The Indians Early Closer Situation

A team's closer should be it's most dominant reliever. The one pitcher who, under any circumstances can be trusted to get the job done. The last Indians closer, Chris Perez, however was not allowed to pitch in any inning, let alone the ninth, for the last three games of the regular season and the one game play-off against Tampa. He was subsequently released and his heir apparant, Joe Smith, has left for free agency. With Smith now an Angel (three years for $15M), the entire Indians bullpen is in turmoil. With the top two pitchers now absent and Vinnie Pestano coming off a sub-par season, the Indians will have to dig deep to find their new closer.

Cody Allen was the top reliever last season that will be returning for 2014, but he will be entering just his third season in the Majors and his fourth since being drafted. He was certainly dependable in 2013 and Terry Francona was able to use him in any situation, unlike Perez. He threw in 77 games (more than all but one Indians pitcher ever), saved two and earned 11 holds. He pitched extremely well in non-save situations (2.05 ERA in 57 IP), something Perez couldn't do (3.80 ERA in 23. IP), but struggled in actual save situations (4.05 ERA in 13.1 IP). Surprisingly, Perez's save situation numbers were even worse, allowing a 4.75 ERA and .281 BAA with the game on the line.

Pestano is still an option as well, despite his poor 2013 season. Going into the season, he seemed the obvious choice for the closers role if Perez was traded pre, mid or post season. Perez stuck around and Pestano dealt with some elbow tendonitis that started when he pitched in the World Baseball Classic and continued throughout the season. He spent some time on the DL for it during the middle of the year, but was rushed back when the Indians needed bullpen help during their run for the Central Division title. He struggled again and was removed from the primary set up role and sent to AAA at the end of July. He was then called back for September, but was not trusted in any situation, even while Francona continued to use Rich Hill, who ended the season with an ERA of 6.28 (Pestano finished with a 4.08 and was better against left handed hitters).

A less desirable option would be for the Indians to use either Bryan Shaw or to sign a different free agent. Of course, if the Indians could afford a top shelf closer, they could have just resigned Smith or Perez. 

This decision is going to be based on a few different factors and how the Indians front office weighs each of those factors. In general the factors are talent, seniority, time spend as closer and money. The pure statistical view would say to use the most talented, cheapest option (Allen), without worry of the other players' emotions or outsider's opinions. The old school view would be to give the role to Pestano, who has been around since 2010, using Allen in the top set-up role. The real question with both main options is how far will they regress during 2014. Pestano will almost certainly be better than this past season, while Allen will be worse. If his struggles were truly was just injury based, Pestano could be back to his regular ability levels after an off-season of rest.

Pestano had similar struggles as Perez, but he didn't have quite the bad luck. Pestano allowed far more walks and struck out less batters per inning than any previous season. His main issue was with base runners in total, not home runs (he only allowed one). He allowed almost as many walks and hits as in any previous season, despite pitching only half the innings. His pitches simply didn't have the movement or velocity as in previous seasons. If this was because of injury, there is no reason he couldn't get back to a 10-12 K/9 and a sub-3.00 ERA in 2014.

Allen has not pitched enough to know whether he will maintain his level or fall off, but his numbers from the first two seasons certainly look a lot like Pestano's from his first two full seasons (if not a little worse). Assuming no injuries or breakdowns, there is no reason to think that Allen could stay within his career averages (2.81 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) for the next season.

It is too early to know for sure what the Indians bullpen will look like next year, but this should give some idea. We are still waiting to see if the Indians sign any free agents, but most likely, any added will be below the level of Allen and Pestano. All that being said, right now, it appears that Cody Allen remains the most likely option for closer in 2014 with Pestano and Bryan Shaw playing the set-up role.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians.

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