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The IBI Awards: Most Valuable Reliever

Allen, Smith run away from the field

The IBI Awards: Most Valuable Reliever
October 18, 2013
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The 2013 season proved quite successful for Cleveland as the team completed a 24-win turnaround and made the playoffs with a 92-70 record.

As a part of recapping the year that was, IBI is once again giving out some year-end awards. Unlike last year, we will be focusing only on Cleveland-centric awards. Today we unveil IBI's Most Valuable Reliever:

Rank

Name

Points

1

Cody Allen

55.5

2

Joe Smith

47

3

Bryan Shaw

35.5

4

Marc Rzepczynski

20

5

Matt Albers

11

6

Carlos Carrasco

4

T-7

Chris Perez

3

T-7

Rich Hill

3

9

Justin Masterson

1

 

Like the majority, I went with Allen for my first-place vote. It was great seeing a pitcher like Allen race up through the minors and make an immediate impact in his rookie season. With a 11.26 SO/9, 3.33 BB/9, 2.43 ERA, and 2.99 FIP, Allen should figure into the 2014 bullpen in a prominent way -- maybe even as the closer.

I also think that Smith impressed in 2013. The strikeout rate is pedestrian (7.71 SO/9), but that is not Smith's appeal. The right-hander's 2.29 ERA is not supported by his 3.60 FIP, but Smith has always shown an ability to exceed his peripherals (2.97 career ERA, 3.71 career FIP in 378.2 innings). That 2.29 ERA is probably a little fluky, but not by as much as it looks like on the surface, making Allen and Smith a close #1 and #2 for me.

Shaw, Albers, and Rzepczynski rounded out my ballot.

Here's what the rest of IBI thinks:

Tony Lastoria:

1. Joe Smith

2. Marc Rzepczynski

3. Cody Allen

4. Bryan Shaw

5. Matt Albers 

Marc Rzepczynski may have only been with the Indians for two months, but his impact was felt immediately as he provided manager Terry Francona with a late-inning lefty setup option the team had been missing all season. Cody Allen was consistent in middle relief and really settled into his seventh-inning role well and could be up for a more expanded role next season as a possible setup man or even closer. Bryan Shaw really came on late in the season and was exceptional down the stretch and is another guy who may slide into a more prominent role next season. Matt Albers was a surprise for me as I expected him to pitch much worse and instead he was a reliable and effective arm in the middle innings. 

In the end, the most valuable pen arm was Joe Smith. I don’t think there is any question it was him considering how consistent he was from start to finish this season and really how consistent he has been over the past five seasons with the Indians. If he leaves via free agency this offseason that consistency is something that will be missed and probably not really realized by many until next season rolls along. With Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez both injured and struggling at times, Smith stepped right into the setup role and flourished. He’s going to get paid this offseason and I hope it is the Indians that pay him and retain his services for several more seasons.

Jim Pete:

1. Cody Allen

2. Joe Smith

3. Bryan Shaw

4. Marc Rzepczynski

5. Matt Albers

It's funny what expectations can do for a player and that was definitively the case with Cody Allen. I've heard several folks talk down his year, talking about his struggles. It makes me laugh. In Allen's rookie season, he led the team in innings, had 11.26 SO/9, a 2.49 ERA, and a 2.99 FIP. His xFIP was a bit higher at 3.27, but still solid to above-average. Did I mention that he's a rookie? I would also argue that Rzepczynski was perhaps the next most important, as he locked down the LOOGY role, and that was perhaps the biggest hole on the entire team.

Steve Orbanek:

1. Joe Smith

2. Cody Allen

3. Bryan Shaw

4. Marc Rzepczynski

5. Matt Albers

Not much went according to plan in the bullpen this year, but Joe Smith is one thing that did. As usual, Smith was his consistent self and posted a 2.29 ERA in 70 appearances and 63 innings of work. His consistency proved to especially valuable when you consider the injury struggles of Vinnie Pestano and the performance struggles of Chris Perez. It was a great year for the submarine pitcher, and probably also his last as an Indian as the right-hander is eligible for free agency this offseason.

