Earlier this week, we learned that the Cleveland Indians were considering opening the 2013 season with a 13-man pitching staff. It’s certainly an interesting idea, but is it a good one?
In this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our panelists: Should the Indians open the season with a 13-man staff?
Evan Vogel: With the versatility that the roster possesses with Mike Aviles, it is still necessary for the club to go to just 12 pitchers, rather than 13. You would need to assume the bench will contain Lou Marson, Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi, and Aviles. Giambi is a great, veteran, left-handed option off of the bench who can fill in at DH if or when Reynolds moves to first or third. Aviles can basically handle all of the infield, so they can get by with just him as a backup early in the season.
I don’t see the value in not carrying Raburn or Giambi, minor league contract or not. It isn’t a good idea to go that pitching heavy, even if it is just for the first couple of weeks of the season.
Jeff Mount: I can’t envision any circumstance where a thirteenth pitcher is worth having. The reality is that you are choosing between an eighth reliever and a fourth bench player. If Aviles and Marson are guaranteed roster spots and you go with eight relievers, then only one guy from Giambi, Raburn and Ezequiel Carrera will make the team. I would rather have any of those guys than an extra pitcher.
Earl Weaver once said that a five man rotation takes eight starts away from each of your four best pitchers and gives them to a guy who otherwise would be in the minors. You can look at an eighth reliever the same way. If we get into the bullpen in the third inning three or four games in a row, I would assume we can shuffle a guy to Columbus and bring up a fresh arm for a while to keep from overworking anyone.
Lewie Pollis: At the SABR Analytics Conference last weekend, Bill James made the bold claim that bringing same-handed pitchers in out of the bullpen to get the platoon advantage saves a team only about five runs over the course of the season—i.e., not worth the opportunity cost of the roster spot he’s using. The versatility and strategic flexibility you’d get from a bench guy, James alleged, far outweighs the slight advantage you get from bringing in a LOOGY to face one hitter.
I don’t know how James got to that conclusion and I’ve never seen anyone study this subject in real detail, but regardless of the numbers I think he made a good point: the value of position player reserves is often lost in the shuffle in the modern era of (perhaps) overmanaging pitchers. While I applaud the team’s open-mindedness towards unorthodox roster strategies, with so many intriguing options competing for the Tribe’s open bench spots I think the 13th position player would be more useful than the 13th pitcher.
Ed Carroll: I’m not totally against the idea of a 13-man staff, but I question the necessity of the idea in April, a month prone to rainouts in Cleveland. If 12 guys aren’t going to get enough work, why carry 13? I just don’t see the rationale, especially if the 13th arm is someone like David Huff, who shouldn’t be near the big league roster. Again, not totally against the idea of a 13-man staff, just don’t see why you’d want to carry any more of these pitchers.
Steve Kinsella: I am extremely happy that the idea of the 13-man staff has been discussed by the Indians as it shows a willingness to think about maximizing the roster through the schedule (I’m still not over the Jack Hannahan debacle among many other strange roster moves in 2012).
I think in the end Terry Francona is going to have to have a discussion with the 12th man on the staff and let him know that even though he may be breaking camp with the team he may not survive the first 13 games. For instance, Bryan Shaw has options and if the Indians were to struggle to get innings for back to back games and burn the pen he may be the odd man out in exchange of a new fresh arm. This type of roster strategy works only if the conversation is had before leaving Arizona and the pitcher is assured that his stay in AAA would only be the minimum 10-day required demotion.
Katrina Putnam: The Indians don’t really need a 13-man pitching staff on Opening Day. The starters have looked pretty solid so far, and the team has three extremely reliable relievers in Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez, plus others like Cody Allen and Rich Hill who have been very impressive this spring. If they can fill their bullpen with dependable players, there’s no reason to carry an extra pitcher on the roster right away. They can always bring someone up from Columbus if the rotation struggles as much as they did last season and the bullpen starts to get overworked.
If the team had only three bench players at the start of the season, the top contenders for the third spot seem be Raburn, Giambi and Carrera. Raburn and Giambi would likely opt out if they don’t make the 25-man roster. Carrera is out of options and would need to be designated for assignment. There’s no reason to lose so many potentially valuable players until the bullpen shows that they need an extra man.
Merritt Rohlfing: Even though I’d like for Francona to do some great platoon work like Oakland did with such success a year ago, the fact stands that the Indians just don’t have a strong rotation. Until we know more, like whether Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson will bounce back or Zach McAllister will find himself or who the fifth starter is, we just may need a host of relievers to get through games. I don’t want the bullpen exhausted by June, and we don’t know yet either if Perez will be healthy, which will throw Pestano into the ninth and Smith to the eighth, and so on.
Anyway, there’s no position player that doesn’t have a guaranteed job already that I feel is needed, so unless someone goes bonkers the next couple weeks in Arizona there’s nobody to add. As enthusiastic as we all are about the team, we know almost nothing, especially about the pitching, so why not have a couple extra pitchers? I’d rather have a power arm than Ezequiel Carrera.
Brian Heise: As of right now, I’m leaning towards carrying a 13-man pitching staff to start the season. With the way the schedule plays out over the first two weeks, it seems like the Tribe could end up facing a scenario where they go through a lot of pitchers in a very short period of time. Because of that, the extra arm could definitely come in handy. The last thing this team needs to do is risk injuring a reliever because they needed to work an absurd number of innings over the course of the first two weeks because one or two starters were ineffective and had bad outings. The injury bug has already struck with Chris Perez’s shoulder and Frank Hermann’s elbow. Losing anyone else, especially early on for a prolonged period of time could put them in a real hole.
Like the old saying goes, you can’t win a pennant in April, but you can definitely lose it. Because of that, I’m willing to be overly cautious and work on adding an extra positional player once they get through a tough opening stretch in the schedule. Of course, then you’re left answering the question of who is the odd man out on the bench? Giambi? Raburn? Carerra? Gomes? Whoever the Indians decide, it certainly won’t be easy.