May 11, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Cleveland Indians center fielder Nyjer Morgan (6) reacts after hitting a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Yo Bro/No Bro #2: Nyjer Morgan or Bullpen Depth?

Hey readers, it’s time for another edition of Yo Bro/No Bro.  This week’s topic is Nyjer Morgan‘s value on the 25-man roster.

Jeremy Klein:  Yo, bro!  The Indians should sacrifice bullpen depth in order to keep Nyjer Morgan on the roster when Jason Kipnis comes back from the DL.  They don’t need 8 relievers on the big league club.
Brian Heise:  No, bro!  The Indians need an 8-man ‘pen more than they need Nyjer Morgan.  Put him on waivers when Kipnis is reactivated.
Jeremy Klein:

As of May 14th, C.C. Lee had pitched in three games. On May 13 against Toronto, he came on to face one batter in the top of the eight with the Indians down 5-4. On May 10 against Tampa Bay, he came on with one out in the fifth to replace Zach McAllister with the Indians down 5-0. He pitched 1 2/3 innings. On May 2 against the White Sox, Lee pitched the seventh inning in a game that the Indians were winning 12-5 at the time. Three appearances, only one of which could reasonably be considered a “high-leverage” situation.

As of May 14th, Carlos Carrasco had pitched in two games. On May 10, the game against Tampa Bay, Carrasco came on in the seventh with the Tribe down 6-0 and pitched 1 2/3 innings. On May 8 against Minnesota, Carrasco pitched the ninth inning with the Indians leading 9-4. Neither situation can be described as “high-leverage”.

Between Lee, Carrasco, and recently deposed closer John Axford, the Indians now have three relievers whom Terry Francona is loathe to trust in important situations. In other words, even if you grant that Axford is working to regain the manager’s trust and thus his appearances carry a different kind of importance, the Indians are carrying two relievers that aren’t helping them win ballgames. A baseball team does need a mop-up reliever; it’s important that a manager doesn’t have to burn his better relievers in games where the team is winning 9-4 or losing 6-0. But the team doesn’t need two-to-three guys to fill that role, especially when Carlos Carrasco’s history as a starter perfectly enables him to throw multiple innings in low-leverage situations in an effort to “save” the rest of the bullpen.

As for Nyjer Morgan, it’s much easier to see how having him around could help the team win a ballgame rather than the two relievers, even when both Kipnis comes back healthy. Only one player pitches at a time, but three players play in the outfield at all times, and Morgan can be used to spell a guy who’s been struggling lately or simply needs a day off. Morgan can be used as a pinch runner, which admittedly has a minimal impact over the course of a season but on a micro level could end up earning an extra win or two. Keeping Morgan around also offers the team protection in case, say, Michael Bourn‘s hammy is acting up again, but not badly enough to call for a DL stint (this has already happened this season). The Indians can now use Morgan and not worry about having a short bench late in games. All of these benefits may not seem like much, but they’re more worthwhile to the team than keeping Lee and Carrasco around to spit sunflower seeds in the bullpen all game long.

There are definitely issues to keeping Morgan around; mainly that it makes the team disturbingly left-handed. If this debate were framed as keeping Morgan versus keeping a right-handed hitter such as Jesus Aguilar, that would be different. But if it’s Nyjer Morgan versus an eighth reliever, it seems clear that the flexibility offered by Morgan is significantly better than carrying two pitchers whose only purpose is to pitch when the outcome of the game has already been decided. Not to mention that keeping Morgan means keeping Tony Plush/Tony Tombstone, which is basically the equivalent of carrying a 26 or 27-man roster.  ​

Brian Heise:

Whoa! Jeremy, you wrote a book. And while I understand you saying Morgan’s versatility is a benefit, it’s not as if the Indians are without viable outfield options.

Between the regular rotation of Bourn, Brantley, Raburn, and Murphy, the Indians have no need for a fifth outfielder. Especially not one who shares the same skill set as Michael Bourn. That doesn’t add value to the roster. It just makes the outfield rotation that much more jumbled. Now, if Nyjer Morgan had a track record of hitting 30-40 home runs every year, then Id say go for it.

Besides, pitching wins championships. With the current state of the Indians’ bullpen, they could use all the help they can get. It makes no sense to waste a roster spot on a player who will ultimately make a marginal contribution in favor of a pitcher that could prove the be more valuable on a nightly basis. We can argue all we want about who that extra arm should be, but the way I see it, it’s serves a better purpose to retain that extra pitcher.

I will admit, though… losing Tony Plush would be devastating.

Jeremy Klein:

We should make the point that by nature of arguing about the 25th man on the roster, we are inexorably arguing about players that will have extremely marginal impacts on the Tribe’s season. It’s highly unlikely that Nyjer Morgan (or Jesus Aguilar) versus C.C. Lee (or Kyle Crockett or whichever other reliever) will determine whether or not this team reaches the postseason.

But with that out of the way, I still think the team is better served carrying an extra bench hitter over an eighth reliever.

You bring up the point about skills overlap between the set of outfielders, and you’re not wrong. But the same thing can be said about carrying an eighth reliever.

Now that Carlos Carrasco is in the ‘pen, the Indians have a unique (or maybe not-so-unique) opportunity. Since Carrasco was basically primed to throw 180+ innings as a starter this year, there’s absolutely no reason he can’t throw 80-100 pitches in games the Indians know they are not going to win after the first couple innings (a situation that’s occurring a little too frequently this season).

Take the Indians 11-1 loss against the Athletics on Friday. By the time McAllister exited after 1.1 innings, the Indians were down 8-1 and barring a miracle were not winning that ballgame. Despite this, or more accurately, because of this, Terry Francona used Crockett, Lee, and Josh Outman before letting Carrasco pitch the final four innings. If having four relievers slated as mop-up guys or “needs some work” guys in one game isn’t skills overlap, I don’t know what is.

So yes, Nyjer Morgan’s skills may overlap with what the Tribe already has in the outfield, but at least his role on the roster isn’t for him to solely be used when the outcome of the game has already been decided.​

Brian Heise:

In terms of games that are already decided? Sure, Carrasco is a perfectly fine option. But at the core, I don’t feel like this argument is about 11-1 blowouts. How many blowouts like that is this team really going to be in?

The point is which decision will make the best and most important impact on the team. Having that extra reliever in the pen could help the indians substantially more than an additional bat or pinch running option. Odds are the Indians are going to be in more games than not where the outcome isn’t decided after the second inning. Sure, go ahead and use Carrasco for that. But under most normal circumstances, an extra reliever would be way more helpful.

Jeremy Klein:

That’s fine in theory, but in practice Terry Francona has (rightfully) shown a preference to stick with his best relievers in the most important situations. In games the team is winning, Francona likes Shaw in the seventh, Allen in the eighth, and Axford closing, unless Axford isn’t pitching well, which is an issue unto itself. He’s got Rzepczynski and Outman to match up against lefties. He uses Atchison, Outman, and even Shaw in games where the team is down a couple runs. And he’s got Carrasco as the long man. That’s seven relievers to cover all scenarios. If anything, keeping an eighth reliever only provides incentive for Francona to use a lesser pitcher in an important situation when a better reliever is available, simply because the lesser guy is on the roster. At this point, the eighth reliever may end up costing the team a game.

I’ll spare everyone another recapping of various scenarios, but keeping an extra bench hitter has some potential to help the team win a ballgame on a day-to-day basis. Morgan may not be the best fit for this particular roster, but he’s more valuable than an eighth reliever, who by definition is worse than the seven relievers in front of him or else he wouldn’t be on the roster bubble.

Brian Heise:

And with that you basically supported my argument in a way. The question was whether or not Morgan should be retained. If he doesn’t fit well on this current roster, why try and force him into a spot on this roster that could be better utilized in a different way?

And really that’s more my stance on this whole thing. Morgan hasn’t done enough to prove that he deserves to be anything more than an ocassional fill in player. If the Indians get into a bind where they need a player like Morgan, I feel like they could find one anywhere. Again, if he was a legit power hitting threat I’d keep him around but we know what he is and it’s not something they need.

Jeremy Klein:

Just because Morgan is an imperfect fit on this team doesn’t mean he’s useless. Not every roster situation can be resolved with a transaction. If Michael Bourn’s hamstring acts up again and requires a couple days off, the team doesn’t want to stick him on the DL so they can bring up a replacement. With an eight-man pen, the team would have to play with a two-man bench, and one of those guys would be Giambi. Now the team’s flexibility is severely limited, yet they’d be carrying multiple relievers whose only purpose on the roster is to pitch in mop-up duty.

To me, it’s a matter of opportunity cost. If this mythical power hitter of which you speak existed, of course I would take him over Morgan. Hell, I may even be partial to carrying Aguilar over Morgan, although I think the conversation then becomes whether or not the team want to carry two guys in Aguilar and Giambi who can only play first base and DH respectively. But if it comes down to Morgan versus Crockett/House/Lee, I’ll take the position player every time.


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