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This article is about the bullpen of the 2018 Cleveland Indians

Consider yourself warned

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Cleveland Indians’ Bullpen by the Numbers

  • The bullpen pitched 463.2 innings in 2018, last in the majors by 33 innings. It is the fewest number of innings pitched by a bullpen since 2015, when the Indians and White Sox both used the pen for fewer than 455 innings. In the Terry Francona era, the Indians have used their bullpen the least out of any team in baseball other than the Nationals.
  • The Indians’ bullpen owned an ERA of 4.60, the 6th-worst in all of baseball. On the other hand, their WHIP and xFIP came in at the 14th and 7th best marks, which is much better than I expected to find.
  • 25 different players appeared as a reliever for the Indians this season, including stints by Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Shane Bieber, and Adam Plutko. Also, did you remember that Brandon Guyer pitched a scoreless inning? I sure didn’t.
  • Oliver Perez was unquestionably the most effective reliever, posting 1.1 fWAR and 1.3 bWAR. He, Sean Doolittle, and Roberto Osuna are the only players to reach at least 1 fWAR in fewer than 50 IPs. Perez tossed only 32.1. Is it because he appeared in 50 games do to his LOOGY status? No; he pitched 15 innings against right-handed hitters and did better against them than lefties.
  • Tyler Olson allowed an ERA of 4.94, but an xFIP of 2.94. Other players who appeared in relief and owned an ERA-xFIP delta greater than two points in the wrong direction include Evan Marshall, Dan Otero, Ben Taylor, Carlos Carrasco, Shane Bieber, Jeff Beliveau, Alexei Ogando Oliver Drake. Nick Goody gets an honorable mention at 1.5.
  • Because it is going to come up, Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith combined to pitch 100.1 innings of replacement-level baseball this season for a total of $16M.

This is a little all over the place; so was the bullpen. The aces we once relied upon — Andrew Miller and Cody Allen — weren’t effective this season due to injury and an inability to locate pitches.

Most of the pitchers we threw at this problem were shredded. Some, like Olson, Marshall, and Taylor, may be effective next season based on their peripheral numbers. Others, like Ogando, Beliveau, Cimber, Belisle, and Drake, forgot the face of their fathers and must be banished west from Gilead. I don’t think we have enough information from Cimber yet to make a decision; he may be a gunslinger yet.

The 2018 Cleveland Indians’ Bullpen by Gut Reaction

Hello darkness, my old friend.

I think it’s accurate to say we all felt as miserable and betrayed by the bullpen this year. Unlike the above scene from The Graduate, it felt like we faced darkness as an old friend over and over again.

That’s what feels most interesting to me as I write this retrospective. The numbers indicate that the bullpen struggled quite a bit in 2018, and some of this is attributable to bad luck, injuries, or arms melting after years of heavy (ab)use at the hands of Terry Francona. Some of it is also attributable to the lack of depth at the position within the organization. The picture this paints isn’t nearly as bad as the narrative that emerged over the course of the season. Imagine, for example, dealing with the Marlins’ bullpen every night. Or, horror of horrors, the Mets’.

What’s Next?

Moving forward we’re looking at Hand, Olson, Otero, Taylor, Edwards, and Ramirez. Oliver Perez is a free agent, Miller and Allen probably aren’t coming back, and who knows if Danny Salazar still exists in this dimension.

James Hoyt is on the roster, 32-years-old, I’ve never heard of him before, and he doesn’t even have a number.

Nick Sandlin and James Karinchak are the only minor league arms that come to mind that might make an impact in 2019 out of the bullpen.

Aaron Civale shifting to relief duty and rapidly ascending through the minors is a possibility, though for now the Indians intend to develop him as a starter. Triston McKenzie will probably get a cup of coffee at some point unless he gets annihilated at Triple-A Columbus, but that seems unlikely. And what on Earth do the Indians plan to do with Adam Plutko and Cody Anderson (who also may no longer exist in this dimension)?

Will someone like Shao-Ching Chang — also a starter — blow us away in Spring Training and earn a shot?

It feels like we’re ending 2018 in the same place we ended 2017, though last season we at least had confidence in two bullpen arms being elite. If the Indians plan to contend once again, they need to invest in the bullpen, but do it wisely. That isn’t easy. There isn’t any correlation between money spent on relievers in free agency and the value that they bring to a team. Picking up a handful of cheaper options once again and hoping one of them — see Fernando Rodney, Craig Stammen, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, or Oliver Perez — works out.

The other option is to engineer a trade for bullpen help. Again.

In a perfect world, both Danny Salazar and Cody Anderson will light up the radar gun this offseason and smoke hitters next spring, allowing the Indians to rebuild without doing anything at all.

So, yeah. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Positive Regression and Other Miracles.