Bullpen Help Would be a Welcomed Relief
Steve Eby | On 23, Oct 2015
As I write this article, I’m going to try extremely hard to look at the positive and not make this a censured piece about the Indians bullpen, but the inconsistencies in 2015 were too many to ignore.
The Tribe’s ‘pen heading into the season was supposed to be a strength with young closer Cody Allen heading into his prime, steady Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison and Marc Rzepczynski just ahead of him and young lefties Kyle Crockett and Nick Hagadone ready to break out, as well. What actually happened was, well, not exactly what the plan was set out to be.
As it does so often, the Indians inconsistencies in the bullpen started with the closer. While Allen’s final numbers look okay (2-5, 2.99 34 saves in 38 tries), it was Allen’s rocky start to the season that had as much impact as any on the Indians’ faulty beginning. Allen struggled with his command in the early goings, allowing seven walks and nine earned runs in his first eight outings and then chipping in two more walks and two more runs over his next four. By mid-May, Allen was averaging an earned run per inning—something that closers cannot do and expect success. To his credit, Allen did settle in and become Terry Francona’s most trusted reliever (Allen led the Majors in saves of more than one inning pitched), but his damage to the bullpen was clear in April and May.
Next on Francona’s radar were Shaw, Atchison, and Rzepczynski. While the former was turning in another solid effort, the middle was cut before the All-Star break and the latter struggled and was traded to San Diego in July. Rzepczynski’s greatest contribution to the 2015 Tribe was probably netting them Abraham Almonte, as the journeyman centerfielder helped solidify the mess that was the Tribe’s outfield—if only temporarily. Shaw, on the other hand, worked another 74 games after leading the AL in 2014 with 80. The 27-year-old has made 224 appearances over the past three seasons but keeps defying the odds and gets people out.
Hagadone and Crockett both earned a collective yawn, as the two lefties failed to impress. For Hagadone, this was nothing new and just the same old story that eventually ended in shoulder surgery, but Crockett may have been the most disappointing piece to a letdown of a bullpen that there was. Crockett dominated through the minor leagues and had an extremely impressive rookie season in 2014 by holding lefties to just a .206 BAA. In 2015, lefties seemed to figure Crockett out and raised their efforts to a .256 BAA.
Help needed to come quickly and the Tribe made a couple of savvy moves to help solidify things. They acquired Ryan Webb (1-0, 3.20) and moved Zach McAllister (4-4, 3.00, 1 save) and they both impressed with solid years. Webb was mostly used in long relief and kept the ball on the ground and in the ballpark, for the most part, while McAllister became a nice bridge to the back enders as the season moved along. ZMac hit a couple of road bumps down the stretch, but overall impressed in his first year in the bullpen.
The biggest move in the right direction came out of nowhere, however, with the promotion of Jeff Manship (1-0, 0.92). Manship, basically unheard of before June, was promoted and allowed right-handers to bat just .103. He set the franchise record for the lowest ERA by an Indian with 30 or more appearances and all but assured himself a spot in the 2016 Tribe bullpen with his efforts.
With Allen, Shaw, McAllister, Manship and Crockett all locks for next season, the Tribe must find more help…especially from the left side. While the fans yearn for a big bat to add to the lineup, the Indians most likely free agent acquisition looks be in the form of a bullpen left-hander. If the team is looking for a big splash, the two biggest names out on the market are likely Antonio Bastardo from the Pirates and former Indian Tony Sipp of the Astros. Other names the Indians could look at include Neal Cotts, Oliver Perez, and Matt Thornton, but those would likely be one year deals.