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Second Thoughts Game #96-97: Cleveland Takes Two in Detroit

Second Thoughts Game #96-97: Cleveland Takes Two in Detroit
Corey Kluber (Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
July 20, 2014
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Kluber Provides An Introduction to Run Differential vs. W-L

Corey Kluber is not merely an excellent pitcher, he has taken it upon himself to educate about run-differential at the expense of his ERA.

At this point, Corey Kluber’s dominating performances – on Saturday, 8.2 IP, 2 R/ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 10 K, 114 Pitches, 79 Strikes, 16 Swinging Strikes – come less as a shocking blindside than subsequent episodes in the ascent of a remarkable pitcher. While Felix Hernandez’s career year has shut down the AL Cy Young discussion for now, Kluber – along with 9 other pitchers – has an argument for being the 2nd-best pitcher in the AL.

It’s worth recalling that Kluber’s 2 ER-allowed afternoon may not have represented how well he truly pitched on Saturday. At the end of the eighth inning with 101 pitches, Cleveland was winning 6-1 after the offense scored two insurance runs in the top of the ninth. Given that Kluber’s dominance was most pronounced late in the game – including a seventh inning in which he struck out the side and a 1-2-3 eighth – it was unlikely that Franconawouldn’t have let Kluber try to earn the complete game; moreover, perhaps more importantly, Cleveland was in the first game of a doubleheader. If Cleveland could get through the first game without using even one reliever, that would have been an unqualified, unmitigated success. It was a possibility that could not have escaped Francona’s notice, and while it may not have been the primary driver, it was undoubtedly a factor in sending out Kluber for the ninth. It was a ninth inning that saw two doubles and a run that would not have been charged to Kluber in a closer game.

On one hand, this sort of situation would at face value suggest the validity of ‘pitching to the score,’ but it might more appropriately be called managing to the score. Those hits did not occur because Kluber was taking score-related liberties to get three outs, they occurred because Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos had seen Kluber three times earlier in the game. Give a hitter like Cabrera four times to see a pitcher’s complete arsenal, and the odds distinctly favor the hitter – one needs consult Danny Salazar to confirm that.

On the other hand, ‘managing to the score,’ or pursuing strategies that one knows to be sub-optimal because the game outcome is unlikely to change, might prima facie cast some doubt on the validity of run differential as a predictive mechanism. If a team loses by 15 rather than 10 in a blowout because a manager used a the last man in the pen rather than the second-to-last man in the pen, or if a manager uses a fringe reliever solely for mop-up duty and he costs 5 runs over the course of a season, it isn’t apparent that those five runs are reflective of a team’s ‘true’ talent level.

Nevertheless, while run differential – or its second- or third-order derivative stats that use root batting stats in lieu of runs scored, such as team wOBA-projected runs in place of actual runs – has its flaws, the root stats are nevertheless more reflective of the overall performance of a team to that point than is Win-Loss record. The reasons for this are many – Team W-L in one-run games having virtually no predictive power, in addition to the fact that gradient component statistics (runs) are, under most circumstances, far more predictive than their corresponding binary outcome stats (win-loss). The foremost reason for this is because of the imperfect alignment of input to output – a one-run win does not indicate the same mastery as a ten-run win, but the standings do not reflect this dissonance in mastery of the game; the same applies to losses. Moreover, W-L is a binary team outcome in the sense that there are only two possible outcomes, win or loss, whereas its component statistics, be it run differential or wOBA for/against, have a large spectrum that, over an entire season, can provide an extremely detailed synopsis of a team’s season and can situate a team’s performance with precise nuance. Run Differential does not account for injured players or underperforming players, so it is limited – but on the other hand, neither does Win-Loss.

The Indians started the Detroit series with a Run Differential of -8 on the year. At the end of the day, Cleveland stands with a +5 run differential. Run differential, wOBA-based or otherwise, isn’t perfect, with flaws that its proponents will readily grant, yet these flaws do not outweigh their predictive ability. It’s hard to imagine, after all, that the 13-run swing in run differential over three games in Detroit, or anything about any series in Detroit - be it Kluber’s two-run, eight-inning dominance, McAllister's successful 7-inning outing, or the renaissance of struggling offensive figures – could possibly be described as ‘cheap.’

John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimmHe can also be reached by e-mail at

User Comments

July 20, 2014 - 12:25 PM EDT
The twin bill loss to the Indians got into the Tigers heads yesterday, if the Indians weren't in there already. After seeing steady diets of 95+ heat and missing just about all of them, Tori Hunter and Victor Martinez have to be looking at the grey in the mirror this morning wondering if they can still do this. And Joe Nathan, great career thank you, time to retire. Actually perhaps last year was the time to retire. Dave Dombrowski seems to have a weakness for old closers trying to have one last fling- Valverde and Nathan have been glaring weaknesses on otherwise well put together teams. I got the chance to go out with a girl less than half my age last week, the temptation was irresistible and the outcome was something like Nathan's performance last night. The motion was slow and the bullets were weak. I had a good time, but any spectators would have been disappointed. Roberto Perez was huge last night. Caught a great game, and started the winning rally. I'd love to see a couple more guys come up from Columbus. Maybe Jose Ramirez and Matt Carson. These are the kind of guys that come out of nowhere to make a difference in a run. A couple too many pitchers in the 'pen right now in my opinion
July 20, 2014 - 11:09 AM EDT
I am beginning to see a lot of similarities between 2013 and 2014 in the rotation. The key may be masturson. If he can string together a second half similar to what ulbaldo did which is asking a lot i know this could be deja vu. Kluber looks like nasty masty of the first half of 2013 even a slight improvement. except for the hand they use i can see a lot of similarities between kazmir and bauer so the key is mr clean. He has to get back to the mid 90's and find his command. i see no reason why zac mac cant duplicate his 2013 and add tomlin with his win every two weeks and you have resupe to duplicate 2013. the bullpen is lights out and very nasty. so it is not out of the rhelm of possibility for this team to win 90 games+ and the + could be the difference between wild card and division title.

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