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How good would the Indians be with a league-average offense?

It might hurt to consider this but everything in 2020 is already painful, so ....

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians lineup contains some of the best hitters in the American League.

The production of the lineup as a whole has yet to reflect that.

As the Indians are set to complete the first third of the shortened 2020 season tonight, I found myself wondering: how much better would the Indians record be if the output of the team was league-average instead of a league-worst 3.3 runs per game?

For the sake of the argument, we’ll say that the pitching staff would remain as effective as they’ve been up to this point. From there, we’ll use Pythagorean Expected Wins to show how much better the Indians record to date might be if they were simply league-average at the plate. This can be calculated in a few different ways, but we’re going to use the Baseball-Reference method. From there, I’m going to do some crude analysis to guess at how the Indians might actually perform the rest of the way.

If the Indians had a league-average offense

To date, the average team in baseball scores 4.6 per game. If we applied this level of run scoring to the Tribe, they’d currently have 87 runs scored compared to the 62 runs they’ve actually scored. Indians pitching allows 2.7 runs per game, or a total of 51 runs so far.

Using Pythagorean Expected Wins, a Cleveland Indians ballclub that had produced runs at exactly league average “deserves” a 14-5 record. That would be the second-best record in baseball after the Chicago Cubs, and the best in the American League.

For reference their current Pythagorean Expected Wins is 11-8.

What Regression might do to the Indians moving forward

I don’t think we can reasonably anticipate that the offense will suddenly become average (let alone good) and that the pitching staff will continue its utter dominance. We can expect some kind of regression to the mean for both run production and run prevention.

If I had the time, talent, and means, the right way to do this would be to plug in every game from the season to date and churn the numbers that way. We have nineteen games from the Indians and 528 games from the league; what can we expect assuming that the true talent of the Indians is somewhere between what they have done and what the league average is?

I do not have the time, talent, or means, but I’m not afraid to assault statisticians everywhere and make things up.

Fuzzy Math

Let’s assume that the Indians, for the remainder of the season, will perform at a rate that is halfway between league average and their performance through 19 games. That gives us 3.95 runs scored per game and 3.65 runs allowed per game. That gives us an expected record for the rest of the season of 22-19, and an overall record of 32-28.

In reality, I think that the Indians pitching staff is likely to be among the best in the league, and that the offense will be slightly worse than league average. The quick and dirty way I decided to calculate this is to say that the true talent of the Indians pitching staff is likely near the average of the five best in baseball by runs allowed so far this year, and that the true talent of the offense is likely near the average of the fifteen worst in baseball this season (the middle of the pack in the bottom half of offensive production). That gives us a runs scored of 4.08 per game, and a runs allowed of 3.26 per game. The expected record for the rest of the season then comes to 25-16, and a final record of 35-25.

Just for kicks, I decided to run some simulations, too. By taking the standard deviations of the (small) datasets, we can simulate how a team with those given characteristics performs over the course of a 41-game season (=NORMINV(RAND(),AVERAGE,STDEV). Granted, this assumes that how well a team is hitting does not effect how well it is pitching and vice versa. We can’t be certain that this is 100% true, but for the purposes of this simulation it is because I said so.

I simulated the rest of the season 1,000 times.

Best Performance: 27-14, overall record of 37-23.

Worst Performance: 22-19, overall record of 32-28.

Average Performance: 25-16, overall record of 35-25.

Because I had all of the numbers set up, I couldn’t resist plugging in the values for a fully league-average offense combined with the average performance of a top-five pitching staff, and simulated that 1,000 times:

Best Performance: 29-12, overall record of 39-21.

Worst Performance: 24-17, overall record of 34-26.

Average Performance: 27-14, overall record of 37-23.

Granted, this all assumes that the Indians are able to continue being one of the best pitching staffs in the game without Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac. What the numbers overall indicate to me, though, is this: The Indians shouldn’t have a problem putting together a winning record this season and sneaking into the #WeirdPlayoffs. If the bats ever do manage to wake up - even a little bit - this could be one of the best teams in the league.