April 18, 2014

WFNY Stats & Info: Indians playoff odds before the weekend

It’s officially now a three-team race for the two American League Wild Card spots. With the recent hot streaks by the Rays, Indians and Rangers, all the other would-be contenders have been left in the dust. There are now three games left in the regular season to decide what’s next.

Looking back in the past, here are the days I’ve updated the playoff odds here at WFNY: Sept. 7, Sept. 15, Sept. 16 and Sept. 23. I also featured how the different formulas are composed back in The Diff on Sept. 18. The website Cool Standings, linked below, has some fantastic historical data, too.

Baseball Prospectus: (link)
Rays — 97.8%, 91.7-70.3 final record
Indians — 67.1%, 90.6-71.4 final record
Rangers — 35.2%, 89.7-72.3 final record

FanGraphs: (link)
Rays — 97.2%, 91.8-70.2 final record
Indians — 81.5%, 90.7-71.3 final record
Rangers — 21.3%, 89.6-72.4 final record

Cool Standings (link)
Rays — 94.8%, 91.6-70.4 final record
Indians — 85.8%, 91.0-71.0 final record
Rangers — 19.4%, 89.6-72.4 final record

At first, I was a little surprised to see the Rays having 95-plus percent odds. Then I remembered: Oh, they have a two-game lead over the Rangers and a tie still gets them into post-regular season baseball. The only situation in which Tampa Bay misses out entirely: If they get swept, Texas sweeps and the Indians win at least two, as well. The odds are that, then, are probably close to 5 percent. Makes more sense.

As I’ve shared many times, Baseball Prospectus is the most pessimistic because it continues to rely heavily upon the preseason predictions from the PECOTA system. So the Indians-Twins matchup isn’t as much as a mismatch as this season has indicated on run differential, which is the sole influence in the Cool Standings’ formula. FanGraphs uses a hybrid of both approaches to come up with its odds.

MLB recently re-announced their tiebreaker policy for the American League Wild Card spots. Kirk wrote about the tiebreaker situations a few days back. The Indians formally opted to be “Club A” in the case of a three-way tie for the two spots, meaning they’d host a game in Cleveland on Monday for the right to play in Wednesday’s actual Wild Card game. A possible second tiebreaker game would occur on Tuesday.

[Related: Indians 6 Twins 5: Wahoos win again, but closer problem rears its ugly head]

The Diff: Statistical thoughts on the Tribe’s outlook

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, I wrote about NBA conference imbalance and the East playoffs. Now, it’s time to get serious about the Tribe.

The Diff

I’m giddy about … Danny Salazar’s second MLB start tonight.

Starting at Progressive Field tonight will be the most prolific strikeout artist in minor league baseball this year. That would be 23-year-old Danny Salazar, back for his second gig in Cleveland. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Miami’s Jose Fernandez dominates the Indians

In Little Havana on Friday night, the red-hot Cleveland Indians were first introduced to one of the best pitchers in baseball: a 21-year-old Cuban named Jose Fernandez.

One of the game’s best-kept secrets in 2013, the Marlins right-hander continued his dominant pitching with the most impressive start of his young MLB career (21 games) in the shocking 10-0 Miami win. The victory snapped an eight-game winning streak for Cleveland, which entered the game with the third-best offense in baseball.

Fernandez’s final line: 8.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 K, 89 GameScore. Per GameScore, it was the most dominant start against the Indians since Ervin Santana’s no-hitter (94) on July 27, 2011.

According to FanGraphs, Fernandez now has produced a sensational 1.2 WAR (!!) in striking out 27 of 56 batters in his last two starts. That’s good for an insane 48.2% strikeout rate. He currently ranks fourth with a 27.3% strikeout rate on the season (min. 500 batters faced), trailing such distinguished names Darvish, Scherzer and Harvey.

His last 11 starts since June 1 have been most impressive. He has allowed three runs just once, while limiting opponents to one run or less six times. Over that span, per MLB Advanced Media, he leads qualified MLB pitchers with a 1.67 ERA and .164 batting average against. Fernandez has 86 strikeouts (10.3 K/9) against just 22 walks (2.6 BB/9), good for a sensational 0.831 WHIP and 30.3% strikeout rate. Opponents have posted a measly .453 OPS in 284 plate appearances.

