Cleveland Indians Monthly Lineup Analysis
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 overperform their Pythags are considered lucky and those that underperformed are considered unlucky. However, small ball teams like the Angels and Twins consistently overperform their Pythagorean records, for reasons saberists have trouble explaining.
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, 21-34. Recently, Fangraphs suggested that using runs scored/runs against in-season isn't the best for Pythag. Instead, Base Runs should be used. This blog quickly picked up that idea and ran with it.
However, even using base runs, the Indians can't shake their 21-34 record. Projecting that out over the course of the season, the Tribe is looking at a 62-100 record.
Several sites offer odds of a team making the playoffs. One such site is CoolStandings.com , which currently has the Indians at a 0.5% chance to win the division and less than a 0.1% chance to win the wildcard. Baseball Prospectus isn't as optimisitic.
Their projections, explained at the bottom of the linked page, have the Indians at 0.14% to win the division and 0.006% to win the wildcard. However, their projected standings do have the Clevelanders finishing at 70-92.
"Wins in the Bank" and the Gambler's Fallacy
Several sites also post preseason 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 21-34 so far. Someone following the gambler's fallacy would think that the Tribe will go 60-47 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 21-34, and assume they will play .500 ball (81 wins/162 games) the rest of the way. That means the Indians should expect to win 53-54 of their remaining 107 games, for a final record of (at best) 75-87.
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 .290-.300 range. (Thank you to the commenter who corrected me last month. This is true for nearly all pitchers, with only rare exceptions like Jim Palmer , who had a great defense in Baltimore.
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 , Jake Westbrook and Chris Perez are already in the .290-.300 range. Those two have put up decent numbers and should expect to continue at the same pace.
That may be good news for the Indians front office, who could potentially swap Westbrook for some prospects within the next two months. Cleveland's two best starters, Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot , have been beneficiaries of below-average BABIPs and can look forward to some minor regression. The same goes for relievers Tony Sipp , Joe Smith , and Frank Hermann .
In fact, Sipp may have already seen the start of that regression during Cleveland's most recent road trip. Smith and his 7.71 ERA, meanwhile, won't take kindly to the notion that he's been lucky in a good sense. Hermann has been lights-out in a limited Major League debut, but he can't keep up this level of talent forever.
Meanwhile, a majority of the Tribe's staff should see their luck increase. David Huff and Aaron Laffey are due for some minor improvement, while the embattled Kerry Wood , Justin Masterson , Rafael Perez , and Hector Ambriz should see drastic drops in their BABIP as the season progresses.
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?
Half of the Indians staff has a FIP within 1.00 of their ERA. Chris Perez, Frank Hermann, and Mitch Talbot are greatly outperforming their FIP, while Justin Masterson, Aaron Laffey, Rafael Perez, and Kerry Wood are greatly underperforming it.
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 . How plausible is the lineup? Not very, unless you can convince one of the outfield/first base/DH-types to catch. This theoretical lineup would score 5.138 runs per game, much better than the 4.036 the team is currently scoring.
That's an extra 178.5 runs for the year, or 18 wins. Of course, that's based on some small sample sizes, and a less than stellar defense.
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