There are several ways in which one could look at the Indians defense this year, and none of those ways make it look good. You could look to more modern defensive stats, such as defensive runs saved, and see how many players (and the whole team in general) was way below average. You could also look at the team’s many many errors and pick out several specific games in which errors likely led to a loss. As Vern pointed out the other day when it came to offense, you could also add a few extra wins with better defense. I want to take a look at some of the overall bad defensive statistics and then look at the team errors and their influence on certain games. One could estimate how many additional games the Indians would have won with better defense, but it’s a little more difficult to pinpoint than some of the very blatant errors this team committed.
The Indians finished the season at 85-77, five games in back of Detroit in the AL Central, and three behind Oakland for the second wild card spot (four behind Kansas City). This team looked so very bad at times; finishing with a winning season while some of your key players were having a terrible year seems pretty impressive. The fact that the Tribe managed to hang in there and persevere with a defense that looked almost Little League-ish at times, is quite a feat. If they could have matched their 2013 defensive performance (which still wasn’t that great) they may have equaled last year’s win total. This year, 91 wins would have been enough to take the AL Central.
When you look at defensive runs saved, the Indians were at -75; the worst number in the majors. As a comparison, the Royals were fourth in the majors at -40 DRS, and the Tigers were 28th in the majors with -65. The Tribe committed 116 errors in 2014, also the most in the majors. The Royals had 104 errors (21st in the majors) while the Tigers had 101 errors (18th in the majors). Even though the Tigers and Royals weren’t too far behind the Indians when it came to errors, the Royals were the far superior team when you consider DRS.
Do you want to know just how many errors the Indians committed? Their longest errorless stretch in 2014 was 5 games, which they accomplished twice. They had a four game streak once, and 9 three-game streaks. Otherwise, this team never made it for more than two games without making an error. There’s a reason that one of the more popular memes this season was a sign that continually reset to “0 days since our last workplace error.” The Indians had 26 multi-error games this year, a number of which included games with three errors.
So which players were the worst culprits, considering both DRS and errors? (I considered the primary position each person played, unless they were a utility guy like Mike Aviles, or someone that split time fairly evenly between several positions.) Obviously these numbers may not be perfect, but you can still get a pretty good idea of who had a rough season from a defensive standpoint.
– David Murphy, RF, -16 DRS, 3 errors
– Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, -14 DRS, 18 errors
– Jason Kipnis, 2B, -11 DRS, 6 errors
– Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, -7 DRS, 14 errors
– Michael Bourn, CF, -6 DRS, 2 errors
– Carlos Santana, 3B, -5 DRS, 6 errors
– Nick Swisher, 1B, -4 DRS, 9 errors
– Carlos Santana, 1B, -4 DRS, 5 errors
– Michael Brantley, CF, -2 DRS, 1 error
– Mike Aviles, SS, -1 DRS, 0 errors
– Ryan Raburn, RF, -1 DRS, 1 error
– Jesus Aguilar, 0 DRS, 2 errors
– Michael Brantley, LF, 0 DRS, 0 errors
– Roberto Perez, C, +6 DRS, 3 errors
– Mike Aviles, 2B, +4 DRS, 1 error
– Jose Ramirez, SS, +4 DRS, 4 errors (+2 DRS with no errors at 2B)
– Tyler Holt, RF, +2 DRS, 0 errors (+2 DRS with no errors in CF as well)
– Yan Gomes, C, +2 DRS, 14 errors
– Mike Aviles, 3B, +1 DRS, 7 errors
Those are some ugly, ugly numbers. So many everyday players were at a negative DRS number, and had a fair amount of errors to boot. It probably actually helped the Indians when Nick Swisher went down to injury and Asdrubal Cabrera was traded, but there are still many concerns when you look ahead to the 2015 season. While Lonnie Chisenhall had kind of a break-out season at the plate, he remains pretty poor at the hot corner. While there’s a part of me that thinks he could improve with more consistent play (since it took him a while to win back the 3B job full time) he finished at just +1 DRS in 2013, and at -4 DRS in 2012. While there’s some hope that a healthy Swisher could bounce back a bit (his 2013 numbers were fair), Kipnis is kind of a concern to me. There are rumors that he showed up to camp last spring unprepared and out of shape, so we just have to hope that’s true and he’s better prepared leading into 2015. David Murphy was pretty terrible, and he’ll be back next year at $6 million (he has a $7 million option for 2016), although he was better defensively with Texas in 2013. Raburn didn’t have enough time to match his poor 2013 numbers, but don’t worry – he’s back in 2015 at $2.5 million (with a $3 million option for 2016). Mike Aviles showed improvement at almost all of his major positions, and has a $3.5 million option for 2015.
