There has been a lot of negativity around the Cleveland Indians over the first week of the season. Most of it unfounded, or at the very least they are major overreactions. But some of it is legitimate, if only in the short-term.
Edwin Encarnacion has looked awful (but he’ll probably get better), missing Jason Kipnis has hurt the lineup (but he’ll be back soon), Corey Kluber has not been himself (but he’s battling through injuries), and the entire team cannot hit with runners in scoring position (they probably will be better than 0-18 with runners in scoring position in the future).
That’s way too many buts and the season is way too young to get worked up about anything. So, instead, let’s focus on something positive, like the bullpen.
Everything is going exactly as the Indians front office planned
You should have expected this, to be honest.
Despite a rough first-half last season last season, once the Indians acquired Andrew Miller at the trade deadline things started rolling and never stopped. Dan Otero was a quiet acquisition that turned into a reliever star, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw kept doing their thing, and Andrew Miller was more than anyone could have hoped for. The Indians front office has made every possible move to bolster the team’s bullpen and it’s worked. Oh boy has it worked.
Other than some unfortunate garbage time runs given up by Shawn Armstrong in the Tribe’s 11-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Indians bullpen has not given up more than one run in any single game.
The game-by-game breakdown, sans one bad game, is impressive:
- 4/3 vs. Texas: 3.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 6 SO
- 4/4 vs. Texas: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 SO
- 4/5 vs. Texas: 3.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 SO
- 4/7 vs. Arizona: 4.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 SO
- 4/8 vs. Arizona: No.
- 4/9 vs. Arizona: 2.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 SO
- 4/11 vs. Chicago: 3.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 5 SO
- 4/12 vs. Chicago: 3.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 2 SO
That’s three earned runs over 20 innings, with almost two dozen strikeouts and only one home run given up (Dan Otero against the Texas Rangers). Short of a pitcher being literally perfect over his first two or so starts, this bullpen Voltron’d into one pitcher would be an incredible start to the season for any ace.
Andrew Miller is a machine
Most of this incredibleness, naturally, comes from Andrew Miller himself. He’s got the clear indicators of an absolute stud working for him — no earned runs, five strikeouts, and a slider that will make your knees buckle — but the speed at which he is working is amazing in itself. Blink and you’ll wonder where that last half-inning went and why you feel slightly tingly all over.
In Miller’s first outing of the season, Opening Day against the Rangers, he threw his first pitch at the 2:54:20 mark, and the final out of the inning was made at 3:00:05. That’s 5 minutes and 45 seconds — an impressive amount of time to make three grown men regret their career choices.
But it gets even better.
In his next outing, the next day against the Rangers, Miller threw his first pitch at the 2:47:36 mark and the final out was made at 2:50:14 — 2 minutes and 38 seconds. He “slowed down” in his third outing, April 9 against the Diamondbacks, putting the heart of the Arizona lineup down in 4 minutes 6 seconds. Even in Miller’s only outing in which he “struggled” by giving up two hits and eventually working his way out of his own jam against the Chicago White Sox Tuesday night, he did his job in 11 minutes 5 seconds.
It took officials over 10 minutes — or roughly the equivalent of three good Andrew Miller outings — to decide what to do with runners on base and a plethora of camera angles and other replay devices at their disposal the other night. If Rob Manfred really wants to improve pace of play, all he has to do is make sure that every reliever is Andrew Miller all day every day. It’s that easy.
It’s not all Andrew Miller. Mostly, but not all
If you tell any discerning Indians fan that Terry Francona is doing something great by moving Andrew Miller around in the later innings of games and not strapping him down to the closer role, most will quickly tell you it’s because Tito has a great overall bullpen allowing him to do use Miller anywhere. And they’d be right.
Indians fans may have unjustly lost their damn minds over Cody Allen giving up a few hits in his first appearance of the season, but don’t let that distract from the fact that he has been absolutely amazing each and every time he’s been on the mound. With a mere 3.2 innings under his belt, he already has nine strikeouts — good enough to lead all Indians relievers, and more than starting pitchers Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin.
Newcomer Boone Logan has given up a pair of hits and an earned run, but he’s already proving a great addition to the Tribe’s strong reliever core.
Oh, and the only other Indians reliever to not give up a run so far this season? Zach McAllister.
Wait hold on I wasn’t done talking about Andrew Miller yet
Based on his whiff percentage, or how often opposing batters have swung and missed at his pitches, Andrew Miller stands to get even better. At least in some ways. He’s going to give up hard contact eventually — and probably even give up some runs — but so far this season, in a hilariously small sample size, his fastball has induced whiffs five percent of the time. With the exception of a dip last year down to a 4.59 whiff percentage, Miller’s fourseamer tends to make opponents swing and miss somewhere between eight to nine percent of the time.
Similarly, Miller’s slider is only inducing swings and misses 22.86 percent of the time so far. The last time the whiff percentage on his slider was below 23 percent was 2013 — the first year he started to look like a truly dominant reliever.