The Cleveland Indians’ 2012 pitching staff had the second-worst ERA in all the major leagues at 4.79, the sixth-worst FIP at 4.49, and as a whole the unit combined for the sixth lowest total of fWAR at 7.8. The starting staff takes much of the blame for these numbers with an ERA of 5.25 and a FIP of 4.73 which ranked third- and fourth-worst in the majors, respectively. (The relievers fared slightly better with an ERA (3.99) and FIP (3.83) which ranked eighth- and twelfth-worst, respectively.)
According to Baseball-Reference.com’s park factors, Progressive Field is a pitchers’ park. A value above 100 indicates that the park is good for hitters and below 100 indicates a park good for pitchers; the three-year metric at Progressive Field for pitchers is 95 and for hitters it is a 93.
Even though the performance of both the home and away teams are accounted for in the park factor equation, some may suggest that the Indians’ offense has been so bad for the last several years that it biased the overall park factors. Part of this may be true as the park played as a slight hitters’ park for the power-packed lineups in the late 90′s with a normal park factor of 102 for pitchers and 103 for hitters, but the late 90′s were filled with many run-scoring power lineups that made many parks appear smaller than they actually were.
Rather than look at how the Indians’ offense performed at home versus the road, it may be more intuitive to look at how Cleveland’s pitchers fared in different parks. It has already been established that the 2012 Tribe pitching staff ranked near the bottom in the majors in both ERA and FIP. If Progressive Field, as suggested by the park factors, is a difficult park to hit in, then it should stand to reason that the Indians pitchers would have more success at home than on the road.
In fact, the Indians had far much more success at home than on the road in 2012. The Indians home ERA was a respectable 4.13, which ranked seventh in the American League, but the road was a nightmare—the staff was completely battered to the tune of an MLB-worst 5.52 ERA. The contrast between home and road ERA was the fourth-largest gap in the game, behind only the Pittsburgh Pirates (1.70), Seattle Mariners (1.62), and the Houston Astros (1.58). Much like Progressive Field the multi-year park factors (hitting/pitching) in Seattle and Pittsburgh benefit the pitching staffs (Pittsburgh 93/94 and Seattle 90/91), while the Astros’ (99/101) park plays more neutral.
The difference between the Indians’ team ERA at home and the road in 2012 is not a outlier. As shown in the table below the team has pitched considerably better at home than the road in each of the past three seasons.
Two of the most important returning starting pitchers for the Indians were vastly different pitchers at Progressive Field then away from it. Unbelievably, Ubaldo Jimenez‘s ERA was over three full runs better (3.12) on the road (6.82) than at home (3.70). Justin Masterson saw a similar split— compare his 3.62 road ERA to his 6.40 home ERA. The only returning starter who had a lower ERA on the road (3.66) than at home (4.64) was Zach McAllister.
The Indians starting staff is full of question marks but one of the biggest improvements will have to come on pitching performance on the road. In 2012 the batting average on balls in play at home was .293 at home but .311 on the road. One has to wonder if Cleveland’s internal metrics suggested an improved outfield defense, able to defend all three fields in any park, was at or near the top of the offseason agenda when it comes to improving the pitching staff in 2013?