As the All-Star break comes to a close, the Indians are owners of a respectable 52-43 record, and (more importantly) an 7.5-game lead in an American League Central Division that’s otherwise comprised of teams destined to sell off assets at the July 31st trade deadline.
To say that the AL Central is bad would be a gross understatement. Just for fun, let’s cherry pick some stats and fun facts that illustrate the state of the rest of the Tribe’s division…
How Bad Is The Rest Of The AL Central?
- The Indians sent more players to the All-Star game than the rest of the AL Central combined. The average fWAR accrued by those Indians so far this season stands at 3.7, while the average fWAR of division rival All-Stars is a whopping 1.0.
- The combined fWAR of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez on the season is 3.8 fWAR higher than the combined fWAR total of all position players on the Twins, who have the second-best offense in the division.
- The Tribe’s rotation has accrued 120 more strikeouts to this point in the season than any other starting staff in the AL Central.
- Trevor Bauer has accrued 5.1 fWAR, which is a win and a half higher than the average of all other AL Central rotations to this point in the season.
- The Indians have hit 130 homers so far in 2018, while no other AL Central team has hit more than 100.
- You may have guessed that the Tribe’s 27.7 team fWAR total is easily the highest in the division (topping the Twins by 12 points), but you may not have guessed that the aforementioned total is nearly triple the average of all division foes (10.2 fWAR).
- The Indians have achieved a run differential of +82. The rest of the division has combined for a run differential of -412.
Besides the fun of gloating, there’s an additional purpose to me digging up all these stats: to illustrate that our Cleveland Indians have their third consecutive division title on lockdown. Not only do the Indians own nearly a double-digit lead to this point, but deeper stats suggest they’ve played better than their actual results suggest. The team’s First Order Record (Pythagorean Record), which estimates what a club’s record deserves to be based on runs scored and runs allowed, suggests they deserve to be 56-39 right now… four wins better than their current record would indicate. Beyond that, the Twins, Royals, Tigers and White Sox are all poised to sell off some big league assets in exchange for future talent, meaning they’ll almost certainly get worse by the time the trade deadline has come and gone. The Royals, in particular, have already started; they traded closer Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals last month. Meanwhile the Twins are fielding plenty of interest in Brian Dozer and Eduardo Escobar, while the Tigers are open to dealing Nick Castellanos.
So the Indians are assured a playoff spot. That means the rest of the season will be a boring coast to the finish line, right? Not exactly. See, while the regular season doesn’t mean hardly anything from this point forward, the Tribe still has plenty of things to figure out before the playoffs- and they’ve been given the gift of 67 free games to do so.
We mostly see it during rebuilding phases: teams tend to give additional playing time to the more inexperienced, less reliable players on their ballclubs, all the while resting their stars more often to reduce wear and tear. Some teams even test out new and unproven strategies in order to gain more data and determine whether they’ll be useful in a winning year. And while it would be foolish for the Indians to go to the extreme on all this (they can’t punt wins entirely, after all), they certainly have a deep advantage over other playoff hopeful clubs in that they have the luxury of two months’ worth of stress-free ballgames.
Greg Allen has been struggling with the bat, but the Indians need to see whether he can be a viable outfield option for the future. Why not continue to play him every day and see where it goes? Top Triston McKenzie has been killing it in Double-A Akron and the Tribe needs bullpen help. Bring him up and see what he can do against major league pitching. Francisco Mejia could easily prove to be a better catching option in the playoffs than struggling Roberto Perez, who now has a .206/.298/.341 career batting line. Why bother giving so many at bats to the latter when the former has an opportunity to develop his skills at the major league level?
Give the Jason Kipnis: Center Fielder experiment a larger sample size. See what Shane Bieber can do out of the bullpen, since that’s where he’ll be during the playoffs anyway. Imitate the Rays’ bullpen experiment and see what the results are of opening games with Oliver Perez and Neil Ramirez. Shuffle through even more waiver claims and minor league journeymen in hopes of finding another success story. For the love of god, give Yandy Diaz some major league at-bats and see if he can increase his average launch angle.
While it’s true that “anything can happen”, the Indians shouldn’t be worried about their competition taking the AL Central crown away from them this season. As such, they have an open laboratory for two months. If they don’t take full advantage of that, I’ll be sorely disappointed. I hope we, the fans, get to experience the sheer delight of watching some freaking weird baseball through September.