Two of my biggest loves in life are sports and video games. When they can be combined, I take the opportunity and run with it. After getting shutout yesterday by the Mariners, the Indians stumbled into the halfway point of the season at 39-42. Coming off of 2013′s playoff campaign, fans expected a better follow up. Were those expectations wrong? That’s where the video games come in. I decided to simulate through the Indians season to date in three different games – MLB 14: The Show on PS3, iOOTP Baseball 2014 on iPhone, and Out of the Park Baseball 15 on PC – to figure out how the team should have performed as opposed to their actual record.
I created a franchise in each game, allowing the computer to take control of all roster moves and decisions. Default rosters were used, injuries were turned on, and all games were simulated through. These simulations were done for fun as opposed to being 538-style statistical models, which would use a large sample size as opposed to just one run through per game. If you have any other questions about how I performed these simulations, please ask me on twitter or in the comments section.
MLB 14: The Show (PS3) – Record Through 81 Games: 43-38
I had low expectations for this simulation after the Indians finished 9-21 in spring training. I knew something was up when Nick Swisher hit .289 with 23 RBIs in 27 games. After a 16-13 April, the wheels came off in early May, as the team lost 8 of 9 to start the month, including a streak of six in a row. After being swept by the Red Sox in early June, their record fell to 28-33. At that point, Terry Francona must have called a team meeting because the Tribe rattled off wins in 9 of the following 10 games, including a seven game winning streak. By the time the halfway point rolled around, the Indians were in a virtual tie with Detroit, 0.5 games ahead of Kansas City.
Michael Bourn and his league leading 28 steals marked the only Cleveland player at or near the top of the league in any of the major statistical categories, but the Indians still posted a solid first half record. The offense, like in real life, ranked sixth in the league. Sony San Diego was a bit more optimistic on the Indians pitching staff, as Tribe pitchers ranked 18th in ERA, 21st in runs allowed, and 27th in hits allowed. The biggest difference between the PS3 game and the real Indians lies in the fielding. In real life, the Indians have made a whopping 70 errors in 81 games; in MLB 14: The Show, the team made just 25 errors and posted the best fielding percentage in baseball. In case you didn’t find the team fielding stats funny enough, learning that Asdrubal Cabrera made just five errors and Yan Gomes posted just one miscue should get you laughing.
Among other unexpected performances, Cabrera led the team with a .310 average while Michael Brantley hit .249 and Nick Swisher hit .260. For pitchers, Cody Allen and John Axford pulled a Freaky Friday swap, as the Canadian posted a 2.25 ERA and 18 saves while the real life closer couldn’t get it together, posting a 2.16 WHIP and 4.74 ERA. The Show got some stats right, such as Jason Kipnis’s .245 average, Corey Kluber’s 3.26 ERA, and Danny Salazar’s 5.53 ERA, all of which come close to these player’s real world stats.
The Show did a good job predicting team offense and pitching, but the fielding disparity between the Sony game and the real life Indians lies in polar opposite fielding statistics. As a team, the Indians have posted more than four wins below replacement level. They would have the same record as MLB 14: The Show predicted for them had they just fielded at a league average rate!
iOOTP Baseball 2014 (iPhone) – Record Through 81 Games: 48-33
Made by Out of the Park developments, this mobile game is arguably the deepest baseball sim offered on iOS. iOOTP scales down the company’s PC experience, but it keeps a similar ratings system and includes depth not offered by other mobile sports games.
The Indians got off to a hot start, winning 10 of their first 14 games before crashing back down to earth. By the end of April, the Indians were 13-16, six games behind Kansas City for the division lead. Computer Francona made some unusual decisions, such as giving Michael Brantley and Jason Giambi part-time starting jobs, with grandpa Giambi forced to play a lot more first base than he bargained for.
By the end of May, Giambi, Jason Kipnis, Ryan Raburn, and Michael Bourn hit the disabled list simultaneously. This led to players like Carlos Moncrief and Francisco Lindor getting their service time clocks started earlier than expected. Miraculously, the pitching staff bailed out the injured hitters because the Indians rattled off 21 wins in 28 games during the month of May.
For some reason, as the fictional Indians got healthier, the pitching got worse. However, the May hot streak kept the Indians near the top of the division by the time the halfway mark hit. At 48-33, Cleveland sat 1.5 games behind Kansas City and 4 games ahead of Detroit. Once again, the game foreshadowed a three team race in the AL Central.
