Knuckleballs

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Archive for April 2011

Expectations Rising in Cleveland

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The Indians gave up 23 runs on the first two days of the season on their way to an 0-2 start.  Their ace gave up 10 runs in 3+ innings on Opening Day and the Wahoo Warriors were down 14-0 in the fourth.  Through two-and-a-half weeks, their best two hitters (Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana) are hitting .206/.281/.327.  Whatever’s left of Grady Sizemore just played his first game Sunday.  And yet the Indians are 11-4, a game ahead of Kansas City and four north of Chicago through a tenth of the season.

Most projection systems had the Tribe winning somewhere between 68 and 75 games in 2011.  I too thought that the Indians would win 70-75 games. Obviously the hot start is just that, only the beginning of a long season, but it’s hard not to get excited.  After all, isn’t that what April baseball is all about?  If their true talent level suggests that they’ll only win 72 games though, what are the chances that at some point during a 162-game season they’d have a stretch like this, winning 11 of 15?

In any given set of 15 games, they have a 2.28% chance of winning at least 11 games (1.72% of winning exactly 11).  They have a 148 sets of 15 games (games 1 to 15, 2 to 16…148 to 162), though the sets are interrelated.  If they had 148 distinct chances to win 11 of 15, they’d find a stretch like this about 96.7% of the time.  If we want to take the 15-game subset very literally, there are 11 (I’m rounding), giving them only a 22.4% of pulling off this feat.  We also know that a run like this would likely start with a win, as a 72-win team, they’d have about 60 chances to do this, increasing the chances to 75.0%.

So there’s a decent enough chance that during some half-month the Indians would play this well.  Doing it at the beginning of the season does two things though.  One, it allows the Indians to possibly run into another stretch like this at some point.  The odds that the Indians run into a streak like this remain the same (still 2.28%), but the number of opportunities to do so are only slightly fewer.  Two, even if the Indians play at their assumed talent level of 72 wins, they be viewed as a contender into the summer, and the Fans of the Feather will have something for which to root.

Let’s assume that beginning with the upcoming four-game series with Kansas City (for AL Central supremacy; who’d have thought that?)  the Indians play like a 72-win team.  Over their next 65 games we’d expect them to win approximately 29, making them 40-40 after 80 games.  As they approach the trade deadline, the people of Cleveland are not talking about who to trade away but what spare parts to acquire.

What if we adjust the Indians “talent-level” based on the hot start.  A team that wins 72 of 162 should win roughly 65 of 147.  If we make the Indians a 76-win team based on talent, they’d be 42-38 after 80 games, definitely in the mix.

This is all just math though.  While Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera have played over their heads so far, Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo have done almost nothing and should come around.  Travis Hafner won’t hit .350 all year either, but the guy finally seems healthy, was the best hitter in the American League in 2005-2006, and has been semi-productive while hurt the last few seasons.  Sizemore homered and doubled in his first game in almost a year Sunday.  The starters have pitched well so far (enough to give home even when the BABIPs go up and LOB percentages come down) and the bullpen (especially the back end of Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, and Chris Perez) has been terrific.

The Sons of the Cuyahoga have posted a +29 run differential so far, allowing the third-fewest runs and scoring the third-most runs in the American League.  No one was expected to run away with this division (90 wins seems unlikely for any of these teams).  Given that the White Sox and Tigers are off to mediocre starts and the major problems Minnesota is facing, the Erie Warriors and their fans might find themselves in a pennant race this summer earlier than they expected.

Written by Dan Hennessey

April 18, 2011 at 1:46 PM

Posted in Uncategorized