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Orbiting Cleveland: A 2007 vs. 2013 comparison

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This is it. The final leg of the 2013 MLB season is upon us.

With just nine games left to play, the postseason is now a real, attainable goal for the Cleveland Indians. In fact, at this point, anything less would almost be a failure.

With their 5-3 come-from-behind win Tuesday against the Kansas City Royals, the Indians became something that they had not been for six years — winners.

The win clinched a winning season for the Indians, which was a feat the team had not accomplished since its 2007 run to the American League Championship Series. Everyone remembers how that season ended for the Indians, but the beauty of it is that new opportunities always arise, and the Tribe is currently staring at its best opportunity in years.

Will this year turn out differently than 2007? Will the team even have a chance at making it that far?

Certainly, these are fair questions when looking at the 2013 version of the Cleveland Indians. At first, it might seem borderline asinine to even think about comparing this year’s team to the great one of 2007, but it’s interesting to see how the teams actually stack up with one another. They’re actually a lot closer than one might think.

When you think about the 2007 team, starting pitching is probably the first thing that comes to mind. That was that team’s calling card that year, and it’s easy to see why.

Left-hander C.C. Sabathia won the Cy Young Award that year for the Indians after the big hurler went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 241 innings of work. Of course, Sabathia was hardly the only Indians starter to impress as teammate Fausto Carmona went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in 215 innings of work. For his efforts, Carmona, who would later be identified as Roberto Hernandez, finished fourth in Cy Young voting.

With the potent one-two punch, it’s no wonder that the Indians were able to make it so far into the playoffs, but Sabathia and Carmona were hardly alone. Veteran journeyman Paul Byrd (15-8, 4.59 ERA) along with Jake Westbrook (6-9, 4.32 ERA) also had a crucial roles on the team.

As a whole, the Indians led the American League with a starters’ ERA of 4.19. The team’s overall ERA was also impressive at 4.05, which ranked third in the AL.

When your starters and entire staff are near the top of the league in ERA, a team is always going to be able to make some noise, which is exactly what happened for the Indians. For Tribe fans, that team was an absolute joy to watch, but the interesting thing is how well this year’s team seems to stack up to the previous version:

So, as hard as it may be to believe, this year’s team pitching staff is actually performing better than the applauded pitching staff of 2007.

Nonetheless, there are still a number of things to consider. The steroid era was still winding down back in 2007 when the Indians were last in the playoffs, and pitching staffs are now performing better as a whole across the entire Major Leagues.

The Indians’ overall ERA and starters’ ERA ranked fifth and second, respectively, in all of the Majors in 2007. In other words, this was the definition of an elite pitching staff. However, the 2013 team’s current marks rank just 17th and 16th, respectively.

To further put it into perspective, Houston currently ranks last in the Majors with an overall ERA of 4.82 while Minnesota is last in starters’ ERA with a 5.16.

In comparison, Tampa Bay finished last in 2007 with an overall ERA of 5.53 while Florida was last in starters’ ERA with a 5.58. Clearly, the game has changed dramatically in the short six-year period since the Indians last qualified for the postseason.

The point is not to be pessimistic, though. While the Indians do not have the one-two punch of Sabathia and Carmona as they did in 2007, this 2013 team has a nice contingent of high-upside arms in Justin Masterson,Ubaldo JimenezCorey KluberZach McAllisterScott Kazmir and Danny Salazar.

None of these pitchers carry the ace distinction that Sabathia had in 2007, but it’s also hard to argue with their results. Overall, the Indians currently have an overall ERA of just 4.05, but the team’s ERA in the second half is 3.28, which is the second-best mark in the AL, and the fourth-best mark in the Majors. This team is starting a bear a resemblance to that 2007 squad after all, right?

Critics will point to one of the key differences between the two teams being the fact that the 2007 team had a legit ace in Sabathia and arguably two when you consider Carmona’s breakout.

That’s a fair point, but consider this. In 15 second-half starts in 2007, Sabathia went 7-4 with a 2.76 ERA while striking out 90 and walking just 19. Yes, those are indeed the statistics of a front-of-the-rotation ace.

However, this year’s team seems to have found their ace as well. In 11 starts since the All-Star Break, Ubaldo Jimenez has gone 5-5 with a 1.77 ERA while striking out 80 and walking just 23. Yep, those numbers also can be described as ace-like.

There is always the fear that Jimenez’s performance is just smoke and mirrors and that it won’t last, but he seems to prove more and more naysayers wrong with every start. He may not be C.C. Sabathia circa-2007, but he’s pretty darn close.

Offensively, comparisons can also be drawn to the 2007 version. The 2007 team was led by offensive stars Grady SizemoreVictor Martinez and Travis Hafner, and all three of those players hit at least 24 home runs while Martinez and Hafner each recorded 100 or more RBI.

The Indians will likely not have three players hit even 20 home runs this season, and no player is going to drive in 100 runs. However, the key thing to remember is how different the game is from six years earlier.

In terms of runs scored, this current team ranks in a similar position to the 2007 one. Take a look:

The 2007 team finished eighth in the MLB in total runs with 811 while the 2013 team’s total of 688 currently ranks seventh. While the current team’s run total is significantly lower than it was in 2007, the bottom line is that this team is keeping pace with the rest of the league at the same rate as it did in 2007.

Of course, there are still other concerns. As noted previously, there were a handful of offensive catalysts in 2007.

Jason Kipnis has arguably been the best offensive player in 2013, but he’s been dreadful in the second half as he’s hit just .238 since the All-Star Break.

To be honest, the offense is probably where the 2013 team most differs from the 2007 one. While their season run totals do suggest that both teams are top-10 offensive clubs, the reality is that this team lacks the star power that was evident in 2007.

While it can be argued that neither Martinez, Hafner nor Sizemore were ever legitimate MLB superstars, their 2007 seasons sure would look nice on this club right now. Many players like Kipnis, Carlos SantanaYan Gomes and Michael Brantley are having fine offensive seasons, but they’re also not exactly players that a team would look to lean on come playoff time.

Much has been said in the media this year about how this Indians team is the ultimate team and how anyone can step up at any time. That very well may true, but the difference in the 2007 was that it was a known fact that a player like Sizemore or Martinez will step up.

Finally, outside of the offense or pitching, the most important number that indicates the superiority of the 2007 club is simple — 96.

The Indians went 96-66 that year to win the American League Central Division. This year’s team is having a very good season, but they’ll more than likely end the year with 86 to 90 wins.

Also, if the Indians indeed qualify for the postseason, they probably will not be favored to go far as many experts might even pick them to lose the one-game Wild Card playoff.

However, many experts picked the 2007 Indians ton win the World Series, but we all know how that ended. As we all know, experts are not always right.

The nice thing is that the Indians now have a legitimate chance to make the postseason, and that’s really all a team can ask for on September 20. Also, as it’s been proven in the past, getting in is often all it takes as we’ve seen many teams get hot and shock everyone to win the World Series.

Could that happen this year?

If that’s the case, it would be interesting to revisit this 2007 vs. 2013 discussion once again. While the 2007 squad may look sharper now, I think we all know the final verdict should this year’s team go on and make some major postseason noise.

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