Sunday, April 18

Fun with small sample sizes

Ten Tribe games in the books. Nothing to do tonight in Oslo. Sports bars are showing soccer and billiards. Time to overanalyze!

I'm fully aware of all of the perils of doing an in-depth analysis of the 2010 Cleveland Indians after just 10 games. I know how many games are in a Major League Baseball season (it's like, more than 100). I know that these numbers will even out in the long run. I know that the early season is scrutinized far more than the rest of the season. I know that every game counts equally in the standings. Lastly I now know that it's apparently Roger Dorn Day at the ballpark. That having been said, let's have a little fun with the numbers for your Cleveland Indians.

And...10-minute delay for Internet connectivity problems. LET ME OUT OF NORWAY!!!

First things first: the Indians are 4-6. Their Pythagorean W-L is: 4-6. Good so far. Nothing happens even when you go to 3rd-order percentage; we're at 4.0 - 6.0, though the Royals and White Socks both jump us in the standings. We are exactly where we should be. BP gives us a 1/6 shot of making the postseason, lowest in the division. Yes, even lower than Kansas City.

The conventional wisdom before the season started was that the Tribe would hit the ball very well (5th in the AL in runs, projected by PECOTA), have a power-arm bullpen that could develop into a team strength, and have all sorts of question marks around the starting staff, inasmuch as it consists of a guy who hasn't pitched since 2008, a guy who hasn't pitched in a game you'd want to watch since 2007, and three guys you haven't heard of. Well, so far, the conventional wisdom has been wrong.

First, the bats. The Tribe is simply mashing American League pitching to the tune of a robust 78 OPS+, good for dead last in the AL. For some perspective, just to restate how OPS+ is measured, if we fielded a club of only league-average players, we'd be at 100%. We are 22% worse than that. Not good. Worst in the AL. Bad.

Not surprisingly, given what a strong indicator of run-scoring that OPS+ is, the Indians are next-to-last in the AL at scoring runs, plating just 3.5 per game. We're better than only the woeful 1-10 Baltimore Orioles, a club that should be 3-8 by Pythagorean W-L. I'm sure their fans can take some solace in that.

There's no mystery why the Wahoos aren't scoring runs: they aren't getting on base. Cleveland's microscopic .307 OBP is, much like their run-scoring, ahead of only the Birds among the 14-team Junior Circuit. You simply can't win games getting on base at a .307 clip. For comparison, the Spanks lead the AL with a .380 OBP, which is absurdly high. I know I put about 100 caveats at the beginning about how it's only 10 games, but this inability to get on base needs to be improved upon, and the Indians know it. We're also only 12th in home runs, ahead of only the Tigers and Mariners, both of whom play in humongous stadia. And for those of you who like easily-understood stats that have been widely debunked as indicators of run-scoring and team success, we're 14th in batting average at .216. An homage to the home area code, perhaps? If so, I would remind them that I live Downtown and my area code is 330. Just saying.

I think I've said enough about the Indians' foibles at the plate as a team; now we go in-depth at individual players. You're not going to like this.

Anyone up for some good news first? We have exactly two players above league average OPS+ (100), only one of whom is a regular. Two! I'm sure you can guess who one of them is - would you have known that the other is Austin Kearns at 136? Me neither. The other, naturally, is Big League Choo, who through 10 games, is simply a monster.

Choo's comically huge numbers include a crazy BA/OBP/OPS line of .333/.500/1.167, good for an OPS+ of 224, which is 6th in the AL. His on-base number ties him for the AL lead. He leads the club in both walks and home runs, and if I've said it once, I've said it 100 times: walks and home runs win baseball games. Speaking of which, man did we ever need that three-run game-winner that let us salvage one from the dreaded Texas Rangers. I like the way Shin-Soo Choo plays baseball. I can't seem to find his 2010 contract details; I can, however, tell you that he pulled down all of $420 300 last year, which could buy you like five meals here in Oslo.

Now for the bad news among Tribe hitters.

