The Diff is your weekly Wednesday WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, The Diff provided an update on the various top Cleveland Indians prospects. This week, I’m covering three varying Cleveland sports topics.
Back in September, I wrote a lengthy article about the worst three-season stretches in Cleveland sports history. The formula was simple: I looked at the longest continuous stretches of last-place finishes for the Cavaliers, Indians and Browns, when all three were active. Barely, by just 2 games over Minnesota, the 2012 Indians stopped a city-record three consecutive last-place streak from occurring. But how do things stack up in using a different approach to Cleveland sports futility?
My approach today is in looking at the longest continuous seasons for the Cleveland teams without a playoff appearance. Dating back to the Cavaliers’ inception in 1970, I then tracked every single season for every team, even including the Indians/Cavs years without the Browns from 1996-98. The mechanism sorts in order by which team started its season first, so in a calendar year, it is Indians (March/April), Browns (September) and Cavaliers (October/November).
In total, among these 126 team-seasons, there have been 36 playoff appearances. That equates to 28.6% — just over one every four seasons. But, what is the longest consecutive season drought? The answer: There have been three ever occurrences where there were nine consecutive non-playoff seasons for Cleveland sports. And we’re in the middle of one right now.
’72 Cavaliers to ’75 Browns: Dating way further back in time, this streak began following a 10-4 season for the Browns in 1972. The next team to make the playoffs was then the 1975-76 Cavaliers, who went 49-33 for their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
’02 Cavaliers to ’05 Browns: The Browns, yes those Browns, made the playoffs in 2002, if you recall, for their only playoff appearance as a new franchise. This streak continued through the post-’90s Indians teams and up until LeBron James started dominating the NBA Eastern Conference. The Cavs made their first playoff appearance with LeBron in 2005-06. They made five straight in total.
’10 Indians to ’12 Cavaliers: Post-LeBron’s departure following the 2009-10 season for the Cavs, no other Cleveland team has made the playoffs. In fact, by winning percentage, only the ’11 Tribe were at all close to .500 with 80 wins. Unless this year’s Indians make the postseason, it will mark 10 straight Cleveland sports seasons without a playoff appearance.
Coupled with the research I did back in 2011 on the worst sports cities in North America, this should again give you a more mathematical approach to arguing why life really is difficult here in Northeast Ohio as a sports fan.
In the past few days, I’ve shared a pair of tweets (this and this) that reflect another update of the aggregate opinions from the Internet about how things are going with the NBA Draft. Let’s take a look at those charts for a brief update today.
In typical fashion, I’ll cover some NBA Draft trends in Boot Ups and Boot Downs.
Boot Up: CHAOS in the top-5 — Noel’s aggregate mock draft and big board rankings both show this trend: He remains the consensus (i.e. general agreement) No. 1 player in this draft. After that? It’s all over the place. Ben McLemore and Otto Porter are practically 2A and 2B in the minds of these charts. They’re very closely bunched together. Victor Oladipo is rising up boards (including maybe Cleveland’s), while he’s actually tied-ish with Trey Burke on the big boards. Anthony Bennet and Alex Len also are receiving some mild love in terms of being a possible top-three selection, as well. While hardly anyone knows what the Cavs will do at No. 1, it’s even less clear who might be available by No. 6.
Boot Down: The anti-Nerlens Noel case — I wrote a lot about my passion for Nerlens Noel’s upside just two weeks ago. In short, he is a better defensive prospect than Anthony Davis and arguably the best in decades. He’s also by far the youngest prospect in this class, which projects favorably for his development. He also is the consensus No. 1 pick (i.e. best player available). So yeah, he’s the desired pick for Cleveland, in my mind. The Cavaliers were a 24-win team last season and needs lots and lots of talent for their future. And, as Tom Ziller wrote at SB Nation yesterday, offensive post-games are kind of irrelevant now anyway. So needing offense isn’t really a big thing out of this pick, especially when Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving are so involved already.
