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Indians offense has been inconsistent, but that might not matter

The Indians offense seems to be a bit of a roller coaster, sometimes mashing out 17 runs, other times getting shut out in back-to-back games. But does the data back this up? And does it even matter?

Jonathan Daniel

The Indians offense can be maddening. You have a lineup full of players capable of putting up truly impressive offensive numbers that seems to just lay down, sometimes for three or four games at a time.

For example, in late June, the team put up 7 runs over four games, including back-to-back shutouts at the hands of Felix Hernandez (no shame in that) and Dan Haren (lots of shame in that). The next night, they put up a 10 spot and they scored 13 more runs over the next three games. From averaging just 1.75 per game to 5.75 in the space of about a week.

But how inconsistent is this team really? Every team is going to have some good stretches and some bad stretches, right? I looked at the first 122 games for all AL teams (122 because when I pulled the data, every team has played at least 122), and compared both runs per game and the standard deviation* of runs per game across the league.

*Standard deviation (SD) is a measure of how clustered a set of numbers are around a mean. For example, if a team scores four runs every game for 10 days, they will average four runs per game with a SD of zero. Another team alternating 8s and 0s will also average four runs per game but will have a SD of four.

Here is what I found: through 122 games, the Tribe was 5th in the AL in runs scored, at 4.37, meaning their offense was in the top third of the league. Not unexpected, I would say. You can easily argue they should be better, but between injuries, the rough start from Carlos Santana, poor performance from Jason Kipnis, etc., 5th sounds about right.

Their SD was third, just a bit behind Detroit and far behind Oakland. Oakland, for what it's worth, is also scoring the most runs per game in the American League. Detroit, the second most.

What can we take from that? Probably not a ton. Teams that score more runs will have a higher SD (if you score less than 4 runs per game, you aren't creating a ton of big numbers and your scores are likely clustered between 0 and 7 or 8, while a team averaging 4.5 runs per game is more likely to have some big numbers in there). Basically, the Indians have been a little more inconsistent than the typical AL team, but not egregiously so.

The reality is, being inconsistent on offense is likely a result of being good on offense. The correlation between SD and average runs per game is .61. The more you score, the more variety there will be in your score lines - instead of a bunch of 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4 run games, you have a bunch of 6, 7, 10 and 12 run games, which drives up the SD. In addition, the correlation between wins and SD of runs per game is .17, so you can win a lot of games being consistent, but you can also win a lot being inconsistent too.

This was not a super scientific study (one could be done, using multiple years of data to find out if high standard deviation offenses regularly win more or less than we'd expect based on their runs per game), but as an Indians fan who worried about the team's inconsistency, this tells me that A) they are not as inconsistent as I thought and B) it probably doesn't matter that much anyway.

Consistency, it seems, is overrated.