After the Indians’ sub-par start to the second half of the season, I decided to dig into the statistics to figure out exactly what was going on with this team. As the trade deadline gets closer, Tribe fans understandably don’t agree on what needs to be done to improve the roster. Some say a starter will fix the team’s current woes, while others say a bat is what is needed to bring the anemic offense out of its slump. Then there is a third group that says everything will be fine. The Tribe is in first place in the division and four games above .500 in a weak division, so why sacrifice the future of the team and the farm system when the team will turn it around on their own? Unfortunately I dug so deep into the stats, eventually I was comparing categories I had never heard of, and some that I didn’t even understand, and still nothing jumped out at me as THE reason for the noticeable difference from 2016 to 2017.
Lets start out with the argument that the Indians need to add a starting pitcher, and compare the starters from 2016 to this season.
The major difference from 2016 to this season would be Danny Salazar who has been injured, and just returned to the Tribe after back to back solid rehab starts. With Mike Clevinger pitching in his place and performing significantly better than he did last year, it makes sense to keep him in the rotation even after Salazar returns. Trevor Bauer, who has been struggling as of late and couldn’t manage to get out of the first inning in his last start, could move to the bullpen (out of options) to try to work through his issues. This way the Tribe adds Salazar, who will hopefully be able to return to All-Star form of last year, keeps Clevinger in the rotation, and gets rid of the weak link to this point, Trevor Bauer. These moves should improve the rotation just as much as adding a number three or four starter without having to give up big name prospects.
As far as the bullpen goes, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are the two main guys that really need to be looked at because they are the two pitchers that will be counted on the most, and cannot be easily replaced by someone else in the bullpen. The numbers from 2016 to 2017 for the back end of the Indians’ bullpen are almost identical. Cody Allen’s ERA has gone up about a half of a run, but when a guy usually only pitches an inning per appearance, that equals out to one more run for every 18 games. The one Allen statistic that is significantly different this year is hits. In 2016 Allen gave up a total of 41 hits, and this season he has already given up 38. This sent his WHIP from 1.000 to 1.378 and H9 from 5.4 to 9.2. However, if these runs aren’t scoring, then these stats aren’t important, especially for a guy who almost exclusively pitches in the 8th or 9th innings because he isn’t leaving runners on base for someone else to deal with.
The offense has been a different story, and there isn’t an easy fix like with the starting rotation.
There isn’t anything here that really sticks out as being the reason that the Tribe’s offense has been struggling. Sure, some players numbers have improved like Lonnie Chisenhall (currently on DL), but for every improved player, there is a Carlos Santana who is on pace to finish with a lower BA and significantly fewer HR. Injuries do have to be taken into account. Chisenhall is the most productive outfielder, and is still expected to be on the DL for a while. Also, Jason Kipnis‘ production is down this year, but he has had some success in the leadoff spot, and is also one of the leaders of the team is also on the DL. Would trading for a bat help the Indians offense? Probably to a certain extent, but Chisenhall and Kipnis will be back before too long, and at that point the Tribe will be putting largely the same team out on the field as last year.
Although the Indians team looks very similar to the 2016 team, the loss of veteran leaders Mike Naqpoli and Rajai Davis cannot be ignored. Last years team rallied around the “Party at Napoli’s” phenomenon, and even though Edwin Encarnacion is putting up similar numbers, that excitement and leadership is gone. Davis being gone from the team has given Bradley Zimmer the opportunity to play on a regular basis, and while Zimmer is putting up very similar numbers, there will no doubt be a loss in the clubhouse when an experienced vet is replaced by such a young player.
So what is the reason for the difference from the 2016 to 2017 seasons? It is actually something really simple that a lot of Tribe fans probably forgot about…the month of June and a 14 game win streak. If the Tribe’s 22-6 record for the month, and those franchise record 14 consecutive wins were to be replaced by a .500 W-L, the two seasons actually look quite similar. A win streak like that cannot be predicted, and a team cannot try to do it. It is a freak thing, and a hundred different factors all have to fall into place at just the right time for everything to come together for the franchise’s best month in 60 years.
For example, during just the first 13 games of the streak, Indians starting pitchers posted a 1.86 ERA while limiting opposing hitters to just 55 hits in a total of 97 innings pitched. The bullpen managed just a 1.29 ERA, with 29K in 21 innings and six walks. Also during that same period, no Indians pitcher allowed more than three earned runs. The Indians’ offensive numbers were just as impressive. The Tribe had 25 home runs during the 14 game streak, and also outscored their opponents 82-27. The offense also scored first in 11 of the 14 games, while scoring in the first inning in half of the games. All of these insane numbers all had to fall in place at the same time to put together a streak of 14 games and such a dominant month, but these are once in a lifetime occurrences.
I set out to find out what the difference was between the 2016 and 2017 Indians teams, which would hopefully lead me to answering the question of what the Tribe needs to do before the trade deadline. The answer…there is no difference. This Indians team is remarkably similar to the 2016 Indians with the only difference being the franchise record 14 game win streak. If a starting pitcher or a bat could guarantee another extended winning streak, I would say go for it. Unfortunately streaks are hard to figure out, and impossible to predict, so the Tribe needs to stay pat and keep their exciting farm system in tact for the future unless they can make an addition without giving up a Francisco Mejia, Triston McKenzie, or Bobby Bradley.