The Cleveland Indians offense is broken.
That’s not to say it will never be fixed, but a month into the regular season, nothing offensively is going right for the Tribe. Pitching has saved them enough to keep them atop the weak American League Central, but when the pitching has faltered, even a little bit, the offense has been nowhere to be seen. It’s resulted in a team that’s painful to watch, both as a fan of the team and has someone who has stunk at things for a long period of time and can empathize with how the team might feel right now.
Their sole savior for most of the season has been Jose Ramirez, but the rest of the lineup has been anywhere from flaky to downright awful; even Jose’s production plummeted when facing the Seattle Mariners. It’s not very hard to see why, either, whether you’re watching the games, looking at the cumulative stats, or both, the reason is clear: The Indians are hitting too many fly balls.
Lifting the ball is great, there’s a reason baseball is the midst of a flyball revolution and the highest home run rates the game has ever seen, but the Indians aren’t doing it effectively, and it’s the only thing they are doing.
Entering play today, they lead the league in fly ball percentage at 40.4 percent and are second-to-last in line drive percentage at 18.6 percent. It could be worse, of course, they could be the Miami Marlins, who are dead last in fly ball percentage at 30.4 percent, and are arguably the only offense worse than the Indians to this point in the season. I’m just saying there are many ways to be a broken offense, but the Indians’ awfulness of choice is hard to watch.
It’s not like they are hitting the ball softly, either. Their 35.9 percent hard-hit ball rate is ranked ninth in the majors, and they have one of the lowest soft-hit percentages in the game, right behind the seemingly unstoppable Arizona Diamondbacks. Even as their BABIP climbs to a realistic — yet still last in the majors and terrible — .257 on the season, nothing is landing where it’s supposed to. Occasionally they’ll be able to go off like they did against the Mariners on Friday and belt half a dozen home runs, but you can’t rely on that every game, which is what it looks like the Indians are doing right now.
As I’ve been watching the Indians struggle, a couple things have stuck out that make them particularly hard to watch. The fly outs are obvious — there are just too many — and they seem to have a lot of quick 1-2-3 innings where the offense doesn’t even make an effort. Also, when they lose, it sure seems like a lot of their final shots are 1-2-3 efforts. So, thanks to the power of small sample sizes, patience, and FanGraphs’ play logs, I went through each Indians game and counted a few things.
For starters, the number of innings with two or more pop or fly outs. One fly out an inning seems rather acceptable once in a while, but if you’re consistently popping out for two or more outs in an inning, that’s pretty damn boring — you don’t even get to hope for an error or speed helping you leg out a single. It’s just a towering shot that falls into the outfielder’s glove. And two times per inning? Stab me in the eye with a splintered baseball bat, please.
I also counted the number of 1-2-3 innings, because more than once this season I’ve gotten up to refill a drink or splash water in my face to stay awake in the midst of another 1-0 loss and come back only to see MLB.tv on commercial again. Did they just skip over the Indians’ half-inning? Nope. They’re just that bad. I also specifically counted the “last effort” 1-2-3 innings, when the Indians could have, in theory, made an effort to win the game but instead they went down in order without a fight.
While this is far from scientific and a larger sample size will change things over time, the Indians are, indeed, un-effing-watchable right now. I found that 21.63 percent of their innings contain two or more fly outs, and a lot of them were also parts of 1-2-3 innings. That means a fifth of the Indians' innings played have contained two or more balls gently floating in the air and coming down into an outfielders' glove. Maybe they had to shuffle their feet a bit, but there was never any exciting chance to make a defensive mistake, the opportunity to move a runner over, or any kind of chance at a close play at first.
The Indians also were made quick work of 29.8 percent of the time. Almost a third of their innings were 1-2-3 affairs, allowing opposing pitchers to stay in games longer and everyone else to get to bed a little earlier and sleep off another bad day. Oh, and five of their 12 losses have come with 1-2-3 final efforts in the ninth inning. What the hell?
It’s going to get better eventually, or at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself. Eventually they have to start drawing walks and hitting something other than towering outs, right? When the weather warms up a few of these fly balls will be home runs, right? Corey Kluber isn’t going to have to pitch every single game of the season for the Indians to win, right? I need to believe these things, or I’m going to go insane.