The Cleveland Indians had one of baseball’s best offenses a year ago, finishing third in the American League in runs scored.
They were second in the AL in on base percentage, slugging percentage, and walks taken, and ranked eighth in the Junior Circuit in home runs.
Although it is very early this season, the Tribe is 12th in the American League in runs scored. While certainly the cold weather has been a factor, Detroit and Minnesota have both scored more runs per game than Terry Francona’s club, and they have played in pretty much the same climate.
One area in which the Indians have slipped greatly so far this year is in patience at the plate, as they are currently second last in the AL in walks taken.
While some people may point at the absence of walk-master Carlos Santana in the batting order for the drop off, we would point out than Santana’s replacement, Yonder Alonso, is third on the team in walks, behind Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis.
The lack of walks is a big reason the Cleveland offense has been largely dependent on the long ball for scoring. If you can convert three or four outs into walks during a game, particularly after a base hit, you have a rally going. And the more rallies a team has, the better chance of getting that hit which scores a run and keeps pressure on the opposing pitcher.
Look at Francisco Lindor, for example. Last year, he walked 60 times, striking out in 93 at bats. This year, he has fanned 21 times, second on the squad, and walked just six times.
Edwin Encarnacion is another case in point. Yes, the slugger struck out 133 times a year ago, but he balanced that by taking 104 bases on balls. This season, he has walked just six times while striking out a team leading 24 times.
Platoon outfielder Austin Jackson joined the patience at the plate club last year for the Indians, drawing 33 walks in 318 plate appearances, one for every 9.6 at bats. His replacement, Rajai Davis, has walked just twice in 35 times at the dish.
And while Michael Brantley doesn’t strikeout a lot, he did draw a walk every 12.1 plate appearances a year ago, compared to just one walk in 48 times up this year.
Add in the two youngsters on the Tribe, OFs Bradley Zimmer, who has fanned 19 times vs. just two walks, and Tyler Naquin, who has drawn just two bases on balls against 11 whiffs, and that isn’t helping the offense keep the line moving.
Conversely, the Indians’ leader in walks is Jose Ramirez with 13 (6 strikeouts), and the switch-hitting All Star is hot after a slow start, and is looking like the Ramirez from 2017.
That Cleveland is 5-6 when they score three runs or less is a tribute to the tremendous job the pitching staff, led by the starters, have done.
No doubt it is early, and a few weeks from now, the lack of walks could very well have corrected itself. We are sure that hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo is stressing patience at the plate, and it will come to fruition soon.
Instead of being aggressive at the plate, maybe the Indians need to be more selective. Drawing walks will start extending innings and will lead to putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard.