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Building a Wahoo Winner: Bolster an already good bullpen

Building a Wahoo Winner: Bolster an already good bullpen
Bryan Shaw (Photo: AP)
November 16, 2014
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Thus far in the “Building A Wahoo Winner” series, I’ve outlined four steps that will allow for the Indians to legitimately compete for a 2015 World Series title: 

  1. Get Swisher, Bourn Back to Form
  2. Improve the Defense
  3. A Healthy Return for Kipnis
  4. Establish Arms Behind Kluber

Each of those steps involves a certain player or a couple of players improving in one facet of the game or another. The next step to “Building a Wahoo Winner” doesn’t really involve improvement. Instead, it’s all about maintenance and early establishment.

If the newly extended Terry Francona enjoys anything more than managing in Cleveland, we all know that it’s his bullpen.

Like a bag of candy - or in Tito’s case, a container of Dubble Bubble - Francona reached into his bullpen as often as he wanted in 2014 and for the majority of the season, that was a beneficial practice for the Indians.

Francona’s affinity for the bullpen resulted in the Indians leading the league in bullpen appearances with 573 and wins with 35, but towards the end of the season it was clear that fatigue began to rear its ugly head.

If the Indians are to compete for a 2015 World Series title, they’ll need to cut down on that workload a little bit and have another arm or two step up as reliable late inning options.

While the 2015 Indians rotation seems to be one of much intrigue, it’s just as important for the Tribe to bring back a bullpen that was amongst the league’s most effective- and overworked- in 2014.

That said, as effective as it may have turned out to be, the bullpen took a while to develop an identity and that inconsistency contributed to a slow start for the Tribe.

Next season, looking to avoid a slow start, the Indians will need to have an established bullpen from Opening Day, with each individual in a solidified role from the get-go.

The Closer: Cody Allen, RHP

This is a no-brainer and has been for a while. I remember when the flame-throwing Allen was eliciting closer conversation behind Chris Perez and thought that the post-2013 closer position would be his. Instead, John Axford was brought in to shut the door but he ended up leaving it wide open for Allen.

The youthful no. 37 seems to be the long-term option in terms of a closer for the Tribe, but in the short term, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to be one of the most effective finishers in the league next season.

The Set-Up Men: Kyle Crockett, LHP and Bryan Shaw, RHP

While Crockett looks to be not a day over 12, he’s pitched as if he’s a wily, old veteran for the Indians and that could earn him a spot in the backend of the Indians bullpen. We all saw the Brian Shaw blow-up last season and despite his overall effectiveness through the season, those last few appearances in Detroit show how the Indians need more than one true late inning option.

If the Indians are trying to develop a young core, why not allow Crockett to prove himself in the ever-crucial 8th inning?

Shaw should still be the Indians main late-inning setup arm. It’s clear that his team-leading 80 appearances and 76.1 innings pitched out of the pen had an effect on his performances late in the year and that fatigue may have set in. But the Indians have few late inning right-handed pen options and outside of a handful of poor outings he has been very reliable in the seventh and eighth inning the past two seasons.

If Tito can proceed with caution and avoid overuse with Shaw, I don’t see any reason to believe that Shaw can’t once again be the back-end force that he was in 2014.

The Matchup Lefty: Marc Rzepczynski, LHP


Rzepczynski was very effective for the Indians in 2014, allowing just 19 runs in 46 innings of work, and outside of the universal problem with overuse amongst the Tribe bullpen, there’s no reason to believe he can’t match those numbers in this upcoming season.

When the Indians traded for Rzepczynski in 2013, it was scoffed at, but when he proved to be a force against lefty hitters, it seems as if the move was one the Indians will use to their advantage in the near future.

The Long Reliever: Zach McAllister, RHP

Just when it looked like McAllister was heading towards a possible DFA, he found his new role with the Indians.

As a starter last season, McAllister was disastrous, facing injuries with his back that wouldn’t allow him to get the ball down in the zone, but upon his return to the Major League club he was great out of the bullpen.

