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Why You Can't Panic About a Bullpen...

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. Back on May 9, I wrote about the success of the Indians bullpen after they compiled the following statistics:

4-0, 2.65 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a 102:37 K:BB in 95 IP, which was good for 1st place in bullpen ERA at the time in MLB.

Today, it is a different story.

The Indians rank 18th in bullpen ERA having raised those early statistics to an 8-3 record, 3.97 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and a 168:70 K:BB in 154.1 IP.

Given the collapses of the last couple of seasons in Cleveland, it isn’t surprising to see such drastic reactions to the Indians’ recent slide. Having lost six of their last seven games, it’s rather impressive to think that one group is seemingly responsible for the current losing streak, but the bullpen has to accept the blame here. The 12.73 ERA (25 ER in 17.2 IP) over the last seven games is downright disgusting.

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The shoulder injury for Chris Perez and the barking elbow that has caused a drop in velocity for Vinnie Pestano are concerning as the club looks to get the “Bullpen Mafia” back on track. But, what if they don’t get back on track?

Bullpens are the most unpredictable part of compiling a team. When you think everyone is locked in, a ball can drop in or a matchup doesn’t work in the teams’ favor. Even Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel have blown a combined five saves this season. The top closer in baseball in 2013…Jason Grilli, who is 20-for-20 in save opportunities for the Pittsburgh Pirates, while posting a 34:5 K:BB over 22.2 innings and a 1.19 ERA. Grilli, who had saved a whopping five games in his previous ten years, appears to have found a niche at the tender age of 36, after signing a two-year, $6.75 million deal this offseason with the Bucs.

How can you predict that type of success? Grilli had gone 1-7 with a 2.76 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 127:37 K:BB over 91.1 innings and 92 appearances in 2011 and 2012, but he had never been labeled a “closer”.

How unpredictable are closers? Fernando Rodney is the perfect example:

2012: 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 76:15 K:BB, 74.2 IP, 48-for-50 in save opportunities (96 percent)

2013: 5.75 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 28:19 K:BB, 20.1 IP, 9-for-14 in save opportunities (64 percent)

Why don’t more teams go the route of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds? The team went wire-to-wire and relied on Randy Myers, Norm Charlton, and Rob Dibble to complete games. In fact, five players had two or more saves that season, and while many of those guys were used in multiple inning situations to close out games, it still speaks volumes of how the “Nasty Boys” were able to dominate using several options out of the bullpen. Here is how the bullpen shaped up that season for the champions:

CL Randy Myers* 4 6 2.08 66 59 31 86.2 59 24 20 6 38 98 1.119 6.1 10.2 2.58
RP Norm Charlton* 12 9 2.74 56 13 2 154.1 131 53 47 10 70 117 1.302 7.6 6.8 1.67
RP Rick Mahler 7 6 4.28 35 9 4 134.2 134 67 64 16 39 68 1.285 9.0 4.5 1.74
RP Rob Dibble 8 3 1.74 68 29 11 98.0 62 22 19 3 34 136 0.980 5.7 12.5 4.00
RP Tim Layana 5 3 3.49 55 17 2 80.0 71 33 31 7 44 53 1.438 8.0 6.0 1.20
Tim Birtsas* 1 3 3.86 29 8 0 51.1 69 24 22 7 24 41 1.812 12.1 7.2 1.71
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/28/2013.

Charlton and Mahler each started 16 games that season, as well. Regardless, what is the fear in not having a “ninth-inning guy” in today’s baseball? No one is saying to run Scott Barnes out there as closer, but if three guys are left-handed and he has allowed a .091 average against left-handed batters, why is he not getting the call? What could Carlos Carrasco do if he were brought up to pitch out of the bullpen? Wouldn’t his fastball ticked up a bit be a more impressive pitch, possibly capable of dominance?

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The Indians had a nice run at the beginning of the season and they’ll get things back in order. While the bullpen should accept blame for a lot of the Indians’ recent woes, there are no excuses for Terry Francona to continue to run out injured pitchers to pitch below their normal capabilities. If the Indians call up the entire Triple-A bullpen to replace the current group, so be it. There is no room for a guy to pitch through a shoulder or elbow issue when this team is built to win now, or at least the offseason additions appeared to show that method of thinking.

Bullpens have ups and downs. A group or individual player who struggled last season can be lights out this year, or you could be counting on Fernando Rodney this season and be let down worse that Chicago Cubs fans are every season.

The offense for the Tribe is still a capable group and there are still 112 games to go. Indians fans should hope that Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway work together to get the bullpen back on their feet, but to overreact at this point about the potential of this club due to a small sample of the 2013 season…that’s just not intelligent.

Tags: Bullpens Chris Perez Cleveland Indians Closers Terry Francona

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