Cleveland Indians Surprises and 2013 Regular Season Review

Updated: October 2, 2013

What a difference a year makes! At this time last year, the Cleveland Indians season came to a disappointing close with a record of 68-94. While many fans and media pundits placed the blame on Manny Acta, this writer contended that the 2012 season was a complete organizational failure on all levels. In order to compete, smarter moves needed to made.

Now, just one season later, the Indians have almost reversed last year’s win loss record finishing with a 92-70 record and hold the top spot in the American League Wild Card standings. As the Tribe gets ready to welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to town for a one game Wild Card playoff, here is a look back at the highlights of the 2013 Cleveland Indians regular season.

For starters, the Indians had a positive run differential for the first time since the 2008 season. They managed to score 745 runs and gave up 662 runs for a +83 run differential. This speaks to success on many levels.

First off, the offense was actually able to support the pitching staff. The 745 runs scored was fifth best (tied with Baltimore) in the league. Averaging nearly 4.6 runs per game, this number not only supports the pitching, it allows them to relax on the mound and focus on pitching instead of trying to keep everything a one run game. For the most part this season a solo home run didn’t automatically equate to a loss.

Comparing the two seasons, the 2012 Indians batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were very similar to the 2013 Indians (2012: .251/.324/.381; 2013: .255/.327/.410) with the biggest increase coming in slugging percentage. So did an extra 24 doubles, basically the same amount of triples (23 vs. 24) and 35 more home runs make the difference? Well, the home runs surly helped, but the biggest boost the offense received was hitting with runners in scoring position. The 2012 Indians managed to only hit .239 w/RISP and .221 w/RISP and two outs. The 2013 version of the Indians offense managed to hit .264 w/RISP and .252 w/RISP and two outs. Even better, the Indians upped the amount of sacrifice flies they hit from 2012 to 2013 by 17 with runners in scoring position. That’s 17 more productive outs with a runner at third base and less than two outs.

The pitching staff did its part as well.

In 2012 the Indians had the second worst staff ERA among the 30 teams with a 4.78 mark. The Indians bullpen had an ERA of 3.99 while the starters had a 5.25 ERA, second worst in the league. This year’s numbers were greatly improved. The staff as a whole ranked 15th in ERA at 3.82 – Tribe relievers combined for a 3.62 ERA (19th overall) while the starters posted a 3.92 ERA (14th overall).

These numbers, the starters specifically, are slightly inflated considering they include starts from Carlos Carrasco and Brett Myers. Combined, Carrasco and Myers went 0-7 in 10 starts. Over the course of 49 combined innings they allowed 75 hits and 45 earned runs for a combined ERA of 7.86. If you remove their starts from the season totals (which isn’t completely fair, admittedly) the starting pitching had a combined ERA of 3.69.

On an individual level, the biggest turnaround came in the form of Ubaldo Jimenez.

Since arriving in Cleveland, Ubaldo was a disaster. He posted ERA’s of 5.10 (2011) and 5.40 (2012) and looked absolutely lost on the mound. 2013 didn’t exactly get off to a great start as he was inconsistent at best for the first couple months of the season. After showing some signs of stabilizing, he really clicked after the All-Star break, posting the best numbers out of any starter in the second half of the year. To put that into perspective, he has not allowed more than four runs in a start since July 14th. Since then, he has only surrendered three runs once and has three starts of zero runs. He’s also posted double digit strikeouts in four of those starts.

The biggest surprise in the starting rotation is none other than fireballer Danny Salazar. While a lot of the hype surrounded the newly acquired Trevor Bauer, the 23-year old right handed pitcher quietly remained on the farm, posting blistering K/9 ratios of 13.6 (AA Akron) and 11.8 (AAA Columbus) before being brought up to make a spot start on the 11th of July. Salazar quickly turned heads, taking a no hitter into the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays and matching Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey pitch for pitch. Salazar gave up only one run and struck out seven Blue Jays in six innings of work. For a pitcher that wasn’t even in the conversation, Salazar has bolstered the Indians rotation and will get the start in Wednesday’s AL Wild Card game. How’s that for a surprise season?

Offensively, the biggest surprise of the year has to be Yan Gomes.

An afterthought in a trade that brought in Mike Aviles to the Indians from the Blue Jays, Gomes bounced back and forth between Columbus and Cleveland before permanently joining the big league roster on April 28th. After getting off to a slow start with the Indians in April (hit .200 in 9 games), Gomes’ batting average by month goes something like this: May: .370, June: .244, July: .313. August: .281, September: .309. Gomes became a more permanent fixture in the lineup and behind the plate following the All-Star break and his presence has paid off dividends. Defensively, despite only appearing in 85 games (79 starts) as a catcher Gomes managed to throw out 20 runners attempting to steal. He ranks 12th among all catchers with a .408 caught stealing percentage.

Surprises weren’t all pleasant for the Indians this year, however. Myers was brought in to bring some stability to the middle of the Indians rotation. Instead, he got paid seven million dollars to pitch batting practice in three starts before being placed on the DL and finally being waived outright by the team. Carrasco, who has salvaged his season in the bullpen, was equally as bad for the Indians as a starter. Carrasco was also suspended again for throwing at Kevin Youkilis, the same thing he was suspended for back in 2011. The bullpen also struggled mightily early in the year. The back end of the bullpen (Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez), once considered a strength, has absolutely tanked this year.

Offensively, the two biggest disappointments have to be Mark Reynolds and Lonnie Chisenhall.

Reynolds was brought in to be the big power threat this team sorely lacked (and to some extent still does). After a hot start, Reynolds completely fell apart. By the time the Indians released him Reynolds posted a higher slugging percentage than only Aviles, Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn (counting only the everyday batters).

Chisenhall was all but handed the starting third base job. He responded by hitting .213 to start the season and was optioned down to AAA Columbus for 27 games. After feasting on minor league hitting, Chisenhall returned to the big leagues on June 18th where he still failed to impress, posting a season batting average of .225. He has also made nine errors in 198 total chances for a fielding percentage of .955, which is the worst on the team among fielders.

Considered underachievers for the majority of the year (Vegas put their over/under win total at 77.5 to start the year); Terry Francona has done an impeccable job turning this team around, garnering manager of the year consideration. Tito has guided this team through losing streaks, hitting slumps and blown saves and now has them on the cusp of the ALDS. Even if the Indians are eliminated in their Wild Card game, it’s hard to say this has been a disappointing season for the Cleveland Indians.

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