Michael Hattery:

1. Cody Allen

2. Bryan Shaw

3. Joe Smith

4. Matt Albers

5. Marc Rzepczynski

Pretty simple case for Allen: an absolutely dominant K/9 at 11.26 and the best FIP in the bullpen at 2.99. The best reliever is clearly the most valuable. Unfortunately for Allen, they did not shift him to the closer’s role or at least use him as the high-leverage ace for more of the season. Allen’s upside and production are huge for a pen guy and his meteoric rise is often underplayed in terms of valuable players on this team overall.

Stephanie Metzger:

1. Cody Allen

2. Bryan Shaw

3. Joe Smith

4. Marc Rzepczynski

5. Justin Masterson

This is the part where I get to nominate Cody Allen as #1, meaning this is the exciting part. Poor Cody became the victim of the overuse button, but I suppose Tito’s most formidable excuse is simply the results Cody produced. Cody crafted a good case for himself last year and this year was a continuation of that. Now, Buster Olney and Tyler Kepner are among the national writers submitting their endorsements for Cody Allen as ROY. That said, I put Shaw high up in my vote rankings too, especially since he receives my endorsement for 2014 closer – unless Craig Kimbrel wants to come to the 216.

Jeff Ellis:

1. Cody Allen

2. Bryan Shaw

3. Joe Smith

4. Matt Albers

5. Marc Rzepczynski

Scrabble was a real nice addition and looks like he should be a LOOGY for a while for the Indians. Albers was a guy who many thought might not make the Indians and was a solid long man all year. Smith was the only member of the back-end who didn’t implode this year. Shaw was unhittable down the stretch and a real savoir in the pen. In the end Allen appeared in the most games, had the highest WAR, and looked like the closer of the future for the Indians. His emergence makes it much easier to let Perez and his possible $9 million salary walk this offseason.

Jake Dungan:

1. Cody Allen

2. Joe Smith

3. Marc Rzepczynski

4. Bryan Shaw

5. Matt Albers

Terry Francona knew almost immediately who his go-to guy would be in the bullpen and while he may not win, Cody Allen makes a strong case for AL Rookie of the Year. His mid-to-upper 90s fastball coupled with a knee-buckling curveball has sent plenty of opposing batters back to the dugout in disbelief over the course of the season. The only real negative for him this season was battling fatigue late in the year due to constant work out of the bullpen. His 77 appearances were second only to Tampa Bay’s Joel Peralta for most in the league. Still, there’s a lot to like about Allen and he should be a big part of the back-end of the bullpen moving forward.

Nathan Kemp:

1. Joe Smith

2. Cody Allen

3. Chris Perez

4. Bryan Shaw

5. Carlos Carrasco

Joe Smith had the second best season of his career, which is saying something for a guy with a sub-3.00 career ERA. Before giving up a meaningless solo home run to Houston Astros slugger Chris Carter on Sept. 22, Smith hadn't allowed a homer since July 4.

Arthur Kinney:

1. Cody Allen

2. Joe Smith

3, Rich Hill

4. Bryan Shaw

5. Mark Rzepczynski

Allen's aforementioned stabilization of the back-end of the bullpen gives him the top spot here.  Smith did the same, albeit slightly less consistently.  Hill and Shaw were highly reliable workhorses in the middle relief innings while Rzepczynski gave the team a much-needed dominant lefty specialist.

Charlie Adams:

1. Cody Allen

2. Joe Smith

3. Carlos Carrasco

4. Bryan Shaw

5. Marc Rzepczynski

Carlos Carrasco appears on both pitcher lists, indicating how bad he was as a starter and how valuable he has been as a swing-man and reliever since coming back. Cody Allen and Joe Smith are clearly 1A and 1B with stellar performances in high-leverage situations and high usage rates. Allen takes the top-spot because of more innings and a better K-rate.

