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Indians preview capsules: The relief pitchers, part two

Shaw ready fill in the back-end, Pestano looks to bounce back

Indians preview capsules: The relief pitchers, part two
Vinnie Pestano (Photo:
March 7, 2014
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As a part of IBI's beginning of season festivities, we have preview capsules on all 54 players currently in major league camp with at least some chance of helping the big league team. The next batch of these running today are part two of the relief pitchers on the 40-man roster.

There is just not much more to it; spring training is here and real baseball is just around the corner. Enjoy!

C.C. Lee, RHPC.C. Lee (Photo: ESPN)

C.C. Lee made his major league debut on July 14, ultimately appearing in eight games and pitching 4.1 innings. That small handful of outings will not do much for predicting what Lee will accomplish in 2014, but just seeing the right-hander make it all the way to Cleveland following Tommy John surgery in June 2012 is encouraging. Lee made his first rehab appearance in Lake County on May 29, and within a month and a half, finally made it to Cleveland.

With only 4.1 major league innings under his belt, Lee will obviously be inexperienced. But while Lee will lack experience, he will bring a dominant fastball-slider sidearm combination to the table that should allow him to succeed from day one. In his minor league career Lee has shown an ability to strike out a ton of batters while also limiting his walks (11.04 SO/9 and 2.87 BB/9 in 263.1 innings). As evidenced by his 2.94 ERA and 2.74 FIP, Lee knows how to get people out in the minors; now the 27-year-old will get his chance in the majors.

With the departure of Chris PerezJoe SmithRich Hill, and Matt Albers, there is room for some new blood in the 2014 bullpen. While some of those spots are spoken for (i.e., John Axford), Lee should get a real shot at winning a major league job at the outset of the season. He should be all recovered from his 2012 surgery, though his smaller stature (5'11", 190 pounds) will likely leave some questions about his durability heading into the future. The best hope for Cleveland will be that pitchers just get hurt frequently and Lee just got his injury out of the way. We cannot know if Lee will be healthy for good now, but when he is on the mound, he gets outs. Lee has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, and assuming good health and fortune, the right-hander will be one of the key middle-inning relievers for Terry Francona throughout 2014.

Josh Outman, LHPJosh Outman (Photo: ESPN)

After the Drew Stubbs experiment arrived at so-so results in 2013, the front office decided to move on, sending Stubbs to Colorado and receiving Josh Outman in return. In addition to saving a little money in the trade (Stubbs will make $4.1 million in 2014 compared to Outman's $1.25 million), Cleveland added another left-handed relief arm in an attempt to not have to carry a Rich Hill-type for the entire season like in 2013.

Colorado quickly learned that Outman is best served in a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy) role and actually had him face more left-handed batters than right-handed in 2013 (126 versus 112). The results clearly favor such usage, as Outman has limited left-handed hitters to a .186/.251/.272 line in his career while right-handed batters have lit him up to the tune of a .298/.376/.468 line. Outman was a started as recently as 2012, but now it appears the 29-year-old's role will be exclusively in the bullpen.

Beyond his role as a left-handed specialist -- really a boring thing to write more about -- Outman's preferred method of pitching is something that truly makes him stand out. Outman's original pitching motion had his left arm come straight over his head, with the crook of his elbow surrounding the back of his head. From there, Outman would step forward and deliver, cocking his left arm slightly back before delivering the pitch. The idea is to avoid side-to-side movement as Outman and his dad -- who created the throwing motion -- believes it takes strain off of the arm. Outman adopted a traditional windup en route to the pros and had to undergo Tommy John surgery, though who knows if it would have happened anyway.

Given how Cleveland accommodated the great Trevor Bauer mechanics fiasco of 2013, it would be wonderful to see Outman throw with his natural motion. As he is now, Outman is a useful, albeit limited, piece of the big league bullpen. But why not see if Outman could improve himself, even a little, by throwing how he wants? At the very least, it would be fun to watch.

Vinnie Pestano, RHPVinnie Pestano (Photo: ESPN)

It is safe to say right now that Vinnie Pestano is still waiting for his luck to turn. The dominant reliever from 2011 and 2012 hit a wall in 2013, posting a 4.08 ERA and 5.03 FIP in 35.1 major league innings and spending a chunk of the season down in Triple-A. Pestano also missed time with right elbow tendonitis, an injury that could have contributed to his struggles last year.

The right-hander saw his strikeouts drop for the second-consecutive year, though the falloff from 2012 to 2013 was not all that bad (9.77 SO/9 to 9.42). The big issue with Pestano was his walks. Pestano had never been a reliever who was stingy with giving out free passes, but going from 3.09 BB/9 in 2012 to 5.35 in 2013 left too many runners on the basepaths. Plus, adding in Pestano's issues keeping the ball in the park in 2013 (0.90 HR/9 in 2012, 1.53 HR/9 in 2013) left a recipe for disaster for the formerly-dominant right-hander.

