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IBI's 2013 Cleveland Indians Bullpen Preview

IBI's 2013 Cleveland Indians Bullpen Preview
February 21, 2013
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Editor's Note: In the interest of keeping things fresh and not bland here at IBI, Jim Piascik and Steve Orbanek decided to preview the 2013 Cleveland Indians in an unconventional way. Steve and Jim sent e-mails back in forth over the past few days -- a la Bill Simmons -- hashing out what they thought about the team in the upcoming season.

Up today, the bullpen.

Steve Orbanek:

Alright, moving on to the bullpen in the fourth piece of our series. As we both know, for the last two seasons, the back of bullpen has arguably been the most consistent part of the entire Cleveland Indians team. So when looking at the Tribe's bullpen, we might as well start at the top, or rather, in this case it may be more applicable to say start at end.

While closer Chris Perez often seems to have too many foot in mouth moments, when it comes to his abilities, his play on the field does all the talking for him. Just take a look at his past three years in Cleveland. He recorded 23 saves in 2010, 36 in 2011 and 39 last season.

Following the 2010 season, Perez was really a guy I was excited for. Armed with a plus fastball, a wicked slider and a unique personality, Perez seemed like the perfect person to take over as the Tribe's full-time closer, and he did not disappoint. While his 23 saves in limited action were nice, he also showed good strikeout stuff and recorded 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. I always say that you want your closer to limit the amount of balls put in play, and Perez did just that.

However, my enthusiasm was tempered a bit in 2011 when Perez and his strikeouts per nine innings suddenly fell to 5.9. When you consider that he also walked 3.9 batters per nine innings that year, well, that's just not good enough unfortunately. After that season, you can count me among some of the Indians fans who thought Perez needed to be traded.

Yet, surprisingly, Perez rebounded last season. The strikeouts were back (9.2 K/9) and the walks were down (2.5 BB/9). He still had his moments where he let some games get away, but he really had a stellar campaign. He had been viewed as potential trade bait this offseason, but all in all, I am glad he's still part of the club. I just don't think the return would be there, and it would be silly to give up a key piece to what has been the most consistent part of the Indians during the past two and a half seasons.

Jim Piascik:

After Opening Day, when Perez decided to blow the save and leave me out in the freezing cold for around two more hours of extra innings, I thought he looked like he was about to implode. But then he righted the ship. I'm still not sure how that happened.

In all honesty, Cleveland probably should have traded him last July. The role of "Closer" is one that has been overrated by most. Does anyone think that Vinnie Pestano couldn't handle the role? Plus, with the insane amount of right-handed relief depth in the farm system, I really do believe that the Bullpen Mafia could have survived without its Godfather.

But that didn't come to pass. So we get Perez for at least one more season.

The thing about relievers is that we really don't get enough of a sample size due to their limited usage. In his five years in the majors, Perez has thrown 279.0 innings. That is only 40.2 innings more than Justin Verlander threw in 2012 alone. 

The ups and downs from the few seasons are to be expected. It isn't news if a starter has a few down starts, but for a reliever, that can be an entire season.

So at this point, it looks like 2011 was the aberration and Perez is a great member of the Bullpen Mafia. He's certainly a loose cannon, but he's definitely been calmer since the spending spree this offseason.

Steve:

Actually, as I was reading your response, I came to realize how surreal it is to think that Perez is even still a part of this club. After he was spitting fire last season, did anyone really think he would survive this offseason? While I did not want the Indians to trade him, I figured they would pull the trigger at the first decent proposal that they saw. But with that being said, Perez must have been like a kid on Christmas morning this entire offseason as he watched the Indians sign free agent after free agent.

I want to touch on the point you made with Pestano. Don't get me wrong, I love Pestano as much as the next guy, but I am not sure that he could adequately fill the closer's role. For Pestano's career, right-handed hitters own a .139 average against him. For left-handed hitters, that average goes all the way up to .258. In comparison, right-handed hitters own a career .215 average against Perez while left-handed hitters own a .199 average. That's the type of consistency that I want from my closer. 

