At the start of the season, the Indians bullpen was seen as one of the strongest parts of the team. Coming into the season, the Indians believed they not only had upper echelon talent in their bullpen, but also believed that they had depth in the high minor leagues in case of emergency. But as we wind up a pivotal series against the Tigers, we have seen our bullpen look more like the Tigers’ than the “Bullpen Mafia” that we have come accustomed to. The Indians need a Ray Ferritto-type to come in and handle business. (Mafia jokes aside, Kill The Irishman is a great movie on the real Cleveland Mafia scene in the 1970s. A much better way to spend a few hours than watching the Bullpen Mafia…)
What has happened to our beloved bullpen? Where do we go from here? Surely changes must be made. But will Terry Francona stop being Mr. Nice Guy and deal some hard news and make some real changes in the bullpen? Here I propose how the Indians bullpen should look and some options for acquiring talent.
Closer – Chris Perez
The former All-Star turned (barely) criminal has been rock solid since his return from the disabled list, appearing in five games allowing any runs. Is he still the All-Star caliber pitcher from last season? I would say no. If you look at the graph below, you can see how Perez’s velocity has trended downward this season, and more or less throughout his career. Also, according to Pitch F/X, Perez’s movement of his slider has dropped. What he is lacking in velocity and movement he is making up in command, as Perez is still in command of his pitches. I think 2012 was the prime year of Perez’s career, but for this season he is still an above-average closer.
Setup – 8th inning – Cody Allen
Cody Allen has been an absolute gem for the Indians this season, posting a 2.45 ERA in 36.2 innings of relief. In those innings, he has held opposing batters to a batting average of .199. He has easily been the most consistent pitcher in the bullpen, and he is one of Terry Francona’s favorite Indians. This consistent performance shows that Allen should be pitching when it matters in the eighth inning. He has a fastball that hovers around 95-96 mph with a plus curveball. I would expect Allen to fill into the closer role next season if the Indians do not resign Chris Perez.
Setup – 7th inning – Left-handed reliever acquired in trade
As of July 9, 22 of 30 MLB teams are within 10 games of first place. However, a number of left-handed relievers will be available at the deadline, despite the lack of sellers at the trade deadline. Omitted from this list of possible Indians acquisitions are any pitchers that have been publicly stated unavailable (such as Glen Perkins of the Twins, James Russell of the Cubs and Mike Dunn of the Marlins).
Oliver Perez – Mariners - So far this season, Oliver has posted a microscopic 1.89 ERA while striking out 12.4 hitters per nine innings, an extremely high number. He could easily be acquired from the Mariners (40-49, 12.5 GB), who are not in playoff contention. Perez has $1.5 million contract and will be a free agent after this season.
Scott Downs – Angels - According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Angels will be open to trading non-vital pieces of their team despite being in (somewhat) playoff contention. This would make reliever Scott Downs (and starter Jason Vargas, another player I like for the Indians) available. This season, Downs has been great against tough against lefties (.178), but has been poor against righties (.283). If we were to acquire Downs, who has a 1.42 ERA, I would like to see him paired with Smith or Pestano in the 7th inning. Downs has went less than an inning in 54% (20-37) of his appearances, so pairing him with a righty would make since for the 7th inning. Downs is making $5 million this season and will become a free agent after this season.
Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny – Brewers - Many teams have inquired about the 35-year-old Gonzalez (3.19 ERA, 1.52 WHIP), who like Downs is a situational left-handed reliever (31 innings in 45 appearances). Less noise has been made about the younger Gorzelanny, who is the opposite of Gonzalez. Gorzelanny is a former starter who has started two games for the Brew crew this season (he went 6 innings with allowing an earned run on July 7 against the Mets). Gorzo could double not only as a later inning guy (2.12 ERA), but could be a spot starter. Gonzalez is making $2.25 million this season and will be a free agent after this season. Gorzo is making on a 2 year, $6 million contract that ends in 2015.
Matt Thornton – White Sox - Thornton has been linked to trades with the Red Sox and Braves as the White Sox have entered fire sale mode (but will not trade Chris Sale or Paul Konerko). Thornton seems like a long shot to be acquired by the Indians, but he would be exactly what the Indians need. The fire-throwing lefty is on pace for his eighth straight season of more than 60 appearances. While his 2013 ERA may not look pretty (4.00), he always has been adept at keeping runners off the base paths. Thornton will make $5.5 million this season and has a team option next season for $6 million.
Other options: Joe Thatcher – Padres, Josh Edgin – Mets, Charlie Furbush – Mariners
Situational lefty – Rich Hill
Hill’s season stats have been abysmal this season, posting a 6.38 ERA and a 1.628 WHIP. However, since June 5 (12 games) Hill has a 2.25 ERA and a K/9 of 12.4. His awkward arm angle leads him to lose command rather often. If Hill were to stumble, Nick Hagadone would be available in AAA. I personally Hagadone is the better pitcher, but Hill has always been one of Francona’s “guys”, so that may be a reason he is still in the bullpen.
5th/6th inning or reserve setup men – Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith
Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith have not been getting it done for the Indians in the past 6 weeks. Since coming off the disabled list with elbow tendinitis on May 17, Pestano has appeared in 21 games and has posted an abysmal 5.66 ERA. Even as recently as Sunday, Pestano has been ineffective, allowing a three-run home run to Torii Hunter when it mattered most.
As for Smith, his ERA in June/July has been 4.60 ERA and even he himself admitted he was going through mechanical issues. I think it would be best if Smith (and Pestano) to recollect in the back of the bullpen. The Indians cannot afford their ineffectiveness.
Mop Up – Matt Albers
Every time Albers shows promise, he seems to squash it. Before the Tigers series, Albers had not given up a run in over a month. Sadly, Albers allowed four earned runs in 3 innings of work against the Tigers, including Victor Martinez’s game-winning double on Monday. Nevertheless, no one should be calling for Albers’ head. It is not his fault that he had to face the middle of the Tigers’ lineup twice in one series. Few pitchers come out unscathed from that.
Waiting in Columbus – CC Lee, Bryan Shaw, Nick Hagadone, Preston Guilmet
Bryan Shaw has been brutal for the Indians since May, posting a 5.70 ERA in 28 games. Why Shaw is still with the Indians when he has an option left is beyond me. Shaw is due a trip to Columbus to figure himself out. The potential is there (0.85 ERA in April), but he just has not been effective in the past two months.
Chen-Chang “CC” Lee has been a great reliever in Columbus (1.59 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) and he is a great depth option at AAA. Preston Guilmet has also been great, as he was invited to the AAA All-Star Game (16 saves). Nick Hagadone has tons of talent but too often leaves the ball right over the plate, resulting in many extra-base hits. I believe he will be with the Indians before the end of the season.
What was once strong is now weak. The Indians must start making moves now to fortify their bullpen before it is too late. They cannot be stuck with the groupthink that the “Bullpen Mafia” must stay together. Moves have to be made, and some people will be upset at the moves. However, Francona has to become less Mr. Nice Guy and work with Shapanetti to fix this bullpen.
You can reach David on Twitter at @DavyWhite.