These Indians got amazing performances from Carlos Santana with 17 homers, 59 runs batted in (second in AL), 51 walks (third in AL), and slightly above average fielding at third base; Nick Swisher, who posted a .305 batting average, was leading the league with 59 walks and 26 doubles, scored 58 runs (third in AL), and played both first base and right field; and Justin Masterson, who posted ten first half wins and a 2.28 ERA. Danny Salazar also won 10 games in the first half while Corey Kluber’s ERA sat at 2.90. iOOTP got Terry Francona’s stubborn managerial style right as Zach McAllister did not leave the rotation, even as he posted a 5.45 ERA. Michael Bourn continues to occupy the leadoff spot in the batting order, even though he is hitting .226 with just 12 stolen bases. Nyjer Morgan never got injured, but he posted a .295 OBP as the team’s designated hitter while Lonnie Chisenhall sat on the bench, accruing just seven first half at bats.
As a team, iOOTP believed the Indians would post an average offense, though it seems like Swisher and Santana were the only reasons the offense wasn’t well below average. The pitching staff, led by the trio of Masty, Kluber, and Salazar, posted above average numbers, picking up even more slack from hitters other than Swish and Santana. Unlike The Show, iOOTP realized this Indians team would have fielding issues as it placed them 12th of the 15 AL teams. iOOTP illustrates how good team pitching and hitting must be to compensate for below average fielding, but also how much better a bad fielding Indians team could be compared to the historically bad they’ve been in real life.
Out of the Park Baseball 15 (PC) – Record Through 81 Games: 44-37
OOTP 15 is arguably the most accurate baseball sim on the market today, using ZiPS projections containing pretty much every statistic and metric anyone has ever thought of. The game includes every team in minor league baseball as well as large amount of international leagues, if you want to break away from the perils of Major League Baseball.
These Indians posted a decent April at 14-15, once again led by Nick Swisher, who had a .433 wOBA and 11 doubles in the opening month of the season. Like their mobile contemporary, OOTP 15 predicted a May rebound, with the Indians ending the subsequent month just a half game behind Kansas City. After starting June with eight consecutive wins, the Tribe took first place from Kansas City, a spot that they still hold at the halfway point. With the best offense in the American League, an above average pitching staff, and average fielding, these Indians look poised to make the playoffs.
Asdrubal Cabrera leads this team with a .316 average (8th in MLB), Carlos Santana posted 4.0 WAR (5th in MLB) and a .309 average, and Swisher tied for the league lead with 41 extra base hits. It was not all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns, however, as Michael Bourn hit just .229 and posted -0.9 WAR, though he has not relinquished that lead off spot. Jason Kipnis hit just .236, but he showed enough pop to make up for the poor average.
From the pitching side, Justin Masterson tore his flexor tendon during his first start, forcing the Indians to keep Carlos Carrasco and his 5.32 ERA in the rotation. The injury also forced the Indians to trade Clint Frazier for Josh Collmenter, who underperformed since coming to Cleveland. Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister picked up some slack in the middle of the rotation while Danny Salazar ascended to the ace position vacated by Justin Masterson, leading the league with 11 wins. Cody Allen and John Axford formed a stellar bullpen duo, with the pair combining for 16 saves and a 1.43 ERA in 69 first half innings pitched.
I believe that OOTP is the most accurate of the three video game models, but even they could not see this team being historically bad at fielding, a difference that makes up for most of the win/loss disparity between the game and real life.
Conclusion – Did the Indians underachieve?
If all three video games are to be believed, then the Indians have underachieved in the first half. With 81 games left, this team has plenty of time to right the ship, but they’ll need to outperform expectations in order to compensate for 39-42. Sports video games are imperfect prediction models, but their data is based on real world stats, so any major disparities are usually due to unrealistic player expectations in the game or unexpected overachieving/underachieving in real life.
Based on positive regression to the mean, the Indians cannot continue to make so many miscues, errors that have cost the team more than four wins. Nick Swisher is also bound to improve because he is not a Mendoza line hitter. With the All-Star break nearing, a few days off might allow Swish to get his body and mind healthy enough to stop taking called third strikes. There is no way he nears the numbers predicted for him in the video games, but a repeat of 2013 is not out of the question. The games saw something in Corey Kluber that most of the fans missed because his rise was predicted in all three simulations, an ascension necessary for this team to compete throughout the first 81 games.
With an average of 45 first half wins earned by the Indians in the video games, their actual 39-42 record comes as a disappointment credited to the terrible fielding and overall underperformance. If this team can regress positively to the mean with average fielding and nothing else, they’ll finish near the .500 mark. That said, with a three team race in the AL Central, the Indians will need to outperform expectations with drastic improvements in both pitching and fielding, otherwise a second consecutive playoff appearance is out of the question.
If you’re curious about how the three video games will simulate the second half of the season, check It’s Pronounced Lajaway later this week. Also be on the lookout for a new It’s Pronounced Podcast later this week, and don’t forget to follow me on twitter @NSF_Alex.