I should immediately admit to being biased about this subject. When I began writing an article comparing the bullpens of the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, I approached the topic with limited knowledge of one and a deep appreciation of the other. I strongly assumed K.C. would prove to have the clear advantage in this regard, but I quickly realized Cleveland quietly amassed a strong bullpen with equal opportunities for error and success.
This noteworthy crew of relievers was assembled despite the loss of two important contributors from last season. Fans in Ohio probably cringed at the loss of Joe Smith, but response to the loss of former closer Chris Perez was, uh, mixed. I won’t talk about that guy any more. I don’t think the article counts toward my quota if I reach the word limit with only crass but enjoyable insults.
Smith recorded a 2.29 ERA in 63 innings of relief for Cleveland last year. The only lower ERA from an Indian with more than five innings pitched that year was posted by a late addition to the roster with a still-small sample size. After Cleveland acquired former St. Louis Cardinals reliever Mark Rzepczynksi at the end of July, the unfortunately-named lefty allowed only two runs in 20 1-3 innings as an Indian. I had to look at his last name four times before typing it once.
Former Royal Blake Wood can largely be considered a new-comer as well, despite two late-season appearances with Cleveland in 2013. His preseason numbers are impressive enough to simultaneously excite the Indians and frustrate the Royals, who waived the promising 28-year-old after 2013 Tommy John surgery. In 9.2 innings this spring, Wood struck out 11 and recorded a 0.93 ERA.
Other contributors hope to improve upon posting sub-3.50 ERA’s last year, including potential setup men Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. Both pitchers have posted numbers very similar to last year’s output during their outings this spring. Vinnie Pestano, whose ups-and-downs from last year were well-documented, will rival the new closer as this year’s Wild Card in Cleveland’s bullpen. Either one could arguably project to struggle or excel.
That unpredictability from two crucial contributors is perhaps the only reason I can give the Royals the slight advantage when comparing bullpens. K.C.’s relief pitching proved itself over and over last year, but I won’t be surprised to see both teams’ bullpens keep them in the playoff hunt deep into the 2013 season. Additional comparisons that are soon to come should shed light on whether the rest of Cleveland’s roster can get them to that point or not.