Heading into the division series against the Red Sox, there was a near-consensus among baseball writers and analysts that the Indians’ team speed would be one of the most critical factors in determining the outcome. Instead, the Tribe stole just one base in the three games and relied on the home run ball to generate its scoring.
The ALCS is a whole new ballgame, though, and Cleveland has a decided advantage on the basepaths that it must use to put pressure on Toronto’s pitchers and defense.
The Tribe stole 134 bases as a team during the regular season, with an AL-best 81 percent success rate, and boast four players who swiped at least 15. Rajai Davis, at the age of 35, stole a league-leading 43 bases in 48 attempts (roughly 88 percent), followed by Jose Ramirez (22), Lindor (19), and Kipnis (15).
Blue Jays catchers Russell Martin and Dioner Navarro combined to throw out just 14 of 80 would-be base stealers this season, a paltry 17.5 percent. Overall, Toronto was third-worst in all of baseball at throwing out runners, and its pitching staff is among the slowest in delivering the ball to the plate, all of which tilts the running game in the Indians’ favor.
But swiping bags is only part of the equation. Cleveland was also the best in the league at taking extra bases, claiming 186 of them on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, and defensive decisions, and at advancing the extra base on balls in play, which they did at a 45 percent rate.
Toronto doesn’t possess the most explosive stable of outfield arms, so it appears likely the Indians can continue to be aggressive when running, taking extra bases and challenging the Jays to make a play. According to FanGraphs, Blue Jays outfielders ranked 23rd in MLB in “Arm” rating, which takes into account both assists and preventing the opposition to take extra bases.
Despite these apparent advantages, though, Toronto’s players downplayed the significance of the Tribe’s team speed.
“Numbers lie,” Martin said. “That’s why if they want to take their chance, what I’m best at in life is catching and throwing. I don’t want to sound overconfident, but it’s a big part of my game. So to me, it’s a non-issue … Controlling the basepaths is something I’ve done my whole career, and it’s exciting for me. I like when people run. It gives me a challenge, and I love challenges. I hope they run a lot.”
We’ll have to wait and see how the running game factors into the ALCS, but Martin may end up regretting those words if he gets what he asked for.