Indians

Playoff Variance and Cleveland Baseball

Over the past month, the Cleveland Indians have carried an air of invincibility; a combination of elite talent, mediocre opponents, and a roster receiving peak performances from award-caliber players culminated in an historic 22-game win streak.

When it comes to human observers, there is a proclivity to be prisoners of the moment, this proclivity is magnified when the moment lasts for 22 wins over 22 days. In many ways the performance was reflective of the notion that the Indians are one of the two or three best teams in Major League Baseball, in fact by many peripheral or second-level statistics the Indians are the best team in baseball.

Baseball Prospectus, Fivethirtyeight, and Fangraphs, all operate their own unique projection systems. One of the outputs is odds on the World Series which the Indians are either first or second on each site. The Indians are baseball’s favorite, a dominant team with a rotation, bullpen, and offense well-suited for playoff baseball. Unfortunately, unlike in leagues like the NBA, NFL, or college football, being the overwhelming favorite creates a higher expectation than probability of winning the leagues biggest prize.

A bit over a year ago, Paul Hoynes wrote a negligent article about the Cleveland Indians following the Carlos Carrasco injury, which explicitly stated that the Indians were dead on arrival in the playoffs. The negligent part of this article was the fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of Major League Baseball’s postseason.

The postseason is most easily understood in the context of the length of the regular season. Beyond the financial implications of playing 162 games, Major League Baseball teams play that many games in order to diminish the influence variance plays in overall outcomes. This season’s Indians team is a fantastic example of the value of the 162 game season as a tool to filter out the good teams. Over the first half of the season, the Indians “underperformed” and staggered into the All-Star break. Over the past month, the Indians were without exaggeration, historically great. The questions raised is which team is really the Indians? The answer is, of course, both. The purpose of the 162 games is that the extreme stretches are driven by luck or variance. In totality, the Indians are an elite team projected for 100 wins.

Unfortunately for the Indians, the playoffs are a limited sample where luck or variance are as influential as the teams themselves. Flash back a moment to the 2016 playoffs, the Indians backup catcher had two home runs game in the World Series. The Indians leaned on a rookie left-handed starting pitcher who tops out at 87 miles per hour in the American League Championship Series and won. The Indians relied on their fifth starter topping out at 89 miles per hour and rode him to a 2-0 Record with a sub 3.00 ERA in the first two playoff rounds. The 2016 Indians were very good but they also won two series where they likely did not have the most talent. That is the nature of the playoffs. Small samples drive strange outcomes wherein the best team infrequently wins the World Series. The Indians are likely the best team in Major League Baseball, they have at best a 1-in-4 chance of winning the World Series.

On Fangraphs the Indians are at 18.2%, 23.2% on Baseball Prospectus, and 26% on Fivethirtyeight. This is not to be pessimistic, this has been one of the best seasons of Indians baseball ever, but the end goal is all but certain.

  • scripty

    Just got my playoff tickets. Didn’t bother to get extra seats. Have at it inthe general public sale on FRI.

  • scripty

    Just asking, would we consider Carrasco an ace? Could you say “The Tribe is fine, we have two aces in a short series”. Bottom line is we need Carrasco to remove doubt from that statement unequivocally. If he does, that means less bullpen innings to those except Miller and Allen.

  • Steve

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=sta&lg=al&qual=y&type=8&season=2017&month=0&season1=2017&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=19,d

    I think this shows how spoiled we are by Kluber. Carrasco has been the fourth best pitcher in the AL by Fangraphs, sixth by B-Ref.

  • scripty

    is he Elite? Is he an ace?

    https://i.imgur.com/a2lmS5N.gif

  • mgbode

    we are in a Hattery thread, so I’ll use GG

    https://media.giphy.com/media/l2YWm75CNcMa2qOWs/giphy.gif

  • JNeids

    Just got my tickets as well. I think the process of buying the tickets takes more years off my life than the stress of the actual playoff games themselves.

  • Steve

    Such an ace that the Indians should bring back Kluber on three days rest in case we go five and then we can use Carrasco again.

  • mgbode

    Let’s get the 1-seed, see the Yanks “save” Severino for us & lose to Twins, then sweep Minnesota. I like that plan.

  • jpftribe

    I was quite shocked at what little availability there was. I was able to get much better seats last year in the individual game round.

  • jpftribe

    I think 4 days rest for Kluber is huge. I really don’t want to have to use him on three days. But you gotta do what you gotta do if they are behind.

  • Steve

    A lot more season ticket holders.

  • Steve

    They’ve just fiddled with the rotation to line him up for the wild card game. I’m actually hoping they win a few more and catch the Sox and have to play the tiebreaker and then the the wild card game.

  • Steve

    I think getting Kluber and Carrasco twice each in the first round is huge.

    I’m already highly concerned about Francona’s preference for his vets and Tomlin facing the Yankees lineup a third time in game four.

  • tsm

    Well put. Things that help you rise to the top over 6 months might not even show up in a short series. One big hit, a bad bounce or bad call, or even a mistake by one of our pitchers could be the difference in the playoffs. I do trust Tito to keep the guys on an even keel, and with our pitching, I like our chances.

  • scripty

    I actually – due to price, ceded a few sections down with negligble drop in quality, for $400 less a ticket, but I got lucky I presume.

  • scripty

    I could get 4 but just got 2. But I am not sure if people could get more than their # of season tickets.

  • mgbode

    I’m more worried we try to force-fit Salazar in Game 3 given that he’s starting on Thursday.

  • jpftribe

    If Tomlin is the 4th starter, than i agree.

  • Steve

    Seems like they are trying to set up their rotation as well. But if Salazar looks healthy, I’m good giving him a one time through the lineup, in some sort of piggyback approach.

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