Fernandez’s success at such a young age is notable in baseball history since 1947, per Baseball-Reference. Among all 21-and-under pitchers with 500 batters faced, his strikeout rate ranks third, his ERA+ ranks sixth and his OPS+ ranks second. The pitchers that bested Fernandez in various categories: Dwight Gooden, Vida Blue, Mark Fidrych, Ralph Branca, Jim Nash and Kerry Wood.

Although the Marlins exist in a sad state of baseball affairs, Fernandez is an incredibly bright spot. The All-Star is shining in his rookie season and with three more years pre-arbitration eligibility, is suddenly one of the best assets in baseball.

[Related: And You Thought The Dolans Were Bad….]

WFNY Stats & Info: Rare accomplishments for Indians starters

With the completion of this week’s four-game sweep over the Chicago White Sox, the Tribe starters have continued their incredibly impressive hot streak. Ever since Carlos Carrasco’s last meltdown on July 6, they’ve been consistently dominant. That’s not news, as I wrote about this previously already.

But here are a few more notable facts about what the Indians starters have accomplished of late:

Here are the starting pitcher statistics in 21 games since July 7:
9-2 record, 2.21 ERA, 134.3 IP (6.1/start), 8.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, .198/.268/.291 line.

For the striking contrast, here are the starting pitcher statistics in the season’s first 87 games:
30-34 record, 4.62 ERA, 494.2 IP (5.2/start), 8.0 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, .262/.335/.427 line.

And again, the starting pitching line that derailed the entire 162-game set in 2012:
48-76 record, 5.25 ERA, 913.2 IP (5.2/start), 6.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, .284/.351/.451 line.

The pitching was slightly improved in the first half of this season across the board, while especially picking up the pace with the strikeouts. But still, their 4.62 ERA ranked in the bottom segment of the AL. Now, the Indians have had as impressive of a pitching streak as has taken place ever in franchise history. The .560 OPS allowed is in stark contrast to the .802 OPS from last season.

Currently, all five long-term Indians starters (Masterson, Kluber, Kazmir, Jimenez and McAllister) have at least 12 starts with ERAs less than 4.20. The last time that happened in franchise history was 1969. Every single other American League team has turned this feat since at least 1976.

The Indians now have four starters (all but McAllister) with at least 100 innings pitched that average at least 8.0 K/9. No other team in American League history has ever had this feat. Both Boston and Detroit have three such pitchers in 2013, but only three times has an AL team finished with exactly three, including the 1964 Indians as led by Sam McDowell.

– Specifically, Justin Masterson had his 11th start of at least 5 innings with one run or less last night. He became just the sixth Indians pitcher to pull off that feat since 1975. The last five: Cliff Lee, 2008; CC Sabathia, 2006; CC Sabathia, 2005; Charles Nagy, 1992; Greg Swindell, 1989.

– Tonight’s starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, had his best start of the season in his last outing, as measured by Game Score (81). He worked eight shutout innings for the second time this year. It was officially his best start as a Cleveland Indian, surpassing his outing on June 1 (80). His last better outing per Game Score (84) was Oct. 2, 2010, with Colorado.

Overall, the Indians have allowed just 58 runs (seven unearned runs) in their last 21 games since July 7. Only eight other MLB teams have had better 21-game pitching stretches thus far in 2013.

[Related: Indians 6, White Sox 1: You can bring your green hat!!]

WFNY Stats & Info: Nick Swisher’s slugging struggles

To many, Nick Swisher’s big signing in the offseason was doomed to be a disappointment. Never much of a star – only one career All-Star game – he reached a four-year, $56 million deal with Cleveland just after turning 32 years old. The pomp and circumstance were exciting, but would he produce?

As an understatement, the new Indians slugger has underachieved in the minds of many fans thus far in 2013. While the Ohio State outfielder/first baseman got off to a hot start – including the walk-off in the year’s first home win – he’s been awfully cold of late.

Per the numbers, take a look at the exact discrepancy of his recent struggles:

Career through 2012: .256/.361/.467 in 1,209 games, 9.4% XBH/PA, 21.3% K/PA
Through May 26th: .280/.378/.510 in 43 games, 11.4% XBH/PA, 20.5% K/PA
Since May 27th: .204/.307/.293 in 44 games, 3.6% XHB/PA, 25.0% K/PA

Swisher has continued to be an effective on-base percentage producer. It certainly might make sense then for manager Terry Francona to try to get him ignited in the No. 2 hole with more at-bats.

