The Glass Ceiling of Mediocrity
Jonathan Knight | On 02, Oct 2015
Consistency is usually an admirable quality.
Whether you’re talking about parenting or public transportation, there’s something to be said for someone or something that you can count on to deliver what’s expected each and every time.
There are, however, those rare occasions in which consistency is utterly maddening.
Consider what the Indians have done over the past three seasons – not coincidentally, the three seasons that Terry Francona has been manager. More specifically, take away the fever dream that was September 2013, when the Indians caught fire in a magical drive for the playoffs and won twenty of twenty-five games.
You’re left with these winning percentages: .526, .525, and, with three games to play this year, .494.
You have to go back to the early 1970s to find a three-year stretch in which the Indians posted records that similar to one another.
And to be fair, that’s admirable. Especially considering that this three-year stretch was preceded by a five-year stretch in which the team didn’t top the .500 mark.
But unfortunately, it also may be evidence that these Indians have plateaued. Reached their limit. Topped out. Hit the glass ceiling – through which you can see October baseball but know you can’t get to.
The improvement under Francona from 2012 to 2013 was pretty remarkable. As has been the Indians’ inability to move the needle since. Again, dropping the East German judge’s score from two Septembers ago, there was virtually no difference in 2014. There was a bit more of a backslide this year, but almost all of it could be traced back to Corey Kluber’s inexplicable lack of run support.
The point is that the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons have been nearly identical. And suggests that no matter what .249 career hitter the Indians sign to a bloated two-year deal in the offseason, there will be little different in 2016. And that’s because they’ve shown us everything they’re capable of.
Which is difficult to accept because there have been so many schizophrenic individual performances in this three-year window. Corey Kluber dropping from eighteen victories last year to sixteen losses this year. Jason Kipnis’ batting average jumping from .240 to .302. Yan Gomes dropping from .278 to .229.
But what if, you may wonder, everybody crests at the same time? It’s an interesting hypothetical quandary, but nothing more. As the last three years have shown us, that’s not gonna happen.
There are just too many guys on too many wavelengths that seem to be inversely connected to each other. However much Gomes improves next year is how much Kipnis will drop. However many more games Kluber wins will almost certainly mirror how many more Carlos Carrasco loses. And so on.
It’s a continuum of mediocrity. Sort of beautiful in a chaos-theory kind of way, when you think about it.
To be clear, this isn’t necessarily a criticism, and certainly isn’t a call to remove Terry Francona in the hope of finding someone who can shatter that glass ceiling. It’s probably safe to say that Francona and his staff are the primary reason why that three-year overall winning percentage is at .515 instead of .470.
It is merely to say that it’s time to accept the reality that this team, as it is currently constructed, isn’t capable of anything more than this.
That may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it can’t be all that surprising. If this team were capable of special things, we would have seen them by now.
You can blame Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn or fault the front office for not keeping Scott Kazmir or signing Mark Reynolds or any of the dozens of moves it did or didn’t make. But the message is loud and clear.
In scholastic terms, this Indians team is a borderline C-plus, B-minus student. It isn’t going to an Ivy League college, probably not even an in-state private college. Even with the second wild card hanging there like a wheelbarrow full of extra credit each of the last two seasons, these Indians couldn’t raise their GPA.
Basically the most we can hope for from the Indians is what we saw two years ago: a wobbly, erratic regular season saved by an unrealistically hot finish that results in a back-door playoff appearance. Which lasts three hours.
But even that’s a long shot, and even if it wasn’t, this isn’t a sustainable business model. And yet it’s almost certainly the only one we have.