Though it could be influenced by the elbow injury, the fact that Pestano's fastball velocity dropped each year since his debut is worrisome. Going from an average of 92.6 miles per hour in 2011 to 91.1 miles per hour in 2013 does not seem like all that much, but given that Pestano was not consistently blowing people away, that drop does hurt. Pestano seems to have tried to account for the lack of fastball velocity by throwing his slider more often; that rate has gone from 19.8 to 28.5 percent since 2011. Pitchers need to be constantly adjusting to keep hitters on their toes, but with the slider's reputation for injuring pitchers and seeing Pestano's fastball velocity dip, his adjustments in 2013 could be a bad omen as opposed to forward thinking.

There will be no World Baseball Classic for Pestano this year, which could help him get off to a more normal start in 2014. No matter what happens, Pestano's hellacious 2013 (which was capped off in 2014 by becoming the first player to go to arbitration with Cleveland since 1991 -- and losing that case) is over. Barring a significant injury, it can only really go up from here for Pestano.

Marc Rzepczynski, LHPMarc Rzepczynski (Photo: ESPN)

The splits Marc Rzepczynski showed between his stints with St. Louis and Cleveland last year are a further reminder what can happen in small sample sizes. Rzepczynski posted a 7.84 ERA in 10.1 innings with the Cardinals, though that number was inflated by a .429 BABIP. The left-hander's 4.02 FIP -- the same as his career mark -- pointed toward a brighter future for Rzepczynski, one he realized upon joining the Cleveland bullpen. While Rzepczynski's 0.89 ERA in 20.1 innings with Cleveland is basically on the opposite end of the spectrum as his St. Louis mark, the larger point is that the left-hander is capable of, at worst, being a solid major-league reliever.

An interesting trend to watch in 2014 for Rzepczynski will be how hitters fare on making contact with pitches outside of the strike zone. Though 30.2 innings is a small sample to extrapolate from, Rzepczynski managed to get opposing hitters to chase more pitches outside of the zone in 2013 (30.4 percent swing rate in his career, 33.6 percent in 2013) while also causing hitters to miss more of those swings (54.8 percent contact rate in his career, 43.5 percent in 2013). These results were the byproduct of Rzepczynski continuing to up the usage of his sinker (57.0 percent in 2013, 38.3 for his career) and working low and out of the zone more (50.22 percent of pitches in 2013, 40.87 percent from 2007 through 2012).

Which is all a long, stat-riddled way to say Rzepczynski learned how to keep the ball low and fool hitters into chasing those low pitches. Like many left-handers, Rzepczynski is better against left-handed hitters (.480 OPS against in 2013 compared to an .859 OPS against right-handers), but Francona did a good job of limiting his exposure to right-handed hitters. There is almost no way that the left-hander can maintain that 0.89 Cleveland ERA, but the 28-year-old should be a key linchpin in the 2014 bullpen as someone who can get left-handed hitters out.

Bryan Shaw, RHPBryan Shaw (Photo: ESPN)

Bryan Shaw was not supposed to be the centerpiece of the Shin-Soo Choo trade in December 2012, but the struggles of Trevor Bauer combined with the good performance by Shaw flipped the script. The right-hander was not the best reliever in the bullpen -- pitchers like Cody Allen and Joe Smith outperformed him -- but Shaw was a positive contributor in 2013.

Throughout his three major league seasons, Shaw posted well above-average ERA marks, though his 2012 season in Arizona only had average peripherals. Shaw arrested that negative development in 2013, raising his strikeout rate from 6.22 SO/9 to 8.76 while lowering his walks from 3.64 BB/9 to 3.36. That combination -- especially seeing his strikeouts go from below-average to above-average -- allowed Shaw to become reliable reliever for Terry Francona to call upon in the middle innings.

Shaw always suppressed home runs (he has only allowed 0.55 HR/9 for his career) and while the right-hander has only thrown 162.2 major league innings, that ability seems to have some legs. Interestingly, Shaw's groundball percentage went from extremely good to more average in 2013 (56.4 percent to 42.5), though if that is correlated with the rise in strikeouts, the overall package was better in 2013 without the groundballs than in 2012 with them.

