Cleveland Indians 2014 vs. 2013: The Bullpen

USA TODAY Sports

Conclusion of a four-part series comparing the 2014 Indians to their 2013 counterparts. This week we explore the bullpen, which has to replace a lot of lost innings.

In the final installment of this four-part series, we'll conclude by looking at the bullpen. After reviewing the infield, outfield, and rotation, the bullpen is simultaneously one of the most and one of the least interesting pieces of the puzzle.

I find bullpens, in general, less interesting to project because there is so much variability. Over 40-70 innings, a lot can happen and oftentimes a bullpen can be made or broken by the vagaries of small sample sizes as much as by anything we can project in January. As you will see, I didn't include any of the non-roster invitees in the projection, but who knows what Matt Capps might find or what David Aardsma might rediscover.

This off-season, two of the biggest moves the Tribe made - signing John xford and trading for Josh utman - involve relievers. This exercise is intriguing in part because the Indians made a concerted effort to improve the pen.

As you look at the table, note that I only included the pitchers who threw 10+ innings in 2013 and/or are projected (by me) to throw that many this year. There were 47.2 innings thrown by 12 additional pitchers in 2013, ranging from 8.2 by Scott Barnes to 1.0 by Ryan Raburn (a shutout inning!). As a result, the innings in the table for 2014 won't perfectly match those from 2013.

We'll look at the same stats we did last week, and once again, I'll assume that the players with the better ZiPS projections will pitch more, at least among the bottom end of the pen.

Pitcher

'13 IP

'13 ERA

'13 K/9

'13 BB/9

'13 HR/9

'14 IP

'14 ERA

'14 K/9

'14 BB/9

'14 HR/9

Bryan Shaw

75

3.24

8.76

3.36

0.48

73

3.45

9.00

3.33

0.74

Cody Allen

70.1

2.43

11.26

3.33

0.90

69

3.39

10.7

3.52

0.91

Josh Outman

64.2

3.76

9.67

3.64

0.84

Marc Rzepczynski

20.1

0.89

8.85

2.66

0.44

61

4.13

7.23

3.69

0.89

John Axford

60

3.84

10.2

3.59

1.10

Vinnie Pestano

35.1

4.08

9.42

5.35

1.53

57

3.63

10.42

3.59

1.10

C.C. Lee

4.1

4.15

8.31

6.23

0.00

33.1

3.78

9.46

3.78

0.81

Nick Hagadone

31.1

5.46

8.62

6.03

1.15

25

4.53

9.05

5.16

0.97

Blake Wood

25

4.43

7.96

5.09

0.88

Joe Smith

63

2.29

7.71

3.29

0.71

Matt Albers

63

3.14

5.00

3.29

0.29

Chris Perez

54

4.33

9.00

3.50

1.83

Rich Hill

38.2

6.28

11.87

6.75

0.70

Carlos Carrasco

13.2

1.32

7.24

3.29

0.00

Total

516.2

3.62

8.72

3.85

0.87

468

3.78

9.42

3.76

0.89

AL Average

499

3.69

8.51

3.45

0.92

For those concerned that the additional innings will definitely be below average, keep in mind that last year's "less than 10 inning" club included 10 shut out innings from 5 pitchers and 10 more innings of 1.80 ERA from Corey Kluber and Joe Martinez.

Interestingly, ZiPS sees improved peripherals - more strikeouts, fewer walks, and about the same number of home runs - but a rise in ERA. This may be in part because last year the Indians outperformed their peripherals, posting a 3.79 FIP compared to that 3.62 ERA.

There are, however, a few areas where these stats do not tell the whole story:

  1. You really need your bullpen to excel in high leverage innings, and Chris Perez was not exactly a sure thing last year. If Axford blows 2-3 saves, instead of Perez's 5, it could swing a pennant race.
  2. ZiPS hasn't heard that Axford may have been tipping his pitches. If that is true and if it's behind him, there is a good chance that he'll outperform projections.
  3. Similarly, ZiPS doesn't know that the WBC may have completely thrown off Pestano's year.

The main reason for the drop is that while Axford was a nice addition, the loss of Joe Smith is huge. In addition, expecting Cody Allen to repeat his 2013 might be expecting too much. He very well might repeat that line - he certainly has the skill to do it - but it is not a given.

At the end of the day, I think the Indians pen will beat the ERA projection shown above, but still be a bit less effective overall than they were in 2013. That would put them right around league average. Hopefully they'll avoiding giving 30+ innings to guys with 5+ ERAs, and hopefully Terry Francona will be handing the ball over to a more dependable option in the 9th inning.

Conclusions

After our four-part series, what we see is a team that should hit about as well as it did last year, play improved defense, a rotation with potential but big question marks, and a bullpen that won't dominate but should be decent. On Monday, Jason posted projections showing the Indians at 85 wins, seven fewer than they had last year and five fewer than expected last year, based on runs scored and runs allowed.

In total, I don't think the Indians are likely to match the 92 wins from last year, but I also think 85 might be slightly low. I think the team has a similar offense, is a bit better in the field, but a bit worse on the mound and an expected record of 88-74 seems about right.

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