Injuries have piled up rapidly for the Cleveland Indians and Wednesday’s disappointing collapse in San Francisco added another name to the list of walking wounded.
Boone Logan left the mound in what looked to be a great deal of pain after walking the Giants’ Brandon Belt in the eighth inning and headed straight to the clubhouse with what the team described at the time as a left latissimus dorsi strain. After undergoing an MRI on Thursday in Cleveland, the team announced on Friday that the left-handed reliever had been placed on the 10-day disabled list.
“At the minimum, he’s going to miss significant time,” shared manager Terry Francona prior to Friday’s contest with the Toronto Blue Jays. “There’s not really anything other than that right now. He tore that muscle. He’s going to be down for a while.”
To take Logan’s roster spot, the contract of left-handed reliever Tyler Olson was purchased from Triple-A Columbus.
Logan had made 39 appearances for the Tribe in 2017 with mixed results at times. Through 21 innings as a LOOGY in Francona’s bullpen, he had struck out 28 batters and walked nine. His 12.0 strikeout per nine rate was the best of his career to date, while his 3.9 walks per nine were right on point with his career averages. One of the biggest differences in his numbers from last season were an elevated hit rate (8.6 hits per nine this season compared to 5.2 last season), but he had averaged 9.1 hits per nine in his first eleven MLB seasons, so he was not far removed from that level of success either.
Logan’s ERA was the biggest jump from a season ago, as he had allowed a run in seven of his outings this season. The ERA was artificially bloated after being charged with five earned runs in one-third of an inning on July 2 in Detroit. Without the damage of that one outing (which accounted for nearly half of his earned runs for the season), he was carrying a 2.61 ERA.
Logan had limited the number of inherited runners that he had allowed to score so far this season. Just four of the 19 runners that were on the bases when he entered a game came in to score against him, a 21% inherited runners scored percentage. He posted one of the best full-season marks of his career last season with a rate of 22% (just off of his 21% allowed in 2011) and he entered 2017 with a 28% career mark.
A long-term loss of Logan from the bullpen would damage Francona’s relief corps, which would be exclusively right-handed with the exception of Andrew Miller, who the team has not used strictly as a matchup reliever and prefers to use in the late innings in a setup/closing capacity.
Currently, the team has just Olson as a matchup option in the bullpen as Ryan Merritt was optioned back to Columbus on Saturday to make room for the activation of starting pitcher Danny Salazar from his extended stay on the 10-day disabled list.
Prior to Friday night, Olson had worked a grand total of 12 games at the Major League level (eleven in 2015 with the Mariners and one in 2016 with the Yankees). The 27-year-old was claimed off of waivers last season by the Indians after bouncing around from Seattle to Los Angeles (NL) to New York (AL) to Kansas City, all in a seven-month span. He spent the remainder of the year at Columbus, posting a 1-0 record in nine games with a 5.91 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in ten and two-thirds innings with his third different Triple-A club of the year.
He spent spring training with the Indians as a non-roster invitee. He returned to Columbus at the start of the season and had posted a 2-0 record with a 3.32 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in 40 2/3 innings this season scattered over 33 games.
“[Olson]’s a guy that we were talking about for a long time, but there just wasn’t a place for him,” said Francona on Friday. “You never want it to happen like this, but we are excited to see him pitch.”
His best work had come against left-handers. He had struck out 32 of the 76 that he had faced this season and had limited them to a .132 average. Right-handers, by comparison, had hit .250 with ten more hits in six more plate appearances. Of the five hits that he had allowed to left-handers this season, five of them had left the yard.
He hit the only batter that he faced in his Indians debut on Friday.
Merritt is a starter by nature and given the devastation that the rotation suffered late last season, it would be assumed that the Indians would prefer to keep him stretched out, as he is one of the top arms available to the club on the farm, from a starting pitching perspective.
Kyle Crockett would have been a top consideration to join the club in Logan’s absence and in many ways it was a surprise that the team did not call upon the heavily traveled left-hander. Still, he could find his way north up Interstate 71 once again at some point in the near future, especially with the roster shuffling expected in the coming days and weeks.
Crockett had a rough go with the Tribe in three appearances this season when he was recalled on June 7. He stayed with the team for ten days, giving up two runs on two hits and one walk with one strikeout against six hitters in just two-thirds of an inning of work.
He has been solid and overall steady for Columbus this season. He has a 4-3 record with three saves and seven holds in 34 games, posting a 2.27 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP.
He has had a good July to date with the Clippers, posting a 3-1 record in eight games in the month, allowing just one earned run (on a homer) and two total runs on three hits with no walks in seven innings while posting a 3-1 record with a save. His results have improved greatly since cutting down on a high walk rate (after walking three in ten and two-thirds innings in April and five in 12 1/3 innings in May). Last month, hits were his bigger concern as he gave up ten in five and two-thirds innings while allowing opposing hitters to hit .357 against him, but that average against for July is just .125 with a 0.43 WHIP.
As would be hoped, Crockett’s splits have been favorable against left-handers. He has limited them to a .147 average with a 1.83 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP against them on the year in 19 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts and five walks. He has actually been able to strike out more right-handed batters, sitting down 18 via K with just four walks over 16 innings, but they have hit .286 off of him with eight of his 13 runs allowed on the year (2.81 ERA).
It might be hard to believe, but since the beginning of Crockett’s career, he has had one of the top fielding independent pitching (FIP) marks among all big league left-handed relievers. His sample size is significantly smaller due to the obvious lack of opportunities to pitch at the Major League level with the Indians in the last several seasons.
Only a small handful of southpaw relievers to have logged at least 50 innings since the start of the 2014 campaign have a FIP better than Crockett’s. Most are among the best in the game, including Aroldis Chapman (1.50), Cleveland’s Miller (1.79), and Zach Britton (2.45), who like the previous two pitchers could be moved at the trade deadline. Sean Doolittle (2.46), already traded by Oakland to Washington this month, is fourth on the list. Also on the list are frequently mentioned trade candidates Brad Hand (12th at 3.09) and Justin Wilson (14th at 3.14).
Crockett’s 3.15 FIP is 15th in all of baseball in that span, but many of the rest of his numbers do not compare quite as well. His strikeout rate is the lightest of the bunch and his walk rate is in the middle of the pack. He limits home runs well, but had the highest batting average against (.250) of the 14 men above him. He did, however, have one of the best left on base percentages (90.8%) of the group.
The bulk of Crockett’s work came in his breakout rookie season in 2014, when he went 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. His FIP that season was notably different and higher than the ERA at 3.23.
Logan, by comparison in that span, has a fielding independent pitching of 3.69 and was at a 3.15 FIP this season.
It all could be just brief auditions for Olson, Merritt, and Crockett this month, as if the club can acquire a lefty to supplement the bullpen without paying a fool’s ransom in prospects, an upgrade would make sense, especially if Logan’s injury is as severe as initially feared.
The problem again this year is that, as has been the case in each year of the expanded wild card era, the trade market is slow developing as several teams cannot adequately determine whether or not they are contenders or pretenders. The handful of teams that hold left-handers to potentially deal, namely Baltimore (Britton), San Diego (Hand), Detroit (Wilson), the New York Mets (Jerry Blevins), Pittsburgh (Tony Watson), and Cincinnati (Tony Cingrani), are believed to be asking for a prospect-rich haul that should be cost-prohibitive to a team like the Indians, or are not highly motivated to move the trade chips due to the player’s value to the team now and/or in the future (several viable rumored names are under contract for multiple years). All have their inherent risks, whether it be a high salary, a costly price tag to acquire, mixed results this season, generally inconsistent track records, or a team uncertain to deal or not to deal.
The Indians already have Miller under contract through the end of the 2018 season and are not afraid to use him for extended stretches that would overlap several opposing left-handed hitters in a lineup. Logan has a team option in his contract for next year, so if the Indians were to build for now and the future, such a move would not be needed. If it were just a matter of adding a rental for a nominal fee, it would be one thing, and maybe as the market plays out, some of the above names or others yet to be determined will fall into a reasonable price range. However, the Indians may be better suited spending what trade assets they have on areas of greater need, whether it be adding to the offense to aid injuries to that portion of the roster, upgrading at the utility man and/or bench spots, or bringing in another starting pitcher.
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