A Good Mix of Bullpen Arms
Ronnie Tellalian | On 01, Feb 2014
The Indians bullpen has long been a point of strength for the team. Through a revolving door of pitchers, the Indians have managed to maintain a well-run pen for years. This season the revolving door continues as they lost several key pitchers. Few were sad to see former closer Chris Perez depart, but he did have some good seasons in Cleveland. Matt Albers left via free agency and signed with the Houston Astros. Rich Hill recently signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox. Finally, side winding Joe Smith took his talents to Los Angeles to pitch for the Angels. Replacing those guys is going to be tough, but the Indians have some good arms in the fold.
The new addition to the closers roll is former Milwaukie Brewers closer John Axford. After leading the league in saves in 2011, Axford struggled for a season and a half until the Brewers finally traded him to St Louis in August of 2013. He found his place as a Cardinal, pitching very well in 13 games posting 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.74 ERA. He will be the Indians closer this season and the Tribe hopes he continues to mow down the competition.
Stepping into the set-up role is a familiar face in Cleveland. Cody Allen tore his way through the Indians minor league system. Drafted in 2011, he reached Double-A Akron in his first professional season. He got his first taste of the Major Leagues after a stellar start to his 2012 minor league season. For his minor league career, Allen pitched in 54 games with a 1.74 ERA and 11.6 K/9. He played a huge role in the Indians bullpen last season, and spent a good chunk of time as the setup man, he even recorded two saves. He finished 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. He has made himself a mainstay in the bullpen, and looks like the Indians closer of the future.
Beyond those two spots are a slew of pitchers vying for their place. Vinnie Pestano hopes to return to form after tough 2013 campaign. Pestano looked like the obvious replacement for Chris Perez until his 2013 season derailed. The velocity on his fastball dropped from its peak of 92.7 mph, down to 91.1 average last season, and his sinker dropped from 93.2 to 91.6. Breaking that down by the month looks even worse, in September of last season his fastball was a paltry 89.8 mph. If he can bounce back, he will play a big role in the Indians season, if he doesn’t, he may get left behind.
Josh Outman seems to be a lock to make the Tribe pen. The Indians acquired him from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Drew Stubbs. Coming from the thin air of mile high city, one would think Cleveland would be a heaven, but Outman actually pitcher better at home last season than he did on the road. His advantage is not his ballpark, but his huge platoon splits. For his career, left handed batters hit just .189/.251/.272 against him.
Another virtual lock to make the pen is Bryan Shaw. The 26-year old right hander pitched very well for the Tribe in 2013. He won seven games on the season, struck out nearly a batter per inning, and posted a 3.24 ERA. He could step right into the role vacated by Smith.
Marc Rzepczynski is a front runner to make the team as a second lefty. He was masterful for the Indians down the stretch and helped propel them into the playoffs. It looks like his career had taken a turn for the worst when he was sent down to Triple A by the St Louis Cardinals after a very difficult start to the season last year. The Indians picked him up for some added bullpen help and he pitched like a man given a second chance. In 27 games he posted a miniscule 0.89 ERA and held lefties to a .179/.223/.250 batting line.
For the remaining candidates, the competition is stiff. Scott Barnes, and Nick Hagadone have both pitched in at least two seasons with the Tribe, and veterans Blake Wood, David Aardsma, Matt Capps, and Scott Atchison all have the experience to step into a role. Internally, the Indians have young up and comers like Preston Guilmet, C.C. Lee, and Austin Adams waiting in the wings for their shot at a place in the pen.