Found January 30, 2013 on Waiting For Next Year:
Changing the topic this week back to my original favorite sport, baseball. Thanks again to all for your really positive feedback on last week’s edition on franchise-building in the NBA. “The best way to improve your team is to score more runs and allow fewer runs. I’m not as concerned at how we do it, but our focus is to score more and allow fewer.” Those were the inspiring words of Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti in an AP story on Dec. 12. Yet, despite that pretty elementary proclamation, all it seems anyone wants to talk about this offseason is strikeouts. The Cleveland Indians were not very good offensively in 2012. That much, at least, shouldn’t be too difficult for most to comprehend. They overall were not a good baseball team — their 68-94 record should indicate that. So, to a point, Antonetti is dead right and there’s no argument. That’s all that matters: scoring runs, allowing fewer. But per the Moneyball-obsession of emphasizing on-base percentage as the Bible of stats, somewhere in the last 5-10 years, strikeouts became the enemy. If someone wasn’t getting on-base, then it was bad. Thus, if someone wasn’t even putting the ball in play — meaning there was no opportunity at all to even get a hit — then it was worse. Sure, overall, strikeouts have never generally been cast as a great thing for any player or team. But in the context of getting on-base most importantly, it was a big deal for a while. More emphasis was placed on players that just didn’t strike out as much. So my goal today is to place the Indians’ polarizing offseason acquisitions in a little bit of context. I wanted to look at MLB production in 2012, compared side-by-side to strikeout rates, as well as look at the Indians roster for 2012 and 2013, with how it compares to the rest of the AL Central. For starters, I wanted to be clear about one simple manipulation: In all of the following statistics, I removed pitchers from the equation as much as I could. Of course, pitchers suck at batting. Looking at the 5,913 plate appearances by MLB pitchers in 2012, they batted .129/.162/.166 and struck out in 37.1% of plate appearances. That’s dreadful and skews everything. So it’s truly not fair to include them in any samples, which inherently hurts NL teams. Thus, with that intro over with, here’s a quick look at the American League: Team Runs K% Mariners 3.82 20.7% Indians 4.12 17.4% Royals 4.17 16.7% Rays 4.30 21.6% Twins 4.33 17.1% Orioles 4.40 21.3% Athletics 4.40 22.3% Blue Jays 4.42 20.5% AL Average 4.45 19.2% Tigers 4.48 18.0% Red Sox 4.53 19.3% White Sox 4.62 19.6% Angels 4.73 18.1% Yankees 4.96 18.8% Rangers 4.99 17.6%   One could immediately cherry-pick the data — as I’ve been known to do — and point out that Cleveland’s AL Central division friends Kansas City and Minnesota were No. 1 and No. 2 in the AL in least strikeouts. The Indians were No. 3. All three teams were well below league-average in runs scored per game. Jon pointed this out already this offseason in a great tweet. Yes, that’s undoubtedly accurate. And a great argument against strikeouts mattering. But generally speaking, it’s not the full story. In fact, only one team that had above-average run-scoring also had a K% more than 0.1% worse than the league average. So that kind of shows how strikeouts do kind of matter, and that one should avoid them, right? Kind of. Let’s keep going. On to the National League: Team Runs K% Astros 3.60 21.9% Marlins 3.76 19.0% Cubs 3.78 19.7% Dodgers 3.93 18.0% Mets 4.01 20.1% Padres 4.02 19.0% Pirates 4.02 21.4% Reds 4.13 19.7% NL Average 4.22 19.2% Phillies 4.22 16.5% Braves 4.32 19.8% Giants 4.43 16.6% Nationals 4.51 20.7% Diamondbacks 4.53 19.9% Rockies 4.68 18.5% Cardinals 4.72 17.6% Brewers 4.79 19.1%   First key observation: The strikeout rate is the exact same among non-pitchers in both leagues. Isn’t that fascinating? That regardless of pitching and talent level and everything else, strikeout rates for all non-pitchers in both the AL and the NL were right at 19.2% in 2012. That’s just fascinating to me. Inherently, it makes sense, but it’s just amazing. Next: No matter what I do with removing pitchers’ plate appearances, the runs scored still are a lot lower in the NL. Nothing I can do there. Yet, the Indians — and Royals and Mariners — still scored less than the NL average. So that means they’re pretty bad. Finally: The same patterns from above don’t work as cleanly as above. The Nationals ranked No. 3 in most strikeouts, with the Diamondbacks and Braves not far behind, yet all had above-average offenses. But the fact only one below-average offense had a K% lower than 19.0% is also interesting. Here are then the correlation levels between strikeout rates and runs scored per game in the respective leagues: American League: -0.187 National League: -0.368 OK, then. So is there a potentially negative relationship? Yes, or so indicates the data simply from 2012. But the correlation levels aren’t by any means significant, so for now, statistically, it’s relatively inconclusive. I could keep going on and on about other years and bigger data sets, here are my two takeaways before I move onto just the Indians and their new players: 1) Strikeouts don’t matter. Or, at least that much, in either direction. 