Second Thoughts Game #161: Tampa Bay 2, Cleveland 0
Carlos Carrasco’s Saturday performance was, if not wholly and faithfully representative, at least emotionally representative of the Indians’ season to date. On one hand, Carrasco threw a gem, an eight-inning, ten-strikeout, three-walk performance that resulted in two earned runs. On the other hand, it coincided with a Rays’ shutout of the Indians and hence a pitcher loss for Carrasco’s efforts. Were Corey Kluber not tied for the major league lead in pitcher wins (18) and hence not using it in his Cy Young case, it might be at this time that this article would include a snarky remark about the pitcher win as a concept. Convenience and the official party line, however, demand that this sarcasm be swallowed because we have always been at war with Eastasia.
As to the first point, Carlos Carrasco has pitched well. While rate stats are not the final word on player value, since they are variable and subject to change, in terms of those same rate stats, he has been elite. Unlike Corey Kluber, whose rate stats are very similar to Carrasco’s, Kluber has pitched 101 more innings than Carrasco – hence, Kluber’s season has been better in terms of overall value added, and Carrasco, in terms of WAR, has been a 3-WAR player in sum; he has, in other words, put up an above-average season while starting for only half the season.
Carrasco’s unfathomable breakout has served as a bellwether for the remainder of the team. Corey Kluber has been unfathomably good, but the Indians’ pitching staff has unequivocally been one of the best in the majors. While Wins Above Replacement (WAR) still prompts a ginger eye from some, the concept is simple: it is an attempt to blend the snapshot that are rate stats with the overhead view that is durability and inning count. What those defining rate stats are varies between the sites that compile WAR, but they all agree: the Indians’ pitching staff has been incredible.
FanGraphs WAR (mostly) uses Fielding Independent outcomes as their rate stats; because home runs, strikeouts, and walks all involve only the pitcher and batter and – league-wide – correlate quite well with ERA, FanGraphs’s rate stats are those same three true outcomes. There is one additional component – infield fly balls – which while less stable year-to-year than strikeouts, go for outs at very nearly the same rates and are effectively guaranteed outs. FanGraphs WAR has the Indians’ pitching staff as the second-best in the majors behind the Nationals.
If, however, you believe that a pitcher has some authority on the balls put in play beyond merely infield flies and the dingers, then perhaps Baseball Prospectus WAR is preferable. For the most part, it’s the same as FanGraphs WAR, but it also takes into account the sort of batted balls that one allows, given that ground-ball induction is a repeatable skill year-to-year. This would hold that pitchers like Josh Tomlin’s or Trevor Bauer’s plentiful outfield flies are more dangerous to a team than the more grounder-heavy arsenal of a T.J. House or Carlos Carrasco. If you would prefer this sort of evaluative method, Baseball Prospectus WAR has the Indians’ pitching staff as second-best in the majors behind the Tigers.
The final in this brief tour of WAR examines Baseball Reference’s WAR. This site calculates WAR based on, effectively, park- and defense-controlled ERA. Stripped bare of delusions, this site’s WAR answers the question: ‘how effective has this pitching staff been in preventing earned runs, given their park and defense?’ Even given the Indians’ saddening defense, however, Baseball Reference has the Indians’ pitching staff’s run-prevention WAR as third-best in the majors, behind the Nationals and Mariners.
The Indians pitching staff is extremely good and extremely young. The first pitcher they are likely to lose is Tomlin after the 2016 season, Carrasco after the 2017 season, and no one else until after the 2018 season. We have three years of this young, elite pitching staff at extremely repressed prices. Meanwhile, the A.L. Central’s pitching staffs are getting exceedingly expensive or untenable – Shields and Scherzer hit free agency after the end of this year, Porcello and Price after the end of the 2015 season. Unless one has an exceedingly optimistic view of Chicago’s trio of Sale/Quintana/Rodon, the Indians’ rotation is the simultaneously best and youngest in the A.L. Central going forward.
Which brings the analysis to the second point: Cleveland lost on Saturday in spite of this. Whatever the case, the position players are responsible for the greater part of the team’s struggles. The team’s offense has been about average or slightly better than average. The offense has room to improve, certainly, but the defense is where the most improvement is likely to come – they will not transform into an elite defensive team, certainly, but merely being thirty runs below average on defense as opposed to their current 70 would have added, effectively, four wins to this team – in other words, a merely poor defense would have probably gotten this team to the playoffs.
This team has a window in the next several years that doesn’t come available very often. Detroit seems unlikely to have enough payroll to keep up their current dominant stature in the A.L. Central through 2015. Kansas City, like Cleveland of 2014, has a win-loss record that well outstrips their team’s individual performances and are losing Shields. Cleveland has an opportunity in these next several years, and the position player side is where the most obvious needs exist.
If they can address those needs, the Cleveland Indians can blow that window off its hinges.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think we are stuck with Bourn, Murphy and Swisher due to contracts. Would be great if Swisher retired and maybe became the new hitting coach. Murphy could be a good sub and maybe replace Raburn on rooster. Bourn tried hard but injuries should have mess up his time with Cleveland. If Bourn works very hard and comes to camp ready to play, Bourn makes a good lead-off, who needs to be reminded about bunting. The one-two combo of Bourn and R Ram offers speed to top of order.
Maybe Lindor, if ready for majors, could second base with J Ram playing shortstop.
Keep Lonnie on third and Carlos on first, I think both improved their defense as the year pressed on.
Put Kipnis in right, with Brantley in left and Bourn in center, if not traded.
The key to next year will be a power hitter in the DH slot that can play the field. Victor Martinez will cost too much. It would be great to see John Carlos in a Cleveland uniform even if it meant giving up Lindor and others. Maybe make that big trade and get one of the Houston pitchers. Wow if that happen and we kept our core Brantley, Gomes, J. Ram, Santana, Lonnie, along with pitchers, Corey Kubler, Carlos C., C.J. House, Crockett, Shaw, Mark R, Zach McAllister, Scott A, and Cody Allen. What an offensive team we would have. Hope management is listening.