- Lou Marson is at -14. That's a negative number. I haven't quite wrapped my head around what the zero point means in this metric; maybe it's like degrees Fahrenheit, where zero is meaningless. Good thing MLB's silly service time rules are keeping catcher of the future Carlos Santana in Columbus (current OPS: 1.478).

- Michael Brantley is at 36. When your entire game is predicated as a speedy on-base guy, you gotta get on more than once every four at-bats.

- AstroCab is at 52. Given the 115 he put up in a full season last year, I'm not concerned about this number in the long-term.

- jHonny Peralta is at 66, looking as disinterested as one can imagine. By that I mean: as disinterested as in 2009. He's also cost us a couple of games with unforced errors over at third. Strong start for Peralta, a guy whose production we really need.

- Grady Sizemore is at 78 and has been hurt for several games. Next.

- Travis Hafner is at an uninspiring 88 (.349 OBP is good, though), Valbuena at an acceptable 93 (.290 OBP is not).

Bored yet? It's time to talk pitching. Cleveland's ERA+ stands at 105, which is exactly league-average. I'm not sure why 100 isn't the average; even with park factors, should this be normalized to 100? Anyway, considering we have the worst hitting club in the league and an exactly-average pitching staff, 4-6 doesn't seem like such a bad deal.

Anyway, much of the credit for keeping the club afloat goes to that starting staff that provoked such nervousness among fans (including me) going into the season. Look at the ERA+ of the five members of the staff:

216 Huff
121 Carmona
121 Talbot
160 Masterson
53 Westbrook

One of these things is not like the other! Westbrook's will improve substantially after having pitched seven innings of two-run ball against the White Socks thus far. Counting Jake's work so far today, Indians starters have posted an impressive 3.23 ERA thus far in the young season. Encouraging early returns, especially the work of Fausto Carmona and rather surprising back-to-back complete games from David Huff and Mitch "The Mitchman" Talbot. If those guys and Justin Masterson can put in league-average campaigns, I'll be delighted. In fact, extend that to the whole staff. If we have a league-average starting staff for all of 2010, I'll be fine with that.

One thing to be concerned about with respect to the Indians' chuckers: walks. Bases on balls have killed us this year, with Tribe hurlers having issued a league-high 47 free passes already in just 10 games. Have I mentioned already that walks and home runs win baseball games? As I type, they're down 2-1 to the Socks - any guesses as to how the first Chicago tally managed to reach base? This must end. We've also struck out just 56 opposing hitters, good for 12th in the AL. These two things make us last in the AL in K/BB, which does not portend well for the rest of the season. Weirdly, Baltimore is first in thie metric, though they're 12th in ERA+. Sounds kinda like the Oriole staff has had some hard luck this year.

As usual, the Indians' bullpen has been responsible for some real disasters. Hey, it wouldn't be Cleveland baseball without men striding out of the centerfield bullpen with giant cans of gasoline tucked under their arms and lighters in hand, ready to set fire to any and all leads. Exemplary was, of course, the crushing 9-8 loss to Detroit, a game the Tribe led 8-4 after seven frames but that the Perez Brothers (Rafael and Chris) worked overtime to throw away. Chris came on the next day to allow a hit and two walks without recording an out in a tie game in the 9th. I still think Chris Perez has the stuff to work in the back end of our 'pen, but he's tremendously inconsistent (ERA+ 48).

Bright spots in the Tribe bullpen have included Jensen Lewis (213), Joe Smith (157), Aaron Laffey (114), and...that's it.

Stragglers include Chris (48) and Rafael (50 Perez), Jamey Wright (66), and Tony Sipp (86), though reliever statistics are even more suspect owing to small sample size extrapolations than even the hitters or starters. The fact remains, though that the bullpen's 4.84 ERA is dragging down the work of the starters so far.

Well, let's check back after 40 games or so and see what's changed for the better, worse, or not at all. Ideally, we will not still be discussing the work of Lou Marson at that point. Go Tribe!

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