Pestano is still a phenomenal player, and I can honestly say there is no player in the Major Leagues today that I would rather have as my setup man. However, I think Pestano's greatness sometimes make us forget about just how good Perez has been. I do love Pestano, but I'm also not quite ready to appoint him the team's closer of the future.

Jim:

That's lefty-righty split is interesting. I've never heard anything like that about Pestano before. Thus prompting me to look his splits (Warning! Math ahead!)

For his career, Pestano has faced 271 left-handed batters and 288 right-handed batters. So basically the same amount. The results:

Righties: .139/.226/.220 line, 125 strikeouts, 27 walks, 2 doubles, 2 triples, 5 home runs.

Lefties: .258/.343/.437 line, 43 strikeouts, 26 walks, 17 doubles, 2 triples, 7 home runs.

So against lefties, the strikeouts plummet and the doubles power skyrockets. Issue found! Or is it. Some even more nerdy batted ball numbers:

Righties: 17.3% line drives, 32.3% grounders, 50.4% fly balls

Lefties: 17.9% line drives, 44.9% grounders, 37.2% fly balls

So, translated into normal speak, Pestano actually does a great job of inducing ground balls against lefties, yet somehow he's giving up more hits for power. That doesn't really make sense, since ground balls rarely go for extra bases. It seems he actually attacks lefties well, though the results aren't showing that.

I guess with only 271 batters, those lefty numbers could be subject to small sample size variability. The lack of strikeouts is concerning and probably a problem, but I wonder if Pestano has simply been unlucky in terms of power versus lefties.

Steve:

Yeah, it's hard to know exactly what to make of his splits though it's interesting to see how there is such a significant difference between his effectiveness against left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters.

Nonetheless, I think we can both agree that Pestano is still a guy we're glad to have on this team. For his career, he has struck out 11 batters per nine innings, which is exactly the type of production I want toward the back of my bullpen. I remember when Pestano was first coming up, my one concern was health because we had seen him deal with injuries in the minors. However, that has since become a moot point as he's spent the past two seasons anchoring the pen alongside Perez and Joe Smith.

Which, speaking of Smith, he seems to be an ideal player to touch on next. While I like Smith a lot, I am probably not as bullish on him as others, which is another reason I was opposed to Perez being traded. Smith is a sidearmer and generates plenty of ground balls, but if Perez would have been traded, then Smith would have likely become the full-time setup guy. I'm not so sure that would have worked.

For his career, Smith has struck out 7.3 batters per nine innings, which is good, but not on the level of Pestano. Though Smith also has some interesting splits:

Against left-handed hitters: 402 batters faced, .254/.353/.318, five home runs, 21 doubles, 48 walks, 74 strikeouts

Against right-handed hitters: 931 batters faced, .214/.297/.273, 15 home runs, 27 doubles, 87 walks, 183 strikeouts

Like Pestano, Smith is absolutely dominant against right-handed hitters, but struggles a big against the lefties. Smith still makes for an ideal seventh inning guy, especially against right-handed hitters, but I have to ask you Jim, after seeing the splits of Pestano and Smith, are you starting to think the lack of a proven left-handed reliever could be a sizable problem this year? Tony Sipp certainly had his warts, but left-handed hitters still owned a .215 career average
against him.

Jim:

Since he's a right-handed sidearmer, I'm not shocked at that split. Those numbers are just going to happen with his style. I absolutely agree that I want Smith in that 7th inning role and not as the setup man. 

I am definitely with you on not being very high on Smith headed into 2013. I've always liked him but not loved him. But Smith is a decent reliever and one that will help keep the Bullpen Mafia running smoothly.

That lack of proven left-handed relief option is troublesome, though if you take the word "proven" out of the equation, then Cleveland has options. My personal favorite is Nick Hagadone, though I understand why some would not be thrilled to be trusting him with a key role in the bullpen.