Boot Up: International prospects — As Chad Ford wrote in his latest update, international prospects are on the rise. In fact, starting with Dario Saric at No. 11, there are an astonishing 10 non-American players that rank in his latest top 24. That’s pretty crazy considering where the aggregate big board was earlier in the year. Up-and-coming prospects like Saric and Sergey Karasev could easily break the lottery, while relative unknowns like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lucas Nogueira would be very intriguing draft-and-stash players for a number of teams. Always amazing how this traction happens in the days and weeks leading up to the draft each summer.
Boot Down: Availability at No. 19? — Thus, with the rise of the tons of non-American players and the chaos at the top of the draft, there are no clear indications who might be available, let alone a potential target, for the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 19 with the Lakers pick. Obviously, the team could eventually package that pick along with their two early second-rounders for a higher pick, as they did last year to nab Tyler Zeller. The prospects that most of the mock drafts have lined up to Cleveland are wing players: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Sergey Karasev and Reggie Bullock. Especially if the Cavs do go for Noel at No. 1, those three would be ideal selections. Maybe the Cavs fall in love with one of them and take the risk to move up. I’d be shocked if they bring in more than two rookies into training camp.
Mercifully, the Tribe’s eight-game skid finally came to an end Tuesday evening in Arlington. Updated through last night, the Indians still have been an American-League worst 5-16 since May 21st. Let that sink in for a moment and take a look at this before/after standings chart from the entire AL, via www.baseball-reference.com:
Thus, the Indians very, very quickly fell back to the bottom of the division, just as they did in the past two seasons under Manny Acta. While their winning percentage has been a bit worse than their -32 run differential (demonstrated in the pythagorean winning percentage), there was one main culprit overall: The pitching. Similar to the awful Houston Astros in their first 45 games, the Indians offense at least remained mediocre during this bad stretch. But they allowed 14 runs more than any other AL staff — and on average 5.6 runs per game. It’s tough to win like that.
Jonah Keri from Grantland, one of the best baseball writers out there, featured the slumping Indians on Monday in his latest weekly power rankings article called The 30. After highlighting a number of “nasty cases of regression” for Indians players, he then concluded with this thought:
So really, what have we learned about the Indians 10 weeks into the season? Only that they’re not nearly as good as they looked while feasting on feeble competition, and probably not as bad as they have looked while getting steamrolled by the league’s best. There is a good chance Cleveland settles in as a .500ish club — a big improvement from last year, still a notch below playoff level, and just about where most people expected them to be.
In the big picture, I completely agree with Keri’s sentiment. Nothing really has changed about our impressions of this Indians team. They’re still mediocre, yet they’ve just been much streakier than one might expect for a “.500ish” team. See below for one final chart about this streaky-ness.
That chart above breaks down the season both by various chronological splits and by wins/losses. It shows Cleveland’s runs per game and batting average with runners in scoring position, along with their opponent’s. It then shows the results of Cleveland’s starting pitching, which can be pretty evident based on the opponent’s offensive numbers.
Just at a first glance, the chart looks insane in terms of the amount of back-and-forth. It seems incredible for a mediocre team to be this streaky. I don’t have a tremendous amount of context to add to the volatility of the chart besides these American League averages in 2013: 4.4 runs per game, .262 batting average with RISP, 4.25 starting rotation ERA, 2.57 starting rotation K/BB.
So for the year, the Indians are a slightly better than average offense (as expected). The team is allowing runs at a higher pace than league average (as expected). The starting rotation has been below average, as noted by their below-average K/BB ratio (as expected). So nothing really has changed, but it’s just striking to see these numbers as laid out.
Regression happens. It’s normal. I’ve written about it in the context of the team’s 26-18 start and also dating back to their early-season RISP issues. Now, I’d expect the team to hopefully relax and settle around this “.500ish” mark for the rest of ’13.
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.