Joe: We have come to the last installment of four in our discussions of the Cleveland Indians roster make-up. All that is left to discuss is the unit known as the Bullpen Mafia. How do you feel about the Mafia?
Mike: Unlike the real mafia, bullpens are extremely hard to predict. There is very little correlation between how a bullpen performs collectively one year and how it does the next. What we saw last year was rare so our expectations should be tempered a little bit.
Joe: Bullpens as a whole may be difficult to predict, but individual pitchers are not. Bob Wickman played for many years for the Tribe and was the same pitcher every year. Mariano Rivera has been throwing the exact same pitch over and over for a decade with the same results. The unpredictability comes from the lower levels of the bullpen and new players.
Mike: You named two pitchers out of how many that make up a bullpen every year? Chris Perez was a lucky guy last year. He earned a .234 BABIP easily the lowest on the team. That will be higher this year so you can expect a higher ERA.
Joe: He may regress a little bit, but the way he pitches will keep him successful. He’s a hard thrower who doesn’t mess around and throws strikes. He also has a swing and miss ability that has been missing from the closer’s role since Jose Mesa. I’m not worried about Perez at all. Here’s another player I’m not worried about at all, his set up man, Vinnie Pestano.
Mike: I agree. Perez’s strikeout per nine rate has plummeted while the league average rate has risen, with the same being true for his strikeout-to-walk ratio. This could partially be due to his fastball and slider both losing a mile per hour in velocity. The downward trending peripherals did not destroy Perez’s production last year, but they are a serious cause for concern entering this season. Combine the possibility of Perez’s results imploding and Pestano’s sustaining – his minor league FIP in 2010 was below 2.00 – and you get a player that should at absolute worst should be Pestano’s set-up man.
Joe: I actually prefer the better pitcher to be the set-up man. It might not make sense at first, but the closer almost always comes in for a single inning with the bases clean. The set-up man can come in for multiple innings or match up against one hitter. He also needs to be available if there’s a bases loaded jam and you can’t trust anyone else to get out of it. Give the respect and the title to the player with more years, but the more important role to the better pitcher.
Mike: Thank God you are not GM! It’s should go to whoever the best reliever is. Period. The name of “closer” should be renamed to “ace reliever.”
Joe: Guess some one’s a little behind on their Moneyball. We’ve named two members, but there are five more spots to go. Two of those will go to left handed specialists Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez while another goes to the side armer Joe Smith. I maintain my confidence with the later, however it slightly wains with the formers. How say you?
Mike: Tony Sipp has more upside simply because he has less career innings under his belt than Perez. Although, situationally, Perez has better splits against righties; making him more than a one hitter guy thus making him more valuable.
Joe: The only thing that bothers me about Sipp was the increase in his home run rate last season. He is still young and capable of returning to form, but he’s a more likely victim of the bullpen unpredictability that you mentioned earlier.
With two players left to fill out the roster, there are suddenly a lot of choices. Frank Herrmann, Nick Hagadone, Corey Kluber who all saw time in the pen last year, Spring Training invitees Jeremy Accardo, Chris Ray, Robinson Tejada and Dan Wheeler along with a couple end of the rotation starters like Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Jon Garland, Kevin Slowey are all options. Pick two.
Mike: I’m high on Dan Wheeler (reference my article). Also, Nick Hagadon has nasty stuff. If you can remember, he was essentially the deal-breaker in the Victor Martinez to Boston deal; if the Tribe didn’t receive Hagadone the deal was off the table. Live fastball and greak makeup for the bullpen. You’ll see him have an increased role this year. Is it possible to have three lefties in the back-end of the bullpen?
Joe: You could have seven lefties if some of them could pitch against right handed hitters. Hagadone has starter stuff and I’d love to see him in the pen by the end of the season if he doesn’t start. I would start this season with Harvard and either Wheeler or Chris Ray with Jeanmar Gomez and Hagadone ready to go at a moments notice. It will be interesting to see how some of these invites sort themselves out this Spring.
Mike: Ok, Drew Carey. I do not believe the bullpen will be as good as it was last year numbers wise. But it will be one of the best in the league and will be a strength; unlike in Detroit where they can only dream of having arms like ours.
Joe: But they do have Clint Eastwood, so there’s something. That wraps it up for this year’s preseason Indians Arguments. Stick around all year for more fun and hijinks. See you at Spring Training!