Poor luck at plate part of Tribe's uneven start

Statcast metrics suggest turnarounds to come for Alonso, Kipnis

May 10th, 2018

CLEVELAND -- The baseball season has almost reached the quarter pole, and the Indians have experienced plenty of ups and downs. The rotation has continued to be a strength, the bullpen has struggled to find its footing and the offense has been plagued by extreme hot and cold spells.

The result so far has been an 18-18 record, heading into Thursday's off-day. Fortunately, given the state of the American League Central, that ledger is good enough for first place. A year ago, Cleveland endured similar issues early on and had a 31-31 record in mid-June. The Indians then got on a roll, ending with 102 wins and a division crown.

The Tribe is hoping for a similar run as this summer progresses, but there are plenty of kinks to iron out in the meantime. With that in mind, what follows is a glance at the season's first six weeks for the Indians through a mix of Statcast™ data.

The good

recently overtook for the team lead in Barrels with 16 on the season, tying the All-Star shortstop for the sixth-highest total in the Majors. Sluggers and also had 16 on the season going into Thursday, while Alonso and Manny Machado were among those right behind with 15. Lindor also leads Cleveland batters (minimum 50 results) with a .414 expected weighted on-base average (34th in MLB).

The bad

As a team, the Indians have feasted on fastballs (their .475 slugging percentage on all varieties of heaters ranked fifth in MLB), but they have struggled against offspeed offerings. The Tribe's .328 slugging percentage against offspeed pitches ranked 23rd in MLB entering Thursday. Cleveland's 99 strikeouts on offspeed pitches below the strike zone were the fourth-most such punchouts among big league offenses.

The unlucky

The Indians ranked fifth in MLB as a team with a .349 expected weighted on-base average, but the club's actual wOBA (.313) was 15th, entering Thursday. Much of that can be attributed to Cleveland's rough early-April showing at the plate. The two biggest culprits in the lineup have been (.321 xwOBA vs. .235 wOBA) and Alonso (.380 xwOBA vs. .300 wOBA).

The surprising

Given that Lindor leads the Indians in Barrels, it's not too surprising to learn that he also leads the team with 53 batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or greater (10th in MLB). What is surprising is that outfielder Tyler Naquin paces Cleveland's batters in average exit velocity. Naquin's 93.3-mph average ranked 14th in the Majors among batters with a minimum of 50 results, entering Thursday.

The fast

The Indians have two players ranked in the top 12 in the Majors in Sprint Speed. checks in at eighth with a mark of 29.7 feet per second, and is 12th at 29.5 feet per second. This is where it is worth mentioning that Davis is 37 years old. The first 11 players on that list -- including 30-year-old Dee Gordon -- have an average age of 24.8. Lindor ranks third on the Tribe (81st in MLB) with a Sprint Speed of 28.2 feet per second.

The caught

Seeing Indians ace near the top of a strikeout leaderboard is expected by now, but he's getting K's in an interesting manner so far this season. Heading into Thursday, Kluber's 23 called strikeouts ranked first among MLB pitchers (teammate was third with 18). Within that, Kluber led MLB with the most called strikeouts via a two-seamer with 17.

The trend

Last year, the Indians' pitching staff led the Majors in the highest percentage of curveballs at 17.73 percent. Add in sliders, and Cleveland ranked seventh at 29.41 percent in '17. This season, the Tribe ranks first again in curveball use (18.58 percent) and eighth in curves/sliders (30.02 percent). Kluber's curve rate has actually dropped to 20.7 percent in '18 from 27.9 percent in '17. It's worth noting, however, that he featured 20.3 percent curves last April and May, so expect his rate, along with the team's overall percentage, to continue to tick up.