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Ten Takeaways from Indy's 2019 Season

September 3, 2019 - International League (IL) - Indianapolis Indians News Release

And so ends an Indians' season that saw the good, the bad and the ugly.

We can get the bad and ugly out of the way quickly. The 66-74 record that included a 32-38 mark at home - worst in the Victory Field era -- and a 10-20 August that doomed any thoughts of the playoffs. The 616 runs scored that were the fewest in the International League. The 158 homers allowed that were a club record. The injury-induced merry-go-round roster in Pittsburgh that had the inevitable ripple effects in Indianapolis. The Indians used a record 37 different pitchers this season, and there were 217 player transactions after April 1. The roster changed more often than the Dow Jones ticker.

And yet . . . and yet . . . there were feats to applaud and numbers to commemorate, too. Here are 10 positive takeaways from 2019.

Mitch Keller named the International League pitcher of the year . . .

Before heading to Pittsburgh, Keller was 7-5, struck out 123 batters in just under 104 innings and had a 3.56 earned run average, the league's best at the time he was promoted. He looked every bit the top prospect he was expected to be. Pitcher-of-the-year awards aren't exactly as annual in Indianapolis as Father's Day. Keller was only the fourth International League Most Valuable Pitcher in franchise history.

Jake Elmore's batting title bid . . .

Elmore planted his name at the top of the International League batting average list for much of the season, until a late slump took him out of the running for the Indians' first batting title in 30 years. Still, it was an exhilarating season for the 32-year-old journeyman, who found a home in the Indianapolis lineup. It would have been easy under any condition to root for a man trying to prolong his career long enough so his toddler son can remember watching him play. But his second-place finish in the league in hitting at .322 gave even more zing to the cheers.

The pitching staff was A-OKKKK . . .

When Louisville's Mitch Nay went down swinging against Brandon Waddell Monday, it was the 1244th - and last - strikeout for an Indianapolis pitcher. That was a club record by many, many whiffs. The Indians blew by the old mark of 1,153 nearly two weeks ago.

See Ke'Bryan Hayes field, and see him hit, too . . .

The Indians spent this season with a vacuum cleaner at third base. Hayes' defense was renowned and unyielding, as there were more full moons this season than Hayes' errors. He committed only three in 110 games, making his .989 fielding percentage nine points better than the next best third baseman - Oakland's Matt Chapman, a 2018 Gold Glover - in all of professional baseball. But this rendition of Brooks Robinson came with some offense, too. Hayes had career highs in home runs and RBI and hit .327 in August.

The second wind of Trayvon Robinson . . .

Before the 2019 season, Robinson had not seen a pitch in affiliated baseball in three years, bouncing around an independent league, close to pulling the plug on his career for good. But he coaxed the Pirates into a last-chance tryout over the winter and ended up with a job in Indianapolis. Any positive moment would have been heartening in this feel-good story, and Robinson had a gaggle of them. He was 4-for-4 in his first home game and played in the Triple-A All-Star Game. He ended up second on the club in hitting and fifth in RBI. How could he not leave this season smiling?

Montana DuRapau and the award he could have won . . .

He wasn't named the league's top reliever, but the numbers suggest that he could have been. He went 10-for-10 in save opportunities with a 2.14 earned run average and .135 batting average against. For that matter, he hasn't blown a save since May of 2017 - 27 months and 21 save opportunities ago. Home runs were an obvious issue for the Indianapolis staff, but not DuRapau. He allowed only one in every 15.4 innings. The rest of the staff coughed up one in every 7.5 frames.

The game of baseball has become home run derby, and the Indians took part . . .

The season throughout professional baseball often seemed to be one continuous home run trot. Records fell everywhere, and that included the Indians, whose 57 long balls at home were the most since 2010. At the head of the power parade was Will Craig with 23. His fireworks show came early. He somehow led the team in home runs and had the most for the Indians in 14 years, even while hitting only three after August 1. P.S. His 78 RBI were the most for the club since Brandon Moss had 96 in 2010, and his .999 fielding percentage at first base was better than all professional first basemen.

The Indy pipeline still works . . .

Bryan Reynolds had a short stay in Indianapolis but was here long enough -- hitting .367 with five home runs and 11 RBI in 13 games -- to give you the idea the Pirates were onto something. Then he moved on to Pittsburgh and was one of the brightest spots of a dark season. Another Victory Field alum, Josh Bell, represented the Pirates in the All-Star Game and, as of Labor Day, was still in the race for the National League RBI title with 110.

James Marvel and the defeat that never came . . .

Marvel joined the Indians in early July and the International League still hasn't beaten him. He finished with a 7-0 record and 2.67 earned run average. He hasn't lost a decision since the May 24 defeat with Altoona. Marvel said hello to Victory Field with a seven-inning complete game shutout on July 5. An accurate omen of what was to come.

The masses, they still showed up . . .

The spring had lousy weather and the summer season is a shrinking window, with school resuming so early. But Victory Field still was one of the best attended minor league ballparks in the nation with an average of 8,630 coming in for the baseball and the fireworks and Spider-Man. Look at it this way: that's only 1,200 fewer customers a game than the Miami Marlins.

So it wasn't a summer without sunshine. Even though the woeful second half of the Pirates cast a shadow over the entire organization, a closer study suggests there is cause for hope. The combined winning percentage of every team in the organization was .526 - the sixth best in major league baseball. Class A Greensboro was especially good, and some of that roster will be Indians soon. This season had its bright moments, and next year always comes.


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