TDG’s Triple Play: Cleveland Indians!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Paul Monte and a rotating panel of writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Emmanuel Clase, Age: 23, Position: RP
Analysis by: Paul Monte
I had Cleveland’s pitchers in last year’s version of the Triple Play and I have them again in 2021. I ignored the excellent young starting rotation last year and I am going to do it again now. I wrote about James Karinchak, but Emmanuel Clase was mentioned several times. I was not sure who would take over for then-closer Brad Hand when he was either traded or his contract expired at the end of the season. Coming into this year I drafted Karinchak in the TGFBI in the 8th round, and he was the 5th reliever taken.
If I Could Turn Back Time
Regret is an interesting emotion. I knew there was a risk at the time as both Clase and Nick Wittgren were said to be in a 3-way competition for the closer’s role. Karinchak had not harnessed the control issues he had throughout his career and Clase was healthy coming into camp. Denial began to set in as it became more clear that Clase would get the first crack at the job. I had to tell myself that I would still pile up the K’s with my Karinchak pick but I knew it was a mistake. At the time of writing, Clase is indeed leading the way in saves for Cleveland with four while Karinchak has two and Wittgren has one.
Started From the Bottom
Clase signed with the Padres out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old for just $125,000. Three years later he was traded to the Rangers as a player to be named later and was traded again a year later to the Indians as part of the Corey Kluber trade. The 2020 season was delayed and for Clase it never started, as he was suspended 80 games for testing positive for Boldenone. Nothing about this paragraph would lead you to believe that he would ascend to the closer’s role so quickly, but I did not mention that he throws a baseball 101 miles per hour. Major League managers prefer their closers to keep the bases empty when they bring them in to close out a game, and Clase does a good job of that. He has allowed just 3 walks over his 10.1 innings pitched while striking out 12. He has yet to allow an earned run and he has given up just 0.5 HR/9 in his short career.
Now We’re Here
I don’t know if it is just me being stubborn, but I still think Karinchak is the closer in Cleveland at the end of the season. There is a chance that they use him in a role like Josh Hader was used in previous seasons, but his stuff is just so good, and his K rate is nearly double that of Clase. Clase has never had overwhelming strikeout numbers even while boasting a 100 MPH fastball. For now, Clase is the closer and having the role is more important than having great stuff. One thing that is always difficult with relievers in dynasty is this: while you are stockpiling the promising young arms, Mark Melancon and Jake McGee are leading the league in saves. Clase is a sell for me while he still has the role.
Jordan Luplow, Age: 27, Position: OF
Analysis by: Kyle Brown
Who for art thou, Mr. Luplow?
Well, well, well, what do we have here? Another cast-off from the Pirates finding success with another organization? He’s no Austin Meadows, but Jordan Luplow is someone who needs to be on your radar right now. Taken in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Luplow had a solid minor league career, batting .278/.371/.466 over six seasons. Historically thought of as more of a platoon hitter, Luplow has made some tangible changes this season that have helped him to tap into his moderate power abilities with greater consistency. The platoon concerns with Luplow are obvious when you look at his career line of .195/.278/.350 line vs. righties compared to a .267/.377/.597 line vs. lefties. So what has Luplow done this season to change his profile and burst into fantasy relevance? Follow me down the rabbit hole…
Selectivity, Selectivity, Selectivity
One of the changes contributing to Luplow’s hot start is simple: he is swinging at more pitches inside the strike zone and fewer pitches outside the strike zone. Luplow is currently sporting his lowest O-Swing% (19.1) and highest Z-Swing% (77.3) of his career. To go along with his improved plate discipline (or, perhaps because of it), Luplow has also been able to put the ball in the air more frequently than ever before. Looking back to some past production, his best season to date came in 2019 and had a fly-ball rate of 39% and was produced with a juicy baseball. Until this season, Luplow’s best O-Swing and Z-Swing rates came in 2019. I am not entirely sure what to do with his small sample from the 2020 sprint, but looking at 2019 and 2021 together does hint at a positive trend for Luplow with regard to selectivity and launch angle. Now, it is a little early to be extrapolating much from this data, but I went to the Statcast page anyway to see what I could find. The number that stood out was Luplow’s career-high whiff-rate (37.8%) on 4-seam fastballs this season. Despite the increased whiffs, he is annihilating 4-seamers to the tune of a .603 xSLG and a hard-hit rate of 50%. The data is young, but so far it seems like Luplow is both 1) choosing better pitches to swing at, and 2) getting more of those pitches into the air when he connects. Of his six homers so far this year, three have been off lefties and three have been off righties. Can we expect even more?
