With interleague play coming to an end and with the Indians currently playing the role of “Baseball’s Hottest Team,” Sunday’s Cleveland/Arizona game was a natural for our Game in Review. The Indians have come out of an early-season funk to make the American League Central the most interesting division in baseball. And the Diamondbacks, who were once the major league’s Cinderella team, now sport a .500 record—good enough for second place in the mediocre NL West.
One of the interesting things about the interleague schedule is that teams haven’t played most of their games against teams from their “sister” division. Instead, the primary division-to-division matchups have worked out this way:
NL Central vs. AL East: 29-28 in favor of the NL Central AL West vs. NL East: 25-23 in favor of the AL West AL Central vs. NL West: 40-20 in favor of the AL Central
The AL Central has just beat up on NL West teams, outscoring them 5.4 to 4.1 runs per game. A few weeks ago, we talked about how the AL Central has been primarily responsible for the low run scoring totals in the AL, and we wondered whether the cause was good pitching or bad hitting. Based on results from interleague competition, the answer seems to be the pitching.
Of course, it helps that the Indians’ batters have been pasting the ball lately. As of Monday, the Indians were 13-2 in interleague play and 11-1 against the NL West. Over the entire season, it’s been an uphill climb for the Tribe. Here’s a graph of their 10-run averages in wins, runs scored and runs allowed per game, including Sunday’s game:
There have been three separate segments to the Indians’ year so far: the beginning, in which the batting stunk and the pitching was average, the middle in which their pitching helped them establish themselves as a .500 team, and lately, in which the batting has also kicked in.
Unfortunately, the Indians play in the same division as the White Sox, who have not yet slowed their pace. The Sox staged one of their biggest come-from-behind victories yet in Saturday night’s Dodger game, overcoming a 3-1 deficit with two out in the ninth for a 5-3 win. Here were the key plays from the White Sox’s ninth, including the score, the play, the White Sox’s chances of winning, and the difference in winning each play made:
ChiSox Dodgers Play Sox WP Diff 1 3 Start of Inning 11% --- 1 3 Iguchi walk 19% 8% 1 3 Thomas groundout to short 12% -7% 1 3 Konerko fly out to center 5% -7% 2 3 Everett single scores Iguchi 11% 6% 2 3 Harris steals second 15% 4% 3 3 Rowand singles, scoring Harris 57% 42% 5 3 Pierzynski home run 100% 43%
The AL Central has been the hotbed of just plain interesting baseball this year. As opposed to previous years, when it was arguably the worst division in the majors, this year’s division includes the team with the best record in baseball (White Sox), the surging Indians and the consistently excellent team with the pinpoint pitching staff (Twins).
On the other hand, the Diamondbacks have been one of the real surprise teams in the majors (surprising me, at least), thanks to some offseason deals, a very nice start by Craig Counsell, and a pythagorean variance that is right up there with the White Sox and Nationals. Here are their 10-game averages:
Their defense has let the Diamondbacks down recently. In the 15 games before Sunday, the opposition had scored more than three runs 12 times. Sunday’s game would prove to be an exception.
There was a mighty wind blowing from right to left at Jacobs Field Sunday, making many fly balls potential Naked Gun outtakes. The wind kept most fly balls in the park, and with two groundball pitchers on the mound (Jake Westbrook and Shawn Estes), a low-scoring game looked to be in store.
The Cleveland announcers kicked off their broadcast talking about Grady Sizemore’s hot bat, and how his move to the leadoff spot 32 games ago was the catalyst for the Indians’ improved play. Sizemore has been particularly hot lately as his GPA sparkline shows. I’ll be showing GPA sparklines for several other Indian batters in the article.
The Indians had a couple of singles in the first two inings, but they grounded into double plays both times against Estes, who has one of the best double play rates in the majors (23.5% of double play opportunities, according to Baseball Prospectus). One of the things that Win Probability reinforces is how much impact double plays have. There would be a total of five double plays in this game (four turned by the Diamondbacks), accounting for a total of over .32 Win Probability points.
Through the end of the third, both pitchers had faced the minimum number of batters (Westbrook was looking nearly unhittable), and the Win Probability for both teams was 50%.
Counsell led off the fourth with the first Diamondback hit of the day, a squibbler that Westbrook couldn’t handle. Alex Cintron hit another infield squibbler that Westbrook fielded at first—groundball pitchers can really help themselves by being good athletes/fielders. The Diamondbacks didn’t score.
The Indians broke through in the bottom of the fourth. Sizemore led off the inning by poking a soft line drive to right field. Ronnie Belliard spanked a single up the middle, and Travis Hafner hit a single that normally would have scored one run. But Jose Cruz Jr. mishandled the ball, allowing Belliard to score too, and Hafner wound up on second base.
