A six-game road trip to the Bay Area saw the Indians muster 14 runs and drop five of six games. Getting handled in that manner by two bottom feeders of their respective divisions1 did not appear to bode well for the Indians second half.
Since dropping the final game of that road trip, the Indians have won 75% of their 44 contests, with a run differential of plus 116. That’s including a whopping 243 runs scored, third in Major League Baseball over that time frame, and holding opponents to only 127 runs, ahead of the next best team by 22 runs. Hitting and pitching have come together to create the perfect storm: A run differential over a 44 game period which is better than any Indians’ team’s season total since the 2005 Indians posted a plus 147 run differential.
Sheer dominance, on both ends of the diamond. One of the most dubious components of the ups and downs of the Tribe’s first half was the inability to hit in high leverage situations. Prior to July 19, or the finale of the West Coast debacle, the Indians were dead last in wRC+ in situations that were deemed high leverage with a mark of 26. In other words, the Indians collectively hit 74% worse than the average hitter in high leverage situations for the first 57% of the season.
Through the trying months of hitless high leverage plate appearances, the stat nerds continued to echo – “clutch” is not something that can be easily quantified. “Clutch” is a narrative-driven non-skill (for the most part), with peaks and valleys that are merely products of variance. Regression towards the mean was expected and is occurring currently, thus producing an offense that has posted 107 wRC+ over its last 44 games, including a 115 wRC+ mark in high leverage spots.
In addition to the newly acquired “ability” to hit in high leverage situations, Tribe pitchers have continued to obfuscate opposing hitters. Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff have assembled a cast of arms that leads Major League Baseball in fWAR, xFIP, FIP, K/9, and BB/9. This is despite injuries to Danny Salazar, Andrew Miller, Josh Tomlin, and Boone Logan.
The Dodgers ERA is better! Why? Would that be a sole indicator that they are the best pitching team in baseball? Not particularly.The LOB% and BABIP statistics tell us part of that story. Dodgers pitchers have been more fortunate at stranding runners, and on balls put in play in general. There is a limited skill aspect of stranding runners, except that strikeout pitchers will be generally more inclined to strand runners given their ability to limit balls in play. Theoretically, the Indians, they of the highest strikeout rate since the 1884 Brewers, should be stranding more runners than the Dodgers. Regardless of small deviations in ERA and ERA indicators, we are able to make one conclusion, at least: The best pitching staffs in Major League Baseball reside in Cleveland and Los Angeles.
It is no fluke that the best two staffs in baseball have led themselves to the best two run differentials. After the Dodgers were drubbed by the also-scorching-hot Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night, they found themselves with a slim eight-run advantage for the best run differential in baseball.
The race for the top run differential in baseball is quite meaningless in the playoffs, but, generally, informs us of the quality of the teams that are dancing in October. Then, we can make predictions that are essentially rendered pointless given October baseball’s propensity to produce the unexpected. FanGraphs updates World Series odds throughout each day of the regular season, and these reflect the nature of how difficult it is to win the World Series.
The Astros have the worst run differential of the three teams, but the best world series odds, despite little opportunity to gain home field advantage in the fall classic. This is a product of playoff positioning. The Dodgers are the better team but are at a slight disadvantage because of the caliber of team that will likely await them in the National League Division Series.
The incredible run over the last 44 games has allowed the Tribe to look forward. Slowing down is not an option, however. If the Indians want to expand their World Series chances, in addition to getting as healthy as possible, the most important thing they can do is catch the Astros for the ability to play the Wildcard winner in the American League Division Series, instead of another grueling series with the Boston Red Sox.
- San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics [↩]