Michael Goodman:

1. Bryan Shaw/Cody Allen

3. Joe Smith

4. Marc Rzepczynski

5. Matt Albers 

For consistency sake, I’m going to give Shaw and Allen a tie once again. I could make an argument for each, but these guys served in underrated roles all year. How many times did Ubaldo, Kazmir, or Salazar only go five innings? Who were the guys in those instances that got the ball to Joe Smith and Chris Perez? Those were big innings and Shaw and Allen made them routine. Joe Smith stepped up and replaced Vinnie Pestano admirably as the Indians’ eighth-inning specialist and had possibly the best year of his career. Rzepczynski only pitched 20.0 innings for the Indians, but his impact was profound. He replaced Rich Hill as the situational lefty and was nearly flawless. It wasn’t until after his acquisition when the bullpen really took off. Lastly, it’s hard to argue with the results Matt Albers got in middle relief. He seemed to get better as the year went on.  

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@gmail.com. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

Tony
October 18, 2013 - 10:38 PM EDT
Not sure I'd agree Pestano is a lock. If he struggles in spring training, he could get the Jensen Lewis treatment and be banished to Columbus (he has options). Bottom line, he was not right this year.....was demoted to Columbus and never found himself.....came back to Cleveland in September and I think pitched in 1-2 games all month. He's fallen back into the pack with a lot of others and will need to prove he's healthy and good next year in spring training to earn an opening day roster spot.
Matt
October 18, 2013 - 10:32 PM EDT
Cleveland and Columbus can each field a top notch bullpen next year with internal options only. I'm fine with only a couple of minor league free agent lottery tickets in order to put all the money towards 1 more bat and 1 free agent starter, unless a surefire closer comes cheap.

Need 7 in the CLE bullpen next year.

Locks (4): Allen, Shaw, Pestano, Scrabble. 2 of Allen/Shaw/Pestano should stand out in ST and become closer and setup.

1 long reliever will probably be Carrasco or Tomlin (hopefully Carrasco who could eventually transition into a high leverage reliever).

We need 1 more RH and 1 more LH.
LH (1/2): Hags, Barnes (probably Hags since he's out of options).
RH (1/3): Lee, Wood, Guilmet (probably Wood, up for arb but should be cheap).

Columbus BP may contain the cuts above and choose the rest from lefties Soto and Crockett and righties Capps, Price, Sturdevant, Adams, Haley, Stowell, Price, Tejada, Bryson, Armstrong, Johnson.
Hermie13
October 18, 2013 - 3:57 PM EDT
@Walter....I'm all for outside the box ideas...

But I see no way you move Masterson to the bullpen. Yes he did well there...Kluber would likely dominate there too, as would Salazar though. Masterson is far too valuable in the rotation to move to the pen. The guy missed about 4 weeks...and still led the team in innings pitched this year.

If you're not going to start Masterson then trade him. But a move to the pen....sure he'd probably handle the closers role well, but you guarantee he leaves after the 2014 season. He's not going to resign if he's in the pen. And one of the reasons behind non-tendering Perez is his high salary even for a closer. Masterson will be getting $8.5-9M. If you're gonna spend that much on the closers spot, might as well get a guy that's done that job for a while (like a Brian Wilson, Joe Nathan, etc). I agree the free agent market for closers/relievers can get expensive...but you could re-sign Smith and get a closer for potentially what you're just paying Masterson.

Interesting spin, but again I just think you're wasting Masterson's ability by putting him in the pen. I see some people put him down as a most valuable reliever though so there may be others that think he should move to the pen?

As far as the rest of your bullpen...I think Tomlin either miraculously makes the big league rotation or goes to AAA to stay stretched out as a starter/provide depth. Just thing that's where his value lies. He has options left so might as well use them too. Wood is interesting. Tribe obviously likes his arm.
Michael
October 18, 2013 - 2:48 PM EDT
It was hard to differentiate between Allen, Shaw, and Smith. For me, I just felt that Allen and Shaw had greater utility. We didn't have a lot of starters pitching deep in games, and those two were the glue guys that got the ball Smith, Perez, etc. I think they really protected some of the other relievers from being overextended, and that's being underrated.
Walter
October 18, 2013 - 2:39 PM EDT
I agree Allen and Smith was most valuable relief pitchers. They were the most consistent.

