Indians

Indians era comparisons: 1995 versus 2017

Baseball is not setup to be an easy game. Hitting a round ball that travels with varying spin rates and flight paths anywhere from 75 to 100 miles per hour with a cylindrical bat is as difficult a task as making those bats miss while fitting the ball into a tightly framed window that is the strike zone. Even the best hitters in baseball will go through prolonged slumps of hitting hard outs directly at defenders- just ask the Baltimore Orioles Manny Machado from the first half of 2017. Even the best teams in baseball will go through prolonged slumps where they cannot seem to obtain easy wins- just ask the current Los Angeles Dodgers who both have the best record in MLB and have lost 16-of-17 games.

Sporting News contributor and current United States Marine, Ryan Spaeder, put the 19-game current win streak in perspective from a statistical perspective. A 50-50 coin flip would land on heads 19 times in a row with 1-in-524,228 odds. The 2017 Cleveland Indians are better than a .500 team though as their 88-56 record puts them winning just over 60% of the time. Those odds would be 1-in-16,410. Even if the Tribe was considered a .750 team, the odds of winning 19 straight would be 1-in-237, which is less than half of a percent.

As the Indians have out scored the opposition by a crisp 100 runs during the streak (132-32), ESPN Stats & Info noted it is the biggest run differential in any 19 game sample (not just winning streaks) since the 1939 New York Yankees led by some 24 year old kid named Joe DiMaggio. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs wrote a detailed article about how the Indians pitching staff might be the best baseball has ever seen. Yes, better than any of the 1990s Atlanta Braves, 1930s Yankees or early 1900s Chicago Cubs staffs.

For overall teams, the golden standard for fans of the Indians has always been the 1995 squad, who blended ridiculous hitting with a dominant bullpen and good enough starting pitching. Can this 2017 team be better than the one who came within an expanded strike zone and a David Justice home run of winning the World Series?

Well, the 1995 Indians played 144 games. After Monday, the 2017 Indians have played 144 games. Let’s compare.1

Team Value Breakdowns

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference

Value can be a tricky item to nail down, which is why it is good to utilize multiple sites and algorithms to ensure nothing is missed. It is not a perfect measure, but is a nice snapshot in time of how well a team performed.

Whether using Fangraphs or Baseball Reference, the 1995 Cleveland Indians had a high value coming from their bats. The 27.8 number even includes a negative effect from the fielding, which was less than stellar outside of Omar Vizquel at shortstop and Kenny Lofton roaming center field. Having the bats of Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Albert Belle- among others- was well enough to compensate for any ill effect in the field. The somewhat surprising aspect is the projected end of season WAR from the current club is approaching that 1995 team in value though they will need the extra 18 games the 95 squad never had to get there. With 144-of-162 games in the books, it is not as if the projections should be far off of the final numbers either.

No one should be shocked to see the rotation edge go to the current Tribe team. Orel Hershiser, Dennis Martinez, and Charles Nagy were a wily bunch, but they cannot compare to Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and the rest of the aces today. Some might have forgotten just how good the bullpen was in 1995 though. Before Jose Mesa was reviled after the 1997 World Series, he was throwing a 1.14 ERA over 64 innings for that 95 team. Julian Tavares (2.44 ERA, 85 IP), Eric Plunk (2.67 ERA, 64 IP), and Paul Assenmacher (2.82 ERA, 38.1 IP) were each key pieces of a shutdown backend staff. The fact that Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and the rest have matched those efforts is remarkable.

MLB Ranks

Hitting

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

There is a reason the 1995 team was known for their power. They led MLB in home runs, were second in isolated power, and at or near the top in a number of other power related categories. Just as impressive though was their ability to get on base. As such, they also led MLB in on base percentage and wRC+. Those of us that remember the many come-from-behind wins know that team did their best work in high leverage situations, which is why their WPA was not only the best in MLB but by a ridiculous margin.

Even though the 2017 team could wind up hitting more home runs (in 18 more games) and match that 1995 team in isolated power, the overall profile falls just short. The current squad does not get on base quite as much, which hurts both the on base percentage and wRC+. Having the overall value, power, and MLB ranks even be a comparison to that hitting-first team though is amazing. The one area where the 2017 team has not matched the 1995 one is in high leverage. The team has rather infamously fell well below their Pythagorean expected record, which can be traced back to early season struggles with runners in scoring position. Being “clutch” is not supposed to be a predictive statistic, and the current team hopes it is not as it is the lone offensive measure where the team is in the middle-of-the-pack.

Bullpen

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

The 90s era had far less strikeouts, which is why the MLB ranks are more indicative than the actual numbers. Both teams were able to fare well in comparisons across their leagues. The 95 bullpen actually did relatively better in striking out and strikeout-to-walk ratio compared to their era though it is splitting hairs as both teams were Top 4 across the board. The 2017 team appears hurt in WPA based on the cumulative statistic above, but it should be noted the Indians have been dominating the opponents in so many of these recent wins, the bullpen has not had high leverage innings with which to continue to compile numbers there. A good problem to have.