From a WPA perspective, I booked this as two separate plays. The single by Hafner, and one run scored, created a WPA of .142. Cruz’s error, and the second run, totaled .053 WPA points. After the play, Victor Martinez walked, but Jose Hernandez hit into the Indians’ third double play of the day. Hernandez accounted for two of the Indians’ four double plays, and had the Indians’ worst WPA total of the game.
Redemption: Cruz hit a home run into the wind in the fifth inning for a WPA of .106, more than offsetting his WPA from the miscue.
With two out in the bottom of the sixth, Hafner hit a groundball single for only a marginal impact on the Indians’ WP. But Victor Martinez hit a 3-2 pseudo-double to left center. The ball looked playable to me, but the wind played tricks and it fell in front of Cruz for a basehit. Unfortunately, Cruz then added fuel to the fire by bobbling the ball and allowing Hafner to score from first. Martinez wound up on second.
This misplay actually cost the Diamondbacks more than Cruz’s first. The WPA of the play was .122 overall, but I once again broke it into two plays. Cruz’s bobble hurt the Indians by -.091.
At the end of the sixth, the Indians led by a score of 3-1 and had a Win Probability of 81%. Westbrook led the Indians with a total WPA of .238, while Estes led the Diamondbacks with .088. Hernandez was last on the Indians at -.126 and Cruz was Arizona’s goat of the game at this point, despite scoring their only run, at -.071. And, because I couldn’t credit any Indian with the positive aspect of Cruz’s miscues, “no one” was second on the Indians.
The Diamondbacks cut the lead to 3-2 on a leadoff double by Luis Gonzalez—leadoff hits are really, really powerful—and a single by Tony Clark (.106). Unfortunately for Arizona, Shawn Green hit into another double play, wiping out the WP added by Clark’s single (-.102). Despite all the abuse heaped upon Cruz after the game, Green would actually end the day as the Diamondbacks’ Goat of the Day, with the lowest WPA total of all.
In the bottom of the seventh, Jody Gerut led off with a walk, but Aaron Boone hit into a (do I have to say it?) double play.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Indians had a chance to blow the game open. Sizemore was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, but Casey Blake bunted into a force out at second on a nice play by Estes. After a Belliard single, Chad Tracy made a superb play on a ground ball up the line, and Belliard was called out when he ran into Troy Glaus on a ground ball to third base—ending the inning on a very strange note.
Top of the ninth is Bob Wickman time for the Indians. At this stage of the season, the Indians have by far the best bullpen in the majors, with a total Win Expectancy added of more than five games, according to Baseball Prospectus. Wickman followed suit by retiring the side, two on strikeouts. And so the Indians’ streak continued.
The biggest play of the day was Hafner’s single, at .142. But the real stars of this game were on the mound, and the goats were either in the field or hitting into double plays:
Team Player Off Pitch Field WPA Indians Westbrook 0.000 0.266 0.000 0.266 Wickman 0.000 0.161 0.000 0.161 No one 0.145 0.000 0.000 0.145 Hafner 0.111 0.000 0.000 0.111 Martinez 0.030 0.000 0.000 0.030 Sizemore 0.013 0.000 0.011 0.024 Belliard -0.005 0.000 0.025 0.020 Gerut -0.023 0.000 0.006 -0.017 Peralta -0.050 0.000 0.030 -0.019 Blake -0.057 0.000 0.021 -0.035 Boone -0.057 0.000 0.000 -0.057 Hernandez -0.132 0.000 0.006 -0.126 Total -0.026 0.427 0.099 0.500 Team Player Off Pitch Field WPA Dbacks Estes 0.000 0.088 0.000 0.088 Clark 0.060 0.000 0.000 0.060 Tracy 0.028 0.000 0.023 0.050 Gonzalez -0.023 0.000 0.000 -0.023 Clayton -0.037 0.000 0.000 -0.037 McCracken -0.046 0.000 0.000 -0.046 Stinnett -0.050 0.000 0.000 -0.050 Counsell -0.091 0.000 0.038 -0.053 Glaus -0.129 0.000 0.020 -0.109 Cintron -0.128 0.000 0.003 -0.125 Cruz 0.024 0.000 -0.151 -0.126 Green -0.134 0.000 0.005 -0.129 Total -0.526 0.088 -0.062 -0.500
References & Resources
You can read more about Win Probability Added here. While researching this article, David Pinto’s Day-by-Day database was indispensable. And if you’re looking for a good Cleveland Indians’ blog, I’d recommend The Indians Compendium.