If there was a sleeper or under rated category Matt Albers would win hands down. For most people on this site thought Albers was the weakest link in the bullpen. I guess he proved us wrong.

I believe Chris Perez was valuable pitcher during the middle portion of the season. I believe he brought stability to the bullpen especially when injuries happened to McAllister and Kluber. He helped by keeping Smith and Allen to stay in the roles the were succeeding in this year. Too bad his implosion began with the Tigers series in 1st week of August.

Who is the Indians future closer? Is it Perez since he would be playing for a contract just like Cabrera? Is it perez until someone else steps up to take the job?

I think the FA market is to expensive to purse since the Indains have other need to fill.

Thinking out side the box. Indians sign both Kazmir and Ubaldo and move Masterson into the closer role. I believe he has the mental make up and I think Francona has trust him to do that job.

Rotation

1 Jimenez
2. Kazmir
3. Salazar
4. K;luber
5 McAllister

Closer
Masterson
Allen set up 8th inning
Shaw/Carrasco/Wood 6/7th inining
Tomlin middle/long relief

Lefties
Rzepczynski
Hagadone
Crockett -following the same fast track as Allen

Seth
October 18, 2013 - 2:28 PM EDT
Shaw threw 12 more innings than Smith on the year, i.e. 20% more. That, to me, would make him more valuable than Smith. Other than that, both guys had their struggles and had their periods of pitching well. I thought both were hurt in the middle months by the lack of a lefty option, where Francona had to go to both of them against tough left-handers they had no business facing.
Dennis
October 18, 2013 - 12:43 PM EDT
Shaw was the most underrated/under respected guy coming into the season.He ate innings when necessary and pitch multiple days in a row. Can he do it again? I like Smith as #1 because of his role. I probably under rate Allen. I was never comfortable with him coming into a game because of his perceived walk problem.

ERA is probably the most overrated stat because a lot of time the pitcher is charged with an run, but left the game with two outs and runner on first. Next pitcher in does not get the job done gives up a hit. pitches a clean next inning. so has a line off 1.33 IP, 1 hit, 4 strikeouts a great looking line, but gave up a run scoring game winning double to the first batter he face. Inherited runners scored is a more important relief stat to me (of course sometimes giving up one run is not the most important thing - getting the out is). I guess there is no best stat because not every situation is the same.
Maybe performance in September should weigh more heavily in these rankings because of the increased pressure.
Hermie13
October 18, 2013 - 11:39 AM EDT
Exactly. That's the question I was implying.

I'd be more comfortable bringing back Smith than going bargain basement shopping on a closer. Sure you could get Rondey (the good 2012 version)....or you could end up with a Borowski...

That said...the bigger thing with Smith is probably years vs money. Do you guarantee him 3 years? Or do you set the guaranteed limit at 2? He has been solid, but you never know with relievers...
Tony
October 18, 2013 - 11:14 AM EDT
Or maybe the better question is what is more important, spending the $4-5M per on Smith and going internally at closer with Shaw/Allen......or going internally at setup with Shaw/Allen and signing a FA closer for $4-5M. Interesting. I feel comfortable with Smith and we know what to expect from him, so I might side with that.
Hermie13
October 18, 2013 - 11:08 AM EDT
Question then is...can the Tribe afford $5M for a closer, plus $4M or so on Smith? Even being consiserative and saying it'll only cost $8M for Smith and a free agent closer, that can make things tough.

Tribe's payroll as constructed looks to be at about $74M if Ubaldo walks and you non-tender Perez. Adding in another $8M from above you're at $82M...without bringing back one of Ubaldo/Kazmir or without adding a bat....

