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Second Thoughts Game #153: Indians 4, Twins 5

Second Thoughts Game #153: Indians 4, Twins 5
The Twins celebrate a walkoff win over the Indians. (Photo: AP)
September 20, 2014
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Entering the 2014 season, it was representative of the zeitgeist that one could have said, straight-faced, that manager Terry Francona supported Carlos Santana’s position change because it allowed him the utility to both have Jason Giambi on the roster while still running an 8 man bullpen. While the former did not join the team out of spring training, the latter – a frequently and aggressively-used bullpen – has become a simultaneously predictable and bizarre storyline.

As Jordan Bastian previewed on Twitter before the game, Cleveland was one reliever appearance from tying the AL record for appearances (540) and two reliever appearances from breaking that record – a record which the 2013 Indians themselves set. Short of starter Trevor Bauer throwing a complete game, Cleveland was almost certain to tie the record; short of Bauer going eight (or 7+ in a blowout), Cleveland was likely to break it.

Decidedly ambiguous though the virtue of the record is, Cleveland nevertheless broke it in the sixth when Marc Rzepczynski received the call in relief of Scott Atchison. That Cleveland broke the record on Friday is unsurprising, yet the fact that, having broken the record, they then proceeded to use six more relievers was entirely bizarre. Phrased differently: from when Bauer got the hook in the sixth, eight relievers combined to make ten outs.

In fact, while the Cleveland bullpen holds the all-time record for appearances, they are only third in the American League in relief innings pitched. That’s not to say that they’ve pitched few innings, but given the historic quantity of the switches, it would seem as though they would almost certainly be first.

It was this dissonance that prompted me to ask the question: just how short are Indians’ relievers outings? At the end of the game, Cleveland had 547 appearances and 490.1 IP. While the season is not over yet, that pace – less than an inning per appearance – is in turn historically low. Since pitchers batting might have an impact on the frequency of reliever use, what follows are the five seasons with the fewest innings-per-appearance of all AL teams since the institution of the DH in 1973. It’s not by any means a definitive metric and is quite possibly flawed, but it seems intuitively like it might be a useful proxy by which to examine aggression of reliever substitution.

1)      2011 Rays: 438 appearances, 391 IP, 0.893 IP/App 

2)      2009 Rays: 510 appearances, 457.1 IP, 0.897 IP/App 

3)      2014 Indians: 547 appearances, 490.1 IP, 0.896 IP/App

4)      2012 Yankees: 485 appearances, 444 IP, 0.915 IP/App

5)      2007 White Sox: 463 appearances, 424.2 IP, 0.917 IP/App

The 2014 Indians have by far the most innings of these teams. By the end of the season, the Indians are likely to eclipse 500 bullpen innings, making them – if Francona remains Francona – the only team with 500+ IP and in the top 5 of IP/App. Only 18 team-seasons (of 582 AL team-seasons since 1973) have an IP/App under 1.00; of those 18, only two threw more than 500 innings: the 2014 Angels (501 IP, .994 IP/App) and the 2013 Indians (516.2 IP, .955 IP/App).

Ultimately, this non-definitive exercise suggests two points: first, Francona is incredibly aggressive in reliever use. Terry Francona’s Indians in 2013 and 2014 were #1 and #2 on the ‘most appearances’ list, yes, but that was not the entirety of Francona’s involvement on this list; in terms of IP/App, the 2005 Red Sox and 2007 Red Sox, each Francona-managed teams, were among the 18 team-seasons whose relievers averaged less than an inning per appearance. The ‘Francona loves his relievers’ line is not just a meme; it’s a powerful defining trait, a trait rivaled only by Joe Maddon’s Rays.

Second, this is just another articulation of the increased reliever use defining the modern major-league game. This is not a condemnation of the game in recent years, but the game has changed drastically to favor extreme and specialized reliever usage. Before 2000, the AL team with the lowest IP/App was the 1998 Toronto Blue Jays, a team that had Roger Clemens pitch for them. That team ranks 50th on the list, and every team-season in the top 49 occurred during or after the year 2000. The game has changed radically in the past 15 years, and a team that would have been regarded as radically aggressive in its reliever usage now barely cracks the top 50. It’s uncontroversial that the rise in strikeouts and consequent decline in offense have stemmed from the increasingly aggressive use of relievers. It would be irresponsible to say that this is in any way proof of that phenomenon; it might be entirely reasonable, however, to say, that the low rank of the ’98 Blue Jays is a compelling illustration of just how much the game has changed at its extremes. There may be no manager more emblematic of that particular change than Terry Francona.

John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimmHe can also be reached by e-mail at

User Comments

Joe Chengery
September 21, 2014 - 4:51 PM EDT
The fact they are still battling and playing for something this meaningful this late in the season will benefit them in the future, no matter what happens this year (a playoff appearance would be a bonus and even more valuable experience, just as it was last year).
September 21, 2014 - 7:30 AM EDT

Thank you, I forgot about that three out game. That is definitely a boost. If the Tribe wins out they could steal the WC with a few Seattle loses. Wow! What a season. Who would have thought they'd be playing meaningful games this deep into Sept. I certainly would never had guessed. After that last Detroit series, I thought they were done, but they are still scratching and kicking. Playing meaningful ball games this late will definitely help next yr.
September 21, 2014 - 7:01 AM EDT
Funny thing is they are still alive. Important day today. Indians must win today. It would get very interesting if all the wild card teams ahead of them all lose today like they did yesterday. If that happens then the Indians have a chance against the Royals to have there last stand to make the playoffs.

