Cleveland Indians: Could They Have Made the Playoffs If They Had Stayed Healthy?
The Cleveland Indians' season came to a disappointing end yesterday with a loss against the Detroit Tigers, putting their final record at 80-82. While this is disappointing following their 30-15 start, overall, it is an accomplishment. This team wasn't supposed to contend until 2012 at the earliest, yet they shocked the baseball world for five months.
One of the reasons the Indians faded down the stretch was the tremendous amount of injuries they suffered. Between Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco, the Indians missed out on 325 games. These games were filled in by various replacements who didn't do much to impress and contributed to the Tribe's downfall.
To test whether the Indians would've made the playoffs with those seven players healthy, let's take a look at what each player's stats would look like if they had played the whole season (averaging out their 2011 stats to 155 games played). It's not an exact science, but it's a good place to start.
2011 Stats: 496 PA, .260/.318/.384 slash line, .702 OPS (96 OPS+), 120 H, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 13 SB, 63 R, 1.4 fWAR in 114 games
Full-Season Stats: 675 PA, 163 H, 10 HR, 63 RBI, 18 SB, 86 R, 1.9 fWAR in 155 games
Michael Brantley was having a decent season before having surgery to remove the hamate bone in his right wrist. If he hadn't gotten hurt, the Tribe would've gotten decent value out of him. This is in comparison to the Ezequiel Carrera, Trevor Crowe and Jerad Head trio that got extended playing time in Brantley, Grady Sizemore's and Shin-Soo Choo's absences.
2011 Stats: 8-9 record, 124.2 IP, 4.62 ERA (86 ERA+), 4.29 FIP, 4.07 xFIP, 1.364 WHIP, 85 SO, 40 BB, 1.4 fWAR in 21 starts
Full-Season Stats: 12-14 record, 190.0 IP, 130 SO, 61 BB, 2.1 fWAR in 32 starts
The 2011 season started off well enough for Carlos Carrasco despite an early season DL trip for elbow pain. He could've been pitching a bit better, but it could have been worse. Unfortunately, things went downhill for Carrasco, starting with his head-hunting suspension and season ending Tommy John surgery. If he had stayed healthy, however, he would have been a more stable starter than some of his replacements.
2011 Stats: 385 PA, .259/.344/.390 slash line, .733 OPS (105 OPS+), 81 H, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 12 SB, 37 R, 1.4 fWAR in 85 games
Full-Season Stats: 653 PA, 148 H, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 22 SB, 67 R, 2.6 fWAR in 155 games
Coming into the season, Shin-Soo Choo was seen as the most consistent performer on the Indians. Baseball's a funny game, isn't it? Choo struggled before getting hurt and wasn't the same player after his injuries. Over a full season, however, his defense alone would've added plenty of value to a contending Indians team.
2011 Stats: 364 PA, .277/.360/.445 slash line, .805 OPS (124 OPS+), 89 H, 13 HR, 57 RBI, 0 SB, 40 R, 1.2 fWAR in 93 games
Full-Season Stats: 607 PA, 148 H, 22 HR, 95 RBI, 0 SB, 67 R, 2.0 fWAR in 155 games
Travis Hafner hasn't played in more than 150 games since 2007 and has only been over that 150 game mark once. For whatever reason, Pronk has never been able to stay healthy. This season was no different considering he missed over 42 percent of the Tribe's games this year. Hafner will be 35 next year and the Indians should really look into moving his $13 million contract, even if they get little back. They can't afford to be spending that much on a virtual lock to miss at least 40-50 games.
2011 Stats: 140 PA, .278/.343/.532 slash line, .857 OPS (135 OPS+), 35 H, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 5 SB, 0.8 fWAR in 34 games
Full-Season Stats: 226 PA, 57 H, 11 HR, 31 RBI, 8 SB, 39 R, 1.3 fWAR in 55 games
Jason Kipnis was having one of the best rookie debuts we've seen in a long time when he was called up in late July. Unfortunately for the Tribe, Kipnis suffered oblique and hamstring injuries which put him on the DL for around three weeks. It couldn't have come at a worse time for the Indians since that's when they really started to fade.
2011 Stats: 295 PA, .224/.285/.422 slash line, .706 OPS (95 OPS+), 60 H, 10 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB, 34 R, 0.2 fWAR in 71 games
Full-Season Stats: 644 PA, 131 H, 22 HR, 74 RBI, 0 SB, 70 R, 0.4 fWAR in 155 games
Does it surprise anyone that Grady Sizemore missed 91 games this year? I was firmly in the "Grady will stay healthy this year!" camp at the start of the year. I couldn't have turned out to be more wrong. Grady struggled to stay on the field and struggled when he was on the field as well. Now, we've reached the point that he might not even be back in 2012. How the mighty have fallen.
2011 Stats: 12-7 record, 165.1 IP, 4.25 ERA (94 ERA+), 4.27 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 1.077 WHIP, 89 SO, 21 BB, 1.8 fWAR in 26 starts
Full-Season Stats: 15-9 record, 203.1 IP, 110 SO, 26 BB, 2.2 fWAR in 32 starts
It may only be six starts, but the Indians could have used Tomlin in those six games. He finished 7th in the AL and 11th in the majors in WHIP and was one of the few reliable starters the Tribe had this year. He may not have been enough put them over the top, but he certainly would have helped.
In the end, I don't think it would have mattered if all seven of the players I mentioned stayed healthy. I still don't see the Indians making the playoffs. Just using the change in fWAR (which makes sense because it's literally adding in how many wins would be added over the replacement players used) adds around four to five wins to the 2011 Indians total of 80.
Now, if the Indians had finished 85-77 instead of 80-82, would they have made the playoffs? Not likely, considering the Tigers finished 95-67. Even if the Indians happened to add all five of those extra wins against the Tigers—an extremely unlikely proposal—there final standings would have been:
The Tribe would still be out of the playoffs by five games. The injuries themselves just aren't enough to explain why the Indians missed the playoffs.
In my opinion, the real reason the Tribe's not playing any October baseball this year is that they didn't have enough starting pitching or elite position players. Going into 2012, I think the Indians need to add a strong number three starter and look at upgrading the lineup somewhere. But that's neither here nor there right now.
So, Cleveland fans, take heart. The 2011 Indians really did overachieve. These injuries took a toll on us and we still came close to .500. But don't be bitter that we missed the playoffs, 2011 was never supposed to be our year. Remember this season for what it was: an enjoyable ride and (hopefully) a precursor to a remarkable 2012.