Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Reliever Russian Roulette

Another day, another disaster for the Erie Warriors as the Indians somehow found a new way to lose another game, this time with the Blue Jays hanging a 7-spot on the scoreboard, laying waste to a decent outing by Ant Reyes and making sure that the elusive roll that this team is still looking for remains in hiding.

There’s not much to the analysis of what’s gone wrong with the Indians as it’s fairly obvious to anyone who has been forced to witness a game any time after the 6th inning recently that the bullpen, which was once thought to be a major concern, has passed “major concern” status and is closing in on Three-Mile Island territory. The Blue Jays’ two-game set put the final two Indian relievers that had been moderately effective (Wood and Sipp) among the list of the affected as the disease of allowing runs in the bullpen is airborne and infecting the bullpen…and by that I mean, everyone.

What’s most disappointing about this continued descent into what now looks like a bottomless abyss by the bullpen is that the Indians have actually started to piece together some consistency on offense and their rotation is showing signs of being able to put together a string of games worthy of wins. After the beginning of the season for the rotation, that’s a good thing, seeing as how their first Quality Start occurred in the 14th game of the season, with the Indians sitting on a 4-9 record.

Since that first Quality Start on April 21st, the Indians’ rotation has actually settled into some semblance of effectiveness, based on the number of Quality Starts from that time. While a Quality Start is a fairly arbitrary way to differentiate a good outing from a bad outing, it at least gives us some guidelines to put on a starter going 6 innings or more and allowing 3ER or fewer, in terms of establishing the game as one that the offense and bullpen merely need to contribute more than 3 runs and the bullpen simply needs to record 9 outs or fewer (usually) to finish off the victory.

But even with the rotation started to show signs of settling, the bullpen was (on more than one occasion) not able to simply record those 9 outs or fewer to finish off the victory for a starter deserving of one.
To wit, here are the Quality Starts over the last weeks, with the performances of the starters and the bullpen listed as such:
4-21 vs. Kansas City (8-7 win)
Laffey – 7 IP, 1 ER
Bullpen – 2 IP, 6 ER, 6 H, 1 BB

4-22 vs. Kansas City (2-0 loss)

Lee – 8 IP, 2 ER
Bullpen – 1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB

4-23 vs. Kansas City (5-2 win)
Reyes – 6 IP, 2 ER
Bullpen – 3 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 1 BB

4-26 vs. Minnesota (4-2 win)

Laffey – 6 1/3 IP, 2 ER
Bullpen – 2 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 2 BB

4-27 vs. Boston (3-1 loss)

Lee – 8 IP, 0 ER
Bullpen – 1 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 2 BB

4-29 vs. Boston (6-5 loss)
Carmona – 6 2/3 IP, 2 ER
Bullpen – 3 1/3 IP, 4 ER, 5 H, 0 BB

5-1 vs. Detroit (6-5 loss)

Pavano – 7 1/3 IP, 2 ER
Bullpen – 1 2/3 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 0 BB

5-3 vs. Detroit (3-1 loss)

Lee – 7 IP, 3 ER
Bullpen – 1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB

5-3 vs. Toronto (10-6 loss)

Reyes – 6 IP, 3 ER
Bullpen – 2 IP, 7 ER, 6 H, 1 BB

The good news is that after not getting a Quality Start in their first 13 games en route to that 4-9 start, the Indians have received 9 Quality Starts in the last 14 games.

The bad news is that they’re 6-8 in those 14 games and only 3-6 in those 9 Quality Starts because of the bullpen putting forth an effort that earned them a collective 14.79 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP following those 9 Quality Starts.

Think about it this way – how many times has an Indians’ starter contributed a Quality Start, left the game with a lead, and watched the game being closed by scoreless IP from bullpen?

Before giving this answer, remember that the Indians have now played 27 games…ready yet?
1 time.
1 time over 27 games has an Indian starter thrown 6 or more innings, allowing 3 or fewer earned runs, left with a lead, and watched the bullpen close out the game without allowing a run.

In case you really care, it’s the 4-2 over Twins on April 26th when Laffey went 6 1/3 IP, giving up 2 runs, followed by the bullpen (Lewis, Sipp, Betancourt, and Wood) throwing 2 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball.

