The Cleveland Indians have overcome injuries en route to a respectable first quarter of the season (22-19), and the numbers show why.
The Cleveland Indians are managing to scrap out victories and remain competitive despite injuries to both Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco. There are several distinct differences between the 2015 Tribe and this year’s squad, and they appear statistically in all facets of the game.
The most surprising element of the ball club has been their ability to produce runs. Here are several observations from the Indians’ first 41 games at the dish, plate and sabermetrics (all stats as of May 23).
Through 41 games the Tribe ranks second in the American League in runs scored per game (4.71). The 2015 Indians finished 11th in the same category with an average of 4.16 runs per game.
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An explanation for the increased run production is the improved hitting with runners in scoring position. The Tribe ranks fifth in the AL in batting average with RISP this season (.265), compared to .250 last season (eighth in AL).
This has had a direct effect on the number of runners left on base. This season the club has the fourth fewest runners LOB (273). In 2015, they had the second most. Timely hitting in 2016 has made all the difference.
Although the bullpen has been struggling, this year’s Indians pitching staff has yet to fully live up to expectations as a unit, the rotation included. The team ranks seventh in the AL in both runs allowed per game (4.07), and ERA (3.95). The 2015 staff ranked fourth (3.98) and second (3.67) in both categories.
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The staff ranks fifth in the AL in WHIP (1.224), compared to the 2015 team that led the AL in said category (1.186). The strikeout numbers are also slightly down at 8.3 per nine innings, good enough for fifth in the league. The 2015 staff set strikeout records and dazzled all season long leading the league with 8.8 per nine innings.
I expect the starting rotation to continue its improvement, especially when Carrasco returns. But, the Tribe bullpen has stranded the second fewest runners in the AL (262). They desperately need more LHP to come out of the bullpen, while also staying in the major leagues as their options have been recalled/demoted more than once already.
Wins Above Replacement (WaR)
- Analyzing this year’s WaR statistics by position group highlights the similarities between the 2015 and 2016 team. In total WaR, this year’s position players rank 12th in the AL (-1.8), the exact ranking of the 2015 squad.
- The corner infield positions and outfield continue to be problematic for the Cleveland Indians. The 2015 Tribe ranked 13th in WAR at 1B, 3B, and OF, as does the 2016 club.
- The pitching continues to be among the best in the AL, with the second best WaR. The bullpen has fallen off a bit, which has been well documented, but look for improvement in the later innings from the Tribe’s relievers.
The tables from 2015 and 2016 tell an abundantly straightforward story of Tribe teams carried by its starting pitching, but we all knew that heading into the season. If the bullpen can settle in, and the lineup continues its timely ways, it could be an exciting summer for the Cleveland Indians.
The return of ace-caliber arm Carrasco and an All-Star outfielder in Brantley could be the difference that puts the Cleveland Indians over the hump.