I do think that maybe the Tribe could stretch payroll to $90M (though that is probably a tad optimistic), but still leaves little room to re-sign Kaz or Ubaldo.

Maybe I'm way off but think you either bring in a closer or resign Smith....not both. If you brought in a closer, I'd just bring back Albers. Cheaper and just fine in a 5th/6th inning role.
Tony
October 18, 2013 - 10:52 AM EDT
The key to deciding on bringing back Smith will probably be how much the front office believes Pestano can come back next year and at worst will a Bryan Shaw-like role as a 6th/7th inning arm and if he can be effective. If Shaw moves into Allen's role and Allen moves into Smith's role.....they need someone to take over Shaw's role and the only one internally with the experience is Pestano. Beyond that, I really believe with so many closer options on the open market, the Indians fill that spot by nontendering Perez and signing one of them to a 1 year $2-5M deal.
Hermie13
October 18, 2013 - 10:45 AM EDT
I definitely want to see Smith back too...but also agree on not overpaying. I think Allen and Shaw showed enough this year that you don't "have" to overpay to keep Smith.

Also...I'd be more willing to pay the money to keep Smith IF the Tribe lets Perez walk and stays in-house for the closers role...
Hermie13
October 18, 2013 - 10:43 AM EDT
I don't know about Cody Allen being consistently better though.

Shaw's WHIPs by month:
April: 0.87
May: 1.56
June: 1.29
July: 1.57
August: 1.23
Sept: 0.65

Allen's WHIPs by month:
April: 1.41
May: 0.51
June: 1.56
July: 1.59
August: 1.39
Sept: 1.25

I still will never understand why anyone would use ERA for a reliever over WHIP. Samples are too small for ERA and it doesn't take into account inherited runners scored. For starters, sure ERA is important...but relievers, it rarely tells the whole story.

Not saying anyone is wrong putting Allen above Shaw, very valid reasons he could be put ahead (much better K-rate, more appearances, higher leverage situations more often)...but Shaw's 2nd half was just a lot better than Allen's which IMO trumps Allen's better 1st half.
Roger
October 18, 2013 - 10:41 AM EDT
i agree Tony Smitty should win the award however i am just curious as to how much money a guy should make as a set-up guy. i AM ALMOST afraid that the guy in detroit may have set the pay bar for high end set up guys who become free agents. $16.5 million for 3 is quite a bit too much even though it doesnt sound like a lot by todays standards what is does is set a higher bar for the entire bullpen and lumped together that is prolly over 4 million or 5 million but that is serious money it can be the difference between signing a high profile free agent depending on budgetary controls
Tony
October 18, 2013 - 10:29 AM EDT
What I love about these awards is it really shows how people see things differently, how people evaluate differently, and how people view value, struggles, dominance, consistency and so on differently. When you look at this you can see how the MLB awards that the writers vote on every year often can vary from one writer to the next.....and the IBI Awards are no different. Thanks JP for putting this together.
Jim
October 18, 2013 - 10:07 AM EDT
Yeah Tony...I was alluding to that...he had a bad stretch at the end of May...and a bad stretch at the end of June and the beginning of July when his pitches flattened out...and he struggled with that perennially...

When his pitches are flat...he's not even an average reliever. When his stuff is moving....he's nearly unhittable...
Jim
October 18, 2013 - 10:05 AM EDT
Shaw was a pleasant surprise...when his pitches don't move...he's terrible...but he really built on one appearance to the next...turned himself into a phenomenal reliever.

Smith is a witch...such good movement and location...a righthanded Rafael Perez...when Perez was on the top of his game...

Allen...a bit better than Shaw overall...if you go game by game...week by week...and month by month...you'll see his superiority overall. Shaw would lose it over a stretch of two or three games, whereas Allen was a bit more consistent...

but perhaps Allen was protected a bit more...and situations certainly play a part in that...

Our top three...four...with scrabble...by the end of the year..were outstanding.

Like Hermie...I wanted to put Carrasco in there...and will next year when he's used perhaps as our closer, if he earns high leverage slots...and isn't a starter.

