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Trend Spotting: Run scoring trends and what they mean

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The Indians offense so far this season has been a paragon of inconsistency, a mercurial mess which leaves us with shelves full of empty bottles of antacid and a broken remote or two. This is not to decry the offense in its entirety as they have been relatively productive in the month of September, whether that has to do with facing the White Sox and other mediocre teams we will bypass for a later discussion.

Merely, to assert the instability of production that this offense has shown because of the lack of any real anchor’s in the middle of the order. None the less, run scoring trends are interesting and we are going to take a look at what might cause some of the Indians peak scoring innings.

As a quick aside, the Indians struggles to score on Bruce Chen is one of the most torturous things I experience on a yearly basis. As challenging as it is when a pitcher changes speeds effectively, you simply must be able to put up a four spot against him every time out. Chen is the poorest of man’s Jamie Moyer. Yes, the Indians struggled to bury a Royals team who started Bruce Chen in a game for their playoff life.

Digressing, much has been made of the fifth inning for the Indians throughout the season as the scoring margin is particularly vast in that frame. However there have been a few other innings of note.

Inning Total Runs Scored Avg Scored/9inn Total runs allowed Avg Allowed/9inn
1 93 5.54 70 4.17
2 70 4.17 88 5.25
3 61 3.64 71 4.23
4 74 4.41 48 2.86
5 114 6.79 64 3.81
6 90 5.36 86 5.13
7 62 3.7 74 4.41
8 62 3.72 79 4.74
9 41 3.32 45 3.57

(Note: Does not include Wednesday night’s abominable loss to the Royals.)

This table renders interesting implications both offensively and in terms of run prevention. The beautiful thing at this point in the season is that the ebbs and flows have taken place so one can make assertions about multiple units without expecting any real sort of shift.

Before discussing the offensive tendencies, highlighting the Indians run prevention is a worthwhile endeavor. Two things are worth noting about run scoring at the outset.  They both involve old time baseball aphorisms no matter how much that may irritate some of us.

The first is the classic “if you are going to get to him you have to get to him early’ phrase. This seems to be a legitimate claim as both runs allowed and runs scored are spiked in the first inning and elevated a bit in the second. The second is that the sixth inning is frequently when the lineup turns over fully for the third time which supports the idea that after a collection of at bats against a pitcher, the offense becomes more effective.

When seeing the Indians spike in the fifth and sixth innings one assumes that the idea is particularly true to their season. Which leaves us to question why we see this spike.  Is it just a season by season sample fluke or is there some reason behind it?

I am going to attempt to offer two linked causes as to why this might occur, beginning with plate discipline.

The two pieces are on-base percentage (OBP) and pitches per plate appearance. The Indians are 8th in Major League Baseball with a .326 OBP. More importantly, their OBP is highly related on their above average walk rate which sits at 9.2%.

The walk rate obviously elevates the pitch count more quickly in games as well as allowing Indians hitters to get a comprehensive look at the stuff opposing pitchers have on that specific night.  Which leads us to pitches per plate appearance.  Unfortunately, I could not find a team wide PPA, however, I will list the various Indians starters who are among the top forty in the American League for pitches per plate experience.

The list includes Mark Reynolds (because playing in Cleveland half the season had a tangible effect on the Indians overall PPA) as well I listed where the player ranks in the American League: Carlos Santana (2nd), Jason Kipnis(7th), Mark Reynolds (8th), Nick Swisher (25th), Michael Bourn (32nd), and Asdrubal Cabrera (37th). Next on the list for the Tribe is Brantley at 66th.

So the Indians have five current everyday starters who are among the top 37 in pitches per plate appearance. What implications does this have?

Well, first thing I would do if I was reading, I would start yelling at the author that these guys are also prone to above-average strikeout rates so their elevated PPPA’s are a result of being overmatched and struck out frequently. This is true and could dampen the idea that pitches per plate appearance plays any role in the Indians success in 5th and 6th inning.

In reality it probably is a non-essential that has some small but tangible impact on starting pitchers success as they get deeper into games. At least in terms of the effect on the starting pitcher the PPPA impact may be pretty marginal.

However, there is a second impact, which is the impact of the middle reliever and the stress placed on the opposing manager. The Indians ability to elevate opposing pitchers pitch counts has created an increase in at bats facing middle relievers. As many have noted most bullpens even with strong back ends rarely have an effective arm to cover the sixth inning let alone the fifth inning.

Of course when talking about middle relievers I am doing so in generalities as some teams like the Royals are exceptions that are blessed with a plethora of strong bullpen arms.

The sort of success the Indians offense claims in the 1st and 2nd as well as 5th and 6th innings is due to their approach at the plate as their best asset or most notable trait is there on-base ability, which is why an offense with no anchor has had reasonable success. Also, why the addition of an impact bat or two offensive upgrades could transform this club overnight.

A few things that may only interest me:

  • 2010, Buster Posey carries a pitching loaded Giants team to the playoffs and posts a WAR of 3.9 in a 108 games.
  • In 2013, Yan Gomes has posted a WAR of 3.2 in 78 games, keeping the Indians afloat in the wild card race. (The comparison probably ends there but it underscores the immense impact Gomes had made on this team)
  • Nick Swisher’s September OPS .902, full season OPS .758. Swisher is playing like a leader at an essential time especially for someone who has been in these situations before.

Lastly, as a cursed New Yorker, I am extremely jealous of all those who reside in the Cleveland area this next week. I hope everyone has the opportunity to revel in this team as the season winds down.

Author: Michael Hattery

Currently an Attorney. I have been fortunate enough to be published at Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, The Athletic Cleveland, and Marquette Sports Law Review. Follow @snarkyhatman

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