With just under one week left of the Spring Training, Cleveland Indians fans are excited for the start of another season, one that holds high hopes for the team after their disappointing early exit from last year’s playoffs. Behind the same core that has led to their incredible success the past two seasons, including being one game away from winning the World Series and having the longest consecutive win streak in American League history, the Indians hope to make it back to the World Series.
While analyzing Spring Training wins and losses is not indicative of team success in the regular season, individual player performances provide useful metrics to see how well players are seeing the ball before the regular season starts. One player that must have the Indians organization feeling good is second baseman Jason Kipnis. After an injury-ravaged season in which Kipnis only played 90 games with a .232 batting average, he had something to prove to give the team and fans confidence that he could return to the player he was. Kipnis has had a great Spring Training, posting a .474 batting average with a team-leading six home runs. For the Indians to be one of the last teams playing in November, Kipnis is going to have to maintain a high level of play for the entire season.
One player that should be of concern right now is slugger Edwin Encarnacion. As I mentioned previously, while some Spring Training stats are not always indicative of regular season performance, there are still some key takeaways to look at in terms of individual player stats. One of those metrics is strikeouts. Encarnacion, through 39 at bats this spring training, has struck out 15 times. That is a strikeout percentage of over 38 percent. While that figure is likely unsustainable over the course of the regular season, it complements a growing trend of Encarnacion being a “feast or famine” hitter. Last year he struck out 133 times, the second-most in his career, only behind the previous year in Toronto when he whiffed 138 times. As Encarnacion enters year two of his three-year deal with the Indians, given the new conservative style of free agent signings around the league as evidenced by the most recent offseason, Encarnacion is going to have to cut down on those strikeouts and get back to the player that he was early in his career. Otherwise, he may not receive a favorable extension from the organization or get a nice contract in free agency next year.
It is an exciting time for baseball fans with the start of the 2018 regular season almost upon us. For the Indians, expectations are high, as their championship window is wide open. As long as the team stays healthy, they have all the talent they need to advance to their second World Series in three years.