Second Thoughts: Comparing wildcard contenders
As of August twenty-second the Indians sit two and a half games behind Oakland in the wild card race and five games behind Detroit in the American League Central. According to Baseball Prospectus the Indians playoff odds sit at 33.2%.
Of course, the central remains somewhat in play although the odds are low unless Cabrera’s nagging injury removes him from the lineup or causes a decrease in production over the next few weeks.
However, for the purpose of this piece we will be comparing the Indians to the current leader of the second wild the Oakland Athletics. I will not be including a schedule comparison as that was done effectively and with insight on Thursday by Michael Goodman and also byTony himself at FoxSportsOhio.com.
In order to retain some brevity and avoid a long collection of player to player performances I will merely highlight which teams have the advantage positionally using WAR and then track record in close calls.
Indians advantage: C, 1B, 2B, RF, CF
Athletics Advantage: SS, 3B*, LF
(Bolded positions signify large production or value gap advantages (Which I qualified as being 1 win or greater)
(*Denotes an almost five win gap.)
The question is what do these advantages really mean, if they mean anything at all?
First it shows mainly the offensive differentiation as the Tribe - while plus in the outfield - does not come close to having a good defense. It also shows the talent or lineup depth that the Tribe has to offer on a daily basis which is why their offensive instability can be surprising at times. Never the less an offense that is fifth in Major League Baseball in runs scored is one to behold.
For the Indians, when perusing WAR per position, a few things were particularly astounding. First is the absolutely abysmal production or value coming from the left side of the infield which are black holes relatively speaking. Second is that due to Ryan Raburn’s obscene production in limited playing time and stable play from Drew Stubbsthe Indians are eighth in WAR in right field, which is fairly shocking. It also dwarfs the production from last year’s right fielder Shin-Soo Choo who accumulated a WAR of 2.4 for the entire season, compared to 3.7 for Tribe right fielders this season to date.
Returning to the Athletics-Indians comparisons, or at least situations, pitching is where the Athletics really separate themselves from the Tribe. Specifically the bullpen, the Athletics have an ERA that is almost ¾ of a run lower as well as a FIP that is about half a run lower.
Which is somewhat concerning for the Tribe, as the bullpen is an incredibly important asset over the final few weeks for a couple of reasons: first as the rotation faces hurdles like covering Kluber’s innings as well as attempting to spell the sapped Scott Kazmir, the bullpen will have increased stress after the inevitable increase in workload because of pitcher fatigue.
Second is that in terms of momentum and competing down the stretch, one run games become absolutely essential wins and on the surface it appears that Oakland’s bullpen gives them a valuable edge. However, the Tribe’s bullpen has momentum. Over the past 30 days Indians relievers have thrown the second most innings in baseball (96.2) and have the fifth best ERA (2.70).
The stability long expected from this bullpen seems to have returned with very specific pieces being at the heart of new found success. Most important of which has been Joe Smith who has returned to his impressive self over the last month. Along with Cody Allen’s success it has shortened the game to a six inning game, at least for the last month.
The other important piece is that as the production has improved so has Terry Francona’s ability to manage them. Over the past series specifically in the fourteen inning affair Francona did an absolutely impeccable job managing his pen.
One thought, previously brought forth by Jim Pete has been particularly obvious of late. Francona early in the season showed excessive trust and faith in a player to test their limits and earn their collective trust. Now as the season winds down, Francona is reaping the trust he sowed and maximizing what he can from what he has.
Lastly, each team has advantages hence the reason they each have this opportunity but there is no reason to believe that the Athletics have a superior roster. The strength of schedule has set up the Tribe with an opportunity which with Terry Francona’s leadership and a bounce here or there will put them in the wild card round.
Up Next: Minnesota Twins @ Cleveland Indians. Friday August 23rd at 7:05 P.M. @Progressive Field.
Ubaldo Jimenez pitches in his most important start of the year to date against Samuel Deduno. Jimenez has been good of late and it is essential that he have continued success for the Indians to make a run.
Interact with Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MichaelHattery