Chilling in the AL Central

“It’s a shitty division right now” Jason Kipnis proclaimed to Cleveland Scene writer Vince Grzegorek in a candid sitdown about, well everything.1 The American League Central division was not supposed to be dominant in 2017, but there was supposed to be one elite team taking up residence within. The other four teams have held up their end of the bargain by not scaring anyone in baseball, but the 2017 Cleveland Indians (47-40) have yet to demonstrate the ability to surge ahead of the mediocre pack- to be kind.

On the surface, the Tribe has a meager All-Star break division lead of 2.5 games over the middling Minnesota Twins (45-43) and three games over the treading water Kansas City Royals (44-43). Any deeper dive into peripheral statistics shows the lead is far larger. The Pythagorean record (based on run differential) for the Indians is 52-35 with the Royals 41-46 expected record being the next best (the Twins 38-50 Pythagorean record is actually the worst in the division despite their current second place residence).

Fangraphs has the projected final regular season record of the Indians at 91-71 with the Royals 80-82 projection the next nearest divisional foe. The models therefore give the Indians a 94% chance of winning the division title, which is only slightly below teams with a much larger division lead; Houston Astros (100%, current 16.5 game lead), Washington Nationals (97.6%, current 9.5 game lead), and Los Angeles Dodgers (99.4%, current 7.5 game lead).

There are other indicators of variance that could shift the Indians in an upward trajectory. The Indians hitters currently sit as the No. 23 team in batting average and No. 25 team in on base percentage with RISP (runners in scoring position) though they are the No. 9 and No. 6 teams in those respective categories overall. The Indians pitchers are No. 27 in BAA (batting average against) with runners in scoring position, but No. 4 in BAA overall. Both of these scenarios equate to having some poor cluster luck. Evening it out even to some degree will reap big dividends for the Indians.

Variance might also play into the rise or fall of the performance of many players. Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, and Mike Clevinger all out-performed expectations early on. Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Trevor Bauer under-performed expectations. The rise and fall of the their results will undoubtedly affect the overall status of the team as a contender.

Another factor that could determine the second half success- or failure- for the Indians is their current injury status. Jason Kipnis (hamstring) is expected to miss most of July. There is a possibility that Lonnie Chisenhall (calf) will open the second half on the 10-Day DL. WFNY’s Joe Gerberry discussed the current injury status of starter Danny Salazar in depth on Wednesday.

Regardless, we can all thank the Lord that the Indians are blessed with residing in the AL Central. Dips in play and periods of malaise are covered up by the incompetence of the rest of the division- at least for this year. The Tribe does need to start playing with more urgency, but it is more to gird themselves for the battles ahead with the rest of the AL they will find themselves battling in October.

  1. Seriously, if you have not read this article, then go read it right now. Kipnis covers anything you could ever want him to discuss. This one will still be here for you when you are done. []