2) Strikeout levels are pretty consistent across both leagues, with the average for both at 19.2% in 2012. Next topic: The Indians and their roster turnover. In fact, that’s how we got to this point anyway. Because Chris Antonetti was talking about scoring more runs, no matter how the team does it. Yet all anyone wants to talk about this offseason is strikeouts. First, let’s start with what the 2012 Indians produced: Name Status SO/PA PA OPS+ Shin-Soo Choo Gone 21.9% 686 131 Jason Kipnis Staying 16.2% 672 103 Asdrubal Cabrera Staying 16.1% 616 115 Carlos Santana Staying 16.6% 609 122 Michael Brantley Staying 9.2% 609 113 Casey Kotchman Gone 9.8% 500 73 Jack Hannahan Gone 19.8% 318 86 Shelley Duncan Gone 22.3% 264 90 Travis Hafner Gone 17.9% 263 121 Lou Marson Staying 18.7% 235 84 Jose Lopez Gone 15.6% 224 79 Johnny Damon Gone 12.1% 224 73 Ezequiel Carrera Staying 22.2% 158 99 Lonnie Chisenhall Staying 17.9% 151 108 Jason Donald Gone 29.6% 135 50 Brent Lillibridge Gone 32.5% 123 75 Aaron Cunningham Gone 22.9% 109 41 Russ Canzler Gone 22.7% 97 96 Matt LaPorta Gone 28.3% 60 68 Cord Phelps Staying 29.4% 34 52 Vinny Rottino Gone 25.0% 32 6 Thomas Neal Gone 25.0% 24 46 Juan Diaz Staying 29.4% 17 80 Luke Carlin Gone 21.4% 14 40   At first, that seems like a lot of roster turnover. More on that in a little bit. Secondly, doesn’t it seem like a lot of the guys that are no longer on the 40-man roster struck out much more often? And doesn’t it seem like a lot of the players with fewer PAs had worse OPS+ statistics? Again, more on both those concepts in a moment. What I just wanted to present was the entire team in order, sorted by plate appearances in 2012. It’s pretty sad, clearly, that only six players on the Indians had more than 320 plate appearances last year. In fact, there were 253 players with 320+ PAs last year; so that’d average to about 8.5 per team, when not factoring in trades and the like. So yes, officially, the Indians had lots and lots of roster turmoil and injuries going on last year. So next, here’s what happens when we segment the 2012 Indians roster into a few different categories. Whether or not they are still on the 40-man roster as of Jan. 30, 2013, or whether or not they had at least 200 PAs in 2012: Segment # players %/PA SO/PA OPS Total 24 100.0% 17.4% 0.705 Gone 15 49.8% 19.2% 0.673 Staying 9 50.2% 15.7% 0.737 12 15.5% 24.9% 0.618 >200 PA 12 84.5% 16.1% 0.722   Those are the points I hinted at above. Only about 50% of PAs are returning from 2012 to 2013. That seems like a huge amount of turnover, and I’ll place that in a little bit of context first. Most notably though, the returning players had a 15.7% SO/PA rate and a .737 OPS. Both are much better than league average. The players who are no longer on the roster had a perfectly average 19.2% SO/PA rate, with a slightly below average .673 OPS. A similar pattern also follows for the players that received at least 200 PAs in 2012. To a certain extent, obviously, that shows that the Indians were kind of right with their plate appearance distribution last season. It seems inherent, but the team also deserves some credit: They gave more plate appearances, or at least as many as possible, to the players that were better. And they also kept many of those players. Obviously, Shin-Soo Choo was a clearly above average offensive performer, but besides him, none of the other departing players were that good anyway. While still on this topic, I wanted to just share this statistic briefly of comparing the Indians’ roster turnover to the rest of the AL Central: Team PA staying SO/PA SO/PA stay Chicago 78.1% 19.6% 19.9% Cleveland 50.2% 17.4% 15.7% Detroit 79.6% 18.0% 17.7% Kansas City 86.5% 16.7% 17.0% Minnesota 71.6% 17.1% 18.3%   Wow. The Indians roster turnover clearly is the most in the AL Central. No other team lost more than 29% of its plate appearances from the 2012 season going into 2013 — and that second-most team, Minnesota, traded away two of its best players (Denard Span and Ben Revere) in rebuilding moves. Cleveland, on the other hand, because of the turmoil in 2012 and one trade this