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Testing the impact of patience on the Cleveland Indians lineup

Does the patience, or over patience bordering on passivity, have any real negative impact on the Indians offense?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s often said that patience is a virtue. In baseball, this could mean that overreacting in April is crazy since it’s a long season and no, Trevor Story isn't hitting 75 homers and no, the Houston Astros won't finish in last. Probably. Or that waiting for your pitch and working the count when at bat is a good approach for any hitter to have. Let the game come to you.

The Cleveland Indians, in particular, are a pretty patient team, at least by the eye test. Two of their most important hitters, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana, are known for not swinging at anything outside of the strike zone, and even Jason Kipnis and the young Francisco Lindor are well composed in the box, not willing to swing at garbage too often. The downside to this is, it seems like they take strike three called all to often. Is it just confirmation bias, or are they really just too patient a team? Or does patience itself lead to a better offense?

Walk rate is a good signal of patience, simply because it takes at least four pitches to take a walk. Not out of the realm of sanity, I know. Getting on base is a driver of offense, so it would make sense that seeing more pitches would lead to more runs scored. But you can be too selective, and get caught looking silly. That’s where strikeouts looking come into play. There is nothing more maddening to me than a strikeout looking. To me, at that point, you’ve crossed over into the realm of passivity rather than patience. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I still hate them. The batter could just be getting fooled by a brilliant pitcher. If that were so, though, one would think the league would catch up, and simply pound the zone and make the hitter actually hit, truly exposing them. But I wondered whether watching the third strike go by came from walking a lot, and was in any way symptomatic of damaged offensive output.

Here’s how the top ten walk rate teams to this point in the season are doing with strikeouts looking (and swinging) and how they are producing offensively.


BB%

K%

K Looking

K Swinging

wRC+

CHC

12.6

20.6

40

91

110

MIL

1.4

25.7

62

83

84

PIT

11.3

17.8

30

85

121

NYY

10.2

19.4

35

69

102

ATL

9.6

21.6

24

99

62

STL

9.6

21.8

39

90

124

TOR

9.5

26.0

44

120

93

MIN

9.3

22.3

27

109

108

WAS

9.3

23.0

35

93

98

BAL

9.1

21.8

28

87

141

At 14th,

CLE

8.7

24.8

30

90

94

*data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

There’s really not a huge difference between the Giants’ 8.8 percent walk rate at 11th in baseball and the Tribe, so they’re close to sneaking into the top ten. What this tells us is, there’s a positive correlation between walk rate and offensive output, at least partially. Somehow the Braves have wandered to near the top of the list despite their not being able to hit their way out of a wet paper bag, but other than that good offenses are drawing a lot of walks.

As for the K’s looking, though, it seems like it doesn’t have much effect. The Cubs have a +60 run differential going right now, and they watch strike three-way more than the Indians do. They strike out a ton in general and walk constantly. Milwaukee seems to walk a lot and strike out a lot while being terrible offensively, but St. Louis is right there with the Cubs in strikeouts, and even better offensively. The Orioles are on par with Cleveland in the K’s and the best offense in baseball right now. That’s going to fluctuate as they go through homerless swoons they’re sure to experience. Also, the Braves will be exposed sooner or later.

My overall conclusion to this, walking a lot means you might take a strikeout looking now and again, but also that good offense simply comes from good hitters. By seeing a lot of pitches, you're going to tend to see a pitch that fools you. Striking out looking could also just be just evidence of facing a good pitcher rather than being overpatient. Being patient, being overpatient, none of that has any real effect or maybe isn’t a real thing. The Brewers just don’t have many good offensive players, while the Cubs and Cardinals and Pirates do.

Mike Napoli does lead the team in strikeouts looking, and there are times where he seems to be overly selective, looking for a pitch when he should just be trying to battle and get on base. I like that odd twist of aggression, but there are times when it bites him in the ass.

The Indians have trotted out a pretty bad offensive outfield to start the year and that surely has impacted all these numbers. Between that and their facing a horde of incredible pitching seemingly time and time again, along with the dreaded Middling Lefty, they just haven’t been generating the offense you’d like. It’s to this point been as good as the Blue Jays’ by wRC+, which is neat. They just don't have all the shock and awe the Jays hitters seem to instill. Perhaps this is all something to return to later in the year, once Michael Brantley has come back and players have rounded fully into form. In short, hitters just have to hit, and might get tricked now and again.