Patient Indians Could Lead to Long Games in 2013

Beer vendor and concession stand operators will rejoice this year when Cleveland is in town. Like the Red Sox of years past the Indians have loaded the lineup with hitters who take a lot of pitches and pride themselves on the ability to get on base.

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Whenever Terry Francona‘s Red Sox took on the New York Yankees there was a lot of focus on how long the games took. It wasn’t only the amount of runs that the teams were piling up or the late inning pitching changes it was also the patience of each and every hitter in the respective lineups.

In both Michael Holley’s book Red Sox Rule and Dan Shaughnessy’s book Francona: The Red Sox Years, Francona touches on the importance of getting into a team’s bullpen. Even if his team is trailing by a large margin he wants his players to draw one of those back end relievers into the game.

In 2012 the Indians were very patient at the plate, finishing sixth in the AL in both pitches per plate appearance at 3.87 and OBP at .324. Taking a large amount of pitches doesn’t seem to correlate with positive or negative results though. For perspective, the Oakland Athletics led the league with 3.98 P/PA and the worst in the league were Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels at 3.75. 

In the offseason the Indians brought in Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourn to the lineup. Reynolds was tied for sixth in the league at 4.27 P/PA, Swisher tied for seventh at 4.26 P/PA, and Bourn ranked 13th at 4.15.  Overall the Indians lineup projects to feature at least six guys with above-average patience at the plate:

The ability to get on base is the key to scoring runs. Studies have shown that every point of on-base percentage is worth two points of slugging percentage. One of the Indians’ biggest problems in 2012 was pairing up any sort of slugging to go with an above league average OBP. The Indians finished 13th out of 14 teams with a .381 slugging percentage.

Based on a linear regression study of 580 teams for the last 20 seasons (through 2010), the formula for expected scoring per game is:

 Runs/Game = (18.9 x OBP) + (9.7 x SLUG) – 5.6

Using the formula developed above and the data from the 2012 season for all 14 AL teams we see a +/- value of approximately 7%. The Indians’ actual runs per game (4.12) was 2.35% less than what was predicted (4.22).  

Scoring runs is predicated on the ability to get on base and the Indians have quite a few guys that take a lot of pitches and are willing to take their walks. They will try to take advantage of these baserunners by pushing runs across the plate and getting to the opposition’s middle relief often which in turn will force a lot of pitching changes. The likely outcome may or may not be more victories, but it will certainly lead to longer games—and more baseball is never a bad thing.