offseason, is looking to replace over 49% of its plate appearances. But here’s the notable thing again about those returning players: They only struck out in 15.7% of their plate appearances in 2012. That’s well below league average. Michael Brantley was under 10%, while Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana all hovered around 16%. Those marks all are below the established mark of 19.2%. So this means that even with the upcoming changes for 2013 — and I’ll finally get to those now — the Indians would have to strike out an absolute ton to make it all the way to even a team mark of 19.2%. Doing some simple math, if you hold over 50% of plate appearances at 15.7%, the remaining 50% of plate appearances would have to strike out 22.7% of the time. And only one-fifth of the 253 players with 320+ plate appearances struck out that often last season. Yet two of those guys are heading to Cleveland. Here are the new additions to the 40-man roster that didn’t have a plate appearance in Cleveland last year: Name SO/PA Level Nick Swisher 21.3% Majors Drew Stubbs 29.3% Majors Mark Reynolds 32.6% Majors Mike Aviles 14.5% Majors Yan Gomes 22.0% Minors Mike McDade 22.9% Minors Chris McGuiness 19.5% Minors Tim Fedroff 16.6% Minors   Stubbs and Reynolds are two of those well-above average strikeout guys from 2012. Plus Swisher, who also was above the mark of 19.2% last season. Aviles has been fairly good at avoiding them in his MLB career, while the other four players have yet to establish enough of a big league track record. Their numbers listed above are their minor league marks. So last but not least, I hoped to now estimate out plate appearances for the Indians in 2013, thus estimating strikeout rate based on career averages, and then make a few final comments about the team’s ability to at least score more runs. Here’s my best shot at estimating 2013 plate appearances based on the current 40-man roster: Name PA est. SO/PA career Jason Kipnis 650 17.4% Asdrubal Cabrera 640 16.3% Nick Swisher 630 21.3% Carlos Santana 620 18.0% Michael Brantley 610 12.2% Drew Stubbs 580 29.3% Mark Reynolds 550 32.6% Lonnie Chisenhall* 500 15.4% Mike Aviles 300 14.5% Lou Marson 300 21.7% Yan Gomes* 225 22.0% Ezequiel Carrera* 150 15.6% Mike McDade* 125 22.9% Chris McGuiness* 75 19.5% Tim Fedroff* 75 16.6% Cord Phelps* 50 16.5% Juan Diaz* 50 19.8% Total 6130 19.9%   A couple notes first: – The players marked with a star do not have at least a full year’s worth of MLB experience, so I’m using their career minor league numbers. Obviously, those probably are on the low end of what they’d do in the big leagues. But many of the big-leaguers then are at lower levels — because of better patience, such as Michael Brantley — than their career marks, so I’m estimating that these two forces practically will cancel each other out. – I’ve tried to estimate this to as accurate a pattern as possible. The average AL team had 6,128 plate appearances in 2012. Also, the average AL Central team had about 67% of their plate appearances by their top seven guys — I’ve estimated the Indians for about 70%, which obviously is on the high-end and assumes relative health for all of those regulars. But it also shows how many at bats the other guys always will get, no matter what happens. So the Indians, in my estimate, should have about a 20% strikeout rate in 2013. This obviously is a rough estimate because baseball projections are always insanely difficult, but the three true outcomes — walks, strikeouts and home runs, as this Indians-based fantasy projection detailed — are generally consistent from year-to-year for specific players. Comparing 20% to last year’s established average of 19.2%, obviously I’m guessing the Indians will strike out a bit more than league-average this year. That’s a huge jump from the 17% mark in 2012. But it doesn’t necessarily mean anything — the Diamondbacks, Braves, Nationals and White Sox all have above league-average marks with about 20%+ strikeout rates. And when you look at the changes — swapping one good player in Choo along with scrubs like Hannahan, Kotchman, Duncan and Jose Lopez for three regulars in Swisher, Stubbs, Reynolds, plus more proven depth in Aviles, Gomes, etc. — then I think you have to believe the Indians improved in what matters most: Scoring more runs, no matter how that occurs. While overall I don’t think the Tribe will be significantly more improved this season — unlike Jordan Bastian, my guess is that 81 wins is likely the best-case scenario — I think the offense should be notably better. Even though we’ll most definitely see a few dozen or hundred more strikeouts along the way.
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

