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Inbox: Is Perez a lock to be Tribe's starting C?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions
February 6, 2018

Everywhere I look I see that Roberto Perez is listed as the starting catcher. Is this something that is for sure set in stone or is it fluid going into Spring Training? -- Matt, Dublin, OhioNo, Matt, I wouldn't say it is set in stone that Perez is the starting

Everywhere I look I see that Roberto Perez is listed as the starting catcher. Is this something that is for sure set in stone or is it fluid going into Spring Training?
-- Matt, Dublin, Ohio

No, Matt, I wouldn't say it is set in stone that Perez is the starting catcher for the Indians. When Spring Training begins, what I expect you'll hear from manager Terry Francona is that either Perez or Yan Gomes could get the call on any given night. They have each built a strong rapport with the pitching staff and are especially valued for what they bring defensively.
That said, there is a reason for Perez currently being billed as the No. 1 catcher in this 1A and 1B situation that Cleveland has behind the plate. When last season ended, Perez had started to assume a higher percentage of the innings for the Indians.
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Overall in the 2017 regular season, Gomes logged 96 starts and caught 856 innings. He caught runners at a 42.1-percent clip and Cleveland's pitchers posted a 3.36 ERA with him doing the catching. Perez handled 580 2/3 innings and made 66 starts in the regular season, cutting down would-be basestealers at a 43.3-percent rate, and the staff pitched to a 3.22 ERA with him behind the plate.

Gomes caught more innings in each month from April through August, but Perez saw his workload increase over the final two months. In fact, Gomes (286 2/3) and Perez (278) nearly caught the same total of innings from August through the end of the Indians' postseason run. Perez did start to see a higher percentage of innings down the stretch, though.
Perez logged 146 innings compared to 120 for Gomes in September and also caught more innings (32) than Gomes (15) in the American League Division Series. From the start of Cleveland's 22-game winning streak (Aug. 24) through the end of the ALDS, Perez covered 205 innings vs. 171 for Gomes. This spring, we'll learn more about how Francona plans to divvy up his catchers' duties this year.

Instead of going through every Hall of Fame ballot since 1936, I looked at the 30 years prior to the 2018 ballot, in which Omar Vizquel garnered 37 percent of the vote. I cast a slightly wider net, narrowing the field to players who earned between 20-45 percent of the vote on the first try. I included Andre Dawson, who netted 45.3 percent in his first year on the ballot in 2002.
There were 29 players who fit that criteria. Within that group, seven went on to earn a place in the Hall of Fame via voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Goose Gossage, Gary Carter, Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice and Dawson. One more, Jack Morris, was voted into the Hall this year by the Modern Era Committee.
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The seven I noted (not counting Morris) needed an average of 9.9 years on the ballot to finally get in via the BBWAA. That, however, includes two (Sutter and Rice) who were voted in between Years 11-15 on the ballot. Now, a player can only remain on a ballot for 10 years. So, that leaves five out of 29 whom the BBWAA eventually voted in before they reached a decade on the ballot.
What does this mean for Vizquel? It means he's going to need some good campaigning over the next several years to convince the voters who didn't check his name this year. It will also help if the current logjam of names on the ballot is loosened up over the next few rounds of voting. Advanced metrics are not really on Vizquel's side, so his case will likely have to be helped by strong endorsements from those who watched him play or played alongside him.

If all of the Indians' rotation options get through Spring Training healthy and pitch well in the preseason, something will have to give. That could mean someone goes to the bullpen, or it could mean someone goes to the Minors. In Clevinger's case, he has a Minor League option remaining. So, if Cleveland wants to maintain depth at the start of the season without messing around with a move to the 'pen, I could see Clevinger opening at Triple-A Columbus. I think sending the righty down would have more to do with that than anything involving his service time.

So much depends on where Michael Brantley is in his comeback from right ankle surgery as Opening Day approaches. Jason Kipnis fits the roster best as Cleveland's second baseman, but I could still see a scenario where he moved to left if Brantley's rehab lasts into April. That would open the door for Jose Ramirez to play second, and give guys like Yandy Diaz and Giovanny Urshela a shot at winning the job at third. If everyone is healthy, Urshela would probably be up against Erik Gonzalez for a utility role off the bench. Both Urshela and Gonzalez are out of options.

Is there a reason Tyler Naquin doesn't seem to be in the outfield conversation much anymore? His 2016 rookie season was a pleasant surprise, but he barely got any time with the team last year. He didn't have a good showing in his 19 games with the club in 2017, but that's a small sample size and his Triple-A numbers were solid (.833 OPS, 131 wRC+).
-- Phillip C., Bellbrook, Ohio

It's a no-room-in-the-inn situation for Naquin at the moment, if everyone is healthy. Bradley Zimmer is the favorite to return for center field and Lonnie Chisenhall (right) and Brantley (left) have the corners covered. Now, as noted earlier, if Brantley isn't ready for Opening Day, maybe that gives someone like Naquin an opening. Cleveland is also factoring in that all of these outfielders hit from the left side. That is why a right-handed hitter like Melvin Upton Jr. is being brought into camp and why the Tribe is still exploring right-handed options on the market.
Who else will be playing first base besides Yonder Alonso? Could he platoon with Chisenhall perhaps?
-- Kiran R., Atlanta

Platooning with Chisenhall would not make much sense, considering they both hit from the left side. If Alonso is out of the lineup, though, Chisenhall could certainly serve as a backup for that spot. Edwin Encarnacion will get the bulk of the at-bats as a designated hitter again, but he can also back up Alonso at first. I could also see Diaz potentially getting reps at first this spring to see if his right-handed bat might fit there on occasion. Urshela also got some limited action at first base last year.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.