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Debunking a theory: Cleveland Indians are a bad team with a win streak

Yes, if you take 22.5 percent of a team's wins away, they suddenly aren't very good anymore.

Hey man, I don't make the rules. Manfred said your wins don't count anymore. The internet told him so.
Hey man, I don't make the rules. Manfred said your wins don't count anymore. The internet told him so.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

"The Cleveland Indians are nothing but a .500 team if you take away their 14-game win streak"

"How Cleveland played during the 14-game win streak is not indicative of the true talent of the team"

"The Indians are 2-5 in August and Detroit is winning everything. We're doomed!"

There are probably other variations on the above statements, but frankly, I'm tired of typing them/reading them on a daily basis. If it isn't one thing, it's another when your team is performing poorly, and the Indians are no exception.

Taking away wins from a team makes them look worse. Weird how that works

In trying to explain the Indians struggles, two prominent theories have cropped up since the All-Star Break concluded: The Indians can only beat bad teams and the Indians are no better than a .500 team if you remove their 14-game winning streak. I wrote at length a couple of weeks ago in regards to the first theory, and I came away with the conclusion that the Indians aren't that much different than other contending teams when it comes to playing over-.500 teams. Now, I want to tackle the second theory. To start, here are the records of the current division leaders:

Division Team Record
AL East Orioles 63-47
AL Central Indians 62-47
AL West Rangers 65-47
NL East Nationals 66-45
NL Central Cubs 69-41
NL West Giants 63-48

In an effort to improve parity around the league, Rob Manfred declares that all division leaders will now be hit with a handicap of -14 games. You know, to bring the kids back to baseball. With Manfred's new diabolical scheme in place and cries of outrage ignored, here are the new records for the division leaders:

Division Team Record
AL East Orioles 49-47
AL Central Indians 48-47
AL West Rangers 51-47
NL East Nationals 52-45
NL Central Cubs 55-41
NL West Giants 49-48

The Cubs are stupid good, so they may not have as big of an issue with this new decree, but the other five teams are probably already in the process of lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks as they prepare to storm Manfred's castle (at least, I assume he lives alone in a castle similar to Dr. Wily in Mega Man II). "But Tyler", you say, "Of course teams would be bad if you take 14 of their hard earned wins away". And to you, I respond "Yes, yes they would".

Let's travel to a world where winning streaks do not exist and see what happens

This isn't just a phenomenon that would impact the Cleveland Indians. At this point in the season, 14 wins equates to ~22.5 percent of all of the wins that Cleveland has accrued -- it just so happened that the Indians banked 14 of those wins right next to one another. For good measure, here are the longest winning streaks that each of the above teams have seen this season:

  • Orioles: 7 (twice)
  • Indians: 14
  • Rangers: 7
  • Nationals: 7
  • Cubs: 8
  • Giants: 8 (twice)

If Manfred tweaks his new rule and declares that each team must subtract the amount of games equal to their greatest win streak from their overall total, the Giants and Orioles are suddenly very upset:

Division Team Record
AL East Orioles 49-47
AL Central Indians 48-47
AL West Rangers 58-47
NL East Nationals 59-45
NL Central Cubs 61-41
NL West Giants 47-48

The Indians do take a bit more of a hit than other teams if you magically delete their win streak, but that's only because it was so much better than everyone else's streak. Cherry picking the baseball games between June 17-July 1 because all of the games resulted in a win is really not a good measure of anything. You can arbitrarily choose any number of games and say that a team is good or bad. Luckily, all of the games count the same in the end.

What about losing streaks?

The Indians having a 14-game win streak is nothing more than good sequencing. None of the other division leaders have a win streak of over eight, and the Giants hit that benchmark twice. So, for the Indians, a lot of positive baseball was clustered into a two week period as opposed to spread around a couple of mini-clusters. Is there anything wrong with that? I'd say no. Cleveland's struggles are magnified right now because their main division rival, the Detroit Tigers, are refusing to lose baseball games. But even with how well Detroit has been playing as of late, their best win streak of the year is still only eight games. Which brings me to a point that I haven't seen anyone bring up, and that's longest losing streak by each team.

  • Orioles: 5 (twice)
  • Indians: 3 (x6)
  • Rangers: 4 (x3)
  • Nationals: 7
  • Cubs: 5
  • Giants: 6

I'm sure there will be folks who see the "x6" next to the Cleveland losing streak and cry victory. Yes, the Indians have had the most occurrences of their longest losing streak, which is, again, more of a testament to the sequencing of games as opposed to the talent of the team.

Try not to get too invested in the highs or the lows

Fans tend to put more stock into losses than wins. When the team is doing well, it's luck or a poor showing by the other team. When the team is losing every two of three, it's because the players were never as good as we thought or they were always ticking time bombs and have just finally imploded. This baseball version of social psychology attribution is interesting in that it's rarely all your team's (internal attribution) or the other team's (external attribution) fault. Like most things, it's usually a little column A, little column B.

So the Indians have the a) largest winning streak and b) shortest losing streak of all of the contenders (for those interested, Detroit's longest losing streak is 7). This doesn't mean that the Tribe is better or worse than the other teams on that list. All of the teams mentioned have had good stretches and bad stretches; Cleveland, up to this point, really hasn't had any "terrible" stretches. Sure, the past week or so has looked pretty bad, but overall, the Indians are still a fantastic baseball team. Are they 14-game win streak good? I doubt it. But thankfully, Rob Manfred can't take those wins away from the Indians, and neither should you.