For a comparison, here are some of the key players’ 2013 numbers (Team stats: 23rd in majors in DRS at -42, 11th most in errors with 98):
– Yan Gomes, +11 DRS, 3 errors
– Nick Swisher, 1B, +6 DRS, 8 errors
– Michael Bourn, CF, +3 DRS, 3 errors
– Michael Brantley, LF, +2 DRS, 0 errors
– Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, +1 DRS, 9 errors (-4 DRS in 2012)
– Nick Swisher, RF, +1 DRS, 2 error
– Mike Aviles, 2B & SS, 0 DRS, 4 errors (SS), 1 error (2B)
– Carlos Santana, 1B, 0 DRS, 1 error
– Jason Kipnis, 2B, -1 DRS, 12 errors (was at +3 DRS in 2012)
– David Muphy, RF, -1 DRS, 2 errors
– Ryan Raburn, RF, -3 DRS, 2 errors
– Mike Aviles, 3B, -5 DRS, 3 errors
– Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, -16 DRS, 9 errors
With one of the team’s worst defenders in Asdrubal Cabrera gone, that should be a huge help going into 2015. Addition by subtraction, if you will. While the Indians could use both Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor up the middle, then what do you do with Kipnis? He was an outfielder in college, but when you have Michael Bourn signed through 2016, and Murphy here for at least next year, there’s really no place for him out there. The Indians can’t handle another season with such poor defense at so many positions, or the outcome is just going to be exactly the same. So you need to find a way to get the current players to at least a break-even point, or get extremely creative (which I don’t think will work if you’re not a wizard, or do not possess super powers).
Now let’s look at some individual games, where sloppy play and errors more than likely impacted the game’s outcome. If there are some missing here that you think should be added, make sure to enter them in the comments. I just went with games that stuck with me, or where there were a number of blatant unearned runs scored by the opposing team.
April 9: 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres – The Indians allowed an unearned run in the top of the first inning on an Asdrubal Cabrera throwing error. Granted there are no guarantees that the Indians would have prevailed in what would have been a 1-1 game, they certainly could have had a better chance.
May 17: 6-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics – This one may be more of a stretch, since the Indians (much like April 9) had problems scoring. At the same time, they committed three errors (Jesus Aguilar, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Carlos Santana) and allowed three unearned runs to the A’s. The A’s were up just 3-2 going into the top of the seventh, and the sloppy play gave them a 6-2 advantage by the end of the inning.
May 23: 8-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles – This is a bit similar to the Oakland game on May 17, in the sense that one error by pitcher Mark Lowe triggered three unearned runs. The Orioles were up 5-4 going into the bottom of the seventh before the botched play; a 5-4 game could have had a different outcome.
May 28: 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox – I actually remember this game well, almost more for the Indians inability to score and the fact it was their fourth straight loss. I was stuck at the Newark airport after my husband and I missed our connecting flight to Scotland, and ended up watching on my phone. We were finally about to board our replacement flight, with the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth in Chicago. A Mike Aviles error at 3B led to a winning unearned run…it was the last thing I saw before I had to put my phone on airplane mode. At that point, I was ready for a two week break from the Indians. The odds weren’t great for the Tribe in an extra inning tie game at an away ballpark, but Chicago did have a shaky bullpen.
July 23: 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals – I’m just going to leave this right here.
August 8: 10-6 loss to the New York Yankees – In the top of the first, the Indians jumped out to an early 1-0 lead. By the bottom of the first, everything started to hit the fan. Two errors, one by Carlos Santana and one by Jason Kipnis, led to a 5-1 Yankee lead (2 runs were unearned). An Asdrubal Cabrera error in the bottom of the sixth inning led to a third unearned run (Carlos Beltran had hit a grand slam earlier in the inning). By putting themselves into such a huge hole early (all of the Yankees runs were scored in the first and sixth – 5 in each frame) the Indians really took themselves out of the game. A game started by their former reliever Esmil Rogers, who had already been released by Toronto earlier in the season.
August 22: 5-1 loss to the Houston Astros – This game seemed extremely blatant to me. Maybe it’s because it was just over a month ago, and maybe it’s because the Indians played such a tight game (1-1) until all of the wheels fell off in the top of the ninth inning, leading to four unearned Houston runs. A Carlos Santana throwing error and a Roberto Perez throwing error led to the unearned runs, which were capped off by a Jonathan Singleton home run when the inning should have been over.
September 22: 2-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals – While the Indians did not commit an error in this game, a somewhat sloppy play by Chris Gimenez at first base led to a 1-0 Kansas City lead. The real nail in the coffin to this game was the choke performance in the bottom of the first inning, when the Indians failed to score with the bases loaded and nobody out. But the sloppy performance in the field likely didn’t help matters. There was a bit of mild controversy when Carlos Carrasco criticized the fielding after the game, but it has to be frustrating to pitch well and still lose the game due to a lack of offense and sloppy fielding. Even though he wasn’t on the mound when everything fell apart on August 22, he had started that game.
There you have it – eight wins that could have gone differently without terrible, blatant errors. Two were against the Royals, and one against the Oakland, which could have represented some significant gains against the teams directly in front of you in the wild card race. And that’s not even counting games like September 22, where no error was officially charged, but sloppy to mediocre defense led to a bad outcome for the Tribe.
The pitching (which will be next in this season recap series) looks fairly solid for 2015, barring no major catastrophes or declines in performance next season. It’s been a while since I felt comfortable about all five potential rotation spots going into the offseason, so that’s definitely a positive factor. However, this atrocious defense cannot continue into next year; it’s going to negatively impact the pitching staff and will be directly responsible for more losses. They either need to send some of these guys to a remedial fielding camp (if such a place exists for major leaguers) or find upgrades defensively at certain positions. Shortstop will be a given improvement, but the Indians are fairly locked in by many of their contracts. They will most likely have to make do with their current players.