Hagadone was cruising last year right up until the point where he wasn't. Before June 1, he had 15 strikeouts in 16.1 innings with only four earned runs, seven walks, and one home run. Things were looking pretty good.

After June 1? 9.0 innings, 14 earned runs, 11 strikeouts, eight walks, three home runs, and a broken forearm.

Hagadone's got the talent, and I'm willing to bet that he learned a huge lesson through his struggles last year. He's far from proven, but I for one would not feel bad about Hagadone being one of the lefties out of the bullpen (with David Huff as the second lefty and the long-man).

Steve:

I also like Hagadone a lot. It's hard not to like a left-hander with that kind of stuff, but his struggles after June concerned me quite a bit. That's why I think I would rather see Scott Barnes in the pen.

Now, as you and I both know, Barnes' 2012 season was far from perfect. While he may not have struggled as many times as Hagadone, he had one particular outing in June that I'm sure he would love to forget. On June 14 against the Cincinnati Reds, Barnes was torched for five runs in 1/3 of an inning. Yikes.

However, for as ugly as that outing was, Barnes really recovered nicely when he rejoined the Indians in September. From Sept. 2 to Oct. 2, Barnes pitched nine innings with a 0.00 ERA, allowed five hits and struck out six batters. I know this is a small sample size, but it's a sample size I want to see more of, which is why I hope Barnes earns one of the spots in the bullpen. I just love that deceptive delivery he brings to the table.

I'm just curious as to why you favor Hagadone over Barnes? Is it because you want to see Barnes continue to be stretched out as a starter, which I completely understand if that's the case. Also, you have to fill me in on David Huff. I know many fans have been clamoring for him to be moved to the bullpen, but I'm not sure if I totally understand it.

Jim:

As for Barnes, you hit the nail right on the head; I think that there is still a chance he could make it as a starter. I am always for leaving pitchers in the rotation as long as possible, as a decent 200-inning starter is almost always worth more than any 70-inning reliever.

Send Barnes to AAA this year to see if he can stick as a starter and transition him to the bullpen if he can't. This is only his age-25 season; he's still got time to become a decent major league starter.

As for Huff, he's out of options and left-handed. I'd give him the long relief job because that's essentially mop-up duty. It can't really hurt the team, and who knows? Maybe his stuff will play up enough in the bullpen to become an effective Major League pitcher.

Steve:

I can hear what you're saying about Huff, but I just cannot get past these scary visions of him suddenly getting rocked and the Indians are then staring at an 8-run deficit. Do you remember Chad Durbin in 2011 and then Dan Wheeler last season?

Now I'll be honest, and I admit that there were times when I enjoyed watching those two get rocked for five runs in less than inning, but I liken my interest in watching them suffer to my childhood interest in Pogs. It was fun for awhile, but it quickly got old.

My point here is that I see similar performances ahead from Huff. During his Major League career, he has just shown himself to be far too inconsistent. Every time that you think he has figured it out, he goes right back out on the mound and implodes. I understand that a move to the bullpen could mask his flaws and increase his chances to
succeed as he would likely only be seeing each batter once a game at most, but it's not something I want to risk. Mop up duty or not, I want to have the best possible option out there.

This then brings me to Rich Hill, who is in camp as a non-roster invitee. The left-hander has dealt with some injuries and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, but he should be back to full strength now. He seems to have some pretty good strikeout stuff as he has struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings for his career. I have to believe that he will have a legitimate shot to make this team if he goes out and impresses this spring.

Jim:

I'd be alright with that. If the team goes into Spring Training here with the understanding that one of Rich Hill and David Huff will make the team as the second lefty/long-man out of the bullpen, I'll be happy.

Well, I don't have much more to say about the Hill/Huff competition, so I guess we should move to the final spots up for grabs.

It would seem that there are two spots open for right-handed relievers and that Cody Allen, Matt Capps, Matt Albers, and Bryan Shaw are competing for them. I know who I want to win the jobs. I also know who I think is going to win the jobs. But I'm curious to hear your thoughts on it first (and also if I'm forgetting anybody who is in the mix, which is a distinct possibility).