But the most jarring aspect of Swisher’s struggles lie with his slugging decline. He has just three doubles and four homers in the span of 192 plate appearances since May 27th. For his career with nearly 7.5-seasons worth of games entering this stretch, he averaged 18 extra-base hits per 192 PAs.

Now displaying a season-long slugging percentage of .398, it’s a new career-worst for the former New York Yankee. Besides his rookie season, his two previous worst slugging years were his bad .410 of 2008 with the White Sox and .446 in his second year with Oakland in 2005.

In his first three tries against Texas’ Yu Darvish last night, Swisher struck out. While his K/PA rates have remained fairly consistent, it’s a wonder if his continued shoulder issues are affecting his power.

Certainly, the revitalization of Swisher – and any improvement from similarly struggling Mark Reynolds – would constitute a solid offensive boost down the stretch for the contending Indians.

[Related: Nick Swisher signing will backfire for Indians per Jim Bowden]

WFNY Stats & Info: How bad has Mark Reynolds been?

The Indians have been a pleasant first-half surprise at 51-44. They’re on pace for 87 wins. Despite their streakiness, they’ve remained fairly close to the playoff picture through mid-July, which is far better than the collapses of the last two seasons.

But one player in particular has seen his production fall off the Earth just like Manny Acta’s Cleveland teams: first baseman Mark Reynolds. Over the season’s five weeks, he was off to an MVP-like start. Heck, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman even tweeted that exact thing on May 18th. Little did he know that Reynolds would begin a disastrous two-month stretch.

Here are the stats for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Reynolds’ career leading up to the 2013 season, and then the crazy split that occurred after the game on May 9th:

mark reynolds career stats

As I’ve said before in the comments section, Mark Reynolds’ usual production was somewhere in the middle of his hot April and insanely cold June. That’s true for his batting average, on-base percentage and strikeout numbers. The most glaring change, however, has been in the slugging.

During the offseason, when he signed with Cleveland, Reynolds was expected to come in and compete for the team lead in homers. He has 15 through 89 games, which isn’t bad. But his extra-base hit per plate appearance rate since May 10th is worse than the worst in baseball. It’s worse than Ben Revere’s career rate, and he’s never hit a home run. That’s dreadful for a strikeout-prone mediocre-defense “slugger”.

Next, I did some research on the context of how bad Reynolds has been over this nine-week stretch from May 10th through July 12th. Via Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s database dating back to 2005, here are your 10 worst qualified individual player OPS lines during that exact span of the season:

mlb worst 5-10 to 7-12 stretches

It’s a wee bit crazy to see that 2013 NL MVP favorite Yadier Molina heads this list, while Reynolds’ OPS places seventh overall and second-worst in 2013. Overall, in the last nine years, only 10 qualified players have posted an OPS of .530 or worse from May 10th through July 12th.

Certainly, many fans have been clamoring for the easily-ridiculed Reynolds to receive a little less playing time. Of the players on this chart, only 2005 Freddy Sanchez had more plate appearances (the timing of the 2013 All-Star Game is a slight factor, too). We’ll see soon if that’s the approach for manager Terry Francona or if suddenly the slugger can snap out of this funk.

[Related: Indians All-Star Break Review: The Position Players]

The Diff: Biggest differences with the 2013 Indians

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’s article was a (mostly futile) attempt at looking at 40 recent NBA mock drafts before the Cavaliers’ big day. This week, we’re talking Tribe.

The Diff

Of late, I’ve been getting lots of questions on Twitter that all cover the same topic about the 2013 Indians: Do they have staying power? Obviously, there’s a bit of burnout with the previous two seasons seeing similar hot starts, yet disappointing finishes. Thus, from a statistical perspective, I’m here today to give another update about where things stand 83 games through the year, with 79 left to go. How well do 45-38 teams usually do? What other main differences exist at this point in the year from years prior? What are the likely playoff odds for this team? Let’s take a look. [Read more...]