If you combine McAllister’s past as a starter and his effectiveness out of the pen — despite his desire to become a starter once again — it’s clear that McAllister could be very effective as a long reliever for the Indians.

The Rest: Scott Atchison, RHP and Nick Hagadone, LHP

Both of these guys scare me, but for different reasons.

Atchison, despite earning a one-year contract extension in August, is still referred to as “Ol’ Man Atchison” by the Indians clubhouse for a reason. Add his age to his 72 innings pitched in 2014 and I don’t know how much the righty has left in the tank.

If it was guaranteed that he would be as effective and as healthy as in 2014, he might be in a different spot on this list.

Hagadone, on the other hand, scares me with his track record and his mechanics, which are amongst the most bizarre I’ve ever seen. In any case, Indians fans have been accustomed to the up and down nature of Hagadone for years, but caught a glimpse last season of what the lefty was supposed to be when he was brought to Cleveland a few years ago.

Again, he was decent in 2014, but will the old Hagadone reappear?  I envision Francona giving him a shot at solidifying a spot in the bullpen early in the season, but we’ll see how long that lasts as he makes more appearances.

With the last two guys potentially causing problems in the pen down the road, should the “status quo” bullpen look to add an additional arm?

If they want to be the American League representatives in the 2015 World Series, I’d say it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Rather than to carry along with question marks in Hagadone and Atchison, why not solidify one of those spots by adding one of the seemingly endless list of free agent arms in the bullpen?

Again, there are plenty of affordable, effective arms for the taking in free agency or in a trade. Given Tito’s affinity for late-inning tossers, there should be no excuse for failing to explore those markets.

The Kansas City Royals made the 2014 World Series in large part due to the efforts of their bullpen. If the Indians can avoid the problems that may come with Tito’s bullpen addiction and add an additional arm to an already solid group, there’s no reason that the 2015 Cleveland Indians won’t be able to say the same.

User Comments

November 17, 2014 - 3:42 AM EST
There is no chance McAllister begins next season in the rotation over House or Salazar unless one of those guys are injured. Spring training results will be irrelevant in deciding the starting rotation as long as the top 5 remain healthy.
November 17, 2014 - 1:05 AM EST
I disagree about having Shaw and Crockett as the 8th inning setup guys. I think it makes sense to have only one guy the 8th inning setup pitcher, and Shaw is not that guy, so IMO we need an 8th inning pitcher. The entire bullpen would be stronger if Shaw and Crockett were not in that role.

After what we saw at the end of last season I could see McAlister being success in that 8th inning role, but don't think its a good idea, since he's potentially so much more valuable as a starter. Unless of course, he doesn't make the starting rotation out of ST and nobody else comes forward to fill the void. If House and Salazar beat him out for the last couple of rotation spots, then sure, put him in the BP and see what happens.
November 16, 2014 - 8:23 PM EST
IMO McAllister is the best chance we have for an extra BP arm.

C L Who
November 16, 2014 - 6:24 PM EST
Hagadone had an impressive finish but it's unclear that he can hold that new, able to control his pitches, form. One thing about Hagadone......he got left and right handed batters out at equal rates. I do think the pen needs another arm, right or left, that can do that.

Allen worries me because, like Pure Rage, he throws a ball without much movement. I believe he had good success only because he threw it at a higher velocity than Pure Rage. I don't want Salazar to flunk in the rotation, but if he does, I believe he would make an excellent closer.
November 16, 2014 - 12:36 PM EST
The pen needs another guy to take a step forward. After Smith left for LA there has been a bit of a void IMO. In 2013 we had Smith, Shaw, AND Allen all setting up for CP.

When Axford wasn't able to hold down the closers role and be effective enough as a middle reliever, it left the pen thin IMO.

I don't feel there are any arms ready to step up beyond Crockett really, and McAllister is not Wade Davis redux. The usual group of depth arms will all be needed at some point, but the team could do well if another opportunity to bring an arm in through a trade similarly to the Choo deal that brought Shaw (and Albers for that matter).

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