Several hours before the first pitch of the World Series opener in Cleveland on Tuesday night, a reporter opened the press conference with Indians Game Two starter Trevor Bauer by asking him what it was that he enjoyed about watching Game One starter Corey Kluber when he was at his best. Probably nine in 10 pitchers answer this question with some form of stock response, praising Kluber for the way he competes, his intensity on the mound, or his routines in between starts (Indians players love Kluber’s routines). Whenever nine out of 10 someones would say any one thing, Trevor Bauer is always that 10th guy.
“I like the two-seam fastball,” Bauer said, matter of factly. “That’s a pitch I’m fascinated with. A pitch I started throwing mostly by studying his, and figuring out exactly why it moves and all the science behind it. So I enjoy watching that because sometimes it moves a lot, and it’s really fun to see the reactions to it.”
Bauer spent blocks of time during the 2015 offseason watching film at 1,000 frames per second of Kluber’s two-seam fastball, studying its spin axis and the way Kluber achieves that spin and movement based on the way it comes off his fingers. That year, Bauer threw more than 350 two-seam fastballs, having thrown just seven in his career before learning it by studying Kluber. This year, the two-seam fastball trumped the four-seam as Bauer’s go-to offering, and he threw it more than any other pitch, turning himself into a completely different type of pitcher in the process.
On Tuesday night, we saw just why Bauer went to such lengths to mimic Kluber’s two-seamer, as it was the biggest reason Cleveland’s ace was able to carve up perhaps baseball’s best lineup, allowing just three baserunners in six scoreless innings while striking out nine, and turning Chicago’s biggest threat, Anthony Rizzo, into mush.
Since the beginning of this year’s postseason, the present site has become littered with a collection of posts examining the somewhat novel (if also logically sound) deployment of relief pitchers during that postseason. A hasty examination of the archives reveals, for example, a post declaring the advent of the bullpen revolution; a meditation on likely bullpen usage in 2017; and then a third one about how another run might never be scored in a major-league game.
Given this trend, one might suggest that the editors of this site should change its name to BullpenGraphs. But only as a joke, presumably, is why one would do this. Because actually changing the site’s name to BullpenGraphs would represent a huge logistical nightmare — and would almost certainly hurt traffic. And therefore revenue. And therefore ruin the site entirely. Which, for someone who’s employed by that site and also possesses a mortgage, isn’t a particularly amusing joke.
In any case, mostly at the center of this enthusiasm regarding bullpen usage has been Cleveland left-hander Andrew Miller. And for good reason: not only has Miller been predictably effective, but he’s also been ubiquitous. Following last night’s appearance in Game One of the World Series, Miller has now recorded a strikeout rate of 47.1%, stranded every runner who’s been dumb enough to get on base, and conceded zero runs in 13.2 innings. So, roughly as good as possible.
Andrew Miller, for once, didn’t look invincible. After relieving Corey Kluber in the top of the seventh inning, he walked Kyle Schwarber — who answered all of the questions about rust and timing in that fantastic at-bat — and then gave up a single to Javier Baez, loading the bases with nobody out. Down 3-0, this was the Cubs shot at winning Game One, and potentially running away with the series; if Cleveland couldn’t win the home game where Kluber dominated on full rest, they weren’t going to have an easy time winning four more without that ideal setup.
But Miller, being the excellent pitcher that he is, got Willson Contreras to fly out to shallow center field, leaving the bases loaded. Then Addison Russell struck out, and Miller was one out away from getting out of the jam. The final at-bat of the seventh inning seemed like the Cubs last shot to win; a big hit in the gap would tie the game — or a home run would even give them the lead — but an out would end the rally, leaving the team down three with only six outs to go against Miller and the looming Cody Allen.
So when David Ross stepped up to the plate to take his chances against Miller, I was pretty surprised, to say the least.
Letting Ross hit here? Really?
— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) October 26, 2016
The World Series Notes column that ran earlier today included quotes from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist on the subject of Corey Kluber. More specifically, their lack of success against the Indians right-hander. The sample sizes are small, but nevertheless real. The two Cubs came into tonight’s game a combined 1 for 20 against Kluber.