MLB News: Travis Hafner close to inking deal with New York Yankees

While he was rumored to be in the mix for the Cleveland Indians’ vacant designated hitter job, it appears that long-time Tribe slugger Travis Hafner could be rocking a half-buttoned pinstrip jersey for 2013. #yankees are talking travis hafner (as @bradfo said), as well as others. — Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 30, 2013 Hearing #Yankees might be close to deal with Travis...

The line-up-side at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

The Cleveland Indians have re-built their entire offense into a versatile group of players that can hit from both sides of the plate. Over the years, these players have either put up a tremendous amount of offensive firepower, or have to ability to do just that. Do the Indians have an offense that could explode in 2013, or is the upside potential of this team a lot lower than the...

2013 Indians Top 60 Prospects: #48 CA Alex Lavisky

The IBI's 2013 Indians Top 60 Prospect countdown continues on with catcher Alex Lavisky. Lavisky continues to show good catching and leadership skills, but his questionable bat actually showed some improvement last season. Tony goes into detail on the improvement he showed with his swing, how his performance spiked in the second half of last season, all the value he provides...

2013 Indians Top 60 Prospects: #45 LHP Matt Packer

The IBI's 2013 Indians Top 60 Prospect countdown continues on with left-handed pitcher Matt Packer. Packer was another pitcher that dealt with a significant injury setback early last season, but was one of the few that was able to get back on a mound and pitch a good majority of the season and even went out to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. Tony discusses how his stuff was...

2013 Indians Top 60 Prospects: #46 OF Bryson Myles

The IBI's 2013 Indians Top 60 Prospect countdown continues on with outfielder Bryson Myles. He is one of the most exciting players in the entire Indians’ organization with his upside, ability to consistently hit the ball, and his ability to steal bases, but he has also battled some nagging injuries in each of his first two seasons which has affected his performance. Tony breaks...

Source: Yanks, Hafner close to deal

The Yankees, moving to fill their need for a left-handed designated hitter, are close to signing Travis Hafner, according to a major-league source. The deal is expected to include a low base salary in the $1 million to $2 million range, plus an incentive package, the source said. Hafner, 35, batted .228 in 66 games for the Cleveland Indians last season, but with a .784 OPS. He...

Yanks talking with agent for Hafner

The Yankees are speaking with the agent for free agent Travis Hafner and may try to sign the 35-year-old to compete for time as a left-handed designated hitter. Hafner spent the past decade with Cleveland and hit .228 with 12 homers and 34 RBIs last year. He would take over a role filled last year by Raul Ibanez, who left the Yankees to sign with Seattle. Because of knee and back...

Indians sign right-hander Matt Capps to minor league deal

On Thursday afternoon the Cleveland Indians announced that they have signed free agent right-handed reliever Matt Capps to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to Major League spring training camp. He missed most of the second half of last season with a right shoulder injury and will look to rebuild his value this spring with the Indians.

The lineupside at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

It’s 64⁰ and raining with the potential for thunderstorms here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario on January 30th. I suppose it’s a bit too late to call it an Indians’ summer, and perhaps a bit optimistic to call it a pre-cursor to the end of winter, especially considering the icy wonderland of the past couple of months, but you sure do have to wonder if it’s a sign...

Cleveland Indians ink five-year broadcasting deal with Clear Channel

The Cleveland Indians and Clear Channel have reached an agreement on a five-year contract that will allow the long-time flagship station of the team to carry games through 2017. WTAM/1100 AM will continue to carry every Indians game while 100.7 FM/WMMS — the flagship station of the Cleveland Browns — will reportedly simulcast 144 games over the course of each season, leaving...

The Return of Power?

The Indians still are without a definite designated hitter for the 2013 and have apparently been linked to two former Indians players, Travis Hafner and Jim Thome. In what is a sad state of events for Hafner, both players are essentially at the same point in their career, despite Pronk starting his career over a decade after Thome. Both players have seen decreases in playing time...

Travis Hafner: The Andruw Jones of 2013?

Supposedly, the Yankees are on the verge of signing Travis "Pronk" Hafner - the former Cleveland DH who Miguel Cabreraed us once, long long ago, in a galaxy far far away -- a strikeout/home run guy who hasn't done Steve Whitaker in the last two years.And you thought we learned from Andruw Jones? (Insert sigh here.)Listen: I have no truck with Brian Cashman jiggling...

Around the Farm: January 28, 2013

Around the Farm will say good bye for the offseason in the next few days, but will return in a few weeks once minor league spring games kick up in mid-March. Tony takes a look at the performance of Ezequiel Carrera whose team played in a very important Game 5 on Monday night in a best-of-seven series that was tied 2-2.
MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.