During Saturday afternoon’s game, Tom Hamilton briefly discussed the Indians ability this season to produce with two outs. He pointed directly to Terry Francona who has emphasized making the opposing pitcher work to get through innings. The direct quote that Hamilton cited from his discussion with Francona was “we might make two quick outs, but we’re not going to make a quick third.” It certainly appears that the Indians have embraced that mentality, but is it responsible for so much of this season’s early success? I did some digging to find out.
Looking at the Tribe’s early season splits, you can see just how well they are performing as a team when hitting with two outs. As the chart below indicates (as of pregame Monday, May 20th), the Tribe has produced a triple slash line of .280/.359/.490 when hitting with two outs as compared to when hitting with no one out and one out in an inning. That’s a spectacular line for any situation, but when you take into account the added work load on opposing pitchers it becomes all that much more important. Their OPS+ of 114 is impressive, but their split specific OPS+ of 140 indicates just how much better the Indians have performed than their opposition in these situations.
And it’s not just the ability to extend innings that is so impressive. It has also been their ability to inflict damage on the score board with two outs. The Indians have scored 91 runs and blasted 23 home runs so far this season with two outs in an inning. They aren’t just a threat to force a pitcher into an extra 10-15 pitches in an innings. The Indians are putting together whole rallies. They’ve found a way to score 72 runs with 2 out and runners in scoring position
Perhaps even more impressive, and in direct correlation to Francona’s point about not making a quick third out, has been the Tribe’s performance with two outs and nobody on base. Yes, they are only batting .268 in that situation, but they have posted a .343 OBP. So while the hits might not always be hitting their way on base, the Indians become more patient and therefore drawing walks to keep themselves out of a quick inning offensively.
To see the impact two out hitting has had on this team, look no further than the performance of last year’s team. Anyone who paid any attention to the 2012 Indians knows how they struggled at times offensively. It should come as no surprise then that they preformed significantly worse in two out situations than this year’s version of the Indians. They could never build or maintain a rally. Just look at the chart below to see just how they compare to this year’s team in the areas I highlighted earlier.
In addition to the physical benefits of forcing an opposing pitcher into an extra workload in an inning, there is the added psychological impact it can have on both teams. For the offense, it can help build positive morale and momentum. Whether you believe in momentum or not, you can’t help but feel that two out hitting is contagious. For the pitcher and the opposing defense it can be demoralizing. To be seemingly out of an inning after a few pitches only to see the opposition ignite for four or five runs can be the proverbial nail in the coffin.
We saw the impact first hand during yesterday’s game against the Mariners. Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes both homered with two out in the bottom of the third inning. Carlos Santana delivered the game tying RBI with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against Tom Wilhelmsen. Both instances serve as further evidence for just how different the approach has been this year as opposed to last.
So can the Indians maintain this level of consistent production with two outs? It’s hard to say. Regression is certainly almost inevitable. After all, they are performing well above the norm in two out situations. But then again, baseball is a funny sport. Sometimes teams just have years where everything seems to break their way in a given situation. Perhaps this is just the year where the Indians outperform the league average when it comes to hitting with two outs. However, no matter how it plays out, their current performance hitting with two outs can be directly linked to their early season success.