They weren’t alone in their woe. The nine players in Chicago’s starting lineup were 4 for 35, with 15 strikeouts, in their cumulative career against the Cleveland ace.
Do small sample-size results mean anything in a given game? Conventional wisdom says no. It is, after all, small sample size. That doesn’t mean it can’t hint at future performance. Some players simply don’t see the ball well against certain pitchers, which is something you can’t quantify. And if a player isn’t careful, the conundrum can go from his eyes to between his ears.
“It’s a mentality,” said Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan. “Some pitchers, the more you face them, it domes you up. You’re like, ‘Man, I’m getting out all the time. I don’t feel good.’”
“Guys know if they’re comfortable against a pitcher or not,” confirmed Cubs hitting coach John Mallee. “They know how they felt in the box, and that’s something you can’t see in the numbers.”
Tonight’s numbers looked all too familiar to most members of the Chicago lineup. They went 4 for 22 against Kluber, with nine strikeouts. Eight of those punch outs came in the first three innings.
Did a multitude of Cubs lack confidence in the box in Game One of the World Series? The answer to that question is an unequivocal no. This is one of the best hitting teams in baseball. They aren’t about to be cowed, no matter how good the pitcher.
That doesn’t mean subconscious doubt didn’t begin to creep into a few heads. As for how well the NL champs were tracking the ball, the number of swings and misses, and called strikes, tell a story.
Which brings us back to sample size, which now stands at 8 for 47, with 24 strikeouts. Still too small to be meaningful in a certain sense. As much as anything, what it says is that Corey Kluber is very good.
The Cubs will face Kluber at least one more time this October, and while they’ll do so with stiff upper lips, it’s hard to imagine them being fully confident.
: Welcome to the World Series!
: This should be a fun series.
: Let’s start with a poll.
: I love that they used the Imperial March when the Cubs came in. Because when I think of evil baseball empires, the Cubs are the first team that comes to mind.
: When napoli got announced it felt like it was about the 6th time he was in the world series… turns out its only 3 but with 3 different teams so still impressive
Over the last few days, we’ve written a decent amount about the Cubs potential line-ups for the World Series, with Kyle Schwarber‘s return creating some options. With Schwarber set to DH when the games are in Cleveland, that left Joe Maddon with a decision to make about his outfield; stick with the struggling Jason Heyward while betting on his defense and track record, or go with the less experienced Willson Contreras, the youngster who was terrific in the second half but doesn’t have Heyward’s glove. Faced with a star player coming off a lousy season or a young maybe-star-in-the-making, Joe Maddon chose… Chris Coghlan?
It’s true, Coghlan is starting in right field in Game 1 of the World Series for the best team in baseball. With all due respect to Maddon and the Cubs — who obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to running a baseball team — this is a fairly perplexing decision.
To come to the conclusion that you don’t want to start Heyward against a right-handed pitcher, you have to put a lot of weight on his 2016 performance, believing that he’s currently unable to hit anywhere near his career levels for one reason or another. His postseason struggles (.071/.133/.179 in 30 PAs) certainly make it easier to buy into that theory, but there’s no question that benching Heyward means that you’re overweighting recent performance relative to long-term track record.
Except somehow, the Cubs are starting the only guy on their entire roster who hit worse than Heyward this year.
Like Heyward, Coghlan is a much better hitter than his 2016 line indicates, and was a good hitter as recently as last year. But there’s no getting around the fact that Coghlan was lousy in 2016, and while he’s only hit five times in the postseason, he’s 0-4 with a walk, so it’s not like he’s earned his way into the line-up with a strong recent performance either.
If you’re overweighting recent performance in order to talk yourself into benching Heyward, I’m not entirely sure how you ignore Coghlan’s 2016 struggles to determine that he’s the better option. To do so would require ignoring what he did in Oakland this year, and only focus on his performance after getting to Chicago, which amounts to a total of 133 plate appearances. Deciding on a World Series starter based on the most recent 133 PAs is to weight recent performance so highly that it’s essentially indefensible.
For the record, here are their forecasted performances Steamer, which take all relevant data into account.
