Bulls in the pen

Paul, over at the DiaTribe, did a nice breakdown of the Indians starting pitching options as they stand now just three weeks away from Spring Training.  I thought I'd try to provide something similar with the bullpen, which as we all know is good in odd number years for Cleveland and bad in even number years (so why bother, right?).

To begin, the relievers on the Indians 40-man roster at the moment (roughly in order from likely to close to least likely to make the 25-man roster):

  • Kerry Wood (R, 6'5" 210, 32.0 - app. age July 1, 2009)
  • Rafael Perez (L, 6'3" 195, 27.1)
  • Jensen Lewis (R, 6'3" 210, 25.1)
  • Rafael Betancourt (R, 6'2" 200, 34.2)
  • Joe Smith (R, 6'2" 210, 25.2)
  • Masa Kobayashi (R, 6'0" 195, 35.1)
  • Adam Miller (R, 6'4" 200, 24.5)
  • Ed Mujica (R, 6'2" 215, 25.1
  • Rich Rundles (L, 6'5" 210, 28.1)
  • John Meloan (R, 6'3" 230, 25.0)
  • Tony Sipp  (L, 6'0" 190, 26.0

The top 6 guys on that last are essentially guaranteed spots barring injury during spring training.  The battle for the final spot seems to be primarily between Mujica, Miller, Rundles and Meloan.  Mujica's spot on the roster is in the greatest jeopardy and might just get cut to make a space for Miller.  Given the noticeable absence of lefties, I wouldn't count out Rundles (who seems like a sure thing to spend at least some time in Cleveland during the season).

Bullpen performance is notoriously volatile, but we can at least look at what this group has and has not accomplished over the past several years.  Here is the same list with number of appearances/innings,  level, and FIP over each of the past three seasons, in order from 2006 to 2008.

  • Kerry Wood (4/19.2, 22/24.1, 65/66.1 - MLB - 4.12, 3.33, 3.26)
  • Rafael Perez (43/107, 52/107.1, 73/76.1 - AA/AAA/MLB, AAA/MLB, MLB - 3.25, 3.20 3.26)
  • Jensen Lewis (27/142.2, 60/81.1, 62/86 - A+/AA, AA/AAA/MLB, AAA/MLB - 3.75, 2.65, 4.50)
  • Rafael Betancourt (50/56.2, 68/79.1, 69/71.0 - MLB -  3.69, 2.29, 4.44)
  • Joe Smith (27/32.2, 62/53.1, 82/63.1 - A+/AA, AAA/MLB, MLB - 3.20, 3.90, 3.95)
  • Masa Kobayashi (2008 only - 57/55.2 - MLB - 4.59)
  • Adam Miller (27/159, 19/65.1, 6/28.2 - AA, AAA, AAA - 2.95, 3.06, 3.08)
  • Ed Mujica (32/51, 44/50.2, 51/64.2 - AAA/MLB - 2.40, 4.00, 4.00)
  • Rich Rundles (27/129.1, 40/61, 63/57.2 - AA, AA/AAA, AAA/MLB - 4.80, 3.55, 3.15)
  • John Meloan (21/52, 54/74 33/119.2 - A+/AA, AA/AAA/MLB, AAA/MLB - 2.00, 3.20, 4.50)
  • Tony Sipp  (29/60.1, 0/0, 21/29.1 - AA, 0, A+/AA - 1.94, 0, 3.20)

I posted the above mainly to give an overview of the workload/performance of these guys.  A number of the Indians key relievers are relatively recent conversions from starters to relievers.  Perez, Lewis and Rundles were at least part-time if not full time starters as recently as 2006.  As such, they've got a fair amount of innings workload behind them.  But they've also been used pretty heavily out of the bullpen the past two seasons.  Perez and newly acquired Joe Smith, who was used very situationally - but who logged 82 appearances last season, have been ridden especially hard.

We can also briefly look at peripherals.  In this case I'll list K%, BB% and GB%.  I prefer K% (K/PA) to K/9 because it gives a better indication of a pitchers likelihood of having a positive outcome any given AB.  For example, using K/9, you could look at Betancourt's numbers from the last 2 seasons (9.1, 8.1) and think there wasn't much of a drop-off.  The number is misleading, however, because of all the extra batters he faced last season because of walks and hits.  His actual K% dropped markedly from more than 27% to under 21%.

  • Kerry Wood (30.4, 6.5, 42.0)
  • Rafael Perez (27.5, 7.3, 58.0)
  • Jensen Lewis (18.5, 9.2, 36.5)
  • Rafael Betancourt (20.7, 8.1, 30.0)
  • Joe Smith (19.4, 11.2, 63.0)
  • Masa Kobayashi (14.3, 5.7, 52.0)
  • Adam Miller (2007 numbers - 23.8, 7.3, 53.0))
  • Ed Mujica (18.5, 7.0, 34.0)
  • Rich Rundles (27.1, 10.9, 50.0)
  • John Meloan (2007 numbers - 32.5, 10.9, 47.5)
  • Tony Sipp  (34.1, 8.1, 43.5)

Wood and Perez are studs.  It would be really nice to see Miller join them in that pairing.  Joe Smith induces tons of groundballs, something I hope Wedge recognizes everytime he leaves the starter in an inning too long and they proceed to walk the leadoff batter.  He, along with Rundles and Meloan, also walk a lot of guys - something to watch out for.  Kobayashi struggled to get guys to miss his pitches last year (something Lewis and Mujica haven't fully translated from AAA either), which hurt him.

One of the Indians challenges with the bullpen the past couple of seasons has been trying to be effective through craft rather than pure stuff.  Most of the Indians key bullpen guys get by with a fastball that hovers around 90 mph and a healthy dose of deception and control.  Perez's slider was really the most (arguably only) effective non-fastball pitch of the group, and no one really featured a power fastball.  This season's group at the very least brings in Wood's elite fastball (as well as slider and occasional curve), Smith's side-arm approach with both his fastball and slider, and also potentially Adam Miller's mid-90s fastball, power slider, and effective change.  On paper at least, the Indians have a much more diverse set of options coming out of the bullpen heading into 2009. One challenge will be the lack of an alternative lefty for Raffy P (FYI, bold pitches are used +40%, italicized between 20-40%, and normal 5-20% via fangraphs).

  • Kerry Wood (FB [93-95], SL [82-84], CB [79-81])
  • Rafael Perez (FB [88-90], SL [82-84])
  • Jensen Lewis (FB [88-90], SL [80-82], CH [80-81)
  • Rafael Betancourt (FB [91-92], SL [81-82], CH [83-84])
  • Joe Smith (FB [87-90], SL [78-81])
  • Masa Kobayashi (FB [90-91], SL [85-86], CH [83-84])
  • Ed Mujica (FB [90-92], SL [81-82], CB [78-80], SF [85-87]

Clearly I'm eager for some baseball to start.  I'm not sure what any of this means except that I am pretty optimistic about the Indians bullpen going into the season.  I think injury concerns are real throughout the bullpen, but if people stay healthy, Wedge has a lot more different looks he can throw at the opposing team than he has had in...well...ever.

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