For the first time in nine years, the Cleveland Indians will be playing in the American League Division Series after winning the AL Central. The last time such a feat occurred, the Tribe beat the New York Yankees three games to one before falling to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. After that, the Tribe has only once reached the postseason, losing the Wild Card Game in 2013 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Those are postseason facts you probably already knew. They are ones that would be included in a normal playoff series preview. Other facts that would be probably be included in a regular preview are: the Tribe went 2-4 against the Red Sox this season, all-time the Indians hold an 11-8 advantage over Boston in the postseason, David Ortiz had a spectacular year, and the Indians are missing two of their three best starters.
However, this is not a regular series preview. It will not mention those things. If you would like to read a regular preview, our own Bob Toth will have one out on Thursday before Game 1. What follows is a unique look at the ALDS, featuring stats, splits, and trends you might not have thought about concerning the Tribe’s matchup versus the Red Sox.
First up, something fun. On June 4, with a win over the Kansas City Royals, the Tribe claimed sole possession of first place in the AL Central. They did not give it up for the rest of the season. That’s right, the Tribe spent 121 consecutive days either tied for first or in first by themselves.
Lots of crazy things have happened since someone else was leading the Central. The Cavs won a title, there was a huge parade, JR Smith finally found a shirt, the United Kingdom left the European Union, the Olympics were held, Cleveland hosted the RNC, and “Party at Napoli’s” became a state-wide phenomenon.
Compare that long time span to the team’s ALDS counterpart, who had to fight for first in the East. The Red Sox only spent the last 26 days atop their division and 67 overall, a little over half of the Tribe’s total. Does the amount of time a team spends in first really matter? Of course not. But it’s still fun to note.
A lot has been said about the Red Sox offense this year. They scored more runs than any other team, had the highest batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage of any team in the league, and were one of only four AL teams to strike out less than 20% of the time. They’ve done all that despite facing the same handedness matchup 52% of the time, ninth worst in the Majors and fifth worst in the AL. The Tribe, meanwhile, have the lowest same handedness percentage in all of baseball at 30%. It shows how flexible the roster Terry Francona and Mike Chernoff have assembled, something that can be used to the team’s advantage in October.
Another area the Indians best the Red Sox in is base running. As I wrote about in late July, the Tribe were the best team in the AL on the base paths, and not much has changed since. They finished the year tops in stolen bases, stealing percentage, and FanGraphs Base Running metric (BsR). Thirty-six-year-old Rajai Davis, with 43 steals, was one of only two players in the Majors to finish above 10 runs above replacement in BsR. Davis actually became just the second Tribe player since 2002 to record a BsR above 10. And, according to Joseph Coblitz of Burning River Baseball, Davis is the most efficient base stealer in team history with at least 30 attempts, ending the season with an 87.8% success rate.
It’s worth noting that the Red Sox are not too far behind the Tribe on the bases. They were the second best team in the AL according to BsR, and MVP candidate Mookie Betts finished just a hair behind Davis on the leaderboard.
Shifting over to pitching, it is surprising to report that the Red Sox have the least clutch pitching staff in the AL, according to FanGraphs’ Clutch metric (which measures “how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment”). Their worst offender was probable Game 3 starter Clay Buchholz, who was a problem all year for the team. Boston’s biggest trade deadline acquisition, starter Drew Pomeranz, will only be able to pitch from the bullpen due to soreness in his arm.
Will any of these unique and strange stats have any impact at all on the series? Probably not. As the old saying goes, you can’t predict baseball, but it sure is fun to try.
Photo: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer