CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – When the Indians had an opportunity to take first place when visiting Minnesota, they took it. When the Indians had an opportunity to take a commanding lead on the Twins when they came to Cleveland, they gave it away.
Opportunity was the story of the weekend’s series sweep by the Twins, with the visiting team relishing in the opportunity to re-gain first place, while the home team seemed destined to give it away.
With over 90,000 fans filing into Progressive Field in perhaps the three biggest games since November 2, the Indians left a combined 30 men stranded on base, going 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position.
In the finale, the Indians equaled the Twins’ nine hits, but never put together an inning where more than five hitters came to the plate.
“We couldn’t keep a line moving. We just weren’t disciplined enough,” Manager Terry Francona said. “They either elevated the fastball a little bit or a fastball count, throw something off of the fastball. We never made them throw something. We were undisciplined is the best word. We were certainly able to get our hits, but we never strung anything together.”
Though hitting with runners in scoring position has proven statistically to be fluky from year-to-year, the Indians find themselves on the wrong side of the matter, 25th in baseball with runners in scoring position. They rank second to last on BABIP with RISP at .259.
The prevailing thought about what has changed since 2016 when the team, largely similar to the 2017 rendition in roster construction, is the mindset. Hitters seem to be pressing in high leverage situations, and advanced statistics not only back it up, but in an astounding fashion.
According to FanGraphs, in high leverage situations, the Indians have a wRC+ of 29 on a scale that deems 100 to be league average. For reference, the lowly Giants are 29th of 30 with a wRC+ of 60, while the Astros are 1st at 156.
The team is 19.1 runs below average in situations deemed to be high leverage through 74 games with a .169/.249/.249 split and a .498 OPS, all league-worst marks.
The situations are determined by Fangraphs’ Leverage Index (LI), a semi-arbitrary measure that attempts to measure how each swing or plate appearance affects Win Expectancy.
A full explaination can be found here, but Fangraphs attempts to explain it as follows:
“You take the current base-out state, inning, and score and you find the possible changes in Win Expectancy that could occur during this particular plate appearance. Then you multiple those potential changes by the odds of that potential change occurring, add them up, and divide by the average potential swing in WE to get the Leverage Index.”
Basically, when the Indians have chances at the plate to dramatically change their win expectancy, they fail and have failed by great lengths, in a great margin.
While the team is not as poor in more easily quantifiable situations, like RISP or RISP with two outs, the margin by which they are failing in those deemed “high leverage” has to say something.
On Sunday, Francona maintained it was a lack of discipline, which can be traced to pressing.
“Well, I don’t think that they’re going up trying to be undisciplined,” he said. “I think it can be a little bit of human nature where you’re trying to do too much. Then it kind of plays into their hand where, like I said, the fastball count they take a little bit off.”
While the approach from opposing pitchers will change in more important situations, the game stays the same, rendering the issue fairly simple to reverse.
It is hard to imagine that it is a deep-rooted issue, considering what the Indians were able to do in final at-bats over the past two or three years. Though trying to replicate success, whether over the course of 162 games or in singular, important at-bats, may be the root of it all.