Think about that for a moment…obviously the game of baseball is full of uncertainty and winding avenues of how victories and losses occur, but the scenario above means that the starter goes deep into the game while the offense builds a lead and the bullpen comes in to simply close the door by notching 9 or fewer outs without letting up a run.
The Indians have pulled that off once this year…once.

Obviously, the offense holds some culpability in the struggles of this team as consistency has not been a strong suit, but the bullpen has now blown 6 saves in 11 opportunities, laying waste to lead after lead handed to them by the starters, particularly now when the performance of the starting pitchers SHOULD have allowed this team to have a better record than 3-6 in 9 Quality Starts over the last 14 games.

The bullpen implosion is near completion as, at this point, there’s no confidence in anyone down in the bullpen and reservations abound about everyone in the bullpen…and that includes Kerry Wood, whose control has been less than stellar.

What’s disconcerting about this development (or Arrested Development, if you will) of the bullpen is that this was supposed to be the one area of the team addressed in the off-season, after the train-wreck of the 2008 bullpen. The idea was that the addition of Wood allowed the Indians to FINALLY have that lock-down closer in the 9th, resulting in the roles of the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings to fall into the laps of Lewis (who some people wanted to hand the closer role to after 2008), Perez (inarguably the Indians’ best reliever over the last 2 years), and Betancourt (whose finish in 2008 seemed to portend a return to effectiveness).
Remember how we thought the Indians’ bullpen was going to shake out in terms of roles?

Look at how we thought it WOULD look and how each of those principals has performed:
Closer – Wood – 7.20 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 16 K, 5 BB, 5 saves in 6 opportunities
8th – Perez – 15.19 ERA, 2.63 WHIP, 5 K, 9 BB,
7th – Lewis – 5.93 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 13 K, 6 BB, 1 save in 5 opportunities
6th – Betancourt – 5.14 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 15 K, 7 BB, 0 saves in 1 opportunity
ROOGY – Smith – 7.11 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 6 K, 5 BB
Middle Relief – Kobayashi – 3.72 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 4 K, 4 BB
Long Man – Jackson – 5.79 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6 K, 0 BB
The numbers among the players who were thought to be most counted upon when the season started have been the most inconsistent and, thus, the most destructive on the overall record of the team.

Just when you think that one of the relievers has turned the corner, an implosion occurs for that reliever. It doesn’t seem to matter what situations these guys come in to, the results always seem to end up abysmal.
Who do you have confidence in right now to get outs from the bullpen?
Wood…Sipp…anyone else?

The selection of which reliever coming out of the bullpen has turned into a game of Russian Roulette, where you know the kill shot is eventually coming…you just don’t know where it’s coming from.

That’s what so frustrating about this bullpen, as the Indians are 9-10 since the dreadful 1-7 start with the bullpen completely sabotaging game after game.
What’s so frustrating about that (apart from the obvious stomach acid aspect of the bullpen) record for the Indians?
Here’s the AL Central over the last 21 days:
Kansas City – 10-8
Detroit – 10-8
Minnesota – 9-9
Cleveland – 9-10
Chicago – 9-10

The Indians are right in with the rest of the AL Central over the last 3 weeks of so, this despite the well-documented failures of the bullpen and the fact that the Indians’ offense is only now starting to finally show some signs of life, looking more complete and more versatile after the promotions of last Friday.

So, if the bullpen is the problem on more than one level, even too much for a rejuvenated offense lighting up the scoreboard to overcome, what can be done?
Does anyone REALLY think that Rich Rundles or John Meloan is going to come up and be the answer? I suppose it couldn’t be much worse, and it certainly looks like Rafael Perez and Jen Lewis could use some time out of the spotlight to work out whatever issues seem to be lingering with them.

At this point, anything would be an improvement over what we’ve seen in the past few weeks from the bullpen in terms of pitchers…but how about something different?
If the issue this off-season with the bullpen was supposedly fixed by getting a “new voice” in the bullpen (that is, one not belonging to Luis Isaac) and the results of that “new voice” belonging to new bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez has been…well, this…maybe it’s time for an “old voice”.

No, no, no…I’m not suggesting that the Indians lob a call to whatever OTB Luis Isaac is sitting at watching the ponies, what about getting rid of Hernandez and bringing Columbus bullpen coach Scott Radinsky up to work with some of these younger pitchers that he’s had success in developing like Perez and Sipp to see if he can right whatever has gone wrong with them.

