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What is the biggest problem for the Cleveland Indians?

Cast your vote in the most depressing poll of the year.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The idea for this article initially started as pointing out just how bad the Cleveland Indians have been at hitting with runners in scoring position. Surprisingly, after digging into the numbers and looking at how they bat when runners are primed to score, there isn't much of a disparity. Despite how it frequently looks on those 1-run, 13-hit losses, the Indians don't suddenly forget how to hit the ball when runners are in scoring position overall. They have the relatively same average, and a higher OPS with RISP.

Almost two full months into the season and it's clear a lot things are wrong with this team however, so I thought I'd take a look and boil down the issues to a few select points to let you, LGT readers, decide the biggest problem with the 2015 Cleveland Indians.

Hitters in the lineup not named Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, or Michael Brantley

Even when the Indians' bats are at their hottest, anyone not in the list above continues to just look bad at the plate. Jose Ramirez has been somehow finding ways to get on base and steal a few lately (his 5 stolen bases are second on the team), but he's still all around the worst hitter on the team. Everyone else, even Santana to an extent, has been a streaky hitter at best.

Michael Bourn recently found his stroke for a few games, but it still hasn't helped him overcome his atrocious April where his .254 OBP while batting lead off sunk the Indians even while Brantley, Santana, and the starting pitching staff were at their best. It wasn't until being moved lower in the order that he's finally started to recover, but he was blanked 4 games in a row in early May and once recently against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 13th.

Other than sometimes Bourn and the other three big-name hitters, who do the Tribe have to rely on game-in and game-out? Ryan Raburn was mashing lefties for a time, but he's cooled off considerably and will likely never hit against right-handed pitchers. David Murphy has been similarly platooned (currently with only 1 at bat against LHP), but most of his heroics have come from pinch-hitting late. Far from a hitter that is going to contribute to the Indians potentially turning this season around.

And the catchers. Oh my the catchers. Roberto Perez and Brett Hayes have provided a bit of power while replacing the soon-to-be-returning Yan Gomes, but other than it hasn't been pretty.

Hitting against LHP

This was undoubtedly the biggest issue in the month of April, but is it still a big problem for the lefty-heavy Indians lineup? Yep. As a team batting against LHP, the Indians are 10th in the AL in AVG (.244), 12th in OPS (.703), and 11th in wRC+ (100).

Keep in mind that these middling totals also include Brantley, Raburn, and Brandon Moss who are all killing left-handed pitching with 1.087, 1.029, and .837 OPS' respectively. After that it begins to drop off dramatically when you get to Mike Aviles with a .724 OPS against lefties, Lonnie Chisenhall with .626, Carlos Santana with .583, and Jason Kipnis with .578.

With all this said, though, the Indians are still the third-highest scoring team batting against left-handed pitchers. Their 70 runs scored against lefties trails only the Minnesota Twins (72) and the Kansas City Royals (74).

The #5 starter

Normally a 5th starter isn't enough make or break a team, but the Indians rotation situation past Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar has been so bad that it just may be the biggest factor.

So far this year in 6 starts for the 5th-slotted pitcher, the Indians have trotted out T.J. House 4 times and the recently-retired Bruce Chen twice. They haven't fared well. Both are sporting ERA's well over 10.00 (House with 13.15, Chen with 12.79), both have sub-5.00 K/9 rates (House with 4.85, Chen with 5.68), and neither will be returning to a starting role any time soon.

The man taking the 5th starter spot, Shaun Marcum, is as big a question mark as any. He's been a near-elite pitcher in the past with the Toronto Blue Jays, but 33-year-old hasn't made a big league start since 2013.

The defense

It's a bit early to look at defensive metrics as definitive proof of the Indians' defensive effectiveness, but there are plenty of other ways that all point to the same conclusion - this defense is awful.

According to FanGraphs' all-encompassing Defensive Value metric, the Indians are second worst in the entire league, trailing only the Oakland Athletics. Tribe defense, lead by Carlos Santana's 2 errors at first base, have also committed to 11th most errors in the majors (26).

This poor defense is also adversely affecting the otherwise-great pitching staff. Despite leading the AL with a 3.33 FIP, Cleveland starters are carrying the 3rd-worst ERA with 5.07. Meaning, at least in part, when you factor out all the things that pitchers can't control once a ball is hit, they are one of the best rotations in the league. But when you're forced to watch Chisenhall botch line drives, or Brantley run poor routes, the staff looks a lot worse. It all comes back to the defense.

The bullpen

Unlike the starting rotation, Indians relievers are bad before and after you factor in the defense. Their 3.96 FIP is good for only 10th in the AL, and their 3.50 ERA puts them at 8th. If the offense has managed to put up just enough runs to keep a game in range this year, the bullpen has more often than not swooped in to squeeze out a crushing defeat in the final frames.


Much like a kid in sad, depressing candy store, choosing one of these options is difficult, but feel free to do so. If you that there's another more glaring factor than these, throw it in the comments and give it a good rant.