This morning, I argued for Heyward to start even if the team saw his bat as a liability at the moment, based on the value of aligning his defensive value with the team’s highest likelihood of putting a ball in play. That said, there was a decent argument for starting Contreras, if you really believed Heyward’s bat is broken beyond repair right now.
But in starting Coghlan, the Cubs are getting the worst of both worlds; the guy who didn’t hit at all in 2016 along with a guy who is a significant defensive downgrade. Coghlan is essentially what you’d get if you had Heyward’s 2016 bat and Contreras’ 2016 outfield glove. When faced with a choice between offense and defense, Maddon chose neither.
Because it’s baseball, Coghlan will probably hit a couple of home runs tonight and be the hero for the series. And it’s not like this is a big enough deal to get up in arms about, since Coghlan will be pinch hit for as soon as Andrew Miller enters the game anyway. We’re likely looking at one or maybe two at-bats before he’s replaced, and a few innings of downgraded defense at one corner outfield spot; starting Coghlan isn’t some disaster that will sink the Cubs chances of winning tonight.
But based on everything we know, it’s a weird call. Contreras is probably the best hitter not in the Cubs line-up, even with the platoon disadvantage, and it’s not easy to see that Coghlan is going to hit better against Kluber than Contreras would if you’re going for an offense-first line-up. And you have to do some mental gymnastics about the value of recent performance to come to the conclusion that you want to bench Heyward but still think Coghlan is worth playing. Sticking with Heyward would have been justifiable. Starting Contreras would have been justifiable. Starting Coghlan? I don’t get it.
There’s a chill in the air, as Halloween and the long winter that follows have begun to beckon for those of us who make their home in the Midwest. This is a special fall season for many Midwesterners, as someone’s long regional nightmare is about to end: either the Indians or Cubs are going to win the World Series for the first time since either Truman beat Dewey, or Taft beat Bryan.
This week, let’s take a macro, ball-in-play-oriented look at each team and its key players. Today, it’s the AL champs in the barrel, as we examine granular data such as BIP frequencies, exit speeds and launch angles to get a feel for what made the Indians tick in 2016.
The Cubs should win this. I know that sounds crazy from the perspective of someone who cares a lot about baseball history, but this is the greatest Cubs team in ages, and that team is the World Series favorite. Maybe you don’t think they should be favored as strongly as they are on our pages. Maybe you don’t think they should be favored as strongly as they are in various betting markets. But you’d have to put an awful lot of weight in the American League’s superiority to think the Indians are at least a coin flip here. Home-field advantage doesn’t make up for the Indians’ deficiencies. Even if you figure their odds are about the same as, say, Joey Votto‘s odds of reaching base, Votto usually doesn’t reach base. In any at-bat, Votto’s the underdog. In this World Series, the Indians are the underdog.
Which is one of the reasons why August wrote up a post titled “How the Indians Can Win the World Series.” Obviously, there are paths that would lead the Indians to victory, and it’s interesting to think about how it could happen. It’s maybe less interesting to think about how the Cubs could win; “continue being the better baseball team” isn’t a satisfying answer. But still, there are things the Cubs can do. There are things for them to try to ignore or exploit. The Cubs have some keys to victory, just as the Indians do.
So this is the second half of our post-pair. How can the Cubs win the World Series? They can play like they’ve played practically all season. But what about specific little details? I can offer some of those. Here are some potential talking points.
In many ways, the Chicago and Cleveland clubs about to begin this year’s World Series are similar teams. We know about the lengthy championship droughts each share, as well as their general, respective histories of futility. More specific to this season, one finds that both teams traded for relief aces from the New York Yankees, both won their divisions handily, and both advanced to the Series in relatively easy fashion. Each of the clubs is located in the middle part of the country, and each of them have relied on a collection of young, homegrown players.
So there’s a lot in common between the two teams. But there’s also one major advantage which Chicago possesses over their counterparts in Cleveland: money. While both teams feature younger players who’ve assumed major roles, the Cubs have gone out and made major fortifications through free agency while Cleveland has had to complement the core of their roster through the free-agent bargain bin.
