The Indians have stopped scoring runs. I mean, not entirely, but for all practical purposes. Since a 12-2 win on August 1, the Tribe has scored 141 runs in 43 completed games, an average of just 3.28 per game, worst in the American League, and better than one team (Atlanta) in the National League, where they still let pitchers bat. During that time though, the Indians actually have the fifth-best record in the AL, ahead of Detroit, among others. How? The starting rotation, which has been hot with the heat of a thousand suns.
In August the starters had a combined line of 9.1 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9, with a 2.79 FIP, and a 2.57 ERA.
In September so far the starters have a combined line of 9.7 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9, with a 2.63 FIP and a 2.37 ERA.
They've been the best rotation in baseball during those two months. Those seven weeks have been so good that they've taken the rotation, which was basically Kluber and one big mess up until August, and turned it into one of the better ones in the league, even for full season numbers, improving the rotation's ERA to 3.82, 8th in the American League (right smack in the middle), with a FIP of 3.39, which is the very best in the AL.
They also have a combined K/9 of 8.80. That's not just the best by any rotation this season, it's the best by any rotation in MLB history.
Here's a look at each guy in all their starts since August 1:
Kluber is the old man of the rotation, and he's only 28 years old. Carrasco is the closest one of them to free agency, and he's still under team control through 2017. That is to say, the Indians can keep this group together for quite some time, and with most of them still not even eligible for arbitration yet, they can be kept for very little money.
More from LGT on the starting rotation
More from LGT on the starting rotation
Think back to late July. Kluber was awesome, but Justin Masterson was a mess, and set to depart anyway. Carlos Carrasco was doing fine work as a reliever, and I was happy just to be getting that from him. Danny Salazar was in Triple-A. Trevor Bauer was showing some improvement, but very inconsistent (which has continued, but his ERA and FIP have both improved). T.J. House was giving (just barely) passable results for a #5 call up, which was as much as I'd hoped for, but he felt like the sort of guy you wanted 7th or 8th in line (which is where he was when the season began).
From all of that to what we've seen since the beginning of August... It's been something close to the best-case scenario for pretty much everyone involved. Can we count on things to continue?
Well, we can't count on the rotation to maintain a 2.50 ERA, because that simply isn't a thing that MLB rotations do. The best ERA by an American League rotation since the introduction of the DH in 1973 is 2.98, by the 1974 Athletics, and the best in the last twenty years is 3.34, by this year's Mariners. The 2015 rotation isn't going to beat that, but are they capable of continuing to be one of baseball's best?
Age shouldn't be a factor, What about luck? There's a lot more to luck than BABIP, and a lot more to BABIP than luck, but it's a solid starting point. Since the beginning of August, here are the BABIP figures for each Tribe pitcher in their starts:
- Carrasco: .255
- Bauer: .278
- Salazar: .300
- House: .319
- Kluber: .331
It's no surprise that Carrasco has been on the lucky side of things, and it's maybe a little disappointing that Bauer's numbers aren't a bit better (given his low BABIP), but the other guys don't appear to have been lucky. In fact, House and Kluber have maybe been even a bit unlucky. Think about that, and think about Kluber's 1.91 ERA during that time. Oh my. Overall, there's nothing in the BABIP to make it seem they've been lucky as a group.
Two months ago I thought the Tribe's big offseason target should be a starting pitcher who could hopefully slot in behind Kluber as a solid #2 pitcher. Now though, it doesn't seem like such a pressing need. It would seem something of a waste to throw major resources toward a problem that may not actually exist. On the other hand, it's rare for any rotation to stay healthy for a full season, and even if they do, the law of averages* says one or two of these guys are going to come back to earth in a serious way.
*Along with the law of averages, I think House's track record is still too short to draw strong conclusions from. He's yet to face many lineups more than once. I love, love, love what he's done, but he's gone from "#7 type guy" to "guy I'm happy with at the end of the rotation." I don't view him as anything like his numbers the last few weeks make him look. Maybe someday.
If one of them falters, who steps up? Zach McAllister would be next in line, and while he's struggled since about a month into this season (after getting off to a very good start), he'd previously proven himself a very capable #5 starter. He's out of options though, which means the Indians would have to keep him in the bullpen next season. Beyond him, we're looking at Josh Tomlin, who's pitched a couple great games, but has struggled far more often than not. Beyond him? Dregs.
There isn't much in the upper end of the farm system that might help in the next year or two, so the front office should target a veteran or two willing to sign a minor league deal, to squirrel away in Columbus, to be called upon should the need arise.
Should the need not arise, we could be looking at one of the best rotations Cleveland has ever seen.