Starters

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

Here is where the 2017 ballclub separates. Look at those MLB ranks. They are first in just about every single peripheral statistic with ERA being the lone outlier in their profile sitting at No. 4. Some early season defensive and cluster issues- especially with Trevor Bauer- contributed to their ERA underperforming their FIP. The current run though is absolutely ridiculous. It is unfathomable- without fathom- for a team to have an 18 game stretch where only one starter has given up as many as four runs (Danny Salazar in what amounted to a rehabilitation start) after Trevor Bauer gave up four runs to start off the 19-game winning streak (Indians beat Boston Red Sox 13-6).

Last Word

The 1995 Indians will hold a special place in the hearts of all fans who were able to witness that particular team. The Tribe had not even threatened to make the MLB postseason since the 1958 season before moving into Jacob’s Field in 1994. When the strike cancelled the inaugural season, the 95 squad came back with a vengeance and obliterated MLB. Having the Browns leave in the aftermath of losing the World Series to the Atlanta Braves also rallied the entire community around the team in a way that might be impossible for anyone in any city to replicate.

This 2017 Indians ballclub is special too. MLB is pushing efforts to make Frankie Lindor one of the faces of baseball. His energy and effusive smile make people who do not care about baseball want to watch. The team is also coming off of heartbreak though theirs was the result of losing the World Series rather than being denied a chance at one. That the front office was able to bolster the squad with players such as Edwin Encarnacion, Austin Jackson, and Jay Bruce have made the current iteration even more dangerous than last years. The seemingly never-ending supply of prospects who can utilize their tools at the MLB level has allowed the team to perform despite an also never-ending run of injuries.

So, which team is better between the 1995 and 2017 Indians? The numbers would tilt the scales slightly in favor of the team playing to win an American League record 20 games in a row tonight behind AL Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber. However, it truly doesn’t matter. Tribe fans can revel in the fact there have been multiple teams within a lifespan of such dominance for which to root and cheer.

Now, let’s go get No. 20 tonight and watch as the Indians make their bid to return the World Series back to the Northcoast for the first time since 1948.

  1. A big thanks to WFNY reader Frank Ryan for pointing out the article was even more timely than first anticipated. []

  • scripty

    Eric Plunk was hated more than Bryan Shaw so I give the nod to the ’17 Tribe

  • I was 13 in 1995, so my analytics were limited to “I like Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga” but this year’s team just seems better. In a sport like baseball where there are hardly any statistics, I’d say the eye test is a viable gauge for quality.

  • scripty

    Based on unffocial scriptymetrics
    MGR – Tito over Grover (2017)
    1B – Santana over Sorrento (2017)
    DH – EE tie Eddie Murray
    2B – JRAM over Carlos (who peaked 93) – (2017)
    SS – Frankie over Omar (2017)
    3B – Thome over Yandy/Kipnis impact
    LF – Belle over AJ/Brantly
    CF – Lofton over Zimmer/AJax
    RF – Manny/Kirby over Chiss/Bruce (not by as much as we;d think)
    Bench – 2017 due to depth over the Espinozas
    SP – Huge edge to 2017
    RP – Tie (if Healthy Miller all year, then 2017, but 1995 Tribe had more work as starters worked all innings. Plunk & Julian were great, Mesa was really great, and Assenmacher was underrated)
    Intangibles – A bit more fan support in 95 but 2017 seems a little more playoff built and Kluber/Miller in series. Tribe also peaked down stretch in 95 and also put down Randy Johnson. – Tie.

    2017 wins 6-4-3

  • mgbode

    Ran out of time to break this down. Thank you for picking up my slack.

  • scripty

    I would have broken down Jim Poole vs Olsen/Goody but work is busy today

  • Watching the ’95 offense against this 2017 pitching staff in a 7-game series would be something else. I’d pick 2017 to win such a series 4-2. But the ’95 team remains my favorite. Of course a World Series win might change that opinion.

  • Gage Will

    I would have broken down Poole vs Goody but then I realized there are a finite number of minutes in my lifetime.

  • scripty

    This is odd but they were both great teams for their time, and more importantly – a little ahead of their time. 1995 loaded with power for trend of smaller parks and bigger (cough) players. Pitching was still not deep due to expansion. 2017 is deep and versatile. Both built teams methodically, spent when the time was right, and had a unique personality with a lot of confidence. To be honest, if you had today’s strike zone methodology and umpiring, perhaps 95 doesn’t get jobbed with the outrageous Tom Glavine strike zones.

