Bullpen bingo

The 2009 Cleveland Indians had a horrendous bullpen.  Part of this was due to a lack of legitimate replacement options in Columbus and Akron, necessitating the use of guys like Aquino, Chulk, Herges and Swindle.  Seemingly related to this was an organizational decision to transition a number of upper-level, second-tier minor league pitchers from starting rotation roles to bullpen roles.  Many minor league pitchers who can't cut it in the rotation end up in the bullpen, but the movement last year in the Indians organization seemed to suggest something more than the natural development of minor league pitchers.  Each of the four pitchers listed below started a majority of their appearances in 2008, and made most of their appearances last season out of the bullpen.  They are also all candidates to begin 2010 in Columbus and are therefore fair game for the major league bullpen at some point.

Zach Putnam was perhaps the most high profile starter to reliever transition.  Drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 draft, Putnam was a candidate to either hit or pitch, but made his debut with Cleveland as a starter with an effective four-pitch arsenal.  The Indians made the decision to move him to the bullpen to accelerate his development in the organization and perhaps add a little life to his mid-90s fastball.  He ended up spending most of his 2009 in Akron (56.2 innings, 24 innings at Kinston) with reasonable success.  He showed pretty decent K-rates (23-24%), ok walk-rates (7.3 in Akron, 5.2 in Kinston), and great HR numbers (2 in Akron, 1 in Kinston) thanks to a solid GB-rate (53%). His adjusted FIP for the season, 2.89, suggests the potential Putnam shows after just his first full season.

Frank Herrmann might be the first in this group to see time in Cleveland.  Herrmann entered the 2009 season as a reliable low-K, low-BB, innings eater starter.  After making 26 starts in three consecutive seasons and beginning the season with 5 starts in Akron, Cleveland promoted Herrmann to Columbus and moved him to the bullpen, where he made 44 appearances across the remainder of the season.  The result was that Herrmann produced nearly identical numbers as a reliever as he did as a starter.  Low K-rates (~16%), excellent BB-rates (4.1%), and, like Putnam, excellent HR numbers (3 in 76 innings).  Herrmann isn't your typical exciting reliever given his underwhelming stuff, but I think he is an ideal long-reliever.  He can pitch multiple innings, come into a game and throw strikes, and not give up homeruns.  I think he'll be in Cleveland at some point during 2010.

Steven Wright was possibly the best reliever in Akron's impressive 2009 bullpen.  After starting 55 games in 2007 and 2008, Wright pitched more than 81 innings, mostly out of the pen.  Like Herrmann, the transition to the bullpen seemingly made no difference for Wright.  His K-rate (19.2%) and BB-rate (5.6%), both pretty decent, were virtually unchanged from his 2008 numbers.  Wright topped both Putnam and Herrmann in only giving up a single HR in 2009.  Wright is probably the best sleeper candidate for the 2010 bullpen.

Carlton Smith is probably better known as the brother of former failed Tribe prospect Corey Smith, than as a prospect in his own right.  And his 2008 numbers; 26 starts in Kinston, 13.1% K-rate, 5.3% BB-rate, 4.37 ERA, probably wouldn't do much to change that.  But in 2009 he switched to Akron's bullpen where his K-rate went down (12.3%) and BB-rate went up (7.1%).  The reason I list him here though is that 60% of his balls in play were GBs.  That's a good number, and one which, if Smith can harness effectively, could make him a valuable situational reliever.

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