Cleveland Indians Are American League Strikeout Leaders, But It’s Meaningless

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The Cleveland Indians have a pitching staff that’s filled with young, capable starters, including a trio of top-of-the-rotation arms, plus right-hander Trevor Bauer – who is much more talented than he’s shown so far. With ace Corey Kluber and could-be-aces Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, might the Tribe have the best rotation in the majors?

If baseball was a game based purely on racking up strikeouts, the Tribe would have been much more successful. Only the Chicago Cubs had more punch outs in the regular season than the Indians did, and their starters had the added bonus of pitching to fellow pitchers.

In fact, the Indians completely dominated the American League on the strikeout leaderboard. Kluber had 245 on his own, behind only Chris Sale and Chris Archer. Carrasco tied with probable-Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel for fifth place, with 216. Salazar cracked the top ten, too, in seventh place with 195 strikeouts. Even Bauer, who faltered at the end of the year and found himself out of the rotation in September, managed to secure the 12th spot on the list, punching out 170 batters this season. Four pitchers from one team landing in the top twelve is nearly unheard of.

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Altogether, Cleveland racked up 1407 K’s in 2015. Their closest AL competitor was nearly 40 strikeouts behind them, making them the clear front runner. If pitching wins ballgames, and strikeouts are an effective way of shutting down the opposing lineup, why didn’t the Tribe’s rotation lead them to the playoffs?

Let’s consider this year’s playoff teams. The National League sent out the Cubs, as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets. Of those teams, the Cubs and Dodgers had the most strikeouts in the NL, while the remaining three teams were ranked fifth through seventh.

Based on those numbers, it seems as though the postseason finish line should get closer with every swing and miss.

But the 2015 American League postseason teams are a different story. They consisted of the Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. Of those teams, only the Yankees made the top five, and they were eliminated in the Wild Card Game. The Astros were ranked sixth, but the Royals, Jays and Rangers weren’t even in the AL Top Ten – or the top twenty in baseball.

In fact, further research shows that since 2012, 21 of the 40 playoff teams have failed to even make the top ten in regular season strikeouts. Is the pitcher strikeout as useless of a stat in determining value as a position player’s strikeout rate? Maybe not in terms of predicting a pitcher’s value, but it’s certainly worthless in predicting whether a club will become a playoff team.

Cleveland’s strikeout totals look pretty on paper, but in the end, they aren’t going to make the Tribe a contender. Trading one of the Tribe’s power-arm pitchers for a bat might just be worth it.

Next: How Desperately Do the Indians Need Offense?

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