  • scripty
  • mgbode

    I once got into a fight defending Albie Lopez over Jim Poole.

  • mgbode

    It’s weird but I think I’m more attached to this 2017 team because we’ve had such a build up. There is a bigger corps of players that has been here over a longer period of time compared to that 1995 team.

  • scripty

    I think I read Hargrove say that one time, he would have done his pen differently but Eric Plunk’s shoulder had issues and wasnt available, so he used Poole there. Not sure it’s that different but people forget we lost him for most of the ALCS and WS

  • MartyDaVille

    I never understood the Plunk hate. On the other hand, Cody Allen is pretty good, and he drives me nuts.

  • The Other Tim

    Bloodsport!

  • jpftribe

    Offensively Frankie is way better than Omar. But defensively, I’ve yet to see a better shortstop than Omar. Ever. The dude was magical. And I’ve probably seen over 2/3’s of the games Frankie has played.

  • mgbode

    Omar had the best anticipation I have ever seen ANY defender have. Beautiful.

    I have enjoyed that Lindor’s defense has seen an uptick the last month or so. Getting back to where he was, which is important for October.

  • scripty

    Omar was still pretty dang weak with the bat in 95. Grover pinch hit for him in the WS.

  • jpftribe

    FG just did a piece speculating the 2017 pitching staff may go down as the best, ever, in MLB history. Lots to debate there, but top 10 is pretty much a lock. No question this is a better pitching staff than the 95 Indians.

    Offensively though, the 95 team has them beat. That lineup was incredible top to bottom, and Belle, Manny, Thome, Murray was a heart of the order for the ages.

  • scripty

    Not being snobby but IMO Cal Ripken Jr. had better instincts on the ball than Omar IMO (believe me, I’d take Omar all day every day but Cal saw everything happening before like nobody I seen up to that time).

    Ozzie had the best range and a big arm. Omar had the quickest field-to-throw abiity of any player I’ve ever seen. I doubt anybody will be as good as him in that regard.

  • jpftribe

    As an all around player you have to give the nod to Frankie. I agree with your assessment.

  • mgbode

    Yep, I wanted to bring that out more, but the link is in the article above. The 2017 rotation is ridiculous. The 95 rotation was adequate-to-good but not more.

    Two components bring the position players closer than what some might expect:
    1. Fielding
    2. Bench

  • mgbode

    Part of that quickest field-to-throw ability is in having his feet set in the correct spot, which is part of that anticipation on bounces and everything. I’m willing to have Cal be regarded highly too though.

  • tsm

    In my simple mind, after watching this sport for many decades, ultimately the top pitchers stop the top hitters. This is why I pick this year over 95. I have not done the analysis, but I would guess that some of the best hitters build up their stats against the weaker arms in the league, and don’t do so well against the studs. Any of my stathead friends have the answer?

  • mgbode

    There is a ying and a yang there. Stud pitchers also beef up their numbers against the weaker bats.

  • scripty

    Eric Plunk didn’t look like an athlete for your John Wayne-revering grandpappy. If only he’d sported a biker tattoo, spit, and gotten contact lenses, he’d of been beloved.

    /recalls Herb Score saying Plunk couldn’t wear contacts.

  • JM85

    Perhaps we should revisit this in November?

  • mgbode

    Sure, it’ll be a different argument at that point. MLB postseason is a bit wonky, so it’ll be if this team survived and brought home that ‘ship or just another upper level Tribe team that didn’t.

  • scripty

    First appearances of key parts of 1995 Indians
    1989 – Belle
    1990 – Alomar, Baerga, Nagy
    1991 – Thome, Wayne Kirby
    1992 – Lofton, Sorrento, Mesa, Plunk, Embree
    1993 – Manny (not muc), Espinoza, Tavarez, Lopez, M. Clark
    1994 – Murray, Pena, Omar, Shuey, Ogea, Ken Hill
    1995 – Assenmacher, Poole, Orel,

  • mgbode

    Had to check one because it felt out of place – Belle was really ’91 (short stints prior two years – only 9 games in ’90).

  • Chris

    I’m glad the Tribe finally grew out of your attendance curse.

  • tsm

    Agreed, but at the absolute top, I will take the top pitchers – Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Koufax, Kershaw, etc. against the best hitters of their respective generations.

  • jpftribe

    I was at the Saturday game, so we’re good.

  • tsm

    For 95 & 97 I will take Omar all around, even though he is not the hitter that Frankie is. Omar could really handle the bat – bunt etc. and these were difference makers in some big situations back in those days.

  • mgbode

    Or you could have both w/ Babe Ruth.

  • CBiscuit

    Eric Plunk. Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long long time. A long time.

    I remember he was a big lurchy looking dork…w a big loping motion. Fluid 96 MPH heaters but straight.

