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The Big Deal, Part 3.5

The Relievers

I can't claim to have studied the three relievers involved in depth, and in any event the Indians seem to be judging relievers based on metrics that I know nothing about. How else to explain preferring Guillermo Mota to David Riske?

Riske played a key role in the Great Bullpen Implosion of '04, which coincided with the birth of Riske's first child. Complications kept the infant in the hospital, his life in some jeopardy, for the first five weeks of the season, and the effect on Riske's on-field performance cannot be reasonably denied. He gave up 16 earned runs over 11.2 innings to start the year with a 12.34 ERA.

If you remove those five weeks from his stats, Riske's three-year record looks like this: 60 earned runs in 213 innings, 2.54 ERA. That is one hell of a three-year run in my book. The only bad things I can think of to say about him are that his K rates fell dramatically in 2005, and for whatever reasons, Wedge seemed not to trust him in key situations. It may be that Shapiro has decided that when it comes to relievers, the sample size of the stats is too small to trust anything except K rates. And he might be on to something there.

Arthur Rhodes is a veteran lefty who is generally equally effective against right-handed hitters. After several seasons as a dominant setup man in Seattle, he signed a big contract to be a closer for Oakland and promptly got injured and tanked. His salary dumped to Cleveland by way of Pittsburgh, Rhodes emerged healthy in 2005 and dominated as a setup man again, piled up the strikeouts while keeping runners off the bases. Family problems limited him to a mere 43 innings and also kept his arm from further wear and tear. I for one have a sinking feeling that four months from now, we're going to be missing Rhodes more than Crisp.

The thing that screams out from Guillermo Mota's stats is the fact that he threw 299 innings over three seasons, 2002-2004, all of them in relief. What a shock, then, that he ran into injury problems in 2005. When healthy, he strikes out a hell of a lot of batters and keeps his WHIP around a Riske-like 1.00. Obviously, nobody is really confident that he's healthy. The larger story is that Shapiro has reduced the Indians' bullpen depth by one, or by 1.5 if you count the hobbled Mota as one-half. Prior to losing Bob Howry, the Indians had stockpiled a tremendous number of quality relievers -- the only real depth that the Indians had to trade from this offseason.

All seven original members of the 2005 staff put up numbers well above average, Fernando Cabrera excelled after a midyear callup, and Andrew Brown clearly is ready for his shot as well. Those two additions minus Howry and Rhodes puts the bullpen back at seven, plus Kaz Tadano and Steve Karsay and Danny Graves and Jeremy Guthrie in Buffalo. The Indians seem to have confidence in Mota as a setup man, confidence in the rest of the staff to step up if Mota breaks down, and confidence in Brown to start the season in Cleveland. And that's assuming Graves and Karsay can't make it back in time.