Your left arm is broken, you’re missing three fingers on your right hand, and your legs are so tired that you can hardly walk. But you also want really want to get to Wal-Mart and hit up that Red Box and rent Ferdinand on Blu-Ray. No, you can’t not rent Ferdinand on Blu-Ray, you have to do it.
Now find a way to make it there without stumbling into traffic and getting run over. Good luck.
That’s what it feels like Terry Francona is going through right now trying to manage the Cleveland Indians bullpen. In this case, I mean “manage” as in “manage the bullpen effectively,” and “manage” as in “manage not to strangle everyone in the bullpen.”
It’s been a total disaster since Andrew Miller went down with a hamstring injury on April 25, which should seem like a no-brainer — you lose your best player at a given position, things at that position are going to haywire. But Miller has been injured before and things didn’t get this apocalyptic.
You may recall last July, Miller was struggling. Relatively speaking, of course. He still carried a 1.67 ERA and 2.10 FIP heading into August, but final starts of July were peppered with the occasional hit or walk and even a few runs — something Andrew Miller is pretty good at avoiding. He eventually hit the disabled list with patellar tendonits and the bullpen was put through a big test throughout most of August. And by all accounts, they weren’t that bad. Anchored by Bryan Shaw’s seven innings of work, they pitched 32.2 innings and finished with a 3.91 ERA before their bearded leader returned to the field.
In 2018, however, things have gone a bit... worse. The innings pitched from the first game after Miller’s disabled list entry on April 26 to today are almost identical (31.7), but the bullpen has allowed 38 (!!!) runs for an earned run average of 10.79. Without Bryan Shaw there to soak up seven innings and 106 total pitches, Terry Francona has had to completely tax his closer, Cody Allen, and rely heavily on guys like Zach McAllister, Matt Belisle, and Alexi Ogando. To pile on top of that, even the guys who have been reliable over the past two years — Dan Otero, Tyler Olson, and Nick Goody — have struggled mightily.
Here’s a look at how the 2017 bullpen performed as a group from August 5 (the first time a bullpen arm was needed after Miller’s injury) and August 17 (the day before his return):
Indians bullpen without Andrew Miller (2017)
This is your last chance to look away before I post the 2018 table ok here it goes too late you can’t look away now.
Indians bullpen without Andrew Miller (2018)
Now, of course, this is a microscopic sample size of only a handful of games in both instances, so it’s important to not draw sweeping conclusions from results. What we can look at, however, is reliever usage. And with that in mind, it’s hard not to see a pretty obvious hole in the second set of numbers compared to the first.
Bryan Shaw, the perennial workhouse of the bullpen under Terry Francona, picked up the slack big time from his fellow relievers when Miller went down in ‘17, throwing 106 pitches (roughly 19 percent of the total pitches by the bullpen in the Miller-less era) and he only allowed two runs. Combine that with Joe Smith’s 66 pitches (who is now a Baltimore Oriole), and that’s over 30 percent of the total pitches used to make up the gap left by Andrew Miller wiped out in free agency.
I do understand the thinking in not bringing back Shaw or Smith, though. In theory, if Andrew Miller doesn’t go down with an injury the bullpen might be fine. I can get behind the thinking that you don’t want to pay Bryan Shaw $9 million for the next three years as a contingency plan for Miller getting injured over the course of this season. But it just so happens that he went down, and it also just so happens that the entire bullpen is shitting the bed at the same time, and it just so happens the Indians have had a crazy streak of games, including an extra-innings double header and more than one game that required heavy bullpen usage. It’s the perfect storm of everything wrong happening at the wrong time.
I will say that Terry Francona’s penchant for leaving relievers in until they give up exactly one hit in the final inning is a little strange, and probably hasn’t helped matters. He did it with Alexi Ogando in his only outing against the New York Yankees when he opted to bring in Cody Allen only after Ogando gave up a lead-off double. He could have just rode Ogando down in flames and preserve some other arms, but instead he brought in his closer — who as we see above is already throwing way more pitches than he should — to waste 14 more pitches before the inevitable loss.
To answer my own post title: I don’t know, everything? It’s hard to really point blame at one thing. Tito’s managing hasn’t been perfect, but his limbs are hardly functional and that Blu-Ray of Ferdinand is really far away. It would have been nice for Dan Otero, Tyler Olson, Zach McAllister, or literally anyone to step up, but none of them were ever Bryan Shaw or Andrew Miller to begin with. It feels like everything in the baseball world just hates the Indians right now with how many games they’ve played at a time when it would have been nice to have a day or three or four off, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.
With any luck, today’s day off and Andrew Miller’s return hopefully sometime this week will be enough to bring this unit back from the dead in time to sync up with the offense hitting its stride and we’ll ourselves a ball club.