The Other Reasons Cleveland Can’t Lose

Tonight, the Indians will attempt to win their 20th consecutive game, one shy of the Major League record. They are playing the Tigers, who weren’t good before they got rid of their best players, and are especially not good right now. That not-good Tigers team will throw Matt Boyd, while the Indians will counter with Corey Kluber. Accordingly, our game odds have the Indians at 72% to win today’s contest.

Kluber, of course, is one of the main reasons the Indians haven’t lost since August 23rd. Cleveland has a few of the very best players in the game, and along with Kluber, the team’s core includes Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Santana, and Edwin Encarnacion, all of whom are performing at a high level. But the Indians had all these guys early in the season too, and for the most part, these guys were performing well before August 23rd too.

It might be stating the obvious, but you only win 19 in a row when you’re getting contributions from up and down the roster. So today, while waiting for Kluber to run through the Tigers depleted, let’s take a minute to talk about the other guys who have made the Indians unbeatable.

Yandy Diaz, 3B: 65 PA, .380/.523/.520, .454 wOBA, 186 wRC+

Diaz might be mostly known at this point for being the most obvious candidate for a swing change, as he gets his elite exit velocity by hitting the ball on the ground more than just about anyone else. But while all those ground balls limit his power, Diaz can rack up the singles, and he controls the strike zone as well as any young hitter in the game. When you add those things together, you get an on-base machine with a plus glove at third base, and that’s why the team isn’t moving Jose Ramirez back to the hot corner when Jason Kipnis is ready.

Diaz has entrenched himself as a key part of the team’s offense, and while he won’t be a star unless he begins to elevate the ball more frequently, he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball during the team’s winning streak. Getting a 186 wRC+ from a guy who spent most of the year in the minors is certainly one of the main reasons the Indians’ offense is currently unstoppable.

Yan Gomes, C: 42 PA, .341/.357/.585, .396 wOBA, 146 wRC+
Roberto Perez, C: 38 PA, .382/.447/.765, .497 wOBA, 215 wRC+

Catcher is one spot where the Indians haven’t been great most of the year, with Gomes and Perez combining for just +2 WAR on the season. Prior to this run, Gomes had a 75 wRC+, and Perez was down at 44, ranking 344th out of 348 batters with at least 160 PA to that point. But over the last few weeks, they’ve combined for a 180 wRC+, which is roughly what Mike Trout is putting up this year.

This is the most obvious spot where we can point at the team’s success and say “yeah, that won’t last”, as neither Gomes nor Perez are particularly good hitters. But they’ve both been offensive monsters for the last 19 games, and when you replace a black hole with a couple of guys who are mashing the ball, winning becomes a lot easier.

Mike Clevinger: 18 IP, .159/.232/.190, .198 wOBA, 0.00 ERA

Pitching depth was a problem for the Tribe last postseason, when they had to rely on Kluber, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen to carry the team to the World Series. During this run, though, the non-core arms are leading the way, with Clevinger as one of the main reasons the team keeps winning. With Tim Lincecum’s haircut and a pretty nasty change-up himself, Clevinger has struck everyone out all year long, but during this run, he’s also got his walk problem under control, and more crucially, kept the ball in the yard.

A 0.0 HR/9 is a pretty good way to live, and combined with all the strikeouts, it’s Clevinger, not Kluber or Carrasco, who has allowed the lowest wOBA of any Clevleand starter during this stretch. He’s not an exact replacement for Danny Salazar, but the skillsets have some similarities, and right now, Clevinger is doing a pretty good impression of the guy he’s replacing in the rotation. And now the Tribe’s pitching staff is no longer “Kluber, Miller, and pray for some goober”.

Joe Smith: 6 IP, .182/.182/.227, .175 wOBA, 1.50 ERA

With an average five run margin of victory, the team hasn’t had to protect that many close leads during this 19 game winning streak. Only six of the 19 wins have required saves, in fact, and Smith hasn’t been the guy racking those up. But if you’re wondering how Cleveland’s bullpen is doing without Andrew Miller, the answer is that they just swapped him out for a guy who is pitching at that same level.

Over the past calendar year, six relievers have a FIP under 2.00.

RPs Under 2.00 FIP, Last 365 Days
Rank Reliever FIP
1 Kenley Jansen 1.33
2 Craig Kimbrel 1.62
3 Chad Green 1.74
4 Andrew Miller 1.83
5 Joe Smith 1.89
6 Tommy Kahnle 1.92

By xFIP, Smith actually passes Green and Miller, ranking third. Whatever he did when he got to Chicago last year has worked miracles, because now Smith is a dominant strikeout guy, only he still never walks anyone and gets a million grounders. He’s not quite a right-handed Andrew Miller yet, but he’s pitching like one. How the Tribe were able to get him for a song at the deadline remains a mystery, given how good Smith has been this year, and he hasn’t slowed down at all since arriving in Cleveland.

Ramirez, Lindor, Kluber, Carrasco, Santana, Encarnacion… the big guys are playing well too. But the Indians are crushing everyone because the down-roster guys are playing like superstars. And it’s basically impossible to beat a team full of guys playing at this level. In the playoffs last year, the Indians did the best they could with stars-and-scrubs, thanks to a depleted pitching staff. Right now, though, it’s stars and other guys playing like stars. That works better.

We hoped you liked reading The Other Reasons Cleveland Can’t Lose by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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emh1969
Member
emh1969

Also Gio Urshela:

.295/.350/.405 in 40 PAs during the streak along with plus defense at third base.

I believe he’s the only player to appear in every game during the streak, albeit often as a late inning defensive replacement.