If the Indians win out the next 7 games and 3 outs, I believe they will make as a wild card team.
September 21, 2014 - 6:16 AM EDT
Completely agree, these mistakes are better made in a transition yr. Next yr this "playoff" experience will payoff for these younger players who lack the experience.
Joe Chengery
September 20, 2014 - 9:50 PM EDT
Canadian Joe,

Definitely agree- I think some of Tito's in-game managing with the bullpen and the lineup can use some improvement. Between the overuse of some pitchers repeatedly (such as Shaw and Allen) and the constant insistence of some guys in certain parts of the lineup (I.e. Kipnis in the middle of the order, the five hole, over Gomes and Chisenhall, night in and night out) must be improved in the future for the Indians to reach their full potential. The talent is there and will be there- will Francona learn from the "mistakes" of this season and adjust going forward? That will have as much or more to do with how far the Indians will go as will their young talent.
Canadian Joe
September 20, 2014 - 7:40 PM EDT
Joe Chengery, your last comment is right on. These mistakes will only serve them well down the line. And the bullpen management has to improve going forward. I know they only throw nominal innings, but the warmup time and pitches they throw are taxing on the arm. My inpression is Francona has no confidence in his bullpen. Does Callaway have any input ? I would hope so, but probably not. Have lost a lot of respect for Tito's in game management this year. It's not an old boys club. You are paid to win.
Joe Chengery
September 20, 2014 - 6:37 PM EDT
The youthful mistakes this team is making now will be the motivation and experience they need to make the postseason (at least have a very good chance of doing so) next year and in the following years. They're on the cusp; they just need a little more time to break through- patience is the key.
Joe Chengery
September 20, 2014 - 6:34 PM EDT
I, too, question this idea that a LHP can't get a RHH out, especially when one has the stuff of a Hagadone, which is why he was a starting pitching prospect for so long. At some point, these guys need to be trusted to get RHH out from time to time. It can be done- heck, Paul Assenmacher got one of the best right-handed hitters of all time in Edgar Martinez in the postseason. Yes, Assenmacher had more experience, but can't say his stuff was better than Crockett or Rzepczynski's, and it certainly wasn't good as Hagadone's (it wasn't as good as Embree's and probably neck and neck with Poole's).

Case in point, LHPs CAN get RHHs out- and our trio needs to be trusted to get them out from time to time. If they falter, and it will happen from time to time, Francona will just have to deal with the backlash that the media will probably try to employ for employing such an "unorthodox" strategy (quotes indicate sarcasm).

Quite honestly, though I think I would trust the trio of Crockett, Rzepczynski, Hagadone late in the game more than I would Shaw or Allen- those two can't get anyone out with any regularity. Yes, they may have been overused early in the season, but it's not like they've been used every day, especially over the last few months, and Shaw did have five days off earlier this month. I know there was a stretch Allen wasn't used either. These guys need to get a second wind and protect those leads or Francona must start adapting and not always use them late in games- they were the ones who blew the leads/games against DET and MIN, and blew the lead against KC (the suspended game). They are arguably the reason why the Indians are in the precarious situation are in now- hopefully, Francona's bullpen management improves next year so that Allen and Shaw stay strong throughout the season, though, hopefully, Shaw and Allen's endurance will also improve so that if they are called upon to appear 50-60+ times in a season, they'll still be strong, as those haven't been consistently for a few months now (at least 20 appearances ago for both).

If the Indians don't stop blowing leads, that KC series won't matter much, no matter what OAK and SEA do.
C L Who
September 20, 2014 - 5:04 PM EDT
On the subject of personal opinion is that Francona vastly overdoes it. That results in Shaw - Atchison getting too much of a workload.....with adverse effects on Shaw at least. Is it really true that RZep and Hagadone and Crockett can't pitch effectively to a right handed batter? I doubt it.
September 20, 2014 - 12:16 PM EDT
G Son I think you're right on. A game of close misses, too many of them for a legitimate playoff team. Lord knows Francona is trying, the players are trying. There are a few too many weak links out there every night, and the opposition exploits them a fair amount of the time.
September 20, 2014 - 12:11 PM EDT
Boy, what a tough loss. And the two "mistakes" I saw, JRam booting the grounder and Holt not playing further back, were hard to watch. At the same time, our old shortstop doesn't get anywhere near that ball, and if Rayburn or Murphy is out there they probably don't get even that close to a very hard hit liner... The young guys are giving it their best and just coming up a little short. Truth is, this team has played well and over its head's just not quite good enough...
September 20, 2014 - 10:21 AM EDT
I tweeted this last night to Tony
Why was Holt not at doubles depth with a 1 run lead?
Armin van Buuren feat. Fiora
September 20, 2014 - 9:45 AM EDT
Bullpen was overused earlier in the season and now they are paying the price
September 20, 2014 - 9:22 AM EDT
Mourning.. a game of close misses...

Turn the DP.. and the game's over..

Get the Bauer curveball on the outside of the plate, a little bit up called a strike (like it had been all night) and Vargas walks back to the dugout sad and defeated..

Don't pitch to Arcia.. he's hurt the Indians too many times...Ooops...

Just a poor series of unhappy outcomes based on many near misses...

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