Stop Worrying About the Indians Pitching

Note: All Stats as of 4/19

Just like everyone predicted in the preseason, the Twins have the best pitching in the AL, while the Indians come in solidly towards the back of the pack, 14th to be exact, in terms of team ERA. Just like Twins fans probably don’t believe they have the best pitching staff in the AL, Indians fans shouldn’t believe that their starters forgot how to pitch. Over the past four seasons, the Indians’ team ERA has never dropped below seventh in the AL, and the last two seasons, the Indians finished second in that category. But this season, the team ERA sits at an unsightly 4.94. They are currently allowing more runs than they are scoring, and they’re scoring at the second best pace in the AL.

Taking a look at the peripheral statistics and you’ll find that there is nothing to be concerned about when it comes to the pitching. The Indians FIP (or fielding independent pitching), a statistic that looks at how well a pitcher limits home runs and walks, and how well he strikes batters out, gives an entirely different look at the pitching. With a FIP of 3.46, the Indians rank second in the AL, only the Yankees rank better. The difference between their FIP and ERA is 1.48, which is nearly twice as large as the next closest team. The problem with the pitching so far is that they are giving up too many hits.

Some of that can be attributed to the defense. Despite the Indians having the fifth best fielding percentage, their defensive efficiency (percentage of balls in play converted to outs) is worst in the AL. The Indians defense so far has been eight runs worse than the average, which ranks them second to last in the AL. Their best defender (and maybe the best fielder in the league) Francisco Lindor has actually been the Indians worst fielder, having cost the team two runs. It should be said that defensive metrics still aren’t perfect, and clearly, 14 games is an extremely small sample size.

As for the actual pitchers, only three starters have contributed to the poor start. Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, and Trevor Bauer have combined to produce an 8.54 ERA. Out of all those guys, Kluber is the one I worry about the least.

Here are his April ERAs over the last four seasons:
2014: 4.14
2015: 4.24
2016: 4.24
2017: 6.38

Now look at his ERA over the rest of the season (2017 excluded):
2014: 2.13
2015: 3.35
2016: 2.93

Until he proves me otherwise, I’ll just accept the fact that Corey Kluber tends to have slow starts in April. Now, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer worry me, but only to a certain extent. Both Tomlin and Bauer have unsightly ERA’s, but both have put up FIP’s near/close to their career averages, so it’ likely they are just experiencing some bad BABIP (batting averaging on balls in play) luck. Both pitchers have limited the walks and home runs in their appearances, but their hits per nine innings are through the roof. For Bauer, his career BABIP has been .292, but this season that number has jumped to .400. Meanwhile, Tomlin has seen a similar jump from .277 career BABIP to a .417 one this season. Those numbers are just plain unsustainable. Even Mike Trout doesn’t have a BABIP that high for his career.

So other than giving up more hits per nine innings than any other team in the AL, the Indians actually rank quite well in the pitching department. They are league average in terms of giving up home runs, they’ve walked the fifth fewest batters per nine innings and have struck out the most batters per nine innings.

Which leads us to the moral of the story…

Things will even out eventually. The underlying numbers are just too strong for the Indians pitching to keep giving up runs like they have. It also points to why early season numbers and small sample sizes get overblown a little too much. Relax Indians fans.

All Stats as of 4/19

— Chris Sladoje (@The_Doje)

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