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Tribe spins direction toward improving rotation

CLEVELAND -- The numbers do not look good no matter how they are sliced. By traditional standards, or through the prism of newer metrics, the Indians' rotation was thoroughly disappointing this past season.

It could be argued, with plenty of averages and totals as evidence, that Cleveland fielded the worst starting staff in the franchise's 112-year history. Then again, numbers can be skewed, or driven drastically in a particular direction, by a small, but bloated, sample.

"You look at it," Indians starter Justin Masterson said. "Aside from a couple stretches, in an overall sense we did decent. Of course, the numbers -- when we were bad, it was really bad. That's why when you see the numbers, it's really hard.

"But I like our potential. I like what we have."

Players' opinions aside, the reality is that Cleveland's rotation served as the catalyst for the team's second-half free fall. There were other issues -- offensive woes with situational hitting and middle-relief problems among them -- but rare is the team that reaches baseball's promised land with abysmal starting pitching.

Addressing the rotation will be a primary need for the Indians over the coming winter months. New manager Terry Francona, in his introductory press conference last week in Cleveland, made a point to note that pitching is always a priority, no matter how many quality arms exist on a depth chart.

"When you talk about pitching," Francona said, "you're going to hear me say this: 'When you think you've got enough, you go get more, or you try to.' You try to have depth, because no team has enough pitching."

Cleveland certainly lacked pitching depth during its discouraging 2012 campaign.

Consider these statistical achievements of the Tribe's rotation:

• The rotation was hung with 76 losses, marking the most by an Indians starting staff since 1991 (79). The rotation's 913 2/3 innings represented the fewest in a season for Cleveland since 2001, and the seventh-lowest figure in club history.

• Tribe starters allowed 13.94 baserunners per nine innings, which was the eighth-highest rate in a season for the team, dating to 1921. Cleveland's left-on-base percentage of 65.5 was its lowest average since 1936 (64.3).

• The Indians' 5.25 ERA from its starters (10 pitchers made at least one start during the year) was the fourth-highest single-season rate in club history. The team's 1.51 WHIP was the 15th-highest average for a single campaign for the franchise.

• Cleveland allowed 108 stolen bases, marking the most by the team since 1979 (114) and the fourth-most in a season in club history. The 81.2-percent success rate for basestealers was the highest against any Indians rotation.

• The Indians established a new record with 14 games in which their starter allowed at least eight runs. The previous mark was 11 such games in both 1925 and 1936. Cleveland tied a club record (1925) with 25 games in which the starter gave up at least seven runs.

• The Tribe had two pitchers with at least 15 losses (Ubaldo Jimenez and Masterson) for the first time since 1991. This was the first time in team history that Cleveland had a pair of starters with at least 15 losses and at least a 4.90 ERA apiece.

• Cleveland's rotation WAR (wins above replacement) of 4.6 was its third-lowest of all-time, topping only the 1960 (2.8) and 1971 (2.4) staffs. The Indians' ERA- of 133 (a metric that accounts for the league and park) was the worst in team history.

Needless to say, this is an issue in need of attention.

"There certainly were guys in the rotation," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "that weren't as consistent as we needed them to be for us to be the team that we wanted to be."

As things currently stand, Masterson (eligible for arbitration this winter) figures to be back atop the staff in 2013, barring a trade. The sinkerballer went 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA, struggling to consistently maintain his mechanics. Cleveland is hoping a normal offseason (Masterson had left shoulder surgery at the beginning of last winter) will help lead to a rebound.

Jimenez, who went 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA in his first full season with the Tribe, will return if Cleveland picks up his $5.75 million club option. The Indians also have a $6 million club option for righty Roberto Hernandez (0-3, 7.53 ERA), but it seems unlikely that the team would bring him back at that price.

Behind Masterson and Jimenez, Cleveland projects to have a slew of pre-arbitration arms such as Carlos Carrasco, Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez in the mix for jobs in Spring Training. Carrasco will be returning after missing all of 2012 with a right elbow injury. McAllister and Kluber come in after finishing the season on the staff.

McAllister (6-8, 4.24) and Kluber (2-5, 5.14) endured their share of growing pains, but the youngsters still impressed the Indians brass with their work ethic and learning curve down the stretch.

"The way Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber pitched," Antonetti said, "especially in the second half of the season, I think they made real strides with their development and established themself as Major League starting pitchers."

Like Francona said, though, the Indians -- like any team -- could use more.

Cleveland will surely explore the trade front, while also examining its realistic options on the free-agent market, this winter. Some potential free-agent starters include Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, Kevin Correia, Jeremy Guthrie, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Francisco Liriano and Shaun Marcum, among others.

"That will be an area that's important for us to improve going into next year," Antonetti said.

Cleveland Indians, Jeanmar Gomez, Roberto Hernandez, David Huff, Ubaldo Jimenez, Corey Kluber, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister