August 26, 2014

Indians All-Star Break Review: The Bullpen

As we do each summer at WFNY when the Cleveland Indians hit the All-Star break, we take a look back at the four facets of the team on the field – the starting rotation, the bullpen, the infield, and the outfield. There’s been been a lot to talk about with this club. Their 44-41 record is good enough for second in the American League Central, but the team has shown some serious flaws. GM Chris Antonetti continues to tell us that the Indians have not played their best baseball yet. I hope he is right. Additions will need to be made and in-house improvements will be a must if the Tribe plans on playing October baseball.

Yesterday, we looked at the starting rotation. Today we will examine the guys who follow those starters; the bullpen.

This was thought to be the strength of the team coming into the 2012 season. Last year’s crew, The Bullpen Mafia, was essentially the same seven guys the entire season. As the club broke camp, the last two guys – Frank Herrmann and Chad Durbin – were replaced by waiver wire claim Jairo Ascencio and veteran free agent Dan Wheeler. They didn’t seem to matter much as they would be pitching in the mop up roles. Neither made it through May and both were designated for assignment. Wheeler didn’t deserve to make the club in the first place as he was below average during the Spring and then played the roll of gas can while with the Tribe.

Rafael Perez spent most of April searching for his lost velocity and was having trouble hitting 85 mph on the radar gun. It was clear something was wrong with him and at the end of April, the Tribe put him on the 60-day DL with a shoulder problem. His presence has been greatly missed. They have had to rely on essentially their three big guns – Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, and Joe Smith – to get them through the close games. As a whole, the bullpen ranks last in the American League in ERA (4.31 ERA), yet fourth in saves and sport a record of 37-2 when holding a lead after seven innings.

Lets dig a little deeper.

Chris Perez (34 appearances, 24 saves in 26 chances, 3.34 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 35 K’s/7 BB’s) - To say it has been an eventful first half for the Tribe’s closer would be the understatement of the year. On the field, he blew his first save chance on Opening Day and had an angry mob calling for his job. From that point until the last game before the All-Star break, Perez saved 24 consecutive games and was as close to perfect as you can ask for from your closer (spare me the non-save situation talk!).

Sure, he would put an occasional base runner on here and there and made you sweat, but when he had a lead in the ninth, it was game over.

Off the field, well, you know the story. He set off a firestorm with his controversial comments regarding being booed at home, as well as the city’s fan base not coming to the park to support the team. Everything he said was right, but how he said it struck a real nerve in Cleveland. Incredibly, in his first save chance after making the remarks, the Progressive Field crowd gave him a standing ovation. He became a rock star figure even more than before. Pure Rage hasn’t been booed since in his home park.

The finale of his All-Star first half ended with his second blown save, but overall Perez has performed at an extremely high level. With that said, his “brutal honesty” act can wear thin and even has our own Jon calling for the Tribe to trade him. That won’t happen unless the Indians fall way out of the race and they are blown away by an offer. But Perez’s second half must mirror his first if the Indians plan on staying near the top of the AL Central.

Vinnie Pestano (38 appearances, 23 holds, 1.75 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 43 K’s/15 BB’s) - You want a bullpen MVP? Vinnie is your man. As good as Perez has been, he wouldn’t be in the position to be an All Star without Pestano dominating the eighth inning the way he has. Whether he is facing a righty or a lefty, it doesn’t matter. Vinnie has owned them all. Lefties gave him trouble last year (.280), but he has shown improvement in 2012 (.234). He averages over a strikeout an inning while owning right-handed batters. In 64 AB’s against Pestano, righties are hitting just .109 (7-64) with just two extra base hits.

Pestano has been everything Manny Acta could ask for in a set-up man. He’s got that toughness and demeanor for the role and loves the big stage. He has future closer written all over him. The hope is that he doesn’t run out of gas in the second half. Acta has been so reliant on both he and Perez and really doesn’t have many good options he can trust.

Joe Smith (39 appearances, 13 holds, 3.13 ERA, 1.15 WHIP,29 K’s/14 BB’s) - Speaking of which, Smith is the third member of the back-end crew that has produced all year. The problem is that the rest of the pen has been so inconsistent. Smitty has used his side-arming ways to be that solid bridge to Pestano and Perez. He has two bad appearances in May where he gave up six earned runs in three innings. In the rest of the 31.1 innings of work,  Smith has allowed just seven earned runs.

Like with Pestano, you have to be concerned with Smith’s workload. While Vinnie and Rage are for the most part one inning pitchers, Acta isn’t afraid to use Smith in a longer role if needed. It would be nice for another one of the bullpen guys to step up and help Smith in the sixth and seventh inning spots.

Tony Sipp (34 appearances, 10 holds, 5.65 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 32 K’s/10 BB’s) - If I had to name the guy who has been the biggest disappointment in the bullpen, Sipp would win in a walk. The key to the 2011 success of the Bullpen Mafia was the multiple left-handers to go with Smith and Pestano. In 2012, the lefties haven’t done their job. Sipp has struggled all year trying to locate his pitches. He hasn’t been able to get his fastball over consistently and hitters are sitting on his breaking pitches and teeing off.

