A three year Indians review: First Base
The Indians currently have a problem with perception. They have started well and are in contention, but there are still too many fans believing this is the same old story. This is the third straight year that the Indians have been in the race in July, and the question remains: will they collapse this year as well?
The fans are still not rushing out to support this team as the Indians currently have the 4th worst average attendance in all of baseball. This is in spite of an offseason which saw the Indians be one of the busiest and biggest spenders in all of baseball.
I hear and read a lot of arguments about if this Indians team is just another hot starter or is this the year the team will fight to the end. The only way I thought to show this was to look at each position by using a few stats and see how the numbers stack up.
This leads to the question of what stats to use. Since we will start with position players there were three stats that came to mind. I will look at WAR, wRC+, and slash lines to look at overall production by position.
The first position I will look at is first base, since it is one that has been a problem for the Indians for years and each year the Indians have tried a new player there.
The slash line is the most familiar for fans, so it seems like the best place to start.
It must be pointed out that the schedule has changed a bit over the years as teams are playing in two thirds of their games before the all star break. Yet since these are stats based on rates it is fair to compare.
I think this comparison might be the best example ever of why on base percentage is a better stat than average. In terms of average these players are identical, yet Swisher reaches base at a much higher rate. You can look at these stats and see that Swisher is pretty clearly the best player the Indians have had at first base. He gets on base and is able to show some power. He has better numbers deeper into the season as well. It has not been a massive improvement, and Swisher has disappointed to a degree, but it is still an improvement.
By looking at the Slash line, it's safe to say the Indians are strongly improved at first base.
Everyone loves WAR. It's become a go to stat and is nice because it includes offense and defense.
2011 - Matt Laporta -.3
2012 - Casey Kotchman -.2
2013 - Nick Swisher 1.3
The positive of WAR is that it includes all facets of the game, the downside - especially in this setting - is it's a compiler stat. So the fact that Swisher has more appearance does help. Yet looking at the numbers it is clear that Swisher is a better player. The Indians have had below replacement level players there the past two years and with Swisher they get a guy who is a notch short of All Star. WAR shows that this has been a major improvement and worth a few wins as well.
If you want to know what the next WAR will be it is wRC+. It's an improved take on Bill James' old runs created stat. It takes all offensive stats and makes it into one stat and takes into account park and league adjustments. An average score is 100.
2011 - Matt Laporta 101
2012 - Casey Kotchman 89
2013 - Nick Swisher 113
Again we see what a massive offensive improvement Swisher was from last year. Kotchman was the worst offensive everyday first basemen in baseball last year and the team would have been better off with another year of Laporta. I know the stats say Laporta was league average, but he was actually below average for his position. Swisher gives the Indians the first offensive first basemen in this three year cycle. Again the stats show he is a clear improvement on the position, even in what can be viewed as a down year for him.
Through each of the three stats it's pretty clear that the Indians - at least at first base - are a much different team. Swisher has been hurt and has underperformed to a degree, yet he still has been a major improvement over what the Indians have had at first base in previous years. His performance shows that this is one position that the Indians have definitely improved upon this season, which will help them in their chase for the division. I think he will have a better second half and end up running away as the best first baseman the Indians have had the last few years.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Offensively though we have yet to get the expected Swish.
And I suspect that the shoulder issues partly explain the expanded platooning of Reynolds and Santana at 1st.
I also believe moving Reynolds from 1st to 3rd has contributed to his dismal plate performance. (As well as the need to send Chiz to Columbus earlier)
Its hardly reassuring to hear that Swish is living off of cortisone shots for what seems like every week. Why not just put him back on the 15 day?
I agree that the lack of fan support has been a disappointment. Gotta believe that continued contention will lead to better crowds come Aug & Sept.
I likewise agree that this is a better team than I expected - a flash then fad crew that would settle in around .500. There is a lot of exciting developments - Kluber, McCallister, Nasty Masty and a surprisingly stablizied good-U-Baldo.
The F\O and the team deserve better. Now it is up to the fans.
But "Everyone loves WAR" ...??? hahahahaha