Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 4/20/13
With Friday night’s disheartening 3-2 loss at the Houston Astros, your Cleveland Indians are now 5-10 on the season. They’ve lost 110 of 13 since winning the first two ballgames of the season and have lost five straight dating back to Sunday afternoon against Chicago. First, the important news: It’s sensationally early in the season. According to some preliminary math, it would appear that 15 games is slightly less than one-tenth of the 162-game usual MLB schedule. That means that if the Indians are to be a .500 team — as many of us WFNY writers predicted only a few weeks ago — then there’s still plenty of time to make up only 5 games. But then you get into why this losing streak has happened. And it’s been pretty explainable, albeit flukey, which should at least again present some hope going forward. Here’s the one line I want to leave as the biggest takeaway over the most recent five-game stretch. Practically speaking, this nearly explains about everything you need to know: 2-for-27 (.047) vs. 15-for-47 (.319). Those numbers above are the Indians’ batting average with runners in scoring position over the last five games compared to their opponents’ over the same stretch. In order to give those numbers a little more context, I had to do some quick research per ESPN.com for statistics entering Friday’s action around the league. At that point, over a five-game stretch, the average MLB team would have been averaging 10.4-40.0 (.260) in at-bats with RISP. So obviously, things are skewed in all sorts of negative directions for the Indians when looking at the numbers above in bold. First, the Indians are getting too few at-bats with runners in scoring position. That means they’re not getting the requisite place-setters 1 to even lead to clutch situations in the first place. They’re averaging 5.4 at-bats per game with RISP over this stretch, when the average is established as 8.0. Obviously then, the Indians have not been converting on these precious few opportunities. Most spectacularly, folks could point to the season RISP marks belonging to Asdrubal Cabrera (1-for 18, .056) and Jason Kipnis (1-for-10, .100). Then, on the opposing side, the Indians pitchers are giving up too many opportunities off the bat with runners in scoring position. In this five-game stretch, opponents are getting 9.4 compared to that established 8.0 MLB average. While obviously that’s less of a difference from the average than the Indians’ precious few opportunities, it’s still notable and it’s still bad. Of course, if that wasn’t bad enough, opponents are hitting .319 in such extended opportunities. That was low-lighted by Boston going 13-for-29 (.448) in the final two games of this week’s series. As I mentioned before, this success with RISP practically can explain just about everything you need to know about the Indians current five-game losing streak. It would certainly explain why they’re being out-scored 11-25 during this stretch. And it certainly epitomizes some of the ongoing areas of concern that fans have seen thus far in the short span of 2013. On that note, here are two other statistics that I’ve been observing that obviously are related to those clutch struggles above, but also are noteworthy on their own: ————————————————————————————————————————- The Indians have scored 3 runs or less in 9/12 games and 10/15 overall For The Diff on April 10, I created a spreadsheet of every single American League start in 2013. Fortunately, I also saved the final scores of every AL outcome as well. According to this large overall sample of 2,268 games for 2012 AL teams, the expected winning percentage when scoring 3 runs or less is .208 (209-796). The Indians are 2-8 (.200) in such games this season. That winning percentage is right on par with the expected average. The problem is simply that these such games are occurring way too often so far. Any team can’t be competitive like that. The Indians have posted quality starts in 2/9 games and 6/15 overall This was the whole thesis of last week’s edition of The Diff. Simply posting a quality start gives a team an incredible opportunity to win the game. Let’s review the numbers again. With a quality start: .701. Without a quality start: .313. In 2013, the Indians are 5-1 (.800) when posting a quality start and 0-10 (.000) when not. The good starts have been decently good and the bad ones have been really, really bad. There’s very seldom a middle ground. ————————————————————————————————————————- Entering Friday night, the Chicago Cubs were the worst in MLB with a 16-for-104 (.154) mark with runners in scoring position through their first 14 games. That’s just the beginning of the positive news I’d share going forward. There’s no way the Indians can continue to be this unlucky with runners in scoring position. Obviously, not getting enough such opportunities is the first concern, but from there, I’d expect the team to regress more toward a normal batting average over time. They won’t bat sub-.100 for much longer. And over time, opponents won’t continue to bat .319. Combined, those two effects would mean that the starters would generally post longer and more effective starts, while the runs would start to show up on the scoreboard offensively. Again, it all comes down to the relatively flukey 2 nature of this one important split. So Friday’s night’s loss wasn’t the most depressing yet of the season. It was a close-fought game that was never that far out of reach; Brett Myers pitched a relatively effective game (despite his reported flexor tendinitis) and Lonnie Chisenhall at least kept it competitive with his two-run homer. But the struggles in Houston were simply a microcosm of what’s been going on for a strange five-game stretch of bad baseball. And hopefully, the clutch funk should end soon for the fading Indians. ___________________________________ Certainly a related factor to Michael Bourn’s recent absence. He had a fairly respectable .375 OBP in 48 plate appearances before injuring his hand in Sunday’s loss, then going to the disabled list. Calling batting average with RISP entirely flukey is a bit off. It’s like the sabermetric debate with RBI. They’re meaningful; just not as meaningful as people though circa 1998. Over a long stretch, no MLB team will actually bat sub-.100 because they can’t possibly be that bad. Slight deviations from the norm are normal, but that’d be too extreme.
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