Tribe Bullpen Will Need Revamping

One of the strengths of the Cleveland Indians the past several years has been their bullpen, but right now it could have a revamped look in 2018.

Sure, the back end of the relief corps is still anchored by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, which means the 8th and 9th innings are taken care of.

The problem right now is the bridge between the starting pitchers and that dynamic duo for the last two innings.

Terry Francona has lost one of his main guys in rubberarmed Bryan Shaw, and another reliever who came aboard at the trade deadline a year ago, Joe Smith, will also not be back.

On a lesser note, Shawn Armstrong, who was kind of the swing guy between the big leagues and AAA a year ago, was traded to Seattle.

Francona said at the end of last season that it may take two pitchers to take the place of Shaw, who appeared in an American League leading 79 games in ’17, and has led the AL in games pitched in three of the last four seasons.

It is hard to see the replacements for Shaw and Smith on the current roster.

Nick Goody, picked up in a minor deal with the Yankees about a year ago, is probably the next hurler on Tito’s pecking order.  Goody was 1-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 54-2/3 innings in 2017.  He did strikeout 72 hitters last year, so he has swing and miss stuff.

Dan Otero is a guy Francona leans on early in games, so perhaps he could used in the 6th and 7th innings.  The righty was 3-0 with a 2.85 ERA in ’17, but he is more of a sinkerballer with only 38 whiffs in 60 innings.

Zack McAllister is another option, but Francona seems to be hesitant to use him in high leverage situations because he’s basically a one pitch pitcher.

Perhaps Danny Salazar, with his electric stuff and durability issues, can be moved to the bullpen, but no one knows how his arm will react to this change in roles, and can he be effective over the long haul.

There doesn’t seem to be any in the minor leagues ready to step in and contribute either, but then again, no one saw Goody as a legitimate option heading into spring training.

We are sure the front office is looking at either a deal or free agent options for the ‘pen too.

Since the current management team has been in place, the Tribe has found guys like Scott Atchison, Otero, and Goody in free agency or in minor deals, and they have provided great help in relief.

We mentioned former Indians’ farmhand Hector Rondon previously as an option. He had closer experience with the Cubs.

However, until the replacements have success when the games count for real in April, you have to wonder about them.

And you have to wonder if and when they gain Tito’s trust.  The skipper has a clear pecking order in his bullpen with certain guys pitching when the Tribe has a late lead, and the rest being relegated to pitching when the Indians are behind.

Based on the performance of the front office over the past five seasons, we have trust they will find arms to replace Shaw and Smith.

But there will certainly be a different dynamic in the Cleveland bullpen next season.  New relief toys for Terry Francona.

MW

 

 

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More Tribe Decisions: Kipnis, Gomes, Shaw.

Last week, we wrote about the dilemma the Cleveland Indians have surrounding the club option they hold on Michael Brantley, and the free agency of Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce.

There are also other decisions that need to be made regarding the make up of next year’s roster for the Tribe.

The first involves longtime Indian Jason Kipnis.  Kipnis is scheduled to take a huge jump in pay in 2018, a $4.5 million raise, and he’s coming off an injury plagued poor season, hitting just .232 (705 OPS) with 12 home runs last season.

It appears by their actions at the end of the season that Kipnis no longer is the Indians’ second baseman either.  When the veteran returned from a hamstring issue in September, he moved to centerfield, with Jose Ramirez staying at second.

So, with Bradley Zimmer seemingly the incumbent in center, and a likely platoon (if Bruce doesn’t return) in rightfield of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer, if Brantley does return in ’18, where does that leave Kipnis?

Many have speculated that Kipnis will be dealt, but with the off year in ’17, a deal this winter will not bring the return the club would receive with a bounce-back season next summer.

So, it looks right now like the front office will be forced to choose between Brantley and Kipnis.  Certainly not what they thought when the two signed contract extensions prior to the 2014 season.

The third player inked at that time and identified as a core piece was catcher Yan Gomes.

Gomes had a stellar ’14 season, hitting .278 (785 OPS) with 21 homers and winning the Silver Slugger Award.

Since then, it’s been all downhill.  Injuries haunted the catcher in 2015 and 2016, with his offense all but disappearing in the latter year (.167 batting average, 527 OPS).

He rebounded a bit last season (.232, 14 HR, 56 RBI), but seemed to lose playing time down the stretch to Roberto Perez, a better pitch framer.

Gomes is still a very good defensive catcher with a plus arm, and could be a significant trade chip to a team looking for stability at the catching position.

If the organization wants to give Perez the bulk of the playing time going forward, Gomes could be a player who can bring something very valuable in return.  We believe that will be the direction the front office is going in.

Bryan Shaw is also a free agent this off-season.  For all the back and forth between his fans and critics, Shaw is durable and dependable, leading the AL in appearances three of the last four years.

With the bullpen craze the sport has seen in recent years, Shaw is going to get paid.

We would be interested in keeping him at a reasonable deal, but we feel another team is going to make him an unbelievable offer.

And with the wear and tear on the right-hander’s arm, it’s a risk to sign him long term.

Our fear is Shaw could follow the same career path as Scott Linebrink, who appeared in 70+ games from 2004-08 with San Diego and Milwaukee.  The veteran went to the White Sox in 2009 and never had the same effectiveness, and was out of baseball at age 35.

Again, as a non-large market team, the Indians can’t afford to be paying a lot of money to someone who cannot contribute to the major league team.

With the World Series ending this week, these decisions will have to be made as early as this weekend.

Coming off an 102 win season and a division title, the Tribe front office has some tough calls to make.

MW

 

Doesn’t Look Like Tribe Did Enough In Trade Market (At Least For Now)

The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went yesterday, and the Cleveland Indians did make one trade, sending two minor leaguers to Toronto for reliever Joe Smith, who will be making his second stint with the Tribe.

Smith, who played for the Indians from 2009-13, compiling a 2.76 ERA and three saves in that period, is a quality relief pitcher.  His lifetime ERA is under 3.00 (2.95), and he is having a great season, with 51 strikeouts in 35 innings this year.

However, being a sidearmer, he is extremely effective against right handed hitters, holding them to an OPS of 588 and a .215 batting average.

Against left-handed hitters, the OPS against is 708, and this year that figure is 749, so he is more like a ROOGY, which will benefit the bullpen, but is that the biggest need for the relief corps.

Our biggest concern, which we discussed in the last post, is the overuse of Andrew Miller, and we don’t see how getting Smith remedies that.

When Smith was a member of Terry Francona’s bullpen in 2013, the only year they were together, he drew the later inning work, with Bryan Shaw working earlier.  Basically, Shaw took Smith’s spot when he departed in free agency following the season.

So, will Francona trust Smith is late inning situations again?

If he does, that will ease the burden on Shaw, Miller, and Cody Allen in the late innings of close games that the Indians are winning.

Francona can say anything he wants, but it is clear there is a pecking order in the bullpen, and when the Tribe has the lead late, he goes to that trio, pretty much on an exclusive basis.

There still is a pressing need for another left-hander, and perhaps Tyler Olson can fill that bill, but do you really think Tito would trust him to get Eric Hosmer out in a key game against Kansas City later this month?

Another factor with Smith is the health of his right arm.  He spent some time on the disabled list earlier in the year with inflammation in his shoulder.

The trust factor is another reason we are surprised GM Mike Chernoff didn’t strengthen the bench as well.

Right now, with Jason Kipnis on the shelf, Francona’s options are Erik Gonzalez, who has a terrible strikeout to walk ratio, or Giovanny Urshela, who is struggling to hit at all.

When Kipnis is back, Gonzalez will return to his utility role, but would the skipper and/or the fans feel comfortable having to put him in to pinch hit if the need was there?

We are all for playing young players, but in a pennant race, wouldn’t you rather have an experienced guy who can hit and can handle the strike zone?

We understand that it takes two to tango, and the Cleveland front office could’ve been eager to make a move, but if other teams were steadfast in wanting Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie, we would have passed as well.

Still, it seems like the organization is putting a lot of faith in the return of Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall.  Unfortunately, Kipnis has struggled all year and quite frankly, we don’t know what he will do when he returns.

They also seem to be putting a lot of faith in Danny Salazar’s last two starts.

You try to eliminate as many of the possible weak spots on your roster when making a playoff run, and we aren’t sure the Indians did that.

Hopefully, there are some moves to come in August.

MW

 

Tribe Needs Bullpen Help To Ease Miller’s Workload

Terry Francona likes to say when you think you have too much pitching, you go out and get more.

That holds true today, because even though the Indians lead the American League in team ERA, team president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff are probably looking for more arms before tomorrow’s trading deadline.

The return of Danny Salazar to form should ease the need for another starting pitcher, and eventually, either Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, or Mike Clevinger will go to the bullpen, but another top notch bullpen arm would help the Indians going forward.

It is pretty obvious that when the Tribe has the lead, Francona has confidence in just three guys, closer Cody Allen, rubber armed Bryan Shaw, and the ultimate relief weapon, Andrew Miller.

Two games this week demonstrated this.

Thursday, with Miller and Shaw unavailable due to usage over the past few days, the skipper went with Trevor Bauer for eight innings and over 110 pitches rather than bring someone out of the group that includes Zack McAllister, Nick Goody, and Dan Otero.

And Bauer was pitching in a 2-1 game.

Bauer thrives on throwing so the pitch count wasn’t the issue it might be for others, but it is hard to imagine Tito staying with his starting into the 8th had Miller or Shaw been available.

The next night, Cleveland had a 9-2 lead after six when Salazar was removed from the game.  The Tribe won it, 9-3, but McAllister (7th), Goody (8th), and Shawn Armstrong (9th) all had difficulty recording outs, and the latter two ended the inning in bases loaded situations.

Look, the Indians have post-season aspirations, and they currently lead the AL Central by three games, the concern is keeping the primary relievers fresh for September and October, and that’s why they could use an extra arm in the ‘pen that Francona will trust.

Shaw leads the AL in games pitched with 49.  This isn’t a shock, as he routinely is in the top five in the league in appearances.  He is blessed with that kind of arm, and in spite of the social media critics when he fails, which isn’t often, he gets the job done.

Allen has made just 42 appearances and usually pitches one inning. He has the traditional closer role, and does it quite well.  He has only 19 saves, because the Indians win a lot of games in blowout fashion.

The concern is Miller, and Francona is always talking about reducing his work load, but then he can’t help himself.  The guy is that good.

He has been in 45 games, pitching 53-1/3 innings, ranking 5th in the AL in innings for relievers.

Last night, he threw almost 30 pitches, and our guess is he will tell Tito he can go today, but with a tough schedule coming up this week (at Boston for three, New York at home for four), he should get the day off.

That’s why the Indians needs another arm out there, to lessen Miller’s load.

With Boone Logan likely out for the year, the Indians need another southpaw.  They also need a reliever that can get right-handed and left-handed hitters out.

That would also allow Francona to shorten games even more, particularly in the post-season.

We believe getting another reliever is the primary goal of the front office before tomorrow afternoon at 4 PM.

It could make all the difference going forward for the Cleveland Indians.

MW

Tribe Simply Ran Out Of Gas

Going into the playoffs, we felt it would be very difficult for the Cleveland Indians to succeed because of the loss of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

However, Terry Francona did a masterful job of post-season managing, relying heavily on his excellent bullpen headed by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and ably backed up by Bryan Shaw.

That trio, along with ace starter Corey Kluber soaked up the majority of the innings in the playoffs, and they performed magnificently…until last night.

They will deny it, but it appears those four arms simply ran out of gas, and the Chicago Cubs big hitters got hot in the last two games, while the Indians’ big bats could never get it going.

We should never forget the performance of Kluber, Miller, and Allen in particular during this run.  Miller, in particular, showed every baseball fan that he might just be the best reliever in the game, and that Allen is damn good.

Dexter Fowler, Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo wore Cleveland pitchers out in games six and seven, while Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli hit some balls hard, but with no result.

As a result, the longest championship drought in major league baseball is over, and it has been replaced by the Tribe, who will enter next year having it be 69 years since the last time the franchise has won the World Series.

It didn’t help that the weather kind of conspired against the Indians too.  The unseasonably warm evening caused the jet stream going out to centerfield and right center which aided balls hit by the Cubs.

The Indians didn’t hit any fly balls in that direction.

To our eye, the home runs hit by Fowler (to lead off the game) and David Ross didn’t appear to be dingers off the bat, and Wilson Contreras’ double off the wall fooled Rajai Davis as well.

And the fly ball Davis caught in the tenth off the bat of Bryant looked like a routine fly ball at the time and that ball carried to the wall.

Perhaps, the result would have been different if the temperature was 20 degrees cooler.

