By Mike Brandyberry
September 29 began a two week, end of season grade and breakdown by each position. Certainly after the wild ride the 2011 Cleveland Indians took fans on, grades, projections and areas of improvement are all sought for 2012, with the goal being a playoff team next season. Today, we examine the bullpen. Be sure to check out our previous features.
4-7, 3.32 ERA, 59.2 IP, 26 BB, 39K’s, 36 saves.
Despite a season of injuries for the Indians, the Bullpen Mafia was the cornerstone of the team and remained healthy all season. Chris Perez was the leader of the mafia as he solidified himself as the closer, allowing everyone else to assume their role.
Perez, in his first full season as a closer, was selected to the American League All-Star team and was dominant in save situations all season. He only blew four saves in 40 opportunities. Perez’s only drawback would have to be his struggles in entering tie games at home. Once the game is tied in the bottom of the ninth, there is no save situation for the home team. Often Manny Acta would go to Perez in this situation with the hope of holding the opponent for an inning while the Tribe would have a chance to score. However, Perez struggled mightily in this role. To be a top tier, lockdown closer, he must complete this last step in his evolution as a closer.
Every successful, playoff team, in Cleveland since 1995 has had a tough bullpen with clear, defined roles. In order to define those roles, you have to work backwards from the closer. Perez did his job all year, taking care of the ninth inning so that other relievers could assume their roles in front of him.
1-2, 2.32 ERA, 62 IP, 24 BB, 84 K’s
One of Manny Acta’s better moves of the season was to insert Vinnie Pestano as his eighth inning and right handed set up man. Considering he had only thrown five innings in the major leagues before 2011, it was a rather bold decision to make in spring training.
However, Pestano didn’t just assume the role, he dominated it. The side-winding, flame throwing righty struck out 84 hitters in only 62 innings. Hitters could only manage a .184 batting average against him (.115 versus right handed hitters). He even assumed the role of “back up closer,” as he was the only player to save a game other than Perez on the team.
The test for next year will be to see if he can do it again. Pestano threw more innings this season than he has any other year as a professional. His old career high of 51 innings pitched was eclipsed by August and his work load was slowed after the Indians fell out of contention. Had the Tribe battled for the playoffs to the end of the season, he surely would have eclipsed the 70 inning plateau.
6-3, 3.03 ERA, 62.1 IP, 24 BB, 57 K’s
With Pestano dominating the right side setup duties, Tony Sipp became his equal counterpart from the left side. Sipp lacked the dominating fastball that Pestano uses to blow hitters away, but the little lefty got the same job done his own way.
Sipp lead the Indians in stranding 85.5% of base runners without scoring. Sipp dominated left handed hitters, only allowing a .225 batting average, but he was even more deadly versus righties, allowing only a .178 average.
Concerns with overuse is probably not as severe as with Pestano, but Sipp improved mightily from 2010 to 2011. If he can continue his development as a back end relief pitcher, he will only make the mafia a stronger unit.
3-3, 2.01 ERA, 67 IP, 21 BB, 45 K’s
If Chris Perez helped solidify and establish the bullpen roles, Joe Smith may have been the catalyst to making the Bullpen Mafia the best bullpen in the American League.
Pestano held down the eighth inning, but Smith became the force in the seventh with just as dominating of stuff, especially on right handed hitters. Smith’s dominance, including a streak of 23 scoreless innings pitched, really turned the game to a six inning game many times. That proved to be very valuable when starters like Josh Tomlin would provide five or six inning each time out.
Smith’s side winding cutter proved deadly on right handed hitters. This was his career year to date. To keep the mafia a potent as they were this season, into 2012, Smith may have to be just as deadly.
5-2, 3.00 ERA, 62 IP, 19 BB, 33 K’s
Rafael Perez, the only holdover from the dominant bullpen of 2007, has managed to accomplish something few relievers can do. Without falling apart, he’s managed to work his way out of the back end of the bullpen and into the middle innings.
Perez was used mostly in the sixth and seventh innings this season, bridging the gap from the starter to the back end guys. He also was used to match up with lefties, using his sweeping slider to retire hitters. Raffy Right has become shaky at times though, as he only left 67.8% of runners on base. That was just the second to worst percentage of any relief pitcher out of the pen.
Perez definitely has value and a place in the Tribe bullpen moving forward, but he also could be a player of value that could be traded in the offseason to help add a right handed bat. He is arbitration eligible this November and is due a sizeable raise, something the team may not want to give to a player who no longer pitches with the game on the line. Someone like Nick Hagadone could be given the chance to replace him in the middle innings.
4-0, 5.11 ERA, 56.1 IP, 16 BB, 34 K’s
Frank Herrmann would be the answer to the only player who allowed more base runners to score than Rafael Perez. The Harvard Heater could never work his way out of the front end of the bullpen, working the season as a long man when starters struggled.
Herrmann did have success at times, however, working three scoreless innings in Cincinnati when Fausto Carmona was injured running to first base and again in the Indians 14-inning marathon with the Tigers. Herrmann ended up earning the victory in both contests.
Herrmann is still young and has a chance to develop. In September he received more chances to pitch with the game on the line but was not able to take advantage of the opportunity. He had a 7.88 ERA, allowing 13 hits and seven runs in eight innings of work. He will most likely have to battle Josh Judy and Zach Putnam for his role in the bullpen and place on the 25-man roster.
2-2, 5.53 ERA, 68.1 IP, 26 BB, 59 K’s
A year ago Chad Durbin was a quality relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies but after a winter where he couldn’t find a contract offer to his liking he signed with the Indians assuming he would have a chance to be a key member to anther bullpen.
However, Durbin struggled early in the season and was quickly moved to the front of the bullpen. He seemed to find his role throughout the summer, settling down, but the roles were defined and Durbin was stuck up front as a long man. His season ended much like the beginning, by getting bombed.
As a free agent, and someone who was frustrated in their role, I would not expect Durbin to return to the Indians in 2012. The open spot will most likely be competition for Hagadone, Judy and Putnam.