The numbers will tell you differently (.170) but he has had a tough time in key spots against lefties. Sipp, like starter Josh Tomlin, has trouble with the home run ball. He has allowed six this season (three against lefties). Worst of all, with runners in scoring position, opposing hitters have tagged him for seven hits in 19 at-bats (.368).

The thing is, right now Sipp is the best lefty option the Indians have. So he will have to come strong and find himself in the second half. That’s because Rafael Perez is still injured and the two rookie lefties haven’t distinguished themselves.

Scott Barnes (5 appearances, 7.71 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 7 K’s/5 BB’s) & Nick Hagadone (27 appearances, 6.39 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 26 K’s/15 BB’s) When Raffy went down, Hagadone emerged as the ready made option to replace him. Nick pitched well enough to make the team out of Goodyear, but the Indians decided to keep him in AAA and have him work the eighth inning to prepare himself for a future big role in Cleveland. When he finally arrived, he burst onto the scene.

After his June 1st scoreless outing against the Twins, Hagadone’s ERA sat at 2.04. He had 25 K’s in 23.2 innings of work and had become Acta’s trusted late inning lefty. The accolades were coming from everywhere, including this corner. This was the 2007 Jensen Lewis-type impact in the bullpen. But then Hagadone’s confidence began to erode after giving up three hits and two runs in a June 3rd loss to the Twins. He was then lit up in four of his last five outings in June and finished the month with an ERA of 14.73. It was a bad run for Nick, as he allowed 10 earned runs in four innings, including three homers and five walks.

Hagadone was last seen putting four runners on (two walks and two hits) in less than an inning in Friday night’s 10-3 loss. After being replaced, Hagadone allegedly punched something in the clubhouse and injured his pitching hand. He was immediately sent to the minors after the game, replaced by Barnes. The Indians still have yet to disclose his injury, and has been placed on the suspended list. Now it is Barnes’s time.

The left-hander acquired from the Giants in 2008 for Ryan Garko has come through the organization as a starter, but the Indians rightly thought his quickest path to help the big league club in 2012 would be as a reliever. So they converted him after the first month of the AAA season. As of now, he is the long man, but with Sipp’s inconstant performance, Barnes could become a key guy in the second half.

It’s tough to say that we know much about him, as he has only made five appearances thus far, but his high ERA comes from one bad outing where he allowed five runs in a loss to the Reds. In his the other six and two-thirds innings of work, Barnes has given up just one earned run on one hit.

Esmil Rogers (11 appearances, 2 holds, 2,03 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 18 K’s/1 BB) - The Indians tried it with Ascencio and failed, but they may have hit with Rogers. He was claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies for cash because the front office was intrigued with his power arm. Like Hagadone, Rogers is a 94-95 fastball guy who has control issues at times. So far though, as a member of the Indians, Rogers has been a find.

Interestingly, Rogers came over with the reputation of being wild. He walked 18 in 25.2 innings of work in Colorado before being designated for assignment. But in Cleveland, Esmil has walked just one, while striking out 18 in 13.1 innings. Acta has thrust him into a few key situations of late to see how he would respond and Rogers has come through. The highlight was a 1-1 seventh inning game against the Reds with the bases loaded and two outs where Rogers was summoned from the pen and K’d Devin Mesoraco to end the threat.

Esmil could play a big role in the second half if he continues to pitch the way he has. Acta could really use it too.

Jeremy Accardo (18 appearances, 3.47 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 21 K’s/11 BB’s) - I like Accardo. Probably because he is not Dan Wheeler. The veteran journeyman only enters games that the Indians are losing (15 of his 18 appearances have come in losses) and has done what he has needed to do to eat some innings and save the pen.

———-

Getting the bullpen back to its 2011 form is of the utmost importance. Hopefully having a healthy Rafael Perez back at some point in the second half will help. Sipp must find himself from the left side and hopefully Rogers can emerge as that third right-hander that Acta can trust. One thing is for sure, if the bullpen implodes, the Tribe has no shot to stick in this race.

  • Natedawg86

    I have been impressed with Rogers. Put him in for 1-2 guys and let him throw the heat. If he can gain a little more control, this will be a huge cash acquistion. Need to do something about Sipp!

  • LaundroMat

    “Wheeler didn’t deserve to make the club in the first place as he was
    below average during the Spring and then played the roll of gas can
    while with the Tribe.”

    It depends on how below average you are. Even very below average performance in the spring doesn’t necessarily translate to not deserving to make the club. (Imagine Choo hitting .100 for spring training and Cunningham hitting .350. Do you replace Choo with Cunningham, or do you go with track record and hope for Choo to straighten things out?).

    Gas can is a funny role to play. Obviously it’s best to have none on your roster, but it’s funny that we can identify players who fit the description. I agree that Wheeler fit the mold in his time up with the Tribe.

    Also, it’s “role” — not “roll” (a common WFNY typo).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    “Pure Rage hasn’t been booed since in his home park,” he heard it last night in KC which I kind of enjoyed. Must be alot of native Clevelanders living in KC these days.

  • mgbode

    I agree Sipp has been disappointing, however I feel compelled to also mention his xFIP is 3.66. He is our biggest bullpen candidate to improve on his 1st half numbers as his K/9 is actually up, his BB/9 is actually down, his BABIP & HR/FB are higher than his career norms, and his LOB% is way lower than his career norm.

    Don’t give up on Sipp quite yet.

  • mgbode

    or KC fans hate the Indians because our fanbase acts like our team has been as bad as the Royals while we get to at least see competitive teams for the most part (while they haven’t had a team less than 9games out of 1st place at the allstar break since 2003).

  • mgbode

    I don’t know. Wheeler sure seemed to “roll” over for the opponent.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Good lord his xFIP? I know whenever I watch a game the first thing I worry about is the XFIP!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Naw they didn’t boo Asdrubal. The state of Missouri is a baseball maven I think they have a better fan base then Ohio could ever imagine.

  • cmm13

    CP started a Twitter feud (imagine that) with the KC fan base after the bench clearing brawl. He made fun of their current slogan “It’s Our Time” and the KC fans went after him. When you actually do move out of Boston and pay real attention to Cleveland Sports you tend to know these things. ;)

  • mgbode

    I’m a mixed stats/results guy. I look at ERA for what he has done (hence my disappointment), I look at xFIP and advanced stats for what he might do in the future.

    It’s why I hate when xFIP and such stats are used in Cy Young debates. I think that a pitcher should only be judged on what he actually did that season including whatever luck fortunes bounced his way.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Oh ah e I see makes sense now. I don’t bother with the Twitter but I’m here in the wonderful land of losing sports, Cleveland Ohio. I miss Boston! ;-)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    To many stats make ShamWows head hurt!

  • Hypno_Toad

    ba-zing!

  • Hypno_Toad

    You sir shall receive a stern down vote for that last sentence.

  • nj0

    You don’t? Makes way more sense than ERA.

  • Hypno_Toad

    The pen hasn’t been as great as last year, but I think we all knew they couldn’t be coming into this season. I have been greatly disappointed with Sipp (and now Hagadone too, idiot). Hopefully Rogers turns out to be a steal because we all made fun of that pickup the day it happened.

  • nj0

    This is always the issues with closer – sample size. People freak out about Sipp over 28.2 innings pitched. That’s a months worth of starts for a starting pitcher. Granted, there’s some obvious differences in expectations, but that doesn’t change the fact that the variance in reliever performance will be much larger over time.

  • nj0

    FIP measures past performance. xFIP takes a guess at future performance.

  • nj0

    Sipp’s issue is, and always has been, the long ball. Makes him a less than stellar reliever. Looking at his Fangraphs page, it looks like he’s been over-performing the last couple years.

  • WFNYJon

    Not sure I agree with you on the past/future thing. The difference between the two is their respective philosophies on HR-allowed. xFIP replaces actual HRs allowed with a league-average HR rate, whereas FIP doesn’t. Other than that, they’re identical.
    If Sipp’s problem (and I agree with you here) is letting up lots of HRs, then xFIP is a particularly poor tool to use. That is to say, if allowing or not allowing HRs is a skill, then you shouldn’t pretend it’s all luck (which is xFIP’s approach).

  • nj0

    That is how I’ve always heard it described.

    By replacing actual HRs with the league average, xFIP is assuming regression to the mean (based on league average, at least). HR rates generally stabilize over time (for most pitchers) so xFIP corrects for abnormalities in HR rate over a small sample size will FIP does not.

    You’re right in Sipp’s case though. I think his 2012 FIP is probably much more in-line in future performance than his 2012 xFIP simply because his HR rate over the next half will most likely (based on the last couple years) be similar to what it was the first half.

  • mgbode

    I was comparing ERA to xFIP, not FIP to xFIP.

    his FIP is a full run lower than his ERA (instead of 2 runs lower) if you prefer to use that indicator for his 2nd half expectant stats.

    also, I think not allowing HRs is part skill and part luck as most things in baseball are (particularly with the small sample sizes of relievers)

  • mgbode

    sorry, see that you were responding to nj0, not me. either way, the conclusion at the end is my opinion on the matter.

  • nj0

    Didn’t get to finish my thought (stupid work) – I wouldn’t say xFIP assumes that it’s luck, but rather that a single data set may not truly reflect the rate at which you can expect a player to give up HRs in the future.
    You’re right that it may not be the best tool for players on the wide edges of the bell curve though.
    The long short is that I don’t think one stat can tell you everything you need to know about about a players past performance, his expected performance in the future, or his “true skill level”.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You stat boys r killing Shamrock!!!

  • nj0

    Yeah, sample size makes it so hard to judge relievers imo.

  • mgbode

    sorry, errr….Sipp will “grind” through the year and he’ll figure out a way to “battle” in the 2nd half of the year to get better numbers because he’s a hard worker.

    Cliche’s better?

  • nj0

    He just isn’t as clutch as he needs to be. He’s got to get his killer instinct back. No more lollygagging!

  • Dee P

    I live in St. Louis and I will tell you from experience – that perception is GREATLY skewed and wrong. They are no different than any other sports town that I have lived in. (Cleveland and Baltimore).