The Tribe had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth against an obviously tired Aroldis Chapman, but they couldn’t even get a man on base.

That doesn’t temper the tremendous comeback to tie the game after trailing 5-1 in the fifth.  Two runs scoring on a wild pitch by Jon Lester.

And then the epic 8th inning, with a big double by Brandon Guyer, and the tremendous two run homer by Rajai Davis, which rocked Progressive Field to its core.

While the Indians are a young team, and should be contenders for the next few years, you can’t count on a repeat berth in the World Series next year because of the three tiered playoff system.

There’s no guarantee they will be back, and all the organization can do is put the Tribe in a position to win the AL Central again in 2017.  That gets you back in the post-season tournament.

We will analyze what the Indians should do with the roster going forward at another time, when yesterday’s loss doesn’t sting so much.  We will say that post-season performance shouldn’t figure into those decisions.

There was no goat for the Cleveland Indians in this series.  The pitchers that they leaned on so much in October simply ran out of gas.  The injuries finally took their toll.

MW

 

 

 

Tribe’s New Bullpen Order

We have been chronicling the Indians’ bullpen issues all year long.  There were numerous games where Cleveland led or were tied after six innings, only to lose the game late.

There were also several times where the offense came back to tie the contest, only to lose in the end.

It’s why we kept insisting that the relief corps was the top priority to address heading into the trade deadline on August 1st.

Of course, the front office did just that, getting perhaps the game’s best fireman, Andrew Miller from the Yankees.

It is the southpaw’s versatility that is the reason we call him the best reliever in the sport.  He’s not just a closer, a guy to get the last three outs of a game, sometimes with a three run lead.  He is open to be used anytime, and Terry Francona has obliged him in that regard.

The big lefty has struck out 93 hitters in 56 innings, and the skipper has used him to close, as well as in the sixth inning of one game.

When the situation is there and the opposition’s best hitters are in the way, it seems that Miller is the guy Francona is relying on, and that is perfectly fine.

That’s why it was curious to see Tito use Cody Allen in the ninth Sunday against the Blue Jays in a one run game.

Another reason Miller is so effective is his control.  He throws strikes.  In addition to the 90 strikeouts, he has walked just eight batters.  He has faced 206 batters this season, and has been behind in the count 17 times.

Cody Allen still seems to get most of the closing opportunities, and he has been very good.  The blown save last week vs. Chicago was only his third in 27 chances.  That’s very good.

But where Allen can be frustrating is in his nibbling.  That, or perhaps his stuff moves so much, it’s difficult to throw strikes.

This was issue Sunday, when he appeared to not want to be aggressive with Josh Donaldson.  If Donaldson hits one out, it’s a tie game.  If he walks the reigning AL MVP, he brings Edwin Encarnacion, who has belted 34 homers, to the plate with a chance to give Toronto the lead.

Allen has an excellent strikeout to innings pitched ratio too, fanning 68 in 52-1/3 innings.  But he was walked 23 batters.

He has been behind in the count 39 times in the 209 hitters he has faced.  For some reason, that seems like it should be higher.

The point here isn’t that Allen isn’t a very good reliever, it’s just that he’s not the best one currently on the staff.

And if Francona has to use Allen in the ninth inning because he used Miller against the opponent’s best hitters in the 7th or 8th, that should be a comforting feeling.  Allen is that good.

However, if it’s the ninth inning and Miller is rested and hasn’t been used, he should be the guy on the mound.  Because he’s the best bullpen guy on the squad.

Also, add in a more rested Bryan Shaw to the mix and you have the type of ‘pen that makes it imperative for opponents in the playoffs (assuming the Tribe is there) to have a lead after six frames.

With Shaw, Miller, and Allen waiting, their chances to score won’t be very good.

KM

 

 

 

Tribe’s Tale of Bullpen Woes

The Cleveland Indians have one of the best records in Major League Baseball, currently sitting at 56-41 on the season.

That mark is one game behind the Baltimore Orioles for the best mark in the AL.

You have to wonder what people would be thinking about the Tribe if not for the bullpen problems that have plagued them this season.

Here is the list of games where the relief corps have failed Terry Francona–

Game #4, April 9th:  White Sox 7, Indians 3.  Yan Gomes’ 7th inning home run off Chris Sale gave the Tribe a 3-2 lead.  Bryan Shaw gave up three hits to plate two runs, and then gave up a three run homer to Avisail Garcia.

