The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

No more blowouts

Posted by disappointmentzone on 9 July 2006

The Indians record in games immediately following beating opponents by at least nine runs dropped to 1-8 after last night’s 7-4 loss to Baltimore on the heels of Friday’s 9-0 victory. This offensive and confounding statistic made me wonder what other sort of things are going on with the offense and pitching.

This season the Indians have outscored their opponents by 215 runs in wins for an average margin of victory of 5.4 runs and have been outscored by their opponents by 163 runs in losses for an average margin of defeat of 3.5 runs. But in games following a win of at least nine runs the Indians average six fewer runs than their opponents and if you don’t include those eight losses in the sample the average margin of defeat drops to only 2.3 runs. 12 of those 38 losses are by only one run.

Last season the Indians lead the majors in one-run losses. Much ink was spilled this off-season quoting the Indians upper management on how they were analyzing what the Indians did in those games and what strategies they would take this season to ensure the Indians won a fair share of close ballgames.

Last season the Indians won by an average of 4.9 runs and lost by an average of 2.7 runs. But if you don’t include games in which the margin of defeat was at least eight runs (7 games), that number drops to 2.1 runs, roughly the same margin of defeat the Indians have this season in games decided by no more than eight runs.

Empirically speaking, it seems the strategy the Indians upper management decided upon this past off-season was to get blown out more often than last season, thus reducing the number of close games. The offense is slightly better in victory this season and roughly the same in close games (those decided by no more than eight runs) as last season. Much ado has been made about the Indians pitching this season–and with good reason–but in losses the Indians offense musters only 3.6 runs on average, scoring nearly two fewer runs on average below their margin of victory in wins, which in considerably smaller than the average runs scored per win.

What do these numbers tell us?

1) The Indians still can’t win close games and the fault doesn’t lie solely on the pitching. The Indians score only 3.6 runs in defeat and lose close games (margin of defeat is no more than eight runs) by 2.3 runs. The pitching, in very close games (games decided by 3 or few runs), is fairly average, yielding 4.6 runs per game (runs, not earned runs). But if you don’t include games in which the Indians gave up more than six runs (11 games) that number drops to 3.3 runs per game. (The Indians have won only one very close game in which they have given up at least seven runs.) In 43 very close games the Indians pitching has been responsible for roughly 10 losses (gave up more than six runs), which is a considerable amount. But the Indians have won 16 of the remaining 33 games, less than half. In those games the pitching keeps the opponent to roughly 3 runs per game but the Indians offense, which averages more than 5 runs per game, doesn’t score enough to win. If you have a team that scores that much and a pitching staff and defense that yield so few runs (relative to scoring average) then losing close games falls more on the offense than the pitching. It might be the responsibility of the manager to manufacture runs in these games since the margin of defeat is so small (2.3 runs on average).

2) The best strategies to beat the Indians are a) to blow them out, b) to keep the score close, and c) to get blown out the game before. The first strategy is universal; the next two are traits of this particular team. The Indians still can’t win close games this season and very close games this season resemble those from last season, statistically speaking. Therefore…

3) Whatever moves the Indians upper management made this off-season to rectify the very close game problems the Indians had last season is not working (I really don’t think their strategy was to get blown out more often; I was kidding.).

4) Only 60% of the starting rotation this season is the same as last season. Yet the very close game problem persists. When considering why the Indians can’t score runs in close games two reasons come to mind: When the Indians play poorly in the field (commit errors) they play poorly on offense. I don’t know if this is a causal relationship or, if it is, which direct the cause runs (whether the Indians play poorly on offense because they play poorly in the field or visa versa). The Indians cannot manufacture runs or score runs in important situations. To wit: The Indians lead the league in fewest come from behind victories.

So the Indians keep losing games in unusual fashion–immediately following blowouts–but the reason they lose these games has more to do with pitching than with hitting. Perhaps the Indians will decide that once they are up by eight runs they will not score anymore runs and, of course, not allow Bob Wickman to enter the game.

DISCLAIMER: The insights I’m asserting here are mostly drawn from average margins of defeat and victory. I am not arguing that the Indians pitching staff is as good as last season’s staff. The staff is considerably worse than last season, but the offense is considerably better. I am also not differentiating between pitching and fielding. All of the figures used in this analysis are total runs (earned and unearned). ‘Pitching’ is really being used as a shorthand term since, relative to unearned runs, the Indians mostly give up earned runs, which can usually be attributed to the pitcher. I am aware that this is a rough analysis, but it is simple and telling nonetheless.

UPDATE: As many of you are probably aware, the Indians lost this afternoon, 4-5, to Baltimore. The Indians benefitted from horrendous fielding by Baltimore in the second inning, scoring all four runs with two outs. Baltimore never scored more than one run in any inning and after the top of the sixth were within one run of the Indians. From that point forward the Indians had 12 outs and failed to score a single run; one run would have secured at least three more outs, two runs the win. The Indians relief pitchers did miserably and there is already talk on message boards and blogs about what’s wrong with our bullpen–a fair question considering what happened today. But the Indians never should have scored the four runs and should never have been in a position to blow a lead. If it weren’t for the odd rules of baseball all of Cleveland’s runs would have been unearned. Baltimore handed the Indians the led and the Indians gave it right back. Nonetheless, timely hitting was absent and, once again, the Indians lose a one-run game, thus slightly lowering their average margin of defeat.


One Response to “No more blowouts”

  1. […] Over the last two seasons this is the Indians’ record in one-run games. Last year the Indians set a record for most losses by one run since divisional play began. This season the Indians are still losing more than a fair amount of close games (for a rough analysis of the Indians’ wins and loses through early July click here) and after tonight’s 3-4 defeat against the Los Angeles Angels of Our Team Name Makes No Sense passionate rage is coursing through message boards and talk radio call-in lines, manifesting itself in the form of demands to see Eric Wedge fired. […]

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