Second Thoughts Game #61: Cleveland 4, Texas 6
Friday night was just an average summer night in Arlington, TX: hot weather, away announcers discussing the food choices of Globe Life Stadium, and very stressful on pitchers' neck muscles.
In a game in which Cleveland and Texas combined for four home runs, nineteen hits, and twenty-four baserunners, it comes as a surprise that only ten runs were scored in Cleveland's 4-6 loss in Arlington. Trevor Bauer's fly-ball tendencies, while frequently a wash if they result in strikeouts, resulted in both a home run and a (relative to his season) low strikeout total of 6 Ks over his 6.1 IP, allowing 4 ER on 5 hits, with 2 BBs and, characteristically, 1 home run, a two-run shot by Rougned Odor. With 11 whiffs over his 97 pitches, his 11.3% Swinging Strike rate was actually quite good - league average SwStr% for starters, for comparison, is 8.7%. His process, judging by his whiff rate, went precisely the way he wanted.
owever, on Friday, process did not translate into results for Cleveland, neither for Bauer nor for the offense.
The Best Yu Can Hope For
Scoring four runs against Yu Darvish is not, as Cleveland fans learned Friday, inherently a ticket to victory; that said, Friday marked only the second time in 2014 that any team has scored four runs against Darvish in the Texas pitcher's 11 starts. The only previous instance was the incredibly potent Oakland offense. All things considered, the Cleveland offense could have done substantially worse.
Although Darvish's 4 ER over 7 IP is a below-average outing from a run prevention perspective, it was from a fielding-independent perspective that Darvish's outing was entirely uncharacteristic. FIP's tenets assert that strikeout, walks, and home runs are the only factors that isolate the battle of pitcher and batter; it also holds that strikeouts are a net benefit for a pitcher, walks are a net detriment larger in magnitude than the benefit of a K, and that home runs are substantially more detrimental than walks.
Because Yu Darvish struck out 8, walked 3, and allowed two home runs, from the perspective of FIP, it was Darvish's worst outing of 2014 and ninth-worst of his (admittedly rather short) MLB career. The strikeouts were down relative to his typically elite rate; Darvish's 8 K over 7 IP is very good, but that rate (10.29 K/9 on the game) is below Darvish's 2014 and career rates. Given the relatively low rate at which Darvish induced whiffs on the game, with only 8 swinging strikes over his 110 pitches (7.2% SwStr%), Darvish's strikeout total was substantially higher than his underlying skill peripherals on the game would have suggested.
Darvish's nevertheless quite good (but worse than career average) strike out rate, coupled with a relatively high number of walks and his two home runs allowed combined to make the game relatively abysmal from a fielding-independent perspective. In other words, the Cleveland offense won more pitcher-batter battles than it lost, weighting the outcomes based on their impact. Facing Yu Darvish, that's the best you can hope for.
Cleveland's Offense: Sequencing and Sustainability
There were a good many things to like about the game from the perspective of the Indians' offense. As noted, Cleveland's offense won more on the whole against Darvish than they lost, yet they also hit Darvish around surprisingly well, as their nine hits against Darvish were tied for the second-most of Darvish's career.
Despite these advantages, however, barring the two home runs on the game, Cleveland was not able to get a single other runner to score. Namely, opportunities in the third, after two runners reached base after Lonnie Chisenhall's three-run home run, and in the sixth, with runners on first and second with no outs, passed without a single run scored.
Friday's game, moreover, helped bring to the fore some rather compelling narratives surrounding Lonnie Chisenhall as of late. The simplest explanation for Chisenhall's season up until quite recently was an improvement in hitting mechanics connected to an absurdly outsized, unsustainable, and largely luck-fueled batting average on balls in play. Yet Lonnie Chisenhall has proven his hitting-for-average skill-set quite legitimate: as of the end of Friday's game, Lonnie Chisenhall had struck out only twice in his previous 70 plate appearances, homering four times in that same span.
Chisenhall, quite obviously, is unlikely to sustain a 2:1 HR:K ratio - unlikely in the same sense that Edwin Encarnacion was unlikely to hit 80 home runs from June until October based on his torrid 18 home runs in May. Extreme performances, particularly extreme positive performances, are rarely sustainable.
Lonnie Chisenhall's performance has long been thought unsustainable; however, while the .400 BABIP likely isunsustainable, his resistance to striking out may allow Lonnie Chisenhall to remain a powerful offensive force.
Even from a tough loss like Friday's, substantial positive signals can be drawn. Off the heels of a six-game winning streak, it's encouraging to know that even a loss bears positive signs.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.