Steve:

I am going to go out on a whim and guess that you and I are both in agreement that we want to see Cody Allen as a member of the Tribe's pen in 2013. I just love what Allen brings to the table, and I dunno about you, but I see another future setup man in the mold of Pestano.

When Allen made his debut with the Indians last season, he was practically unstoppable. In his first 12 games and 13 2/3 innings of work, Allen allowed only six hits and no earned runs while striking out 10. Walks were a bit of a problem as he did issue nine free passes over that span, but the performance was still one nice debut.

Allen did have some hiccups from there, but the overall line was pretty nice. In 27 games and 29 innings of work, Allen posted a 3.72 ERA while striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings. Not everything was perfect as his WHIP of 1.517 leaves a lot to be desired, but that can probably be attributed to his high walk rate of 4.7 batters per nine innings.

Nonetheless, I still think Allen did enough to warrant a spot in the 2013 bullpen. Let's not forget that Allen was drafted in 2011 and already made his debut last season. In other words, his professional baseball career is not even two years old. There is just so much upside with Allen, which is why I would love to see him in the Majors again this year. 

My other pick for the pen is Albers, which is the direction I believe the Indians are heading as well. There may not be much further upside to Albers as it seems as if he has already reached his peak, but this is a player coming off a season in which he posted a 2.39 ERA in 60 1/3 innings between Boston and Arizona. 

My only worry with Albers is that his 2012 season was an outlier and not the trend. His 2012 FIP of 4.77 and xFIP of 3.90 imply that he was very lucky, but I still think it's hard to not give Albers a job considering his 2012 campaign. Also, Albers is going to be a free agent after this season, so if the Indians are going to get any use out of him, they might as well get it before he's gone.

Jim:

We are most certainly in agreement on Allen, for every reason you stated. Yet I don't have him making the Opening Day roster.

I've just seen it too many times now. If someone can be sent to the minors, he typically is. Especially when non-roster invitees like Capps are hanging around.

My prediction for the Opening Day roster is Albers and Capps. I'd rather have Allen, but something tells me Capps will get a chance first.

It shouldn't come as a shock that I don't value saves that highly, but getting someone in Capps who has racked up 138 in his career on a minor league deal is impressive. I know he's had some issues with injuries recently, but he has a pretty solid track record of success in the majors. He doesn't get many strikeouts, but he makes up for that by rarely walks anyone.

It's not the choice either of us want, but assuming he shows something in Arizona, I think Capps starts the year in Cleveland.

Steve:

With that being said, it seems like we're wrapping up here. So what can we conclude about the bullpen? I have to say that I think it remains one of if not the strongest component of the team.

We have touched on how the team is set from the seventh inning on with Smith, Pestano and Perez, and I think we both agree that there is loads of potential in both Hagadone and Barnes. The Bullpen Mafia is somewhat of a comical nickname, but it's also an applicable one - this unit can be scary good.

Also, let's remember that we're talking about a guy like Capps with 138 career saves on the bubble of making the team. That is what you call depth my friend.

So, I have to say that I look for this group to build off what they've done in 2011 and 2012, and I see nothing but good things ahead in 2013.

Jim:

I would agree that the bullpen looks like a real strength. And, sadly, we didn't even get a chance to break down the depth that is waiting in the minors. CC Lee, Shawn Armstrong, Matt Langwell, Tyler Sturdeveant, Preston Guilmet; the list goes on and on. The bullpen should not be a problem for this team for a while, with plenty of strong candidates (who also happen to be cheap) on the brink of being Major League ready.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@kent.edu.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Jwahoo
February 23, 2013 - 3:12 PM EST
Man, I hope if we start to win more people come out to talk about our Tribe. Anyone want to disagree with me? Agree?
jwahoo
February 22, 2013 - 3:48 PM EST
I have to say I have loved hearing you guys talk but on this particular article I found quite a bit a disagreed with. No offense but more so with Jim. But, hey thats talking baseball.