Both teams have some dead money on their payrolls. Michael Bourn, Chris Johnson, and Nick Swisher remain on the books for Cleveland; Edwin Jackson still received money from Chicago. For Cleveland, though, those expenditures amount to roughly one-fifth of payroll compared to under 10% for the Cubs. Regarding the active World Series rosters, the Cubs are paying $147 million in salaries this year, an average of nearly $6 million per player. Cleveland, meanwhile, has invested only about $59 million in 2016 salaries, an average of $2.4 million per player. Only three Cleveland players — Jason Kipnis, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Santana — earn more than the average Cub, and Santana’s $8.45 million salary, Cleveland’s highest, would rank seventh among Chicago players. The graph below depicts the salaries for the active rosters of the two teams, with salary data from Cot’s Contracts.
Where a player was making above the major-league minimum and traded midseason, only the portion of the salary that was actually paid by the team was included. This applied to Aroldis Chapman, Coco Crisp, and Andrew Miller. Both teams feature a lot of homegrown talent, but when the Cubs needed to make a push for contention, they were able to sign Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Ben Zobrist to big contracts. Cleveland, partially hamstrung due to Zobrist-size deals for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, signed Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis to fortify the roster.
In general, when Major League teams have to choose how to deploy one-dimensional players, they go offense first, then defense later. Bat-only players are usually starters, they get their three at-bats, and then they are lifted for defensive replacements late in the game if there’s a lead to protect. This usage generally minimizes the number of at-bats you have to give to the weak hitting defensive specialist, and putting your best defensive unit on the field when you have a lead to protect seems to make sense, since you don’t need to score any more runs at that point, so long as you don’t let the other team score.
But baseball has changed, and postseason baseball has changed even more dramatically, so for the Indians and Cubs, I’d suggest that the best way to utilize their specialists is to start the defenders and sub in the offensive upgrades in the middle innings.
: World Series chat!
: I went to bed at 5AM last night!
: get those questions in and I’ll kick things off about 5 after
: Chat soundtrack: Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
: alright, let’s just get it going now
As a pitcher, when you look up and down that Cubs lineup from the mound, you probably get that sick feeling in your stomach. The National League team in the World Series has some scary bats in the top half of it lineup; with Willson Contreras and now Kyle Schwarber in the bottom half, you could have games featuring sluggers one through seven.
Imagine if they added a patient slugger with plus defense to the mix.
Of course, that precise description applies to Addison Russell sometimes. And sometimes it doesn’t. Like, when he was 1-for-his-first-24 plate appearances this postseason, it didn’t really seem to describe him. But then the shortstop went 9-for-his-next-27 and showed us how that Cubs lineup can turn over when there’s someone producing in the bottom third.
But which Russell will the Cubs get in the World Series? And what’s the reason for all this rollercoastering? There’s one quadrant in the zone with which Russell has struggled, and that’s the thing to watch, the bellwether for his production this series.
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio, he discusses how the Cubs are unusually well suited, among National League clubs, to benefit from the use of a designated hitter; examines the possible role Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar might assume for Cleveland in the World Series; and also attempts to establish criteria for identifying Andrew Millers of the future.
This episode of the program either is or isn’t sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.
Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.
Audio after the jump. (Approximately 40 min play time.)
Pitching has become a power game. High-octane is the new norm, so if you don’t pump gas, you better be able to change speeds and dot corners with the best of them. And if that’s what gets you to the big leagues, you better perform upon your arrival. There are guys with 95-plus arms standing in line behind you, waiting their own opportunities.
The Cleveland front office likes velocity as much as anyone — Indians starters averaged 92.8 mph with their fastballs this year, fourth highest among the 30 teams — but they’re not married to it. Recent outings are proof in the pudding. Ryan Merritt etched himself in Indians lore with mid-80s domination of the Blue Jays. Josh Tomlin baffled Boston and Toronto while barely topping 90.
Following the ALCS clincher, I asked GM Mike Chernoff to weigh in on the two hurlers, plus the club’s willingness to groom — and trust — what are tantamount to velocity-challenged control artists.
