Dispelling a Myth about the Indians Offense

There seems to be a perception that the Indians won in spite of a terrible offense. There is a wide spreading belief that the pitching staff carried the team and was pressured into pitching a shutout every night in order to get a win. There are many that feel the Indians offense was anemic when it came to scoring runs. These feelings seem to come out in every baseball conversation I have, and they couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Indians did boast a top flight pitching staff in 2013. Justin Masterson was superb, reclaiming his place as the ace of the staff. He won 14 games in 29 starts, he posted a 3.45 ERA, and he emerged as a strikeout pitcher fanning 195 batters in 193 innings pitched. He made his first career All-Star game, and made a name for himself as one of the better pitchers in the American League. Ubaldo Jimenez made an amazing comeback from the worst season of his career. His work with the Indians Pitching Coach Mickey Calloway helped him get back to form, or maybe better since he arguably had the best season of his career. He won 13 games with a 3.30 ERA, and struck out batters at a furious pace with 9.6 strikeouts per nine, the best of his career. Scott Kazmir made a fantastic comeback, going from an independent league team to one of the most sought after free agent pitchers. Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister proved they belong on a big league staff with very solid seasons. As a whole, the Indians pitching staff was fantastic. Only the Tigers struck out more hitters, only the Tigers gave up fewer home runs, and only the Athletics threw more shutouts than the Indians. But the offense played a very important role on this team.

The Indians offense was highly underrated in 2013. The idea that they struggled to score runs is a little deceiving. There seems to be a wide spread idea that a good offense must score runs at the pace they scored in the 1990’s. The reality is, offense is down, baseball cycled back towards pitching. It could be the rigorous steroid testing an punishments, it could be the regular cycles that always occur in baseball where offense goes up and down from era to era, or a little of both, but the reality is, offense across the board is down. The Indians actually had one of the best offenses in all of baseball last season. They finished fifth out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored. Isn’t that the entire purpose of an offense, to score runs? The perception may be that the Tribe offense was their achilles’ heel, but only four teams in all of baseball scored more runs that the Indians did in 2013.

One reason the Indians offense was able to score so many runs was their ability to hit in the clutch. Most offensive statistics weigh or count things that happened during a game. What most stats do not do, is take into consideration the game situation. Most people intuitively know that a home run in the ninth inning that ties a game is more important that a home run in the sixth inning when your team is down by 10 runs. In the stats, a home run is just a home run. There is, however, a stat that takes those game situations into account. It is called Win Probability Added, or WPA.

For an example of how WPA works, imagine the Indians are playing a game against the White Sox. Michael Brantley step up to the plate with a runner on second base in the fifth inning of a tie game. The chances of the Indians winning the game at that point are 55%. Brantley hits a double that scores a run and increases the Indians chances of winning to 70%. He increases the Indians win probability by 15% or .15. That .15 is WPA.

As a team, the Indians were one of the most clutch in all of baseball, finishing sixth in MLB with a 7.13 WPA. Break that down by league, and they were third in the AL behind the Red Sox and Athletics. In individual terms, the Indians had three players in the top 30 in WPA. Brantley was 27th in the league with a good WPA of 1.54. Jason Kipnis was 8th with a very good WPA of 3.58, and Carlos Santana finished 6th in the league with a fantastic WPA of 4.22.

There is yet another stat known as Clutch Score. It takes into account a vast number of other stats, WPA, and situations that most may not see as the Hollywood clutch situations. Believe it or not, leading off an inning is a very clutch situation. The average number of runs a team can expect to score with a runner on first and no outs is nearly three times as high as it would be with no body on and one out. In total Clutch Score, the Indians finished second in all of MLB, behind only the Baltimore Orioles. On an individual scale, Santana led the league with a Clutch Score of 2.02. Brantley finished 5th with a CS of 1.42, Michael Bourn was 10th with 1.21, and Kipnis was 14th with a CS of 1.07.

Yes, the Indians had a very good pitching staff in 2013. They were the heart and strength of the Indians team, but the offense is vastly underrated. They scored runs better than nearly every other team in baseball and they proved to be one of the best teams in the clutch. The idea that the offense was poor and feeble is false. Both the pitching staff and offense helped propel the Tribe into the playoffs last season and fans should look forward to more wins and exciting times to come.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. When a team has hit disproportionately well in the clutch, it is a reason to be concerned, moving forward, rather than a reason to be optimistic. Clutch hitting is not a repeatable skill. The Indians will likely perform more normally in the clutch in 2014, thereby revealing the holes in their offense that were papered over by the vagaries of random chance in 2013.

  2. The “Clutch” that the Indians showed last year isn’t a skill that is repeatable like a batter’s home run ability or speed. It is more fluky than anything else. Maybe they’ll get lucky one more time and have a good performance in the clutch again. But the odds are they’ll regress back to league average.

  3. It was nice to see some truth about the Indians’ 2013 offense….there are many who claim it wasn’t good.

    What the writer doesn’t cover is a simpler statistic: XBH. The Tribe had a very high XBH in 2013 with 35% of all hits a double, triple or HR. The highest scoring team in baseball, the Red Sox, had 36% XBH. The Tigers, another high scoring team, had 30% XBH even with Miggy and Prince playing. Another way to look at this is runs / hit….the Tigers had .489 while the Tribe had .536.

    XBH is repeatable.

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