Indians defense bridging gap during offensive struggles

Cleveland is 4-1 despite 10 runs in 5 games

Alex Hooper
April 11, 2018 - 4:37 pm
Apr 10, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and center fielder Bradley Zimmer (4) celebrate a win over the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – If you cannot score runs, you have to prevent runs. That is exactly what the Cleveland Indians have done en route to their 6-5 record on April 11.

The team currently boasts the worst offense in the league as the only team in baseball with a negative WAR (-0.8), yet are one of the best in pitching and defense. Neither are necessarily a surprise, but the Indians are in no position to have any more surprises.

The Indians finished 9th in fielding WAR in 2017 (14.9) and 4th in defensive runs saved (33), and have been on the fast track to the top of the leaderboards again. Through 11 games, Cleveland currently sits in 4th with a 2.2 WAR in the field, and 2nd with 10 DRS.

Had the team had anything less than an elite defense in the early going, the offensive struggles would be magnified even further. Despite scoring just 10 runs over the course of 5 games, the Indians are 4-1 in that stretch.

“We found out the hard way if you don’t play defense it’s really hard to win,” Manager Terry Francona said. “You put so much value in your pitching staff that if you don’t make the plays it just doesn’t work. But if you have a good pitching staff and a good defense, when you score it’s meaningful.”

Obviously, it is hard to put up a whole lot of defensive numbers without great pitching. The Indians sit 8th in xFIP at 3.56 and tied for 6th in pitching WAR at 1.6.

While defensive metrics only measure so much, and are heavily dependent on the sample size, it was easy to see the Tribe middle infield essentially save the team’s 2-1 win on Tuesday.

Plays from Francisco Lindor in the 1st and Jason Kipnis in the 7th, both off the bat of Miguel Cabrera, directly thwarted Tigers threats with runners in scoring position. Kipnis made a similar play to start the 8th, and Lindor did the same in the 9th, both of which led to 1-2-3 innings.

Lindor is one of three shortstops in baseball with 3 DRS already this year, alongside Andrelton Simmons and Jean Segura. Jose Ramirez is in a four-way tie for 2nd in baseball with 2 DRS at third base. Yan Gomes currently holds 2 DRS at catcher, one behind sole leader Russell Martin.