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Two things the Indians offense does better than any other team

No team is the best at everything. But the Indians offense is tops in precisely two things.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians do a lot of things well offensively. You don't win 22 in a row, or 90 games halfway through September, or own the best record in a league by being terrible.

Right now they're second in the American League in on-base percentage, slugging, wRC+, and doubles among other things; they are third in batting average and homers. Those damn Houston Astros always spoiling things, and the Baltimore Orioles just hit the hell out of the ball. In an O's game, both teams hit the hell out of the ball, though. You don't have to be the best in teh world (we're ignoring pitching here, which the Tribe owns handily) but being very good is usually enough. In two places though, the Indians are the very best in the league.

The first is walk rate, which is a very big deal. A wise man who I don't remember made the point on Wednesday on Twitter that the three truths in life are death, taxes, and the Indians having two men on base. The AL average walk rate is 8.5 percent, which the Indians best by nearly a point and a half at 9.8 percent. They have nine men on the team with above-average walk rates:

Indians walk rates

Name PA BB%
Name PA BB%
Edwin Encarnacion 613 15.8 %
Carlos Santana 609 13.8 %
Yandy Diaz 153 13.7 %
Jay Bruce 110 11.8 %
Roberto Perez 215 10.7 %
Abraham Almonte 181 10.5 %
Austin Jackson 264 9.8 %
Lonnie Chisenhall 264 9.5 %
Michael Brantley 372 8.3 %
Francisco Lindor 654 7.8 %
Jose Ramirez 592 7.6 %
Erik Gonzalez 106 2.8 %
Bradley Zimmer 332 7.8 %
Yan Gomes 361 8.6 %
Jason Kipnis 335 7.5 %
Brandon Guyer 192 7.8 %
Giovanny Urshela 130 6.2 %

The names toward the top is at least as surprising as who isn't. Specifically, Yandy Diaz, Abraham Almonte, and Yan Gomes pop out. One is a rookie barely into his first year, one is a part-time player who rides the shuttle to Columbus regularly, and the other is a man two years removed from a glorious offensive season. Like Almonte, Gomes seems prone to striking out, yet he’s still snatching free passes like a star. Perhaps his dreadful and injury-riddled 2016 is salting his image a bit.

The guys near the bottom of the list, though, notably Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, are plainly not liabilities. They just get to feast on RBI after the other guys get on base in front of them. It's a perfect, delicious, run-scoring stew. Whether on purpose or by accident, there's a perfect blend of patience and aggressiveness in this lineup.

But everyone knows walk rate is good, and the Indians are the best and it helps them win. They're also the best in baseball at hitting sliders. Which is neat.

The slider is the second most used pitch in baseball, being thrown 16.2 percent of the time. According to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, Cleveland rates at 11.8 runs above average against sliders, more than a full run better than the second place Astros. The thing to remember about about Pitch Values is they're pretty contextual and can't be held in a vacuum. But pitching itself is contextual, and everything a pitcher throws (or batter schemes for) is based around everything else that's being thrown. The Indians plainly have a sense of when to look slider, or at least have a preternatural ability to hit pitches biting horizontally with minimal downward movement.

When things get tight, pitchers lean on their best stuff. We saw this a year ago with the Indians in the playoffs, and how it led to success. The teams they faced, the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, were some of the of the worst curveball hitting teams in the game. At the same time,the Indians were the best curveballers around, and it all led to an incredible October run. This matters this year specifically because of who throws a lot of sliders:

Team Slider Usage

Team SL%
Team SL%
Yankees 25.4 %
Padres 24.9 %
Angels 20.0 %
Astros 20.0 %
Mets 19.8 %
Royals 19.3 %
Tigers 18.0 %
Nationals 17.4 %
Marlins 17.3 %
Diamondbacks 17.0 %
Reds 16.8 %
Rays 16.6 %
Orioles 16.6 %
Mariners 16.5 %
Athletics 16.4 %
White Sox 16.1 %
Rockies 15.9 %
Dodgers 15.7 %
Red Sox 15.3 %
Phillies 15.0 %
Blue Jays 14.5 %
Cardinals 13.8 %
Braves 13.5 %
Twins 13.5 %
Giants 13.4 %
Rangers 12.5 %
Pirates 12.2 %
Indians 11.7 %
Brewers 11.4 %
Cubs 10.1 %

The Astros loom largest, but the New Yankees are at the top for their staff along with the possible Wild Card Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Nationals, should it come to that. More specifically, being able to club sliders is vital because lots of relievers throw one to pair with their fastball, and bullpens are again going to play a large part in October because that’s how baseball is now. Among teams the Indians could face in the playoffs, here's where their relief pitchers rank in slider usage:

Team Reliever Slider Usage

Team SL%
Team SL%
Astros 30.2 %
Rockies 26.7 %
Phillies 25.1 %
Padres 24.3 %
Mariners 23.9 %
White Sox 23.7 %
Reds 22.5 %
Royals 22.1 %
Mets 21.8 %
Yankees 21.7 %
Angels 21.5 %
Orioles 20.8 %
Indians 20.6 %
Marlins 20.5 %
Nationals 20.3 %
Athletics 20.0 %
Cardinals 19.1 %
Dodgers 19.0 %
Red Sox 18.0 %
Rays 16.7 %
Giants 16.3 %
Blue Jays 15.7 %
Pirates 15.6 %
Tigers 15.4 %
Braves 14.6 %
Diamondbacks 14.5 %
Rangers 13.9 %
Cubs 13.8 %
Twins 11.2 %
Brewers 11.1 %

There’s the Astros again, and while the Yankees aren’t as high here key parts of their rotation and and guys like Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and David Robertson have lots of sliders looming. Those guys throw good ones, which makes it difficult, but less so than if it were, say, cutters or sinkers. The Indians are bad at hitting those. Even some teams further down the list like the Red Sox have individual pitchers (Chris Sale, perhaps David Price) that lean on their slider. You have to wonder if there's a systemic focus in the Indians organization somewhere, to focus on hitting the most-used breaking ball. How you do that is beyond me, but these are professionals. They're probably professional about it.

None of this proves anything, but the slider is very much a major pitch that a lot of teams lean on. The Colorado Rockies filled their bullpen with fastball/slider combo pitchers and are contenders. The Astros relief corps throws it nearly a third of the time, and they’re going to get work in the playoffs. You need to be able to hit it.

Last year the best slider-hitting teams were the Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, Yankees, Cubs, and Nationals — three division winners and two great offenses. Before that, it was the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Dodgers, Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates. Again, all playoff teams in 2015, all considered title contenders. Last year the Dodgers in particular were 51 runs above average on slider. It's not a sure thing that you'll be better if you crush sliders, but it helps to hit any pitch well. Especially the most popular non-fastball pitch. The Indians don't abuse it like the Dodgers did last season, but relative to their 2017 opponents there's nobody better.

Between working walks and smashing sliders, the Indians are in good shape for the postseason.