The night before the 2016 World Series is set to begin in Cleveland, our playoff odds list the Chicago Cubs with a 66% chance to take home the trophy, which is a remarkably one-sided projection, given the nature of how baseball is played and how any series, let alone one played by two teams who emerged as champions of their respective leagues, often feels like nothing more than a coin flip. But our odds list the Cubs as 2:1 favorites over the Cleveland Indians, and FiveThirtyEight’s odds are almost identical.
These Cubs outscored their opponents by more than 250 combined runs this season, completing one of the most dominant regular seasons in baseball history, and they’re playing at nearly full strength, even improbably adding the slugging Kyle Schwarber, who’s been out since April 7 with torn ligaments in his left knee, to the their World Series roster. These Indians, admittedly, a great team in their own right, outscored their opponents by 101 runs — the fourth-best run differential in baseball this year, although a much more typical number — and are playing without a borderline ace pitcher in Carlos Carrasco, with a limited version of star pitcher Danny Salazar, with a drone-inflicted Trevor Bauer, and now apparently with a hobbled Jason Kipnis, too.
It’s impossible to fault the odds for saying what they do. The Cubs are clearly the better team, clearly in better shape. But a one-in-three shot is still a one-in-three shot, and this is a Cleveland sports town that just saw their Cleveland Cavaliers come back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, at a time when the Warriors were being considered 40:1 favorites entering Game Five, so these fans probably don’t care too strongly for the odds.
What they would care for is an Indians championship. Here’s five keys to that happening:
This one can happen, starting tonight. Jon Lester is starting Game One for the Cubs, and we all know about Jon Lester’s little problem: he can’t throw to first. Like, really, he just can’t throw a baseball to first base. It might literally be the weirdest thing about an already weird sport, but for whatever reason, he can’t do it from a fielding position, and he just won’t do it from the rubber. The Kansas City Royals made this very clear when they stole seven bases on him and Derek Norris in the 2014 American League Wild Card game, and the Los Angeles Dodgers made this very clear when they toyed with him all throughout the Game Five of the NLCS last week.
But what’s funny about all that toying, as I wrote, is that they never actually ran. Thing is, Lester’s delivery is exceptionally quick to home, and catcher David Ross‘ pop times to second base are exceptionally quick, and as a pair, they can actually be rather difficult to successfully steal against, even given the lengthy leads Lester’s pickoff inability affords baserunners.
That being said, they’ll have a hard time throwing out Rajai Davis if he reaches first, and he’ll be starting against Lester. The Indians have already come right out and said they plan to test Lester, given the opportunity, and given their status as the AL’s best base-stealing team this year combined with Terry Francona‘s hyper-aggressive postseason managing style, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Indians try and turn World Series Game One into a repeat of Lester’s 2014 Wild Card disaster, getting them Game One with a shot to put this thing away early if they can just…
I understand that “win baseball games” isn’t a particularly insightful piece of advice, but in this case, it seems compelling, as this very circumstance is a big part of what’s led to Cleveland’s improbable postseason run in the first place. Without Carrasco or Salazar in the rotation for the first two rounds of the playoffs, nobody thought Josh Tomlin was going to be able to handle the imposing lineups of Boston and Toronto, until he did, and everyone counted out the Indians when they threw Ryan Merritt into the fire against the Blue Jays, until he pitched the Indians into the World Series. With Corey Kluber potentially starting Games One, Four, and Seven, the Indians could realistically hope for two wins in games started by their ace, needing just two more by the rest of the pack to seal the deal.
These underpowered Indians starters were able to navigate Toronto’s overpowering lineup by picking a game plan and sticking to it, a game plan that might be similar to the one they employed against Toronto, which aims to…
The Cubs were arguably baseball’s best offense this year, and one defining characteristic of that offense is their love for fly balls. Only four teams hit the ball on the ground less often than Chicago, and guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras are looking to get the ball into the air almost every time they step to the plate, as that’s how they inflict the most damage. The Indians were able to keep the Blue Jays on the ground by throwing them a steady diet of breaking pitches, but the Cubs were one of the five best teams in baseball this year at producing against breaking pitches, according to our PITCHf/x run values (the Indians were No. 1 by a landslide).
Instead, the key to keeping the top of the Cubs’ lineup on the ground will have less to do with pitch selection and more to do with pitch execution, like pitching away from Bryant — the other half of Cleveland’s game plan against Toronto — and low and away from Rizzo.
