Fifty Shades of Average
Jonathan Knight | On 19, Jun 2015
Now that Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez have been tossed down the Columbus Chute, Tribe fans are likely scanning the rest of the roster the way your wife walks around the house in early spring: looking for things to fix.
If only they can find the weak links, many fans believe, the Indians can turn this season around and become the type of team we (or rather, Sports Illustrated) expected them to be.
But here’s the thing: while the Indians haven’t been good, they also haven’t underachieved.
Yes, there have been disappointments and setbacks. But really, with Chisenhall and Ramirez gone and Roberto Perez now reverting back to the backup-catcher role where he belongs, a quick scan of the Tribe’s statistics tells us that there really haven’t been all that many disappointing performances.
Before proceeding, it’s important to note the difference between “not good” and “disappointing.” “Not good” is simply that, “disappointing” is less than we expected. In other words, it’s possible to be “not good” without being “disappointing.”
To expect the Indians to make a serious run at the division title necessitates the hypothesis that they’ve been “disappointing” to this point and will consequently flip the script when (or if) they begin to meet expectations.
But is that realistic? Let’s take a quick glance at the numbers and try to find disappointment.
Carlos Santana’s under-.220 batting average immediately jumps out, but it’s really only about 10 points below what he hit a year ago. His slugging percentage has also dipped a little, but his on-base percentage is essentially the same.
Thus, while his numbers are “not good,” they’re not exactly “disappointing.” And if Santana does manage to climb up toward the .231 he hit a year ago – or, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, the .268 he hit in his best season two years ago – how much of a difference will that make?
Yan Gomes still isn’t quite up to snuff, and he’ll likely contribute more in the second half. Just like Santana if he stumbles across a Pac-Man power pellet, it’ll make a difference. But c’mon…Miguel Cabrera these guys ain’t.
Michael Bourn and Brandon Moss have both plateaued after miserable starts and are each turning in essentially the same type of numbers they’ve cranked out for the last few years. “Not good”? Perhaps. “Disappointing”? No.
Nick Swisher is…well, Nick Swisher. If you expected much more than what he’s provided thus far, then that’s on you. Again, there’s “not good” and then there’s “disappointing.”
Honestly, you’re more likely to find overachievers than underachievers. The Redemption of Jason Kipnis has been awesome to behold, like a completely bugnuts subplot from the Old Testament. Dude’s hitting 50 points higher than he’s ever hit before.
David Murphy topping .330 is another prime example. Just where the hell did that come from? Or put another way, can you possibly expect it to continue? (Keep in mind that Lonnie Chisenhall was posting Ted Williams numbers at this time a year ago.)
Exemplified by the 17-run torture-porn opera we witnessed Wednesday night, the pitching leans a little more toward “disappointing.” The team’s ERA is hovering around four, nearly a half-run higher than last year.
Corey Kluber’s misrepresentative 3-8 record is best explained by the offense’s lack of good timing. On the other hand, Kluber’s ERA is a full run higher than a year ago. So while harsh, Kluber would have to go down on your scorecard as “disappointing” and the pitching staff’s leading candidate for increased potential in the second half of the season.
The only other apparent qualifier for letdown status is Cody Allen, but that falls apart upon closer examination. Sure, his ERA is double what it was last year, but he’s also converted 14 of 15 save opportunities. He occasionally reminds us of Joe Borowski, but what more can you ask of your closer? And the rest of the bullpen has basically picked up right where it left off the last two seasons.
As for the other starters – excluding T.J. House, who’s not in frame at the moment, and damage-control Shaun Marcum – none can be classified as a true letdown. The highest ERA (which isn’t all that high) belongs to Carlos Carrasco, who’s on pace to make a run at 20 wins.
Naturally, the defense has been uninspiring – their efficiency rating ranks 14th in the American League – but they actually have fewer errors and a higher fielding percentage than the league average. But again, did you expect better? And do you expect better going forward?
The point is, the Indians’ one-step-forward-one-step-back season thus far isn’t an aberration. This is a team doing exactly what it’s capable of. It is – blast of trumpets and roll of drums – an average team.
And average teams rarely exceed the 80-83 victory window. Which is exactly where the Indians are headed. Former NFL coach Bill Parcells always offered up the old chestnut, “You are what your record says you are.” The 2015 Indians are a perfect example.
Could the Indians get hot in the second half and make things interesting? It’s possible, particularly with the bare-minimum qualifications of the second-wild card reality in which we exist. But to believe in that, you’d have to have a justifiable answer to the question “Who’s going to step up?” Or more accurately, “How much more can you expect someone to suddenly begin to contribute?”
Assuming Santana, Gomes, and Kluber all tick up modestly to match our expectations, and that the Indians throw enough sandbags on the fifth spot in their starting rotation, it’s completely reasonable to expect them to eventually reach and perhaps even tiptoe across the .500 mark. But that’s about it.
Even if the Indians were to bring in fresh blood via a deadline trade, it would have to be comically dramatic to turn them into a genuine contender. Willie Mays, Rod Carew, and Walter Johnson for Zach McAllister, essentially.
Then, of course, there’s the X-factor of Francisco Lindor. Assuming he hits .475 and knocks in 140 runs over the rest of the season (which would qualify as a “disappointment” for some), he could make a difference. Especially if he’s then successfully cloned four times.
This isn’t meant to be negative or dispiriting, just an honest assessment for those Tribe fans who feel they’ve been sold a bill of goods.
In reality, this is the team we bought. It’s not terrible, nor is it unlucky. It’s just average. It’ll win some and lose just about as many.
If we’re disappointed with that, it’s because we miscalculated what we were buying. Or, probably more accurately, what Sports Illustrated was selling.
Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images