The go-to pitch for Shaw is his cutter, a pitch he threw nearly three-fourths of the time in 2013. Armed with a cutter that averaged 93 miles per hour, Shaw threw more sliders, a decision that likely helped his strikeout rate. With that new pitch mix Shaw made hitters miss on swings outside of the strike zone more than ever before (67.8 percent contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone in 2012, 58.9 percent in 2013), and if the right-hander can replicate that in 2014, he will likely continue to get the strikeouts that fueled his improvement last year.

The safe bet for Shaw in 2014 is that his home run rate will rise a little, which will naturally decrease his effectiveness a little. It is also possible that the strikeouts will fall back. Either way, Shaw is a very effective pitcher who should see high leverage innings in 2014.

Blake Wood, RHPBlake Wood (Photo: MiLB)

Cleveland acquired Blake Wood in November 2012 on waivers from Kansas City as the right-hander rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. Wood was expected to spend a good chunk of 2013 recovering from the injury and that is what happened. The right-hander only threw 1.1 major league innings, though he did throw a few more innings in the minors as he made his way back up the ladder.

Wood threw 26.1 minor league innings in 2013 and the results were mixed. He showed an ability to get strikeouts -- always a positive for a reliever -- posting a 10.94 SO/9 across four minor league levels. Of course, the effectiveness of those strikeouts is limited when you have 6.15 BB/9 to go with them. Granted, Wood was in his first action back from Tommy John surgery and the command/control aspect of pitching is typically the last thing a pitcher gets back, but the initial results were not all that encouraging.

Following the less-than inspiring results there was speculation that Wood could be non-tendered this past offseason. Wood is already eligible for arbitration, and while he signed a small near-minimum contract for 2014, he will need to show the organization something in 2014 to avoid being non-tendered after the season. Assuming he starts the year in the minors -- almost a certainty with the copious amount of right-handed relief depth Cleveland possesses -- Wood will not have any minor league options after this season.

Relievers who have shown the ability to dial it up to 97 miles per hour like Wood will get their chances and I would expect Wood to get a good, long look at some point in 2014. He is on the 40-man roster and the clock is ticking with his arbitration -- two things that will actually help him get a look on the major league team assuming he performs in the minors. Cleveland will need to make a decision on his future and if the right-hander does well, he will find a home in the bullpen. This year will be Wood's opportunity to seize a bullpen spot; now it is up to the right-hander to make it happen.

Bryan Price, RHPBryan Price (Photo: MiLB)

Typically, a 28 27-year-old right-handed reliever who is yet to make his major league debut is not much to get excited about. Bryan Price is breaking the mold, however. While he does not project to be a dominating factor out of the big league bullpen in 2014, Price has set himself up to be a useful piece in the near-future.

Following a disastrous first 19.0 innings in Triple-A during the 2012 season (6.63 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 17:12 SO:BB), Price put it together in his second try. The right-hander stopped over briefly in Double-A (only posting a 0.56 ERA and 1.83 FIP in 16.0 innings) before conquering in Columbus. With 11.44 SO/9 and 1.83 BB/9 in 59.0 Triple-A innings, Price posted a 2.44 ERA, a 2.57 FIP, and earned a spot on the 40-man roster.

Finally healthy after some issues in the past and armed with a new splitter, it seems that Price has finally established himself as a major-league option. He did not get that chance in 2013, but while Price may start in the minors in 2014, he should factor into the big league bullpen at some point in the season.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

Jim Piascik
March 8, 2014 - 9:46 AM EST
Dang, got too trigger-happy with just subtracting 2014 from everyone's birth year. It's fixed now. Thanks for the heads up all!
March 7, 2014 - 8:20 PM EST
Also - slight correction, Price is 27.
March 7, 2014 - 6:35 PM EST
Just a little correction, Price is 27.
March 7, 2014 - 5:17 PM EST
Fair enough on WHIP being influenced by BABIP. Would counter though that use ERA and ignoring the number of inherited runners allowed to score is a bigger issue.

One way to look at 75 IP, Shaw allowed 42 runs (31 runs allowed + 11 inherited runners to score). In 70.1 IP, Allen allowed 41 runs (22 runs allowed + 19 inherited runners to score). Not truly a good way to do it as you need to breakdown where those inherited runners were when they scored (allowing a guy on 3B to score vs 1B for example), but easy way to see how ERA isn't a good stat for non-closing relievers.

Can call it fickle that Shaw limited damage when he came in with men on base...I say he just pitched better than Allen with men on base in 2013.

Recognize that I'm in the minority on Shaw, just loved how he pitched in the 2nd half and especially down the stretch. Ubaldo got all the glory for his September but Shaw quietly put up a great month of his own. His K-rate went Way up in the 2nd half....was it a fluke or what we should expect? We shall see...I think it's the latter though.