The Diff: Building the Cleveland Indians’ 2014 rotation

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 covered a trio of topics related to Cleveland sports. This week, it’s time to focus on the Tribe’s starters.

The Diff

Entering 2013, the starting rotation was said to be the biggest weakness for the Cleveland Indians. While many still expected the team to at least finish around .500, it was in question whether the starters would possibly improve upon a third-to-last 5.25 ERA in 2012. Now 70 games into the much-hyped season, there have been some more mediocre results with lots of intriguing storylines on the rotation’s future composition. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Looking at the Indians’ quality starts

Back at the start of the season, I wrote a long-form edition of The Diff about quality starts and the Cleveland Indians pitching. Mostly, it was an excuse to lament about how awful the Tribe’s starting pitching was en route to the 68-94 season in 2012.

Thus, now that we’re just over the 1/3rd mark of the back-and-forth 2013 season, I felt it was appropriate to update the statistics and see how things are going. A conversation with Jon today on Twitter led me to posting the chart over there:

Here are some main observations that I have, with relation to the 2012 numbers:

1) First, it’s notable that the Indians currently rank 10th in the AL in quality start percentage and 14th in bullpen ERA. Those are two facts of life right now. Difficult to swallow, but facts nonetheless.

2) Because the Indians rank fifth in the AL in runs per game, they’ve done quite well thus far at converting quality starts to wins. In fact, they rank second in the AL in that category with a .789 winning percentage in quality starts1.

3) Then, compounded by the bullpen issues, the Indians have struggled when the starters can’t deliver a quality start. Their .276 winning percentage in non-quality starts ranks 11th in the league.

4) Overall, what stands out to me2 is that the Cleveland Indians are what we thought they would be. The offense has been solidly above average and the pitching has been a question mark still. The pitching has improved overall, especially the starting rotation, and the Indians have improved (albeit slightly) on their ridiculously awful, league-worst non-quality start winning percentage from a season ago (it was .169).

5) Going forward, of course, all of the AL team averages will squish together as we have a larger and larger sample size. But the observations about Cleveland are clear: The team’s bullpen is a big problem, while the offense has the capability to carry the team whenever the starting rotation gets its job done.

[Related: Asdrubal injured; Masterson roughed up in 7-4 loss in New York]

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Footnotes:

  1. Oddly enough, Boston-Oakland-Cleveland, the top three teams in pitches per plate appearance, lead the AL (in a slightly different order) in this category. Maybe there’s something even more to be said for extra, extra patience? []
  2. besides Seattle’s abysmal 2-23 record in non-quality starts, Chicago’s by far league-worst offense, poor Toronto’s early struggles and the flukey start for the LA Angels []

The Diff: Historical finishes for 26-18 MLB teams

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 was on vacation in sunny Tybee Island, Georgia. Apologies for the lack of content. Now, we’re back this week with more MLB stats.

The Diff

In a roundabout way, your 2013 Cleveland Indians somehow sit in a very familiar position: a 26-18 record through 44 games. For those with a poignant memory, that’s exactly where the team was through 44 games in 2012, too, before embarking on one of the worst collapses in baseball history. Today, my plan is to look at what all of the 26-18 teams have done by perusing the deep, dark pages of the MLB record books. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Indians lead AL in several batting splits

Yesterday, before the Indians improved now to 18-4 in their last 22 games, I looked at a six-pack of intriguing statistics behind this very impressive run.

Today, I’m looking at several split offensive statistics where the Tribe has shined thus far in 2013. They show a lot of the biggest strengths of the Terry Francona’s squad:

Batting 1st – .316 batting average, #1 in AL (avg: .265)
Batting 8th – .491 slugging percentage, #1 in AL (avg: .386)
Vs. LHP – .480 slugging percentage, #1 in AL (avg: .409)
When ahead – .534 slugging percentage, #1 in AL (avg: .433)
With 2 outs – .856 OPS, #1 in AL (avg: .732)
RISP, 2 outs – .304 batting average, #1 in AL (avg: .248)
RISP, 2 outs – .549 slugging percentage, #1 in AL (avg: .404)
Runners on – .476 slugging percentage, #1 in AL (avg: .420)
Innings 1-3 – .847 OPS, #2 in AL behind TBR (avg: .756)

Now, for full disclosure, here are a handful of notable caveats to the statistics above:

  • Obviously, the Indians already rank 1st in slugging and 1st in OPS in the American League. So these splits shouldn’t be all that shocking. But these are some of the most significant ones I could find.
  • The Indians rank 5th in the American League with a .309 BABIP. While this isn’t absurdly high, it’s probably especially higher over the past four weeks. So possibly, this will fall back down to earth, affecting all of the team’s offensive statistics.
  • As noted yesterday, the Indians started the season with a .207 batting average with RISP in the first 17 games. That just shows how ridiculously good they’ve been in this split ever since.
  • Going back to the topic I covered in The Diff recently: The Indians have won lots of blowouts, but also have had some stinkers too. Their slugging percentage is more than 100 points better than the AL average when ahead in games. Thus, when the team is behind, their OPS (.699) is actually below the AL average (.715).
  • Finally, you didn’t see me mention on-base percentage very much at all above. Mostly, that’s because the Indians have not been that elite in that category; their OBP of .335 ranks T-3rd in the AL this season, and doesn’t shine through in any split.

[Related: Indians 10 Mariners 8: Yan Freaking Gomes and the Mariners Defense – a Lethal Combination]

The Diff: Market saturation and Indians attendance

In last week’s edition of The Diff, I shared a number of statistical notes about the streaking Cleveland Cavaliers. This week, I’m covering a topic I’ve been trying to get to for a while, but is perfect for right now: Cleveland Indians attendance.

The Diff

Cleveland Indians attendance is a topical news item this week. Firing right off the Nick Swisher arrival and the surprise signing of Michael Bourn, the Indians unveiled their new promotional schedule and then sold out of Opening Day tickets in six minutes on Monday. Excitement about the Tribe is as palpable this February as it’s been in the last decade — save maybe for right after ’07′s surprising playoff run. And that brings people to the age-old question: Will it show up in the ticket booths? Fortunately, I’m here to help — as I teased in Monday’s podcast. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Comparing Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn

Yesterday afternoon, I was reading all about Josh Hamilton’s quotes on Dallas-Fort Worth baseball fans. So it got me thinking: How valuable has he been over the last few years compared to the Cleveland Indians’ most recent free agent splash of an outfielder?

Hamilton, who turns 32 in May, has played 737 very-flashy career MLB games since breaking out with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. He just signed a 5-year, $125 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels that was pretty highly criticized at the time.

Michael Bourn won’t turn 31 years old until December. He also is relatively youthful in MLB experience for his age — he’s only played 871 games after making his debut in 2006 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He just surprisingly locked up with the Indians for a guaranteed 4 years and $48 million.

So let’s look at their respective last four seasons, since the start of 2009:

Name Games WAR RAR Batting NR-RAR B/NR-RAR
Josh Hamilton 491 18.3 174.7 96.9 104.4 92.8%
Michael Bourn 611 20.1 194.2 9.3 104 8.9%

 

Obviously, when you take away health/durability concerns, Hamilton is a likely better WAR player per game. But that’s a huge risk for signing a player with Hamilton’s much-explored history. And, as I’ve discussed in emails with Jon, WAR/162 is intriguing in theory, but doesn’t really add a whole lot to the table.

Then, using the FanGraphs calculation for WAR1, I came up with a statistic of Batting / Non-Replacement RAR (B/NR-RAR). The key here is that I also subtracted away Replacement value — since that’s not affected by a player’s skill, but just a bonus for being average2. I wrote more in-depth about this, Bourn’s value breakdown and “young man” skills last week in The Diff.

So who would you rather have? The more volatile, more injury-prone, more big market/big personality older player who is hugely dependent upon his bat to produce any sort of beneficial value? Or the younger, more consistent quiet player who just happened to recently sign a very cost-effective deal ($77 million less) with the Cleveland baseball team? It’s sort of a rhetorical question.

[Related: The Diff: Debunking myths about Michael Bourn]

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Footnotes:

  1. Essentially, WAR = RAR / about 10. RAR = Batting + Baserunning + Fielding + Positional Scarcity + Replacement Value. []
  2. As FanGraphs says, “Replacement Runs set at 20 runs per 600 plate appearances.” So again, this just refers to a bonus for being average in other categories over a certain amount of playing time. []