Remember when Jenny Lewis went down to Buffalo last year when the train came off the tracks for him at the beginning of 2008 and re-emerged from his stint in Buffalo (with Radinsky) with the momentum that carried him to 13 consecutive saves? Maybe Radinsky can come up to Cleveland and right these guys without anyone having to be sent out.

Would the change do anything?
Who knows…who even knows what a bullpen coach does?
But, at this point, the bullpen is laying waste to any chance of a sustained run of success and until that bullpen is settled (and at this point, the Indians should be all ears…on any suggestions), the team will continue to tread water or, even worse, slip a little further under the water on their way to the bottom.


Avory said...

Actually, the one game you cite as the sole example of the Tribe's bullpen shutting out the opposition after a quality start was a miracle in itself. If you recall, Sipp pulled off a Houdini act getting out of a bases loaded situation, so I would only count that as a partial. The truth is, this bullpen is so bad, so off in never-never land that I can't conceive of this being sustainable, any more than if there was an extreme in the other direction (although that is so unfathomable right now, I wonder if such Nirvana truly exists).

The situation is so bad that the next time Reyes or Laffey starts--or anyone in our rotation who is unlikely to go more than six or seven innings--I would "start" the bullpen. Have them go the first two or three innings, spot the other team whatever runs early they would have given up late, allowing us time to come back. Then bring in our real starter and tell them to finish the game, period. They'd still get credit for a "W" if we came from behind and won, right? Hey, I know this sounds ridiculous, but is it any worse than drawing names out of a hat to construct a lineup when everything offensively has gone down the tubes? I mean, c'mon, shake things up, we gotta change the dynamic! (Not to mention screw up the other team's lineup and make our team think about something besides how impending doom is going to manifest itself once again.)

Hyde said...

Is Radinsky one of Wedge's cronies? Because if not, it's a non-starter of an idea.

It's easy to throw up your hands and absolve Wedge by saying "there's nothing he could do!" but in fact there is something very simple he could do: never use Rafael Perez to protect a lead until he's gotten it straightened out. How hard is that, really?

Anonymous said...

Avory's idea may seem far-fetched....but something drastic needs done. I see nothing wrong with pulling a starter and putting him in the pen.

Les Savy Ferd said...

1 time!? Good god I didn't know it was that bad, and I've watched a great many of these games.

Anyone think the swing for the fences mentality on the offense is a byproduct of the fact that nobody with lumber in their hands believes that 5, 6, 10 runs are enough to secure a win?

Paul Cousineau said...

I don't think ANY idea is being ruled out at this point...want the relievers to start the game?
Sure, what the hell...nothing else is working.

The crazy thing is that it seemed like Perez WAS pulling out of this mess, but like everyone else he shows promise then falls off a cliff. Think about it, you think Perez has turned a corner and he falls apart. Same with Betancourt, same with Lewis, and on and on...

Not one reliever is putting up consistent zeroes on the scoreboard and the two guys coming the closest either can't go in consecutive days (Sipp) or are held out for the 9th (Wood).

It's a mess without an obvious solution or even an alternative that feels viable.

To prove that point, it looks like Jeremy Sowers in the short-term is a new attempt at a solution, though this (like everything else) feels like grasping at straws.

I think the LaPorta/Valbuena promotions are definitely the organization's attempt to put as many runs on the board RIGHT NOW every single game because the bullpen giving runs back feels inevitable. Whether that means "swing for the fences", I don't know, but this offense can be very good...unfortunately, that doesn't mean a lot of wins right now.

csusi said...

the bottom officially dropped out when i heard mitch williams laugh at our bullpen on mlb.network the other night.

and PC, you hit it on the head when you brought up sowers filling a bullpen slot. why we have a 'descent' pitcher sitting in the minors waiting is crazy thought right now. pitchers are held in the minors to await the time in which they are needed.

id say that time be now.

Anonymous said...

wow!..is that what relief looks like?

Les Savy Ferd said...

wow! is right. Baby-faced bulldog to the rescue.

And for the 'swing for the fences' mentality I had a very specific Indian in mind, but it might also apply to other folks as well.

Anyhow, anybody else feel as good about that great total team victory as I do?