That’s one key for Cleveland’s pitching, while one key for their hitting might be to…
In Lester, the Indians may find a subtle advantage in their ability to capitalize on his weakness in holding runners on first base. In Hendricks, the Indians may find a subtle advantage in their ability to excel against all pitches slow and/or bendy, but Jake Arrieta, to me, represents their most difficult challenge. What the Indians’ lineup really struggles against is premium velocity, and Arrieta is Chicago’s hardest-throwing starter, averaging more than 94 mph on his fastballs, which he throws roughly two-thirds of the time, a percentage that could even increase, given Cleveland’s struggles with the pitch. If guys like Jose Ramirez, Mike Napoli, and especially Tyler Naquin can catch up to Arrieta’s heat, it will go a long way toward neutralizing perhaps Chicago’s strongest starting pitching matchup against Cleveland.
So, run on Lester, get good outings out of Bauer and Tomlin, keep the Cubs’ balls in play on the ground, and jump on Arrieta’s fastballs. Those are all ways the Indians can get out to early leads, which, in actuality, is the single biggest key for the Indians to win the World Series, as early leads allow Francona to…
I’ve somehow gone more than 1,000 words without mentioning the MVP of the ALCS, Andrew Miller, who’s turning in one of the most dominant postseason pitching performances on record. The first step in the “How to Beat Andrew Miller Handbook” is “Don’t Face Andrew Miller,” and the best way to make that happen is to not let the Indians get out to a lead. The Indians turned into one of the best teams in baseball the moment they got a lead this year, and that effect has only been amplified following the midseason acquisition of Miller and Francona’s rampant usage of him in the postseason. When the Indians have carried a lead through five or six innings, Francona has turned to his two-headed bullpen monster of Miller and Cody Allen to work the remaining three to four innings, and the Indians have appeared almost unbeatable.
The finish line is within arm’s reach, and Andrew Miller’s arms are long as hell. With no more series remaining after this one and an entire offseason to recover, all bets are off with regards to how far Francona pushes Miller, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to turn the dial up a notch, even from the unprecedented usage we’ve seen thus far. Steps one through four are how the Indians can get the ball into the hands of Miller with the lead. Step five is how they can win the whole [damn] thing.
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen is the guest on this edition of the pod, during which he discusses Boston’s Michael Kopech, Oakland’s Frankie Montas, and other prospects who might be candidates for the future role of middle-inning relief ace; considers Atlanta prospect Travis Demeritte and the possibility of plus-plus second-base defense; and previews his forthcoming organizational lists, including his use of future value.
This episode of the program either is or isn’t sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.
Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.
Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 7 min play time.)
I scouted Kyle Schwarber on Saturday and wrote my thoughts here. I encourage those who have not yet read that and have instead found themselves here to go back and skim over it for context. This afternoon in Mesa I was able to get a second look at Schwarber and see if any progress was evident. I believe there was and, while I can’t deny the way Schwarber is running the bases is slightly disconcerting, I think there’s enough juice in the bat right now to justify rostering him over either Chris Coghlan or Jorge Soler. Read the rest of this entry »
It is terribly unsexy to put together any kind of article about park factors. I know that; I’ve done it. But, here I am, for two reasons:
The meat of this is the following horrible-looking plot. I’m sorry that it looks so horrible but, what are you going to do about it? This post is already published. I slapped some numbers together using the Baseball Reference Play Index. For each year since 1994, I gathered numbers for Indians games in Cleveland, and I gathered numbers for Indians games not in Cleveland. Then I calculated some single-year “park factors” by just calculating ratios. Here are some of those ratios:
Arguably the most important one is the one tracking runs per game. I’m not the first person to see this. Tony wrote a couple relevant park-factor articles in September. But look at how that dotted line moves, after the stadium first opened. For a few years, the ballpark was somewhat hitter-friendly. Then it took a turn. Between 2003 – 2014, Cleveland reduced run-scoring by about 6%, with one odd offensive spike in 2007. That spike is important — there’s danger in trying to make too much out of single-year park factors. But look at the last two years. The park last year boosted offense by 26%. This year, 21%. Now we’ve got an extreme two-year park factor, that seemingly came out of nowhere. For a long time, the park was kind to pitchers. Somehow, lately, it’s played like a nightmare.
