GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- If Corey Kluber could turn back time, he would not turn down the photo shoot. When the Indians' ace graced the cover of Sports Illustrated last spring, he had no qualms about the attention.
The pitcher feels the same way one year later.
When Cleveland fell short of expectations and missed the postseason, it had nothing to do with a magazine cover or that publication picking the Tribe to win the World Series. The Indians are once again in the spotlight with the release of annual projections. Kluber, however, is not worried about any preseason prognostications.
"If there never would've been a Sports Illustrated cover," Kluber said on Tuesday, "that's no guarantee that we would've played better last year. Maybe people in Cleveland are a little more worried about things like Sports Illustrated than we are."
Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections came out on Tuesday and have Cleveland atop the American League Central with a 92-70 record for the coming season. Fangraphs.com projected the Indians to have 84 wins -- the most in the division by its system. These calculations come after Cleveland went 81-80 and finished third in the AL Central last season.
The Indians are one of the AL's favorites heading into 2016 due to the strength of the rotation, which is projected to produce an AL-high 17.1 WAR, according to Fangraphs. As of now, the group consists of Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and one of Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson. Per PECOTA, the Tribe is projected to allow an AL-low 614 runs as a pitching staff.
Then again, PECOTA projected only 72 wins last year for the Royals, who went on to win the division and then celebrated a World Series triumph over the Mets.
Left fielder Michael Brantley, who joined Kluber on the regional Sports Illustrated cover last spring, also shrugs off the projections.
"Projections are nice, but that's a guess," Brantley said. "I understand there's math and science behind it. Of course, you'd love to say it's going to work out just like that, but it's not. It's humans playing the game. There's human error. There's injuries that happen along the way. You never know what's going to happen."
For instance, the Indians are not sure when Brantley will be available.
Brantley underwent surgery on his right shoulder in November and is still rehabbing the arm. While the outfielder has progressed well, he still has yet to pick up a bat. Brantley said on Tuesday that he hopes to begin a hitting program "soon," but he did not know the specific timetable for that important step. In the meantime, the Indians will operate under the assumption that he could miss at least a portion of April.
Given some of the uncertainty surrounding the offense, it is clear that Cleveland's rotation will be integral this season if the club is going to meet its goal of playing in October.
"Starting pitching is the key," Brantley said. "We have a great starting staff here, as everybody knows, and we're going to rely on them heavily this year."
If anything, Kluber said the preseason projections just set an expectation level for fans.
"Nobody gets any awards based on projections," Kluber said. "Maybe projections show what other people may expect from the group in here, but I think that, as a group, we probably have as high, if not higher, expectations for ourselves than other people do. I don't think we're paying too much attention to whether we're picked to finish in first place or last place. It doesn't have any bearing once games start."