The 2014 Cleveland Indians will head into their second season under the tutelage of Terry Francona with an improved bullpen. Vinnie Pestano’s rebirth to the Bullpen Mafia will aid the Tribe in the wake of losing both Joe Smith and Chris Perez.
After a winter cleaning of sorts, pitching coach Mickey Callaway’s bullpen has a much different feel this season with three left-handed pitchers sitting out in right-center of Progressive Field. In 2013 the group amassed a fielder independent pitching of 3.79, tied for 11th in the American League. Due to a poor first half of starting pitching, the pen was overworked for most of the year at fourth in the AL with 516.2 total innings.
Free agent right-hander Joe Smith cashed in on his stellar performances from the past three seasons, signing with the Los Angeles Angels for three years, $15.75 million. The sidearm hurler will earn $5.25 million annually for a bullpen in need of several new faces. Cleveland will be without their seventh inning setup man who averaged a FIP of 3.34 since 2011. A healthy and hungry Pestano could surely be a suitor to fill that void, spending extra attention this spring on his four-seam fastball (89 mph) control to regain his dominance of fanning batters.
John Axford was brought in to clean up the mess Chris Perez created during the middle of last season, including drug charges and a number of blown saves in critical September games. Axford’s one-year deal worth $4.5 million is an improvement in the closer role, both financially and productivity-wise. Pitching in relief for the Cardinals last October, Axford gave up one earned run in 5.2 innings of work. He brings 281 games of career experience in 273.3 innings pitched. The 6-foot-5 30-year-old will look to increase his strikeout totals from a down year in 2013 heavily relying on his four-seam fastball (96 mph).
The one-year acquisition of Josh Outman presents a number of interesting possibilities for Francona to mix and match late in games. Outman, 29, has encountered his bumps in the road with the Colorado Rockies, but his face value statistics don’t do him any justice. The left-hander’s 2013 ERA (4.33) is highly misleading as he accumulated a FIP of 3.22, a stat that applies league-average fielding on an ERA scale. Uncharacteristically high numbers in the Mile High City could also be the product of an offensively encouraging environment at Coors Field.
Francona will likely use Outman profoundly against lefty hitters as his 2013 splits against left-handers will turn heads, surrendering a batting average of .198, .278 on-base percentage and a .261 slugging percentage. Between 2008-2014 (both MLB regular season and spring training), over nine percent of Outman’s career 4,215 pitches have been located low and away from lefties.
In 2013, Cleveland dished out $15.2 million for the services of Perez, Smith, Matt Albers, Rich Hill, Bryan Shaw, Pestano, Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone. That number comes down considerably in 2014 to $9.55 million for the time cards of Axford, Marc Rzepczynski, Outman, Pestano, Allen, Hagadone and Shaw (pre-arbitration eligible). The 2014 figure excludes Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin, two candidates for the fifth rotation spot who are also contenders for the pen as well.
Below shows the 2014 ZiPS for the projected Opening Day Indians bullpen. ZiPS are among the top player-projection systems in mapping out future statistics. ZiPS make projections from four years of data (three for older players) using weighted averages. Baseball Work Factory coined the statistic.