1. I am so glad we did not trade Perez. First, I don't think the market was there. Plus, you want someone with fire and strikeout ability to be your closer. Imagine if we traded Perez and then found we didn't have a closer? All those great moves we made this offseason could go to waste. Which is why I am truly blown away hearing Jim say he wanted to trade Perez. I know you might not like what he says but you gotta look at the big picture. Perez has a chance to play for a winning team this season and show his true value so he might be even more attractive in a trade next offseason. Plus, having him allows Smith and Pestano to stay in set up where they have been effective. So, I have to say I was really taken back by some of the comments by Perez. Glad the FO understands what I am saying.

2. As far as a lefty goes we have a decent amount of options. I think we want at least 2 lefties in the pen and maybe 3 as the season goes on. I would give Hagadone and Huff the first chance in SP training but I hope Barnes or Hill is able to stand up and take the job. Since, Barnes can be sent to the minors it might make sense to start with Hill or Huff and Hagadone. Also, it would be a mistake to try and keep Barnes as a starter. We would probably be looking at a fringe 5th starter. In the bullpen has has a chance to be a real weapon. I was also surprised to see no one mention Kazmir. If he is healthy and figured things out then a spot in the bullpen could be a perfect role for him. Especially with an all righty rotation. He could be a LOOGY, long mand and set up guy all in one nice package. Would not start the year off with him but at some point I hope he gets the job.

3. Albers and Allen as the "middle inning" guys does not really make sense to me. Shaw is far younger and has pitched better than Albers so I would much rather see Shaw in that position. He could handle the setup/middle duties for years to come and has had two strong seasons. Albers is nice but his career ERA is nothing special. In regards to Allen he is so young it makes sense to let him develop more in AAA and then bring him as soon as one of the guys gets injured or is not doing their job. It will happen so having a guy like Allen just waiting could be huge. That is why I think the second spot should come down to Albers vs Capps. Start with the vets and let the kids come up as needed. It just makes sense. Blake Wood is another guy to keep an eye out for mid season if a spot is open. (which I doubt)

4. One last thing about Perez. He is one of the leaders of this team and THE leader of the bullpen. I think you want at leas one leader in the rotation, infield, outfield, bench and bullpen. I am so glad we stll have Perez around because it just makes the rest of the bullpen so much better.

5. If the rotation has a surprise say McCalister, Carrasco and Dice K all deserve spots. It should be noted that Brett Meyers could move into a bullpen role. Giving us another guy with fire to go along with Perez at the back end of the bullpen. On the other hand I think Meyers sticks in the rotation because he provides good leadership and can eat alot more innings there.

Overall the bullpen looks really solid if we can find two strong lefties. It is a MUST if you ask me. Our rotation is all righty and our best BP guys struggle against lefties so having two or even three solid lefty options out of the pen is going to be key for this season.
Daingean
February 22, 2013 - 7:47 AM EST
I think this group will really be the key for the Indians this year. In fact, I think this will be a deciding factor in the Indians favour. Bullpens are way more important now than in the past. Nothing deflates a team than a string of blown saves and with pitchers going only 6 innings a pop and with more and more games decided in the 7-9 innings, a good BP can swing a team from 75 wins to 85 or more.
Homer
February 21, 2013 - 8:25 PM EST
I think Blake Wood could be a name to remember in the second half, once he's healthy and logged some innings in AAA.
Adam
February 21, 2013 - 6:44 PM EST
Just want to make one point in Joe Smith's favor. While his career numbers against lefties are just okay...3.94 FIP, 4.53 xFIP...he has actually been very good against them over the last two years:

2011, vs. lefties:
.150 avg
.244 OBP
.215 SLG
3.23 FIP

2012:
.218
.288
.297
.291 FIP

That's a really encouraging trend for a guy that was once labeled a right-on-right only guy. Obviously this is a sample size issue, but he seemed to really attack lefties more over the last two years than he did earlier in his career.

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