A (hopefully) monthly look at the Tribe's performance from a variety of statistical angles. Suggestions for additional stats and categories are welcome - just let me know.
One of the most popular judges of a team's performance is their Pythagorean record. "Pythag" is so named because the formula used looks similar to the Pythagorean formula used on right triangles. Pythag uses runs scored and runs allowed to determine a predicted record. Generally, teams that over perform their Pythags are considered lucky, and those that underperformed are considered unlucky. However, small-ball teams like the Angels and Twins consistently over perform their Pythagorean records for reasons saberists have trouble explaining. Likewise, Eric Wedge's teams traditionally underperformed their Pythagorean record. That may be because those teams sprinkled 15-run wins between seven-game losing streaks. So, it will be interesting to see how Manny Acta's teams perform against Pythag. So far, the Indians Pythagorean record (which can be found on MLB.com's standings page by turning on the "X W-L" category) is exactly the same as their actual record, 11-18.
Several sites offer odds of a team making the playoffs. One such site is CoolStandings.com, which currently has the Indians at a 1.4 percent chance to win the division and a 0.5 percent chance to win the wild card. Baseball Prospectus is a little more optimistic. Their projections, explained at the bottom of the linked page, have the Indians at 3 percent to win the division and 0.9 percent to win the wild card.
"Wins in the Bank" and the Gambler's Fallacy
Several sites also post pre-season standings projections. This is where the "gambler's fallacy" comes in. BaseballProjection.com has the Indians going 81-81 on the season, yet they have gone 11-18 so far. Someone following the gambler's fallacy would think that the Tribe will go 70-63 the rest of the season to finish 81-81. In fact, Chone's projection should be thought of as a winning percentage, not a definite number of wins and losses. That is, we should accept the fact that the Indians are 11-18, and assume they will play .500 ball (81 wins/162 games) the rest of the way. That means the Indians should expect to win 66-67 of their remaining 133 games
One of the most consistent statistics in baseball is a pitcher's batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The more a pitcher throws, the more his BABIP will settle in the .270-.290 range. This is true for nearly all pitchers, with only rare exceptions like knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and control specialist Greg Maddux. That being said, if you see a pitcher with a high BABIP early in the season, you can expect that BABIP - and his overall performance - to improve.
Conversely, pitchers with a low BABIP can expect an increase. According to Fangraphs, David Huff, Jensen Lewis, and Aaron Laffey are already in the .270-.290 range. That's good news for all three, as they have pitched fairly well this season (outside of Huff's win-loss record), and should expect that performance to continue. Cleveland's two best starters, Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot, have been beneficiaries of BABIPs in the .250s, and can look forward to some minor regression. The same goes for relievers Chris Perez and Tony Sipp.
Meanwhile, Joe Smith and Jamey Wright should see their already high ERAs rise with their BABIPs. Jake Westbrook and Justin Masterson should see their traditional numbers improve as their BABIPs decrease; as should Rafael Perez and Kerry Wood, which is good news for their respective ERAs. Hector Ambriz, pitching well by traditional measures, should only get better as his BABIP lowers. Not bad for a Rule V pickup.
Fielding Independent Pitching
While BABIP looks only at balls put into play, fielding independent pitching (FIP) does the opposite. FIP looks at walks, strikeouts, and home runs - the three things that are supposedly the pitcher's responsibility. In other words, FIP looks at those things that can't be affected by the quality of the defense. FIP is calculated on the same scale as ERA, so the two can be compared easily. If a pitcher's FIP is lower than his ERA, he can expect improvement, and vice-versa. Of course the major caveat here is that if a pitcher plays with the same defense all year, how much can it really improve? The bad news is that everyone except Wright, Masterson, Perez, and Wood are posting FIPs lower than their ERAs. The even worse news is that Wright's FIP is only 0.40 points lower, and Wood's is based on only one inning of work.
BABIP can be used to study a hitter's luck. But unlike pitchers BABIP, hitter's BABIP normalizes to the hitter's past performance; not an overall league average. I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader. Instead, for hitters we'll again refer to Dave Pinto's lineup analysis tool. Plugging in the top nine Indians in terms of OPS, here are the results. The lineup is certainly plausible in terms of defensive alignment and batting order, assuming Russell Branyan can still play some outfield. This theoretical lineup would score 5.232 runs per game, much better than the 3.8 the team is currently scoring. That's an extra 232 runs for the year, or 23 wins. Of course, that's based on some small sample sizes, even for the regulars.
For more Indians statistical analysis, visit Kanka's Sports Page.