Analyzing the 2020 Tribe's Chances to Win the World Series

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Taking all of the ways I examined World Series winners of the past quarter century leads to this: how do these metrics apply to our 2020 Indians? The modified playoff structure does hamper this analysis somewhat; the best teams in baseball now must defeat a mediocre team in a 3 game series to advance to the normal first round: the Division Series. This could, theoretically, dramatically alter the landscape.

However, no system can perfectly analyze what will happen. That’s why we play the games.

Starting pitching leads the 2020 Indians; they lead the AL in run prevention by a significant margin. Shane Bieber will likely win the Cy Young Award, potentially unanimously. Carlos Carrasco & Zach Plesac would lead most other rotations in baseball as their ace. Aaron Civale is competent, and Triston McKenzie talented; both shift to our bullpen for the first series. In the Tribe’s favor is our AL leading run prevention: pitching is favored in the postseason. More problematic for the Indians is their offense, which generously ranks 13th in the AL. No team in the past 25 years has won even a pennant while ranking this low in runs scored.

If you squint, you can see similarities between the pitching heavy Cleveland Indians and other World Series and pennant winners: the 1995 Atlanta Braves led the league in run prevention, and only 9th in offensive output, the 1999 version was only slightly better at scoring runs. Other pennant winners with poor offenses but stellar defenses include the 2005 Astros(and White Sox), and the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2005 Astros particularly stand out because they ranked 11th in offense, while leading the NL in run prevention.

Overall, considering how the Indians did compared to their AL competitors we would make a somewhat dubious (and historically unprecedented) team to win the World Series given our poor offense. Our run prevention is in line or better than your standard World Series and pennant winning teams.

Looking at how the Indians finished the season is better for the Tribe. The Tribe won 9 of our last 15 games to close the season. This is not the "hot hand" for Major League Baseball, that distinction belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but right in line with what we would expect historically. In fact, not being the hot hand is better for World Series aspirants and nine wins is right at the historical average.

The Tribe also boasts at least two players with strong Hall of Fame potential. This analysis lacked much correlation with eventual winners; several teams with either few or no aspiring Hall of Fame players won including the 2002 Anaheim Angels, the 2015 Kansas City Royals, and the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays & Philadelphia Phillies. Two players is about average, and we shall see what Shane Bieber can produce over what we can hope is a long and illustrious career.

Finally, the Tribe’s current wins placement is somewhat troubling. The Tribe finished the 2020 season tied for 4th in wins in the AL. This makes the Tribe an historical underdog in the race for the AL Pennant. If we used run differential as a tie breaker to the White Sox (placing us 5th) it would be mildly worse for the Tribe (then again: if we used head-to-head as the tie breaker we’d still rank 4th). Without knowing how the Indians finish in the 2021 and 2022 seasons I cannot analyze our average win total over a five year period, as I did previously.


The Indians are an underdog to win the World Series this year. It would be historically unusual for a team in our position to win the World Series. In terms of our offense: it would be historically unprecedented for a team with as lackluster an offense as ours to even win the pennant, let alone win the World Series. On the flip side, our pitching truly is elite, which offers us a slim chance; if the Indians wanted to pick being unbalanced in favor of run prevention, or run scoring: they would want to pick run prevention.

Our first round opponent, the Yankees, make for a formidable adversary. They rank 1st in runs scored in the league this year, and 6th in run prevention. While their wins record would be unusually bad for a World Series contender: their run differential is actually mildly better than ours. Geritt Cole may not quite have caught Shane Bieber, but he’s the second best strikeout artist in the AL this year (and has been a superior pitcher for longer). It will be a tough series. My prediction: Yankees in three. I struggle to see how the Indians score against the Yankees, although I do anticipate us holding them in check defensively.

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