Batting average? Way up, relative to numbers in games outside of Cleveland. OBP? Way up. Slugging percentage? Way up. Batting average on balls in play? Way up. Slugging percentage on balls in play? Way up. Interestingly, also, the walk-rate factor is up, and the strikeout-rate factor has dipped. This year, the home-run factor took off, although last year homers in Cleveland were actually slightly down. That was made up for by a bunch of doubles.
Frequently, on FanGraphs, you come across posts that try to get at the answer to something. I don’t have answers here. Instead, I’m just raising a question. What’s been happening at Progressive Field, to drive so much offense over the past two years? Is this really just a random, yet randomly-sustained spike of statistical noise? Does this somehow have to do with the installation of the newer scoreboard? Has there been a bunch of high-rise construction in the surrounding area? Have wind patterns changed? Why has Progressive been so hitter-friendly? Because, based on the last two years, Progressive has been very hitter-friendly. I don’t know how that could impact the World Series coming up, but you could see some baseballs absolutely take off.
I just wrote about Andrew Miller. Everyone’s written about Andrew Miller. Miller has been the story of the Cleveland bullpen, and the bullpen has been the story of Cleveland’s success. By this point, it’s all well-trod ground — the Indians have gotten this far because Terry Francona has been so aggressive to get to his relievers, and in particular to get to his best ones. It’s easy enough to take this and run with it, figuring that the bullpen must be the Indians’ relative World Series strength.
I have to be honest with you, though. I’m not entirely clear on just how much of an advantage the Indians really have there. Yes, Miller is one of the best. Maybe the very best! But let me just show you a table. This table is what causes me to hesitate.
World Series rosters haven’t been announced yet, but I went ahead and made some guesses about the upcoming bullpens. I gave Cleveland and Chicago seven relievers each, and then I plugged in their actual ERAs and FIPs, and their projected ERAs and FIPs. The last step was weighting the numbers, since the seventh reliever won’t pitch nearly as often as the first or second guy. Weighting requires its own guesses, but I assigned a number between 1 and 7 to each reliever. Zach McAllister, for example, got the 1, for Cleveland. Andrew Miller got the 7. I weighted the numbers by these designations.
|Team||Adj. ERA||Adj. FIP||Proj. ERA||Proj. FIP|
“Adj.” just means “Adjusted,” which is a different way of saying “Weighted.” The first two stat columns reflect what the relievers did in 2016. The last two stat columns reflect the projections for the relievers. The Indians look better in the very first column, but that’s also arguably the least-important column of the four. If you put everything together, the Cubs bullpen looks like it’s basically as good as the Indians’ unit. That isn’t something you’d necessarily expect, given that conversations we’ve all been having, but it might just be because relieving has been *the* strength of the Indians. The Cubs have had plenty go right, so the bullpen gets less attention.
The Indians’ big flashy advantage is Miller. Obviously. He can come in in any inning, and he can go multiple innings, and we don’t yet know how hard is too hard to push him. Miller has already handled so much of the workload, but based on precedent, that’s unlikely to keep up to such a degree, unless the Indians somehow manage to sweep. Aroldis Chapman is the Cubs’ equivalent, and he’s barely worse than Miller is. He’s just less flexible, and seemingly less durable. But the Cubs have been prepared to use him in multi-inning stints.
There’s one place where this might break down. One place that, I guess, involves two players. The numbers like Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop. They were good overall in 2016, and they project to be good, too. But Rondon had a late-season stint on the DL, and Strop did, too, and if they’re not close to what they usually are, then the Cubs are in worse shape. The pitchers insist they’re okay, but, it’s the playoffs. Every pitcher insists he’s okay. Joe Maddon hasn’t leaned very heavily on these guys and maybe the Cubs know they’re compromised. That’s a big variable.
From here, however, I only have numbers to go off. The numbers say there’s not really a bullpen gap at all. Count this among the reasons why the Cubs are being viewed as fairly heavy favorites.