By: Chris Larson
The Cleveland Indians used to be a team that was built around solid starting pitching and a phenomenal bullpen. So phenomenal that their bullpen finished last season as the best pen in all of baseball and a lot of that was thanks to the outstanding, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, along with guys like Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith.
Fast forward to this season and the Cleveland Indians find themselves in a completely opposite predicament and with a bullpen that has many leaks, to the point where manager, Terry Francona, and his staff, have lost some trust in the pen and are afraid of what the outcome will look like. Some of that might be because of the absence of the aforementioned, Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith, both of whom hit free agency after last season, but you could also point to right around the time when, Andrew Miller, went on the DL as being another potential reason.
Heading into play today, the Indians currently have the worst bullpen in all of baseball with a cumulative ERA of 5.68 over 109.1 IP. Digging a little deeper, just so far this month, Indians relievers have combined for a 12.40 ERA over 33.4 IP. Furthermore, Cleveland's bullpen has recorded 46 earned runs so far this month. Last season, when the Indians finished with the best bullpen in all of baseball, they recorded 157 earned runs. Again, there were a couple of different faces in the bullpen, but they've almost recorded 29% of the total earned runs they had, ALL of last year, in the month of May and we still have 15 days left before June 1st!
So with all of that being said, what potential cures can the Indians turn to in an effort to try and find a resolution to their current bullpen woes? The answer isn't going to be easy and you can't simply say that the Indians need to immediately go out and make a trade or two for relief help because that's just not going to happen. Many teams aren't quite in the position to declare themselves as buyers or sellers, as many are still trying to evaluate their current 25-man roster and determine that answer, so that means that trying to make a trade in May is extremely hard.
Therefore, the Indians are going to have to try to find in-house solutions for now or look for guys who they can continue to sign to minor-league deals in hopes of those individuals making an impact at the big league level. Again, certainly not an easy task, but it's not like there hasn't been a team before that hasn't done something similar to this and found lightning in a bottle basically. For instance, the Orioles and Pirates are two teams that seem to find ways to find under-the-radar relievers from other teams on the cheap and watch them become significant impact relievers for the big league club. The same can be done for the Indians if they find the right guy and determine that he is better than the options they currently have in the organization.
If no match can be found, then the Indians are left with in-house solutions for now until the trade deadline gets closer and they start to get an idea of what the landscape could look like as well as who may or may not be available come that time. As is the case every year, there should be a copious amount of relievers up for grabs, it's just making the right deal at the right time and finding a trade that works for both teams involved.
One potential in-house solution would be 28-year old, right-hander, Louis Head. Head is currently on the disabled list, but put up very good numbers last season, finishing the year with a 3.23 ERA over 61.1 innings of work along with 7 saves over 10 save opportunities. Depending on the severity of Head's injury, he could be a potential solution for the Tribe even though his ERA this year isn't that attractive. Through 11.2 innings pitched, Head has a 13.89 ERA along with an Opponent Batting Average Against of .377, but some of those struggles might be attributed to the injury that landed him on the DL, meaning that he is worth a potential look once he returns.
Another potential option currently with the Indians organization is 23-year old, right-hander, Cam Hill. Hill finished the year in Triple-A last season, but spent a majority of it down in Double A where he put up a 3.18 ERA over 62.1 IP. Once he got called up to Triple-A last season, he finished the year with a 0.00 ERA over 2 innings of work. As is the case with Louis Head, Cam Hill also has experience closing out games with 13 saves over 15 save opportunities, last season. However, he is active and could be added to the roster, if the Indians determined he would be the right fit.
If those two options aren't good enough, then Cleveland will need to rely on options that they called up earlier in the year in Ben Taylor, Alexi Ogando, and Adam Plutko. Plutko is a starter, but during the one start that he made this year, he pitched 7 and 1/3 innings, while giving up 3 runs and recording 6 strikeouts. On the other hand, Ben Taylor had a 2.70 ERA over 3 relief appearances with an Opponent Batting Average Against of .167, at the big league level. Finally, Alexi Ogando has had a mixed year of results so far. In 1 relief outing for the Indians earlier this month, Ogando recorded a 18.00 ERA, but through five starts in the minor leagues, Ogando has a 3.68 ERA over 22.0 IP with 16 strikeouts.
Either way, those five names are potential options for the Indians moving forward, but they will likely need to add a name or two to the bullpen from outside of the organization as the trade deadline gets closer, if they wish to put away the division and play deep into October, like many of us expect. Cleveland could always elect to have Danny Salazar pitch out of the bullpen as well down the stretch, once he returns from the Disabled List, which could be a valuable late-inning, strikeout weapon for the Tribe. Salazar had mixed results as a starter and some have mentioned the possibility of turning him into a reliever which could end up being one way to make him valuable again.
It's unclear if the Cleveland Indians miss having Mickey Callaway as their pitching coach or if there is just a different funk in the bullpen this year, but you have to hope that the Indians figure out a cure or two for their bullpen before it's too late and they find themselves sitting out of the postseason. While a trade or two isn't likely right now, now is the time for Cleveland to play for a World Series Championship and that means that the organization needs to be doing everything it can to find the right solution and get this bullpen on track again.