Second Thoughts: A sabermetric look thus far
In lieu of the Indians' day off, I took the chance to dig into the team's advanced numbers so far. 11 games is quite the small sample size, but you have to start somewhere, right? Still, keep in mind that less than 7% of the season has been completed. As it were, there are few surprises. What we have seen on the field is very much reflected in the data.
Carlos Santana and Michael Bourn have led the way, offensively. Using a park-adjusted runs above average formula based on weighted on-base average, Santana is far ahead of the pack (7.3). Bourn comes in second (4.0). The pair is also tied for the team lead in wins above replacement, gauging overall performance.
The Indians have been one of the 10 unluckiest teams in the game, accumulating a batting average on balls in play of .276. Asdrubal Cabrera has especially been a victim of proverbial "at 'em balls," as he has the fourth-lowest such average of all qualified players (.115). That goes a long way in explaining his struggles, and more of the balls he hits will surely start turning into hits.
Pitchers are playing it safe against Nick Swisher, and attacking Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis. Swisher has seen the fourth-lowest percentage of strikes, while Stubbs, Bourn and Kipnis are all among the 22 most strike-getters. Swisher has swung at the third-lowest amount of pitches, overall. Not surprisingly, both Kipnis and Stubbs are seeing far less fastballs than they ever have.
In what is probably the most surprising piece of information, the Indians' defense has currently saved the most runs above average in all of baseball (5.8), as measured by Ultimate Zone Rating.
Individually, Swisher, Bourn and Michael Brantley have been the best defenders. Only Mike Aviles, Mark Reynolds and Asdrubal Cabrera have been below average. Small-sample defensive metrics are especially ambiguous, though, and are generally meant to viewed over multiple full seasons before coming to a conclusion.
Indians pitchers have accumulated -0.3 wins above replacement as a whole, ahead of only the Angels and Padres. Only Justin Masterson (0.7), Zach McAllister (0.5) and Joe Smith (0.2) have positive totals (the rest, at 0.0 or in negatives). Despite turning in a decent start on Sunday, Brett Myers has still been the third-least valuable pitcher in baseball (-0.5).
As bad as Indians pitchers have generally been, they somehow have the second-lowest batting average on balls in play. So far, the luck of having balls hit at defenders hasn't translated to much pitcher success.
60% of the balls put in play against Masterson have been on the ground. Once again, he is high up on this list, and one of the safest bets among any of these numbers is that he will stay there all season long. He has also been the sixth-luckiest pitcher, though, and inevitably, more of those groundballs will begin to get through than have so far.
In the early going, both Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez have thrown a considerably smaller percentage of fastballs, and a larger percentage of sliders. Besides a slight repertoire change, Jimenez has also seen his velocity drop even further so far in 2013 than it has in years past. Every one of his pitches besides the curveball have trended downward by at least 0.6 miles per hour.
Next up: The Indians will round out their first homestand with a three-game set against the Red Sox. Game one tonight features Jimenez, who is making his third start of the season.