And while this has nothing to do with who was better in 2013....Allen's 2nd half worries me a bit. His BABIP was very high, but his walk rate went up nearly a full walk per nine and his K-rate dropped over a K per nine. Still a great K-rate and the walk rate was still in livable ranges, especially if the hits normalize. Hopefully was just a case of him running a bit out of gas in his first full big league season.
Jim Piascik
March 7, 2014 - 3:52 PM EST
Yeah, the strand rate is different. Though also fickle. My issue with WHIP and H/9 are those are also heavily influenced by things like BABIP. Though if Shaw can continue limiting hits and inducing poor contact, his ERA should drop.
March 7, 2014 - 3:14 PM EST
That wasn't a typo on my part where I said eRA as there was a reason the 'e' was lowercase. eRA is based on the actual results allowed by the pitcher (hits, doubles, home runs, walks, strikeouts, etc.). It's also park adjusted (though comparing teammates doesn't mean as much). I also said Allen had much higher in relief runs allowed which takes into account inherited runners scored, not RA.

Allen's RRA was 4.04; Shaw's was 3.26 (Smith's was 2.36)
Allen's eRA was 4.01; Shaw's was 2.84 (Smith's was 3.30)

Also, what strand rate are you using? Are you looking at LOB%? Thought that only included batters the pitcher faced, not inherited runners (though maybe I'm wrong there).

I'm looking at inherited runners only here. Shaw stranded 75% of inherited runners last year; Allen only stranded 63.5%. Shaw was much better at stranding inherited runners. Not that either was all that great but still.

And I still believe WHIP is a much better indicator when it comes to non-closing relievers than ERA. ERA tells you nothing really other than how a guy may have pitched with no one on base. WHIP tells you how many base runners a guy allowed, which for a reliever coming in with men on base is much more important stat. Shaw had the lowest WHIP on the team (outside of Scrabble) thanks to allowed the fewest hits/9.

As said though, all three were very good last year, just think Shaw gets vastly underrated because of ERA. He could regress as did have a lower BABIP, though a lower LOB% suggests the opposite. Think he continues to improve....though think Allen can and will as well. Excited to see both of them again this year...and if Pestano were to rebound....that's a backend that can compete with the best of them.
Jim Piascik
March 7, 2014 - 2:49 PM EST
Actually, correction: Shaw was slightly below-average with his overall strand rate last year. And Allen's was well above-average. I read my spreadsheet the wrong way. Dang.
Jim Piascik
March 7, 2014 - 2:24 PM EST
All of Shaw, Allen, and Smith were very good last year. Just a couple quick notes:

Shaw had a much HIGHER ERA than Allen, not the other way around (2.43 to 3.24). Same with RA (Allen at 2.82, Shaw at 3.72). So while their FIPs were close, Allen gets the nod thanks to the ERA and RA gap.

And Smith gets credit from me thanks to his ability to consistently outperform his peripherals. That 2.29 ERA is closer to his true-talent level than his 3.60 FIP.

Strand rate is important, but it is also quite fickle, much like BABIP. Shaw was very good at it last year, but his first two seasons he was slightly below-average. I would expect that to regress.
March 7, 2014 - 1:40 PM EST
Said it before and I'll say it again, really feel Bryan Shaw is underrated...

"The right-hander was not the best reliever in the bullpen -- pitchers like Cody Allen and Joe Smith outperformed him -- but Shaw was a positive contributor in 2013."

Did Allen and Smith really outperform Shaw last year?

Sure his ERA was higher than Allen's and his K-rate was lower...but that's about it when it comes to what Allen was better than Shaw at (FIP was s smidge worse at 3.07 vs 2.99).

Shaw pitched more innings than Allen, faced more batters, had a MUCH lower eRA, had a much lower RRA, was much better at stranded inherited runners, and had a lower WHIP.

Compared to Smith, other than his ERA/RRA, he was actually better than Smith (lower WHIP, better K-rate, better at stranding runners).

I know Smith and Allen pitched later in games so some will argue they were better, but don't think it's Shaw's fault he was used earlier in games. When he pitched looked every bit as good as Smith or Allen and put up numbers that were actually better (again if you look past ERA, which IMO is a useless stat for non-closing relievers). IMO Shaw was the best reliever the Tribe had last year, though think Allen and Shaw both were very good as well.
March 7, 2014 - 11:53 AM EST
I wonder if Outman is now going to have successful year since Giambi let him know he was tipping his pitches. Nothing wrong of having a late bloomer in Price. He provides depth and potential call up if someone falters.

Pestano is the X-factor. If he back to his 2011 and 2012 form look out. It makes the Indians bullpen a lot stronger. With injuries behind him looking for Wood to make strong contribution to the bullpen.

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