  • CBiscuit

    I’m going to use this a general Bat signal to Bode (a Bode signal which I guess would be Beta in stat form…anyway) or any other informative Tribesmen:

    1. Concern about them rushing Miller back? Saw him tossing 30 pitches in a sim game to Kipnis.
    2. Kipnis in CF? Who’s off the playoff roster now that Zimmer took himself out and Chis is back? Does that bump Almonte or Guyer? I guess that affords us to carry Diaz potentially or Ursh?
    3. Related….what’s up with Brantley…sounds like he’s perpetually “close” to return yet no go. Odds he’ll be a go in the playoffs?

  • mgbode

    Haha.

    1. I was until they racked off 19 straight wins. Any pressure to rush him back should be gone now. I’m also interested in them leveraging Salazar as “another” Andrew Miller as his stuff looked nasty last night.

    2. Ugh. I’m not a fan of putting someone w/o elite speed in CF who hasn’t played OF since college almost a decade ago. I’m in the Greg Allen camp w/ Chisenhall covering in a pinch.

    -note: others have talked me into trying Kip out there as an experiment just to see. I’m fine w/ it as long as everyone is willing to pull the plug if it isn’t working.

    3. Brantley still cannot put pressure on his foot/ankle. I have him in the 2016 Salazar camp now. A ‘hey great if he can play a limited role’ but not counting on it either. Yandy elevating the ball has lessened the demand for it too. Also, Kip in CF is a direct inflection of where the FO believes Brantley is (that is pure speculation on my part, but I think valid speculation. if Brantley will be healthy in October, there’s no room for Kip in OF).

  • Chris

    You can’t say something like that and not put a link… https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/so-the-indians-might-have-the-best-pitching-staff-ever/

    I would have never thought our top-end touched the 90’s Braves… they had 3 H.o.F’ers for F’s sake. But as they said later, that’s not really what puts the Tribe up there. They have great depth and no one is dragging down the unit’s performance. Very interesting.

    I like what they have to say, so I’ll accept it as fact 🙂

  • Harv

    Fun piece and comments. Surprised no one’s touched on the first thing that came to me: how to fairly compare the era of blatant PEDs and today. Maybe we can say that juiced pitchers facing juiced batters evens things out.

    [Oh wait, none of our beloved ’95 did that, especially our Michelin Man alpha, who’s hip bone dissolved a few years later, or the man child who was eventually busted, repeatedly]

  • Chris

    Odds to win WS (8/14)
    Dodgers: 2-1
    Indians: 7-1

    Odds to win WS (9/11)
    Dodgers: 11-4
    Indians: 9-2

    Hedge baby, hedge.

  • jpftribe

    Oh to be a fly on the wall in an FO meeting in September….. gonna be interesting to see how it plays out. Once again though, I like how they are approaching it. And kudos to Kip. If ever the writing was on the wall…….

  • jpftribe
  • tigersbrowns2

    so , hey … are the Indians doing any good this year ??

  • mgbode

    A. We don’t know that players don’t use PEDs today & are just smarter about getting caught. Well, except Almonte, who we know used.

    B. Juiced ball has made the power numbers higher in 2017 than they were in the 90s.

  • mgbode

    I don’t know. They’re OK. Good to go to a game or two to enjoy the ballpark at the least.

  • mgbode

    What if the current staff has 3 HOFers on it? We really don’t know they do or don’t at this point.

  • Steve

    “w/ Chisenhall covering in a pinch”

    Hamilton said yesterday something to the extent of they really like Chisenhall in a corner, but not so much in CF, so they don’t want to shift him back. How they went from that to the conclusion of trying the guy with the bad leg who wasn’t considered good enough to be a major league CF when he had 10 years less wear and tear on his body though, you got me. But it seems like no more Chisenhall in CF.

  • Steve

    “And kudos to Kip”

    I don’t know about this. Supposedly he has been telling people, though claiming to be only a joke, that he was the best CF on the team. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this was like Bauer asking into the doubleheader on his bullpen day.

  • FishonJon

    High-leverage, come-from-behind wins are the best, and that’s what endears me to the ’95 team. They seemingly were never out of a game. It sometimes felt like they were toying with the opposition, spotting them a few runs. The current team has better pitching, and that, I believe, wins championships! 20 in-a-row is pretty fun, and the current team seems more complete. Someone should ask Sandy….

  • Chris

    Oh please. Those guys grew into their prime together with the Braves. Apples and orangutans.

    If Kluber gets another Cy Young and Indians win WS, he’s knocking on the door by November. If not, he’s got to keep up his status quo for quite a while longer.

    No one else. Miller was a journeyman before he suddenly became folklore (8.0 WAR ffs). Carrasco? Too old and doesn’t have much body of work. Honestly, Bauer might be the second-most likely on the staff at this point.