Sep 19, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) scores a run in the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Failure of the Standing Pat Strategy

Standing Pat Leads to Regression

There is a great deal of analysis out there about what happens to teams a year after a huge improvement in won-loss record, if you want to try to figure out what to expect from the Indians in 2014. One reason for this is that the Baltimore Orioles traveled a path nearly identical to the Indians one year earlier.

As we all know, the Orioles slipped back slightly in 2013, missing the playoffs after making it in 2012. In trying to determine what lies ahead for the Indians, it is instructive to look at similarities between the 2013 Indians and the 2012 Orioles, and how each team responded.

There is ample evidence that the 2012 Orioles were a fluke. They outscored the opposition by seven runs, yet won 93 games, thanks mostly to a 16-2 record in extra innings and 29-9 in one-run games. The Indians also had excellent records in one run (30-17) and extra inning (10-2) games, but outscored their opponents by 83 runs, indicating that their improvement was less of a fluke.

Further, a great deal of Baltimore’s success rested on the excellent season of closer Jim Johnson, and a strong bullpen overall. This season was an obvious outlier when compared to the rest of Johnson’s career, making a repeat performance quite unlikely. Bullpens in general are more likely to regress toward average than other aspects of a team, so a team like the Orioles was less likely than most to maintain that strength. In looking at the Indians’ roster, there is nobody that stands out in 2013 as having a career year; indeed, several key players had below average years and seem likely to improve in 2014, which should offset any tendency of a regression.

standing pat

May 18, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Johnson (43) leaves the game in the ninth inning after giving up the go-ahead runs against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Rays defeated the Orioles 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

In looking at other teams over the past thirty years that improved dramatically, one common denominator is that the teams that stood pat afterwards tended to regress.

This was true of the Orioles, whose biggest offseason move between 2012 and 2013 was to sign pitcher Freddy Garcia. Teams that overachieve tend to convince themselves that the weaknesses they overcame during their great season will not be a problem in future years as well. The Orioles, who had only 78 quality starts in 2012, decided to go with basically the same rotation in 2013 and got burned, posting the same number of quality starts but blowing nine more saves.

Another reason that the stand pat strategy often fails is that players, like teams, tend to find their true level after having big years, and teams that stand pat are relying on players to repeat years that are not in line with their career performance or skill level. Johnson is a prime example of this. The Orioles have addressed this issue by trading Johnson, but have still not upgraded their rotation.

So two questions come up: are the Indians glossing over the weaknesses that they overcame in 2013, and are they banking on players who overachieved in 2013 and are unlikely to do so again? The answer to both questions centers on the rotation. Even though certain pitchers overachieved in 2013, the rotation was the weakest area of the team, with only 73 quality starts. Based on the decisions that have been made, it appears the Indians decided that Scott Kazmir is unlikely to repeat his 2013 performance.

The other rotation member who will apparently not return is Ubaldo Jimenez. While this was not entirely the choice of the Indians, the fact remains that they determined that Jimenez was not worth the going rate for elite starting pitchers. Danny Salazar will fill one of these holes, and at this point the Indians have several internal candidates for the other: Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, and Trevor Bauer. They have also signed Shawn Marcum as a free agent. If Salazar can put together thirty starts close to what he did in September, he will have a season similar to what Jimenez did in 2013, but it takes a lot of optimism to envision any of the other guys matching the 2013 numbers of Jimenez or Kazmir.

Overall, then, it would seem that the rotation, a weakness in 2013, may be even worse in 2014 unless you believe that Cory Kluber or Zach McAllister is ready to take another step forward. That may happen, but basing an entire season on such assumptions usually leads to disappointment, as the 2013 Orioles demonstrated.

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Tags: Cleveland Indians Jim Johnson Scott Kazmir Standing Pat Ubaldo Jimenez

  • Alan Nolt

    Just because the Indians have avoided signing any of these expensive mediocre free agents doesn’t mean the Indians are standing pat. The Indians can make all kinds of moves right up to the trading deadline of July 31. They can make trades and some of these remaining free agents might become cheaper the longer they remain unsigned. But it is way too early to say that the Indians are standing pat.

  • Letterman007

    They are not standing pat, they are busy dumpster diving for free agents!! Yes folks, so far they have done nothing to fill the holes at third, come on Santana at third, yep second coming of Brooks Robinson (ha-ha). No four hole bat with power!! An ify closer that was so bad last year in that role he got traded! Did they do anything to be able to stand up to even the Tigers, whom they couldn’t beat last year and won’t this year with the present line up!!! Let alone the Red Sox or Yankees. They couldn’t even put a good game together to beat the Rays in the playoffs. lets get real here, unless they pull off a trade of large magnitude, they are in trouble regaining what they did last year let alone get better!! Even their two big signings last year didn’t live up to their career numbers!! This is going to be a repeat of what Baltimore did last year unless about eight of them have career years and a lot of luck thrown in!!

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  • Gary

    As is the norm in Cleveland sports, they will sit back and watch other teams make their teams better in the off season. While they pick up castoffs and has beens.

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  • stryker1121

    Isn’t it too early to assume the Tribe will stand pat? Even Ubaldo may still be in play once Tanaka gets signed. Last year, the Indians struck FA market late…Bourn did not even get signed til February. If Axford and Outman are our only moves by spring training, then yes, I think have fans should have reason to be concerned. It will 2007-08 all over again. The middle of this lineup desperately needs a thumper, too. Fans want to see commitment from this FO to sustain a winner for more than one lousy year and a one-game playoff.