Strong, consistent offense carried 2013 Indians
The playoff-bound Indians don't wow you in any single phase of the game. But they got the job done in two important ways.
Terry Francona's Indians are, of course, bound for the postseason, as they'll host the AL wild-card game on Wednesday. To be sure, the Indians lured a few eyeballs this winter, what with their surprise signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. However, to most observers it's a surprise to see them as part of the playoff fray.
So how'd they do it? A glance at the numbers shows you a very specific strength, at least on the team-wide level.
For instance, the 2013 Indians ranked seventh in the AL in bullpen runs-per-game (slightly better than average), seventh in the AL in rotation runs-per-game (slightly better than average) and 10th in the AL in defensive efficiency -- i.e., how often their defense turns fair batted balls into outs (slightly worse than average). On the other hand, Francona's bunch ranked a strong fourth in the 15-team AL in runs scored, and that's despite having played their home games in a pitcher's ballpark.
Beyond the most obvious ways to score runs -- hitting for power and getting on base -- the Indians this season thrived at staying out of the double play (only the Padres, Twins and Orioles hit into fewer DPs), and they led all of baseball in terms of seizing the offensive platoon advantage -- 71 percent of the time, to be exact.
On the latter point, it certainly helped that the Indians had three switch-hitting starters in Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera, but it also helped that Francona was willing to swap out his lefty-hitting regulars for his right-handed part-timers when circumstances required. It's one thing to know the percentages; it's something else to actually play those percentages.
On an individual level, Jason Kipnis was stellar (132 OPS+), especially by up-the-middle standards, and Santana authored a slash line of .268/.377/.455 while spending more than 700 innings behind the plate. Swisher was solid, Cabrera produced relative to most shortstops, and Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn were forces on the bench.
As well, there's also the consistency factor. Consider that the Indians as a team -- again, despite a home environment that was working against the offense -- put up a better-than-league-average OPS in every month of the season except for August. Whatever slumps set in, they didn't last long.
Of course, no team's success is reducible to one factor, but in the case of the Indians the bats were largely responsible for their unlikely barge into the postseason. Now the challenge is keeping those bats going against playoff-caliber pitching.
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