What are we Supposed to Make of the Cleveland Indians?

The Cleveland Indians have the best record in the American League, sitting at a comfortable 30-17.  To say they are this year’s surprise team would be an understatement.  Many analysts pegged them as cellar-dwellers, fighting with the rebuilding Kansas City Royals for the AL Central’s 4th place spot.  They weren’t supposed to have a chance.  The big questions surrounding them were “How much can they get for Grady Sizemore at the trade deadline?” and “How do they expect to win anything when their only off-season pick up was Austin Kearns?”  Well, in typical baseball fashion, here we sit at almost the two month mark, and the Indians are still winning.  So let’s look at these Indians, and see how exactly their winning.

To start off, they’ve scored 53 more runs than they’ve allowed, which is always good.  Good enough for the highest winning percentage in the majors (.638).  Their rotation is led by Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin, who are both having great years.  Masterson has a 2.50 ERA, with 6.72 Strikeouts/9 innings, and 2.77 Walks/9 Innings, while Tomlin has a 2.41 ERA with a 4.53 K/9, and a ridiculous 1.51 BB/9.  It remains to be seen if both can keep up their ridiculous starts to the season, although peripherals such as BABiP and HR/Fly Ball Rates suggest that Masterson will continue to be very good this year, while Tomlin is due to regress a fair amount.  The rotation is rounded out by Fausto Carmona and Carlos Carrasco, and a good number of fifth starters, none of which have stuck so far.  Carmona and Carrasco are your typical innings-eater type starters.  Perfectly average 3 and 4 starters who take the ball every 5th game, and go out allow a fair amount of earned runs, but don’t get blown up too often.  Carmona has a 4.73 ERA, while Carrasco has a 5.16.  Peripheral statistics suggest that both should be pitching better, particularly Carrasco.  I won’t really talk about the 5th starters all that much, because I don’t know anything about them, and the 5th starter is a position that is often obsessed over way too much.

What’s really been carrying this team has been the offense.  Led by Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, and Asdrubal Cabrera (the former two are currently on the DL), the offense is scoring just over 5 runs per game, which is among the best in the majors.  To put it in perspective, traditional offensive powerhouses such as the Yankees and Red Sox have scored 5.2 runs per game and 4.67 runs per game respectively.  These Indians relying on their offense to win most of their games, and even with Sizemore and Hafner out, and players like Shin-Soo-Choo and Carlos Santana not hitting very well yet, (although Choo is finally starting to hit again) their offense is still among the best.  Players like Michael Brantley have come out of (seemingly) no where and started to mash, and Matt LaPorta (aka the centerpiece of the C.C. Sabathia trade) is starting to hit really well as well.

The MVP of this team is Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.  In 213 Plate Appearances, he’s got 58 hits, 10 of which are doubles, 2 of which are triples, and 10 of which are Home Runs.  That’s good for a .305/.364/.537 batting line, and an OPS of .901.  That’s good for a First Baseman or Designated Hitter.  For a Shortstop?  That’s really good.  His defense is sketchy however.  He’s shown the ability to make some really great plays, but fielding metrics have never liked him (UZR, while not always the best metric to use, pegs him at a -5.7, where the average fielder is 0.)  Overall though, he has been pegged with 1.9 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a stat that calculates offense and defense to compute how many wins above a replacement-level player a certain player, in this case Asdrubal Cabrera, is worth) so far this year from fangraphs.  That number ties him with players such as Boston’s Kevin Youkilis, and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera.  His importance to this team is only magnified because of the injuries to Sizemore and Hafner, as they were also hitting really well before their injuries.  If Cabrera, Choo, and Santana can hit while those two get healthy, other AL teams will have to look out.

But I think the main question to ask with this team is whether or not they are a fluke?  A couple weeks ago, my brother and I brought up this team, and his conclusion is that they are this year’s San Diego Padres.  Meaning, they’ll be good for most of the year, but they won’t make it to the playoffs, and they’ll be called a fluke by this time next year.  But so far, I have to disagree with that.  Their offense has me convinced that they can keep up their winning ways.  A consistent offense is often to the cornerstone of a successful team in the MLB.  That strength is only magnified during “The Year of the Pitcher 2.0”.  And this Indians team has a consistent offense.  There’s plenty of hitters to like on this team, between Cabrera, Sizemore, Hafner, LaPorta, Brantley, Choo, and Santana, you’ve got some fine players.  And while last year’s Padres relied on incredible pitching and an incredible bullpen, this Indians team is relying on it’s offense.  But the Indians have a decent pitching rotation, and a decent bullpen, and they don’t have to worry about a meltdown every game, while last year’s Padres had one of the worst offenses in the Major Leagues.  I routinely called them “a AAA lineup with Adrian Gonzalez”.  The Indians don’t have a AAA pitching staff or AAA Bullpen.  Both of those groups have the capability to get the job done day in and day out.  I picked the Chicago White Sox to win the AL Central before the season started, and I’m still sticking with that pick until the All-Star Break, mostly because I’m stubborn.  Should this Indians team still have a sizable division lead over the Sox, I’ll gladly revise that pick and give credit to the Indians though.  So unless my opinion changes during the All-Star Break, I guess I can say that the 2011 Indians are the 2010 Padres, but only because neither team will win their division.  But that’s prediction that looks very shaky at the moment.  I do think they’ll be strong again next year though, so that comparison with the Padres will not hold true.

What do you think of the Indians?  Do you think their offense will come back to Earth?  Tell me why with a comment!

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One Comment on “What are we Supposed to Make of the Cleveland Indians?”

  1. Christopher Says:

    I don’t know much about sports, but why is their name so offensive? I mean seriously, that is so mean.

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