The Curious Case of Cleveland’s Pitching

The Cleveland Indians are a last place team with one of the worst offenses in baseball. They also rank only 9th in the AL with a 3.95 team ERA, well behind Tampa’s 3.40 mark. However, Cleveland has the best starting rotation in the American League. How can this be?

Their staff ace and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber has an unremarkable 3.64 ERA, followed by Trevor Bauer’s 3.88, Danny Salazar’s 4.10, and Carlos Carrasco’s 4.17. This doesn’t look like the best rotation in the AL.

Bauer’s ERA is better than his 4.03 FIP, but it’s not too far off. The other three pitchers, however, have performed much better than their ERAs would suggest.

Kluber, for example, owns the second-best FIP in the AL, but is 22nd in ERA. Carrasco is 8th in FIP and 31st in ERA, and Salazar is 19th in FIP and 30th in ERA. Even the team’s closer has a 3.34 ERA compared to a 1.74 FIP. Clearly, something is causing these pitchers to perform worse than their FIPs project them to.

Some of the problem stems from leaving runners on base. Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar are all in the bottom 16 in the AL in LOB%. This is largely seen as a luck-based stat, but we don’t really know how much a pitcher contributes to it.

They’re also all in the top 16 in BABIP allowed; Kluber and Carrasco are 4th and 5th, respectively. Again, we can treat this primarily as hard luck, as there’s little correlation of BABIPs a pitcher allows between separate seasons.

Some of the blame should undoubtedly go to Cleveland’s third-worst defense in terms of UZR. Most of it, though, is probably a result of the balls not bouncing their way.

Expect to see an improvement in the team’s ERA as we move into the second half of the season, and if Cleveland’s offense comes to life, they will be a serious contender for the playoffs.

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