Game #13, April 21st:  Mariners 10, Indians 7.  Mike Napoli’s dramatic two out, two run homer tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but Cody Allen walked two in the top of the tenth, before allowing a three run jack to Robinson Cano.

Game #17, April 25th:  Twins 4, Indians 3.  Gomes’ homered in the 8th tied the game at 3, before Zach McAllister served up a solo shot to Oswaldo Arcia to lead off the bottom of the ninth.

Game #18, April 26th:  Twins 6, Indians 5.  Another homer, this one by Napoli with two out in the top of the ninth, tied it up, only to see Allen give up three hits (a caught stealing helped), the last the game winner by Miguel Sano.

Game #20, April 29th:  Phillies 4, Indians 3.  Tribe had a 3-0 lead in the top of the fifth before the Phils tied it off Corey Kluber.  But Ryan Howard clubbed a leadoff HR in the 11th off of Allen.

Game #21, April 30th:  Phillies 4, Indians 3.  No dramatics here, but the Tribe battled back to tie the game in the 5th at 3, but Tommy Hunter in his Cleveland debut, gave up a leadoff single, a sacrifice bunt, and a two out hit and wound up the loser.

Game #31, May 11th:  Astros 5, Indians 3.  Cleveland tied it up at three in the top of the ninth on Carlos Santana’s one out triple, but the Tribe couldn’t push him across.  They lost in the 16th on a Marwin Gonzalez home run off of Cody Anderson.

Game #46, May 27th:  Orioles 6, Indians 4.  This one was tied at three going into the top of the seventh, when with one out, McAllister gave up back to back doubles and then a home run to Mark Trumbo.

Game #48, May 29th:  Orioles 6, Indians 4.  Tied at four in the top of the 7th, Jeff Manship gave up a long ball to Hyun Soo Kim, his first big league HR.

Game #61, June 11th:  Angels 4, Indians 3.  Stymied for eight innings by Matt Shoemaker, the Indians tied it with three in the ninth, with Tyler Naquin’s single evening this one up.  Shaw allowed a leadoff hit, sac bunt, walk, and a game winning single to Yunel Escobar.

Game #64, June 14th:  Royals 3, Indians 2.  Josh Tomlin turned a 2-1 lead to Shaw after seven innings, but the reliever gave up a hit and a dinger to Salvador Perez.

Game #80, July 2nd:  Blue Jays 9, Indians 6.  Tribe was looking to extend their winning streak to 15 and carried a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the 7th, when Dan Otero gave up a HR to Josh Donaldson to tie it, and Toronto scored three in the 8th off Otero and Hunter.

Game #90, July 16th:  Twins 5, Indians 4.  Trevor Bauer carried a 4-2 lead into the 7th and had thrown over 100 pitches, but Francona wanted to squeeze one more inning out of him. He allowed a hit and a walk, and Manship and Otero allowed them to score.  The winning run came in the 11th on an error.

Game #92, July 18th:  Royals 7, Indians 3.  Corey Kluber carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but Shaw gave up three straight hits to allow KC to tie it, then walked two more.  Manship came up and gave up a grand slam homer.

Game #97, July 24th:  Orioles 5, Indians 3.  Trailing 3-2 in the 8th, the Tribe tied it on a Napoli single, but Allen gave up a two run bomb in the bottom of the ninth.

Look, we aren’t saying the Indians should have won every one of these games, that’s ridiculous.  But, they’ve lost a bunch of games where they had the lead or were tied after six innings.

Too many to ignore.  Had they won just half of these games, their record would be 63-34, the best in the game by plenty.  That’s how good this team is.

That’s why they need to get help for the bullpen going down the stretch.  You simply cannot give up leads in the post-season.  You can only lose two games in the Division Series, and three games in the Championship and World Series.

When you get a lead late, you have to finish the deal.

KM

Tribe Not A Secret In Cleveland Anymore

The Cleveland Indians will hit the halfway point of the 2016 Major League Baseball season today in Toronto on pace for either 98 or 100 wins for the year.

And although we did predict them to win the American League Central Division title, even we didn’t think they would be this good.

Moreover, the Tribe’s club record 14 game winning streak has not only drawn attention to them nationally, but also within northeast Ohio, where they were becoming an afterthought to the Browns and the world champion Cavaliers.

