The Underrated Part of the Indians’ Offense

The Indians finished the regular season fifth in total runs scored. They finished seventh in wOBA and sixth in wRC+, so it all kind of makes sense. The one thing that’s odd about it is that the Indians played pretty much the entire year without one of their best hitters. The Indians were 18th in runs in 2015, and then they lost Michael Brantley. As much as last year’s Brantley was slightly diminished, that still seemed like it should’ve been a massive blow.

For sure, this year’s Cleveland offense was powered by depth. It helped to have Jose Ramirez emerge in the way that he did. And there’s also the fact that the players can run — the Indians finished as easily the best baserunning team in the American League. There are so many different things that make the lineup tick, but there’s one aspect that isn’t talked about enough, one thing that makes the Indians out to be better than the sum of their parts.

It’s subtle, sure, but it’s also right there in plain view, if you’re paying attention. August even mentioned it in passing a month ago. As an example, against the Red Sox, the Indians sent 106 hitters up to the plate. In 74 of those plate appearances, the Indians hitter had the platoon advantage. That’s good for a rate of 70%, where the average is more around 50%. And in the playoffs, every opportunity matters, and every opposing manager is more aggressive about the matchups. Terry Francona’s lineup against Boston couldn’t be exploited, and that wasn’t a coincidence.

This is a plot including every team in the majors. Shown is the percentage of each team’s regular-season plate appearances with the platoon advantage. The Indians, obviously, are highlighted.


In the ALDS, Cleveland hitters had the advantage 70% of the time. During the season, Cleveland hitters had the advantage 70% of the time, and that was the highest rate in the major leagues. The Blue Jays, coincidentally, are found here toward the back, but this isn’t about them. This is about the Indians, and about how they’ve been working with something like this for a while.

In 2011, the Indians led baseball in this stat. In 2012, they led baseball in this stat. In 2013 and 2014, they led baseball in this stat. Last year, the Indians were second only to the Yankees. This year the Indians climbed back on top, and this helps to explain how they’ve survived without Brantley. This helps to explain pick-ups like Brandon Guyer and Coco Crisp. The Indians aren’t built around a core of elite-level position players, but they get more out of their position players, because they don’t have to face too many, say, same-handed sliders. The Indians are built to put a good number of hitters in position to succeed.

Of some note: Indians pitchers were also right around the top this year in terms of having the platoon advantage. The spread there is smaller. I don’t know if this is something the Indians have specifically focused on, but if not, it’s a side effect of something else. Just based on true talent, maybe the Indians aren’t as good as all their statistics. But on the field, they get to overachieve, because they’re so infrequently disadvantaged. It’s a manager’s dream, provided it’s his own club we’re talking about.

Some of this comes out of specific platoons. Tyler Naquin is seldom asked to face a left-handed pitcher. But then, additionally, Coco Crisp is a switch-hitter. Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez are switch-hitters. This year, there were only 40 switch-hitters around baseball who batted at least 250 times. The Indians have four of them, where the average team would be expected to have one or two. No other team has more than three. Switch-hitters aren’t necessarily equally good from both sides, but they’re generally good enough, or else they wouldn’t be switch-hitters, and you have to think about the pitchers, too. In particular relievers, who are often relievers because they have issues with opposite-handed bats. Playing matchups against the Indians is a challenge, and though that isn’t everything, it’s an advantage they have over everyone else.

When you eyeball the Cleveland roster up and down, it might not jump out to you as being all that terrific. Especially when the rotation is without both Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. We’re all naturally inclined to look for the stars, and the Indians don’t have so many of those. What they do have is a bullpen they’re able to leverage in October, and a lineup that isn’t too vulnerable to same-handed pitchers. Of course, it’s kind of a small thing. It doesn’t give the Indians the best lineup in the game. But platoon advantages are very much a real thing, and as a consequence, it’s fair to say the Indians can kind of sneak up on you. They’re more talented than they were a year ago. They’re also no more exploitable. John Gibbons isn’t going to go this series without at least one headache.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Max Power
7 years ago

The pitching platoon-advantage is really weird. Their only LHP on the current roster (starter or reliever) is Miller who isn’t even a lefty-specialist, and the only other lefty they used this year, Kyle Crockett, was up-and-down in AAA all year and totaled 16 innings. The only explanation I can think of is that they played the Tigers a lot.

Liam Stevensonmember
7 years ago
Reply to  Max Power

Was thinking the same thing. The flip side of this is probably why the Jays hitters almost never have the platoon advantage (tons of righties they’d never pinch hit for)

7 years ago
Reply to  Max Power

They key to having the platoon advantage in most matchups is a) have lots of switch-hitters or left-handed hitters, b) have lots of right-handed starters, and c) face lots of right-handed lineups.

7 years ago
Reply to  Max Power

I was wondering if on the pitching side, you end up looking good if you don’t have any lefty starters. Since there are more right handed hitters than left handed, especially in the AL Central.