Indians

The Bad Beginning: Tribe Week 1 Recap

There’s an interesting concept in psychology/sociology called cognitive bias, in which people deviate from rational thought due to various preconceived notions or emotional state or what have you. For example, a little thought experiment: say you’re the office boss, and you show up for work only to find that someone left the office door unlocked, and the printer’s jammed, and you have an inbox chocked full of emails, and then at the morning staff meeting, one of your employees is running late. Reason states that sometimes things happen: maybe she’s stuck in traffic. Maybe there was some urgent matter to which she needed to attend. Maybe she got in a car accident. But, at that moment, after all of your other annoyances, you are far more likely to attribute her lateness to her irresponsibility. That is to say, you will likely think that she was late because that’s who she is, not because of external circumstances, and it’s all because of your own frustrating existence that morning. This phenomenon is called a fundamental attribution error (FAE), and Indians fans have been falling for it constantly over the past eight days.

The 2018 MLB offseason was practically Sissyphusian for Tribe fans. We’ve seen longtime heroes like Michael Brantley and Andrew Miller walk away from Cleveland without being replaced. We’ve collectively face-palmed on more than one occasion thanks to some out of touch remarks by owner Paul Dolan. And, perhaps most frustratingly, as league-wide revenue increases and the eternal march of US Dollar inflation beats on, the Indians have cut their payroll by over 10%. In other words, the copier is already jammed, and the Indians decided not to show up to their staff meeting. Forget external circumstances, and sample size, and injuries, and all rationality, this is who the 2019 Cleveland Indians are. Except of course it’s not.

By pointing this out, I’m not claiming to be smarter than those ringing alarm bells, nor do I believe myself to be immune from making an FAE. I’m just a lowly servant to the numbers, and the numbers say that there’s little we can tell about individual players or teams from one week of baseball. If some pitcher is throwing his fastball harder or hitherto unseen pitch, or maybe if some previously out-of-shape first baseman is running much faster than he had before, we can perhaps glean real information from that. But significant baseball stats take a lot longer than one week to reflect the true talent of a player or team. For one, injuries to Cleveland’s starting middle infield have turned positions of strength (or in Kipnis’s case, average) into replacement level production, and playing in the bitter cold of Minnesota and Cleveland in April likely quelled some offensive output. Even without those explanations though, good teams often struggle for short periods of time. Consider that the 2017 Indians were sixth in the Major Leagues in runs scored. As a team, they combined for a 105 wRC+, meaning the average Indians hitter was 5% more productive offensively than the average major leaguer. Still, from July 10-16, that team’s triple slash was .175/.238/.289. From May 1-7, it was .201/.278/.309. These horrific stretches by good teams aren’t unique to the Indians, either. For a week in April last year, the Brewers had a combined wRC+ of 32. Oakland and Washington both had weeks with a wRC+ of 38.

In all of those cases, though, there was evidence of superior ability from earlier in the season, and since the Indians have begun poorly, we don’t have any hot streaks to reassure ourselves that things will turn around. What we have to do, therefore, is try to understand our biases and limit their effect on our emotions. The offseason is over, and despite its fruitlessness, Cleveland still emerged from it as clear divisional favorites. One week of baseball hasn’t changed that. Not only is it almost certainly incorrect to jump to conclusions about the manner in which the Indians began the season, but it’s also, y’know, not fun. Cleveland fans are clearly passionate; they couldn’t possibly be so dissatisfied if they didn’t care. But, it’s a long season, and it should be a fun one if we allow it to be.

This is the first installment in what will be a weekly Tribe recap series. Because of the season’s slow start, I felt that the section above was necessary, but in the future, I will keep these articles strictly about the happenings between the foul lines. Lest they simply become an aggregation of individual game recaps, I’d like to follow a particular format, beginning next week, in which I take one or two deep dives into trends that emerged or became obvious over the week before delving into weekly superlatives. This is where I’d love your input, dear reader! I’m taking suggestions for superlatives that you may find fun. I have my own thoughts of course, but I figure I may as well take advantage of the marketplace of ideas that is the Cleveland Indians online community. Current possibilities include position player and pitcher MVPs, as well as more whimsical things like “most obscure opposing player” or the “Warby Parker bad call.” The only stipulation is that each superlative must be able to apply every week. At the end of the year, we can tally up the results and see who won— exciting stuff!

Example:

Granny Krall’s Biggest Meatball of the Week

Mamma Mia, that’s-a big meatball. Granny Krall would be proud. I spoke with Neil Ramirez after this game, and it turns out he was trying to get Yoan Moncada out when he threw this pitch. Shocking stuff, I know. I mean, just look at it: a fastball with little-to-no movement, right down the middle, belt-high, in a count in which there is absolutely no need to throw a strike. That pitch could work in A-ball against guys that have never 95 miles per hour before, but even Moncada and his 218 strikeouts can mash it. Sheesh.

Anyway, if you have any suggestions for Weekly Indians Superlatives, please email me at mitchell@waitingfornextyear.com or leave a comment below. I intend for these articles to begin seriously before devolving into utter silliness, so be prepared for both real analysis and zany hijinks. I look forward to entertaining you over the course of the season and I hope you enjoy. Have a great week!