We were at the Hard Rock Casino Friday evening, and when Francisco Lindor fielded the last grounder in the bottom of the 19th inning and threw to first for the out, a cheer went up throughout the venue.

Yes, people in this area are excited about the Indians.

While everyone figured the pitching staff would perform well, and it has, ranking 1st in the AL in ERA by a pretty good margin, the Indians have also scored a lot of runs, 6th in the Junior Circuit in scoring per game.

How?  That’s a mystery based on the other offensive stats.

Cleveland is 10th in on base percentage, 6th in slugging, and 6th in OPS. They are 8th in batting average.

They have used their speed though, leading the league in stolen bases and triples.

They also have the most sacrifice flies and the fourth least runners left on base, meaning they have made the most of their opportunities to score runs.

That’s something you have to wonder will hold up in the second half, and that’s why many experts think the Indians need to get another hitter at the trade deadline.

While that would be nice, the back end of the bullpen is a concern too.

Bryan Shaw has been in 37 games and Cody Allen in 34.  The next most games appeared in by a Cleveland reliever is 28 by Zack McAllister.

It is obvious that Terry Francona only has confidence in the first two pitchers listed and both of those guys have flaws.

Shaw is prone to giving up long balls (7 homers in 31-2/3 innings), and Allen has control issues (17 walks in 34 innings).

For those who say it is not a big deal, bringing Bryan Shaw into a one run game is a nail biter. He gives up a dinger, and it’s a tie game.

As for Allen, the walks mean he pitches himself into trouble more than he should.  That’s something you can’t have in a pennant race or in the playoffs.

McAllister has been a disaster recently, so much so that Francona doesn’t use him in high leverage situations anymore.  He can’t throw anything but a fastball for a strike.  We know it, and so do big league hitters.  There is no reason to look for anything but a heater facing the big right-hander.

We would start using Dan Otero and/or Joba Chamberlain with more regularity in close games to see if they can handle the load.  But, we all know about Tito’s loyalty to those who have performed in the past.

Making a move for top flight relief pitcher would enable Allen to pitch the eighth inning and leave the 7th for Shaw.

The Tribe doesn’t need to shorten games like Kansas City because their starters are much better than the Royals, but it would make the bullpen as lethal of a weapon as the rotation.

The front office is anticipating large crowds during this week’s homestand after a 22-6 record in June and a six game lead in the division.

Who knew that winning would be the best marketing plan?

And don’t forget that after the convention leaves town, the Indians will be home for long stretches in August and September.  The way the Tribe plays at Progressive Field this season, that’s a huge advantage.

But the front office can’t stand pat, and we don’t think they will.  They know this is one of baseball’s best team this season.

MW

Tito: Loyal Or Stubborn?

Terry Francona’s resume is outstanding to say the least.  He has won two World Series titles as a manager with the Boston Red Sox, and heck, he was at the helm when the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino”.

He’s won 1322 games in the major leagues, and has produced an above .500 record for 11 consecutive seasons.

He is also the most successful manager of the Cleveland Indians since the Tribe’s halcyon days from 1994-2001.

There is one thing he isn’t, however.  He’s not infallible.

Look, we like Tito.  He does a tremendous job doing the most difficult thing a big league manager has to do, handling a bunch of successful athletes’ personalities, and making sure the ballclub plays hard everyday.

However, the thing that endears the players to Francona may also be his biggest weakness as a manager:  Loyalty.

If you have performed well at the big league level at one time, and better yet, if you done a good job for Francona at one time, you are like a made man.

You have earned Tito’s trust, and he will defend you to the hilt.

Bryan Shaw is the latest case study of Francona’s support system.

Shaw has been a very good set up man for the Indians since arriving in 2013, the same year Tito was hired as manager.  He appeared in over 70 games in each of those seasons, including a league leading 80 appearances in 2014.

Unfortunately, last August, all those games pitched started to take it’s toll on the right-hander.  During the last two months of the ’15 season, Shaw gave up a run for every two innings he threw, and started giving up homers, four in that time span.

That was the same number he allowed the rest of the season.

This year, Shaw’s ERA is north of 5.00 and he’s allowed seven homers to this point in the season.  That’s one shy of his career high, set last year.

It’s time to find someone else to pitch the eighth inning.

