The Indians and their Sneaky Good Offense

Midseason is here and the trade deadline is looming. A lot of talk is swirling around about the Indians’ needs and what the Indians have done so far in half a baseball season.

The pitching has been tough to nail down, as almost everyone has looked great and horrible at one time or another.

One area the Indians have excelled all season is on offense. It may not have always seemed that way but through the first 90 games of the season, the Indians have been one of the best offenses in the American League. It may seem hard to believe, so let’s look at where the Indians rank among the 15 American League teams in various offensive categories.

The Indians rank highly in many of the traditional offensive categories. In on-base percentage, the Indians rank fifth in the AL with a .328 team OBP, above the league average of .317. In slugging percentage, the Indians rank sixth in the AL with a .420 slg%.

The Tribe is fourth in the league in runs scored with 432; that is an average of 4.8 runs per game. In 2012, the Indians finished 13th out of 14 AL teams in runs scored with a mere 667. The runs per game average there was an anemic 4.1. The current Indians team is on pace for a 778 run season, which would have ranked them third in the AL last year.

A surprising stat, given the seemingly low number of home runs the Indians have hit this season, is the fifth place standing in home runs. The Tribe has belted 102 home runs as a team in 2013. Their total has them ranks just ahead of division rival Detroit Tigers, who have only hit 100 home runs on the season. The Indians are just 34 home runs away from surpassing last season’s mark. The Indians also rank ahead several teams that were thought to be loaded with power, such as the Yankees, Red Sox, and an Angels’ team that sports a lineup of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo, and Josh Hamilton.

For those who are fans of runs batted in, or RBI, the Indians rank fourth in the AL in that category. With 417 RBI on the season, the Indians are surpassed only by the Red Sox, Tigers, and Orioles. Baltimore is barely edging out the Indians with 419 RBI.

Many have questioned the speed the Indians were supposed to have piled up in this past off season. The development of Jason Kipnis and the acquisitions of Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs were supposed to have the Indians swiping bases at a breakneck pace. Many have wondered why bases are not being stolen with more frequency. The fact is, the Indians lead every American League team in stolen bases. Not a single AL team tops the Tribe’s 70 steals on the year. The Indians are well on pace to crush last season’s 110 stolen bases.

Another interesting area of note is the Indians ten sacrifice bunts. It ranks them 12th in the AL and only three sacrifice bunts away from last place. The interesting thing here is the Indians are scoring runs at a very good pace, a better pace than nearly every other AL team, and yet they bunt so little. Looking at the leader boards, the Astros, Angels, and Royals are three of the top five teams in sac bunts, with the Astros leading the league. None of those teams have even a .500 record, and the Astros are one of the worst teams in baseball. The bottom of the list, however, is filled with playoff contenders. The Athletics, Red Sox, and Indians are three of the bottom four teams, and the Rays and Tigers are not far behind them. Five potential playoff teams that are all in the top two spots of their division sit at the bottom of the list in terms of sac bunts. This is not to say that sac bunting is a bad idea, it just may not always be the right thing to do for every team. There are certainly teams that need to bunt often, and situations that call for sac bunts, but the idea that the Indians would win more if they sac bunted more may not always be the case.

There are three new statistics to introduce into this story. They can be called “new age”, but they are accurate measures of a team’s offensive production. The three stats are isolated power, weighted runs created plus, and clutch score. These are stats created by the sabermetric community to put a hitter’s value and production into a better perspective. These numbers can be used to understand the why and the how of a batter or a team by digging deeper into the numbers.

Isolated power (ISO) is a stat that measures raw power. It can be thought of as basically a slugging percentage with singles taken out of the equation; only extra base hits are counted. A conventional power hitter will have an ISO of about .200 or greater, the league average ISO is .153. The Indians have a team ISO of .163, good enough for fourth place in the American League. Their raw power ranks as one of the top AL teams, and ahead of division rival Tigers, who have a team ISO of .155.

Weighted runs created plus (wRC+) measures total offensive value by runs; in other words, total runs created as a result of offense. It adjusts for the ball park, year, and league context to give an accurate account of offensive contribution. A wRC+ of 100 is average, anything over 100 is above average and anything below is below average. It is read as a percentage, therefor, a wRC+ of 105 is five percent better than average; a wRC+ of 88 is 12% below average. The Indians rank fourth in the AL with a wRC+ of 108. They trail only the Red Sox, Tigers, and Rays in that category.

The third and final “new age” statistic is Clutch Score. Clutch Score is a measurement of how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral situation. It takes into account all situations that may or may not have been high leverage. Additionally, instead of comparing a player to the rest of the field, it compares a player to himself. A player who hits .300 in high leverage situations when he’s an overall .300 hitter is not considered clutch. A Clutch Score over 0 is considered clutch. The Indians are third in the AL in Clutch Score with a score of 2.36; only the Orioles and the Rays have been more clutch this season than the Indians.

The Tribe offense is in good shape. They are at the top of their league in many offensive categories, and they are scoring runs at a very good pace. The area that needs the most improvement is the pitching. Adding a bat in a midseason trade will not do much to boost this team. The mound is where improvements need to be made. The Indians are hitting with the best of them, scoring with the best of them, and if they can pitch as well as they hit, the Tribe will be a very dangerous team come October.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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