Anyone paying close attention throughout this season will probably tell you the biggest problem for the Indians' offense has been hitting with runners in scoring position. They would be correct. Not poor hitting against left-handed pitchers, not a lack of home runs, but just the fact that Cleveland bats have failed to do anything with runners on second and/or third base. They solved that problem, at least temporarily, this past weekend against the Minnesota Twins.
As a fun side experiment, I thought I would see what this past series against the Twins could have turned out like if the Indians were just as mediocre hitting with RISP as they had been throughout the entire season. While a big part of the Tribe offense exploding was the Twins starting pitching being next-level awful, it showed what this offense could do when they actually hit with RISP.
For starters, let's look at how the Indians hit everything against Twins pitching, regardless of runners on base:
|8/7 (10-9 L)||14||11||2||0||1||3||0||38||2||.395||.500||.895|
|8/8 (17-4 W)||19||12||4||1||2||8||0||40||2||.540||.775||1.315|
|8/9 (8-1 W)||14||8||5||0||1||1||1||35||2||.410||.629||1.039|
Insanity! The Tribe offense took every Twins pitcher to task over three games, with 47 total hits, 16 extra-base hits, and a commendable 12 walks. Essentially, the Indians offense hit over three days like Jason Kipnis hit in the entire month of May. This offensive explosion generated 34 runs for the Tribe: 9 in Friday's loss, 17 in Saturday's blowout win, and 8 in Corey Kluber's near no-hit victory on Sunday.
Now we need a quick tally of all the Indians hits with at least a runner on second base. I decided for this little trip down memory lane that I would exclude sacrifice flies and sacrifice bunts. If the point is to adjust these games to the Indians normal RISP woes, we already know they can collect sacrifices. That is not the problem; the problem is that is almost all they do (when not making unproductive outs). Instead, we want to see only the times the Indians managed to get a base hit with a runner ready to score.
Anyway, here is ultra-scientific table titled "Things that happened with runners RISP (other than sac flies/bunts)":
|8/7 (10-9 L)||3||1||0||1||5|
|8/8 (17-4 W)||3||1||1||1||6|
|8/9 (8-1 W)||1||1||0||1||3|
Looking at this table means that five of the Indians total hits on Friday were done so with RISP, as well as six on Saturday and three on Sunday.
The Indians are hitting a measly .235 with runners primed to score on the season (good for 25th in the Majors coming into Monday). Meaning with men in scoring position they were getting roughly a hit not even one out of every four at-bats.
Now, what if, instead of having 14 hits with RISP over the weekend, the Indians hit closer to their season average? Using that season-long .235 RISP average, that changes the outcomes dramatically. On Friday, our alternate reality Indians would have only had one hit on Friday with RISP, one again on Saturday, and none on Sunday.
To accommodate this, I took away the appropriate number of hits with RISP from each day: four on Friday, five on Saturday, all three hits on Sunday. I even gave them the benefit of the doubt that took away singles, doubles and triples first -- leaving the home runs as the lone hits with RISP in this scenario.
What we are left with are numbers that are much closer to what we have seen from the Indians this season. The table below shows each game, with their respective hits with RISP subtracted.
|8/7 (10-9 L)||10||8||1||0||1||3||0||38||2||.302||.368||.671|
|8/8 (17-4 W)||14||9||3||0||2||8||0||40||2||.440||.575||1.015|
|8/9 (8-1 W)||11||7||4||0||0||1||1||35||2||.333||.429||.762|
Excluding these three games, the Indians as a team are hitting with a .248/.319/.382 (.701 OPS) slash this season. Scaling back this weekend to every day Indians hitting, we wind up with totals much closer to that - with the exception of Saturday's blowout, of course. Even without being able to hit with runners in scoring position, the Tribe likely would have won that game handily. But Friday's .671 OPS is considerably worse than the season average, and Sunday's .762 OPS looks much closer to the rest of the season than the 1.039 that occurred in reality.
The biggest takeaway from these RISP-adjusted numbers is that the Indians have been capable of nearly this kind of output all season long, if only they could hit with a runner on second. They would not normally average 11 runs per game, obviously, but if this team could even come close to how they did this weekend, we could have been looking at quite the offensive powerhouse.
So what caused all this offense exactly? One easy answer is Twins pitching. Coming into the series they'd struggled, and the Indians jumped all over them. With that in mind, the Indians have faced plenty of other bad pitchers this year and made them look like Cy Young. The biggest contributions over the weekend came from newcomers and rookies, which is a pleasant surprise. If any of it is sustainable, it could turn from a nice surprise into a serious threat in the AL Central not far down the road.