Thursday, April 26, 2007

Winning Any Which Way But Loose

Is it safe to go out on a limb yet and say that the Yankees series was simply a hiccup in a young season as the Tribe swept the short Rangers series without playing their best ball of the season? The Indians sit at 12-7 and are 1 game ahead of the Tigers in the AL Central, all of this with the team playing what is largely imperfect baseball.

They’ve won every series (that I can remember, or at least care to remember – they didn’t play in New York yet, right) this year and the numbers that the team has put up include nothing that jumps out as entirely successful. No aspect of the team has carried the others, as the team has figured out a way to win convincingly, win ugly, and win with smoke and mirrors.

It’s the starters, right?
While they do have 12 quality starts through the first 19 games, the Indians’ starters are only 6-5 with a pedestrian 4.89 ERA, a K to BB ratio of 2.6 to 1, and a WHIP of 1.44. Now, admittedly, a lot of those big numbers came from 3 starts (Carmona vs. CWS, Westbrook vs. NYY, Sowers vs. NYY) as 18 of the 68 ER came from those 3 games. So, that means that, in the other 16 games, the starters have given up 50 ER, or a little over 3 runs a start. Good, but not great. By the way, great would be the Oakland rotation sitting on a 2.07 ERA and a WHIP of 1.04 over 21 games. THAT is great.

Then it’s Pronk putting the team and the offense on his massive shoulders, right?
While Hafner has been incredibly hot as of late and is second in the AL in OPS and tied for 4th in HR, he still doesn’t rank in the top 10 in the AL in RBI. And, last I checked, games are still won when runs cross the plate. Seeing as how Victor is 2nd (tied for 23rd in the AL) and Peralta is 3rd on the team in RBI (tied for 39th in the AL), it’s not like this team is scoring runs in bunches. They’re no slouches as they stand at 2nd in the AL in runs scored (NYY – 6.3, CLE – 5.3, DET – 5.2, TB – 5.1, BOS – 5.1), but they certainly aren’t bashing teams like they were put together by C. Montgomery Burns.

Lord knows it’s not the fielding?
That’s for damn sure. Last in fielding percentage in the AL and 2nd in the AL in errors (despite having played 3 less games than the AL-leading Devil Rays) back up what we’ve all seen with our eyes. The defense is OK at its best, and painful at its worst.

It couldn’t be the bullpen, could it?
Actually, including the New York blow-up (6 of the 20 ER that the bullpen has let up) that sticks in everyone’s craw, the Tribe relievers are 6-2 with a 3.09 ERA, a K to BB ratio of 2.20, and a 1.18 WHIP and trail only the Tigers in the AL for saves. They have the best OPS against (.577) in the AL and have slotted nicely into their roles. Borowski has proven to be as advertised (not spectacular, but possesses a short memory and a penchant for getting out of jams) and Tom Mastny and Fernando Cabrera have been absolutely lights out. Throw in that Betancourt, Fultz, and (even) Hernandez have been solid and the biggest worry coming into the season has been a strength thus far.

The point of dissecting all of these parts of the whole equation is to prove that the Indians are sitting on top of the competitive AL Central having played what probably isn’t their best baseball.

For 2 years, the whole town has complained that the team has been unable to win close games, overcome mistakes to win a game, and have been unable to put lesser teams away as they should. So far this year, the Indians have done just that.

They sit at 12-7 with no obvious reason for the .632 winning percentage. If it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason for success and it’s easy to argue that each aspect of the team could improve (maybe not the bullpen), this team may be poised for that breakout season. That breakout season when everything falls into place, that the close games end in victory, and the team is able to get on a roll that lasts all season.

2 comments:

doby14 said...

First time poster, long time reader(ring the bell): After receiving my copy of Sports Weekly, I felt compelled to post. Congratulations... the recognition from USA Today is well deserved and significant. Being a 50+ year Indian fan, I enjoy your insightful commentary. Good luck as to what the future holds for you.

Jason said...

I've been thinking many of the same things. They sure looked ugly going into the NY series, but were stealing wins. They won the Devil Rays series despite being outplayed on Sunday.

I don't know if they will keep this going all year, but I do think that they have enough to stay in the race for most of the season.

One comment to the pitching staff analysis -- be sure to park-adjust the Oakland staff. According to baseball-reference.com, the park factor for the Coliseum was 96 for hitters and 97 for pitchers, though surprisingly the Jake was 97/98 last year. I don't have the time to analyze every park in which both teams have played this year, but Oakland pitching stats should be taken with a similar grain of salt as Houston hitters, I think.

At any rate, hopefully things will click soon. The Tribe had some clutch 2-out hitting against the Rangers (including Barfield), which encourages me a little bit.

My hope is that Barfield will figure out how to hit and become more prominent in the offense. It would be nice if Marte could at least field the ball too. Anything to get the Mighty Casey out of the regular lineup.