I sat down on my couch Tuesday night to view the MLB TV Free Game of the Day, while, admittedly, reading Fangraphs articles simultaneously (thank you, Windows 8). It just so happens that the game being broadcast was a contest featuring the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks vying against the pesky Cleveland Indians in the first of a two-game series between the “underachieving” squads. Viewership outside of their respective fan bases were scarce as it is, and the fact the unheard of T.J. House and Josh Collmenter (the reliever? Has it really gotten this bad for the D’backs?) were the starting pitchers didn’t help.
A casual fan probably never heard of Indians pitcher House. Those who did, likely identified him as a so-so prospect who’d never amount to anything of significance at the MLB level. However, through eleven starts and one relief appearance this year, House has compiled an admirable 4.13 ERA and 4.16 FIP.
Anyway, back to the game. Well, actually, the game didn’t end up counting as it was cut short due to inclement weather, but the first few innings of watching House pitch sparked a question in my mind that was worth attempting to answer.
The question was how much has Cleveland’s rotation improved, if any, from the first to second half? It seemed like they’d been better as a group of late with steady performances from Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, House, and (to a lesser extent) Josh Tomlin, on top of consistent stupendous pitching from the one and only Corey Kluber. So, with the help of Fangraphs, I was able to answer my inquiry rather comprehensively.
Since the second-half kicked off, — otherwise known as post-All-Star break play— Cleveland has played in 26 games, and their rotation has collectively amassed the second best fWAR in baseball at 4.0. The American League Ohio baseball club only trails the division-rival Detroit Tigers in that regard, which is a substantial difference from placing 16th in the first-half, wouldn’t you say?
It’s important to remember, however, pitching WAR is predominately FIP-based, and neglects — not at its own fault — balls put in play. So while their peripherals have been excellent, it doesn’t necessarily mean it translated well into the volatile and largely luck-based run prevention totals. But for argument’s sake and differing views on how to evaluate value and skill, let’s take a look at how Cleveland’s improved from an ERA standpoint.
Oh, yes. The improvement from the second and first half can be evidently seen there, too. In the first-half of the season Cleveland ranked with the 26th starting pitching ERA in baseball with an abysmal 4.49 ERA. The second-half they have been pitching much better, dropping their combined ERA .83 points, to a solid 3.66 ERA, which ranks 14th in baseball.
Despite the Indians’ rotation’s success, the million dollar question whether or not their prosperity can persist the last month and half of the season remains up in the air. Yet, with their actually somewhat unsustainable .313 group BABIP and excellent FIP, I’m confident they’ll excel down the stretch. Who knows? Maybe while everyone is talking about the Kansas City Royals, the Indians led by their pitching staff will sneak in and capture the second Wild Card for the second straight year. Well, in baseball, at least, anything is possible.