While the Cleveland Indians may have much less certainty from the southpaw options for their bullpen in 2016, the right-handed side is much more stable and definitive. It could use another reliable piece or two in order to give the staff some serious clout.
While the Indians brass has the task of determining whether internal candidates like Kyle Crockett, Giovanni Soto, and Nick Hagadone will be sufficient options for the club for the 2016 season, the righty options in Terry Francona’s bullpen include several familiar faces and a few younger, but capable, options.
Cody Allen returns as the ‘pen’s anchor and most consistent contributor in 2015. In his first full season as the Tribe’s closer, he did not disappoint, despite needing to kick off a little rust in the early going. After he allowed ten runs in the month of April, he settled down to allow just 16 more for the season. He did not allow a single run in ten outings in June and allowed just one earned run in 13 games in September.
Allen finished the year with a 2-5 record and a career-high 34 saves in 38 opportunities. He earned a 2.99 ERA and posted the second-best WHIP (1.17) of his young career, now four full seasons long. His 99 strikeouts were a career high. He will turn 27 in less than a week (November 20th) and will begin his fifth season at the Major League level for the club next season, an impressive feat for a reliever drafted and signed in June of 2011.
It will be his second as the team’s full-time closer, a role he claimed from John Axford early in the 2014 season. Allen led the AL in games finished in 2015 and has very quietly struck out 190 batters over the past two seasons. His save total was sixth-highest in the league. While the closer role and bullpen workers in general are a volatile bunch that can burst into flames at any moment, Allen may be someone the club looks to extend as he hits his first year of arbitration this winter.
Bryan Shaw set up Allen for the second straight season and put together a solid showing overall. The former second round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2008 draft hit the age of 28 last Sunday and will start his sixth season in the Majors in 2016. He has spent the past three in the Indians bullpen and as Francona’s primary workhorse, appearing in 70 games or more in each of the last three years. He hit the 80 plateau in 2014 when he led baseball in appearances by a pitcher.
In 2015, Shaw threw a dozen less innings than 2014 and eleven fewer than his output from the prior year. After using a curveball to complement his cutter and slider in the early portions of his career, he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher now. His average and max pitch speeds in 2015 were still relatively close to their numbers from 2014, but his slider was hit with much more frequency, possibly adding to the elevated numbers and struggles Shaw had on the mound at times. Opposing hitters were limited to a .123 average against the pitch in 2013 and a .122 mark in 2014. This past season, that number jumped to .257 and accounted for half as many strikeouts as the season before, despite being used in just a dozen fewer at bats.
He finished the season with a 3-3 record, two saves, and a 2.95 ERA in 74 games. He struck out 54 batters in 64 innings with a 1.22 WHIP. The win total, innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP, homers per nine, homers allowed, and hits per nine were all the worst marks of his Indians career. Like Allen, he started the season off rough, but settled in before running into some problems down the stretch. He had issues walking left-handed batters, who hit just .226 off of him but had a .308 on-base percentage after drawing eleven walks in 104 plate appearances. Righties hit .252, but walked just eight times in 161 times in the box.
Zach McAllister found a second life on the Indians pitching staff after his failed starting effort on the home opener against Detroit. A third round pick by the New York Yankees in 2006, the 27-year-old righty made his two primary pitches work to an extent in relief. As a reliever, he went 4-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 60 relief appearances. The five runs he allowed as a starter kicked his season ERA all the way up to 3.00.
The Indians may have hoped to find some use for the hard-throwing pitcher by banishing him to long relief and mop up duty, but like Carlos Carrasco the season before, he was able to become a useful contributor to the Tribe’s staff, even if he failed to make it back into a crowded rotation at season’s end. He was predominantly a fastball pitcher, hitting 97 and 98 at times and overpowering batters while seeing his softer stuff get hit around over the course of the year. His 11.0 strikeout per nine rate for the season trailed only Allen’s 12.9 for regular workers on the staff. He finished with 79 punchouts in 69 innings for the season.
While spending just half the season on the roster, Jeff Manship put up impressive numbers when the team needed stability in its bullpen the most. Entering his seventh big league season and with his fourth club, Manship spent the beginning of his year pitching in the Columbus Clippers bullpen. When the phone rang, the 30-year-old took his 1.99 ERA and 1.07 WHIP from the state capital to the shores of Lake Erie and quietly put up one of the stronger performances of the staff for the year.
In 32 games, Manship earned a win and compiled a 0.92 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. He allowed just 20 hits and ten walks over 39 1/3 innings and struck out 33. He gave Francona a reliable arm, joining free agent Ryan Webb, in bridging the gap between starter and back end of the relief corps. He served a role similar to that of Scott Atchison, who saw injury and ineffectiveness end his Indians stay prematurely.
Austin Adams, who turned 29 in August, saw more time this season. He appeared in 28 games and finished with a 2-0 record and a 3.78 ERA while also notching his first MLB save. It did not necessarily come easy at times, as he averaged more than a hit an inning and, with walks factored in, had a 1.50 WHIP for the year. He was a man in a bizarre role, as Francona used him 15 times in those appearances in multi-inning efforts.
He appeared in 13 games for the Clippers over the course of the season and was 2-2 there with four saves and a 4.50 ERA to go with his 1.67 WHIP. His spot is certainly much more up for grabs than the spots of the aforementioned relievers.
Shawn Armstrong earned his chance late in the season for the Indians and made eight appearances in the first big league games of his career. The 25-year-old rookie faced righties and lefties equally, with each side logging 15 plate appearances a piece against him. The results were almost just as equal – he allowed a single and a double and one run scored against lefties and a single, double, and homer with a run scored against righties. He struck out five righties and walked one, while striking out six and walking one against the lefties.
He finished the season with no record and a 2.25 ERA in eight innings of eight games. He had a 0.88 WHIP and averaged 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, making him an intriguing option for the arms race in 2016.
A group of five to six of these righties will combine with a likely pair of southpaws, potentially Crockett and Soto if the club makes no moves to bolster the left-handed bullpen options.
The Indians have already been linked this offseason to 33-year-old South Korean right-handed reliever Seung-hwan Oh, who has spent the past two seasons pitching in Japan for the Hanshin Tigers after nine seasons pitching in Korea. “The Final Boss” was 2-3 with 41 saves and a 2.73 ERA last season.
The pool of other available right-handers include numerous that could fall within the Indians spending range. Several former Tribe retreads are on that list, including David Aardsma (spent 2014 spring with Tribe in Arizona), Matt Albers, Rafael Betancourt, Roberto Hernandez, Mark Lowe, Edward Mujica, and the most recent ex-Tribesman of the bunch, Webb.
In house, the Indians have righty C.C. Lee on the 40-man roster. The club also re-signed minor league free agent Joseph Colon this week and invited him to spring training, but he has never pitched beyond Triple-A for the club and is still new to relief work.
It would be little surprise if the Indians made a minor free agent acquisition during the offseason to bring in another right-handed arm or two as insurance for the staff. In previous seasons, a handful of players signed to minor league contracts with invites to Spring Training have come to be useful over the course of the season. Such was the case for Manship this past season and Atchison several years before him, and both were strong and underrated components of the bullpens in those seasons.
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