Now, privately, Francona may have told Shaw the same thing, and Tito will never speak to the media about something like this, nor should he.

However, the next time the Indians play a close game and it gets to the 8th inning, who will Francona turn to?  If he goes to Shaw, his loyalty is getting in the way of winning ball games.

The same is true at third base, although this might be an organizational decision.

Juan Uribe is 37-years-old and his OPS is 575.  He simply isn’t producing at the plate, and his WAR is the lowest on the team among position players.

To be fair, some of this may not be Uribe’s fault.  He should be a part-time player and he is being forced to play regularly.  But Francona keeps writing his name in the lineup.

Some of that may be Tito’s obsession with having eight relief pitchers, which limits the number of position players he has on the roster.  The Tribe usually carries just three extra players on their bench.

The problem is the skipper only uses certain pitchers when he has a lead, and for most of the year those guys have been Zack McAllister, Shaw, and closer Cody Allen.

So, some of those guys in the bullpen can go several days without being used.  Allen pitched the eighth yesterday because he hasn’t pitched in awhile.

Since the Tribe starters have been pretty good about giving the team some length, do the Indians really need eight relievers at the expense of an extra position player?

Again, Francona is a very successful major league manager without a doubt, and no one here is advocating for a change.

However, he’s not perfect.  There is a thin line between patience and stubbornness.  Terry Francona skirts that line a lot.

KM

 

Tribe In First, But Bullpen Is A Concern.

It is Memorial Day weekend, the quarter pole for the major league baseball season, and the Cleveland Indians sit in first place in the American League Central Division standings.

They are also just two games away from having the best mark in the AL, as the Seattle Mariners, who have the junior circuit’s top record, are at 28-19.

Terry Francona’s club has done this pretty much without Michael Brantley, who has played just 11 games, and with Carlos Carrasco, arguably the Tribe’s best pitcher, out for a month.

Cleveland ranks 2nd in the league in runs scored, and is fifth in the AL in ERA.  This means there hasn’t been any luck involved, the Indians are a legitimate contender, just as we thought before the season started.

The biggest area of concern (yes, social media folks, you can be supportive of the team and have concerns) is the bullpen, particularly the Tribe’s set up guys, Zack McAllister and Bryan Shaw.

Cody Allen has had outings that make us nervous too, but mostly because he loses the strike zone at times.  He is 11 for 11 in save opportunities.

First, McAllister.  Before yesterday’s mop up appearance with a six run lead in Baltimore, the big right-hander allowed runs in each of his last three appearances.  And in May, he has come into the game 10 times, and allowed a run in five of those games.

That’s 50% for you sabermetric guys.  Also, that’s not good.

He made 11 appearances in April, and allowed a run in just one game.

Shaw has been one of the American League’s best late inning guys over the past three seasons.

He is like the proverbial little girl with the curl, when he is good, he is very good, but when he’s not…aye, aye, aye.

First, we don’t like relievers who allow home runs.  Shaw has allowed five dingers in 20 innings of work this season.

If he keeps the ball in the yard, Shaw is tremendous.  He’s only had one game this year where he allowed a run without giving up a bomb (April 24th vs. Detroit).

In our opinion, he allows too many homers to be an elite set up man.

Only five AL relievers have allowed more long balls than Shaw this season, and three of them (Steve Geltz, TB, Shawn Tolleson, TEX, and Tom Wilhelmsen, TEX) have been sent to the minor leagues.

A fourth, Chasen Shreve of the Yankees, is on the disabled list.

Shaw gives up too many homers. Remember, he gave up 8 last season in 64 innings.  Francona needs a better option in a one or two run game.

The Tribe has lost 21 games this season. In six of those losses, they have had the lead or were tied after six innings.  In two other games, they rallied to tie up a game, only to lose on a walk off hit.

That’s eight late game losses.  Give the Indians a split in those games, and they sit at 30-17 and have the AL’s best record.

We hope the front office is out there trying to upgrade this part of the the team.

In the meantime, it wouldn’t kill Francona to try some other options late in games.  Perhaps Dan Otero (0.95 ERA in 19 innings–no HR allowed) or Austin Adams, who pitched three scoreless games since his recall.

We know Tito likes to give veterans the benefit of the doubt, but we believe the American League will be so tightly contested this season, that a couple of games could be the difference in making the playoffs or going home after game 162.

MW