cleveland's center fielder a year after posting a Major League-best 23.4, according to fangraphs.com. That's a big drop off, but this is where it is worth noting that Bourn put up a -6.1 UZR/150 in 2011 and a 21.1 mark in 2010. He has already established a history of rebounding year to year in terms of defensive metrics.
Bourn will also be more familiar with the American League come 2014, so perhaps that will help him improve on his career-low stolen-base success rate of 66 percent.
As for Swisher, it is unclear how much his persistent left shoulder issues affected his hitting. That said, he ended with 22 homers, 27 doubles and 77 walks after averaging 26 homers, 31 doubles and 83 walks across the previous eight seasons. Despite his inconsistent showing, Swisher wound up near his career standards in multiple categories.
Over the final 40 games of 2013, Swisher also posted a slash line of .269/.356/.506 with an .862 OPS and .294 BAbip. His other numbers within that stretch would project to 33 homers, 23 doubles, 73 walks and 86 RBIs over 600 plate appearances. In his previous four years with the Yankees, Swisher hit .268/.367/.483 with an .850 OPS, .308 BAbip, and an average of 26 homers, 34 doubles, 82 walks and 87 RBIs (in 625 plate appearances on average).
The point here is that Swisher performed at a more characteristic level down the stretch, when his shoulder was feeling better. In the 62 games prior to that 40-game sample, Swisher hit .208 with a .614 OPS. It was clear that he was not right at the plate, and his health likely played a big role. The strong finish brings hope that Swisher can bounce back in 2014.
To me, the most amazing part of the season, even more than 11 walk-offs, was the number of two-out runs scored by the Tribe. It just happened again and again. How many two-out runs were scored? How does that total compare to the 94-loss team from 2012? How does it compare to the '07 and '90s playoff teams? How many two-out runs came after it was initially two outs and no one on base? Who were the top five individual players this year for two-out RBIs (Michael Brantley first?) and who led the Majors?
-- John B., currently Hiroshima, Japan (formerly Willoughby, Ohio)
Is that it, John? I know it's not, actually. I have the rest of your questions stored in the ol' inbox for future research projects. The Indians hit well with two outs, but they might not have been as prolific as it felt. They ranked fifth in the AL in two-out runs (292) behind Texas (318), Boston (317), Detroit (317) and Toronto (293). The Tribe's 292 two-out runs ranked 17th in a single season for the franchise, dating back to 1947.
The 2007 Indians churned out 320 runs with two outs, and the 1999 (428) and 1996 (377) rank first and second, respectively, for the franchise, going back to '47. Carlos Santana actually led the Indians in two-out RBIs with 35, but Brantley ranked first in two-out average (.305) and second in RBIs (33). With two outs and none on, the Indians had 191 hits, 83 walks and a .322 on-base percentage. While solid, none of those figures hold much historical significance for the team.
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera led the AL in two-out average (.355), home runs (19) and RBIs (60).
Would it not be best to try the hardest to re-sign free-agents Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir -- known commodities -- than to lose them and go after replacements?
-- Gary P., North Olmsted, Ohio
Are they known commodities, though? Just one season ago, Jimenez led baseball in losses and was a disaster mechanically on the mound, and Kazmir couldn't get a big league job and was pitching in independent ball. Yes, they both had strong comeback seasons in 2013, but both would be a gamble on a long-term contract. I could see Cleveland re-signing one, but bringing both back seems unlikely.
Is there any chance, by some combination of his gratitude toward the Indians and his affinity for pitching coach Mickey Callaway, that Ubaldo doesn't void the $8-million team option for 2014?
-- Damien C., Copley, Ohio
In a perfect world -- one in which every time a bell rings an Angel gets its wings -- I guess that could happen. This isn't a perfect world, though, and baseball is a business. It would be more likely for Jimenez to void the team option (a right he earned after being traded by Colorado in 2011) and accept Cleveland's one-year qualifying offer (set at $14.1 million). That is also an unlikely scenarion, because Jimenez is poised to reel in a multiyear contract due to his strong '13 season.
I've read in different places that Jimenez either has a club option or a mutual option for $8 million for 2014. Can you clear that up?
-- Mike E., Austin, Texas
As part of his original contract with the Rockies, Jimenez had a team option worth $8 million for 2014, but the right-hander was permitted to void that option in the event that he was traded. There is, however, no specified deadline for when the pitcher needs to exercise that right. It will all likely be sorted out in the days immediately following the conclusion of the World Series.
What are the Indians' plans for Carlos Carrasco? It seems to me that he has nasty stuff, but he can't sustain it for more than a few innings at the Major League level at this point in his career. Do the Indians feel that he could be a possibility for the back of the bullpen?
-- Grant H., Buffalo, N.Y.
During the season-end sit-down with reporters, Francona made it clear that he still wants to give Carrasco a chance to be a part of Cleveland's rotation. If the hard-throwing righty comes to spring as a starting candidate and does not win a job, the Indians could then throw him into the mix for a bullpen job. I doubt Carrasco would be given a critical late-inning role right away, though.