Numbers can often confirm what we are already seeing
Twain wasn’t talking about sports when he wrote that, but he certainly could have been. It is very easy to manipulate statistics and numbers to support any argument you are making, especially if you worship at the ideal of analytics and some of the newer categories of statistics that have come into circulation in the past few decades. (For the record, we are not anti-analytics; we just don’t believe they are the be-all, end-all that some people make them out to be.)
But that doesn’t mean that statistics don’t provide a valuable tool when it comes to sports, especially when they reinforce what you see on a weekly or nightly basis.
For example, Browns fans know that the team has struggled over the years against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but when you see that Ben Roethlisberger is 18-1 in his career against the Browns and Joe Flacco is 12-1, it becomes shockingly clear just how poorly the Browns have been against two of their division rivals.
The same is true of last year’s running game. Anyone who watched the Browns even casually knew that Willis McGahee, Edwin Baker, Fozzy Whitaker and company were not NFL-caliber running backs. But fans would have to dive deeper into the numbers to realize that Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi had put together the worst running attack in franchise history.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the numbers confirm what we’ve seen through the first three weeks of the season: cornerback Joe Haden is is not the same player we saw last year.
Pro Football Focus has Haden ranked 93rd overall out of 95 quarterbacks, 90th in pass coverage and 95th (that’s last if you are scoring at home) as opposing quarterbacks have a QB rating of 155.3 when throwing at Haden.
In Haden’s defense, the Browns have faced three of the league’s best quarterbacks in Roethlisberger, Flacco and Drew Brees through the first three weeks, but Haden is supposed to be one of the game’s top corners, so his recent play has been distressing to say the least.
“Joe’s got a lot of confidence and it’s not like he’s going to go into a shell here, and not play like himself because of what’s happened,” Browns safety Jim Leonhard said. “He’s got a lot of pride in what he does and the way that he works day in and day out, it’s going to get corrected. We all know that.”
We want to believe that what Leonhard said is true, and with two weeks until the next game we expect to see a better Haden on the field, but for now the numbers paint an unflattering picture.
Anyone who has watched even a handful of games knows the Tribe’s defense is, in a word, horrific. But when you see that their 113 errors are the most in the majors, you realize just how bad they are with the glove. It’s even reached the point where starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco called out the defense after Monday night’s loss to the Royals. (He did apologize today.) Maybe not the most prudent course of action, but Carrasco has a point and when you dive deeper into the numbers you can see why he (and the rest of the starting rotation) would be exasperated.
Since rejoining the rotation, Carrasco has made nine starts and put up an ERA of 1.32, a WHIP of 0.80 and held opposing batters to just a .183 average. As a whole, the starting rotation has post a league-leading ERA of 2.36 over the past 40 games, while striking out 276 and holding opponents to a .222 batting average.
But the Tribe has been done in by the poor defense as well as a weak offense, one that has scored two or fewer runs in 10 of the team’s 23 games so far in September. How the Tribe has stayed in the playoff race with those types of numbers is pretty amazing.
The biggest number facing the Tribe right now is three: any combination of Kansas City wins or Cleveland losses that total three and the Indians will officially be out of the postseason.
And while numbers may not tell the entire story, that is one number that is not in dispute.
(Photos courtesy of The Associated Press)