BABIPs and a little competish
If his improvements in discipline continue and Luplow enjoys some positive regression, the remainder of the season could be even better than his historical apex in 2019. Luplow’s BABIP currently sits at .167 this year, a number that can really only go in one direction (hint: it’s up). Even if that number doesn’t jump all the way up to the league average, the career-high walk-rate (14.8) he has turned in so far should help Luplow’s triple slash stand out when the dust has settled on 2021.
Adding fuel to the Luplow fire is the fact that Cleveland has been willing to bat him leadoff a lot this season. Cleveland doesn’t generally put him atop the lineup when the opposing pitcher is a righty, but luckily for Jordan the AL Central is filled with a decent number of left-handed starters (KC – 2, DET – 1, MIN – 1, CHW – 2). All that said, Luplow has held his own against righties so far this year, so if all of the other positive trends mentioned above continue for him, the end results should be great for fantasy managers who acquired Luplow for almost nothing this season. If he can maintain some success vs righties and throw off the “platoon-hitter” label, he may just establish himself as a major leaguer regular through the next few seasons and be a nice source of cheap power and OBP.
Savant for Dessert
Just to cap off the above with some percentiles from Statcast for Mr. Luplow: Chase Rate – 95th percentile, Walk Rate – 89th percentile, and Barrel Rate – 88th percentile. It is starting to look like all Luplow needed to find the best version of himself was opportunity and a little data. Swinging at more pitches that you can drive and fewer pitches that you can’t is an easy recipe for success. However, as far too many of us can attest, knowing the recipe and executing the recipe are two very different things. Cleveland has given Jordan Luplow the chance to prove his worth and so far he has delivered. Go and grab him in your league from the manager who thinks this start is just some kind of fluke and is looking to trade him before the bottom falls out. This ain’t no fluke, it’s just a late-blooming prospect who has finally been given the chance to stretch his wings.
Tyler Freeman, Age: 21, Position: SS/2B, Level: A+
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST TOOL
Tyler Freeman’s hit tool is really good. That is not in dispute. He has batted .319 so far in his minor league career, with a miniscule 8.8% strikeout rate. Fangraphs gives his hit tool not only a 70 future value but also a 50 present value, suggesting that despite not having advanced past High-A, he could probably do an adequate job of making contact in MLB games right now. However, his power and speed tools are less exciting. And in most fantasy leagues, power and speed are kind of important.
When I think of a comparison, the first name that comes to mind is David Fletcher. I’m not alone in this – TDG’s Keaton DeRocher made the same comp in Freeman’s profile in our shortstop rankings this offseason. Fletcher is a fine baseball player, producing 6.6 WAR over 301 career games as of this writing. However, he’s hit just 10 home runs and stolen only 13 bases in roughly two full seasons worth of playing time. Those are terribly unexciting fantasy numbers.
But at age 21, it’s a bit early to typecast Freeman as the next Fletcher. Maybe there’s more here.
FISTFUL OF STEALS
One lesson I’ve learned over my years of dynasty baseball is not to put much stock in minor league stolen base totals. Do not take them and prorate them over a 162-game MLB season and get excited about the number that pops out, which in Freeman’s case would be 26. Stealing bases is much harder in the big leagues, and analytics don’t always encourage it.
Scouts grade Freeman’s speed as either average or slightly above. He isn’t the type of blazing runner who will get an automatic green light. On the bright side, reports speak highly of his baserunning instincts, and his 81% success rate in the minors (38 for 47) isn’t too shabby.
Projection systems put Freeman’s future stolen base numbers in the 10-15 range, which seems reasonable. That’s not bad, but it won’t save a profile devoid of power.
Freeman has just seven home runs and a .122 isolated power for his minor league career, though he has hit 70 doubles.
A RotoWire report from last year said that Freeman hit eight home runs at Cleveland’s alternate site. That number is fairly useless without any context. We don’t know how many plate appearances it took him to do that or what caliber of pitchers he faced. That said, I’m slightly intrigued. It’s not unusual for good hitters to grow into power as they get older. Francisco Lindor and Ozzie Albies are two middle infielders that weren’t significant home-run threats in the minors but are now. Whether that can happen for Freeman remains to be seen, but I can’t discount the possibility.
MORE THAN JUST THE FLOOR?
Freeman is a bit of a bland prospect, but I still like him. He’ll likely play 2B in the majors, and his high floor at a thin position will be very useful in deeper leagues. Even in shallower formats, I think the possibility of a .300 hitter with double-digit homers and steals is enough to keep him on the radar.
PREVIOUSLY COVERED TEAMS
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