Setting the lines on the 2014 Indians

Michael Bourn

It’s that time of year again! The time when Jon makes up fake gambling lines for the upcoming Indians season and then makes foolish fake prop bets on them.

As a reminder, I make stuff up, then make up more stuff, then after the season we see how I did at making stuff up.  Waste of time? Or INCREDIBLE WASTE OF TIME?  Let’s get to it.

2.5 starters with at least 150 innings pitched

This probably sounds obscure and meaningless, but the more I think about this season, the more I think the entirety of the team’s success may hinge on the relative health of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, and Danny Salazar.  If those three stay healthy and pitch to their ability, this team could easily be competing for a playoff spot.  If any one of them misses significant time, I fear the drop in performance could be enough to sink the season.

Last season, only two teams had five starters who each pitched at least 150 innings, while another four teams had four such starters.  All but one of these teams made the playoffs.  Here’s the total list:

150IP

You’ll notice that all 10 playoff teams had at least three starters throw 150 innings.  I’m not sure if it’s a perfect leading indicator, but for a team whose likely replacements are Josh Tomlin (career ERA 4.92), an erratic Trevor Bauer, and Shaun Marcum’s disintegrating shoulder, we’re going to need our horses to be extra horsey. I’ll take the over here, and cross my fingers.

115.5 stolen bases

Make no mistake about it: 115 stolen bases is a relatively high number.  Last season the Indians ranked sixth in MLB with 117 stolen bases (they were ninth in caught stealing, at 36).  Teams just don’t steal quite as many bases as they did when I was a kid.

That said the Indians would appear to be a team that could continue to run more than most.  While they lost Drew Stubbs to Colorado, they’ll still be fielding Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis—all players with fairly robust stolen base numbers.  Throw in Aviles, Gomes and Cabrera as high single digit guys and you could make an argument that the team will continue to steal fairly frequently.

On the other hand, the only player who’s actually demonstrated recent success on the bases is Jason Kipnis.  Bourn’s stolen base numbers—historically between 40 and 60 each year from 2008-2012—cratered to just 23 last season.1  He’s another year older and slower and perhaps more injury prone (more on that in just a second).  Michael Brantley was always a good stolen base guy in the minors, but that’s not translated to success against Big League catchers as of yet, and now that he’s entering his late 20s his speed is likely on the decline. I think Kipnis could be a 30-30 player, but I also think he’s going to lead the team in steals again this season, which means I’m taking the under on this one.

115.5 games played for Michael Bourn

I’ll be quick here because it’s depressing.  I think Michael Bourn will struggle to get and stay healthy this year.  Call it a hunch, but I’m worried about him.  Under.

675.1 Runs allowed

I would argue that last season’s playoff push was more a credit to the Indians’ run prevention skills than their run scoring skills.  They ranked seventh in the AL in runs allowed at 662, though they were much closer to the top than the bottom on the aggregate.  Here’s a handy histogram:

runsallowed

In other words, the Indians allowed about 33 runs fewer than the average AL team over the course of the season, or 25 fewer runs than the average non-Houston AL team.

The problem is that a lot of things had to go right for that to happen.  Scott Kazmir happened. Ubaldo Jimenez happened.  Justin Masterson happened.  Corey Kluber happened. And that happened.

This year we’re getting a full season of Danny Salazar (hopefully), but otherwise we’re not likely to enjoy everything breaking our way through the rest of the rotation.  We’re also losing Drew Stubbs’ excellent glove and replacing it with David Murphy’s meh glove and replacing Lonnie Chisenhall’s meh-glove with Carlos Santana’s glove full of question marks.  Our bullpen will probably be a bit better, but our rotation and defense may regress some. I take the over here.  Which brings me to run scoring….

750.1 Runs Scored

Again, let’s take a gander at last year’s numbers.  The Indians tied for fourth in the AL in runs scored, which was a lovely change from years gone by.  Here’s the same histogram, but with runs scored instead of allowed:

runsscored

You’ll noticethat the Tigers were phenomenally good at run scoring and run prevention, but that’s a story for another day.  The average AL team scored about 702 runs and the median team scored 712.  The Indians were above both marks at 745 runs, which is probably making you scratch your head about that comment about run prevention carrying us to the playoffs.

For me, it’s all about expectations.  When the Indians added Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the lineup (and Stubbs and a prime year of Kipnis), I expected to score more runs than the average team.  I wasn’t expecting the above average pitching performance we got though.

And we got above average run production.  And we managed to get it despite a bad year from Michael Bourn and a slightly sub-par year from Swisher.  I think Kipnis takes a huge step forward this season.  I think Swisher stabilizes the middle of the lineup with Santana enjoying time away from the physical drudgery of catching.  I think Michael Brantley nudges his batting average up over .300 (though he still posts a sub .350 OBP) and scores 85 runs himself.  We have a long and flexible lineup with a creative manager, and there’s no reason (other than potential injury) to think the offense will do worse than last year.  I’m going over, but just barely.

85.5 Total Team Wins

That’s a made up line.  Most of the unbiased betting sites and projection systems have the Indians finishing between 79 and 85 wins.  I could find many as optimistic as I know we all are.  Here’s a quick look at a few:

Wins

Losses

Fangraphs

81

81

Clay Davenport

85

77

Baseball Prospectus

78

84

Bovada

80.5

81.5

But I’m a homer and you are too and let’s be honest if I said 78 wins we’d all take the over because that’s how we roll.  So I’m setting the line at 85.5 wins, which would still represent a regression of six to seven wins from last year’s 92 win season.

Based on my runs scored and runs allowed odds above, I’m going to suggest the Indians finish the season with about 755 runs scored and about 695 runs allowed, which would give them a positive run differential of 60 runs.  Plugging that into my handy dandy Pythagorean calculator, we arrive at a .541 winning percentage or about 88 wins over 162 games.  Big surprise here, but I’m taking the over.

The thing about last season is that the team didn’t really get all that lucky from a Pythagorean perspective: they scored and allowed runs like a 90 win team, and happened to win 92.  This year I’m guessing they score and allow runs like an 88 win team, based on some natural regression and a boatload of guesses and wishful thinking.  I’m going to predict 86 wins and second place finish in the division to the Tigers.  Out of the playoffs, but a fun and enjoyable ride to the end with watchable and compelling September baseball.

(Image: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

  1. On top of that, his success rate was a crummy 65% []
  • Kildawg

    Quck poll: over/under on when Sizemore’s knees fail him again? Trade deadline?

  • Petefranklin

    In Vegas we get no Angels, Dodgers, Giants, A’s,and Diamondbacks. For a whil;e I think the Rockies claimed Vegas as their broadcasting turf too. Basically a third of the leagues games are blacked out with the MLB package.

  • markn95

    The sad part is that the Astros have been this bad for the last 3 seasons, and this season shouldn’t be that much better. It’s like the Indians’ August 2012 being stretched out half a decade almost.

  • markn95

    Under. He’ll be Travis Hafner’s bench coach at Notre Dame College by June. :)

  • Mike Murphy

    I have the Indians with 85 wins. To make things more interesting, I picked Justin Masterson to win the American League Cy Young award, predicting a 19-6 record.