The Indians once had a manager who made the team’s mantra for one season “one through nine, one game at a time.” That manager would have loved the current incarnation of the Indians offense. Unlike his offense from 2003 through 2009, the Indians don’t depend on one or two players who were expected to hit 30 home runs and knock in 100 runs every year. Since players like that are generally too expensive for the Indians to sign or hold on to, the team has to make use of more well rounded hitters.
This year, the Indians have eight players already with at least 30 RBI with only injuries keeping that number from being nine. If the numbers of Michael Bourn and his injury replacements, Nyjer Morgan and Chris Dickerson are added together, the Indians center fielders also have more than 30 RBI. Maybe even more impressively, the Indians are currently sixth in the Majors with 424 RBI (and with 441 total runs scored), despite not having a single hitter on pace to knock in 100 runs.
Outside of the Indians top two hitters, Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall, there has been no single outstanding offensive performer, yet, the Indians remain one of baseball’s top offensive teams. Taking the one through nine stratagem to heart, it has been a different hero every night. Of late, those outstanding performers have been the ones who couldn’t even reach base early in the season. Nick Swisher, for one, came into July with a batting average below .200 and just 25 RBI, but in just 17 games, he has raised that average by ten points and knocked in 15 runs. In a similar vein, Carlos Santana owned June, batting .308 for the month to raise his average from .162 to .205. He also knocked in 15 runs during the month despite having just 25 RBI for the rest of the season.
While it has been frustrating for the Indians to not have every player clicking at the same time, they have actually been very lucky that players have spread out their hot streaks. If a player is not capable of continuing this success all year, as Brantley and Chisenhall have, at least they are able to produce at some point. There can be debate over which version of these players is real, if it is the player is over performing during his great month, or under performing in the others, but labels like that matter less than what actually has happened. What has happened is that a team with two players with an average above .320 (OPS above .895) and seven between .200 and .275 (OPS below .780) has out scored 24 other Major League teams.
One team the Indians have outscored is the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox are a great comparison as, rather than the one through nine thinking, the Sox are a one through five team with no real threats from any other bats on the team. Jose Abreu alone is worth more than any three Indians hitters this season, with 29 home runs, 74 RBI and a .961 OPS, while Alexei Ramirez and Conor Gillaspie, have been better than expected and better than any Indians hitter outside of the top two. Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo have also been great power hitters for Chicago, but have produced less runs than all but the Indians least productive starters.
While it is unquestionable that the Indians would be better with a hitter like Abreu, Ramirez or Gillaspie, if the option is to have one great hitter or four slightly above average ones at the bottom of the lineup, the Indians may have made the right decision. One great hitter can be pitched around, but two great hitters interspersed with seven not quite mediocre players are much harder to work through. With each of the nine batters capable of coming through at any moment. If a pitcher looks at Santana’s .205 average and takes it easy on him with two outs and bases loaded, he will make them pay with an 3 RBI double (like on July 19th). If a team like the Yankees (on July 7th and 8th) see that Nick Swisher has just five home runs and doesn’t take care to pitch to a good location, he will take them deep two days in a row.
Every starter on the team, from Yan Gomes to the newly added Chris Dickerson is completely able of coming through in any situation and being the hero of the day. This has meant that the Indians have been shut out from time to time, but in general, it has worked out very well as a team full of some of the most underrated players in baseball has managed to play at a level above .500 and to sit firmly in the Wild Card race, if not the Central Division race as well.