I like Steph's choice of Masterson...he'd be a phenomenal reliever...
Dan
October 18, 2013 - 9:55 AM EDT
I need help understanding how Charlkie Adams could have Carlos Carrasco as #3 most valuable relief pitcher in 2013 ? ANYONE ? Charlie ?
Tony
October 18, 2013 - 9:52 AM EDT
I think just looking at the overall numbers though is a mistake. There is more context to the season that saying X player led the team in ERA, K/9, FIP, xFIP and whatever other stat. Shaw for instance was very good in April and great in September, but the other 4 months he was not very good. I think it is easy to get sucked into his great September, just like Ubaldo, and again forget about what they did earlier in the year. Here are Shaw's numbers in his other four months from May through August covering 49.1 innings (months he had no lower than a 4.30 ERA in): 4.74 ERA, 4.2 BB/9, 8.2 K/9, 1.9 K/BB

That was solid, and his great bookend months in April and September helped his overall numbers immensely....but again just shows where I think more context needs to be drawn over the course of the season and most of all consistency.

Hermie13
October 18, 2013 - 9:37 AM EDT
1. Smith
2. Shaw
3. Allen
4. Rzepczynski
5. Albers


Smith to me was #1 as he started in the 7th inning...moved to the 8th when needed, and even took over the 9th inning/closers role when asked. Stat-wise wasn't the best reliever but presence out there was a godsend to this club.

I sent Shaw over Allen for #2 and really don't think it's that crazy. Only debate here was Shaw over Smith for most valuable. Shaw (not Allen) actually led the Indians in innings out of the bullpen this year with 75. Made 7 fewer appearances than Allen but 4.2 more innings. Loved what Allen did, but like the fact that Shaw could be stretched out more. Plus Shaw was just lights out in the 2nd half, whereas Allen became more hittable. Allen's 2nd half OPS against was a paltry .454 and hitters hit a whopping .168 off him. In September he logged 15.1 innings, 0.00 ERA, .154 BAA, .339 OPS, 0.65 WHIP...15 Ks to 0 BBs! He was the go to guy, the Ubaldo of the pen. He finished with the lowest WHIP of the bullpen guys too at 1.17 (Allen was 1.25, Smith 1.22, Albers 1.27). Also had the 14th lowest IR% in the AL at 25% (again, way better than Allen). Shaw is a guy I'd have no problem with turning the closers role over to next season.

Now I know it sounded like I just hated Allen with the above, but that's not the case. Still my #3 and had a great year. May have run out of gas a bit down the stretch but as a rookie can't really fault him there. Did have a very good season and really stepped up...made us almost forget about the loss of Pestano in a way. the K's are great and had the most appearances out of the pen, but a 37% inherited runners score rate needs to be improved and WHIP was bit too high for me to put him ahead of Shaw. ERA was nice, but IMO that's the most overrated stat for a reliever.

Went Scrabble 4 even though he was only here the last 2 months. Good lord was he a site for sore eyes. The lefty we needed all year. Nothing more to say really.

Albers was nothing special at all...but just a solid guy to have in that pen. 1.27 WHIP is nothing special but not bad (barely worse than Allen). Was a guy that could give you multiple innings. Actually kind of hoping the Tribe brings him back next year.


Liked what Carrasco did in his short time in the pen but don't think he logged enough time back there to bump any of the 5 guys above.
Tony
October 18, 2013 - 9:24 AM EDT
Not sure I get this vote at all. I can understand Allen first, but don't understand how anyone can put Bryan Shaw above Joe Smith. If all we are looking at is stats, I think that is a mistake. The role that Smith filled is much more valuable than the role that Shaw and even Allen filled. In a year where Pestano crumbled the Indians needed someone to step into the setup role and stabilize it, and Smith did exactly that. Shaw over Smith mystifies me. I think Allen and Smith were both very valuable.....but in the end I sided with the guy who stepped into a more prominent role and really stopped the bleeding in the pen.

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