Cleveland Indians

View from the Porch: Critics Get Left Behind

1In my quest to continue dispelling the myth that the Cleveland Indians have a poor offense, I decided to do some more digging. In this week’s View from the Porch, I’ll address why the Indians don’t need the #righthandedpowerbat that everybody thinks they need and I will also talk about what makes the Indians offense so good.

Look at any post on Indians social media and there will be at least one person complaining about the lack of a right-handed hitter with power. Want proof? Here you go:

The Indians are better off not focusing on right-handed hitters. Power is power, no matter what side it comes from, and that’s the important part. All sports have home field or home court advantages. Baseball is no different. The home team always has a chance in the bottom of the ninth if they need it and all ballparks are different. In the case of Progressive Field, left-handed hitters have a major advantage. The home run park factor in Cleveland, overall is 101, which is one percent above league average. Lefties have a home run park factor of 109, while righties have a home run park factor of 93. In essence, lefties have a 16 percent advantage over righties when it comes to hitting home runs at Progressive Field.

Enter Brandon Moss, the Indians lone offensive acquisition of the offseason. Moss bats left-handed, much to the chagrin of some in the fan base. A lot has been said about the supposed lack of power in the Indians lineup, even though their 142 home runs were right in line with the 144 home run average in the American League.

The beauty of Brandon Moss is that he has a lot of power. Dynamic power even. But, Moss spent the last three seasons in Oakland. Coliseum is notorious for suppressing power. Despite that, Moss hit 76 home runs in 1,381 plate appearances overall. Thirty-one of those 76 home runs were hit in Oakland. Oakland’s home run power factor for lefties is 88, which is more than 20 percent lower than Cleveland’s. Theoretically, Moss could be in line for a 20 percent increase in home runs in his home park.

Looking at the Indians’ batting splits from last season, the Indians faced a right-handed starter in 112 of their 162 games. That’s 69.1 percent of the time. Overall, 68.6 percent of the total plate appearances last season came against right-handed pitching. Lefties batted .257/.330/.409 against righties for the Indians last season. Righties batted .242/.276/.372 against same-side pitching. Righties batted .249/.312/.373 against lefties. As you can see, the lefty batter/righty pitcher matchup is the most advantageous and also the most frequent outcome.

The Indians utilized a “platoon advantage” 74 percent of the time last season. What that means is that the Indians had an opposite-handed hitter against a pitcher in 74 percent of their plate appearances. That has been a hallmark of the Indians for a long time and their proprietary metrics probably suggest a bigger advantage than what any the traditional metrics suggest.

Lumped in with the #righthandedpowerbat crowd are the people who think that the middle of the Indians lineup is insufficient. This is also false. Here’s a look at the #3 through #6 hitters for the 15 American League teams sorted by OPS:

1. Detroit .833
2. Toronto .778
3. Chicago .773
4. Oakland .750
5. Cleveland .744
6. Baltimore .743
7. Boston .735
8. Texas .725
9. Kansas City .723
10. Los Angeles .718
11. Seattle .715
12. Tampa Bay .704
13. Minnesota .697
14. New York .688
15. Houston .677

The Indians had a top-five offense in the middle of the order in OPS, even though they ranked ninth in home runs among that group. There is, however, something more interesting about this. The Indians’ #3 through #6 hitters scored 324 runs. Keep in mind that home runs hit by these hitters also count for the runs category. The Indians ranked fifth in runs scored, even though they were behind most of the teams in home runs. For example, the Indians’ #3 through #6 batters hit 79 home runs. Toronto hit 105 home runs. The Indians #3 through #6 hitters scored one fewer run in 2014.

Here’s why that’s significant. The #7 through #9 hitters ranked by OPS:

1. Minnesota .711
2. Cleveland .700
3. Baltimore .683
4. Seattle .680
5. Los Angeles .674
6. Toronto .670
7. New York .668
8. Kansas City .664
9. Detroit .660
10. Oakland .658
11. Texas .656
12. Chicago .644
13. Tampa Bay .642
14. Houston .640
15. Boston .611

You could make a pretty good argument that the Indians had the deepest lineup in the American League last season in terms of top-to-bottom balance. It’s not as cut-and-dry as fans want to make baseball offense out to be. The Indians don’t have one big power hitter, but they have a lot of guys that are good hitters, as I wrote about last week.

That doesn’t change this season. The lineup is basically the same, with Brandon Moss in place of David Murphy and Jose Ramirez in place of Asdrubal Cabrera. Both of those players are probably upgrades. Moss surely is. Ramirez should be, because of his speed and some of the other intangibles he brings to the plate by making more contact.

With the incredible development of the starting rotation and what looks like a good bullpen on paper, the Indians don’t have to be a big offensive team, but they have the potential to be anyway because of their tremendous amount of balance.

The Indians were one of three teams in the American League to have three players with 20 or more home runs. Moss should make four this season, a feat that only the Baltimore Orioles accomplished in 2014.

The Indians don’t need a #righthandedpowerbat to be successful. They don’t even need a #righthandedpowerbat to have a good offense. Better consistency is about all that the Indians are lacking. Sixteen of the top 30 home run hitters in the American League were right-handed hitters. It’s not an Indians problem. It’s a league-wide problem. So stop worrying about what is in short supply. The Indians have a good offense, a balanced offense, a top-five offense in the American League once again this season.

If that’s not good enough, I don’t know what to tell you.

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